The Chapel Hill murders

February 13, 2015 • 10:20 am

I’ve received a ton of email from readers alerting me to various pieces about the murder of the three young people, all Muslims, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their names: Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; Barakat’s wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and Abu-Salha’s sister Razan, 19.  The implication is that I should say something about the killings, as they were apparently committed by an atheist, and that we have to somehow exculpate ourselves, or explain ourselves, or indict that aspect of the atheist “movement” that is responsible for what many see as a hate crime.

I can do none of these things, for there is simply not enough information about what happened, about the killer’s motivations, about whether he had an animus towards Muslims that was somehow inspired by atheism, or whether it was one of those frequent spur-of-the-moment killings that occur over minor altercations.

Instead, I look at photos like this, of Yusor dancing with her father at her wedding, and it brings me to tears:


Likewise with this vigil held Wednesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Photo by Travis Dove for The New York Times

What we have are three young people, all with aspirations to help others, cut down in the full flood of their young lives. It would be an understatement to say that this is tragic. Their friends and relatives will carry this with them forever, and always think “What would they have become had they not been killed?”

Why did it happen? We don’t know. Now isn’t the time to speculate about that, as an investigation is under way. After such tragedies, the press (and bloggers) often begin to echo rumors about motivations, rumors that often turn out to be wrong. After the Columbine shootings, for example, goth culture, Marilyn Manson, and bullying were endlessly masticated by the pundits as possible contributions to the shooting—yet all of these connections proved to be bogus.

So it’s simply premature and inappropriate to begin pointing fingers, and using these murders as some kind of springboard to advance one’s ideological or political or religious agenda. And yet that is what I see.

You’ll all know about the religionists who are pinning this on atheism. That is expected. What bothers me even more is to see fellow unbelievers pinning this on atheism as well. There are those who say that this proves that no atheists have infused the “movement” (if there is a movement) with the proper degree of empathy towards the downtrodden, as if Paul Kurtz hadn’t spent his life doing that. We see those vile opportunists who, with an animus against the best-known New Atheists, implying that who really pulled the trigger was not Craig Stephen Hicks, but Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or Lawrence Krauss, who supposedly created the climate (and the writings) that led to this murder.

We are operating in complete ignorance, as the killer’s motivations are unclear. It makes me sick to see these young people, who had family and relatives who loved them, turned into a tool to leverage various social agendas. One of the most cringeworthy responses was this tw**t by Reza Aslan after Richard Dawkins condemned the murders:
Reza Aslan

Please, can’t we behave like adults instead of narcissistic, grasping opportunists? And that goes for everyone. We don’t know what happened and so we should just shut the hell up until we do know.  I, for one, am fully prepared to learn that the murderer was indeed inspired by the writings of atheists and his hatred of Muslims—true Islamophobia. We may eventually find this to be the case. And if it hasn’t happened this time, it will—for atheism is no guarantee of high morals. Atheism, after all, is not a moral code or a recipe for the good life or a political philosophy, but simply an absence of belief in the supernatural. I can’t see apologizing for that absence of belief.

If and when we find that this is a case of atheist-inspired, Islamophobic terrorism, then that will be the time to see if there really is an endemic problem to address, or if this is simply a one-off thing with no implications for how atheists might rethink their actions.

But right now is the time to show sympathy for the victims and their families. It is unseemly and reprehensible to give lip service to this tragedy and then spend many words of analysis arguing about who was responsible and how we have to fix “atheism” to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

That’s all I have to say.

225 thoughts on “The Chapel Hill murders

  1. Very well said, Jerry, I completely agree.

    However, when I first saw Reza Aslan’s tweet I presumed it was an ironic comment about how people would react?

    1. I presume it is a Tweet, which means a pithy and ambiguous blurb, full of sound and fury and signifying who knows what.

      I presume he doesn’t like Dawkins, but without context, who can say?

    2. It is a parallel construction, based on how people blame all Muslims for the actions of the extremists.

      I have to admit he has some point to make there. It is pretty routine to find people claiming that “moderate” Muslims have not condemned (the latest atrocity committed by a Muslim extremist), only to find that such condemnations were made, and a few seconds on a search engine would have turned them up.

      Aslan’s analogy fails in a great many other respects though, and there is no atheist scripture inciting “New Atheists” to kill.

      1. One thing that nags me however : if it had been a Christian that did the killing, even on this site there would be those who would be too quick to blame it on Christianity.

      2. It is a parallel construction, based on how people blame all Muslims for the actions of the extremists.

        Does that explain Glenn Greenwald tweet “Horrifying: Radical atheist terrorist murders 3 Muslims in Chapel Hill” as well.

        If he trying to imply this is how atheists would have reacted to a Muslim killing 3 Christians over what police had already described as a dispute over a parking spot he’s both an idiot, and an atheophobe.

        1. Greenwald tweeted that? If so, that’s bigotry! He screeches at Sam Harris how never says such things yet says those things he imagines Sam saying but toward atheists instead of Muslims. I guess it’s okay to pick on atheists even if they are less liked than Muslims in America.

      3. I don’t deny that there are Muslims who condemn the theocratic atrocities of of ISIS and their kindred spirits or Christians who denounce the homophobic pricks of the Westboro Baptist Church.

        Unlike them however, the atheists condemning the murderous actions of our fellow atheist, Mr. Hicks, have no holy text that they have to ignore almost entirely in order to state their condemnation.

        The fact that that the tragedy was (apparently) caused by acrimony between neighbors over a parking spot and not by religious hatred also makes the situation very different to e.g. a Christian bombing an abortion clinic or ISIS hurling gay men from the roofs of tall buildings.

      4. That’s my interpretation too. However, I feel that more peace-loving Muslims should raise up their voices even louder to drown out the voices hawking violence. There is a dire need to do so UNTIL.

        My heart truly breaks for these young people (and their families), who from all accounts, were rising stars. Beautiful and brilliant, cruelly snuffed out far too soon.

      5. “It is pretty routine to find people claiming that “moderate” Muslims have not condemned (the latest atrocity committed by a Muslim extremist), only to find that such condemnations were made, and a few seconds on a search engine would have turned them up.”

        Do “moderate” Muslims do that much though? I routinely see condemnation of the deeds made with the ‘no true muslim’ fallacy, in an effort to avoid taking any criticism aboard. More rarely there are people, often ex-muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, that notes that the terrorists act out based on their muslim religion.

        I think Aslan are trying to make points standing on the bodies of victims. He is a sleazeball.

      6. that wasn’t the point of his tweet however, all he was doing was pointing out how people ignore Islamic condemnation of atrocities and take this supposed silence as support.

      7. The difference here is that Abrahamic religions require the adherence to set of holy texts from a time where ignorance (in a non-pejorative sense) was wide-spread. These books were ignorant of science and medicine, and held deeply misguided views on morality and justice. These outdated ideas are immortalized in the Bible and the Koran and revered as the perfect, unchanging word of the creator of the universe. If a person subscribes to any one of these religions they give tacit support to the violence and absurdity held within.

