Atheist Terrorism! Hit the Deck!

By now, everyone has probably heard about the tragic events in Chapel Hill that unfolded just two days ago.  It should go without saying that these killings were an act of pure barbarism, and my empathy is with the family and friends of the three people gunned down in cold blood.  Of course, given today’s highly polarized climate, I feel compelled to make that clear.

Now.

I’ve been fascinated by the transformation of this story over the past day.  As of yesterday morning, this was a tragic murder, but nothing more.  As of last night, it’s become a potential hate crime, with media outlets competing with one another to leap on what is apparently the first atheist hate crime ever committed.  What fascinates me is how easily this conclusion was drawn by a media that is often reticent to claim a suicide bomber who screams, “Allahu Akbar,” before killing themselves and 30 others as a religiously-motivated killer.  Apparently, the mere fact that the victims were Muslim and the killer was atheist is enough to support the claim of a hate crime here, despite the complete dearth of evidence to suggest that.  But let’s go in order by addressing the claims being made, then we’ll wrap it up by discussing why everyone’s so eager to get on this bandwagon.

The Western media is refusing to cover this as a hate crime because of their bias

This is an easy one to start with, because it’s morbidly hilarious.  Almost every mainstream media outlet in the West is wagging their fingers at the mainstream media (as though they aren’t part of it) and claiming that no one is talking about the potential hate crime.  So far, Al Jazeera America, the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, and pretty much every other outlet is covering this as a potential hate crime.  Even Fox News is covering it as a potential hate crime (though I’ll grant that they’re definitely not running this as a top story).  At this point, I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been confused about the definition of “mainstream media” my whole life.

This was clearly a hate crime

Well, not really.  If it was, it is all the more abhorrent.  But currently, everyone who’s actually involved with the case has said that it appears to be the result of a long-running dispute over parking spaces and other bad-neighbor behavior.  There’s nothing to suggest a hate crime, aside from the fact that the victims were Muslims and the killer an outspoken atheist.  Speaking of the latter…

This was clearly motivated by atheism

Again, not really.  More evidence may turn up in the coming days, but nothing that’s being reported actually points to this killing having anything to do with atheism.  The strongest correlation any media outlet has drawn was a statement from Hicks’ Facebook page:

Praying is pointless, useless, narcissistic, arrogant, and lazy; just like the imaginary god you pray to.

Is his statement harsh?  Of course.  Is it an unpopular opinion?  Very.  Does it in any way point to a desire to harm others, never mind a specific desire to harm Muslims?  Not even a little bit.

In fact, there’s nothing in Hicks’ atheist rhetoric to suggest that he was specifically anti-Islam.  Most of his posts are about Abrahamic religions in general.  And none of those posts incite violence.  When combined with the constant pictures and rhetoric about guns, it certainly paints the portrait of an extremely angry, potentially violent man.  But it doesn’t show an anti-Arab bigot.

Again, evidence may be uncovered in the coming days that more clearly points to Hicks’ atheism being the primary motivation in this case.  If that happens, I will be extremely saddened and absolutely will want atheists (insofar as we have an atheist community) to examine our rhetoric and see what kind of changes are needed.  But at present, there’s nothing to suggest that this crime was motivated by atheism.

Terrorism?

This is not a claim being circulated by most major outlets, but multiple opinion pieces are demanding to know why this isn’t being labeled as atheist terrorism.  After all, we were labeling the Charlie Hebdo attacks as terrorism within minutes of their being reported.  Doesn’t that show bias?

Actually, no.  It shows that most people understand the definition of terrorism.  Terrorism is the use of violence (or the threat of violence) in order to incite fear in a group of people, generally in order to achieve a larger goal.

The Charlie Hebdo killings were quite clearly an act of terrorism.  An organized group of Muslims killed people who drew cartoons about Mohammed, in order to make others afraid of doing the same thing and stop people from drawing those cartoons.  There’s a reason I italicized that last part.  If the people in that case had simply killed those cartoonists because they offended someone’s religious beliefs, then it would not be classified as terrorism.  But the act itself was not the end goal; the terror it inspired was.

