Atheism Did Not Cause The Newtown Tragedy
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, many stupid things occurred. The media, for one, completely failed to deliver any reliable information, but Matt K. Lewis of the Daily Caller has already ripped them to shreds on that, so I have no need to. Instead, I’m going to tackle those who blamed the Newtown tragedy on a lack of religion and atheism.
Yes, that is what some people have said, and they are the worse for saying it.
I first saw this sentiment expressed in my Twitter feed by Jon Gabriel (@exjon), who tweeted the following:
I usually don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, but this country doesn’t need another law or government program. This country needs God.
— Jon Gabriel (@ExJon) December 14, 2012
Post-Christian America sucks and I fear things will only get worse.
— Jon Gabriel (@ExJon) December 14, 2012
(And I’m fine with being flamed about the previous two tweets. Doubt I’ll respond.)
— Jon Gabriel (@ExJon) December 14, 2012
I was really annoyed with him, but I didn’t respond to those tweets specifically because at the time I had no desire for a Twitter war, especially in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
Of course, someone far more famous (sorry, Jon) said something similar, so I can just bash him instead:
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) weighed in on the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Friday, saying the crime was no surprise because we have “systematically removed God” from public schools.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
This line of reasoning isn’t new for Huckabee.
Speaking about a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. over the summer, the former GOP presidential candidate claimed that such violent episodes were a function of a nation suffering from the removal of religion from the public sphere.
“We don’t have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “And since we’ve ordered God out of our schools, and communities, the military and public conversations, you know we really shouldn’t act so surprised … when all hell breaks loose.”
Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Let me go through three major points to show how BS this all is.
The first thing I want to say so I can get it out of the way is that these guys, both conservatives (or, in Jon’s case, maybe a conservative libertarian), sound awfully like liberals. I mean, it is always the liberals pushing for gun control, and the conservatives rebut with, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” They are right to put the blame on the perpetrator and not any tool or inanimate item, but aren’t these guys committing the same fallacy that liberals are here? Instead of putting the blame on the shooter, they’re attempting to reroute that blame onto something else–in this case, religion, society, and specifically atheism. Man, why aren’t you guys in the Democratic Party?
With that out of the way, it’s time to move to a much more constructive and solid argument: data.
The first piece of evidence in this one-two punch is the violent crime rate, which is at it’s lowest in the past 40 years:
The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.
In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.
This datapoint is not in dispute. Violent crimes rate, while perhaps up in some urban localities, are down across the board quite dramatically.
Concurrently, there has been a rise in disbelief in America:
Unbelief is on the uptick. People who check “None” for their religious affiliation are now nearly one in five Americans (19%), the highest ever documented, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press.
The rapid rise of Nones — including atheists, agnostics and those who say they believe “nothing in particular” — defies the usually glacial rate of change in spiritual identity.
Barry Kosmin, co-author of three American Religious Identification Surveys, theorizes why None has become the “default category.” He says, “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”
Kosmin’s surveys were the first to brand the Nones in 1990 when they were 6% of U.S. adults. By 2008 survey, Nones were up to 15%. By 2010, another survey, the bi-annual General Social Survey, bumped the number to 18%.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest religious denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, Methodists and Lutherans, all show membership flat or inching downward, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011.
If we take these two datapoints together–a dramatic decline in violent crime, and a similarly dramatic rise in nonreligious Americans–and then use Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s logic, what do we get?
“Jesus, atheism and nonbelief have surely led to a decrease in crime! We should all become atheists to stop all murders!”
Of course, the above statement is completely untrue and nonsensical–but then, so are Gabriel’s and Huckabee’s comments. The fact is, religion–or the lack thereof–had nothing to do with the tragedy in Newtown, and to try and pin it to that is a sign of sheer stupidity.
What I think they’re really trying to say is that there is a dearth of moral teaching going on in our schools and society, but then this brings me to my third major point: is the Bible really such a good source of morality? Look, I don’t want to start a theological war here, but if we’re going to talk about morality, let’s look at the text that is the core of Christianity and from which Christians wish to use to teach young people morals.
I mean….it’s pretty freaking violent. You have Abraham who comes this close to killing his son. You get two cities nuked with Sodom and Gomorrah. You have the Israelites murder everyone in pre-Israel Canaan, and do it gleefully. And then there’s the smut; I mean, for crying out loud, you have sons sodomizing their fathers and Lot’s daughters sleeping with him. I’m not sure that would be something I want to teach to my kids.
Maybe it’s better we don’t have that stuff in schools.
There are also numerous examples of Christian-based violence in the modern world. Take some of these:
- The 2009 assassination of abortion provider George Tiller
- The 2004 murder of Larry Hooper for being an atheist (and the cheering for his death)
- The Hutaree group arrested in 2010
- Myriad examples of “Christian terrorism” in the United States
- The Jonestown Massacre
Christianity is not innocent, so to blame this tragedy on a lack of it doesn’t make any sense at all to me.
The point of this all is that religion and nonreligion are completely irrelevant to why this shooter went into a school and shot a bunch of children. While Christianity is itself a violent religion in many aspects (Crusades, anyone?) I wouldn’t blame it for what happened either. The blame for Newtown doesn’t lie with organized religion, or the lack thereof. It doesn’t lie with society. It doesn’t lie with the education system. It doesn’t lie with guns. The blame lies solely with the man who did this. It was his choice to do so, and he did.
Both sides are trying to pin the blame on something nebulous and distant. Stop it. The blame is with the shooter. Saying anything else is nonsensical and morally wrong.