        In no other area of life do we accept viewing any document or set of ideas the way religious people view their canon. In all other endeavours and fields of thought there’s a general acceptance that in order for our beliefs and assertions to be seen as legitimate we must be willing to edit and amend them. We must be just as ready to change the things we anchor those beliefs in as well, be they written documents, cultural norms, or official practices.

        Atheism is not a parallel structure to religion in this sense. There is no foundational atheist text or even set of beliefs or norms. Atheists may agree on things, but people can disagree on virtually everything and still share the label in a way that adherents of a particular religion cannot. An atheist can reject Dawkins while remaining an atheist while a Christian simply cannot reject the Bible and remain a Christian. Atheism doesn’t proscribe a set of behaviour, beliefs or norms. There isn’t any atheist text, let alone a violent one, that must be deemed perfect and unalterable.

        If anything, this incident is another tragic outcome of perverse gun laws in the US. This is where the true parallel can be drawn. Inspired by an outdated text (the 2nd amendment of the constitution – although it is worth noting that there are obviously structures in place to change this document), some people believe it is their right to carry weapons capable of shocking degrees of destruction in public, and to use them when they feel threatened. While some people may be able to bear arms responsibly, the risks are clearly too great that many will use them in violent ways. The weapons are what unifies these people in much the same way that a religion is capable of doing. There is a responsibility to change the law of the land and the constitution to limit the risk that these destructive weapons can wreak on society. The text that provide the very opportunities for these acts to occur must change as they have little relevance in modern society.

      1. If it was, then it can’t be distinguished from truly heinous behavior, and its irony isn’t evident. Aslan should then explain. I took it to be criticizing Dawkins, which, after all, Aslan does constantly. I will issue a correction if Aslan explains that he meant otherwise.

        1. My interpretation of the tweet is that Reginald Skilrk above has gotten the meaning exactly right: it is just pointint to the sad reality that far too many people claim that “moderate” Muslims do not criticize or condemn Islamist terrorist attacks, when in fact that they do so all the time.

        2. Perhaps he will clarify. We’ve all had that experience where sarcasm, wit and irony don’t work well because of text and twitter character limits. I mean, I kind of want to give him the benefit of the doubt and it’s possible I’m being too generous.

        3. Aslan’s irony is obvious—Muslim’s are continuously criticized for not condemning murderous Islam-motivated attacks, no matter how vocally they actually do. Aslan is obviously replacing Muslims with atheists here.

          Look, I’m no fan of Aslan, but this isn’t even a “benefit of the doubt” situation. It’s straight-up irony.

          Reserve criticism of Aslan for when it’s deserved.

          The main point is what’s important—this is an awful tragedy and we don’t have all the facts. Personally, I don’t buy that a parking dispute caused a triple murder and am listening to hate-crime accusations. But we just don’t know yet.

          1. But it’s still a nasty tweet because of false equivalence. Apparantly, Reza Aslan thinks the rejection of a claim due to lack of evidence is also an ideology equivalent to religion. Professor Coyne is right in calling Aslan an opportunist.

          2. I agree with you on Aslan’s intent. I actually think this is a false comparison though. Unlike atheism, which is only the position on the theistic claim.
            When Islamists carry out an attack, you can find, and they often do so for you, a reference in their religious ideology that either supports or instructs such attacks. Likewise with Christian attackers, or other theocrats that use scripture to limit freedoms.

          3. Not to mention you will find tens of thousands of other Islamists praising publicly said attack and warning the world that there will be others if their demands are not met. And another couple of million perhaps privately thinking “well I wouldn’t actually kill someone myself but still these people really kind of deserved it for insulting our faith”.

        4. I don’t see how a tweet that was in response to Mr. Dawkins condemnation and explicitly referenced that it existed could possibly be legitimately arguing that he wasn’t condemning it.

          The meaning is extremely plain, the only way one can think otherwise is assuming ill intent.

        1. Beyond condemning the murders, did Dawkins presume to speculate on the motives/cause(s)? Specifically what did he say that was unfortunate?

          1. He posted no less than four tweets giving absolute credibility to the version that this was solely a parking dispute (even spelling PARKING in all caps in his tweets, to reinforce this version). This was interspersed with tweets about why muslims should question why they were muslims at all. Considering the fact that these three yound american kids were apparently devout muslims, I think it was all just in poor taste. I think he must have reacted this way because initial reports on Craig Hicks mentioned he was a fan of Dawkins. I like Dawkins, but he reminds me of those people who speak before fully considering what they say in a sensitive situation.

          2. Family members brutally murdered in their apartment? Stains on the rug? Try new and improved OxyClean…

  2. I’m perfectly willing to shoulder the burden of blame, if there should be any, the moment that all religious people pick up their share. The overwhelming majority of crime, murder, and violence is carried out by card-carrying believers of all kinds.

    1. I’m not so sure he’s being dishonest with that comment. In fact, I’m a little surprised at how honest he is about his stance towards Dawkins. For Aslan to say that he’s not interested in what someone has to say because he’s already made up his mind about them, well , it doesn’t exactly shed the best light upon himself.

      1. Like others, I think he’s playing the “this is what you do to us all the time” game. “How do you like it now?”

        1. I would have no problem with Aslan’s tweet if he hadn’t picked on Dawkins. It’s because he personalised it that the tweet makes me angry. That, imo, makes Aslan an a-hole.

          1. I think he picked on Dawkins on purpose, following the series of, IMO, very unfortunate tweets by Dawkins before all the facts were in.

          2. I wouldn’t know. I don’t follow Aslan on twitter, but it seems he specifically was provoking Dawkins using irony.

    2. Hey, the guy’s got to make a living amirite – this might lead to another MSNBC interview or maybe even another guest spot on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

  3. It’s horrible to even use a label like ‘atheism.’ Atheism is not an ideology or belief system. It simply is a label acknowledging the lack of belief in a god. That’s all. It doesn’t imply reason and rationality or anything else. It’s like saying someone’s actions were the result of a lack of belief in astrology or the the tooth fairy. This is a new type of very bizarre, dishonest reporting to even suggest that atheism played a part in this tragedy. Did the killer scream, “god is not great?”

    1. I am ready to believe than an unbalanced person considering himself part of the anti-theism movement (which does have beliefs about religion and the religious)acted in this heinous way.

      I think back to Steven Werner’s quote: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

      In this case, it would be a bad person doing bad things. As far as I know, there is nothing about the anti-theism movement that would motivate a good person to do bad things. It’s a distinction worth noting.

    2. Unfortunately, though, it seems that Hicks himself did connect his atheism with his political beliefs on his Facebook page.

  4. Thanks for speaking on this. I saw some guy on CNN, must have been one of the more ignorant reporters, going on about this nut being an atheist and then referring to Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins — made me sick.

