Friday, April 27, 2012

Whiny Rant about attempts at atheist activism

The atheists say, “Come out! We need numbers to get more numbers, to show the atheists in hiding they’re not alone. We’re nearing the critical mass, when so many people are coming out that it will soon be no big deal to come out. Come out! Join us! If you are an atheist, use the name atheist.”

 I saw oppression and injustice. Death threats against Jessica Ahlquist. Public polls saying people won’t vote for an atheist, people saying rapists are most likely to be atheist, hateful rhetoric, discrimination in the Boy Scouts and the military.

 I’ve been atheist for twenty years. I haven’t hidden it, but I haven’t gone around announcing it either. The atheist activists had me convinced that it was time for people like me to speak up, to join the ranks, take a stand, and make a difference.

 I started saying it more, posting facebook posts and Tweets and talking about it at church. I lost some friends. Some family relationships are strained. A woman in my community started talking badly about me to my coworkers and parents of my students. My resolve grew stronger. Now I was experiencing firsthand this atheophobia. “THIS. THIS is why we need to come out”, I thought.

I tried to be even more active. I started talking up the Reason Rally, trying to recruit people from my church to go. I painted A’s on my toes.
I went to the Reason Rally and made my photos public on Facebook. I loved the swelling of pride and feeling like we were swelling in numbers after this national event. I posted my picture on Facebook for “Ask an Atheist Day”, and had a conversation with over 150 comments.
I have dabbled in trying to join atheist discussions on blogs and message boards, and inevitably, that other aspect of my religious identity comes up. The UU part. The accepting part, the part that is not willing to “ridicule with contempt”, the part that still wants to see the good aspects of religions and the good people who practice them, the part that believes interfaith dialogue is essential in the world we live in today.

 You know what? I feel less than welcome sometimes with the atheist activists. I’ve been called an apologist and an accomodationist. People ask “why do you even want to go to church”, but I don’t think many listen to my answer.

Look. I share their lack of belief. THERE IS NO GOD. I’ll use the word atheist. I am atheist. I’m not sure what the big deal is about anything else. Why do they care how I live my life or what I value or where I find joy?

My last post was the “accomodationist” side of me being whiny about not fitting in, but I just don’t get why I can't fit in with the atheists. Since I’ve been more out and active as an atheist, I’ve basically been met with criticism from the atheists (while in the midst of my pro-atheist fervor, my congregation has asked me to serve on the board of trustees.)

As I become more familiar with the atheist activists, I’m not really liking how harsh they can seem when they disagree. For all their love of “freethinking”, they seem quick to judge people with different ideas. I hope that someday, we can all say atheist, and it won’t matter what we believe, and we will all be treated with worth and dignity and respect. I hope the atheist activists acknowledge that atheists are diverse.

So, after trying the activist thing, I’m feeling less interested in joining their ranks. So it is weird to me to be saying I’m going to back down a bit with the atheist stuff, and it’s not because of any response I’m getting from Christians, or my family, or community, or friends. It’s because of the atheists.

I realize I've made a lot of sweeping generalizations, and I shouldn't judge the whole lot of them based on my initial impressions of a few. I have met lots of friendly atheists, and ones who seem accepting of my love of my church (and not just those at my church). I'm just feeling irritated right now. I'll get over it and keep trying to build bridges soon. I think I just need a little break.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Sometimes I feel a bit different than some of my friends"

I have early and intense memories of thinking very differently than those around me, often even in opposition to what adults told me. I now recognize these instances as the early formation of what I would now call morals. Some of these, I think would be understood by almost everyone. For instance, when I was staying with my great-grandma and went across the street to play in the schoolyard with children in her neighborhood, and returned to her waiting on the porch with a pink basin of water and a bar of Ivory soap, I KNEW that there was something very very wrong with her insistence that I wash up before coming in the house after playing with "those colored children".

Some of these instances may be less universal. I remember learning where meat comes from and instantly knowing I would never eat meat again. For several months, I spent evening after evening sitting at the dinner table for hours, not being allowed to get up until I cleaned my plate. I would cry myself to sleep at the table many times before my parents let me be a vegetarian.

In grade school, I had a couple close friends but I never fit in. Very early in high school, I got "saved" and became a Bible-carrying Jesus freak. By the time I graduated I had rejected that religion, but instead of going to college, I got married and became a young mother- a young mother who used cloth diapers, and didn't do Santa Claus, and modeled for figure drawing classes for extra cash.

Basically, I'm trying to paint a picture of how I have never fit in. I manage to be an outsider in almost every group to which I belong. Maybe "outsider" is too strong of a word. I'd rather say I'm a bit different. Even now, in my little conservative community, I'm different for being an atheist. I notice that among atheists, I'm different for embracing a religion.

There is one place where I never feel like an outsider, and that is church. It is my place where I can come as I am, believe what I want, speak my heart and mind, even disagree with people, and I know I will be welcomed. I love this song, "Quiet" from Matilda. The beginning takes me back to my childhood, being so different, and adults shouting, and the TV blaring, and my head spinning. I think It took me a long time to find my "quiet", but now I have. My church is my "quiet".