John Allen Jr. in his latest column writes An Easter reflection on what Christians and atheists have in common.
This week, Holy Week no less, two stories broke that together illustrate a towering irony about the rise of violent Islamic extremism: In a growing number of places these days, nobody has more in common than Christians and atheists.
In Kenya, the militant Islamic group Al-Shabaab launched an assault on Garissa University College, beginning by shooting up a Christian prayer service. The gunmen then moved on, leaving Muslims unharmed while killing or abducting Christians. All told, 147 people are believed to have died.
It’s not clear if the militants deliberately chose one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar for the assault, though Christmas and Easter tend to be periods of special risk for Christian minorities in many parts of the world.
In Bangladesh, a blogger passionately opposed to religious fundamentalism named Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in Dhaka by two men wielding knives and meat cleavers. It followed the eerily similar murder of Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger Avijit Roy in late February. Roy was assaulted by two men with machetes.
Reports out of Bangladesh assert that over the past two years, several other atheist bloggers have either been murdered or died under mysterious circumstances.
Both these Kenyan and Bangladeshi victims were targeted not just for being non-Muslims, but a specific kind of non-Muslim.
Among Islamic radicals incensed with the West, no two groups stir rage like Christians and atheists. Christians symbolize the perceived sins of the Western past, while atheists embody what Islamists see as the decadence and apostasy of the Western present.
He goes on to write about how a coalition of Christians and atheists could evolve concerning an agenda of some shared goals along with some give-and-take. That also Pope Francis would be a key in putting such a partnership together.
Ideally such a coalition makes sense because there certainly is overlap in countries where Christians are a minority in how they and atheists are treated. Still I see little chance of this happening on any major level. The so-called new atheists emerged more into the public after the terrorist attack on 9/11. Making distinctions has never been a strong point for them. While this movement has been extremely anti-religion from its start, it has also mostly played out as anti-Christian in practice. The new atheists at times will criticize Islam, but much of their thrust has been anti-Christian in the amount of critique.
There is also a lot of overlap with the new atheists and secularism in general with a heavy dose of political correctness. They are natural allies and once again the thrust is anti-Christian with what should be a strange bend towards the defense of Islam. Strange indeed the secular apologists for Islam when it is so contrary to so much they profess. It only makes sense in light of the fact that these groups are primarily anti-Christian. As Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy “..any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.”
There are of course notable exceptions to this with some atheist commentators making distinctions and seeing the threat as it is. But figures like Oriana Fallaci are few. I would love to see common cause in this where our goals do indeed intersect and that my own pessimism about this being totally wrong.
Note: The fuller quote is “This began to be alarming. It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?” — G. K. Chesterton. “Orthodoxy”