    This person being or not being an atheist is debatable and has nothing to do with this murder. He is a disturbed and mentally affected person, period. The other people who live in this same apartment complex had meetings among themselves about this guy but did not know what to do about his behavior. He was always angry and frightening to nearly everyone at the place.

    Then, more recently, thanks to the gun laws of North Carolina and just about everywhere else in the U.S. he gets a gun and a permit to carry. So know we have the mentally disturbed and a gun. How much more is required?

    1. No, I don’t think whether or not he was an atheist is debatable. As someone put it, Hicks was an “intellectually engaged” atheist who read books and put up quotes by various atheists. He also “liked” or was involved in a lot of social justice causes like the ACLU.

      We don’t know if it had “nothing” to do with this murder. I am very suspicious over it just ‘happening’ that these were Muslims and suspect a connection here.

      Hicks was mentally unstable. I’m not saying he’s mentally ill — that’s something else and we’ve no idea. But I think it pretty safe to say he had a problem with his temper. Stable people don’t get mad and shoot three people in the head.

      1. I don’t think the issue is whether or not he was an atheist, it is whether or not it is accurate, at this point in the investigation, to frame this as related at all to atheism.
        My homestream is loaded with posts about the Miami Heat, Marlins, Dolphins, etc. If I murdered someone whom was a NY Jets fan, would I be spun as a SoFL sports fan terrorist? I doubt it.
        I’ve written before about my experiences working in television news. No matter how ethically bankrupt or lacking in acumen you think the press is, I promise you the reality is far, far worse. That a bunch of taking haircuts with no journalistic integrity or intellectual honesty at all, who think reportage is checking out someone’s Facebook wall, decided to frame this as an “islamophobic” hate crime inspired by atheism does not make it so.

        1. So your arguments a tautology.

          Why did he kill three people over a parking space? Because he was mentally unstable.

          How do you know he was mentally unstable? Because he killed three people over a parking space.

          1. I agree with Shatterface. It’s way too common for us to define any behavior we can’t countenance as indicative of mental defectiveness, which is essentially an unfounded hypothesis (in addition to tautological).

  5. Nicely said Jerry, and I agree entirely.

    My reaction to the wedding and vigil pictures was much the same as yours. I couldn’t agree more that considering the beauty and potential of these lost lives, and the affects of their loss on their family and friends, is indeed the most appropriate response right now for all us bystanders.

  6. Agreed we do not know the motivation of this killer. It is reported that it involved an ongoing parking dispute. Was the attack also exacerbated by the victims being Muslim, making this a hate crime? I do not know. It is possible that it was. I am under no delusion that an atheist can be as evil as anyone else, b/c atheists include the full spectrum of humanity.
    Aslan was awful in that Tw**t. Even for him. Talk about exploiting the blood of victims for ones’ own cause…

  7. If a bald man murders his girlfriend because her hair keeps clogging up the sink, do we blame her death on baldness? Atheism, in itself, is not a philosophy or ideology, so it cannot be the cause of these people’s death.

    If this guy had a history of attacking random muslims for no reason, one could at least make the argument. But he had a particular beef with these people and was (from my perspective) a gun toting nutjob…and that’s never a good combination.

    1. I know this is no laughing matter but … I can’t help chuckling over your analogy.

      However I don’t think the analogy is quite apt. Unlike baldness, atheism is something in a person’s head. And we should allow that, like everything in a person’s head, it may contribute to bad behavior when other conditions in the said head are not right. (Whether this is so in the present case, we simply do not know yet.)

      1. Actually, atheism, like baldness is the lack of something in a person’s head. In the first case it’s the lack of belief in the existence of deities, in the second it’s the lack of hair. I believe you may be confusing atheism for antitheism.

        1. “I believe you may be confusing atheism for antitheism.”

          No, I’m clear about the distinction. I think you may be confusing a negative characterization of a mental state (“lack of belief”) with the lack of causal power. The former does not entail the latter.

          Atheism is something in the head in the sense that it is (while baldness is not) a mental state which can play a causal role in a person’s behavior. What do you think causes me to tick the “Atheism” box on surveys? I have no objection to characterizing the state negatively, as a “lack” of belief in deities, although I don’t see why you wouldn’t just characterize it as a “belief” in the nonexistence of deities (the difference, if there is any, is going to be very subtle). But a lack of belief can cause behavior all the same. And I see no reason why a lack of belief in deities should always lead to good or neutral behavior; it may well contribute to bad behavior when other things go wrong.

  8. I think Aslan was merely pointing out that if muslims condemn terrorist attacks, they aren’t believed. I take it as more of a “how do you like it?” statement. Or, “How does it feel to be second-guessed on your motives?”.

  9. (I posted this first at Hemant Mehta’s Patheos blog post on this subject.)

    What a horrific crime! Thoughts are with victims’ families. If early details are true that this crime was more about faith of victims than about parking dispute, then New Atheists are directly responsible, imho.

    New Atheism, born out of Abrahamic faiths, is just as spiteful and willing to spread division in society as its abusive parents. New Atheism, through political activism, seeks voice for people without belief in any deity. Therefore, it is tribalism.

    While attacking idea is not same as attacking person, a common explanation of New Atheists when asked to defend their criticism of faiths, one hopes that this kind of incident shows pressing need for more respectfully criticising what is deemed irrational.

    I want to see massive street demonstrations by New Atheists condemning this incident. It is reasonable to expect this from organised group of people that claim to be 10%-15% of USA population.

    1. You could have stopped after you said “If earlier details are true”. You have no idea if any of that is true and the remainder makes very little sense to anyone that is actually an atheist.

    2. I totally disagree. Atheism is nothing more than an absence of belief in any god. It is no guaranty of morality or lack thereof.
      If a non-astrologist kills an astrologist are we all responsible for this? Should we stop criticizing soothsayers and other charlatans because of that hypothetical crime?

      Here is the fundamental difference: ‘New atheists’ attack ideas which in themselves advocate violence against people (unbelievers) (read the bible and the koran, please). Their texts and speeches contain zero incitements to commit violence against anybody.
      Your false equivalence is morally disturbing in my opinion.

      1. I’ve never heard an atheist advocate violence, new or old. If you see no incitement to commit violence in the religious books we must be looking at different books.

        1. There seems to be a misunderstanding here. I was disagreeing with Ek Chakkar, not with you. What I said is precisely that new atheist authors attack ideas, not people. And the religious ideas themselves call for violence against people. They (the atheists authors) do not advocate violence against people. That is the difference (in favor of atheist authors) and that is why I thought the equivalence expressed by Ek Chakkar was misguided in my opinion.

    3. There are several things wrong with your comment. I’ll just point out one.

      “It is reasonable to expect this from organised group of people that claim to be 10%-15% of USA population.

      This is incorrect. I have never heard a New Atheist claim that New Atheists make up 10%-15% of the US population, and any who do are engaging in wishful thinking. What you are almost certainly, mistakenly referring to are numbers from polls of those identifying themselves as “not religious” and similar descriptions.

      Where you really unaware of that? It doesn’t seem likely.

