Obama, Religion and Violence

The debate that never ends

Originally published at Mooretoons.com.

I put this together before I learned of the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this week. Twitter activists are working hard to get this issue more attention, and it certainly deserves it for all the right reasons: people’s lives matter, Muslim lives matter, religiously motivated hate crimes (or anti-religious, as the case might be) matter, and getting Americans to take Islamophobia seriously matters.

As an atheist, I felt a twinge of sickness to learn the man responsible for these murders may have been motivated by a New Atheist fueled bigotry. Or maybe it was over a parking space? Yeeeeahhh, I doubt it. People do get killed over stupid stuff, and we are still awaiting more details about this guy’s motives; he could be responding to untreated mental demons, for all we know. If we consider the case of Elliot Rodger, the young man whose mental illness fixated on misogyny as a medium to express his anger and violence, we will probably find it difficult to disentangle this new killer’s ideology and mental health problems.

And really, how much does it matter? We can try to divorce religion from our modes of violence all we want, as President Obama (and Bush before him) has tried, but history and current human beings defy the attempt. To repeat what I said on the link above, when our drones are killing innocent people while playing whack-a-mole with religious extremists, when our intelligence agencies torture in black sites, when our Gitmo guards forcefeed indefinite detainees on a hunger strike, the wall between religion and war looks pretty porous, if not superfluous.