I have given this warning before.
One of these days an atheist is going to commit some unspeakable act of violence against a religious figure. He will attempt to justify his action in part by reference to books with titles such as The End of Faith and How Religion Poisons Everything. We may find a web site in which he mentions Sam Harris' claim that we can kill people because of their beliefs. (Not his actual claim, but an easy misinterpretation.) The perpetrator may well write about the virtue of eliminating unfit memes from the meme pool – of how by his actions he is preventing the religious figure from spreading his meme virus to others.
Religious writings will then be filled with claims about how the militant atheism of Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers contributed to this act of violence – how they are instigators of violence.
There will, indeed, be a number of atheist writers who will make claims like, “While I condemn this act of violence we must remember that the victim had spent his life filling people’s heads with myth and superstition.”
I would like you, my atheist reader, to decide now how you are going to react to that – particularly if you are the author of an atheist blog or the leader of an atheist organization. What principles will you follow in such a case? And are you following them now?
I already know how I would respond in such a case. Since this blog started I have repeated and defended the principles on which I write.
I have written that the only legitimate response to words are words and private actions. And the only legitimate response to a political campaign in a society in which people are granted a right to speak is a counter-campaign. Private violence is not a legitimate response. Consequently, whatever objections any reader of mind might have to a theocratic state, as long as the political process is left open to public debate, he is not justified in expressing his views through violence – not in this state.
If (when) an atheist commits such an act of violence, he will not be able to point to my words as motivation for his actions.
He will also note that I do not consider religion to be the root of all evil. Religion simply represents one family of false beliefs that a person can adopt. There are other families of false beliefs out there – some of which happen to include a kernel of truth in that they say that no God exists. There are tendencies in human nature, manifested not only in religion but in political parties and even sports, where humans divide themselves into tribes that go to war against each other.
A world filled with atheists would also split into tribes that will battle each other, unless we get it through our thick skulls that religion is not the problem. This tribal mentality is the problem. If we do not recognize the actual enemy we will not see it when it approaches and we will not have the proper institutions set up to prevent it from doing real harm.
It is in recognition that tribalism is the problem that I write these frequent posts warning against manifestations of atheist tribalism when they occur. Sometimes I look through the atheist community and I see all of the symptoms of an atheist tribe putting itself up against the theist tribe – with all of the irrational "atheists (who are loyal to the tribe) can do no wrong while theists can do no right."
I am disappointed at the sheer numbers of atheist writers who jumped to the conclusion – without reason or evidence – that Dr. George Tiller was killed because he was an abortion doctor. If I were investigating the crime I would certainly consider that to be a fruitful line of inquiry, but I would not simply assume that this was the motive. I would not blind myself, my team of investigators, or the public by asserting that this must be the motive, and blind myself and them to other possibilities.
This is one of the irrationalities of tribalism.
Even if the perpetrator were to say that he acted so as to prevent Dr. Tiller from killing more children, we would still have reason to ask if this is the real reason. Perhaps he merely wanted to kill – he enjoyed killing – and sought to rationalize his killing by wrapping his act in some semblance of legitimacy.
We still have to deal with the fact that of the millions of people who hold that abortion is the moral equivalent of killing children that at most one murdered an abortion doctor. In what sense can the claim that abortion is the murder of children be the cause of this action, when millions of people who have that belief have not committed murder?
This is as irrational as saying that, where there are more than 100 million buildings that did not collapse, and 1 building that did collapse, that the reason for the collapse was something that all the buildings had in common. Okay, if THAT was the cause, why did the other buildings not collapse as well? Given the fact that only one of more than a hundred million buildings collapsed, maybe we should look somewhere else for the cause.
When one out of a hundred million behaves differently than the rest, the person of reason asks what makes him different. He does not look for his answer in what they all have in common. Such a person has abandoned reason. For this, we can ask, "Why?" And what does our answer tell us of the moral character of such a person.