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Taking Atheism Seriously


Recently a man burst into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and shot and killed 26 parishioners (including an unborn child). The killer’s former high school classmates described him as a militant atheist.

“He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism,” wrote former classmate Nina Rose Nava in a Facebook post, according to the Daily Mail. “I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post.”

Which raises this question: To what extent was the killer’s rampage inspired by his atheist beliefs? Obviously, I am not making the case that atheists as a group condone his act, or would ever consider doing anything like it. All decent, normal people, atheist and theist alike, are horrified by this atrocity. Yet the question posed is still reasonable. If the tables had been turned — if, God forbid many times over, the victims had been atheists at a skeptics’ convention and the killer had been an evangelical Christian — the public square would be filled with speculation about the role that ideology played in his crimes. And properly so. We can’t get inside the Texas killer’s head (fortunately), but ideas do have consequences.

If you’re looking for reflection on the killer’s motives, don’t waste your time looking on atheist blogs, not least the ones with a focus on promoting evolution. Jerry Coyne mentions it briefly, with no meditations on why a fellow militant atheist would murder Christians. Larry Moran says not a word. Militant atheist Jeff Shallit posted nothing. Panda’s Thumb, a group blog devoted to atheism’s creation myth, put up a post mocking creationist Ken Ham the day before the shooting. Nothing since. The Richard Dawkins Foundation merely posted ridicule of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s request for prayers. Sam Harris, who has written that “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them,” said nothing about a fellow atheist who killed people for their beliefs.

P.Z. Myers did mention the mass murder — in order to mock the Christians who were slaughtered by his co-(ir)religionist, while ridiculing a Lutheran pastor who sought to comprehend the terrible event:

This is a tragedy, and it’s a little unfair to chastise the dead for the failure of their faith. I could agree that maybe this is an appropriate time for empathy, rather than mockery. But wait… [.] So those dead church-goers were praying for God to kill them? Dude, that is f***** up. If it’s bad for atheists to mock the sincerity of the faithful, it’s also bad to pretend that the deceased were praying for their demise, and God was being nice by sending a gunman to blow them away…Twenty six people were killed on Sunday. So we can expect them to rise from the dead on, oh, Tuesday? Was the terror a necessary part of their “rescue” into heaven? The blood and pain and fear? This Jesus guy is one evil, nasty character…. We already know that God’s aim is terrible, but now you’re telling me someone could pray to get over their cold, and God will interpret that to mean he should deliver them out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory with a bullet to the brain?

This is a theme with militant atheist bloggers: They preach an ideology responsible for more violence than any known to man, and they excoriate theists for the atrocities committed in God’s name. But, when it comes to atheist atrocities, militant atheists are silent.

Many atheists argue that atrocities by atheists don’t count, because they were not committed “in the name of atheism.” The Sutherland Springs murders put the lie to that claim, as if the tens of millions murdered during the past century explicitly in the name of atheism weren’t enough. As Jesuit Edward Oakes notes wryly: “So it’s not atheism that’s the problem, only atheists!”

The problem that atheists have with reflection on their own beliefs is that they don’t (with a few exceptions) take their own atheism seriously.

So, let’s do it for them. If atheism is true, the following are true:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Nothing caused everything for no reason.
  3. There is no ultimate purpose for anything.
  4. There is no afterlife.
  5. Human beings are just animals.
  6. There is no objective morality (follows necessarily from 1, 2, 3, 5).
  7. There is no ultimate accountability (follows necessarily from 1-6).
  8. There is no free will (follows from 5).
  9. There is no guilt or innocence in a moral sense (follows from 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8).

I’m sure you can add a few more necessary items to the Atheist Nicene Creed.

When you consider the Sutherland Springs killer’s motives — including his hatred of Christians — it’s obvious how his atheist belief provided the grease to turn his hate into action. What does he have to fear? When he is dead (it was clearly a suicide mission), he will have no pain, no suffering, no accounting, according to atheist beliefs.

If you wonder why militant atheists of a more docile variety (needless to say, the vast, vast majority in our society) don’t contemplate the atrocities of their less docile co-(ir)religionists, this is one reason: Any honest reflection on atheist belief would make it very clear that atheism, taken seriously, offers no reason not to kill innocents that you hate. Atheism is much more than disbelief in gods. Atheism is the explicit denial of objective morality and the explicit denial of ultimate accountability.

This is the reason that atheism is the most violent ideology in human history: some atheists take atheism seriously.

Photo credit: emoro, via Pixabay.