Ideology and Chapel Hill

The problem isn’t religion. The problem is ideology.

Every time I write about religion and violence, which is pretty often in general and regularly over the last week, I get a lot of bigoted anti-religion responses (and plenty of other hostile responses from believers, but let’s put those to the side for now). To which I respond that it’s not about religion per se, but the ways that religion serves to divide the world between dichotomies of good/evil, saved/damned, us/them. That division sparks violence, and in the 20th century we’ve seen plenty of examples of ways in which non-religious ideologies promote violence.

An avowed anti-religious atheist (so not just a non-believer, but someone who hates believers explicitly), has killed three Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We lack a lot of information at this point, but here are a few opening thoughts.

1. This is very likely a hate crime.

2. This hate crime, like others, is linked to a huge array of anti-Islamic sentiment freely expressed by the right-wing in America. I’ve seen a lot of it in the last few days, writing about Christian violence, and the screaming back at me that only Islam is really violent, or that religious people are justified (still) in fighting defensive wars against other religions.

3. Is it terrorism? I work to define terrorism narrowly, not broadly, in all cases, as a tactic rather than a set of actions. We don’t know enough yet.

4. I will be curious to know to what extent the right-wing fury at Obama’s prayer breakfast comments fueled this man’s violent rage. We don’t know enough yet, so clearly this is just speculation. The timing, though, is striking.

5. Ideology, not religion. This was an atheist. The problem isn’t religion. The problem is humanity and our need to divide the world into us and them.

More to come.

One Reply to “Ideology and Chapel Hill”

  1. S.B. Stewart-Laing says:

    Thanks for making this point. We tend to latch on to specific categories as breeding violent behaviour when in reality any extremist ideology can encourage violence (even environmentalism has ecoterrorists, after all).
    However, I would disagree on the characterisation of Islamophobia as purely right-wing, particularly in this instance, since anti-theism/anti-religion flavoured atheism is definitely not an American right-wing position (at least not a mainstream one!). I think the larger issue is that American society tolerates anti-Muslim rhetoric from both the right (they're terrorists! they're out to get us!) and the left (they're terrorists! think of the poor helpless Muslim women! we must fix their awful violent culture!) in a way that we don't in the discussion of Christianity or Judaism.

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