Beliefs may not have been motive for N.C. killings

Now, it’s the atheists’ turn to be held accountable by some people for the actions of individuals.

Last night, three North Carolina students were shot to death. That they were also Muslims immediately brought speculation that the deaths were related to religion. It might have been. It might not have been. We don’t know.

But that doesn’t stop us from creating a reality in the absence of information, even though police are theorizing that the killings may have had something to do with a parking space.

“The news sparked outrage and a viral Twitter hashtag, #MuslimLivesMatter, reflecting users belief that the crime was religiously motivated and frustration with what they saw as the media’s failure to report the incident,” the Washington Post said.

The alleged shooter was an atheist, according to initial news reports.

P.Z. Meyers, an atheist, writes on Pharyngula today that the killer doesn’t deserve attention, but it’s unavoidable.

“You can guess what the mailboxes of prominent atheists look like this morning,” he writes.

He says there are two things for atheists to take away from the crime:

* Maybe next time you determine that all Muslims are savages because some of them engage in terrorist violence, you should stop and think about how you like being judged by the example of the atheist who murdered Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. I don’t think you’re going to be able to forget that, because I guarantee you that every anti-atheist from now on will be throwing the terrorist violence of this killer in your face, just as every Muslim has had 9/11 pinned on them.

* Maybe it’s time to abandon this pretense that atheism has no moral consequences, that all it means is “There are no gods” and “We are smarter than everyone else”. Atheism should be a philosophy that says we’re all alone in this life together, there is no divine paragon whispering in the ears of our righteous leaders about what to do, and we have to find our moral compass in our relationships with other human beings, the living organisms we are co-dependent upon, and Earth itself, not holy authority.

Related: Chapel Hill shooting forces uncomfortable conversations among Reddit's atheists (Vox).

  • Thomas Mercier

    It might be splitting hairs but without digging deeper it appears that there is a logical leap from atheist to humanist. One that may or may not be appropriate.

  • Mark in Ohio

    Is it me or do those two comments seem somewhat contradictory? The first paragraph says, and I feel very validly, that you shouldn’t paint an entire group with the actions of a few. The second paragraph then goes on to paint all athiests as immoral, or at least suffering from some moral failing.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      I don’t see a contradiction. Often one of the things that religious believers will complain about when talking about atheists is that without belief in some sort of afterlife there was nothing to morally ground the atheist. The first paragraph describes an obvious “moral consequence” of being an atheist. Those who think that atheists are without “moral compass” will now have an example to through back in the atheists face. The same false equivalence that is used against Muslims or Jews or Blacks or Gays or any other group. You are part of this group so you are bad because this person did this horrible deed. Remember these two points are directed at the atheists in Myer’s audience. The same people that have no problem berating the believers for their hypocrisy when it comes to bombing abortion clinics or executing non-believers on one hand, and claiming to provide salvation for all believers on the other. I believe Prof. Myers is simply cautioning his often very vocal readers to be careful. They as a group are not immune from having to the actions of one improperly reflect on the group as a whole.

  • David W.

    I’m sure there’s more that will emerge from the investigation and certain trial in this case that will reveal more about the motives of the accused, so there’s no need to rush to judgment yet. I do have a quibble with Prof. Myers’ though, as his intemperate and vituperative blog has for years taken more than its share of potshots at religion, including Islam, which has contributed to a culture of religious intolerance among atheists of his ilk. Maybe instead of worrying about how atheism should inform our morality he could stop making things worse in his own little corner of the internet.