NB: The below is based on New Atheist Sam Harris’ “concentric circle” analysis of the Muslim world and its alleged predisposition toward violence. You can see Harris’ comments here or read the transcript here.
We are all confused, terrified, and mournful after the Chapel Hill Shootings, where three young Muslims fell victim to an act of Freethinking Terror. But do we really understand the roots of Radical Freethinking? Have our federal agencies, including the Dept. of Homeland Security, done enough to root out these homegrown atheistic terrorists?
In these confusing times, we need expertise to provide clarity. For starters, what is the basis of Radical Atheism and how prominent is this ideology among atheists and humanists worldwide?
As an expert on Radical Atheism, I can share some insights.
Just imagine you have some concentric circles. At the center, you have Radical Atheists, people like Craig Stephen Hicks. These are people who wake up wanting to kill Muslims and other believers (or die trying). They believe that religion is inherently evil; they believe religious people are inherently evil and that religion must be eradicated off the face of the earth.
Outside of them, we have neoconservatives and hawkish liberals as well as hardline secularists in Europe. These are people who are just as convinced of the evil of Islam and want to foist Western values on the rest of humanity. But they want to work “within the system.”
They’re not going to murder young Muslim neighbors execution style. They want to change governments and pass legislation. They want to prop up military dictators in the Middle East or invade countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya on false pretenses or under the guise of “spreading freedom and democracy” and a concern for “human rights.” At home, they want to ban religious symbols in public and profile Muslims, while deporting as many of them as possible.
Those two circles arguably are 20% of the secular atheist world.
There are a bunch of poll results that we can talk about. To give you one point of contact: 43% of American atheists, agnostics, and the religiously unaffiliated think that for the military to target and kill civilians is sometimes justified. In secular Europe, large segments of the population, up to 63%, have anti-Muslim views. 63%! So, I’m being conservative when I roll this back to 20%.
Outside of those two circles, you have free thinkers who can honestly look at the Radicals, the hawks, the fascist secularists in Europe and say, “That does not represent us. We’re horrified by that.”
But, nonetheless, this camp holds views about religion and religious people that are deeply troubling. So, these are not Radical Atheists, they are not atheistic neo-cons, hawkish liberals, or racist European secularists, but they often caricature Muslims as backwards, a cancer on civilization, a threat to life everywhere. They often dehumanize Muslims and portray Islam (and religion in general) as the source of all evil in the world, but they don’t go so far as to openly advocate for interventionist wars in Muslim countries or anti-Muslim legislation domestically.
All in all, outside of these three circles, we have to empower the true reformers in the atheistic secular liberal world. And lying about doctrine and bad behavior is not going to do that.
Now, let me just give you what you want. There are millions of atheists and secular liberals who are nominal free thinkers, who don’t take their interventionist, universalizing ideology seriously, who don’t want to kill Muslims, who are horrified by US foreign policy, who don’t think Islam and religion is literally the source of all evil. We need to defend these people, prop them up and let them reform their faith from the inside.
If we come together to take a stand against Radical Atheism and its derivatives, whether in the US or in Europe, I have great hope for our collective future. If we fail, then I’m afraid millions of more innocent lives are at stake.
The above is satire, using the exact words and arguments of one prominent atheist, Sam Harris, in his characterization of nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world. Obviously, as satire, it is deliberately ridiculous as we do not know at this time the motivations and beliefs of Craig Hicks (not that a lack of knowledge has prevented commentators all and sundry from expounding on “radical Islam” without the slightest clue about the motivations and beliefs of Muslim perpetrators).
The point of this post is to parody the double standards in our society regarding Muslims as terrorists and Islam as a fundamentally regressive, violent ideology. These double standards are perpetuated in mainstream media as well as among supposed “free thinkers” and “intellectuals” who do not understand how their bigotry, “sophisticated” and “erudite” as it may seem to themselves, causes real death and suffering for innocent people around the world and, most recently, at home, in North Carolina. It is easy to see the outright bigotry of some on the Christian right, on Fox News, or in the views of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. But, the same vitriolic anti-Muslim bigotry can be found among some in the supposedly more enlightened secular, humanist demographic.
Of course, in light of the terror in Chapel Hill, it would be foolish and irrational to implicate all atheists, humanists, and secular liberals in general as prone to violence and murder. But, it would be untrue to say that secular liberal ideology has not been the cause of much destruction and slaughter around the world, especially in Muslim countries. As I argue extensively here, secular liberalism is inherently interventionist and universalizing.
The writing of New Atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens is enough testament to this: They want to see a secular world with religion banished. This does not happen, cannot happen, peacefully. It requires military muscle and forced invasion, occupation, and repression, and that is what we have seen in the Muslim world for decades, whether in Algeria under secular French occupation in the 19th and 20th century to current day Iraq and Afghanistan, etc. The blood of millions of Muslims is on Western hands, yet “free thinkers” and “humanists” by and large have not taken responsibility for how their ideology is directly tied to this mass violence. Obviously, atheists and humanists have been quick to condemn the Chapel Hill murders, but many, like Bill Maher, continue to coyly deny that neoliberalism and the secular humanist ideology it is based on have any connection to Western military action in the Muslim world abroad or anti-Muslim sentiments domestically.
If the death of millions has not been enough of a clarion call for the likes of Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and other outspoken atheists, then we pray that the tragic murder of three young Muslims will be.