There’s a charming line of argument popular among the godly, which posits that a lack of religious faith is responsible for the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, that morality is impossible without submitting to the authority of a supernatural creator, and that the only psychological state necessary to commit mass murder is a lack of belief in deities. There is even an entire book devoted to this nonsense entitled The Amorality of Atheism by Giorgio Roversi.
Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have spent much of their careers as ‘New Atheist’ authors and speakers, kicking these arguments into orbit.
A recent mutation of these trite and fatuous accusations of atheism-inspired violence has begun to spread, which argues that New Atheism’s criticism of religion’s inherent menace is tantamount to incitement to violence.
This position is one that has been most ardently quarterbacked, if not invented outright, by vindictive liars and unethical smear-merchants such as disgraced author CJ Werleman and alleged comedian Dean Obeidallah. Not only do they habitually blame New Atheism as the primary motivating factor in violence against Muslims, but they engage in the highly unprincipled and irresponsible tactic of holding people like Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins personally for responsible for inspiring murder.
When anti-theist Craig Hicks callously shot 3 Muslim neighbours dead over what Chapel Hill Police reported as stemming from a parking dispute, Werleman barely managed to contain himself long enough for the gunshots to stop ringing before launching attacks on Dawkins and Harris.
Apparently eager to disabuse anyone who may have charitably excused this outburst as momentary lapse of judgement, Werleman fervently repeated this contemptible behaviour when Anton Lundin Pettersson entered a school in Trollhättan, Sweden armed with a sword and stabbed a teaching assistant and a 15 year old Somalian student to death.
Keen not to be out-crassed, Obeidallah jumped in with both feet and began issuing some reckless allegations of his own.
Earlier this week a French-Canadian student named Alexandre Bissonnette marched into a Quebec mosque during evening prayers and opened fire killing 6 Muslims and injuring another 12. As seems to be routine now when news of a terror attack breaks, some intrepid soul managed to identify the killer’s Facebook page and circulated details of his listed interests. Among the utterly pedestrian (Mr Bean and Katy Perry) and the usual clichéd scapegoats for bloodbaths (Marilyn Manson and the video game Doom) were mentions of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.
This was all Obeidallah needed to resume his campaign of demanding that a mild mannered and liberal evolutionary biologist be held accountable for the actions of a murderer.
Occasionally I remember that Dean Obeidallah exists and immediately have to check his Twitter feed for masochistic reasons. I noticed his accusation that Dawkins “objectively demonised Muslims” and challenged him to provide an example. His response was neither an example of objectivity, nor a demonization of Muslims. But it did reveal some very unsettling ways in which Obeidallah thinks about these complex issues. Refusing to recognise or accept the distinction between people and ideas, he offered a paraphrase of Dawkins’ quote:
“Islam is the greatest force for evil in the world today”.
He then attempted to demonstrate how that statement could inspire violence by asking rhetorically “Why wouldn’t you want to kill a follower of evil?”
This frankly astounding admission heavily implies that Dean considers it a natural and logical impulse to want to kill people for holding “evil” ideas. Incidentally, Richard Dawkins has never come close to making such a stupid and irresponsible proclamation on his worst day. It is admittedly a thought-provoking statement though – it provokes thoughts like: I wonder at what point Dean is planning to make his way to the sixth floor of a book depository building with a high powered rifle, or whether he would opt to hold himself responsible if one of his Facebook followers were to do so.
The colossal irony here is that when the spotlight falls upon Islam, the most vocal opponents of the notion that ideological beliefs are a significant motivating factor in behaviour are precisely the same people who blame ‘the ideology of New Atheism’ for the behaviour of atheist murderers.
Whereas atheist commentators invariably go out of their way to reiterate the distinction between ideas and people, Dean and his ilk happily target individuals directly and hold them personally accountable for the actions of others. He almost certainly understands the difference between criticising ideas and demonising people, but he simply doesn’t care because his agenda is to shut down any and all criticism of his particular religion.
Obeidallah is often described as a comedian – albeit mainly by himself – so it’s fitting that his hypocrisy in this regard is borderline comical. He’ll effortlessly argue that a “divine” doctrine which repeatedly commands and rewards violence has no causal role in the behaviour of the thousands of jihadists who cite it as their motivation, whilst simultaneously arguing that fallible atheist authors who explicitly denounce violence are responsible for inspiring it. If it’s acceptable to call yourself a comedian when you’re only ever funny unintentionally, then Obeidallah is a certified comic genius.
Inconveniently for Dean and CJ though, a closer look at this horrendous atrocity in Quebec makes it seem pretty unlikely that the perpetrator is an atheist (of any variety) after all. In their desperate attempt to pin this outrage on evil New Atheism, and to establish some kind of equivalence between this extremely rare hate crime and the daily atrocities inflicted upon the world by trigger-happy devotees of Islam, Werleman and Obeidallah appear to have missed a few of the other interests listed on the killers Facebook page. I can’t imagine too many atheists enjoy the work of Christian apologists William Lane Craig and Edward Feser for example. Or Pope John Paul II for that matter. I don’t know how many glorify the Knights Templar, but I very much doubt that a great number are fans of this suspiciously familiar book by Giorgio Roversi illustrating atheism’s supposed lack of morality:
Duplicitous apologists for Islam like Obeidallah and Werleman have no problem acknowledging the religious motivations for fasting, praying in the direction of Mecca, abstaining from pork products and engaging in a whole host of other prosaic, ethically neutral devotions. But introduce the occasional murder into the equation and the infallible word of Allah apparently loses its clout as a motivating influence over behaviour.
Their position regarding Islamic violence in a nutshell is as follows: Islam is absolutely a significant inspirational factor upon the actions of its followers but only when those actions are not ethically troubling or outright affronts to decency.
Yet on the other hand, upon the occasion that some atrocious murder is committed by someone rumoured to have a tenuous connection to New Atheism, they will immediately discard their opposition to the idea that pernicious beliefs can inspire homicidal behaviour, and will instead argue until they’re blue in the face that the actions of the killer are entirely ideologically motivated. And their punchline will be to dishonestly use “New Atheism” as a synonym for the actual ideological motivations such as far-right nationalism and white supremacism.
This preposterously disingenuous way of arguing is a joke, and it’s about as funny as the rest of Obeidallah’s material.