Now, let’s look at the killings in Chapel Hill.  Unless we uncover a manifesto from Craig Hicks that tells us he was trying to make all Muslims afraid of taking his parking space, then there’s nothing to support this as a terrorist act.  At this point, Hicks’ ultimate goal appears to have been killing three people he didn’t like.  As pointed out, there’s little evidence to suggest that he was motivated by anything other than a personal vendetta, and there’s absolutely nothing to indicate that he intended this action to send a message to any larger community of people.

So why is this narrative so exciting?

It seems fairly clear that the media (and a good chunk of the public) are perversely thrilled at the idea of a hate crime inspired by atheism.  And it’s fairly easy to understand why. It’s a great narrative that finally gets to spit in the face of all those arrogant atheists who keep claiming that no one ever killed in the name of atheism.

Finally, we can point to this and tell atheists how wrong they were for saying that a lack of belief in a god has never been the prime motivator for atrocity.  At last, they’ll be silenced, because now, one of their own has committed a hate crime.  Suck on that, Dawkins.

The fact remains that atheists are the least-trusted group in America.  Anyone confused on this point can feel free to look up the multiple studies that have been done on the subject.  Or you can just look to the fact that Obama is the first president to acknowledge atheism as a valid belief system during this year’s Prayer Breakfast.  Or that far fewer people would vote for an atheist to be president than would vote for a female, gay, or Muslim one.  And one of the most hated atheist talking points is that there’s never been a killing in the name of atheism, because it’s never really been a point that could be refuted well.

So it’s perfectly understandable that the hate crime narrative is popular.  It grabs hold of the religious fervor surrounding this issue and pulls down a group of people who are often viewed as smug or arrogant.  But the problem is that the hate crime narrative, at this point in time, isn’t supported by any of the evidence.

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#hashtagskillbraincells

The internet is my shepherd, I shall not want.  For lo, when I was thinking, “Gee, I really need to write something, but I can’t find anything worth a full article,” the internet hath provided for me.  Yea, I shall walk in the sheltering arms of the internet, and I shall fear no writer’s block.  For the internet hath given me a bounty of idiocy to cover with this newly discovered hashtag: #pornkillslove.

Now, I wasn’t aware that this has apparently been a thing for a few months, due to this blog.  But now I’m fully aware, and I’m just amazed.  Amazed by the amount of misinformation that people are willing to spread on the internet, but more importantly, amazed by how absolutely awful ignorance is.

First, let’s examine this site’s claims.  As you may have guessed, they center around the notion that porn is bad.  Well, to be fair to this site’s designers, they center around the notion that porn is evil.  And addictive.  Oh, and it ruins relationships.  Because trust me, you didn’t do anything to wreck your marriage; it was all those evil videos doing it for you.

This new “movement” is entirely based on the claim that porn is addictive.  So let’s get a few things straight about what these people mean by that.  Thanks to America’s hypersensitivity to addiction, the very use of the word conjures up some extremely strong images, many of them having to do with drug addicts in the throes of a horrific detox, their bodies ravaged by the harmful effects of whatever they’ve been pumping in their systems.

But let’s hold on a moment, because there are two kinds of addiction, and sites like this are always keen to gloss over that point.  There are physical addictions, like addictions to alcohol, methamphetamine, and many other chemicals (not marijuana).  And then there are psychological addictions, like addictions to gambling, or pretty much anything else you can name.  And that’s the problem.  One can claim that anything causes psychological addiction, because technically, anything can.  So long as you’re activating pleasure centers in your brain with an activity, the activity can be considered psychologically addictive.

Now, I’m not saying that psychological addictions are somehow fabricated, due to their mental nature.  Quite the opposite.  But there’s a fundamental difference between a physical and psychological addiction that companies like FTND are relying on you to not know.  If I’m a gambling addict, and I quit gambling, I’ll probably feel like hell.  But if I’m an alcoholic, and I quit drinking, I may die.  That’s a pretty stark difference.

