In the wake of another hate-motivated killing, MSNBC posted an article on the rise of hate groups in the United States. They attributed the growth to a 'perfect storm' of causes. These include the election of a black man as President of the United States and the use of the economic downturn to argue that they (brown immigrants) are taking your (white Americans) jobs.
(See MSNBC Homegrown hate groups increase in number)
I would like to note that neither of these are specifically religious causes. They are the types of arguments that can have an affect on a person regardless of whether or not they believe in God.
There is nothing in this type of us versus them mindset that is necessarily linked to religion. It is not a disposition of the specifically theist brain, it is a disposition of the human brain. Atheists, insofar as they are human, are also disposed to fall into an us versus them mindset that threatens to cause a certain portion of that population to commit similar acts of violence.
I have argued in recent weeks that it is a mistake to condemn statements of the form, "X is wrong and those who do X deserve to be punished" as inciting violence. That absurd position would condemn all moral discussion, including a substantial portion of the posts in this blog.
However, a morally responsible person must consider the possibility that a portion of those who are reading or hearing what he says are at risk of drawing invalid inferences. People generally, including atheists, are disposed to certain invalid inferences, and this appears to be one of them.
No doubt, if some atheist did commit such an act of violence, atheist writers from one end of the blogsphere to the other will be saying exactly the same thing that Bill O’Reilly is saying with respect to the Tiller murder. "It's not my fault. I did not tell anybody to go out there and commit private acts of violence."
One of my questions will be, "Perhaps not. However, did you tell them not to?"
Yet, this is a bit like spreading fertilizer on a well watered field and saying, "Don't blame me. I did not tell the plants to grow there."
Perhaps not. However, one did lay the groundwork for plants to grow, and the morally responsible person would have taken into consideration the possible the potential consequences of one’s actions and how they might affect others.
So, I reject the idea that somebody such as O'Reilly is to be condemned for saying, "X is wrong, and those who do X should be punished." However, it is fully acceptable to condemn somebody such as O’Reilly for negligence in not saying, "None of this justifies anybody committing an act of private violence."
I think this is a good time for those atheist writers who are heavy into the us versus them debate with respect to theists to explicitly state, "Whenever I say, 'X is wrong and those who do X should be punished,' I am putting this thesis out as a topic for public debate. I'm not telling anybody to decide on their own to go ahead and inflict punishment."
Private violence is an ultimate expression of arrogance. The person who uses guns and bombs to make a point, rather than pen and paper, is stating the, even though he lacks the ability to persuade others of 'the truth' of the matter, the fact he could not possibly be the one who is in error justifies escalating into violence.
A morally responsible person would take these types of precautions. A person not willing to take these types of precautions cannot be thought of as having the appropriate level of concern over the potential consequences of their actions.