Friday, October 02, 2015

When is an atheist not an atheist?

It's starting to look like the shooter in yesterdays campus massacre in the USA was deliberately targeting Christians. This obscene revelation has started some people off speculating that the lunatic who perpetrated this criminal act was some kind of atheist railing against religion; a truly "militant atheist" if you will.

For those that care to dig a little deeper into the story will discover that Chris Harper Mercer (the gunman) was in fact into all kinds of crazy stuff, he was pro-Nazi, pro-IRA and also a pagan with interests in the occult, astrology and spiritualism. For Christians who perhaps don't know what atheism actually means or don't know any atheists, the fact that he was into paganism and the occult means that he most definitely wasn't one!

In any case, I think we can all agree that whatever his personal beliefs on anything (religion, politics, nationalism, sports teams, Marmite etc.), US society has a serious problem with mentally unstable people being able to easily get hold of lethal weapons. The statistics are alarming, more people have died from gun related crime in the US in the last 9 months than have died from terrorism in over 40 years!

Sam Harris expresses the issue very well in the following piece,

"No rational atheist (or “New Atheist”) holds religion accountable for every idiotic or unethical thing religious people do. We blame a religion only for what its adherents do as a direct result of its doctrines, such as opposing gay marriage or killing apostates.

Atheism has no doctrines. It does not demand that a person do anything, or refrain from doing anything, on the basis of his unbelief. Consequently, to know that someone is an atheist is to know almost nothing about him—apart from the fact that he does not accept the unwarranted claims of any religion.

Atheism is simply the condition of not believing in Poseidon, Thor, or any of the thousands of dead gods that lie in the graveyard we call mythology. To that extent, everyone knows exactly what it is to be an atheist—he has simply added the god of Abraham to the list of the dead.

If a belief in astrology were causing people to go berserk—to deny medical care to their children or to murder unbelievers—many of us would speak and write about the dangerous stupidity of astrology. This would not be bigotry or intolerance on our part. It would be a plea for basic human sanity. And that is all that an atheist’s criticism of religious tribalism and superstition ever is.

If you understand this, you will recognize any attempt to blame atheism for specific crimes, great or small, for what it is: A fresh act of religious demagoguery."
—Sam Harris

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