And we’re obsessed with addiction, to the point that we’ve made social outcasts out of anyone we deem to have one.  Enjoy lots of sex?  You’re a sex addict.  Enjoy online games?  You’re an MMO addict.  Enjoy looking at pictures or videos of naked people online?  Porn addict.

And why would anyone want to negatively label people who are receiving pleasure from something?  Because apparently we can’t get over our puritanical roots long enough to realize that pleasure isn’t inherently bad.  Of course, one might note that no support group meeting would be complete without coffee, donuts, and cigarettes, but let’s focus on harmful addictions, right?  (Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.)

There really don’t need to be any studies showing that porn is addictive.  Anything can be addictive, especially if you’re a person with an addictive personality.  What these people hinge their entire argument on is that this addiction is harmful, in that (according to them) it will destroy relationships and lead to sexually deviant (and yes, criminal) behavior.  And that’s where they get you, because they rely on you to not realize that amidst all the scientific studies about the addictive properties of porn, there isn’t a single peer-reviewed study that documents its harmful effects.  They’re relying on your negative associations with the word addiction to cloud your judgment, and I’ve got to admit, it’s a fantastic strategy.

So here are some of the major misconceptions about pornography that they’re going to try and get you to implicitly believe through some very suggestive writing:

Porn kills your sex drive.
This hasn’t been documented in any substantive way, but if Dan Savage’s column is any indication, porn does the complete opposite for many people.  Some people may want to look away right now, but here’s a dirty little secret: people masturbate.  People masturbate when they’re single.  They masturbate when they’re in committed relationships.  They masturbate all the damn time.  And yet, my Facebook wall is still full of pictures of people’s terrible children [Don’t worry, I’m not talking about your kids, person who’s reading this.  Your kids are wonderful.]
Porn is simply looking at something in order to aid masturbation.  Otherwise, you’re going to be using your own imagination as an aid.  And are you really going to claim that your mind is less dirty than everything that’s on the web?

Porn-using behavior escalates
This is a nice, plain, misleading sentence, because it uses a fundamentally true statement (addictive behavior often escalates in the pursuit of a greater high) to suggest a fundamentally untrue implication (porn “addicts” will eventually not be able to achieve arousal without viewing or participating in increasingly “extreme” scenarios).  First of all, both of these statements ignore the fact that not everyone has an addictive personality.  I know from past experience that I don’t (or to the extent that I do, it’s very minor).  So I can go to a bar and just have a drink.  An alcoholic can’t.  That’s because our brain chemistry is fundamentally different.  One of us has an addictive personality.
But this also ignores the fact that there are no facts supporting that implication.  Even if we accept the premise that addicts seek out a greater high every time they go out, that simply means that a porn addict will look at porn with greater frequency.  There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that an adult can develop a brand new set of fetishes based entirely on porn consumption.  Nor is there any evidence that fetishes are harmful, but let’s face it, these people think that any extra-marital sexual desire is bad (more on that later).

Porn destroys relationships
Again, this statement isn’t based on scientific evidence.  It’s solely based on the anecdotes provided by spurned wives (again, we’ll get in to why these people are obsessed with straight, married relationships).  As a divorcee, I can testify to how easy it is to place the blame for a failed marriage on an external source.  It’s a hell of a lot easier than blaming your partner or, Odin forbid, yourself.
So if your sex life was failing, look for something else to blame.  It couldn’t be that pervasive and repressive attitudes about sex were having a strong effect on you and your partner.  It couldn’t be that a lack of open communication about your sex life created a psychological strain on both of you.  The internet’s to blame.

Now, as you may have noticed, I’ve started to get a little more specific about the people running this thing, and believe me, it took quite some effort to be confident in my specifics.  Although, I wasn’t surprised by the amount of effort it took once I confirmed my suspicions.

