If you’ve paid attention to the news in the last few days, you’ve no doubt heard of the murder of three people in one of the Carolinas. For the rest of you, I’ll catch you up. On Tuesday, February 10th, Craig Stephen Hicks (because of course his last name is Hicks) allegedly shot three students in the head, execution style. While the motive is as of yet unknown, the fact that the three victims were Muslim, and Mr. Hicks’ online posts declaring his hatred of religion, has sparked the possibility that this was an anti-religious shooting.
Before I get into this, I want to make a few things clear. First, the police are still investigating this, so my opinion on the matter may change as new information comes to light. Second, regardless of WHY these people died, it was a tragedy, was morally wrong, and the person responsible should be punished. Third, my heart goes out to the victims’ friends and families.
As of right now, the reason why these people were murdered appears to be over parking disputes and noise complaints. As someone who has loud neighbors, I can understand how frustrating that can be. Still doesn’t justify it, though. Neighbors often noted that Mr. Hicks was a very angry person. Witnesses say that Mr. Hicks loved guns, and he himself claimed to be a “gun-toting liberal”.
Ok. Let’s get into this. First, I want to define some terms. I’ve said this a million times before, but in case you haven’t seen it, atheism and anti-theism are two different things. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. Anti-theism has many uses (mostly by religious people). Some say that anti-theism is the belief in no gods. This might not seem like a big difference, but it is. One is saying “I don’t believe you” and the other is saying “I think you’re wrong”. I define anti-theism as the belief that religion can be dangerous. Under these definitions, I would classify myself as both. I do not believe in any gods, which makes me an atheist. I also think that religion can cause harm, making me anti-theism. All anti-theists are atheists, but not all atheists are anti-theists. That is important. There are many atheists, who, while they don’t believe in gods, are not against religion. I am not one of them.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept the claim that these murders were religiously motivated. It doesn’t sound like it was, but then I wouldn’t have material for this article. So here’s the hypothetical situation. Mr. Hicks hates all religion. In his apartment complex, a Muslim couple and the wife’s sister live. The women wear traditional Muslim head coverings. Mr. Hicks sees this as an outrage. One day, he executes them in cold blood.
I’ve said many times, both in public and on here, that it is up to the moderates of (insert group here) to control their crazies. I think it’s only fair that it applies to us, as well. Now, as an anti-theist, I have a crazy who has just murdered three people. First, as a representative of the moderates in my group, I must accept that this crazy is a member of my group. I could easily say “not all anti-theists”, just like it’s “not all Muslims” or “not all men”. What does this do, though? That’s trying to distance myself from this crazy. As members of the anti-theist group, we both agree on a lot of things. The difference is that I’m fine with people believing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect me, and Mr. Hicks wasn’t. Second, Mr. Hicks, if he did it, needs to be punished. I think it’d be a kind of poetic justice if Mr. Hicks was subjected to Sharia punishments. Then finally, I’d have to call upon all anti-theists to speak out against the crazies in our group. We are ultimately responsible for controlling them. It is up to us to teach them tolerance of others.
We don’t have to agree with religious people on everything. We don’t even have to agree with them on anything. We can, however, agree that they should have the same rights as we do. I’m not gay. Gay people should be allowed to marry. I’m not female. They should be paid the same as I am. I’m not religious. They should be allowed to worship their imaginary sky wizard, if they like.
There is a line in the proverbial sand, between rights and privilege. It is a right to vote, or marry, or pray. It is a privilege to decide who gets to participate in those rights; a privilege we do not have. It is not up to us to take the law into our own hands, as Mr. Hicks did in this hypothetical situation.
On another point, this makes us look bad. It makes us look just as violent as religious extremists. Theists always love to claim that Hitler and Stalin killed people because they were atheists. They didn’t, but if it turns out Mr. Hicks did, now they have an argument.
We are the rational ones. We have to demonstrate that, by accepting people’s RIGHT to believe, while rejecting the BELIEFS themselves. We will be on the right side of history. I am confident that within my lifetime, while religion won’t be completely gone, it will have diminished to the point of irrelevance to politics and policies. All we have to do is wait, educate others about reality and our reasons for not accepting theistic claims without evidence, and demonstrate that we are not evil people. Religious people have lots of distrust of atheists, due to what they are told about us from their religious family, friends, priests, etc. We have to focus on showing them who we truly are. We simply do not have time to take a step back to deal with fucking nutcases, like this. We’ve made so much progress lately. Let’s not lose footing.