      People that would identify themselves as New Atheists are a rather small subset of nonbelievers and are typically not well respected by the other nonbelievers, let alone by the overwhelming majority of believers. In other words, the voice of New Atheism is not a significant part of our societies conversation.

    4. New Atheism, born out of Abrahamic faiths, is just as spiteful and willing to spread division in society as its abusive parents. New Atheism, through political activism, seeks voice for people without belief in any deity. Therefore, it is tribalism.

      Your analogy (and yes, I see what you are trying to do here) breaks down because New Atheism isn’t “born out of Abrahamic faiths” in the sense you need. When you get right down to it gnu atheism is call for open debate in response to dogma. Supernatural beliefs are hypotheses and need to be treated as such. This is what defines it.

      You can’t compare that to just another faith-based sect coming out of the Abrahamic faiths. Nor can you treat the humanistic ideals of the Enlightenment as if they were a way of dividing humanity into “us” and “them.” They are the opposite of tribalism, the remedy for special revelations and status.

    5. Though I don’t understand the argument, I am open to, and interested in, evaluating claims that allege a link between the concept of atheism and human behavior.

      I do not live off the grid in a cave but I am sometimes a headline agnostic about national news and today, here, is the first I’ve heard of this.

      Prof. Coyne’s framing appears wholly realistic and authentic to me.

      Thank you for providing this information.


    6. You don’t get to post the same comment at multiple places, and you’re dead wrong about New Atheism being spiteful and divisive. It’s imply failure to accept the supernatural. And you have no–NO–evidence that this murder comes from New Atheists’ lack of “respect” for religion.

    7. “I want to see massive street demonstrations by New Atheists condemning this incident”

      If some deranged individual from the skeptic community started shooting at random patients in a homeopathic clinic, would you expect massive street demonstrations by skeptics and scientists?

      What would be the aim of organizing such demonstrations? To communicate that killing people bamboozled by quacks is not the answer for the rest of skeptic community? Isn’t that obvious??

      PS Unfortunately, what opinion polls reveal about shockingly large numbers of Muslims around the world is that they support stoning, flogging, blasphemy laws, among other barbarities. And so in this case the demonstrations by the Muslims who don’t share such views are URGENTLY NEEDED, as they serve to enlighten the millions other Muslims. It seems like both you, and Reza Aslan are missing the point.

      1. Well said Scientifik. In fact engaging in massive street demonstrations would amount to almost a tacit admission that there is, as there is with religion, some mechanism by which atheism can lead to murder. Just hearing atheists coming out of the woodwork to condemn this incident almost strikes me that way. The average person is definitely going to conflate it with a moderate theist condemning an act done in the name of his religion. And as we see with Aslan, Greenwald, Werleman among others there are no lack of those who will encourage the irrational perception that atheism can lead to murder just like theism can.

  10. Unless it can be proven that atheism is the cause of these horrific murders, atheïsts don’t have to apologize for anything.

    1. Not to mention that atheists don’t have a central edict to follow. We are a pretty diverse group. We don’t have a scroll that says to kill all non-atheists.

      I’m actually cringing at someone like Bill O’Reilly having a dialogue on “the immoral, awful atheists.

      1. Some atheists swim with the tide and some atheists swim against the tide. That’s why O’Reilly is confused, he can’t explain that.

          1. Surely, with opponents with such a level of stupidity, this debate should be a walk in the park?

  11. Every year, countless people are murdered all over the country over minor disputes like claims to parking spaces. The ONLY reason this case is getting so much attention is because of the RARITY of someone who specifically identifies himself as being an Atheist, being the perpetrator. 99.9% of the time, stories like this are followed up by interviews of friends and neighbors who say things like, “I can’t understand it…he seemed like such a fine upstanding church goer…” etc.

    1. *insert scene from “Airplane”, where the passengers find out that the pilot and co-pilot can’t fly the plane*

      1. Actually, they keep pretty calm at that point. It’s when the stewardess announces they’re out of coffee that everybody panics.

  12. One of the lowliest ways to behave in such times is trying to benefit from such incidents the way Aslan does.
    Even if the murder was committed as an anti-religious act, a claim which I am unable to find any serious support for, then this is regrettable and shameful, but not comparable to the huge scale of religious, and especially Islamic barbaric violence, which Aslan refuses to call by name.

  13. That the murderer was an atheist is pure coincidence. I haven’t seen any evidence that the murders were committed “in the name of atheism.” Therefore, there is no need to condemn anything but the taking of life.

  14. Every year, countless murders take place over minor disputes like claims to parking spaces. The only reason this one is getting an unusual amount of attention is because of the sheer RARITY of someone who specifically has identified himself as an Atheist being the perpetrator. 99.9% of incidences like this are usually followed up by interviews with friends and neighbors of the killer who talk about how they “can’t understand why someone who seemed to be such a fine upstanding church-goer would do something like this”…etc.

    1. It fits the narrative of muslim persecution. If this is a hate crime, then religionists and faitheists have the authority to say: “Perhaps you should not criticize islam, lest something like the Chapel Hill murders will happen again.” And faitheists will look like knights in shining armour, saving the day. So it’s rather inconvenient if this horrible event turns out to be about a parking spot.

      Ofcourse, being an atheist myself, the parking spot explanation fits my narrative. That’s why we should wait for the evidence and let the police do their job.

  15. From the Washington Times:

    >Karen Hicks, who has been in the process of divorce, said her husband had been at odds with various neighbors of various backgrounds over parking. That’s what this is about, she says, contending that what happened is not a hate crime.

    >She said, “I can say with my absolute belief that this incident had nothing to do with religion or the victims’ faith.”

    I doubt we will ever known anything more than this. His lawyer will not let him admit that it was a hate crime if it was.

    1. We also have neighbors saying he was a general ass, equal opportunity jerk is the term that I believe was used, and everyone was frightened of him. They even had a community meeting to discuss the problems with him.

  16. Tragic indeed, very much so and the leap to accusations,judgement, is no surprise, but appalling.
    Causes should include the gun culture, the too easy ownership by ANYBODY of guns.

    1. I found that piece, like the photo of her at her wedding, incredibly touching. It’s a sad sad situation and it’s getting more and more absurd.

  17. Atheism is not a coherent belief system – it is an absence of belief in a deity. I make no apologies for things I am not responsible for & I am not a spokesperson for any group – why should we expect anyone else to apologise?
    Where there are religions that have structure & support what sane people regard as criminal acts on the broad basis of human values as a whole, that is different.

  18. A brief comment on the term hate crime. IANAL but a hate crime, in the U.S., usually refers to a criminal act meant to intimidate a larger group besides the immediate victim. A criminal who says “I’m going to beat up this person to send a message to all the (insert ethnic, religious, other description)” would be the classic example. In other words, it’s more than a perpetrators dislike of the victim.

