Monday, June 01, 2009

A Cause of Murder

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.


Ben said...

Interesting post. Good questions. I like your long term thinking.


Damion said...

The idea that even the most strident words of Harris and Dawkins might be used to justify murder is just plain laughable. Which passages would one use and what would the chain of induction?

Damion said...

By contrast, the steps from the theocratic slogan "abortion is murder" to "killing abortionists is justifiable" are so easy that I need not type them out here. You know the middle premise already, as it is widely believed and generally codified at law.

The Vicar said...

While I agree with part of your post, the bit condemning violent actions on behalf of atheism in advance, the rest is at least potentially full of flaws:

1) Can you point to a secular society which has committed crimes under the influence of tribalism? I can't think of any offhand, and if you can't, either, then it suggests that tribalism is linked to religion.

2) Saying that sports are "war" is a bit over the top, although not necessarily a flaw in the argument.

3) This is not the first instance of fatal violence against abortionists. There have been other cases in the past, and they have always been linked to religion.

4) Although this particular case may or may not have been motivated by religion, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that it was, notably Bill O'Reilly's campaign against the victim on the grounds of religion, which called him a murderer and a Nazi and warned of a "day of judgement".

5) Regardless of whether or not the killer was motivated by religion, religious people are celebrating the crime.

Eneasz said...

Vicar -

Your claim that only religion is linked to tribalism seems bizzarly absurd. The most obvious example is political parties. Studies have shown that people react very differently to scandal based soley on whether it occured in their favorite party or in the opposition. Other major examples are race, and nationalism.

More mundane examples include sports fans of rival teams (ever seen a melee break out in a soccer stadium?), game-console-preferance, and almost any professional organization. Cops are famous for this.

It's been shown that tribalism can be invoked merely by seperating children into different groups based on eye-color. There need not be any rational reason, tribalism is a very deep instinct in humans.

It also occurs in many animal species, who I assume have no religious motivations.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Eneasz. You said: "It's been shown that tribalism can be invoked merely by seperating children into different groups based on eye-color. There need not be any rational reason, tribalism is a very deep instinct in humans."

Actually, I was surprised to learn at the Beyond Belief conference in 2007 that tribalism can be involked merey by dividing a room into "people on the left," and "people on the right."

vjack said...

The scenario you describe about a murderous atheist probably will happen one of these days. If a specific source can be identified that has been calling for violence against members of the target group, then I have no problem holding the source responsible. The thing is, I haven't yet encountered any such source.

Should the killer in this case turn out not to be an anti-choice Christian, I will readily admit that I was wrong. In fact, I would actually be relieved to be wrong about this. I can't speak for everyone, but I went ahead with the assumption that he was such a Christian based on experience with similar cases and witness reports in this one that he was a regular protester. If I turn out to be wrong, the mistake will be quite understandable.

Finally, while I tend to agree with much of what you said about tribalism, I think you are missing the notion that religion divides in a way that few other things can.

Cat said...

I can see an athiest doing what you suggest, but at the same time that person would also be significantly troubled, with probably a mental illness. In that case people would blame the athiesm, when it really would just be a crazy person that happened to be athiest.

Damion said...

Anyone care to bet against the proposition that the assassin will be eventually be linked to Operation Rescue or some other fringe theocratic Christianist group such as the "Prayer and Action News" ???

Unknown said...

Mr Fyfe, you force me to look at and think about things differently. Thank you.

Hume's Ghost said...

" 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."

How can anyone making the assumption be guilty of doing so without reason or evidence? He's been the target of previous attacks, and is one of the highest profile targets of the violent groups responsible for abortion clinic murders/bombings in the previous decade. The suspect in custody was previously arrested for having bomb components in his car and was a member of Operation Rescue, which has tangential connnections to militant anti-abortion groups.(The founder Randal Terry "condemned" the killing of Tiller but basically said he brought it on himself; Tiller's previous attackers had been participants of O.R., too). The suspect has posted comments on the web stating his belief that Tiller was carrying out Mengele type activities on babies who he murdered.

It's almost certainly the case that he was targeted because of his abortion clinic. Indeed, it would be highly surprising and unlikely that his being picked out during a church service for murder didn't have anything to do with his abortion clinic.

Hume's Ghost said...

See this link for instance.

Also here:

Jayman said...

Alonzo, I would be interested to hear what DU says about vigilantism. Is it ever justified? If so, when?

Debra J.M. Smith said...

Obama said, "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence." --If Obama only cared that much about the countless babies who died at the hands of that abortionist...

