Chapel Hill Shootings: Condemning religion does not an Islamophobe make, Atheism does not a superior moral being make

The gruesome murders of Deah Barakat, 23, Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and Razan Abu-Salha, 19, all Muslims, in the gun-toting hand of Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, an atheist, is appalling and a tragedy. I cannot begin to imagine what the families of these victims must be going through.

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CNN reported

According to the law enforcement official briefed on the investigation, Tuesday’s altercation started after Hicks found a car belonging to one of the victims in what he claimed was his parking space. Then Hicks went to the victim’s condo and shot all three people in a confrontation.

Hicks turned himself in to police Tuesday night and is being held in the Durham County Jail without bond. He is cooperating with investigators, police said Wednesday morning.

Mohammad Abu-Salha The father of the female victims feels differently, he believes it is an hate crime.  He stated

We have no doubt that the way they looked and the way they believed had something to do with this

Karen Hicks, the soon to be ex-wife of Craig Stephen Hicks expressed her shock and sympathy, she however stated

This incident had nothing to do with religion or the victims’ faith, but in fact was related to the longstanding parking disputes that my husband had with the neighbors

According to Craig Stephen Hicks’ neighbour, Samantha Maness it was an equal opportunity anger situation.

I have seen and heard him be very unfriendly to a lot of people in this community,” Samantha Maness, another resident of the Finley Forest development, told the Times. She said that Hicks displayed an “equal opportunity anger” and that he made “everyone feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

Why are some atheists blaming ‘Extreme Atheism’ for Chapel Hill shootings? 

I watched in bewilderment as some atheists assume extreme atheism was to blame for the murders. Some have stated that they are considering no longer identifying as atheists because of atheists like Craig Stephen Hicks.

Wait a minute, are we not quick to point out that atheism is just a non-belief in god and that our non-belief does not confer on us superior morality? We are humans and we are not above exhibiting vile human traits. If that is the case, why is it so inconceivable that an atheist turned his gun on his neighbours because of a parking spot dispute?  Why assume it must have religious connotations without any evidence other than the facts that the victims were Muslims and the killer was an atheist who spoke against religion on his Facebook wall?

Why be quick to jump to the conclusion that Craig Stephen Hicks would not have acted the way he did if his neighbours were Christians, Muslims or even atheists? After all, I have had fellow atheists threaten me with rape!  So really, why is this angle so inconceivable?

There is no denying that there are people, including some atheists, who hate Muslims. Unfortunately, we have witnessed a growth of Islamophobia and profiling amongst popular atheists ‘leaders’. Such people need to be called out. However, we should not be so quick to jump on the “Hey, that is Islamophobia and extreme atheism” band wagons, whenever someone so much as speak against Islam or Islamism. BTW, wtf is extreme atheism. Is it a new form of terrorism? I speak out against religion on social media including on Facebook. I am anti-theism. Does that make me an extreme atheist? According to some people, speaking out against religion so openly makes one an extreme atheist.

My neighbours are a young Asian family, the wife and sister both wears hijabs. I get along pretty well with them. When I moved in, they were kind enough to share their wireless password with me before I got mine installed. When they had a new baby and had his hair cut for the first time, they were gracious enough to bring me food to mark the occasion. They explained that the first haircut is a traditional, religious landmark.  Even though I had just made my own dinner, I opted to eat the food they brought me. Back in Nigeria, I would have been advised by overzealous Christians not to eat such food, because of its ‘spiritual’ connotation.  In fact, in most Nigerian Christian households, food like that ends up in the bins when the neighbour’s back is turned. It is not really about Islamophobia, as same would apply if the food was from a Christian neighbour who was from a different Christian denomination. It is about fear of anything spiritual that differs from their own spiritual practice. Pastors are always preaching against eating ‘spiritual’ food. However, since I have no such ‘spiritual’ delusion, I devoured my Muslim neighbours’ food with relish.

Now, if something ever went wrong between atheist me and my Muslim neighbours, and (Holy FSM forbids) I got so enraged I violently attacked my Muslim neighbours during a dispute, would people be right to jump to the conclusion that I attacked them because i am an extremist atheist who hates Muslims! Would my Facebook posts against religion, especially Islam, be enough proof that it was a hate crime? This would be a wrong and ridiculous conclusion.

There is nothing in the news to suggest that the murderous Craig Stephen Hicks pulled his gun on these three young Muslims while screaming “Praise be to Evolution, Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster” or whatever the term for ‘ I don’t believe there is a God’ is.

