Choosing the High Road

The “War on Christmas” has come and gone for 2013, and this year, more than others left me with a sour taste towards a select few Atheists. I found myself engaged in several heated discussions concerning the difference between standing up for our rights and alienating ourselves. The alienation goes beyond just offending believers, that is a bit expected and I know that those sending the angry messages don’t particularly care… but what they should care about is that when we act like “Westboro Atheists” (Thanks Robert Price!) [1] we draw a line between the nonbelievers and the extremists. Some will say that it is a difference between Atheists and Anti-theists… but I know firsthand that this is false. Some say that those who will not fight are weak, but this is false as well. It is the ones who choose their battles wisely, who avoid dogmatic and angry actions, that truly help the Atheist movement. We want all nonbelievers to stand strong together, but I can see why having to associate with overwhelming negativity would make people want to remain silent… and it is not only the believers who are at fault.

I will be the first to admit that separation of church and state is an incredibly important battle. Teaching creationism in schools, a crucifix on the courthouse lawn… these are examples of things that should not be tolerated. However, just because something has a religious undertone. it is not necessarily off limits. Example. In one of my local groups there was a dispute over a “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” banner being displayed in the center of a small town. The question of whether this was legal lit a fire and it was even taken to FFRF for legality review. Well, just as I thought, they explained that “Merry Christmas” is deemed permissible by the court system, when being used in a secular fashion. Most of those in the discussion found this reasonable, but some still went on the offensive. Arguments that government employees shouldn’t be wasting tax payers money to hang religious propaganda and blah blah blah.  I made a point to remind them that, the government of the United States of America, recognizes Christmas as a national holiday and until that changes they are free to do as they please as long as it falls within the bounds of secular cultural phenomenon. I suggested that instead of beating up the banner, they may want to confront the primary issue, but this was dismissed, as I think we all know Christmas will continue to be recognized by the government for many  years to come.

I do understand why my fellow Atheists are passionate about social issues, but I don’t believe enough thought is put in to what stigma they might draw. When you tell a moderate Atheist that they need to come out and be proud, you need to understand that extreme anti-theist behavior may not be something that they are proud to associate themselves with. For instance, I saw an article in the Huffington Post titled “Atheist Threaten To Sue Town For Putting Up Nativity Scene, But Not Festivus Pole” [2] In the article we learn about Chaz Stevens, the Atheist who created the beer can festivus pole to counter a nativity scene in the Florida capital. Attached was a YouTube video (which has since been made private) which showed the nativity scene in question, and included profanity, mocking of the virgin Mary and baby Jesus and then to top it off, he literally spits on the display. To me, this is humiliating. This is everything that I do not wish to be associated with. We wonder why people stereotype us as the “angry Atheists” but the answer is clear. Instead of getting press for taking the high road, we are shown as a bunch of immature, uneducated, heartless fools. Taking a bunch of trash and saying “This is what represents our group” makes us look like just that, trash. Maybe instead we can take the Winter Solstice back and find a way to display our humanist values. Whether it is through a physical representation or simply actions that spread throughout the Atheist communities, there has to be something out there that can show what we stand for in a positive way.

I firmly believe that the way we portray ourselves to the public will be what makes others decide they want to come out. If we show that we are a group, strong in our convictions yet respectful of those who may not agree, we will surely progress faster than if we fall victim to becoming just another dogmatic institution. Instead of attacking believers over “Who needs Christ during Christmas” [3] let’s keep reminding them that we can be “Good without God”. Focusing energy towards the benefits of being openly Atheist, showing the closeted that we do more than fight, this is what will help us move forward.

  1. Robert M Price “Westboro Atheists” http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/zblog/?p=625
  2. Huffington Post “Atheist Threaten To Sue Town For Putting Up Nativity Scene, But Not Festivus Pole” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/23/florida-festivus-pole_n_4492674.html?utm_hp_ref=politics
  3. Chris Stedman “Why Atheists should quit the war on Christmas” http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/21/why-atheists-should-quit-the-war-on-christmas/
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coming out, part 2 (the atheist strikes back!)

So apparently my point about “coming out as an atheist” was not communicated properly so let’s try this again…

Right off the bat I want to say that the sole purpose is to identify that in my opinion “coming out” is not a necessary part of the atheist journey… and now I will tell you why.

I understand that to some people stepping forward and saying “I am an Atheist” is a huge deal, but for those who don’t want to flaunt it, they shouldn’t be shamed. You aren’t a better Atheist simply because you carry the sign. You aren’t a better Atheist simply because you write a letter. Some of the loudest, most militant “Atheists” I know have the least meaning behind their words…and the only impact they ever make is a laugh.  If you don’t want to wear the shirt and you just want to gain knowledge and enjoy the community- I see nothing wrong with it.

