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School Shootings as Proof of God

April 19th, 2007 · 9 Comments

D’Souza (v.): To make an argument so patently vulgar, obtuse, and offensive that even people generally disposed to agree with you are collectively revulsed.

Megan notices that the guy who brought us the insight that Britney Spears caused 9/11 is welcoming the opportunity afforded by the VA Tech shooting to attack… atheists. Atheists? Yep:

Notice something interesting about the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings? Atheists are nowhere to be found. Every time there is a public gathering there is talk of God and divine mercy and spiritual healing. Even secular people like the poet Nikki Giovanni use language that is heavily drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.

I’m not sure what “nowhere to be found” is even supposed to mean, especially given that he then immediately cites Nikki Giovanni, who apparently doesn’t count because she invoked “religious symbolism.” Poets being known to occasionally use, you know, metaphors. I assume atheists are “to be found” where everyone else is: Consoling and supporting their friends and family at the school. Maybe he’s asking why we’re not seeing them appending to their expressions of consolation and support the gloating exclamation: “You see? THERE IS NO GOD!” Well D, I’m guessing it’s because some of us don’t reflexively view public tragedies as stalking horses for our culture war obsessions. Which is to say, some of us aren’t enormous douchebags.

He continues:

To no one’s surprise, [Richard] 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. The reason is that in a purely materialist universe, immaterial things like good and evil and souls simply do not exist. For scientific atheists like Dawkins, Cho’s shooting of all those people can be understood in this way–molecules acting upon molecules.

On one reading, the assertion that we think “immaterial things like good and evil…do not exist” (I’ll give him souls) is just plainly false, a paradigm symptom of Dostoyevsky Syndrome, whose sufferers draw elaborate conclusions about what follows from atheist premises without prejudicing their reasoning by any attempt to discern whether actual atheists tend to believe those things. But I suppose it is true that I’m inclined to look for the causes of these evil actions in facts about Cho’s psychology—whatever might have been chemically wrong with his brain; whatever set of experiences gave rise to the sort of twisted, angry person who would do something like this—and not in some kind of hypostatized “evil,” as though calling him evil counted not only as a description of his actions, but an explanation. I guess that means I don’t get to feel like I’m in a big fun movie, but it might be sort of helpful if you think having fewer events like this is as important as having stirring things to say in their aftermath.

Update: Hilzoy has more, including a full transcript of Nikki Giovanni’s remarks to students, which are not at all, as far as I can detect, “drenched with religious symbolism and meaning.”

Tags: Religion



9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Blar // Apr 20, 2007 at 12:28 am

    What, no link for Hilzoy ?

  • 2 steveintheknow // Apr 20, 2007 at 10:56 am

    A tragedy, and a D’Souza brain turd. Two great tastes that taste great together! I hope he enjoys a long and successful career. So bad it’s good. I think I am going to watch Death Wish 3 tonight. Out of tribute of course.

  • 3 Jason // Apr 20, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    “Which is to say, some of us aren’t enormous douchebags.”

    So it does bring up a slightly interesting point: Where are the athiest douchebags? Is it just that we are so marginalized the any douchebaggery from our camp doesn’t even register?

  • 4 Brian Moore // Apr 20, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    There are lots of atheist douchebags! I’m an atheist, and I know other atheists who are definitely excessively rude to religious people, or just people in general. It turns out though, that the ratio of douchebaggery to non-douchebaggery is pretty unrelated to your religious views. I tend to think they would have been jerks no matter their religious beliefs. Although perhaps I just responded here so I could use the word “douchebag” a whole bunch.

    And hello again, Jason!

  • 5 Rue Des Quatre Vents // Apr 21, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Neuroscience aside, I’m interested in your view of evil as a description and not as explanation. I haven’t read Cho’s statements, so it could be the case that his motivation to kill did not depend on that being evil. However, it is foolish of you to think that it might not have been–if not with Cho, then with Stalin, if not with Stalin, then with Gary Gilmore. You choose. Some people, who are not characters in movies, do in fact do things because that’s the evil thing to do. In which case, the idea of evil is explanatory.

    The alternative view is say that what’s good for the psycho killer is bad for us. But this overlooks too much. If the psycho killer was nice to a child one day, would we say that that was a bad day by his morality? Would he? Doubt it.

  • 6 Julian Sanchez // Apr 21, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    “Some people, who are not characters in movies, do in fact do things because that’s the evil thing to do. In which case, the idea of evil is explanatory.”

    I suppose there may well be such people, but I doubt it of any of the cases you’ve suggested; if such folks do exist outside movies, they’re vanishingly rare. So rare that I think it does bear repeating that “he did it because he’s evil” is, if not never, then very nearly never an adequate or useful explanation.

    I have no idea what prompted the leap to “the” alternative you’ve suggested, but I rather doubt anyone believes this weird doctrine of “opposite-day” morality either.

    What surely is true is that some people (mistakenly) regard their evil acts as good—though not in some silly Bizarro-type inversion, where the evaluative poles are just reversed, and all that had been evil is now regarded as good. Stalin, for instance, may have believed that his brutal actions were necessary to the creation of some future utopia, and that they were thereby justified—both an empirical and a moral error, to be sure. Or he may just have been indifferent to moral considerations. Either way, though, none of the interesting explanatory work is done by the broad category “evil.”

  • 7 Rue Des Quatre Vents // Apr 22, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    “So rare that I think it does bear repeating that ‘he did it because he’s evil’ is, if not never, then very nearly never an adequate or useful explanation.”

    One bad act does not make a person bad, but enough will. If these acts have features that give rise to the property of being bad and these features are the reasons that a person gives for having committed these acts, then that person is acting on bad reasons BECAUSE they’re bad.

    This is valuable information about this person’s psychology and it’s explanatory.

    Stalin, as I understand, did not pursue murderous policy with good intentions. On the contrary, he effected these things precisely because they were evil.

    Sadists are similar, only different in degree.

  • 8 Julian Sanchez // Apr 22, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    I don’t know what to say here; you’ve made a series of assertions that all seem pretty self-evidently false to me. Why should we think any of these things are likely to be true?

  • 9 Rue Des Quatre Vents // Apr 22, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Fair enough.

    What explanations do you…the royal you…seek other than your gestures at neuroscience and the bad experiences in the past that made little Johnny rotten? Surely these cannot be enough?