Atheism is a non-belief in theism, nothing more, and nothing less. It does not come with morality. It does not come with moral values or principles. It has no moral code or commandments. It is not a religion and has no dogmas. It is simply non-belief in an asserted claim. For example, if anyone asserts that Elvis Presley is alive, and I say, no, he is not alive but if you proof that he is alive, I will take your assertion seriously. This is simply a non-belief in a ridiculous claim. Theism makes the assertion that there is God, atheism simply says, no there is no evidence to support such claim. There will not be atheism if there is no theism.

Relinquishing the atheist label because of ‘bad’ atheists?

What baffles me is why some atheists are saying they are thinking of not identifying as atheists anymore because some atheists give atheism a bad name.My problem with this line of thinking is this-

Does the action of another takes away your non-belief in God? As long as you have a non-belief in theism, you are an atheist. The actions of others do not change this fact. It is a term with well-established meaning and your non-belief in god falls under the established meaning of atheism. The actions of other atheists will not change your non-belief in theism.

When atheists try so hard to get offended at the failings of other atheists, it is almost as if they are ascribing to 425432_265441616863221_126894987384552_609382_453469780_natheists superior moral values. And by so doing, ascribing to atheism a moral value it does not have.

I do hold sceptical thinkers to a higher level of rational thinking. For example, I expect them to be able to rationally examine evidence before them, and understand why social ills like racism, sexism misogyny, and homophobia cannot be rationally justified.

However, I understand perfectly well that a non-belief in god (Atheism) is not a moral indicator. The fact that someone does not belief in supernatural beings does not tell me anything about their values, their morality, or principles. What it only does is tell me they do not have a God delusion.

Which was why I recognised early enough that atheism is just what it is, atheism. If I wanted to associate with fellow atheists who share my passion for social justice issues, I would actively have to seek out such atheists groups, for example, for me, Atheismplus fills that void.

When I joined some atheists groups on Facebook, I quickly realised that I could not fit into some of these groups. For goodness sake, some of those atheists groups are a haven for bigoted, sexist, racist people. I was not prepared for the torrent of racism, sexism, and patriarchal bullshit some members of these atheists groups spew. I had to remove myself from almost all the atheists group I joined on Facebook and i definitely would not go hang out with the atheists groups on reddit!

It would be incorrect to say I cannot identify as an atheist anymore because some atheists are racist, sexist, bigoted assholes. As long as I still do not believe in theists’ claim that there is a God or Gods, I remain an atheist.

Is hating religion same as hating religious people?

We must learn to distinguish the difference between condemning religion and hating religious people.

I hate religion. I resent the privileges religious people enjoy just because of their religion. For example, just a few days ago, I boarded a London red bus eagerly looking forward to a peaceful ride home after a tiring day, only for the woman sitting right behind me to start preaching in the bus. She was screaming so loudly about hell and urged passengers to accept Jesus as their personal lord and saviour. She even prayed for us sinners. She was a black woman and from her accent, a fellow Nigerian. The driver cast a few glances her way and I was hoping he would tell the woman to STFU or get out, but it seems the driver was not sure what the protocol was, so he just kept casting this disapproving look without really doing anything about the noise pollution. Other passengers also looked uncomfortable. Now, imagine if I had started blasting Lady Gaga’s music from my phone in the bus, there would be no end to the number of passengers willing to scold me and demand that I turn down the volume of my music. However, if a religious person pollutes the air with double the volume of noise, it is OK, cos, well, it is the word of God. It is this type of idiosyncratic privilege that I find disgusting.

I hate religion and I will say so as long as religion wears that sacred, untouchable cloak. Religion messed and still messes with my life. To some, religion is just that thing they read about in the papers but for people like me, it holds bad memories and it is a constant feature that affects my everyday life.

I remember being accused of witchcraft by pastors as a young girl. While the beach is an exotic holiday resort to many, to some of us, it brings back bad memories. African spiritual churches see the beach as a place to cast away demons. I remember being taken to the beach and beaten with brooms by prophets to cast away the demons they claim were residing in me. So yeah, I hate religion.

I remember the counter-accusations of witchcraft that tore my family apart. So yeah, I hate religion.

And in recent news, I remember the lobby religious organisations embarked on to pass the Nigerian jail the gay, bisexual, transgender bill. I remember that all the lawmakers cited religion as a reason they voted in support of 14 years imprisonment for anyone who engages in same-sex relationship. I understand that due to religious bullshit, religion was and is still readily used to justify why I should never be free in my own birth land, Nigeria. So yeah, I hate religion.

I know that religion is the reason cited by old men for taking young girls as child rides. I understand that as soon as they quote the Quran and mention Sharia law, we are not allowed to call them paedophiles, because well, it is their religion.  So yeah, I hate religion.

