Louisiana Republican congressional candidate Zach Dasher has said that he is standing by comments he made about atheism and its role in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, following an op-ed by atheist author Richard Dawkins who criticized "Christian intolerance."
"I stand by my original statement. The tragedy at Sandy Hook points to a much larger societal problem of moral decay. In the absence of God man becomes the determiner of all things, including the value and meaning of life. I'm a Christian who believes that man is made in the image of God and is therefore incredibly precious," Dasher said in a statement published by The Blaze.
The congressional candidate, who is also the nephew of "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson, said during a podcast at WillingToThink.org that "mental illness and guns are not the cause of mass murder," referring to the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre where 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life.
Dasher said atheism is one issue that has led to mass moral decay in society, which played a part in the tragedy.
"These children that were killed in Connecticut were made for a purpose. And to be honest with you, even the killer himself was made for a purpose. He was made in the image of God," Dasher said, referring to Lanza.
He added, "But somewhere along the way he believed what the atheist says. He reduced humanity to nothing more than a collection of atoms to be discarded like an old banana peel. ... He planned a way for himself to rise above the status of mere chemical. He found a way to matter even if it was for the most disgusting unimaginable act."
Dasher later clarified that he was not suggesting that all atheists are evil or that he is blaming the massacre on atheists, but said he was talking about a larger problem in America.
A Dawkins op-ed in Time on Sept. 30 was highly critical of the suggestion that atheism contributed to the Sandy Hook massacre, however. In the article, titled "Atheists Aren't the Problem, Christian Intolerance Is the Problem," the author criticizes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Dasher for separate remarks on the subject of atheism.
"Had Dasher bothered to find out about atheism, humanism and the nonreligious, he would have come to understand just how precious this community views life," the evolutionary biologist wrote.
"Unlike Dasher, who believes there is another existence — a better one — outside the temporal, atheists, humanists and freethinkers believe they have one life and one chance to do something meaningful with it. With no supernatural arbiter to fall back on, nonbelievers know it is up to them and them alone to promote justice, compassion and a fair society."
Dawkins continued by writing that there is proof that secular people are good and care for others, pointing out that secular societies like Sweden and Denmark enjoy a "high level of societal health and happiness" in comparison to the more traditionally religious U.S.
In his follow-up statement the congressional candidate argued that there is a "war on traditional Christian values" in American society.
"I refuse to accept that, as Dawkins says, 'life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA' and that 'life has no design, no purpose, and no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference,'" Dasher added.
"Our society is suffering from mass moral decay because we have removed God from the halls of Congress, our Universities, and as the foundation of liberty. It's time that Washington and the academic cultural elitists respect Christians and our Faith."