Religion and dogma can motivate violence in many ways. It can create a focus for a tribal identity that creates in-sympathies and out-aggressions; the Us/Them divide that can famously lead to dehumanising characterisations and violence. The other is the direct command from that dogma or religion to seek out violence against other people. The differences here are profound: whereas anything may precipitate tribalism, commands are identifying of that dogma.
Dogma can be anthing: nationalism and political ideologies to religions and beliefs. The political ideology of the Third Reich, for example, was more than just a case of tribalism; Nazism specifically commanded killing. No one seems to doubt it was more than just tribalism that lead to the Holocaust. Somehow, a specific and violent idea was sold to the masses. Patriotism and tribalism, no doubt, played a role, but it is clearly more than just that.
The Burmese Buddhist monks who are attacking and killing Muslims are not motivated by the dogma of there spiritual belief. That violence is tribally lead (although the conflict is fuelled by economic worries as well). And that doesn’t seem too complicated to cogitate on.
However, this distinction has been forgotten by people trying to score cheap political points after the triple homicide in Chapel Hill. The gunman, Craig Hicks, was an atheist. He shot three young Muslims. In the first moments it appeared to be over a parking dispute, and I’m not convinced that had nothing to do with it. Perhaps Hicks had precipitated a tribalism around his identity as an atheist that afforded him the ability to dehumanise Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. That meant that something as minor as a parking dispute could escalate in his head to this level. Or perhaps he was just mentally ill. I have found no evidence of a psychiatric report yet. Or perhaps all of these are factors.
However, many commentators have taken to their blogs to intentionally forget the distinction between direct dogmatic commands and tribalism or mental illness. The argument is that this murder is somehow a symptom of modern atheism and the perception of Islamophobia. This seems to be a misunderstanding.
Modern atheism has no dogma, although atheists do often argue that religions are detrimental to progress. In recent times, Islam as been a specific target for that argument, no least because of the presence of Islam in terror attacks, the attempts to circumvent free speech and violence. Atheists, as well as Christians and other Muslims, have been critical of these actions. These actions are directly commanded in the Koran. Therefore, to address the issue of the action, people have been critical of the ideas in the Koran (and thus in Islam). This has been perceived as Islamophobia. Despite the presence of Christians and Muslims in the voice against the aggressive actions in the name of Islam, atheists seem to receive this label of Islamophobia disproportionately. But the point is that this voice is against a particular type of motivator to violence: directly from a teaching from dogma.
No such thing exists in atheism. Atheism doesn’t have a core, like dogmas do. We don’t have texts of Immams. We’re not ‘bad atheists‘ if we haven’t read The Selfish Gene or fail to adopt Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape. There is no sentence or paragraph that is defining of atheism that can lead to what Craig Hicks did. The same cannot be said for Christianity or Islam.
When people who identify as atheists claim that Hicks’ actions have nothing to do with atheism, they are correct. When a Muslim says that ISIS do not represent the actual texts of Islam, they are not. I have no doubt the only things that can lead the members of ISIS to actually obey their Koran are tribalism and mental illness, but they are still obeying the Koran, which provokes and fosters such tribalism.
[Edited 22/02/2015 to acknowledge that atheists are not the sole recipients of the slanderous “Islamophobia” label]