Does Bush Think Terrorists are all Atheists? 

 Austin Cline

More than one religious believer, unable to accept the truth that fellow believers commit violent acts of terrorism in the name of their religion, resort to tactics like denying that terrorists are “true” followers of that religion. Some even deny that terrorists are really theists in the first place. They thus claim that people killing in the name of god are somehow atheists who don’t believe in any gods at all. In this way they ensure that religious violence continues unchecked.

Recently, as part of Chanukah celebrations at the White House, President George W. Bush reportedly described Muslim terrorists as atheists: Bush said that despite declarations of piety from Muslim radicals now fighting the United States, he doubted that they believed in God. “ ‘Terrorists’ can’t be God-believing people,’ ” Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, quoted Bush as saying.

Source: JTA Granted, this is a second-hand quote and not a direct quote from Bush himself, but it is a report made immediately after the events and thus far I haven’t found any statements from the White House contradicting Joel’s account. This view is, as I note above, not very uncommon and would be keeping in character for someone who has convinced themselves that religion and theism are the only real paths to truth or peace.

Assuming this quote is true, then, what are we to make of it? Well, it suggests that George W. Bush might conceive of his “War on Terrorism” as also being a War on Atheism: an effort to root out and destroy all those how don’t believe in gods and thus have no good reason to be moral, upstanding citizens.

The fact that all this violence is a direct product of religion and theism isn’t just ignored, it’s denied outright. Atheists aren’t flying planes into buildings in the name of Darwin, it’s theists acting in the name of their god. Bush’s complete reversal of reality isn’t just consistent with his usual refusal to deal with reality, but it’s actually a way to ensure that the violence continues: unless religious theists are willing to acknowledge the aspects of their traditions which encourage violent behavior, they will never be able to keep it from constantly reappearing in new guises.

This is one reason why atheists shouldn’t succumb to the fallacious arguments that “tolerance” of religion means not criticizing religion. The absence of strong, pointed critiques will only encourage people in their beliefs that religion and theism are inherently good. People aren’t going to stop thinking ill of atheists because if we stop criticizing religions, they will just find it easier to think that we’re to blame for all the problems religious believers are causing.

Tuesday January 2, 2007