Conservatives say secularists to blame for Virginia Tech.
From August Cline,
Conservative Christians: Atheists, Atheism Responsible for Virginia Tech Killings
Image © Austin Cline
National Archives Given the magnitude of the tragedy, it's only to be expected that the killings at Virginia Tech have become the subject of so many conversations and so many extended news reports. At the same time, though, I think that some people should have chosen to just hold their tongues because they are using the tragedy to prop up whatever pet political agenda they have been pushing.
Both liberals and conservatives are susceptible to such behavior, but in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings conservatives — and conservative Christians in particular — seem to be taking the lead. Conservatives have been blaming English departments, immigration, Muslims, modern biology, and even atheism for the tragedy.
Gina Cobb, for example, argues that the "next mass killing" might be prevented by "more religious training" and more religious theism:
Religious training is clearly necessary. God should at least be mentioned in the classroom and workplace from time to time. God is mentioned on our currency; he certainly should not be ignored completely throughout the school day.
God should be even more prominent in our colleges in universities. In universities where students choose their own courses of study, there is no reason not to offer courses in religion. There is no good reason not to have chapels available. There is no good reason not to acknowledge God on the nation's campuses.
Now, does anyone really believe that merely "mentioning God" — the Christian god, of course — will have any impact on anyone's behavior? Does anyone really imagine that mentioning the Christian god will reduce violence? Of course not. Liberals, secularists, and atheists don't believe it because there is no evidence for it and no good reason to think random mentions of any deity will accomplish anything.
More important in this context, perhaps, is the fact that conservative Christians don't really believe it either — and it's not what they really want. I don't think for a minute that Gina Cobb is only interested in a few random mentions of "God" here and there; instead, I think she wants to see particular religious beliefs and doctrines promoted, endorsed, and encouraged. No religious conservatives think that mere exposure to the idea of a god encourages moral behavior; they believe that sincere adoption of particular religious beliefs is necessary and this is what they want to see happen.
It's quite common for colleges and universities to have courses on religion, for example, but those are courses that study religion from an academic, scholarly, and objective perspective. That isn't good enough if your political agenda is to use the power of the state to promote your religion. This agenda, which Cobb doesn't state outright, is hinted at when she makes it clear that she isn't interested in simply ensuring that college students have sufficient opportunities to voluntarily explore or practice their religion:
The Carpetbagger Report argues that there are lots of religious groups on the Virginia Tech campus... But how often is God actually mentioned in the regular classroom at Virginia Tech, outside of a religion class? Virtually never, I'm willing to bet. We have become a highly secular society, particularly in our schools and universities. This, in turn, is based on an expansive interpretation of the constitution's establishment clause.
If students aren't receiving regular encouragement to act in a godly way on campus unless they go out of their way to seek out a campus religious group, are they receiving religious support anywhere during their college years? Too often, the start of college represents the end of churchgoing for young adults -- at a time when students need religious social support more than ever.
So, Gina Cobb acknowledges that the students at Virginia Tech probably had all of the voluntary religious outlets that they wanted — and there is certainly no reason to think that if there had been a demand for more religious groups, students would have been allowed to form them. That, however, isn't good enough. It is insufficient for many Christians that people simply be allowed to seek out religion on their own, discover what sort of religion (if any) they want, and be as involved with religion as they want. In such a context, many people will choose the "wrong" religion — or may abandon religion and theism entirely.
No, what's necessary is for religion to be imposed on them by whatever authority figures are in their lives; when it comes to college, the authority in question is are professors — in this case, state employees. Gina Cobb thus wants the state to "regularly encourage" students to "act in a godly way" — which, of course, is to be defined solely from a conservative, Christian perspective. It wouldn't be acceptable for professors to encourage "godly conduct" from Muslim or Sikh perspectives, for example. Students who believe in a different sort of god, or no gods at all, are to be indoctrinated into believing in this god. Thus the "solution" for preventing mass killings is the same "solution" which conservative Christians offer to every other issue: use the power of the state to endorse, promote, encourage, and even impose their religious ideology on the public.
Starting in elementary school, children should receive at least a few hours of training about the fundamental beliefs of most of the world's major religions, with more emphasis put on the religions that are most widely observed in the country and in the world at the time. If 80% of Americans are Christian, then Christianity should get more emphasis than Judaism or Islam, each of which is observed by less than 1% of Americans. Schools don't need to teach religion as such, but they can certainly make sure that their students are Bible literate. "God" should not be a forbidden word, and prayer should not be reserved for the moment when a pop quiz is announced or the aftermath of a school shooting (if then).
Parents also need to make sure that their children attend church and Sunday school or other appropriate religious education. Every family should continue to bring youths and teenagers to church as well. Kids and young adults need to be reminded at least once a week, and preferably several times a day, that there is a power higher than themselves and that being a decent person matters.
