On the UCC Shooting

It is never okay to harm someone because of their beliefs. No one chooses what to believe; pointing a gun at someone’s head and telling them to believe something can only make them lie, at best. Today’s events should make this perfectly clear.

No one should be discriminated against or punished in any way for their beliefs, since their beliefs are not up to them. Beliefs are a product of which arguments a person has heard and the experiences which have shaped the lens through which they see those arguments, neither of which a person can choose.

Although no one should face punishment for their beliefs, we still have to prevent dangerous beliefs from leading to dangerous behaviors. Using the above line of reasoning to conclude that we can’t discriminate against someone whose beliefs are that it is okay to kill innocent people would be absurd. Of course we need to do our best to convince people such beliefs are wrong, lest we allow terrible consequences to develop unchecked until it’s too late.

Although that was an extreme example, it remains true that criticizing beliefs is a necessary part of what it means to live in a civil society, where the best ideas flourish. Yet there is absolutely no reason to kill, harm, or even hold in contempt those who believe different things than we do. And it certainly is possible to advocate for the best beliefs and condemn the worst beliefs without directing anger at those who hold them. This, I think, is an idea worth spreading. So much of the violence in this world results from a failure to realize this.


4 thoughts on “On the UCC Shooting

  1. DTseng says:

    I completely agree with your first statement but I have some questions about the conclusions you have drawn from it. You say that “no one chooses what to believe” – are you being forced to believe THAT then? By whom or by what?

    It is my understanding that the shooter pointed the gun at the students and asked them if they were Christians. He didn’t tell them what to believe. After the first person was shot, allegedly because he or she professed to being a Christian, it doesn’t make sense that other students would lie and say they were Christians if they were not, since it would result in their being fatally shot.

    If no one should be punished in any way for his or her beliefs, why should we have a justice system at all? No one should be held accountable for criminal behavior in that case. Conversely, if we cannot choose our beliefs, why should we hold any person in high esteem for holding a particular belief?

    You mention that some beliefs are wrong. How does one judge what is “wrong”? Unless you have an objective moral standard, right and wrong are simply matters of opinion or preference. Who is to say what the “best beliefs” or the “worst beliefs” are?

    1. trivialtruths says:

      I wouldn’t say that it amounts to being forced to believe something, simply because that implies that there is someone actively doing the forcing. Rather, it is just a fact that beliefs are a product of experiences and how they are interpreted—there is no active “forcing” that needs to be done.

      My intention with this post was to say that no one should be punished solely for his or her beliefs, not to say that punishment doesn’t make sense in all scenarios. We still have to intervene when people become dangerous to others. Although it has since become less clear whether this is true, those killed in the shooting were killed solely because of what they believed.

      Regarding some beliefs being wrong—what I meant was wrong in the sense of falsity, not wrong in the moral sense, although we might suspect there to be a strong relation between the two. I agree that right and wrong would be merely matters of opinion without an objective moral standard, and that this would be a problem. That is a discussion point that is too intricate for this comment however, so I plan on dedicating an entire page on it.

  2. shawnmhart says:

    I agree with Derry and would like to ask something else.

    If we are just advanced animals in the evolutionary chain then what framework do we have for believing this is actually wrong. I turn on the nature channel and watch animals hunt other animals with no problem, and I don’t label it murder. Why then, when I turn on the TV and see this story about a person hunting down other people, I am heart broken and view this as wrong?

    Also, how do you counter atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse who says, “Ultimately I have to say about Hitler, Anne Frank, Sophie Scholl, a woman who gave her life opposing Hitler…that it doesn’t mean a thing, ultimately it is just molecules in motion, and it hurts like hell to have to say that, but I think it is the honest thing to say.” As an atheist he affirms that within his naturalistic belief, morality is an illusion. How do you deal with this?

    1. trivialtruths says:

      I would say that you probably should be heartbroken to some extent when seeing cruelty in nature between animals. Seeing cruel acts between humans is, of course, easier for us to relate to an hence is sure to invoke more intense emotions in us. I think that is probably a matter of human psychology.

      Regarding the atheistic philosopher and his moral skepticism: atheistic philosophers do come to a wide variety of conclusions on topics other than philosophy of religion. The fact that he is an atheist doesn’t tell you anything about what he believes about other matters like ethics or metaphysics, although it may predispose him to believe in certain things more than others. This is also true among Christians; Isaac Newton, although an extremely devout Christian, did not think that Jesus was divine and did not believe in the trinity. Yet I’m sure he agreed with mainstream Christians on a number of issues. Just like theists can agree on theism and disagree on other topics, atheists can agree on atheism without agreeing on other topics. I think Ruse is really just holding an untenable view here. In my opinion, he is simply wrong about ethics. I’m sure he has some justifications for his positions (although I tend to view skepticism as philosophical laziness in many instances). I have justifications for mine as well, which will be espoused in a dedicated page in the future, as I mentioned in another comment.

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