A family member said, "Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients. This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace." Wow, how about the wombs that all of those babies were in? The womb is supposed to be a safe place of peace for a baby. But that monster would intrude and kill each one of them, with no remorse.

And I do not feel sorry for a family who loved a murderer. And I sure do NOT feel sorry for a church that had no problem allowing a murderer to attend.

Debra J.M. Smith

Hume's Ghost said...

"Prayer and Action News"

He was a reader of this - and an occasional contributor - newletter which considered killing abortion doctors "justifiable homicide."

Myself, I still recall vividly the chill I got when I got into an on-line discussion with a militant anti-abortionist who told me that if he ever happened to witness an abortion he would pull out the concealed gun he always has with him and if the doctor didn't stop, he'd shoot to kill. He reassured me by saying that he expected he'd never end up killing a doctor because he couldn't imagine a doctor not stopping the abortion at gunpoint.

Obviously, this is quite creepy considering that no one is going to "happen" to end up witnessing an abortion.

Don't let my previous comments fool anyone, I think Alonzo generally makes a valid point about not stereotyping religion in general, but I do believe that extremist anti-abortion rhetoric and a decades long case of ritual defamation directed at a specific individual (and broadcast at the national level by Bill O'Reilly for four years) deserves to be denounced for contributing to an atmosphere in which Tiller was dehumanized to the point that his murder was considered - at the least - understandable by significant portions of the adherents of the extremist branch of abortion opponents.

Frank Scaeffer - one of the persons who put opposition to abortion on the map for the Religious Right (which he helped found - has himself written an apology for his previous rhetoric, stating his belief that it contributed to the death of Tiller.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Just note the main argument.

You have 100 million examples of X and not Y.

15,000 examples of not X and Y.

1 example of X and Y.

And it makes sense to say that X is the cause of Y?

Hume's Ghost said...

Most of the Americans in the 20th century who viewed blacks as inferior or subhuman did not lynch blacks, but it doesn't mean that rhetoric about blacks being subhuman or inferior doesn't contribute to a culture or environment conducive to lynching blacks.

Fact of the matter is that there was a campaign of violence directed against abortion clinics the last time a Democrat was President. There were ZERO cases while a Republican was president. I predicted - accurately - that there would be a return of such violence if a Democrat became president again. Why? Because the non-stop propaganda disseminated about Obama and Democrats and Secular-Progressives/liberal/atheist/communists being baby killing monsters feeds into a sense of crisis that helps to trigger persons like this killer who have already internalized decades worth of hate demonizing the target of their ire.

Daniel Goldhagen had made a fairly strong case - in Hitler's Willing Executioners - that "eliminationist" rhetoric in pre-Nazi Germany helped lay the ideological groundwork for the subsequent persecution of Jews there.

If you spend sometime looking into the manner that Tiller has been targeted over the past two decades you'll see a kind of microcosm of the process in action.

The X and Y thing is pulled out of the air. This isn't the first attempt on Tiller's life and it's not just a spurious accident that abortion clinic bombers/killers are coming from particular groups promoting a specific ideology (in the case of the Prayer Action News - killing abortion doctors as justifiable homicide). You only have 1 Muslim fundamentalist who killed Theo Van Gogh. But that's all it took. One. It doesn't mean that there weren't more that were willing or wanted to do the same (indeed, there were more, which is why his co-writer lived under police protection.) In that scenario, like this one, you had a culture which demonized a specific target to the point where his death became "understandable."

I similarly hold pro-animal rights extremists culpable for their extremist rhetoric demonizing researchers for the escalating scale of violence we've seen recently against researchers. This doesn't mean that I believe that being pro-animal rights or anti-animal cruelty necessarily makes one violent. Obviously not since I consider myself both.

Of course it doesn't meant that violence necessarily follows from someone believing that abortion is murder. But that's missing the point: does spending decades building a mob mentality around a specific individual, calling him a killer, a Nazi, a demonic evil that must be stopped while spreading lies and misinformation about him increase the likelihood that some fanatic will take his life? When a fanatic goes out and kills and persons - both leaders and general participants - gloat over the murder, blame the victim from bringing this upon himself, and generally rationalize the death (the "I don't condone his killer but ...." argument) they are serving to legitimize - however tacitly - the notion that the victim deserved to die.

When I condemn these persons I am condemning them for fomenting irrational hatred, not for literally killing Tiller. Only the killer himself carries the burden of that crime. But those who targeted him for a campaign of hatred do share the ethical burden for the creation of the hatred of Tiller that was at the center of his assasination.