When kids go away to college, parents should be involved and try to help them transition to a church or other religious institution near their college. This is criticially important to provide not only a religious framework but also a social safety net for young adults -- especially young men, who commit the vast majority of mass shootings.
Pay very close attention to the how often Gina Cobb paints in a negative light the concept of free individuals voluntarily choosing what sort of religious activities they will participate in. Religious training is necessary — not religious opportunities, but training. God should be "mentioned" (which we all know will only be the starting point) in both classes and work. By whom? Only those in charge can be responsible for "training," so they will have to do the "mentioning." Ultimately, then, promoting religion (which means conservative Christianity) becomes part of the job description of teachers, bosses, and managers everywhere.
It's not good enough for students to have all the religious groups and opportunities that they personally want because this means that they must voluntarily choose to spend their own time on religion — and might voluntarily choose to spend no time with religion. We can't have that, so they must receive "encouragement" for "godly" behavior from state employees who have power and authority over them — which means that state employees hired for their skills in teaching science or language are to be given religious authority over other people's children.
This is not where the authority of the state over religious matters should begin, though — it should begin at the youngest ages when children are to be taught by the state about religions generally. Of course, the state should focus on teaching about whatever religion is most popular in society. Evidently it shouldn't be left up to parents and churches to ensure children learn about their religion, that's a job for the state — but what's not a job for the state is to teach children about other cultures and religions which they might not otherwise learn about.
Young people should not be allowed to discover their own religious path and form their own religious beliefs. Parents are to exercise authority over them by repeatedly telling them that the Christian god exists and taking them to religious indoctrination on a weekly basis — and possibly more often, if they prove to be recalcitrant. Even after they leave home, parents are to take an active role in ensuring that they don't get any new ideas, experiment with new beliefs, or change their minds about things indoctrinated into them since birth. The goal, evidently, is to do as much as possible to ensure that no one leaves Christianity, adopts a new religion, or even worse abandon religion and theism entirely.
Gina Cobb is described in more than one place as a "libertarian," but there is nothing remotely libertarian about the above. Everything here is characteristic of an authoritarian, and even theocratic, political and social system This, of course, is precisely what Christian Nationalists want for America and why they are such a threat to American liberty — there is no place in such an America for atheists or for anyone who dares dissent from the dominant religious ideology.
Gina Cobb's proposals are fundamentally authoritarian. They promote an authoritarian community which relies on authoritarian religion to keep people in line and prevent the "wrong" sort of behavior — behavior which naturally won't be limited to just the random shooting spree of a mentally ill person. Quite a lot more would be restricted in order to maintain the "godly" lifestyle required by ecclesiastical leaders and the state.
Maybe there needs to be more religion and prayer at our universities, folks. Maybe there needs to be a sense on college campuses that there's something bigger than the individual. ...But can you imagine the leftists hearing me say this now: More prayer, more religion at our university? "Separation of church and state!" would be the template there. "What are you trying to do? You're trying to force a religion on people!" No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no, no! You don't understand. You can't possibly because you're irreligious.
No, no, no, no, no! You can't possibly understand because you are an authoritarian who doesn’t believe in personal liberty: there is already as much religion and prayer at our universities as students want. Anyone who wants to start a religious group can. Anyone who wants to go to church can. Anyone who wants to pray can do so. All that's left is for state and private authorities to take an active part in promoting, endorsing, encouraging, and ultimately imposing religion.
Maybe it helps to be irreligious to recognize that once you have as much voluntary religion as people want, all that's left is coercive religion — but even many religious theists recognize this without a problem. That's why Rush's problem isn't that he's religious or that he's a theist, it's that he's an authoritarian. For an authoritarian, voluntary choice is irrelevant because people cannot be allowed to make the wrong choice. If an authoritarian believes that religion is necessary for morality — and one religion in particular — then it's not enough to allow people to choose that religion. Instead, it must be imposed on them.
Ken Ham, another Christian authoritarian, admits that he doesn't know why the killer committed such horrible crimes, but he finds it easy to blame a secular, scientific culture for it:
We live in an era when public high schools and colleges have all but banned God from science classes. In these classrooms, students are taught that the whole universe, including plants and animals—and humans—arose by natural processes.
Naturalism (in essence, atheism) has become the religion of the day and has become the foundation of the education system (and Western culture as a whole). The more such a philosophy permeates the culture, the more we would expect to see a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness that pervades people’s thinking. In fact, the more a culture allows the killing of the unborn, the more we will see people treating life in general as “cheap.”
So, atheism, science, and modern evolutionary biology are responsible for creating a culture where people would commit murders like those at Virginia Tech. It's not like society ever saw senseless brutality, violence, and murder before atheism, science, and evolutionary biology became more common — right?
Whereas some are accusing atheism of being too prevalent and thus contributing to these atrocities, others like Dinesh D'Souza are accusing atheism of being absent in the wake of tragedies:
Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing.