  19. Thanks for this very touching article Jerry.

    Hopefully this is OK to link to, but maybe people would like to know that the Foundation Beyond Belief is raising funds to donate to a Syrian medical relief organization that one of the victims was involved with. I think it will send a strong message if non-believers raise a lot of money for this organization. Here is the link:

    1. Thanks, I was going to mention that.

      This is more useful than “protesting and marching in the streets” or whatever the I-Know-You-Are-But-What-Am-I Brigade is demanding.

    2. Now THAT is a reasonable response to this situation. I wonder if Reza raised any money for the victims of the Fort Hood shootings?

  20. The murders are clearly reprehensible and the person who committed them is, by his actions, a bad person capable of evil acts and such evil things will happen no matter what people believe. I think Stephen Weinberg said it best and is very applicable to this situation: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.”

  21. “We are operating in complete ignorance, as the killer’s motivations are unclear.”

    EXACTLY. And not just in this case. Initial reports are usually wrong, and some things take time to get clear. How much harm has been done in the reports about Ferguson or Trayvon Martin, or other feeding frenzies.

  22. The implication is that I should say something about the killings, as they were apparently committed by an atheist, and that we have to somehow exculpate ourselves, or explain ourselves, or indict that aspect of the atheist “movement” that is responsible for what many see as a hate crime.

    Would these people ask you to say something just because you’re both white? Or both males? Or who happened to live in the same continent?

    1. It is very troubling, the misguided, incorrect view that many seem to have about atheist. And from reading some of the comments in this post there are even a few atheist who have this problem. Your point should help.

    1. He was obviously unstable, but we can’t know he’s technically mentally ill. That’s very different and not likely.

      I just noticed a couple new things in this link (well, new to me.)

      One is that he apparently told police that he suddenly snapped and “went into a blind rage.”

      The other is that his wife is in the process of divorcing him. If that wasn’t just now triggered by the arrest, it suggests that despite the fact that he was an ‘exemplary student’ just about to graduate, part of his life was falling apart.

    2. What isn’t clear from all these reports, is was he defending his actual assigned parking spot, or as some are implying, “his” parking spot? If people really were parking in his spot that is different than him just being a control freak. I am mainly referring to his neighbors having to have a meeting about him towing their cars, I mean, why did they keep parking in his spot?

      I haven’t lived in such a complex, but friends have, and it really is considered rude to park in a spot marked for residents if you are a visitor, and my friends who lived there clearly informed me about the rules and warned me to follow them. It is a rather big inconvenience to have someone be in your spot. Not to result in murder obviously, but again in terms of the long term situation with the neighbors. I am curious to hear more specifics about these long running disputes.

  23. Even if it is discovered that Hicks’ atheism played a role in “othering” theists to the point that he desired to kill them, it’s still not something for which atheism in general can be blamed. No atheist authority commanded he do it. Atheism contains no commands. The problem is Hicks’ own psychopathy. When a disturbed mother drowns her children in the bathtub because she claims an angel appeared and told her to do so we don’t blame the institution of religion. She’s obviously just nuts.

    The problem with religion is that it does contain divisive, oppressive, harmful, and hateful commands that can motivate people who aren’t nuts to do evil things.

  24. First off, my sympathies to their family and friends. Their lives remind me of so many of my own students.

    Motive. Means. Opportunity.

    A necessary condition of living in a community is that people have the opportunity to harm others.

    Having a gun makes the means of doing irreversible harm entirely too accessible. We could do something about that if we wanted to but we don’t.

    That leaves motive. What can we do to build empathy in our society? What can we do about mental illness, of which Hicks may have been a sufferer?

    It’s time for all of us to think seriously about that last one.

  25. I cant believe Reza Aslan.Disgusting. I get the point he is trying to make but it’s a false equivalency.

    1. While many Imams reject religious intolerance and violence, there is a very long list of Imams who think this type of behavior is perfectly legal so long as it is perpetrated against an infidel (or a cartoonist, an adulterer etc…).

    2. Thse violent Imams find support from the religious texts.

    3. The “New Atheists” don’t really speak for all atheist. (Atheism is a lack of belief, not a group of like minded believers…)

    4. The New atheists absolutely condemn this type of violence (you could argue about Hitch in iraq etc, but he has made his arguments publically…). But you dont see Coyne/Dawkins/Harris et al espousing violence.

    I think the reason for Aslan’s tweet is that it is painfully obvious that it is not a short list of extreme Imams who would support a religious genocide, so now he has to make the “YOu guys also do it” argument. Azlan is a pathetic and dishonest panderer.

  26. Why say, “I, for one, am fully prepared to learn that the murderer was indeed inspired by the writings of atheists and his hatred of Muslims—true Islamophobia.” A lack of belief in the supernatural does not inspire hatred. How can it? A strongly held belief in an idea inspires action. Atheism cannot influence killing another human being. The killer may have claimed to be an atheist, but his hatred came from somewhere other than “not believing.” By saying: “atheist inspired,” you are implying that atheism is something that is interpreted and guides behavior. This way of thinking implies there is a moral law and a moral law giver, which supports religion. The word “atheist” simply describes someone who doesn’t believe in god(s) and the teaching of those who do, and it is only necessary to have this term so we can refer to the people who are not delusional. We don’t have a term for not being a stamp collector.

    1. I’m sure Jerry said that to point out at the outset that he wasn’t writing defensively or trying to deny anything.

      I think it goes without saying that should Hicks proclaim he was inspired by atheist writings, Jerry and the rest of us would be quick to point out how greatly he misconstrued them.

      (I for one doubt that he will. Sounds like a classic lack of anger management skills to me. I’d bet he would do anything now to turn back the clock; perhaps he is even a suicide risk.)

      1. That’s my gut feeling, too, perhaps because he immediately turned himself in. This morning, I read he brought the murder weapon with him and gave police a list of his entire arsenal, which was accompanied by a large store of ammunition. He, at least, doesn’t seem like someone prone to cover-ups (i.e., lies).

      2. Jerry’s piece is implying that Hicks probably was inspired by atheist writings. He said, “If and when we find that this is a case of atheist-inspired, Islamophobic terrorism.” He went to great pains to say it is too early to point fingers–then indirectly points fingers. Why write the piece with this tone to begin with? So what if Hicks claims to be inspired by atheist writings? He obviously has other issues. Why imply it is possible to be inspired by atheists to begin with? Many do not understand atheism, and this implies that atheism CAN inspire violence. Violence can originate from many things, but atheism is not one of them.

        1. “Jerry’s piece is implying that Hicks probably was inspired by atheist writings.”

          I don’t see that at all.

          I see Jerry thinking that “atheist-inspired Islamophobic terrorism” would obviously be read as an hypothesis we don’t now (and shouldn’t prematurely) need to address. Perhaps “until” or “unless” instead of “if and when” might have sat better with you. But Oxford Dictionaries online defines “if and when” as meaning, “At a future time (should it arise),” which I think is exactly Jerry’s usage above.