I understand that religion is a cancer that is fast turning my continent, Africa, into a very homophobic, biphobic and transphobic place.

I understand that religion is the reason explicitly stated by Boko Haram as to why they bomb schools, abduct schoolgirls and kill infidels.

I understand that Religion is the reason ISIS kills.

So, please forgive me for hating religion so much! In fact, here is a post about Twenty Reasons I am Distressed by Religion and its Believers and here is a post on Why I Speak Out Against Religion. 

However, let us get something straight, the fact that I hate religion does not translate to hating religious people.

Saying I have no respect for Islam, is not the same as saying Muslims do not deserve the respect, human rights, and dignity every other human enjoys

Speaking of my contempt for Christianity does not mean I despise Christians.

Speaking out against religion does not mean I think religious believers are despicable people.

Islam is a religion. Islamism is an ideology, a dangerous religious ideology. I believe every democratically inclined person would hate Islamism. It is only rational that people who favour separation of State and Religion would speak out against any ideology that seeks to infuse religion into state politics, especially one like Islamism that in this modern age, still seeks to Islamise society, violently.

Muslims are people too. Christians are people too. Hindus are people too. Mormons are people too. Sciencetologists are people too. We are all humans first and foremost, and regardless of our religious beliefs, we are all entitled to be covered under the universal declaration of human rights.

Religious believers have the freedom to practice their religion; however, they don’t have the right to insist that aspects of their religion that infringe on other people’s rights, be respected.

It is rational to fear anything that causes harm; therefore, it is rational to fear religion.

It is rational to fear Islam. A fear of Islam and Islamism does not mean a fear of Muslims

It is rational to fear Christianity and Christian fundamentalists. A fear of Christianity does not translate to general fear of Christians.

Religious people do not automatically pose a threat just because they are religious. Announcing that you are a Christian or a Muslim won’t send me cowering in fear, just because I have a rational fear of the harms religion causes. We should be able to distinguish between harmful ideology and people who are not harmful to us even if they are religious.

Chapel Hills shooting and Atheists fundraising

I am sceptical of atheists rushing to set up fundraising in the name of victims of Craig Stephen Hicks.  It is as if as atheists, we have to prove that we are not all bad. In my opinion, this gives the impression that atheists have something to prove. While I think setting up fundraising to help those in need is great, however, I consider it an act of humanism, not atheism. Would atheists’ organisations have set up a fundraising in the name of victims of Craig Stephen Hicks if an atheist did not carry out the murder? Can we honestly say, “Yes, it would have been set up if atheism was not at all a contention in the Chapel Hill’s shootings”?

Aids, grants and fundraising can be done under humanism. If I need to identify as a do-gooder without god, I have chapel-hill-anti-theist-craig-stephen-hicks-charged-for-killing-three-muslim-students-over-parking-disputehumanism for that. The good thing is, I do not even have to come under any label before I perform a good deed for my society. However, if I wish to do so with my fellow atheists, I have atheismplus and social justice warrior cap to wear.

To clarify, there is nothing wrong in coming together under a group, be it humanism or atheism, to raise money to do good in our society. However, just as we scrutinise the motives of religious believers when they make donations, we should also scrutinise our own motives. Therefore, as uncomfortable as it is, we must ask ourselves the question, “Is the fundraising in the name of Chapel Hills victims just to prove that not all atheists are bad?” If that is the case, then, that is definitely a motive I cannot get behind.

I just do not think atheists have a duty to prove that not all atheists are bad. Atheism is not about morality. We should not be eager to ascribe moral values to atheism.

I am a vocal atheist who will continue to speak out against the harm religion causes. If I ever had a falling-out with a believer, feel free to look beyond ‘Religionphobia, and if they are Muslims, don’t be too eager to conclude that it was a case of Islamophobia. For all you now, I was just a human exhibiting human trait. Anger, violence, showing off, defending my territory, and just being a general asshole are known human characteristics. Expressing all these and more are possible with or without religion. Do not ascribe a reason to my motive; listen to why I said I did what I did.

So dear atheists, why not wait and listen to what Craig Stephen Hicks has to say about why he committed his atrocious murder. We should not have long to wait as the police said, he handed himself in and is cooperating with police investigation.

One thing we are sure of is that he is first and foremost a murderer. He is a gun loving, and gun-toting murderer. ForThree-American-Muslim-students all we know, his neighbours could have been Christians, Hindus, agnostics, or, atheists and he would still have gone into their house charging in with his gun and killed them all.

