Do Atheists Need a Wake-Up Call After the Chapel Hill Shootings?


Image: Friendly Atheist
On February 10, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad (right) were gunned down by Craig Stephen Hicks; the three victims were Muslim, and their murderer was an atheist. 


By Terry Firma|Friendly Atheist

When news of the shooting broke, the link between the shooter’s anti-theism and the victims’ faith was what seemed to dominate the narrative. While some emphasized the link between the shooting and atheism, some came straight out and said that New Atheists and New Atheism were to blame for the deaths.

Since the initial reports, we’ve learned that the connection to atheism is far less certain than was initially reported, with police (at this point at least) having no evidence that this was actually a hate crime.

It’s a valuable point to make. Hicks had a history of run-ins with his neighbors (sometimes with a gun at his side), particularly with the victims; the parking dispute that police believe led to the shootings had been longstanding, and Hicks’ obsessive pursuit of the issue had gotten his towing requests blocked by the local tow company. Furthermore, it is (sadly) not unheard of for people to unleash lethal force over a parking spot — Hicks isn’t even the first to do so this year.

This isn’t to assert that Hicks was not critical of Islam, or that his antipathy towards religion played no role in the killings. We know he was an anti-theist, and his feelings on the subject may have influenced his decision to murder three people. It’s also worth noting that even if the crime was motivated in part (or entirely) by anti-religious feelings, it may be impossible to prove that those sentiments drove Hicks to pull the trigger. Why? Because he did not reference his lack of faith in relation to the crime. While the family believes it was the case, there is no evidence that faith played a role in Hicks’ ongoing dispute with the victims. Barring additional evidence, this doesn’t illustrate a hate crime — even if it was. A person’s motivation in committing a crime isn’t always apparent.

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