          1. You may very well be right about what the author meant to say. I guess I can only know how it reads to me. I see the attempt to clarify what we know and what we do not know about the murderer’s intention…and btw, I understand what “if” and “when” means. You would probably agree that there is way more nuance in writing than bustin’ out the Oxford Dictionaries on me. I don’t have a bone to pick or anything against the author, so I can boil down my point to being that writing something like this lends credibility to something that has zero basis in reality. Atheism does not equal violence. I do not see any reason to even try and find a link—or say “if” or “when.” Yeah, I know that is one man’s opinion, but since I stumbled upon this piece and noticed a respectful and great dialogue in the comments (which is rare), I was compelled to participate. I think it helps to test the logic of the argument and, with an open mind, maybe learn something. Thanks for the conversation.

          2. I think you’ll enjoy this site! Jerry runs a tight ship and does not let much rudeness or inanity get by, and he’s attracted a most intelligent and fun group of commenters.

            I don’t want to sound like a last-worder, but as I’m sure you’ll see if you hang around here long enough, Jerry produces a prodigious amount of material here in addition to all his non-bl*g irons in the fire, and given that production the general excellence of his prose is pretty impressive! That doesn’t mean a typo or word choice that reads funny to someone isn’t going to slip in now and then. 🙂

  27. Well said.

    And that truly is an obnoxious twitterpate from Aslan. I’ve been more charitably disposed toward him than most are here, but no longer. He should be ashamed of himself.

  28. I know this is ad hominem; but Reza Aslan is a liar and an asshole.

    How dare he doubt RD’s sincerity in condemning these murders?

    Does he expect RD to applaud them?

    He’s saying RD is sub-human.

    Precious for one who says we “must destroy” ISIS.

  29. This kind of thing happens regularly in the USA. It’s a result of the lack of gun laws. Unstable people are allowed to go around carrying lethal weapons and sometimes they use them. In such a situation it is inevitable that some victims will be muslims; just as some will be catholics or lutherans, or jews, or buddhists, or hindus, or baptists, or various kinds of ‘brethren’ or atheists or whatever. Just as the victims of Hicks might have been of any or of no religion. And the perpetrators may also be muslims or catholics or lutherans, or jews, or buddhists, or hindus, or baptists, or various kinds of ‘brethren’ or atheists or whatever. This case is further evidence of national craziness and stupidity. Let’s wait for the results of the investigation before we decide it’s more than that.

  30. I follow the news coverage of shootings because I’ve noticed that within hours of any attack committed by a non-Muslim, somebody, somewhere, will diagnose the killer with Asperger’s; I have Asperger’s myself so I’ve got a vested interest in how the public are misinformed about the condition..

    And sure enough I saw the ‘theory’ being floated earlier today by someone who has previously posted abusive anti-Semitic emails to Jerry.

    It’s nice when the bigots have more than one bigotry to carry; it makes them easier to keep track of.

    1. That’s interesting (and disappointing). I’d expect people with Asperger’s to have a lower rate of violent crime than society in general; but certainly have no data.

    2. I too have noticed that people are blaming Asperger’s for a lot of things. I’m sure you saw the report that there was speculation that Vladimir Putin has Aspergers which is laughable to me not only because he used to be a recruiter of spies (and you require some charm and manipulation to do so) but he also had George W say that ridiculous “looked into his eyes” bit. He’s a reflector of a person to manipulate them – so not something people with Asperger’s would find easy and something I suspect they would tend to avoid.

  31. This is exactly my sentiments. I read Azlan’s tweet yesterday and my jaw just hit the ground. It is childish, juvenile opportunism and very close to incitement. Extremely careless for someone who considers himself a responsible media figure. He’s permanently in the moron pile for me.

  32. Though I don’t understand the argument, I am open and interested in evaluating claims that allege a link between the concept of atheism and human behavior.

    I don’t live off the grid in a cave but I am sometimes a headline agnostic, for lack of a better word, about national news and today is the first I’ve heard of this.

    Prof. Coyne’s framing of this event appears wholly realistic and authentic to me.

    Thank you for providing this information.


  33. The murderer’s wife has denied that it was a hate crime, and in America a depressing number of people have been killed over parking spaces. But the father of one of the victims has stated this was definitely a hate crime ( and says his slain daughter told him “Honest to God, he hates us for what we are and how we look.” One of the victims’ friends has said roughly the same (

    It’s quite possible that Hicks’s motives included anti-Muslim bigotry AND parking-spot rage. What we know suggests that he feuded with several people on parking-spot issues—the fact that some of those people were headscarf-wearing Muslims might have clinched whatever murderous feelings were passing through his stupid, deranged head.

    In the news and social media, Dawkins and Harris have been frequently mentioned, often with quotes included to suggest they helped create the atmosphere that led to the murders–Dawkins’s tweet about Islam being evil is frequently reproduced, along with Harris’s “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”

    I don’t believe either saying can be considered an incitement to murder–if they were, many hate crimes would have been committed by atheists by now. But the reproduction of those statements has done nothing for Dawkins and Harris’s reputations. The media will be watching them and waiting to pounce, and I wonder if an even larger part of the public, including some atheists, will turn against them. Dawkins and Harris should be encouraged to continue criticizing religion, but I hope they don’t continue handing their opponents sticks to beat them with.

    If it’s true that Hicks acted (even partially) out of bigotry toward Muslims induced by his conception of atheism and anti-theism, then we can no longer say that “militant” atheists don’t kill people. Extremism of any sort does. In any case, it’s horrible to have these murders follow a month behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I hope the rest of 2015 will be less horrible.

    1. By the four balls of Jeebus, Mary and Joseph, but is such a spacious country as America unable to house the cars for it’s rarely-shaving apes?
      OK, it’s a different culture here, but until I had a (semi-) detached house (and therefore a front garden and a driveway), I just accepted the fact that 8 apartments with 11 cars had 35m of roadway – and we had to accommodate the 30 people n the buildings over the road too.
      If “parking” is an adequate reason for multiple homicide … nope, it simply does nnot compute!

    2. In the news and social media, Dawkins and Harris have been frequently mentioned, often with quotes included to suggest they helped create the atmosphere that led to the murders–Dawkins’s tweet about Islam being evil is frequently reproduced, along with Harris’s “some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them.”

      That Harris quote is taken out of context and I think you know that.

      As for Dawkins he has never said anything even vaguely like it and your attempt to smear him by association is even more despicable.

      1. I don’t think revelator60 was trying to smear him. At this point it is irrelevant whether Dawkins actually said it or not, as in social media it has been turned into, ironically enough, a meme.

    3. “—the fact that some of those people were headscarf-wearing Muslims might have clinched whatever murderous feelings were passing through his stupid, deranged head. ”

      Though the fact that apparently one of them had just parked in one of the disputed spaces might seem more likely to have been the clincher.

    4. “Dawkins and Harris should be encouraged to continue criticizing religion, but I hope they don’t continue handing their opponents sticks to beat them with.”

      I would agree with that sentiment, but there’s a fundamental problem with it in practice – it is practically impossible to criticise religion without making some statement that can be picked on, exaggerated and blamed for any violence against a member of that religion.

