The Freedom From Religion Foundation released a statement this afternoon in response to last night’s tragic shooting of three Muslims by an atheist — which was over a parking dispute, as far as the news reports say, and not over their theological differences, though you wouldn’t know that based on how it’s being reported.
But there are a couple of aspects of FFRF’s press release that bother me and I wanted to explain them here.
First, this line:
We are very sorry to see someone identified as nonreligious in the news for a violent crime. Such an action is almost unheard of in the freethought world. Mental instability is no respecter of persons, and happens in all walks of life.
There’s no evidence that shooter Craig Stephen Hicks was suffering from any sort of mental instability.
It’s easy (and tempting) to pin the blame on something out of our control, but it appears that Hicks did this with sound mind. There are serious questions to ask whenever someone resorts to violence as a means to settle a dispute, but suggesting he was just some “crazy” dude doesn’t help the situation.
FFRF has already taken press calls on this, and must point out that in a world roiled daily by violence in the name of religion, including commonplace personal tragedies as well as terrorism and theopolitical warfare, it would be almost unheard of for media to place religious leaders on the spot.
Actually, that happens all the time.
When the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred, Muslim leaders were constantly asked to condemn the violence done in the name of their faith. Nearly all did without hesitation, even if they later attempted to distance the terrorists’ actions from the words in the Koran.
When a Christian kills an abortion doctor — or, hell, whenever Pat Robertson says something stupid — our own community wants to hear Christians explicitly disavow them, even if they hold very different beliefs within the umbrella of Christianity.
I’m not surprised FFRF has been getting calls about this case. Hicks “Liked” FFRF on Facebook (though he wasn’t a member) and FFRF is the largest atheist group in the country. They should be expected to condemn this violence, though they’re welcome to point out that there’s no reason right now to believe his atheism was the motivating factor. And even if that turned out to be the case, certainly Hicks doesn’t represent the views or actions of anyone but himself. (Furthermore, I’m hard-pressed to think of any writings or speeches of popular atheists that would lead someone to think violence is a good idea. In fact, advancing atheism through force is something they’ve long been opposed to.)
To be clear, there’s a lot of information we still don’t know about why Hicks killed three people. You can’t really deny this guy was an atheist, though it’s not like a Christopher Hitchens book was found at the scene of the crime. The media is trying to latch onto any potential motivation for the crime and the difference in religious beliefs make for a compelling storyline… even if they were completely irrelevant to what happened.
But FFRF isn’t helping by jumping to mental instability as a potential cause or acting like they’re dealing with a unique situation.
They would have been better off just grieving for the lives lost, mentioning that FFRF doesn’t support violence in any situation, and offering to do anything in their power to help the families of those who died.