Dispatches from the Creation Wars

BarryA’s Absurd Scapegoating

Barry Arrington over at UD has this post where he speculates that the nut who shot up a couple churches in Colorado the other day was incited by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and other prominent atheists who prompt people to hate Christians. He quotes a statement from Murray talking about how much he wanted to kill his victims and then says:

Look at the last part of that quote closely. One wonders if Murray has been reading Dawkins or Dennett. By blaming the world’s ills on religious people do Dawkins and Dennett incite to hatred and make it more likely that tragedies of this sort can occur? I don’t know, but it is an interesting question.

Love that copout at the end. Reminds me of Paul Reiser’s routine about how the phrase “I’m just saying” cancels out anything you said prior to that. He’s not saying it’s true, of course, he’s just implying it. He’s just sayin’. You know. But when challenged on it, he certainly tries to defend the claim:

Surprisingly, several commenters have suggested that unless I can prove a direct causal relationship I should be quiet. Stuart Harris as much as says that unless I can show that Murray read an atheist book last Saturday and started killing people on Sunday then I should “shut the hell up.” Mr. Harris, let me clue you in. Human motivation is rarely simple, linear and direct. The standard you set is patently unreasonable. A multitude of variables contribute to human actions, and one of those variables is what I would call the “intellectual climate” of the culture. Are Dawkins and his ilk guilty of contributing to a climate of hatred (or at least animosity) against religious people generally and Christians in particular? Hitchens calls religion a “poison.” Isn’t it axiomatic that poison is bad and should be eradicated?

Mr. Harris, the killer said that Christians are to blame for most of the problems in the world. One wonders where he got that notion. I think it is a fair question to ask whether Darkins, Dennett and Hitchens have gone too far with their inflammatory rhetoric. You can stick your head in the sand if you want to, but thinking people ask questions. Are Dawkins, Dennett or Hitchens directly responsible for Sunday’s murders? Obviously not. At the end of the day, my inquiry is not so much about “responsibility” as “irresponsibility.” Have the vituperative atheists been irresponsible in contributing to an intellectual climate that condones animosity toward religious people? It’s a fair question.

Let’s forget for the moment that the shooter, Matthew Murray, was actually a member of the missionary group he attacked and was thrown out of the group, obviously suggesting that his hatred of them was personal. Let’s forget for the moment that Arrington doesn’t offer even the tiniest shred of evidence that Murray had ever read anything by Dawkins and Dennett. Let’s just focus on one tiny little thing he seems to have forgotten:

Is Arrington really unaware that the very movement he is a part of has a long history of blaming all the world’s problems on the very people he is accusing of blaming all the world’s problems on him? Has he never read the innumerable diatribes from his fellow ID advocates blaming “Darwinists” for racism, Nazism and communism, abortion and every other bad thing in the world?

Is he unaware that hatred and distrust of atheists is far more common in our culture than virtually any other group? Is he ignorant of the fact that one inevitable result of being a plaintiff in an establishment clause case is that one is immediately accused of being an atheist – the worst thing such people can conceive of – and subject to harassment and death threats?

So deep is hatred of atheists in some circles that even Christians who advocate a strict separation between church and state – and this has happened to dozens of such people who have taken an unpopular stand in a church/state lawsuit, including the Christian plaintiffs in the Dover case – are tarred with that label and subjected to threats and harassment.

And all of this is encouraged by fundamentalist preachers who blame such people for destroying the country and even of bringing down God’s wrath upon us all by advocating sin and denying him. Now let’s take this statement from Arrington:

Hitchens calls religion a “poison.” Isn’t it axiomatic that poison is bad and should be eradicated?

And reword it a bit:

Jerry Falwell says that liberals, gays, abortionists and the ACLU cause God to withdraw his protection from the US and thus allowed the terrorists to destroy the WTC. Isn’t it axiomatic that those responsible for invoking the wrath of God on our nation must be eradicated?

One could go on all day long with similar examples. Are those fundie preachers and religious right leaders who blame gays for wanting to “destroy marriage” and destroy the nation itself responsible when a gay person is attacked? To borrow Arrington’s phrase, can we blame the religious right for “contributing to an intellectual climate that condones animosity toward gays”?

Of course we can. But remember, you can name the prominent atheists who write influential books on one hand, two at the most. Compare that to thousands and thousands of fundamentalist preachers teaching their congregations to hate. Compare that to a gaggle of radio talk show hosts ranting angrily at gays, atheists, liberals, the ACLU and anyone else they disapprove of. Do you really wanna go down this road, Barry? I don’t think you do.


  1. #1 Kristine
    December 12, 2007

    The kid’s family belonged to a cult, in which he chafed under some really unbelievable prohibitions, and the kid obviously had some emotional problems, if he was not actually psychotic (e.g., he reported hearing voices).

    There is no one cause here, and Murray’s actions are despicable no matter what. He is ultimately accountable for them. But a rigid, morbid, rule-based atmosphere breeds monsters. His family was following the teachings of Bill Gothard, who has been criticized even by fellow conservative home-schoolers as a “cultist.”

    I hope that someone with more insight than Gothard can counsel this family and lead them out of this hyper-religious abyss into a more moderate and healthy view, at least.

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