The Ugly Atheism

Not long ago several people at satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo were murdered by men claiming to be Islamic fundamentalists, offended by the magazine’s anti-Islam cartoons. CNN’s entire website was practically devoted to this one event, hitting every possible angle it could. Around the world, people fell over themselves to declare “JE SUIS CHARLIE” in support of the slain men and in defiance of their “radical Muslim” murderers. Failure to do so was seen as some kind of deference to censorship and Islamic fundamentalism. Tu had to es Charlie or else you don’t support free speech and Voltaire and the like.

On Tuesday evening a man named Craig Hicks went into his neighbors’ condo and shot all three in the head. The three victims, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, Yusor Mohammad, and Deah Shaddy Barakat, were Muslim.

Hicks was a self-described “Anti-Theist”. Being an atheist is pretty easy; you don’t believe in God. There isn’t any other requirement. Being Anti-Theist, however, means opposing the concept of religion, presumably working against it. (For the record, I consider myself anti-theist. I don’t follow any religion and I’d like to see an end to religion, though I am limited to complaining on my blog and Twitter.)

Anti-Theism is strongly tied to the “New Atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens (despite his worship of Mammon and Power). In fact, the “New” in “New Atheism” signals that, for these folks, simply not believing in God is not enough; one must do it loudly and proudly, and actively work against those who would force theocratic beliefs on all. To some extent, I see a bit of a need for this; too often in America it’s assumed that everyone is Christian and will have no problem with having Christian beliefs thrust upon them and people have to stand up and remind them that this is not the case.

But the Dawkinsian Atheists aren’t simply opposed to all religions. They’re opposed to some religions more than others. One, in particular, and that’s Islam. Dawkins has a long Twitter history of singling out Islam for especial disdain even as his bio claims he “Treats all religions with good-humoured ridicule.”

Hicks was an avid fan of Dawkins and apparently posted his and other Anti-Theist writings on his Facebook page. He must have been an absolute treat to have in your newsfeed. He was also a fan of Rachel Maddow’s show, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and other leftist entities.

In short, Craig Hicks is a problem for everyone. He’s a lefty who murdered Muslims as, possibly, a hate crime. He’s a “radical” atheist. Liberals and Conservatives alike are puzzled exactly how to spin this.

Fortunately, there’s an out. Hicks and his wife are claiming this was simply a feud between neighbors over a parking space. Because when you have a problem with your neighbors, you usually shoot them in the head. Dawkins, to take the heat off himself, clings to this explanation. Surely this, and not a constant stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric, is what motivated the killing.

Note he also pulls in the NRA, hoping to spur a game of “let’s you and him fight” while he slips out the back door.

I am not saying Richard Dawkins is responsible for this killing. I think it’s interesting, however, that when a killer pops up who is a loudmouth Atheist, suddenly the excuses that are feeble and weak when they excuse Christian, Islamic, or Gun-Enthused are perfectly acceptable.

Were the Charlie Hebdo murderers unhinged? Are their religious beliefs not germane to the discussion? No, say Dawkins and Harris. They were Muslims killing in the name of Islam and this is why these people are a problem. Period.

Even after he was being spotlighted in this attack, Dawkins continued on.

Atheism, including his brand of it, isn’t to blame, says Dawkins. After all, it doesn’t preach the “legal killing” of dissenters. Merely that its dissenters — some more than others — are vicious enemies who can’t be trusted or reasoned with. Where’s the harm in that?

Dawkins and his ilk have long been an ugly facet of atheism. He’s the most vocal and visible, but there are plenty others out there like him — almost always white men, interestingly — preaching a normal distrust of religion but then adding an extra helping of anti-Islam-in-particular side. I’ve not been immune myself at times, which is embarrassing to me. This brand of “Capital-A Atheism is part of a whole that includes the Men’s Rights Advocates, the GamerGaters, the Reddit Misogynists, and other groups of angry, vocal, white men who are tired of not being recognized as the geniuses they are.

The strange thing about this singling out of Islam is that, at least here in America, if you’re an atheist, Islam is pretty low on the list of religions you have to worry about. Most American Muslims are too busy not to get harassed by every other American to worry too much about making life hell for atheists. Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians have run of the land, trying very hard to criminalize and eliminate anything that doesn’t fit in with whatever the hell they believe in today (it varies since for some reason the King James Version of God also agrees with whatever the Koch Brothers want). Honestly, in America, Muslims and atheists should be hand-in-hand because they’re pretty much identical to many other Americans.

I stopped following the atheist “community” years ago when it was more interested in gossip about its various personalities than anything else. It was also disheartening seeing focused misogyny against Rebecca Watson and other female skeptics become the center of discussion. I’m kind of sorry I got away from it, in a way, as now I feel I ceded ground to these types.

As I said, being an atheist simply requires you to not believe in God, and that’s pretty easy. To be an anti-theist, it’s not enough to simply oppose religion. At that point, you are making an argument. You have to demonstrate that decent behavior is possible without religion. All those things you claim can be done, even without religion? You sort of have to do them. There is no point in opposing religion if you’re just going to start a holy war of your own.

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