Another reason our fellow Atheists shouldn’t be pressured into “coming out” is that it can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Last time I wrote of this, I put two scenarios- one person called these “instructions”, which they weren’t- but so that there is no confusion we will just disregard that part. The stress I speak of comes more from the anticipation of it than anything else. Apparently I am one of the few people who actually takes time to learn the back stories of our local members because I have heard some tough descriptions whereas the very leader of one group says he’s never heard anything dramatic. One that sticks out for me took place at an event in July of 2012, I met a couple who had moved to Pittsburgh after being disowned. Funny enough, they “came out” as agnostic because they felt they had to confess their doubts of God, to God, after a trip to the museum blew their minds. A young man sitting at the bar with us said “this is why I don’t tell anyone”. He then asked me how people reacted when I came out and I explained (as I did in the previous blog) that I never came out, I am an atheist, I am open about it and I don’t see it as a big deal. These polar opposites seemed to puzzle him, he asked a few more people about it… he never came back.  I can’t say if this is true for him, but for some “Skeptics” who I have kept in touch with outside of local meetings that haven’t returned to the group, they’ve said that it is too harsh and that, despite their lack of faith they were happier where they were. Sad to think that finally finding the community, which should bring comfort, can show a dogmatic nature like that of religion… making the transition barely worth it.

I took a lot of heat from the statement in the previous blog: “I am Allison Reed, I am bi-sexual, I am an atheist and I am a whole lot of other things that just came naturally and I’ll be damned if I need to “come out” and get acceptance from anyone.” . A few of my fellow Pittsburgh Atheists said it was contradictory to say that Atheists shouldn’t be required to label themselves, and then to label myself. Well maybe it  was a little odd… but my point was this- I am comfortable using these terms to describe myself but if others are not that is ok and it should not be judged. There is a reason that when you fill out your pharmacy survey at riteaid under the gender section you can choose “i prefer not to answer”… it’s because in today’s society we require the bare minimum as far a label’s concerned… so please stop pressuring the people who do support you to do something they aren’t comfortable with.

One of the most important reasons why a lot of people want these coming out parties to occur is a major reason I recommend not pushing it onto everyone. That is simply that not all Atheists believe the same things. When discussing my previous blog, one gentleman said “The only way to change the religious special treatment in this country and the religious nonsense in our laws, on our money and in our pledge is to become empowered politically. That requires people to be publicly non-religious.”. At face value this sounds fair, except that not all Atheists are Anti-theists. Some Atheists do not view religion as dangerous, some just support science, some just straightforward don’t believe in God with no underlying agenda. So in that case, their coming out would not help your cause and could possibly confuse things for them.

So this is just some food for thought, I am out and proud, but if you aren’t you are still my Atheist ally and I am proud to share the community with you.

I will never ask you to “come out” as an Atheist…

Recently there has been a lot of talk about “coming out as an Atheist”. To me, this is actually a negative stance to take on Atheism. Rather than say ” I had the courage to come out as an Atheist” perhaps try looking at it as “I had the strength to not succumb to religion.”. We are not born with knowledge of God… and that is not just a christian God, it goes for all of them. We are taught to believe, we learn what church is, what function a mosque serves, why Jews worship in a Synagogue… some people choose to go with the flow of those around them and some of us, take a natural approach and keep our minds free from religious pollution.

Example: technically I was “born into the Catholic church”. My mother was a Catholic and my father, an Atheist with a laid back attitude towards organized service. I was baptized , I made my first communion, I made my confirmation and yet never did I believe in God.  I saw CCD as just another school that I went to… sure I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t like algebra… so I just put in my time and got out of there. When I look at my personal history with religion, I don’t see it as me leaving the church and becoming an Atheist… I see it as simply something I learned and chose to dismiss- then I moved on with my life.

When we claim to “come out” as Atheists we are making it sound like something people should feel ashamed of, something people should brace themselves for judgement from… but really, it is only a big deal if you make it a big deal. For instance, you could say “mom, we need to talk, this is serious business and if effects EVERYONE.”… to me this sounds like you are about to give the news that you have 6 months to live. Now let’s try it a different way…

Mom: Will you be going to church this Sunday?

You: No, I have decided to not participate in the church.

Mom: Why?

You: I am just not interested anymore, my views have changed.

The term “Atheist” doesn’t even have to come up, unless you want it to. If the person you are addressing wants to continue the discussion you then have an opportunity to set boundaries and always, always stick with the positive. If you come at it with negative connotations then you are setting yourself up to be attacked.

Remember that this doesn’t just pertain to our theistic and deistic friends… those with no faith what-so-ever can also be put of by this “coming out” movement. If there is pressure to “come out” as Atheist- it is almost like you are asking someone to confess a sin. As a group, we want to continue to grow and by stressing this need for everyone to “come out” we are making it an “are you in or out” system.

When I meet someone who is unsure about how they feel I always try  to stress that there is no pressure to label yourself, seems that maybe I am more alone than I thought on that one. Put it this way, right now we are a minority- we want to be a majority- so let’s act like one. Stop saying “yeah, i am um… uh… an Atheist, please accept me”. Stand strong, let people know that going towards religion is the chosen path and that Atheists are what we are born to be. “yeah, i am an Atheist… I’ve never been easily influenced by others.” .

It is about confidence in ourselves as individuals as well as a group. I have never “come out” as anything- I am Allison Reed, I am bi-sexual, I am an atheist and I am a whole lot of other things that just came naturally and i’ll be damned if I need to “come out” and get acceptance from anyone. To be clear, I am not saying that you shouldn’t “come out” if you think it is a necessary part of your life… to each his own. Just don’t do it because you think that you owe it to someone to explain yourself.