One of the most disturbing things about the Chapel Hill shooting is that the shooter, Craig Hicks, is an active atheist online. His Facebook page looks a lot like my Facebook page… minus the photo of the weight of his gun. We even have 77 Facebook friends in common.
Hicks isn’t an atheist in the same way Kirk Cameron claims he was an atheist prior to his conversion. Hicks more than just lacked belief in deities; he was vocal about his atheism and an advocate for many of the same liberal and progressive causes that I am and that I suspect most of my readers are. By all indications he was a true Scotsman of an atheist except of course for the fact that he shot and murdered three people with a revolver equipped with a speedloader.
So yes, while it is true that atheism isn’t an ideology or a religion and that there is no atheist holy book that all atheists revere, the sad fact is that Craig Hicks appears to be an atheist who values the same things most vocal atheists value. He posted memes in support of science, reason, and logic. He supported gay rights. He watched Cosmos, Penn & Teller, and The Atheist Experience. He’s a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jessica Ahlquist, Hemant Mehta, Sarah Silverman, and George Takei among many others.
For all practical purposes he was one of us. He was a member of our community and while his atheism had nothing to do with what he did, the fact remains that we can’t distance ourselves from him. We can’t claim that he was not a true Scotsman.
This is why many atheists, myself included, have been so vocal in condemning his actions even though they had nothing to do with his atheism and the religion of his victims had nothing to do with their deaths. It appears that Hicks would have shot his neighbors even if they were also atheists.
The point is that he is an atheist and he did a terrible, terrible thing. Because he was such a vocal atheist his actions reflect poorly on our entire community and while we can’t distance ourselves from him, we can distance ourselves from his actions.
Violence is a failure to achieve the desired goals by peaceful means. Atheists are quick to point out and criticize religious believers for their use of violence and we should be equally quick to point out and criticize other atheists for their use of violence. As it turns out, we don’t have to do that very often. It is pretty rare for a vocal atheist to act violently in this manner. I can only think of three isolated examples in recent history and after each one, the atheist community came out strongly to condemn those actions.
Religion on the other hand is replete with examples of religious believers acting violently often times specifically for religious reasons. Everyday there are countless examples of religious violence specifically motivated by religious belief and faith. Do we see religious believers denouncing those incident in the same forceful manner that our community has come out in condemnation of the Chapel Hill shooting?
No. No we don’t. We see them make excuses for why those incidents had nothing to do with religion when they very obviously did. When Muslims shot-up the offices of Charlie Hebdo claiming that it was retaliation for blasphemy, the moderate Muslim community played the “No True Scotsman” card. Whenever Christians kill abortion doctors, assault gays, rape little boys, or drown their “demonic” children most Christian communities that even comment at all on the incidents also play the “No True Scotsman” card.
I’m not going to play that card. Craig Hicks is a “Scotsman” in that he was a vocal atheist who shares most of my values. Some values we don’t share are that I am not a gun advocate, I do not support violence, and I don’t support murdering people over a parking dispute or any other reason. What Hicks did was wrong and I condemn his actions. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims.
- Atheist community condemn Chapel Hill shooting (examiner.com)