Can atheists provide rational arguments that terrorists should spare their lives?

I’ll start by stating clearly that I deeply dislike war (of any sort) and I find terrorism a major contemporary threat.

It so happens that I sometimes come into contact for long periods of time with people from the Middle East, and they seem to believe (although they avoid expressing this belief) that terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslim extremists are somewhat justifiable.

Once in a while I come across with open minded, educated people originating from the Middle East, and they too show the same attitude. The general feeling is that the West has caused and is causing the Muslims a lot of injustice and suffering, and a guerrilla war initiated by the most active representatives of a large population against the West oppressor should not be dismissed as an insane act equivalent to what Ted Kaczynski or Timothy McVeigh are notorious for.

But what about the innocent lives of the civilians killed in these attacks? I often ask. I have received various answers to this question, but one particular reply really baffled me: Many of them are just panting dogs. At first I thought I didn’t hear well, but the explanation came right away: Many of the non-Muslims killed in the attack are not even Christians (for whom a Muslim could nurture some limited respect) because a lot of westerners are atheists at the moment.

Okay maybe, I said. But they’re still people like you and me.

No, they’re not, the argument went on. Atheists insist that any system of value is relative and the society cannot impose any values on the individual. To an atheist, any value is purely subjective. From an atheist point of view, human life does not have an absolute meaning or value. There are even atheists who contest the superiority of human life over other forms of life, or the superiority of human intelligence over other forms of intelligence. Some even claim that people do no make conscious choices and there is no actual “I” in any person. Therefore, killing an atheist would not be worse than killing a bug, from the perspective of the atheist himself.

What about the law? I objected. It is still illegal to murder those people.

I usually hear a snort - sometimes a laughter. They say: In the West, the law is a matter of negotiation and compromise. The Muslim law is clear and uncompromising.

And thus we get back to the essential question: Can atheists provide any rational arguments that taking their lives is wrong?

How does someone make a rational argument to an irrational person who kills for a irrational reason?

Huh? Who said atheists are like that? The ones I know all have clear values: they want to minimize pain and suffering.

Sure. They can say*, I value my life, and therefore, according to MY belief system, my life has value. Furthermore, according to YOUR belief system, I was created in God’s image just like you were, and therefore my life has the same value as yours.*

That’s just the typical demonization of atheists by believers.

Which is of course nonsense. And it isn’t a particularly Muslim point of view either; plenty of Christians talk the same way.

It’s also fundamentally nonsensical because claiming that God or Allah has declared something to be moral doesn’t make it any more absolute than any claim by an atheist. Not even if they were real.

“Try to kill us, and we’ll try to kill you and people on both sides end up dead. And we are better armed, so far more of you will die.” The oldest and most basic argument against killing. And it’s both much more rational and closer to “objective” than “God/Allah says so”.

Except Muslim law does not state “Thou shallt kill the unbeliever” or even “non-Muslims are fair game”. Any Muslim you could have met for real would have told you that much.

Except in a religious war, the “law” will allow the militant to annihilate the target and justify the collateral damage.

Firstly, I don’t think Muslim law is as clear or uncompromising as some may want to believe, but that’s not the point.

The point is whether there is a rational reason, not a legal one, that I could put forth in a discussion with a person who condones the killing of civilians by terrorists on the grounds that these civilians are atheists for whom human life isn’t sacred anyway (either literally or metaphorically).

Oh, and the implication that I haven’t met Muslims for real is not fair.

The Muslims I have talked to are not terrorists.

The Muslims I have engaged in these conversations are regular citizens with ordinary lives. Many of them claim to be and to a great extent are rational people. Yet I have noticed they tend to amplify the guilt of the western people as whole and overlook the deaths of civilians. If I point that innocent people are killed in these attacks, they point out the innocent lives taken by American or Israeli troops in the Middle East. Some of them even claim that there is a hierarchy, that not all lives have the same value, especially when the individual himself (as is the case with atheists) only places a subjective value on his own life.

You could tell them that atheists do not believe (at least none that I have ever talked to) that human life is not valuable. That would fall more into the realm of the religious than the atheist if anything.

You could put forward the opposite of what they believe about atheists.
That atheist hold life in a higher regard. They don’t believe in an afterlife, so life in the here and now is extremely precious to them. Indeed not only human life. Where you despise the dog, they revell in the joy of interacting with another living creature.

Here is where you lost.

Incorrect. Atheists share precisely one opinion, which is that there are no gods. They otherwise bear absolutely no actual resemblance to one another.

Subjective values are held by some, objective values by others.

And nothing is more subjective than the idea that murder is wrong (as stated by the Bible and the Koran) except when the person you’re murdering has murdered, or committed theft, or is a different nationality than yourself.

That makes the morality of murder quite subjective, doesn’t it? Depending on who you are, murder is therefore correct or incorrect.

