On Thursday, a gunman went into an Oregon community college and killed 9 people, reportedly asking each of them whether they were Christians. In a move that has been echoed by the #iamachristian hashtag, several of the ones who died, according to widely cited sources, seems to have said, “Yes.”
As an atheist, I applaud the responses of each of these victims. Not because I agree with them; I’m a pretty antitheistic atheist who frequently argues that Christianity is fundamentally harmful in society.
I applaud that response because I strongly, stridently believe that violence should not be allowed to dictate our stances on what is and isn’t true. I have to admit that I respect people whose view of truth (whether I agree with it or not) refuses to be intimidated by a criminal’s gun in their face. We atheists do not have to agree with Christianity to applaud the courage individuals exhibit in refusing to abandon their passionately held stances in the face of violent threats. As an atheist and a skeptic, the courage these victims appear to have showed encourages me not to be swayed or manipulated by violence and intimidation.
On the flip side, although I’m still trying to further investigate the facts on the gunman before assessing his motives, I do know this: the gunman’s beliefs lacked a care and respect for human life. As a passionate secular humanist who tries to make sure respecting and empathizing with other human lives fuels his thinking and reasoning, I despise, on a fundamental level, the gunman’s beliefs and choices.
So this shooting, and the courage of the victims, serves as a strong reminder that violent coercion should not change anyone’s mind.
And the heartless, cruel actions of the shooter are a reminder that a sense of empathy and respect for human lives should.
I understand that we probably disagree strongly on the best ways to show that empathy and respect to humanity. We can discuss that later.
Because right now, whatever our ideological differences, and even in the face of mutual inspiration from people whose stances refused to be swayed by violence, we both share a deep sense of sadness in the aftermath of this tragic loss of human life.
Thank you for reading.