Eleven churches in east Texas have been destroyed by arson so far this year.
What if it is the case that an atheist is responsible? What would be implications of discovering that the culprit in this case has decided to target churches "for the harm they have do promoting faith and other groundless doctrines used by millions do to harm to others"?
From time to time I have challenged the notion that, while people commit violence in the name of God, nobody commits violence in the name of no-God. The main reason is because no-God never commands its followers to do violence. In fact, no-God never commands its followers to do anything.
I have challenged it on the grounds that God has never commanded people to do violence either. This is because no God exists to do the commanding. Whatever it is that causes people to engage in these types of violence, God is not and has never been a part of the actual causal chain.
There are people who have committed violence who have claimed that they have done so because scripture or some religious doctrine has told them that this is the right thing to do. However, this scripture did not come from God. It came from other human beings - and from the agent's own interpretation of what those other human beings (claiming to speak for God) wanted them to do.
Yet, putting commands to do violence into scripture that one claims to be the word of God is not the only way one person can inspire others to commit acts of violence. There are a great many other ways. Any statement that denigrates a group of people, identifies them as such-human and as perpetrators of injustice, and thus places them beyond the bounds of common moral constraints, can make those people the objects of violence.
So, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the arsonist in this case has read the words of atheist writers on the internet, developed a loathing for those who preach religion, and has decided to use this as a justification for committing acts of violence against them.
If it is not the case that this person has been inspired to do God by reading the statements of atheist writers, there is still the possibility that some other person, now or in the future, is feeding a hatred off of his interpretation of the claims made on atheist sites, and will commit some future act of violence in the name of atheism.
My question to my readers - particularly those who also write - is, "What have you done to promote or to inhibit that possibility?"
For my part I have stated countless times that the right to freedom of speech may not mean a right to immunity from criticism for what one says, but it does imply a right to immunity from violence. The only legitimate response to words are words and private actions - where 'private actions' are those that one may perform without asking for permission from or justifying it to another person. Choices over what to watch on television, which movies to go to, which web sites to visit, what to eat, what to wear, who to invite to your child's birthday party, where to send your private charitable donations, all count as private actions. People are free to use these private actions to reward or punish others for what they say.
However, nobody is free to use a torch to communicate their disapproval of another person's words. People who do so are a threat to all of us. They are not only a threat to our property, they are a threat to our very lives. They are a threat to the lives of the first responders who show up to put out the fire, and they are a theat to the lives of anybody who may have been sleeping or staying in the churches at the times they were torched - including, potentially, children in need of shelter.
This arsonist is truly a despicable human being for what he is willing to cause happen to others. He exhibits desires that the rest of us have many and strong reason to inhibit through condemnation, or at best shows an absence of those aversions that many of us have reason to promote.
Our responsibility lies in knowing that despicable people like this exist. They are prone to violence and, even though they might select a target for their violence by reading scripture, there are other ways for such a person to select their victims.
They may select their victims from reading our blogs and articles, and through them determine that there is a class of people amongst us who fall beyond the realm of moral society, and who are deserving of the harms he seeks to inflict.
The idea that nobody does harm in the name of no-God is a dangerous delusion that some people may be tempted to use because they enjoy or otherwise find value in making mean claims about others while ignoring the possible consequences of their actions. Some people enjoy being mean, and they enjoy the cheers of an audience who find it entertaining to be a part of the crowd that is being mean (which is far better than being a part of the crowd that is being targeted with that meanness).
I know nothing about this case in Texas and I am not suggesting any theories about what the facts of the case are. However, what has been reported is enough to ask the questions, "Could you be making claims that risk inspiring such a person to such a level of violence?" and "What have you done, as a responsible writer, to help to ensure that you are not a contributor to these types of actions?"
Maybe this arsonist is a reader of our sites. Or maybe it is the next one.
What would you have to say to such a person?