Recently Douglas Yim, 33, was found guilty of killing 25-year-old Dzuy Duhn Phan in April 2011, after an argument about the existence of God. The two of them, plus a friend, were in Oakland, California, drinking, smoking marijuana, and snorting cocaine. While playing video games they started quarreling about the existence of God.
“Phan, an atheist, started mocking Yim for believing in God, asking where God was each time Yim lost the video game. He then asked where God was when Yim’s father died of a stroke.
“Yim responded to the stroke comment by smashing the TV and retreating into another room.” Yim then … retrieved an AR-15 assault rifle from his bedroom and opened fire in the living room. Phan was shot at least six times.”
Obviously powerful drugs increase the odds of bizarre behavior, but this terrible story also underlines the fact that people can respond with extremely intense emotions when their religious beliefs are ridiculed – or at times, even questioned.
As one atheist commented, “… I keep quiet about it. People assume you’re heartless, shallow, amoral, and it calls their own beliefs into question. Atheism greatly disturbs people” (Hunsberger and Altemeyer, Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America’s Nonbelievers, p. 47).
It’s easy to say that people shouldn’t be so threatened when their lifestance is challenged. But that’s how many of us are. If any religious or philosophical organization wants to make us better people, it should teach children to accept the obvious fact of theological and philosophical diversity. As it is, diversity divides us when it could be enriching and empowering us. Talking with someone who answers life’s big questions differently than we do should be an opportunity for learning, not a provocation to attack, with words or with bullets.
Roger Christan Schriner
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