When I looked at the FTND site, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh boy, I bet this is another conservative Christian group out to shame people for their sexual desires and preferences.”  But after doing a lot of digging on the site, I couldn’t find a single religious reference.  In fact, I found specific notes on their school presentations (yep, they do this in schools) that mentioned how there was no religion involved.  And I got this tiny tickling feeling on the back of my neck: Mormons.

If you haven’t spent any significant time around the LDS community, you’re probably wondering why that would be my first instinct.  Mormons are absolute geniuses when it comes to repackaging religious ideas as secular ones.  And once I started to re-examine the site, I noticed the predominance of good-looking white people, imagery that somehow manages to leave out homosexual relationships in any form, hip language, and a now-conspicuous lack of religious rhetoric in a topic that is usually dominated by it.  So I went digging.

It took a little bit, but I finally found my smoking gun.  I knew that the arguments on this site sounded eerily familiar.  And I knew that the whole ad campaign looked even more eerily familiar.  I’d heard these things in Utah.  And I’d seen these advertising strategies when the LDS church bankrolled Proposition 8 in California.

But why would Mormons go to such great lengths to hide their involvement in this?  Because even without the massive persecution complex that many devout LDS followers have, church members understand that no one likes them that much.  The left doesn’t like them due to their insanely conservative social views.  The conservative Christians don’t like them, because they view Mormons as a cult.  So Mormons have learned that the only way to reach a wider audience is to appear to be making secular arguments.  And they’re damn good at it.

Porn has been around forever.  It doesn’t destroy relationships.  It doesn’t lead to “deviant” behavior.  It doesn’t make you an addict.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.

Do you like looking at porn?  Great.  Do you not like looking at porn?  Great.  The only reason that any of your preferences will affect your love life is if you aren’t open and honest with your partner about them.

And remember: the internet is for porn. (If you weren’t expecting this link at the end, I have lost a little respect for you.)

I Guess Ben Affleck is Still a Decent Director

This post is fairly contextual, so I guess I should start with some context:

It all started when a group at Yale invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali to speak on Islam.  Ms. Hirsi Ali was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, which, somewhat predictably, has led her to have some pretty harsh words for Islam on the subject of women’s rights.  There’s a whole lot more to her life, but in this abridged biography, let’s just say that some of her comments have been strong enough to get her banned from a number of US institutions for being “Islamophobic” (more on that word later).

The Muslim Students’ Association (along with a veritable alphabet soup of other campus groups) got upset and wrote this letter.  Yale responded by allowing her to make a speech on campus.  And then Bill Maher weighed in on the debate, drawing national attention with his comments on Muslim theocracies.  Ben Affleck went on Maher’s show and called both Maher and fellow guest Sam Harris “racist” for their comments about Islam.  Reza Aslan went on CNN to criticize Maher’s “facile” views on Islam.  And then a couple of ex-Muslims wrote an article explaining why Aslan is an extremely disingenuous debater when it comes to matters of Muslim faith.

Phew.  That was a lot.  Feel free to peruse those articles as you like.  If you’re not in the mood to read a lot, the last article kind of sums everything up, as it’s the most recent one of the bunch.

But anyway, now that we’ve caught up to today, the overwhelming issue here is that liberals in America need to grow the fuck up when it comes to Islam.  I get that most Muslims in America are going to vote Democrat when given the choice, but that doesn’t mean that Islam is untouchable.  It especially doesn’t mean that criticism of an extremely problematic religion is racist, much less “Islamophobic”, which is possibly the most idiotically overused term in this whole debate.

The general attitude of American liberals toward talking about Islam in any kind of critical terms can be summed up in a paraphrased tweet that has been mentioned again and again by Muslim apologists.  In a nutshell, Americans can’t criticize Islam for the actions of a few fundamentalists, because we don’t judge Christianity based on the actions of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

Well, first of all, we do that all the fucking time.  American liberals are more than happy to call out the Christian Right on their bullshit, and they should be doing it more often.  Taking a soft line on Christian fundamentalism has reintroduced creationism in science classrooms across America.  Three cheers for a completely distorted definition of tolerance!