Do not rush to disassociate yourself from atheism because of assholes like Craig Stephen Hicks.

My condolences to the families of the victims as they seek answers to why their family members were so brutally murdered by Craig Stephen Hicks.



  1. my2cents says

    Very good points. I too had muslim neighbors like yourself, I live in a very integrated neighborhood and prefer it that way. Yet I did not have a good relationship with this set of neighbors. It had nothing to do with the fact that they were muslim but because their son would constantly hit balls against my house after years of me repeatedly telling him not to. So what does he do after I confronted his parents? I come home to obscenities written in chalk on my driveway. This caused my anger to boil up and I angrily confronted his parents. There was a lot of cussing and yelling but after that all I got was dirty looks, no more balls or chalk.

    Luckily we only exchanged words (angry words) but I wonder if the altercation had escalated would they have used my anti-religious presence on social media and accused me of a hate crime? Or would they tell it like it is and point out it was over an obnoxious kid being disrespectful and a vandal?

    I don’t know what the true motive for this man in Chapel Hill was and I won’t pretend to but I really dislike the line of logic I’ve been seeing that goes like this. “He is an atheist, and they were all muslim, therefore it’s obviously a hate crime.” That has so many horrible implications about atheists and I’m surprised so many atheists are supporting that flawed logic. Yet no matter what the motive is, it was wrong, no matter if it’s parking spaces, vandalism, or even someone proselytizing loudly on a bus you never kill people ever.

  2. Katherine Woo says

    Spot on analysis.

    Apparently I have missed your blog in the past, but it is always great seeing a fellow woman of color standing up and telling it like it is when it comes to religion in its effects on equality and human rights.

    I’ve actually been very depressed by how many non-theists were eager to endorse the ‘atheist hate crime’ narrative with basically willful disregard for the evidence. It shows how much politics drives any debate, I suppose.

  3. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @my2cents- My point exactly, BTW, sorry you had terrible neighbours, it can be so stressful. We can have terrible neighbours and their religion or lack of religion would have nothing to do with why we find them terrible. I am sure even those who knew nothing about his atheism considered Chris Hicks a terrible neighbour. His action and angry stance stood him out as a terrible neighbour. No one deserves to be killed just because we consider them an inconvenience, in fact no one deserves to have their life taken, legally or not. I would hope as atheists, we won’t be so eager to jump to conclusions, even if the case was reversed and Hicks was the one shot dead in this terrible dispute.

  4. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Katherine Woo- Thanks and welcome to my blog. I am also glad when a fellow woman of colour who cares about the effects of religion on human rights and equality stops by. 🙂

  5. Meggamat says

    To be fair, some of the things he said on-line were somewhat anti-Muslim, from an explicitly atheistic standpoint. If the newspapers tomorrow say “Yemisi Illesanmi suspected in the brutal dismemberment of sixteen homophibic preachers, full story on page 5” Should I assume it was only a co-incidence?

  6. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Meggamat- According to reports, he posted anti-religion things online, and that is nothing out of the ordinary. Most atheists do that all the time. Speaking out against religion or Islam in particular is not the same as being Anti-Muslim. This should be clear enough.

    You wrote

    If the newspapers tomorrow say “Yemisi Illesanmi suspected in the brutal dismemberment of sixteen homophibic preachers, full story on page 5″ Should I assume it was only a co-incidence?

    If you assumed otherwise, i would think consciously or unconsciously, you already think my speaking out against homophobic preachers means i am willing to hack to death homophobic preachers. I think you need to work out within yourself that speaking out against injustice is not the same as an intention to murder injustice perpetrators. A social justice activist does not a murderer make.

  7. Meggamat says

    @Yemisi Ilesanmi- Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that. Another way to put it would be, If the newspapers tomorrow say “Outspoken human-rights lawyer Yemisi Illesanmi wins lottery, makes large donation to secular humanist society, full story on page 5″ Should I assume that you chose the group at random? Is it reasonable to completely divorce rhetoric from decisions when evaluating people? I am not preaching here, I genuinely don’t know what the ideal response is.

  8. Yemisi Ilesanmi says

    @Meggamat- We donate to organisations because we agree with what they stand for, therefore it is a reasonable conclusion to assume that an atheist who won the lottery would donate to a secular humanist society. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to assume that an atheist who won the lottery would donate a large sum of money to a church or mosque to enable the spread of God Delusion.

    However, it is one thing to donate or refuse to donate to an organisation based on religious grounds and it is quite another to assume an atheist who speaks against religion is likely to burn down a church or mosque with believers in it. That is preposterous. Speaking against religion does not convey an underlying intention to kill religious people.

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