Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oslo Attacks & Religion: Wait For the Evidence

It is intellectually dishonest and dangerous for atheists to revel in the extremism of the religious. Immediately after the horrors of the Oslo attacks everyone and their uncle assumed it was Islamic Jihadists. Right-leaning Christian Americans just couldn't wait to line up some Muslims and kill those barbarians. Others are shamelessly using it for their political ends. Then it becomes known that the attacker was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, ethnic Norwegian.

Well shit...

Suddenly these Christians were silent. The media's language changed from "Jihadist," "Islamist" or "terrorist to "right-wing extremist" or "madman." very few mentions of "Fundamentalist Christian" or, Zeus forbid, "Christian Terrorist." So what happens next? My fellow atheists almost seem to burst with sarcastic glee.

/pinches bridge of nose

It’s not uncommon for atheists to be called dangerous extremists. Ignorant theists make the ad naseum attack that the “20th Century saw the the most horrific genocides in history and these regimes were atheist or secular." We know how to answer these charges: Hitler was Catholic, Stalin and Mao did nothing in the name of atheism or secularism and built their totalitarian regimes on political extremism. Same with Pol Pot with the added rebuke that he was not secular. He mixed Theravada Buddhism with totalitarian, agrarian communism. There was a supernatural component to his beliefs.

What bothers me more and more, and I freely admit I have not been immune to this position and rhetoric, is the implicit idea by atheists that the inevitable conclusion of belief is extremism and that we, as atheists, are immune.

I have previously talked about the improbability of “Atheist Fundamentalism,” but I consciously did not say that about extremism. Why? I can very easily see some lunatic asshole be influenced by nearly any philosophy to violent action! With all our talk of immoral Biblical teachings, the threat of religious dogma and their own extremism it wouldn't be too much of a jump for an unstable non-believer to feel an overwhelming paranoia and threat. Could this person act in a manner similar to al-Qaeda members? Probably not. Could they have a very small group of sympathizers like Timothy McVeigh? Maybe. Could they have an automatic rifle and kill 84 kids? Sadly, yes.

I bring this up not so much to scold atheists and antithiests or to tell them in some accomodationist speak to keep quiet, but be careful of  logical fallacies and assumptions. Even if the person is influenced by religion, philosophy or politics; sometimes they really are just sick. If this Anders Behring Breivik turns out to be part of a network of Christian Extremists then we can have an informed discussion about that. In the meantime we would be wise to wait until the evidence is in and keep out preconceived notions to ourselves. We are supposed to be skeptics and rationalists first, right?

Why do I feel i have the right to say this? Because I am guilty too. I assumed it was an Islamic attack. Then when I heard he was possibly a Christian Fundamentalist I admit that I sneered. Then I immediately realized that this is wrong. This isn’t a “gotcha” moment. It is sad and horrifying.