Hume's Ghost said...

That should have read:

"When a fanatic goes out and kills and persons from the movement he was a part of - both leaders and general participants -"

Hume's Ghost said...


Is it fair to say that guards and interrogators at Gitmo being told they were dealing with the "worst of the worst" contributed to the prisoner abuses there?

Hume's Ghost said...

"There were ZERO cases while a Republican was president."

Let me qualify that. I'm alluding to the pattern: Clinton - Bush - Obama.

There were attacks on abortion clinics previous to Clinton during the Reagan administration. But this activity spiked during the Clinton years, with a number of high profile murders and attacks (the Atl Olympics bomber was making an anti-abortion, anti-homosexual statement) - and then there were zero such attack during the Bush years. (Although general harassment did continue.)

DeafAtheist said...

I agree with Cat. I don't think any rational atheist would commit such an atrocity. As an anti-theist myself who absolutely despises religion, I couldn't fathom killing a theist because they weren't an atheist or even resorting to any type of preemptive violence towards them, for the simple fact that I hate religion, but I don't hate religious people. I don't find fault in their delusions. I couldn't blame a theist for believing in fairytales any more than I could blame a schizophrenic for their paranoia.

So I'd think that if the scenario you describe was to play out then it would be due more to the person's mental health issues than their atheism. They might be thinking one of the 4 horsemen is telling them to kill for atheism in their books, but it would really be attributed to the voices in their head.

I believe that even if such an event does happen it would also be an isolated incident that isn't likely to be repeated anytime soon after.

Emu Sam said...

Imagine a society where atheists outnumber theists about five to one. Suppose that there is a general culture of making fun of the theists - accusing them of being irrational and saying that because of their theism they are not capable of being as moral as an atheist. (This should not be hard to imagine. It happens already.)

Further suppose that there is an issue of some controversy which is, in many ways, seen as being split across the a/theism line. The "making fun" escalates in relation to this controversy. There is a theist who makes a living doing things related to the controversy, despite atheists organizations who insist the action is immoral.

Perhaps the theist spreads pseudoscience, resulting in more deaths than would otherwise have happened. Perhaps they preach against modern medicine and insist reliance upon god is the more holy action. Atheists exclaim in contempt and organization spring up to directly counter this sort of action.

And one day an atheist decides to try to save lives by killing one or more of these people. They may not be rational, but they are decidedly an atheist.

Is that atheist likely to be the last to try such a thing? Should the organizations be held responsible for the single person's acts? What if fifty more similar atheists perform similar acts over the next decade or two?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Hume's Ghost:

You wrote: "It's almost certainly the case that he was targeted because of his abortion clinic. Indeed, it would be highly surprising and unlikely that his being picked out during a church service for murder didn't have anything to do with his abortion clinic."

I agree. I said as much when I noted that, if I were investigating the crime, I would definitely investigate that option.

I am not surprised that the suspected killer has links to Operation Rescue. Though we still have to consider the possibility that we consider this person guilty because it fits our stereotype. Stereotypes have a bad habit of blinding us to facts we do not like - to generate confirmation bias. That's why we need a presumption of innocence and an impartial jury.

As for the fact that there were 7 attacks under Clinton, 0 under Bush, and 1 under Obama (so far)...

I have a feeling that if the numbers were switched, this ALSO would have been offered as proof of the original thesis. And if the number of attacks were consistent over that time that this would not have been taken to falsify the thesis.

Eneasz said...

Cat/DeafAtheist -

This is essentially what Alonzo's saying about the christian killer. That the murder was an act that can be tied to mental instability, and not to christianity/atheism.

Hume's Ghost -

Alonzo speaks often and very vigoursly against hate-mongerers. One of the reasons is because the mentally unstable can often be influenced to kill by these hate-mongerers. But I think the purpose of this post was to deflect criticism away from "Christianity" or "Religion." A lot of atheists have a bad habit of blaming christianity or religion for these incidents, which should correctly be aimed at hate-mongers instead. It makes no sense to blame christianity when Dr Tiller was himself a christian (evidently).

Debra - please remember that almost all late-term abortions are done to save the life of the mother. They're generally illegal otherwise.

Eneasz said...

I should amend that to include "or severe developmental problems with the fetus."

Hume's Ghost said...

"I have a feeling that if the numbers were switched, this ALSO would have been offered as proof of the original thesis. And if the number of attacks were consistent over that time that this would not have been taken to falsify the thesis."

