In the News: Atheist Hate Crime

Three people are dead, shot in the head by a murderous thug. That thug was an outspoken atheist, and the victims were publicly identified as members of a religious group. Does this count as an atheist hate crime?

To be fair, many of the facts are still up in the air, but it does not seem disputed that Craig Stephen Hicks shot three of his neighbors dead. The neighbors were all Muslim, and Hicks was an outspoken atheist.

According to a story on Yahoo News, Hicks had posted the following rant on his Facebook page:

There’s nothing complicated about it, and I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being — which your religion does with self-righteous gusto, . . . the moment that your religion claims any kind of jurisdiction over my experience, you insult me on a level that you can’t even begin to comprehend.

Is this an escalation of culture-war polemics to real-war violence? ILYBYGTH readers will recall the episode from August, 2012, when Floyd Lee Corkins shot a security guard in the office of the conservative Family Research Council. Is this another example of anti-religious terrorism?

For their part, leading atheists are scrambling to make sense of these charges. The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has issued a statement blaming mental instability, not atheism, for the atrocity. Yet as Hemant Mehta (my personal favorite atheist pundit) has charged, if this shooter had been a member of any religion, leaders of that religion would be called onto the carpet to separate themselves publicly from the act.

Is it fair to ask if militant atheism somehow contributed to this heinous murder?

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3 Comments

  1. Just as I think that we as atheists ask that religion not be granted any special treatment, so, too, should atheism not be granted special treatment, and it is indeed fair and expected to ask whether militant atheism contributed to this dreadful attack. That’s not the same thing as concluding that it did, however, but even so, three people are dead, and it’s worth examining what effect, if any, militant atheism may have had on the perpetrator. From what I’ve read, I personally believe that it was a hate crime, but I do not believe that he committed this deed because of his atheism. Hopefully future revelations will shed more light on this man’s motivations.

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  2. As you know, Adam, this is a topic close to my heart. As an open atheist, I am often asked where my morality comes from, since I have no god to answer to. Penn Jillette said it best:

    “The question I get asked by religious people all the time is, without God, what’s to stop me from raping all I want? And my answer is: I do rape all I want. And the amount I want is zero. And I do murder all I want, and the amount I want is zero. The fact that these people think that if they didn’t have this person watching over them that they would go on killing, raping rampages is the most self-damning thing I can imagine. I don’t want to do that. Right now, without any god, I don’t want to jump across this table and strangle you. I have no desire to strangle you. I have no desire to flip you over and rape you. You know what I mean?”

    So is Hicks representative of atheists everywhere, who are champing at the bit to rape, murder and plunder? Or is he a mentally unstable man who happens to be atheist?

    I don’t feel the need to represent atheists everywhere and disavow this man as an outlier, just as I don’t ever expect my Muslim friends to answer for 9/11, or my Catholic neighbors to answer for the institutionalized pedophilia of their leaders.

    That having been said, when someone performs heinous acts in the name of their religion (or lack thereof), I reserve the right to call them on the carpet. But I’m calling the individual on the carpet, not the religion (or lack thereof). I howl at the moon over religious fundamentalism and fringe groups like Westboro Baptist Church when they infringe on my liberty, and I hate every terrorist who believes (or at least claims to believe) they are acting in the name of Allah. I want all pedophile priests to suffer to the fullest extent of the law, but I reserve my true rage for the hierarchy that protects them in order to protect the Catholic church.

    BTW, I also dig Hemant Mehta, but I take a bit of issue with him here. His claim, “it appears that Hicks did this with sound mind,” is bollocks in my opinion. Shooting an unarmed human being, let alone three, who poses no threat to you is the absolute definition of an unstable mind, end of.

    I’m an atheist, and I shoot unarmed people exactly as often as I wish to, which is to say I don’t wish to, and everyone around me is 100 percent safe. Despite being one of those frothing-at-the-mouth atheist types (and being blessed with an explosive temper), I’ve never raised a fist in anger in my life. I’m not exactly proud of that fact, I just think it’s how you’re supposed to act. Craig Stephen Hicks does not represent me, or any atheists I know. We mostly just get together and drink beer and eat Cheetos™.

    Whoops, this became a rant, and if I ever break the law, it will show up on CNN. So, in closing, I would like to invoke the beautiful words of a couple of great philosophers: “Be excellent to each other!” and, “Party on dudes!”

    Reply
  3. In any conflict over territory, authority, hegemony, control of parking spaces, or whatever some people will reach a point where they believe violence is required to retain their proper rights and liberty. Anyone of any belief is capable of reaching this point. The important question is which beliefs or believers are closest to that point, and what should be done about them.

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