      It’s a problem with no easy solution, I think we (and Dawkins and Harris) just have to carry on and deal with it when it arises.

  34. Please, can’t we behave like adults instead of narcissistic, grasping opportunists

    [sarcasm]But there are clicks in narcissistic opportunistic grasping, and Voltaire (amongst others) would defend to the death our right to say juvenile, narcissistic, grasping opportunistic things to mprov our advert-presentation rates.
    What are you? Some sort of pinkocommyunyst debaser of our precious bodily fluids?
    [/scarcasm] Maybe.

  35. @Reza Aslan Which only goes to show, yet again, that evidence means nothing to you, only what you choose to believe.

  36. “Please, can’t we behave like adults instead of narcissistic, grasping opportunists?”!!
    You are talking about people right?
    Bit like saying Please can’t we walk on our hands instead of our fee. The answer is no we can’t or for short durations at best.
    Maybe Atheism should promote itself as a “movement” with a strong emphasis on NON-VIOLENCE like the Buddhists or Jains.


  37. Reza’s comment in ugly and pernicious. What a foul man to think, in a very religious way that he knows what another man thinks. Disgust is what people should have for someone who claims to know when someone’s remorse is genuine or not.

    There is no evidence to suggest Dawkin’s is not earnestly saddened by these deaths.

    Sadness; utter grief. That is what I feel. Contradict that Reza. What a childish game he plays for attention.

  38. These murders are just awful.

    Thankfully nobody is saying ‘These people didn’t deserve to die, but….’ which was often the response to the murders of cartoonists.

  39. Like you, Jerry, I’m deeply saddened by this senseless triple murder. And I’m also reluctant to put even a scintilla of blame for it on the free thought movement.

    I wonder if, say, some loony democrat went on a killing spree and shot three republicans tomorrow, would anyone try to blame the democratic party for the murder?

    1. I wonder if, say, some loony democrat went on a killing spree and shot three republicans tomorrow, would anyone try to blame the democratic party for the murder?

      I’m sure they would.

      1. But would such accusations have any merit?

        Would those people be saying that the Democratic party’s political views are in need of a fix in the wake of this murder?

        1. Would those people be saying that the Democratic party’s political views are in need of a fix in the wake of this murder?

          I can hear Bill O’Reilly revving up to do so even now.

  40. Sub.

    And I was going to say Reza Aslan is an idiot, but after reading some comments here I think he may have been ironically reflecting on the tendency of some commenters to blame all Muslims for the extremists – but as we know, tweets are too short to convey nuances and are often misinterpreted. Reza wouldn’t be the first to forget this.

    1. Damn. Now I need to clarify. ‘reading some comments here’ – I mean the ones I read that pointed out Reza was being ironic. I don’t mean ones ‘blaming all Muslims for extremists’ which hasn’t happened on this thread.
      Not only in tweets can one end up being obscure.

    2. ” . . . but as we know, tweets are too short to convey nuances and are often misinterpreted. Reza wouldn’t be the first to forget this.”

      Which is he more likely to do, acknowledge the efficacy of your above statement, or deny it and harangue readers for not having a grasp of irony?

      1. I wouldn’t try to guess. I’m a Dawkins fan and I’m not a Reza Aslan fan, but it just seemed to me he could well have fallen into the tweeting trap.

    3. Reza says in further tweets that it was meant as irony.

      “@AngryT2Diabetic buy a dictionary and look up the word irony”

      “@meadhound @RichardDawkins nice word. here’s another word you may not have heard before. irony”

      “@fath3rt3d @RichardDawkins I’m speaking for all people who understand what irony means. So not you.”

      Not very magnanimous of him to blame other people for not getting the thick irony. Kinda trollish and childish of him to blame others for his own ironic tweet, actually.

      1. Ah. Okay, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about the irony, which it seems was correct.

        However, he evidently hasn’t heard the saying “when you’re in a hole, stop digging”.

        He is now officially, in my book, a twat.

      2. Fine. I look forward to the Aslan tweet where he accepts as sincere Dawkins’s condemnation of these Chapel Hill murders.

    4. Reza Aslan’s tweet was aimed right at Dawkins and, as far as I know, Dawkins never blamed all muslims for on the religious-fueled murder and genocide by extremists. So even is his tweet was meant in irony, it fails disgustingly, since it was aimed at the wrong person.

  41. Yet more evidence of how “atheism” is a completely meaningless label. Why do people never point out that most murderers don’t believe in unicorns. Surely it can’t be a coincidence. Almost none of them do.

    1. I don’t think it is that obvious.

      Some of us, myself included, spend a lot of energy pointing out that religious beliefs motivate a lot of the violence we see on our little rock in space. “People of faith” hate it when we do this. They do everything they can to disown the violence while ignoring the connections we keep pointing out. So…

      When one of “us” (and this fellow’s commentary about religion seems remarkably similar to my own) commits a heinous act like this, believers and apologists immediately jump to their preferred position, that strident New Atheists are bigots. On the face of it, it looks reasonable. It is not, of course, since there is no atheist equivalent for religious doctrines that mandate violence against nonbelievers.

      But it gives believers and apologists comfort to think that we who say the emperor has no closes are standing naked. It is incorrect, but it feels true to lots of folk.

  42. There were certainly no rational actors in this man’s deck of playing cards on 02/11/15–regardless of any previously purported stance on the existence of a supernatural dimension. Coincidental characterizations do not infer causation, and one loose cannon in the yard does not indict a field of reason.

  43. “Atheism, after all, is not a moral code or a recipe for the good life or a political philosophy, but simply an absence of belief in the supernatural.”
    Careful, you’ll draw the ire of PZ Myers and his horde of Aplussers.

      1. PZ hasn’t forgotten that. He just vociferously denies it and will verbally abuse anyone and everyone who affirms it.

        1. And he’s SO wrong. What an affront to those who have been championing humanism for so long before PZ ever appeared on the scene.

  44. I’d really like to do away with the “New Atheist” construction altogether. As far as I can tell, it was a meaningless designation originally created by religious apologists, to try and distinguish “belligerents” like Sam Harris or Hitchens, and contrast them with the various atheist philosophers we all learn about in school, who genuflected much more to religion (and thus are much more palatable to the faithful).

    “New Atheism” is now used as a lazy shorthand by the media at large, to refer to more outspoken critics of religion, and the “movement” they are alleged to have started.

    The reality is that atheism is simply a rejection of the God hypothesis, as being lacking in evidence. Nothing more, nothing less. There are no scriptures, no divine commands, and no divine leaders. There is no content present in atheism, to support wanton murder of innocents, because there is no moral content at all.

  45. I’ve avoided the comments section on this post for a while. Like everyone else I’ve been scouring my heart and mind to see if there is something here that needs attention, something that atheists are doing wrong that needs sorting. I genuinely haven’t slept much thinking about it. An ugly, dreary, aggressive, gun-toting, anti-theist prick has murdered three perfectly innocent, beautiful people. That’s all I know.