Atheists are nowhere to be found? Did Dinesh D'Souza think to look or ask, or did he simply decide that because there is a lot of public talk about piety and God, then atheists are all in hiding? It's true that tragedies like this lead to a lot of public religious expression, but that doesn't mean that atheists have disappeared. No, atheists are right in the same places they always were — they're just being ignored more than usual. People like Dinesh D'Souza are helping encourage that state of affairs by promoting the falsehood that we aren't even there in the first place.
To no one's surprise, Dawkins has not been invited to speak to the grieving Virginia Tech community. What this tells me is that if it's difficult to know where God is when bad things happen, it is even more difficult for atheism to deal with the problem of evil.
I doubt that Richard Dawkins wasn't invited because atheists like him have nothing to say about the subject — at most, it's simply because what atheists might have to say isn't the sort of thing most people want to hear. That's not surprising, given all the hatred and bigotry against atheists which people like Dinesh D'Souza promote.
Atheism, as the mere disbelief in gods, doesn't have anything to say about evil — it just excludes trying to explain evil away as part of some mysterious plan from God. Atheistic philosophies and belief systems do have something to say about evil, though, and can have less difficulty dealing with the problem of evil than theistic religions like those promoted by Dinesh D'Souza. For one thing, atheists don't have the problem of promote belief in a loving god through the dehumanization of those who disagree with us.
If this is the best that modern science has to offer us, I think we need something more than modern science.
Well, of course we need more than modern science — we also need things like art, literature, philosophy, and trashy movies to watch on Friday nights. Where Dinesh D'Souza goes wrong (just in the above sentence, I mean, since he goes wrong in some manner in every statement he writes) is in pretending that anyone has ever said that modern science is all we need. What we don't need is more religion and more anti-atheist bigotry from hateful bigots like Dinesh D'Souza.
As noted above, it's unlikely D'Souza asked around about where atheists are — in other words, he simply spouted off with anti-atheist bigotry before checking to see if there were any factual basis behind it. He's expressing his own narrow-minded ignorance and hatred, not neutral observations about the real world. Had he taken a little time to do some checking, he'd have found atheists comments about the killings at Virginia Tech. With absolutely no effort whatsoever, I found two.
Gnosos writes a long post, including:
Yesterday, Tuesday, we attended the campus memorial events. We came two hours early for the convocation in Cassell Coliseum, our basketball arena. There was already a line of people four-wide, stretching at least a mile, all people waiting to get in. There were residents of Blacksburg and students, and people from around the country were already arriving.
The line stretched by the Baptist Student Union and Latter Day Saints outreach centers. The BSU had a big sign out reminding us that God is real, hears our prayers, and is able to move to heal us. Apparently, He is simply unwilling to move to save us in the first place. I am an atheist with respect to every god I’ve met in religious literature, and an agnostic on the concept of god in general. This kind of event seems more explicable as a person’s response to something horrible in his finite, physical mind and taking action in a finite, physical world. What is the alternative? A demon torturing his soul, and an all-powerful God who lets the innocent die? A God who is willing to clean up the mess by healing the survivors, but would not intervene to save those killed?
Brent Rasmussen comments on the statement by Leon Panetta, Chief Of Staff during the Clinton Presidency, that President Bush is America's "national chaplain":
I think that at times our President likes to act like a national Chaplain. I have observed this sort of self-concious, self-righteous piety first hand many times in my life. Usually from a male family member who is picked to lead a prayer at a family gathering, or say a few words at a funeral. All of a sudden, the happy, secular, hard-drinking, joke-telling crazy Uncle Larry is praying in a rolling baritone voice with "thees" and "thous" thrown in for good measure. The hypocrisy and deception always made me uncomfortable - even as a believer.
Amanda K. Metskas, president of Camp Quest and member of the Secular Student Alliance, writes for Humanist Network News:
In the face of such senseless and random violence, it is hard to feel anything but shock, pain and fear. It’s hard to have anything to say. For many touched by this crime, the solace they gain in their religious communities provides some measure of comfort in their time of need. For those of us who are secular, we seek solace, comfort, and community from our friends and family. Our thoughts are with those who were affected by these terrible events, and our hearts reach out to them.
As we offer our condolences and compassion, we are also concerned by some of the media coverage this event has generated, and some of the responses it has provoked. ...What concerns us, however, is more that just these shrill voices; it is the wall-to-wall coverage that sensationalizes this tragedy, and in a perverse way glorifies the criminal.
Let's see: conservative Christians go on and on about how this tragedy is a sign that there is too much atheism, not enough religious indoctrination, not enough power in the hands of the state or parents to impose religious restrictions on children, too many immigrants, too much science education, etc. Atheists, in contrast, express concern over how the tragedy is being used to promote religious agendas, to encourage bigotry, and to get good television ratings through sensationalized media coverage.
Explain to me again why atheists are the immoral and untrustworthy ones here?