But speaking of a distorted definition of tolerance, that same group of people who will scream bloody murder over the Hobby Lobby decision (which, again, they should) are astonishingly silent about the medieval mentalities exhibited in a disturbingly large portion of the Muslim world.  Worse than that, they attack people who dare mention these issues as symptomatic of larger problems with Islam as a religion.  And why?  Because apparently when you can get Americans to view you religion as a racial group, you gain protected status.

Now, let’s be very clear here.  I am absolutely a critic of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, [insert faith-based religion here], because I strongly believe that these belief systems have been a force for evil in the world rather than good.  Feel free to debate me on that, but please also do me the courtesy of not calling me a bigot for criticizing people’s freely chosen beliefs.

Note: I am fully aware that there are actual bigots who will twist their uneducated views on Islam in to racial bias against all people with darker skin.  But let’s be frank: those people are just looking for a reason to hate people with darker skin.  They just have an easier time using the word “Islamic” than they do “not-black-but-still-dark-enough-to-scare-me”.

However, there are certain religious beliefs that are more outlandish or more harmful than others.  We can somewhat objectively say that Mormon beliefs regarding the settling of America by white, Jewish Egyptians are more ridiculous than Catholic beliefs regarding Mary, which are in turn more ridiculous than the Buddhist adherence to the Eightfold Path.  Similarly, I can say that Christian beliefs that seek to dehumanize LGBT people are more harmful than Christian beliefs to love thy neighbor (Weird that those two philosophies come from the same faith, huh?).

So that’s why I feel comfortable saying that Islam is a religion that promotes violence and oppression.  The Qu’ran (pick your English spelling) has hundreds of passages devoted to the slaying of infidels in the pursuit of establishing the House of Islam the whole world over.  And it has plenty of passages deliberately allowing for or promoting the subjugation of women.  Now, just like halfway-intelligent Christians can understand that some of the more unsavory parts of the Bible should be taken as historical insights rather than divine commands, halfway-intelligent Muslims can do the same thing with problematic passages in the Qu’ran.  The issue is that plenty of people don’t.  And the bigger issue is that plenty of those people are in charge of governments.

So again, let me just stress that I don’t find these beliefs any less problematic than Biblical notions of (oh, just for example) womanhood, slavery, violence, etc.  I do, however, find their modern-day implementation much more problematic.  Believe me, if there are any Christian theocracies getting to this level (Uganda’s getting close), I have some strong words for them.  But as these atrocities are happening in the Muslim world, that’s where my concern and anger are directed.

See, because I don’t live in the Middle Ages, I find the stoning of women to be barbaric.  I find killing infidels to be barbaric.  I find formally-declared religious death threats against cartoonists to be barbaric.  I find any “holy” text that would not only sanction, but encourage these kinds of actions to be unacceptable in any kind of civilized global society.

And let’s be even more clear: people are dying.  Lots of people are dying.  People are being oppressed in ways that make American complaints about racial profiling and sexual harassment seem like pebbles next to boulders.  Not that those issues aren’t important, but I think we can agree that risking death to attend school is a tiny bit more serious than having your ass grabbed.

And the fact that not all Muslims adhere to these kinds of fundamentalists beliefs is not enough.  Clearly, enough Muslims do that they have nations centered around these horrific practices.  One might as well respond to all these arguments with a #notallMuslims hashtag.  Yes, it’s that ridiculous.

These comments are not “Islamophobic”, any more than any of my other comments are “Christophobic”.  And yet people are being shouted down for daring to criticize the antiquated and backward belief system of millions of people, and that’s being hailed as brave.

Rational people across the world have a moral duty to fight against oppression and violence, especially when that oppression is inspired by adherence to an old book.  Excluding Islam from religious criticism due to fears of being labeled as racist or bigoted is cowardice.  No religion gets special protections when it comes to committing atrocities.

And if anyone wants to declare a fatwa on me, you can find me at the following address: 3701 SW 12th St, Topeka, KS 66604.  Happy hunting!