Go here for the previous post in this series.
"Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven."
I know exactly what Dawkins is talking about. It's exactly the way I felt as a four year old when my mother - who I thought loved me - and the enemy nurses held me down to give me a shot when I was sick! Absolutely no pity or decent human feelings. Thank God my mother had faith to believe the shot would make me well - not absolutely guaranteed - and that the lesser (my temporary discomfort - certainly not from my point of view) was outweighed by the greater. This is a common principle we all use and should be applied to Dawkins' quote.
The problem obviously is the context and how you judge the reasoning used to evaluate the greater/lesser moral equation. The 9/11 hijackers believed heaven was the goal of life, and the only way by their faith, Islam, to guarantee heaven was as a martyr. Further, they believed their religion mandated the killing of non-believers, infidels. Looks like perfectly good reasoning to me, IF their religious understanding is true.
Everyone falls back to their core beliefs and principles from which to reason and justify their actions. Well, maybe with the exception of those who just act like animals with no need for justifying their actions to any moral standards at all. We can see that the 9/11 hijackers would try to justify their actions based on their religious beliefs. So, where do other mass-murderers find justification for their lesser/greater moral evaluation? Let's take Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, etc - the greatest mass murderers of all time, and all in the progressive 20th century.
Since they were atheists, I would suggest they can only look to their DNA. There is no good or bad - only "what is." They evolved by a process that endows no special moral place to the human animal above any other animals - "Nature, red in tooth and claw," in Tennyson's poem "In Memoriam." After all, this is what Darwin's theory of evolution has proved, hasn't it?
"Blindness to suffering is an inherent consequence of natural selection. Nature is neither kind nor cruel but indifferent."
Few atheists are honest enough to admit that without a transcendent moral law, morality simply becomes a matter of individual moral tastes - some love their neighbors, some love to eat them. "Might makes right" becomes the operative principle.
Thank God most atheists live to a much higher moral standard than their beliefs require.