THE BLOG

Is Atheism Evil?

02/16/2015 08:52 am ET | Updated Apr 16, 2015

In memory of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Abu-Salha

On February 11, atheist Craig Stephens Hicks killed three young Muslims in a dispute over a parking space. On atheist Hicks' Facebook page, we learn of his associations with fundamentalist atheist groups such as Militant Atheism for the Soul, United Atheists of America, The New Atheists, and Atheists for Equality. The vast majority of his postings mock religious belief and religious believers. And then there's the photo of atheist Hick's gun in a holster, with the caption: "Yes, that is 1 pound 5.1 ounces for my loaded 38 revolver, its holster, and five extra rounds in a speedloader."

I'm going out on a limb here but I speculate that when atheist Hicks pulled the trigger and killed three innocent Muslims, it wasn't really over a parking space.

The hate crimes committed by the radical atheist Hicks beg the question, is atheism evil?

The atheist Hicks's actions are part and parcel of atheism's bloody history. There were well over 100 million victims of communism in Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China. While many victims were merely capitalists, in the Soviet Union alone between 12-20 million Christians were killed. During China's "liberation" of Tibet, thousands of Tibetan Buddhists were killed and nearly every monastery was destroyed. In Cambodia, Pol Pot massacred about 25,000 Buddhist monks (and millions of other people); the Khmer Rouge also forced Muslims to eat pork and shot those who refused.

The collective atrocities of atheists in the twentieth century dwarf all of the religiously-implicated violence of the previous five millennia combined.

Is atheism evil?

If you, an American atheist, were dismayed, shocked, angered, outraged even by these opening sentences, then you have some small sense of the feelings of the more than a billion peace-loving Muslims every time a so-called Muslim kills someone.

If Hicks had been a Muslim and his victims American Christians, we would have immediately attributed his hatred and crimes to Islam. In headlines and news reports we would have seen and heard repeated associations of "Hicks" with "Islam," "Muslim," "radical," and "fundamentalist."

We would see essays asking, "Is Islam Evil"?

But the first headlines and news reports seldom mentioned or highlighted Hicks's atheism. Days later the FBI and pundits are still arguing about whether or not it was a hate crime or an obsession with parking (you know how those things go).

Why, whenever a Muslim is involved in violence, are we so sure the perpetrator's religious belief was the cause? How can we be so certain, based on very little information, about the motivations of the perpetrator and the intentions of Islam?

When it comes to motivations, we generally lack access to the heart of the perpetrator and so our attribution of a religious motivation is little more than a guess. And a risky guess at that.

By attributing the motivation to religion (that is, to THEM), we can ignore any responsibility that WE may have for creating situations that tempt usually young men to violence. For example, we can thereby ignore centuries of colonial oppression, our continued domination of Middle Eastern countries for oil, our unflagging zeal for Israel (with an attendant deafness to Palestinian suffering), and our attack on a Middle Eastern country under false pretenses (there was no evidence that 9-11 had anything to do with Iraq, and every evidence that it had everything to do with Saudi Arabia).

Our shock and awe strategy devastated Iraq's infrastructure, leading to, for example, a 150% increase in infant mortality. While the unemployment rate has improved since the invasion, nearly 30% of Iraqi 15-24 year olds are unemployed (these figures are likely low). Iraq has the highest poverty rate in the Middle East with 25% of its population living on less than $2/day. It will take decades to reconstruct and restore a country and culture that we destroyed in a matter of days (again, under false pretenses). We have sown the seeds of resentment.

If religion is not the only or not the primary motivation, then we need to understand what the primary motivation is and work together--Muslim, Christian and atheist alike--to relieve the deep and distressing injustices that incite these young men to violence.

Or we can continue simply blaming them and mocking their religion.

With respect to discerning the intentions of Islam, we should resist judging a religion and its adherents by its worst representatives. It would likewise be wrong to form opinions of atheism and atheists by the actions of atheist Craig Stephens Hicks. He does not represent.

Atheists don't want to and shouldn't be judged by Craig Stevens Hicks (or Stalin or Mao). Christians don't want to and shouldn't be judged by Westboro Baptist. And Muslims shouldn't be judged by ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Neither ISIS, the Charlie Hebdo murderers, nor the Taliban represent 1.5 billion Muslims. The vast majority of Muslims around the world love peace and hate violence.

Is atheism evil? No, but in the hands of some atheists, ideologically-charged versions of atheism have justified the slaughter of millions. Are atheists evil? Some are, most aren't. Is Islam evil? No, but in the hands of some Muslims, ideologically-charged versions of Islam are being used to justified the killing of innocents. Are Muslims evil? Some are, most aren't.

Muslims, like most of us, simply want a more peaceful and prosperous life for their children.