Athe­ists are not su­pe­rior

Lesotho Times - - Leader - Laura Shor­tridge

ON 10 Fe­bru­ary 2015, an athe­ist man mur­dered three Mus­lims in the US al­legedly over park­ing spa­ces.

Craig Hicks’ (lack of) re­li­gious be­liefs might seem like an ir­rel­e­vant de­tail to men­tion when re­port­ing on his crime, but this man was not merely some­one who didn’t per­son­ally be­lieve in any gods.

A glance at his Face­book page and it’s ev­i­dent that, to Hicks, his athe­ism, or, more specif­i­cally, his anti-theism, was ex­tremely im­por­tant to him.

His pro­file pic­ture reads “Athe­ists for Equal­ity”. His cover photo: “Of course I want reli­gion to go away. I don’t deny you your rights to be­lieve what­ever you’d like; but I have the right to point out it’s ig­no­rant and danger­ous for as long as your base­less su­per­sti­tions keep killing peo­ple.

ANTI-THEISM: The con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion to reli­gion.”

Chris Hicks posted many pho­tos like this on Face­book. One pic­ture reads “I’m not an athe­ist be­cause I’m ig­no­rant of the re­al­ity of re­li­gious scrip­ture. I’m an athe­ist be­cause re­li­gious scrip­ture is ig­no­rant of re­al­ity.”

An­other reads, “Gay mar­riage isn’t Spe­cial Rights, its Equal Rights. ‘Spe­cial Rights’ are for po­lit­i­cal churches that don’t pay taxes.”

If there’s one thing we know about Craig Hicks, it’s that he be­lieved reli­gion was a bad thing, a thing that en­cour­ages ig­no­rance and bigotry.

This was a mes­sage that mat­tered to him, that he wanted oth­ers to hear. As re­cently as the 9 Fe­bru­ary, he was post­ing this to Face­book: The next day, he would mur­der three peo­ple.

The stu­dents Hicks mur­dered were Mus­lim, but many like to deny that there’s any sig­nif­i­cance to this fact. “It was about park­ing spa­ces”, many in­sist, “not reli­gion”. Let’s as­sume this is true.

Can any­one ex­plain why a man who con­sid­ered him­self an in­tel­li­gent and good per­son would treat the lives of three other peo­ple as so worth­less that he would mur­der them over some­thing as in­signif­i­cant as park­ing spa­ces? I know road rage is real, but is triple homi­cide is go­ing a bit far for even the an­gri­est of us.

In Hicks’ mind, athe­ists are by def­i­ni­tion in­tel­lec­tu­ally and morally su­pe­rior to re­li­gious peo­ple. In Hicks’ mind, reli­gion is the cause for all the worst atroc­i­ties in the world, while athe­ists can do lit­tle wrong.

I’m just spec­u­lat­ing here, but is it pos­si­ble this is that’s why he felt that it was OK to mur­der th­ese three Mus­lim stu­dents over some park­ing spa­ces?

As far as he knows, Mus­lims are mur­der­ing, ig­no­rant big­ots, so why treat them as hu­man be­ings with the same right to life that he has, right?

There is a prob­lem among the re­li­gious where peo­ple be­come re­li­gious be­cause they view it as a short-cut to moral su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Reli­gion en­cour­ages self-re­flec­tion and self-im­prove­ment with the fo­cus on be­com­ing a more moral, “good” per­son.

There­fore many as­sume that it’s the reli­gion that makes peo­ple “moral” or “good”, rather than a per­sonal de­sire to be good.

In the same way, many view athe­ism as a short-cut to in­tel­lec­tual and moral su­pe­ri­or­ity. Re­ject­ing reli­gion of­ten re­lies on ques­tion­ing reli­gion — ques­tion­ing what reli­gion de­fines as “moral”, or what reli­gion claims to be true.

Athe­ism chal­lenges bigotry and ig­no­rance that is pro­moted in the name of reli­gion.

There­fore many as­sume that it’s the athe­ism that makes peo­ple “in­tel­li­gent” or “good”, rather than per­sonal thought or a de­sire to be good.

Chris Hicks was an athe­ist, and be­cause he be­lieved athe­ists were in­tel- ligent and good, he be­lieved he was in­tel­li­gent and good. He also be­lieved Mus­lims were ig­no­rant big­ots.

Then he mur­dered three Mus­lims over park­ing spa­ces.

Ob­vi­ously, Hicks was wrong about his own in­her­ent su­pe­ri­or­ity, but the worst thing about him, is it’s easy to find plenty of ex­am­ples of ig­no­rant, big­oted athe­ists who also be­lieve them­selves more in­tel­li­gent, moral and in­her­ently more “wor­thy” than any­one re­li­gious.

The hypocrisy found in the athe­ist com­mu­nity is real. Hicks’ hypocrisy was just the most glar­ing ex­am­ple, but more and more athe­ists de­clare them­selves in­tel­lec­tu­ally and morally su­pe­rior to oth­ers sim­ply on the ba­sis of their lack of be­lief in gods alone.

This is why, even though I’m an athe­ist, I do not be­lieve get­ting rid of reli­gion is ever go­ing to be a so­lu­tion to the world’s prob­lems.

When all is said and done, per­sonal moral­ity tends to rely on a per­sonal de­sire to be a “good” per­son. In­tel­li­gence and knowl­edge tends to rely on a per­sonal will­ing­ness to lis­ten, and learn, and ex­am­ine, and think.

If he is never will­ing to self-ex­am­ine, a vi­o­lent-minded, ig­no­rant bigot is go­ing to stay a vi­o­lent-minded ig­no­rant bigot, whether he’s post­ing Bi­ble verses or Stephen Fry quotes on his Face­book wall.

Reli­gion isn’t go­ing to save the world for vi­o­lent-minded ig­no­rance and bigotry, and nei­ther is athe­ism.

Whether re­li­gious or anti-theist, peo­ple who claim to re­ally care about im­prov­ing the world for all spend of­ten an aw­ful lot of time de­mon­is­ing who­ever they per­ceive to be on the “op­po­site” side of their be­liefs re­gard­ing reli­gion, and for what pur­pose?

When all is said and done, I have more of an ally in a Mus­lim fem­i­nist than I ever will in the sort of athe­ist who’ll mur­der three peo­ple over a park­ing space.

By fight­ing each other, those of us who care about a bet­ter fu­ture for all, no mat­ter what our be­liefs, are fight­ing the wrong en­emy.

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