Craig Hicks made headlines this week after brutally gunning down three UNC students over an alleged parking space disagreement. Many are saying in reports that his aggressive response was part of a larger ideological motive. Deah Barakat, 23; Yusor Mohammed, 21; and Razan Abu-Sallah, 19, were of Muslim faith, and Hicks is a self declared atheist.
There are postulations abound to be read about Mr. Hicks and his deadly act of violence against these three young people just getting their feet into the grown up world. I have had a difficult time of making fact out of a lot of fiction, but consistently throughout the numerous articles, blogs, and forum discussions, one thing is clear: No one wants to claim Hicks as part of the tribe in the atheist community.
Yes, many agree Mr. Hicks is indeed an atheist, but that's as far as it goes. The bright spotlight glaring down on us unbelievers is making many heathens squirm, trying to end discussion on the definition of atheism alone, and then even encouraging us to be even more individualistic in practice than unified.
To throw our hands in the air and cry:
Atheism is only a lack of belief. We got nothing to do with it from there!"
This isn't just pathetic, it is downright cowardly. How many of us are raging with incredulity when yet another pastor has been caught hurting a young child, and all we hear from the faithful is:
"Well, he wasn't a true believer in Christ if he did that."
How can our own role models, writers, and outspoken scientists use a fair turn about strategy in response to Hicks and his despicable actions? I'll tell you how. Narcissism runs deep in human nature. Atheism, like other cultures (yes, I see it as a culture of sorts...another blog), has a problem with it too.
See, narcissism is one hell of a defense mechanism. It pushes one to keep above the fray, even if perpetuating a state of denial in order to do so. That is why you hear the same moving of standards every time the religious, or in our case irreligious, are confronted with negativity in something held dear. We cannot have it both ways, friends.
Right now, atheism is the boon of the free thought movement. It is also one of the most least regarded ways of moral structuring in the world today. It is a hard concept for those hard wired with doctrine to grasp the idea of setting your own standards based on your surroundings and culture. The notion that there isn't one set of moral standards to be followed, an absence of an engraved tablet of Do's and Don't s, scares people. Many folks would rather be trapped with a rapist in a stuck elevator than one of us godless blights on humanity. When we get bad press by the likes of Mr. Hicks, what are we supposed to do? It would seem the whole catch and release type of damage control is our default mode too.
I would put forward that it is true that atheism is only about lack of belief. This very straight forward standard has a confusing effect on the masses though. For some reason, folks think that is where atheism stops, but that is not the case at all. The reality is, unlike Islam, Christianity, or even Hinduism, because atheism has only that single standard to be met, we allow for complete freedom of practice within our simple label. We have atheists who are sexist, racist, thieving, bigoted, and so on. You can be a buggerer of sheep for all I know, but your lack of belief qualifies you as a member of my ranks. I cannot boot your identifying as an atheist because you have a sexual penchant for sheep.
Mr. Hicks is a murderer. He is also an atheist. He is part of my community.
His actions are a wake up call in our family of non believers, and I hope you are listening. Unlike other faiths who disavow any association with members who sully their doctrine's image, we need to embrace Hicks, crimes and all, as a parent guiding a son or daughter. We cannot dictate a man's personal freedom to surround himself with bigoted tendencies. We cannot force another to drop his Hammurabi's Code notion of conflict-resolution as Hicks did. To the world communities hurting and watching our response, we can show a larger sense of accountability. Demonstrate we accept the laws of the land we live in, and that any difference in our personal ideologies or life style choices will not rise above those governing laws.
Namely, thou shalt not kill. We can show a larger sense of presence in respecting the governing laws of the communities we live and participate in, and amongst our members. This isn't about making atheism have humanistic traits. That, to me anyway, flies in the face of individual freedom that is inherent in atheism. Mr. Hick's is not bound by law to respect anyone. Identifying as an atheist does not bind him to embrace humanism either. Unlike many of the supporters of Shariah, whether Islamic or Christian, we do agree that he is not above the governing bodies he lives under. We agree that he is not free from the consequences from his actions. We agree omnipotent beings have little to do with the situation, and we hope Hicks gets served appropriate punishment.
He is, however, bound by the laws of the land to not take the governing legislation into his own hands, let alone deal out his own values on human life.
Embracing horrendous acts committed by atheists, whether in the name of a particular lifestyle or not, is essential to being taken more seriously on the world stage. If we continue to perpetuate the same measures of avoidance as all the religions we don't ascribe to have done for millennia, I wouldn't trust an atheist anymore than a rapist either.