Atheists are the Most Hated Minority
RFO'ers are a very diverse and intelligent bunch and I know that many of you are deeply religious, some are less so, and perhaps there are some like me who are atheists. I posted this in the miscellaneous chit-chat area because it has nothing to do with Obama, but it is nonetheless a cultural issue and I wanted to see how some of you felt about it.
First I should begin with a link that explains the situation for Atheists right now:
I don't know if you have seen this sign that has been making the internet rounds:
I had a conversation that was deeply, personally distressing to me on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. While commenting on an article that a friend posted, I remarked that I couldn't get into the subject matter because it was a sermon rather than a news article. I simply wasn't interested in reading a sermon disguised as news. My friend who posted the article agreed that it was preachy but we discussed some of the content between us before another woman, a stranger to me, chimed in to give me hell.
It is a very hostile time for non-believers. All one has to do is express an alternate opinion, even a gentle one, and there are people who will launch an attack like none I've ever experienced in my life. I think I started to notice this attitiude a few years ago when I worked as a volunteer for a non-profit organization who was planning an awards banquet. As a member of the executive board, I brought up the notion that perhaps we should not be doing a "public" Christian prayer before the meal. This prayer was not a tradition, it had only begun under the past Mayor. I tried to explain that our community is very diverse and that by doing this, we were sending the message that this non-profit organization supports Christian thought. My argument (if I had been able to finish articulating it) was that as a partly publicly funded (some taxpayer money supported them), non profit organization, we should appear religion neutral. It is perfectly fine to say your prayer before your dinner, but it is another thing to force others to participate. Of course they would tell me (I've heard it before) that non Christians should just hang their heads in respect. I've done that for over 40 years and try as I may to feel included, public prayer still makes me feel like an outcast. But although I am uncomfortable with it, I have quietly just buried my feelings to keep the peace.
This particular conversation about the public prayer turned ugly in 3 seconds flat. What happened next has haunted me for years. I was yelled and screamed at by the most "devout" members of the executive board! Shouted down like I was 5 years old. There could be no rational discussion so long as I was challenging this long held idea that Christians should have the monopoly on public acceptance. The argument was so hate-filled, one man in particular was nearly frothing at the mouth, his neck veins protruding, and his eyes bugged out while he pointed his finger in my face and threatened to boycott the event if prayer was removed. I was sufficiently frightened that I refused to say openly that I was an atheist again for many years. That night I went home, shattered and cried myself to sleep. It was emotionally wrenching for me, but that man probably thought he was doing God's work.
Last year I was driving with co-workers from Massachusetts back to Ontario. Because it was such a long drive, we spoke about every imaginable topic. The topics can get pretty raunchy and many deep feelings are revealed on these drives. But when the topic of religion came up, I found myself squirming in my seat, trying to figure out how not to reveal that I am an atheist. I couldn't do it of course because I was pinpointed to engage in the discussion. As soon as I did, I had two of them shouting at me, the other three were quieter but confused by it. The girl who was driving actually began to cry because she "cares about me and doesn't want me to go to hell". I found it interesting that the loudest person in the car was the one who wanted to convince me that evolution is flawed and creationism is fact. To support his claim he drew on something I had never heard of. He said carbon dating was grossly inaccurate. I couldn't research his claims until I got home but it turns out that someone deliberately used an object that could not be carbon dated, and held that up as proof that all carbon dating was inaccurate.
I ran for Council in my small town and I had to hide my atheism. I won't mention it in public situations and will try to avoid at all costs any converstation about religion. I have relatives who are not aware of my atheism, nor of their own children's, (my cousins are also atheists) because to reveal this would shatter their Mother. The truth is, many of us are in the closet because of the types of extreme reactions I just described. The reality is that every time I turn on the news to see that some poor man has been murdered, the newscaster always says something like "he was a God fearing man" to illustrate that he was moral and good. The word atheist is used to warn and frighten people "Godless, communists".
Anyhow, back to the original problem that got me on this diatribe. I spoke to this stranger on Facebook who didn't like my comment that an article was too preachy for my tastes. She said she "felt sorry for me", that I am "sad" and "lonely" and "angry". She got all of that from my comment that I didn't enjoy the article. When I challenged her to ask why she thinks I am all those things based on a one-line comment, she said that she feels sorry for atheists because they can't feel real joy. They don't feel a deep awe for the beauty of the world.They aren't bathed in God's love.
The reality is that this attitude is becoming more and more prevalent in some circles. To an outsider looking in, it is frightening, and more than a little threatening. It causes me to think that if we aren't careful, we are just one or two steps away from a Taliban type situation where non-believers will be exposed and punished. We are already seeing a rise in acceptance of this behaviour with the Tea Party folk and Politicians like Michelle Bachmann and Palin, or the myriad of right-wing talking heads who think that public policy should be fashioned from good 'ol biblical principals.
I have promised myself in the last couple of years, that I would stop being complacent about this type of bigotry. I will call it when I see it, and I won't be meek. Because it is so widely accepted in our cultures, many do not see it for what it is. It is intolerance. And the studies are supporting what I already know to be true, it does exist and it needs to be challenged.
We all have a right to be here.
Thanks for listening.