After Craig Stephen Hicks murdered three of his neighbors on February 10, 2015, a new discussion has taken the national stage: the “dangers” of anti-theism. I’m not going to bury the lead, I’m an anti-theist. I oppose ALL religions and supernatural beliefs. (Even more strongly, though, I oppose killing your neighbors.) Mr. Hicks’ facebook page, much like my own, is filled with comments, memes and articles opposing theistic themes. Does this mean that his anti-theistic leanings fueled his murderous acts? Are anti-theists dangerous? Are anti-theists some fundamentalist branch of atheism just as jihadists are fundamentalist Muslims?
Anti-theism isn’t a sect
Many faiths have a fundamentalist branch. Fundamentalist Christians try to force creationism to be taught in public schools. They oppose the march of progress in science, women’s rights and even some electronic technology, suggesting such things are the “mark of the beast”, referencing the Bible book of Revelation. They beat gay men to death. They blow up clinics. They shoot doctors. At their core, they are motivated by a literal interpretation of their holy book, the Bible.
Fundamentalist Muslims similarly oppose modern culture. They attempt to make Sharia law the law of the land in which they live. They also oppose women’s rights. They have shot entire classrooms of students to death because little girls were being taught to read. They have thrown battery acid in the faces of little girls trying to learn. They engage in “holy” jihad, murdering infidels, those who don’t hold their beliefs. They murder journalists for publishing drawings of their “prophet” Mohammed, an illiterate man who raped young girls. At their core, they are motivated by a literal interpretation of their holy book, the Quran.
Almost without exception, the horrific, reprehensible and murderous acts performed by any of these fundamentalist groups can be directly excused, permitted and instructed by their so-called holy books. Some readers may find this to be arguable or offensive. It is neither. It is simply true. The bible places women distinctly below men. It encourages child abuse, slavery, genocide and more. The Quran, in addition to these things, directly instructs the bringing of violence against non-believers. Fundamentalists are not perverting their faith. They are actually representing it in a much truer form than their moderate counterparts. Moderate believers of any faith have simply tempered the barbaric, bronze-age teachings of their faith with modern, humanistic, secular beliefs.
Is it fair, then, to apply this same formula to anti-theism? Atheists are the “moderates” and anti-theists are the fundamentalist sect? No. The reasons for this are plain. Atheism is not an ideology. It has no tenets, no creed, no common goals, no holy writings. Atheism makes no claims about the universe, human rights, or any other important matter. Atheists simply maintain that there is no credible evidence for any creator, personal god or supernatural force. That’s it. Nothing more. Atheism isn’t a belief any more than not collecting stamps is a hobby.
If this is the case (and it is), we’ve already ruled out an anti-theist sect. A non-belief can’t have a sect. But let’s set that aside. Let’s pretend that’s not the case . Let’s give this non-starter some traction and suppose anti-theists are dyed-in-the-wool atheists who are more aggressive and perhaps, like Mr. Hicks, violent and dangerous.
Anti-theism isn’t violent
Anti-theists do more than say there is no god. Anti-theists directly oppose religion and supernatural belief. Anti-theists are often very vocal about the harms and shackles brought on humanity by trying to determine the will of a silent and invisible god and then acting out these fantasies in society. Anti-theists argue against bad ideas. Anti-theistic activism can take many forms. It may be a conversation over coffee with a friend discussing the harm caused by religious employers taking over their employees’ healthcare. It could involve an Establishment-clause lawsuit brought to remove religious symbols from public land funded by public money. Anti-theists may even take to the internet, like this, and try to promote objective discourse about the harm religion is doing to our human family.
The mechanics of anti-theism, though, don’t have any route to violence. Opposition of bad ideas comes in the form of presenting (what we believe to be) good ideas. As Dr. King said, darkness can’t eliminate darkness, only light can do that. How can an anti-theist oppose the limiting of someone’s rights in the name of the supernatural while in the next breath take away the believer’s rights by bringing violence upon them? This holds no water intellectually. If an individual attacks or murders a believer, it is because they’re xenophobic assholes not because anti-theism calls for it.
Believers often say that they can “hate the sin, but not hate the sinner.” Perhaps that can be so. (I would actually argue against the notion of sin, but that’s for another time.) In a similar way, someone who opposes religion can oppose bad ideas without opposing the person who holds them. When I argue against religion in government I don’t wish any harm to the person in front of me. I don’t feel that I’m unique in this way. Look at the well-known anti-theists. Never have I seen Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins argue for violence against believers. Hitchens argued for military action in Iraq (which I disagree with), but this was based on the ACTIONS of the government of the land, not on the beliefs of her people. I would challenge anyone to make an intellectually-sound argument for violence against another person based on their beliefs. I can’t see a path there. There are no building blocks in opposing the supernatural that justify killing your neighbor. I can’t see a link between anti-theism and hurting a believer. If you can, please, make the argument in the comment section below.
Opposition to Anti-theism
As it stands now, atheists are the most distrusted group in our culture. Anti-theists, their more outspoken brethren are placed on an even more contemptible plane. Why must this be so? There are no beliefs beyond question, above criticism. Progress comes ONLY through criticism and objective analysis. The anti-intellectual movement in our nation is at its peak now, though. Ignorance is celebrated. Faith is given the same credibility as actual, proven science. Religious beliefs are used as a crutch for all sorts of societally-unacceptable behaviors. Those who oppose these justifications are thought to be arrogant or are called assholes. Why? If these ideas are sound, shouldn’t there be plain answers to our objections?
And now, Mr. Hicks heinously murders three of his young neighbors. He was an anti-theist. They were Muslims. The link, then, is assumed. However, even if Mr. Hicks murdered these innocent folks based on religious hatred, the argument still hasn’t been made that he built this hatred on any sound argument… simply because there isn’t one to be made. His hatred was his own. These awful acts were not instructed or inspired by a holy book. There will not be another to pick up his mantle while he rots in prison. Not one of the “four horsemen” of the “New Atheist” movement called for this disgusting act. He didn’t act to curry favor with a god or obtain a divine, after-death reward. He was simply a murderer. His horrible deeds stand alone, not with a group or a belief. No anti-theists have cheered him or taken his acts as some sort of template. As with the rest of respectable humanity, anti-theists mourn the loss of Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Abu-Salha. Their deaths were senseless, their murder heartbreaking and their murderer inexcusable.