    I am still waiting to hear what specifically new atheists have done to precipitate this attack. What instructional manuals are there amongst the new atheist writings that encourage actual, non-secular intolerance, never mind violence? Where do we ever call for people’s voices to be suppressed, never mind their lives snuffed out? This man sounds like a nasty little bully. But, like every other atheist I know, I am realistic about human beings. That’s part of atheism – to acknowledge that people are not innately any one thing. Some atheists are bad, some are not. Some believers are bad, some are not. I would never make the essentially religious claim that my worldview precludes immoral behaviour. Whether it causes it on the other hand is a different question, which certainly isn’t answered by this atrocity. In the end though I am just sad.

    1. “I am still waiting to hear what specifically new atheists have done to precipitate this attack.”


      Both Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been outspoken defenders of liberal Muslims like Raif Badawi, protesting against unequal treatment of women in many Muslim countries, calling for the end FGM, etc.

      1. I don’t think Badawi is a Muslim. He said so because the charge of apostasy carried death penalty. I guess, anyone on this thread would pronounce himself Muslim at gunpoint. I would.

    2. “What instructional manuals are there amongst the new atheist writings that encourage actual, non-secular intolerance, never mind violence?”

      Right. Where is “The Protocols of The Elders of Lucretius, Paine and Ingersoll”?

  46. Mostly good article, but appealing to Paul Kurtz comes off a bit flat since it seems he was booted out by the more aggressive sorts of atheists.

    1. What do you know about Kurtz’s long career and life passions? We’re talking secular humanism here, not atheism per se.

      1. He seemed a pretty congenial chap to me. On Youtube somewhere is a circa 1985 video of him staying tranquil while getting the sandpaper from three, repeatedly interrupting fundamentalist Christian Inquisitioners.

        1. He was a most engaging, congenial person with a big heart and great sense of humor. IMO he was treated very poorly at the end of his career, but I expect history to resurrect the significance of his contributions to secularism.

          Jerry’s point, I believe, is that people like PZ, et al, are pointlessly stretching the definition of atheism when what they’re actually talking about is humanism (or in their case–and IMO–some perverted form of it).

          Far from being original, non-theistic humanism has a long history in the US, and no one championed it more effectively or enthusiastically in the second half of the 1900’s and the early part of this century than Kurtz did during his long and productive career, one which included setting up centers for free inquiry around the country, then adding campus chapters wherever possible, creating a publishing imprint (Prometheus Books) to publish and publicize humanist/freethinking authors, working to create secular equivalents (such as training secular celebrants) of the ceremonies some people find so important about religion, and on and on.

          Yes, in the end he was essentially dismissed for being accomodationist; but for most of his career that was the only effective way for atheists to operate in the US.

  47. I think that, while Hicks was clearly a psychopath obsessed with parking, the fact that the students were Muslims most likely contributed to them becoming his victims. And especially the young women’s headscarves. To deny this, to me, means to bury our heads in the sand, and it helps nobody.
    What does it mean “to wait till the facts come out”? The motive for the murder is in the murderer’s head, and it is unlikely that he will ever admit his ignoble feelings and bring the aggravating qualification of hate crime upon himself. However, we all know that headscarves are disliked in the West, and they have been in the center of earlier hate crimes.

    1. So we should automatically assume every crime against Muslims is a hate crime? That doesn’t really make sense, sorry.

      1. Hicks’ neighbors say that he quarreled with everybody over parking.
        Quarreled with everybody… but when he snapped and killed some people who make him angry over parking, they “just happened” to be three Muslims, two of whom were girls with headscarves!
        When the victim belongs to a hated group, I do assume a hate element in the crime. I do not say that the perpetrators must always be charged with and convicted of hate crime. I actually feel uneasy about the entire hate crime legislature, with its underlying ideas of thought crimes and victim-grading. I am talking of how to discuss such events in public space. I think that it is better to leave members of the victim’s group (in this case, Muslims) argue that the victim’s affiliation may have nothing to do with the crime.

  48. I feel uncomfortable when I read people’s comments saying the man was evil, or a bad man. It sounds like he let a situation and his anger get out of his control, and now he and others are going to have to pay for that lapse.

    From what I’ve read of him, he certainly doesn’t sound like an evil man, even though he did an evil act. Does a single evil act make an man evil?

    Of course this in no way excuses his actions. What he did was wrong. Those people did nothing to deserve being shot.

    But I can still feel empathy towards both the victims and the shooter. While I don’t have firearms, I have been in situations where I wasn’t able to control my anger. Fortunately for me, the situation never spiraled out of control, and I tend to walk away from situations to avoid doing anything I’ll regret later.

  49. There is a reason so-called moderate Muslims are being blamed for the crimes their fellow believers have committed. It’s because those “moderate” Muslims (or the institutions and people which supposedly represent them) didn’t hesitate to blame Muhammad cartoons as truly insulting and hurting and the cartoonists as the original perpetrators. They-along with despotic Muslim states- have attacked and harshly criticized movies, films, and people for criticizing or ridiculing Islam. They have filed lawsuits against the likes of Salman Roshdi. So yes, it is understandable if someone doubts what they are truly condemning!

    This is not the way Dawkins has behaved. He didn’t say: “Yes, Hicks was a bad man, but you know…those Muslims and their obsession with their religion must have had some role”.

    So irony or not, Aslan’s comment is still disgusting.

    1. Aslan excels in creating an “us vs. them” atmosphere. It is the atheists, not Aslan, who consistently speak about compassion for Muslims. Sam Harris even said on Real Time, during his kerfuffle with Ben Affleck, that Muslims, not Westerners, suffer the most because of Islam. He cited ISIS as mostly killing other Muslims. He also said that we have an ethical imperative to aid those Muslims oppressed by ISIS, but since ISIS views us (the West) as infidels, that becomes tricky.

      Some may interpret that as no different than Muslims saying they honour women by putting them in cloth sacks, however the big difference is that one is isolating and dehumanizing another human while another is advocating for fairness and inclusion simply by attacking the oppressive belief system.

      1. If the mainstream moderate Muslims and their countries openly condemned the violent actions of extremists as a whole instead of blaming the victim, then I’d be more compassionate toward them catching the shit others throw at Muslims in general. But they don’t, and many of them support the radicals and sympathize with their plight so long as they’re not killing other Muslims. There are a few sensible Muslims who live in the modern era who condemn capital punishment and the oppression of women, but a frightening majority still follow archaic beliefs and want to spread Islam around the globe as a total, perfect solution that unites government, society and religion under Sharia law because for them it’s the only correct way to live and the Quran is flawless.

        1. I’m sure that’s true of many Muslims, but I can remember when Egypt, Iran, and Iraq were far more secular than they are now, and among other things women were much less oppressed. It appears that Turkey is “backsliding” from secularism as well.

          I think that maybe too many are living in fear, now, to dare to oppose the bullies.

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