In recent years I’ve heard complaints from credible representatives of credible advocacy groups—even elected officials—that they’ve had little luck getting a guest column into the Seattle Times on important issues of the day. Union leaders and educators particularly feel shut out.
It wasn’t always this way. Back before the demise of the P-I, under Jim Vesely’s rule, the editorial page used to at least make an effort to give equal space to opposing views, even those they strongly disagreed with. But current editorial page editor Kate Riley makes little more than a token show of it. Instead, what progressive community leaders usually hear back is sorry, space is tight, there’s a lot of demand, and so the editors have to be very, very selective.
Okay. Maybe. But then how do they explain making room for this rambling guest column blaming our epidemic of mass shootings on the growing scourge of atheism?
Regardless of where our country went wrong, we now have a problem. Many Americans do not believe in an afterlife and divine judgment. Thus, homicide is attractive for revenge and the expression of emotional pain, and suicide is attractive for escape.
First of all, I don’t have the data at my fingertips, but I’m pretty confident that access to rational empiricism is much less strongly correlated with homicide and suicide than access to, you know, a gun. Further, the writer’s whole premise is unsupported by the facts. According to the religion and spirituality website Patheos, most US mass murderers are Christian (though in fact, the most overwhelming common denominator is that they are male). And then there’s the whole thorny history of our species routinely torturing and slaughtering each other in the name of one True God or another. But to be clear, it’s the gun that makes acting on murderous impulses so damn easy and efficient.
And second of all, could you be more bigoted and offensive?
Really. Had she written that “many Americans do not believe in Jesus Christ as their savior,” or had she pointed the finger at Judaism or Islam as belief systems that make homicide “attractive for revenge and the expression of emotional pain” (see, Gaza), the editors would have dismissed her column as the intolerant ramblings of an unrepentant bigot. But paint atheism as the “problem”—and by association, the millions of non-believing Americans like me who identify ourselves as such—well that’s the sort of important civil discourse deserving of rare column inches on the Seattle Times op/ed page! Apparently, non-belief is the only belief system that’s a permissible target of religious hate speech in our state’s paper of record.
I mean, fuck! The same op/ed page that blasts Gilbert and Sullivan as racism beyond the pale of a polite and inclusive society, gives voice to a religious bigot smearing nonbelievers with secular blood libel? It makes me so angry I could shoot somebody!
But I won’t. Because it would be wrong. And not because the Bible forbids it, or because I fear divine retribution in this life or the next, but because I was raised to be in touch with my own empathy and altruism, two traits that are as intrinsic to human nature as violence and revenge. As Rabbi Hillel famously said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.” But one does not need to actually believe in the supernatural window-dressing of the Golden Rule to embrace it as the indispensable glue of a just and functional society.
Nevertheless, if like this author (and apparently, the editorial page editor of the Seattle Times), you are a self-satisfied narrow-minded religious bigot who insists that there can be no morality without God, have no fear: I won’t shoot you. Because I have no gun. And thus I have no means of acting upon the homicidal culture of revenge with which you impugn those of us who merely reject the notion of the supernatural. Something to think about if you’re truly interested in protecting your fellow man from senseless violence.