Perhaps, but if the numbers were switched it wouldn't make any sense to me, as I understand the motivations for such activities (in other words, it would suggest that to me I need to reevaluate my understanding of the matter.) If the numbers were consistent this would also go against my expectations.

Hume's Ghost said...

'But I think the purpose of this post was to deflect criticism away from "Christianity" or "Religion."'

That's fine. I agree with that. But I'm also in favor of holding accountable particular groups whose ideology and belief system fostered fanaticide. If you go to Talk 2 Action and read through some of the posts up there about the Tiller killing, it's quite evident that Christian fundamentalism - of a particular sort - is a signficant contributing factor to the death of Tiller.

Doug S. said...

You have 100 million examples of X and not Y.

15,000 examples of not X and Y.

1 example of X and Y.

And it makes sense to say that X is the cause of Y?

You have loads of examples of lightning strikes that don't kill people.

You have loads of examples of people that died from causes other than lightning strikes.

That doesn't mean that lightning doesn't kill people!

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Doug S.

No, it doesn't mean that lightning does not kill people.

It does mean that if you find a corpse during a lightning storm it is a bit rash to jump to the conclusion that lightning killed him.

Anonymous said...

What a thought provoking post! I've pondered similar thoughts myself and appreciate the post Mr. Fyfe!

Damion said...

"1 example of X and Y."

How about 4/4 examples of assassinated American abortion doctors being killed by radical Christians who subscribe to the following two propositions:

1. Abortion is murder

2. Killing abortionists is justifiable homicide

Of course, the second follows from the first, given a certain conception of "justifiable homicide"

Seems to me that it is irrational to claim that these highly relevant propositions had no effect on the behavior of our the assassins in question.

Damion said...

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. As the great philosophers Parker and Stone pointed out in a parable involving talking sea otters.

I find particularly odd that you critique Sam Harris here, as he repeatedly and pointedly insists that religion is not the problem but rather faith is the problem, including such faiths such as Marxism among his targets.

Also, I've yet to see anything that remotely resembles a deduction from the atheist literature to a cause for murder. Does anyone
doubt that for holy books, this is all to easily accomplished?

Jayman said...

Damion, your two "highly relevant propositions" appear secular in nature. There is nothing stopping an atheist from believing that abortion is murder and that, since the government will not punish these murderers, he is justified in killing the abortion doctor to protect the lives of countless innocents that would otherwise be killed.

Damion said...

There is nothing stopping an atheist from believing that abortion is murder...

Too true, and no doubt if you look hard enough you can find an atheist or two who believes it. I might even be persuaded, myself, as to certain forms of late term abortion.

However, the irrational and categorical view that *ALL* abortions are murder, at any stage of development, is surprisingly popular within mainstream faith groups while remaining almost completely absent from the rationalist and freethought community (Parenthetically - I'm wide open to disproof here).

What accounts for this vast disparity between the faithful and the faithless? Well, I assume it is on account of a set of faith-based propositions, such as those invoking the existence of the human soul or the "sanctity" of human life.

Damion said...

I could be going out on a limb here but it seems to me that if you are going to posit that a first-term abortion is murder you require some sort of faith-based fiction to help you along, like the idea of the human soul or the inherent value of human life at any stage. Is it possible to make this case without citing to religious faith?

Jayman said...

Damion, I found a Pew survey (p 16) of Americans that can provide some numbers. Here are the percentages of each group who say that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases:

Total population - 43%
Protestant - 49%
Evangelical churches - 61%
Mainline churches - 32%
Historically black churches - 46%
Catholic - 45%
Mormon - 70%
Orthodox - 30%
Jehovah's Witnesses - 77%
Jewish - 14%
Muslim - 48%
Buddhist - 13%
Hindu - 24%
Total affiliated with a religion - 46%
Total unaffiliated - 24%
Atheist - 13%
Agnostic - 14%
Secular unaffiliated - 19%
Religious unaffiliated - 36%

Note that it is not particularly difficult to find atheists who oppose abortion. If we are going to try and explain things solely by religion we raise more questions than we answer. Why do Jews and Buddhists answer the question the same way that atheists and agnostics do? How come Evangelicals are twice as likely to answer the question with a yes than Orthodox Christians despite the fact that they share the same Scripture? Why are Jews more open to abortion than Christians despite the fact that they share the Old Testament? Why are black Christians more likely to oppose abortion than non-black Christians? Why do Mormons and JWs oppose abortion so strongly despite having much in common with Christianity?

