UPDATE: Several people, including a reader in the comments below, called my attention to Michael Nugent’s characteristically thorough analysis of Hicks’s “motives” after looking at his (Hicks’s) Facebook page. It’s definitely worth a read.
I’ve said my piece on the murders of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, and I doubt I’ll have anything to add. But I still want to note people’s reactions to the murders—and how they apportion blame—as a sort of sociological observation. It shows how readily people can co-opt a tragedy to support their own agenda
Over at his site “Danthropology” at Patheos, Dan Arel wrote about how “The New Atheist blame game has begun,” and, from looking around the Internet, that’s right. People (not Dan) are furiously parsing killer Craig Hicks’s Facebook page for clues about his motivations. To me that’s almost as useless as liberal theologians parsing the Bible to find out God’s “true” message.
Dan has posted several pieces and tw**ts emitted by C. J. Werleman, an atheist who hates New Atheists, especially because he was caught plagiarizing at Salon and Alternet (both of which have not published his pieces since his admission of guilt), and then wrongly accused Sam Harris of also plagiarizing.
Here’s one tw**t, which, according to Arel, Werleman later deleted, telling Arel that “he [Werleman] was wrong for posting it.”
Here’s another, which I can’t find on Wereleman’s Tw**ter feed (he may have also deleted that: I didn’t look closely), but I note that he’s still whipping up this same kind of anti-atheist sentiment using the Chapel Hill murders:
When I first heard news of the attack on Wednesday morning, I immediately presumed the shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, to be a right-wing extremist; someone of the Anders Brievik ilk but with probable Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leanings. I was shocked when CNN identified the killer to be “an atheist”.
An atheist? I’m an atheist. The mere idea of an atheist motivated hate crime is nonsensical to me. Atheism is a non-positive assertion. Wholly and solely atheism means non-belief. It’s not anti-anything or anyone. So I knew there had to be more to the killer’s motives than atheism or a “parking dispute”.
A visit to Hicks’ Facebook page hints at something a little more sinister. Hicks is an anti-theist (New Atheist), and it’s important to make its distinction from atheism, because anti-theism is to atheism what ISIS is to Islam. If that analogy sounds far fetched, then you really need to read more about the anti-religious genocides of the 20th century.
Wereleman apparently knows without a doubt that Hicks killed because he was an anti-theist driven to kill by reading the New Atheists:
Hicks is not the first to be inspired to murder by similar anti-theistic beliefs, if it is indeed proven to be a hate crime, nor will he be the last to be inspired to violence by overt anti-Muslim bigotry.
New Atheists love to assert beliefs lead to actions. Well, the shoe is on the other foot now that it appears Hicks has murdered in the name of his anti-theistic beliefs. Hate speech leads to dangerous beliefs, which ultimately lead to violent actions.
“Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” writes Harris. While Harris specifically refers to beliefs such as martyrdom and jihad, he also contends “suicide bombers and terrorists are not aberrations” in Islam; “They are the norm. They have not distorted their faith by interpreting it wrongly. They have lived out their faith by understanding it rightly.”
Werleman has been corrected before for quoting Harris’s statement out of context, and he does qualify the statement a bit, but he just cannot resist blaming Harris anyway: Harris should have known that his statement would be misused and even be taken as an excuse to kill. Ergo Harris bears some responsibility for the murders.
Harris has a PhD in neuroscience. Hicks and a majority of anti-theists do not! While the former may understand the nuance of his “thought experiments,” it is likely Hicks does not. It’s therefore not unreasonable to suggest that anti-theists, like Hicks, might take Harris’ “it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them” out of context in the same way jihadis take the Quranic verse “Kill the infidels” out of its historical interpretation and context.
This is deplorable. While atheism may not have an ineluctable connection with a given moral code, it does have such a connection with skepticism, for skepticism—seeing lack of evidence for God—is usually the precursor of nonbelief.
Werleman should exercise a little more skepticism about what really caused these murders. Indeed, we may never know unless the killer explains his motivations (that, too, may be misleading, but it would be the best explanation we get). But it’s unseemly to start saying that people like Dawkins and Harris bear any responsibility for these murders. Indeed, even if the killer says that he was motivated to kill by reading them (and he read a lot of stuff, apparently, beyond just their works), that does not make them directly responsible for his acts. For you could pin also pin the murders on all of the many Facebook “likes” and books that Hicks read that are apparently shown on his Facebook page, including, I’m told, his promotion of gay rights. After all, many Muslims don’t favor gay rights. . . .