Tag Archive: death penalty


Browsing through the #atheist twitter hashtag, I came upon this tweet by @LaurentRA:

Okay #atheists, where the hell is your raising a stink about this?? http://bit.ly/s4ghcS

The shortened url links to an absolutely horrific article in the Daily Mail on the beheading of a Sudanese man in Saudi Arabia for the “crime” of … “sorcery”.

Although I disagree with LaurentRA’s implication that atheists would generally not be outraged by this, I absolutely agree that we all should be. I urge you to read the entire article in all its gruesome detail, which literally turned my stomach and left me wondering if there is any Islamic blasphemic equivalent to “Jesus fucking Christ!”, which happened to be my first utterance upon reading the article.

I won’t presume to know LaurentPA’s exact reasons for directing the tweet at atheists, but there are common complaints, usually issued by the Christian faithful (“Christian” is in LaurentPA’s twitter profile description), that for various reasons – sometimes political correctness, sometimes bitterness at the faith in which people were raised, sometimes purely out of spite or animosity – atheists are “too hard” on Christian religions and “too soft” on Islam.

There may be a degree of truth to this. And there may be some good reasons as well as some bad reasons why it happens. One factor that comes into play is that Western atheists generally react most strongly against Western religions, which hold majority positions of social and political power in their regional societies. Atheists in Nebraska are legitimately more worried about Christians replacing actual biology with pseudoscientific creationism in school science classrooms than they are about the potential implementation of sharia law because, well, there’s a much higher chance of the former really happening. So in terms of immediate concerns most American atheists (and I see that LaurentPA is in Virginia) locate Islam on a less immediate orbit of concern.

That said, it is absolutely true that what concerns atheists about religion – the harm that it does to the well being of individuals and societies, to human rights and to prospects for peace and civility – should not be contained in a localized bubble, but should encompass a global awareness.

I’m reminded of the Bruce Springstein song, The Ghost of Tom Joad:

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

Whenever, wherever there’s a religious justification for beating down the human rights of individuals or populations, whenever and wherever people are dehumanized in the name of imaginary legends and ancient texts, all atheists who are humanists (and most of us are) should be there, ready to fight against them.

Fight against unjust beheadings in Saudi Arabia.

Fight against the religion-based oppression of women in Afghanistan.

But also:

Fight against unjust executions in Texas and Georgia.

Fight against the religion-based gender oppression (most specifically in the areas of reproductive rights and sexual orientation) in the United States.

Yes, LaurentRA, in terms of the harm which is being done by the religious these days, Islam probably wins first prize.

But that is no automatic exemption for Christianity, or any other religion which causes people to accept believing in things for no good reason with no good evidence, and therefore opens the door to people actually doing harmful things for no good reason and with no good evidence that their actions are, in fact, morally justifiable. For the most part:

Only the religious (especially Catholics) institutionally cover up child rape and protect the rapists.

Only the religious (including Christians) engage in “ethnic cleansing” (which is in fact, in practically every case, religious cleansing)

Only the religious (including Christians) mutilate genitalia (and yes, this includes circumcision).

Only the religious (including Christians) believe homosexuality is a sin.

Only the religious (including Christians) commit holy wars and genocides in the name of their gods.

And, LaurentRA, only skeptics (as, again, you describe yourself in your twitter profile) who fail to apply their skepticism to the theological realm remain theists. The only logical conclusion for skeptics who apply their skepticism to all aspects of their belief system is atheism. Skeptics require evidence, most especially in regards to extraordinary claims. And religions (including Christianity) make the absolute most extraordinary clams while providing absolutely no evidence of their veracity.

Atheism and secular humanism, on the other hand, are the only hope for a future in which we will see no more socially or nationally sanctioned executions or human rights abuses. Because the the only way the world will be free from the moral sanctioning of such crimes is to free itself from the fairy tales which people create to perpetuate them.

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Hitch connects the dots:

Thus, as I was going on to argue, there is no reason to suppose that the death penalty is a deterrent. And then it hit me. I had been hammering on an open door. Nobody had been bothering to argue that the rope or the firing squad, or the gas chamber, or “Old Sparky” the bristle-making chair, or the deadly catheter were a deterrent. The point of the penalty was that it was death. It expressed righteous revulsion and symbolized rectitude and retribution. Voila tout!The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)

Once we clear away the brush, then, we can see the crystalline purity of the lex talionis and the principle of an eye for an eye. (You might wish to look up the chapter of Exodus in which that stipulation occurs: it is as close to sheer insane ranting and wicked babble as might well be wished, and features the famous ox-goring and witch-burning code on which, one sometimes fears, too much of humanity has been staked.)

Read the entire piece at Lapham’s Quarterly.

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