On Tuesday morning, police say 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three University of North Carolina students at their condo complex in Chapel Hill. A police spokesman said the “preliminary investigation indicates that the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.” Hicks has been charged with three counts of first degree murder.
The three students — a 23-year-old doctoral student, his 21-year-old undergraduate wife, and her 19-year-old undergraduate sister — were Muslims. Hicks, if his Facebook page is any indication, is a fervent atheist and self-described anti-theist, and his posts show a clear disdain for the three Abrahamic religions in particular. What has ensued on social media in the wake of this revelation is nothing short of an onslaught of defamation against notable and outspoken atheists who have been critical of Islam (in addition to other religions).
In fact, far too many people are blaming atheism for the shooting, which means I must’ve missed the parts where the Atheist Bible and Atheist Quran condone killing.
Here are some tweets from some of the usual suspects, and no doubt more op-eds like this are forthcoming:
Breaking NEWS: Bill Maher, Dawkins Fan ‘New Atheist’ Charged with Shooting Three Arab Students Execution Stylehttp://t.co/Z9YgjFVVEZ
— Frank Schaeffer (@Frank_Schaeffer) February 11, 2015
— Nathan Lean (@nathanlean) February 11, 2015
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) February 11, 2015
According to this libelous narrative, atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and the late Christopher Hitchens have blood on their hands because they’ve dared to criticize the Islamic faith. And because the vast majority of Muslims are non-white, that means according to some liberals criticizing Islam is tantamount to racism or bigotry. But allow me to be the latest person in a long line of exasperated facepalmers to point out that religion is not a person, but a belief system. While some religious people and their defenders often internalize an attack on faith as an attack on faith’s adherents, this doesn’t make it so.
If you look at what prominent atheists like those slandered above have said or written, nowhere will you find a call to violence against people simply because they have certain religious beliefs. The God Delusion, God is Not Great, the End of Faith, and other popular books written by New Atheists are entirely bereft of such rhetoric. (For those who think what Harris says about “ethical” killing in End of Faith is violative of my assertion, read this.) It’s important to note that even if Hicks did murder those three students because they were Muslims, it would be impossible to find anything remotely justifying that act in the aforementioned texts and those similar to them.
The same cannot be said for the Bible and the Quran, which, as products of much earlier and more barbaric epochs, contain all the justification one would need to execute a myriad of unspeakable acts because they are condoned or even mandated by god. According to the Bible, gay people, blasphemers, Sabbath-breakers, practitioners of witchcraft, and other undesirables are to be killed. Believing in gods other than Yahweh and making graven images are also prohibited as the Ten Commandments make clear. Slavery is acceptable in the Bible, as defenders of that institution were fond of reminding abolitionists as late as the mid-19th century. Jesus, for all his acts of kindness, once famously instructed his disciples to bring nonbelievers to him and have them killed.
Since it is largely plagiarized from the Bible, the Quran is little different. It gives clear instruction that non-Muslim women captured in war are no different from material goods that have been pillaged. Nonbelievers, especially Jews, are portrayed as menaces and enemies of Allah. The Hadith commands that apostates be put to death. As for the actions of Muhammad himself, he married a six-year old girl and oversaw the conquest of much of Arabia, which included the beheading of hundreds of Banu Qurayaza Jews.
Given this, it is frankly outrageous that one would brandish the incident in Chapel Hill in an attempt to claim that atheism — which is simply the nonbelief in gods, and no more or no less — kills, that violence allegedly done in the name of atheism is on the same level as violence done in the name of religion (Islam in particular), and that atheists who have criticized Islam are culpable in these murders.
– 17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that’s 61% more than the previous year.
– 82% of all deaths from terrorist attack occur in just 5 countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.
– Last year terrorism was dominated by four groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida.
– More than 90% of all terrorist attacks occur in countries that have gross human rights violations.
And even if it is found that Hicks’ motive was a personal hatred of Muslims, those who constantly tell us about the scourge of “Islamophobia” will never cease reminding us of this particular murderous act for one simple reason: there isn’t much else on this level for them to cite. For defenders of Islam, Craig Stephen Hicks is their white whale, and they’ll be invoking him from now until uttering his name becomes an involuntary tic.
There is one thing that all atheists must come to grips with, however (if they already haven’t). And that is that Hicks is most definitely an atheist, even a “true atheist.” Unlike those who stupidly insist that Muslims or Christians who commit murderous acts aren’t “true Muslims” or “true Christians,” we simply cannot deny Hicks’ nonbelief, just like we can’t deny the nonbelief of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and others. Without question, atheists are capable of and do horrible things. But it’s important to remember that atheism possesses no inherent doctrines or principles beyond not believing in god. There is nothing we can point to in atheism that would justify malicious behavior; nor is there anything we can point to in atheism that would justify altruistic behavior. This is because above all, atheism is defined not by what it is, but by what it is not.