Perhaps there are answers to all these questions but, at this point, I am unwilling to say religion causes one to hold a certain view on abortion. There are probably many factors into why people hold a given view on abortion.

Damion said...

I am also "unwilling to say religion causes one to hold a certain view on abortion" but those numbers certainly make it look like a major determining factor. Note especially the unusually numbers for those denominations which place a strong emphasis on church attendance and evangelism.

Again, I have to reiterate that one cannot reasonably make the claim that it is immoral to abort first-trimester fetuses (e.g. by the use of pharmaceutical abortifacients) without resorting to faith-based fictions such as human soul or intrinsic moral worth. Reality-based moral theories such as utilitarianism and egoism are not going to get you there, while faith might be able to do so.

Damion said...

I must commend you, though, for doing the empirical footwork. Certainly it is foolish to argue about such things as these wholly in the abstract.

Damion said...

Back to the topic of the OP, though, I have to ask whether anyone ever murdered an abortion doc without ever citing to Hebrew Scripture for support?

And again, I have to ask, what bits from popular atheist works might be used to justify murder? I am really interested in hearing more on this. Page numbers, please.

Damion said...

Here is a list of anti-abortion terrorists. Care to guess how many never cited Scripture in justifying their actions?

Jayman said...

Damion, Alonzo has already argued that a "woman has until the fetus acquires a brain, and thus acquires interests, to determine whether or not she will consent to the use of her body." There appears to be some controversy on when a fetus can feel pain (has desires), with the earliest proposed time being about 10 weeks into the pregnancy. Assuming moral people will err on the side of caution, it seems we have to generally condemn abortions that take place during and after the 10th week. I find this argument persuasive.

I can conceive of secular arguments that go even further (though I don't fully agree with them):

1) We should err on the side of caution. Since we are somewhat ignorant about when fetuses can feel pain we should forbid all abortions so as to guarantee that a fetus is never murdered.

2) The world is better off where killing is always condemned. Part of creating that better world involves condemning abortion.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jayman wrote, "Damion, Alonzo has already argued that a "woman has until the fetus acquires a brain, and thus acquires interests, to determine whether or not she will consent to the use of her body."

Well, more precisely, until the fetus acquires desires OR on first discovery of pregnancy (if the fetus has already acquired desires).

I have also argued that, if the fetus has desires, the mother has the right to deny the use of her body, but not the right to kill, the fetus (if the fetus is viable).

However, I have also argued that, in a free and open society, the only legitimate action to take if one disagrees with a law is to campaign against it - not to use violence.

However, some atheists adopt philosophies (e.g., Ayn Rand objectivism, intrinsic value theories, act utilitarian theories) that draw different conclusions. The act-utilitarian, for example, would look at the relative costs and benefits of the specific act of killing the doctor - and may well find it justified.

Damion said...

I assume that pigs and sheep have as well-developed desires as a second-term fetus. May I assume also that desire utilitarians are generally vegetatarians, erring, as you say, on the side of caution.

Damion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damion said...

This last may seem like a red herring, but my point is one of policy and consistency. If our society generally condemned slaughtering all beings with desires, including those we find tasty, then second- or late-term abortions would surely stick out like an anomalous sore-thumb, the legislatures would not hesitate to act, and the courts would surely hesitate to override on constitutional grounds.

Jynx said...

Interesting website. I just stumbled upon it and I congradulate you on the quality of your writing.

A few of my associates and I recently discussed this very thing. My point was (and is) that it is impossible for "atheism" to condone murder.

While theism is a positive belief system and in the case of, say Christianity, it also holds certain premises which could very easily lead to violence and murder (The command to execute non-believers comes to mind: 2 Chron. 15:13) atheism has no such principle associated with it. Atheism is a "negative" belief in that it asserts no prescription for behavior.

If an atheist came to the conclusion that a certain Christian organization or individual was spreading lies/delusions which were so harmful to society that it/they should be exterminated, then takes action, that atheist did not do so BECAUSE he/she was an atheist. They did so because of the belief of the horrible danger said Christian organization/individual presented. While a fairly common sentiment among atheists (although hardly this extreme), atheism itself does not contain this premise. Other beliefs played a role, too. For instance the belief that those choosing to attend and believe in such Christian teachings don't deserve to decide for themselves what to believe (regardless of the danger), etc.

Atheism itself could never prescribe any behavior, although philosophies which house atheism (such as Objectivism) do.

I do agree, however, that if an atheist were to commit an act of outrageous public violence that portions of the media and the public at large would probably blame atheism, rather than whatever positive belief system that individual held which actually led to the violence.