Right here, this is where you’ve failed to point out that thing which makes atheists supposedly fair game (moral relativism and subjectivity) is precisely the reason why moral absolutists with asterisks all over their absolute moral values have the same moral weakness they perceive in all atheists, which is a perception they harbor through ignorance alone, not fact.

One would think a commandment not to murder would be simple enough to obey, given its absolute nature. Yet among your religious extremists, there are all kinds of loopholes that make it suddenly okay.

You mean to say, an atheist does not have the gall to put a price on human life (as found within the Bible, particularly the parts about what a fair price is for your virgin daughter, or your slaves) nor do they presume that some lives are worth more than others, as your murder-supporting friends have done.

They have suggested that Muslims are better than Christians are better than atheists. Right there, they are the ones suggesting human life doesn’t have one absolute value, but a variable set of values. Some people are more human than others.

It is precisely this viewpoint which is responsible for the very wars they claim to abhor.

It is certainly true that no other animal on the planet has tried to come up with ways of mass murdering their own species, nor successfully carried it out.

While I’m rooting for camp human, I’m not filled with such hubris that I believe everything we do is wonderful.

Sounds a lot like the idea that God has a perfect flawless plan for everyone and we are predestined to do things. Funny how every single claim being made here is completely hypocritical and paints the entire opposition with the same brush, not taking into account a person’s actual beliefs, but the perceived homogenous single-mindedness of the whole.

Perhaps you could have countered by pointing out the very things they condemn all atheists for are precisely what they teach as religion.

Therefore, insane troll logic and strawman.

Like, for example, you should not murder, unless you can justify it because they’re someone you don’t like.

Really consistent and uncompromising indeed. No wonder they laugh at the idea of the law.

Yes, and they will fall on the deaf ears of those who are blinded by their own visions of supremacy and infallibility.

This doesn’t sound rational at all. Also, where do you get this idea that atheists actually think the way you described?

This doesn’t chime with the candlelit vigils held for the dead in 911 in, for example, Palestine when it happened.

Could it possibly be that if someone avoids expressing the belief that terrorist attacks are somewhat justifiable then it may be nothing more than a belief with which they do not hold?

Anyone studying mainstream Islam for longer than 30 minutes will realise that the vast majority of Muslims would oppose terrorist attacks on religious grounds. The Qu’ran is quite clear about what brings ‘salvation’ and what does not. People are judged by their behaviour, not by the religion they follow. When it comes to war, non-combatants must not be targets. Moreover, anyone who makes a pre-emptive strike is wrong in the eyes of Allah. Whether or not that person is a Muslim makes not a shred of difference.

Finally, Muslims are as open - or as closed - to common-sense as any Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist and atheists are no more and no less capable of making an argument for the sanctity of human life than anyone else. Moreover, given that they would be talking in universal terms without back-referencing cultural artifice in the form of religion, their arguments are universalised.

Atheist axiology does tend to be relative, rather than absolute. I don’t contest the fact that atheists have values and they want to minimize pain and suffering. I would only like to know the rationale behind this stance.

On the contrary, it is absolute rather than relative.

The atheist makes reference to universal laws - ‘natural laws’ as the Romans would have it - in defence of human life.

Religions tend to take these universal laws and give them a slant. To the religious person these may seem absolute given their faith, but considered universally, they are relative.

[bolding mine]

The government structures in these countries despise free speech, free press, people’s right to bear arms. The leaders will do everything to hold power, including profaning the Holy Name of Allah. These so called “Muslim” terrorists murder other Muslims as quick as atheists. I offer as evidence Islam in the USA, when guarantied human dignity, they do not murder.

The West (or specifically, the USA) has caused pain and suffering in the Middle East, simply study Iran’s history during the 20th century. But, hell’s bells, put yourself in the position of being a woman in Saudi Arabia, especially when you’re filling your gas tank.

There’s nothing Muslim about terrorism, it’s just cold blooded murder (terrorism that is). Atheists, Women, Sunni’s, Kurds, Jews … I’m sorry, the answer to the OP is there’s nothing anyone can say to spare their lives … these bozo’s kill just for the fun of it.

Actually ants and chimps do too.

Not even then. The Quran enjoins the believer to seek peace when it is offered, and to grant safe refuge to any poor bugger who doesn’t want to fight :

Well, when you start off with :

one does wonder.

First of all whether you have met the same Middle Easterners one has, who in one’s experience tend to curse the motherfuckers for making everybody’s life difficult and generally being bloody savages (even though one won’t dispute the fact that Middle Easterners tend to believe the West has been fucking with them. But then so do I, and it’s a fact, so there’s that :p) ; but more importantly how you or anyone would be able to identify beliefs that are not expressed :dubious:.

True, but human beings are the only intelligent species on the planet that do it.

Well, I seen ants smarter than some human beings I could name, so… :smiley: