The nature of the beast


I have now told four people at Resurrection that I’m an atheist (three of them only through my blog) without anyone but Brent showing the least interest. I increasingly feel that I must tell people in order to avoid flying under a false flag, yet I hate doing so because I think Brent was overly optimistic when he said, “There is a place for you at Resurrection.” My belief is that if I tell people, they will reduce my entire being to that one fact, a fact that they find repugnant. Ever afterwards if I say something that surprises them, they will dismiss it with, “He just said that because he’s an atheist.” On the other hand, if I don’t tell people, I will distance myself from them, as I am already doing

Prejudice against atheists takes two forms. One is common among conservatives who take atheists at our word, consequently hate us, and look forward to lounging around heaven listening to our screams from hell. The other is usually found among liberals who seek to define us out of existence. The following is from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with atheist distance swimmer, Diana Nyad:

Oprah: “You told our producers you’re not a God person, but you’re deeply in awe?”
Nyad replied: “Yeah, I’m not a God person. I’m an atheist.”
Oprah: “But you’re in awe?”
Nyad: “I don’t understand why anyone would find a contradiction in that…”
Oprah: “Well I don’t call you an atheist then. I think if you believe in the awe, and the wonder, and the mystery, then that is what God is.”

I have found Oprah’s brand of bigotry to be commonplace. It consists of defining atheists as stupid, immature, or insensitive, and denying that anyone who is smart, mature, and sensitive is an atheist, his or her own opinion notwithstanding. Oprah is unable to entertain the thought that, just maybe, atheists too experience awe and wonder, but see no reason to call it God. My sister serves as another example of the tendency on the part of liberal theists to deny the validity of atheism. When I found her definition of God as “the universal tendency toward good,” lacking, she dismissed my opinion without argument, implying, like Oprah, that the truth of her position was so obvious that it needed no proof and the failure of mine so abysmal that it required no refutation. Such accusations qualify as reductionism, and it’s pointless to argue against them because anything one can say will be interpreted as evidence of denial, proof of a past hurt, or some other psychological limitation. They reek with arrogance, although they are invariably held by people whom regard atheists as arrogant.


When I was young, I was sometimes told that no one with all my many virtues could possibly be a real atheist, but I’m too old now for theists to retain their optimism. When I did encounter it, it was invariably from people I was growing close to, and it hurt me in the way I imagine it would hurt a black person if a white person said he was so smart that he surely must have some “white blood.” I always felt a stab of betrayal upon realizing that this person whom I thought I could trust only accepted me because they didn’t believe I was who I said I was.


To continue the black/white analogy, I’ve had precisely one black friend here in Oregon, but then I’ve only known one black person. She had been here for decades but was from Louisiana. She said she sometimes misses the South because the prejudice down there is out in open, whereas here it’s so subtle that it’s hard for a black person to know where she stands. So will it be at Resurrection when my atheism becomes widely known. The question then becomes, why stay?

21 comments:

Sissy said...

It is most likely that everyone at Resurrection will in time know you are atheist; people chatter, you know. This is especially a strong trait among some branches of 'so-called christians' here in the south.
Yakkity, yakkity, yak, "oh, did you hear about So and So? I only want to say "OH, SHUT UP! In fact, I did once and the woman calmly said: "but its true"! Well.....

Snowbrush said...

"here in the south."

The South? I surely knew at one time that you were from the South...Tennessee, is it?

Anything that's true is good to talk about, eh? "Enquiring minds want to know" as the attractive, well-dressed, and seemingly well-spoken woman on the National Enquirer ads used to say. I remember a poster in the school in which I used to teach. It read, "Small-minded people talk about people. Big-minded people talk about ideas." I'm sure there's some truth to that. As for word of my atheism getting around, I've no doubt but what it will, but I don't know that I'll still be there by then.

Helen said...

If it were me ... I would not return. Of course, you may want to attend, see how things play out. Certainly great "post" material!!

Snowbrush said...

"If it were me ... I would not return."

It's just that having shared my atheism with four people and having all four ignore me, I feel discouraged. On the other hand, there's no urgency about making a decision, and I will at least finish the catechism class, which has two or three more weeks to run. I realize that sharing my blog with people I hardly know--if I know them at all--might not have been the best way to introduce the subject. In fact, it might have been the worst, but even so, if the people I shared it with were open to the information, I don't think they would have blown me off.

Elephant's Child said...

I would agree with Sissy that it is likely that everyone knows...
And I am sad for you. Your need for acceptance and your integrity and honesty seem to clash far too often.
I wouldn't go back - but then I wouldn't go in the first place.
Do what is right for you.
And hugs. You are a special person and I mourn that you are so far away from me.

Stephen Hayes said...

Socrates is said to have expressed the thought that the unexamined life is not worth living, and I agree--to a point. You've examined this question of Atheism for as long as I've been reading your blog and I have a question: Why do you care so much about what others think about your atheism? You say that you don't want to be judged solely by it, but this seems to be a major preoccupation. Maybe I'm just too shallow to understand your dilemma.

kj said...

I can truly say you or anyone being an atheist means nothing negative to me and would not be a factor in whether I liked or connected with a person.

FYI I haven't read this whole post thoughtfully so I may well be back. I'm leaving this comment because I think most of the people in my life feel the same way and surely there must be some church (community) where it's a non- issue .

Yes? No?

Love kj

lotta joy said...

Last night we were invited to "social hour" which meant "drink abundantly and stay until your head falls off". After everyone avowed to their particular religions being better than everyone else's, there followed rather rank jokes about Ferguson and racial humor. More drinks were passed around (I don't drink) before the conversation went to politics, football, then back to religion.

My husband is very kind, civil, and a gentleman, and everyone commented on how much he is admired for those qualities.

He told no jokes, spoke not of politics, and gave a few opinions on football while I smiled - holding my Pepsi and knowing that after all I had heard, if I had mentioned being an athiest, all hell would have broken loose.

It's funny when you think about it, and keeps me smiling.

(and Oprah is too full of herself).

Paula Kaye said...

Snow, I have been reading your blog for awhile now. I am always happy when you come to my blog and leave comments. We usually end up having a back and forth dialogue and that is what I most like about blogging. However, the one thing I just don't understand is Why, if you are a died-in-the-wool, for sure, Atheist do you continue going to churches that are mostly established for those who believe in God? Are you trying to make sure that you DON'T believe? Or do you want to try to makes those who DO believe see how crazy they are to believe? You seem to have quite a bit of discomfort at these places of worship, yet you continue to go. I have a very, very good friend who also does not believe in God. She often chastises me for falling for the "fairy tales" and tells me that she cannot believe that I am as intelligent of a person as I am and still believe all that I read in the Bible. We don't try to change each other. We accept each other for what we are. I would never invite her to attend church with me. And if I did, I am more than positive that she would decline. So I am just interested in knowing why you continue to seek out churches who believe in God? Maybe you have written about it before I started reading your blog. Or could it be possible that you are just searching for SOMETHING to believe in?

Linda said...

When I was a very young minister's wife, I heard something that I repeat often. When were discussing gossip, an elderly woman (I am elderly now lol) said that they were not gossiping, it was just "Christian concern.) I always liked that. I think that the spirit of the talk makes it either gossip or Christian concern.

I really hate it when people say that the atheists are behind abortion rights, doing all the raping, will want to undermine things they hold dear--prayer, marital fidelity, etc. These people think all evil comes from atheists. Yet, when I point out that Christians are guilty of all the evil that they speak about, they only say, "yes, that is true, but atheists are the worst."

I don't do lots of things--steal, commit adultery, speed, beat people, lie or a myriad of other despicable behaviors. But, being a Christian or atheist has no bearing on things I will or will not do. In other words, I am not worrying about punishment from above. I am doing what I feel is good and right for me, family, or society because I am looking for a reward in an afterlife.

Snowbrush said...

FIRST, I DID NOT PUT THIS NUMERAL VERIFICATION BOX INTO MY COMMENT SECTION, AND WILL BE TRYING TO GET RID OF IT WHEN I HAVE THE TIME.

"Your need for acceptance and your integrity and honesty seem to clash far too often.”

If I had an inordinate need for acceptance, I wouldn’t encourage people to express disagreement with me. On the other hand, I recognize that I can’t continue going to this church if they freeze me out, which is what I’ve gotten a taste of regarding my blog.

"You are a special person and I mourn that you are so far away from me.”

Thank you.

"Why do you care so much about what others think about your atheism?”

Please read what I just wrote in this same comment pane. In general, I rather enjoy telling people I’m an atheist, and I don’t care a great deal what they think, yet I only tell them if it’s appropriate given the context of the conversation. That is, I don’t go out of my way to inform people, but I don’t hesitate either without good reason. For instance, I never told George because it would have hurt him, and his stroke had make it impossible for him to express his feelings. However, I told another neighbor because she was talking about her church, which happened to be the same denomination that I grew up in. She later asked me how I became an atheist, and she listened intently while I told her. She didn’t ask questions, and I have no idea what she thought, but she listened. In my own limited way, I like putting a face to atheism because so many people don’t even know any atheists, any open atheists anyway.

"You say that you don't want to be judged solely by it, but this seems to be a major preoccupation.”

Well, I AM writing about church, a place where belief IS a major preoccupation in one way or another. Think of me as like a man who’s partially black but looks all white and for some reason that no one else understands and that he himself is a little vague about, joins the Klan. Would it not bring up the issue of race for him, and even put a magnifying glass upon his feelings about himself as a person of black blood? Would he not forever be painstakingly trying to find the best way to present himself to these people with whom he had chosen to associate?

"I can truly say you or anyone being an atheist means nothing negative to me and would not be a factor in whether I liked or connected with a person.”

Some people are just naturally attracted to differences. As a boy in Mississippi during the 1960s, I was greatly interested in both the Klan and the Freedom Riders. When I read about WWII, I wanted to know both Nazis and Jews. As a boy, I was intensely curious about Communists, probably being the only kid in Mississippi who sent a fan letter to Radio Havana. Now that I’m a great deal older, it’s impossible for me to be so non-judgmentally curious about opposing groups because I am better able to understand what they represent, whereas as a boy, I was more attracted to their romantic images. I’m not saying anything about you, just writing what came up for me upon reading what you had written, which is the same thing that I did with this post.

Snowbrush said...

"surely there must be some church (community) where it's a non- issue”

Atheism wouldn’t be a negative among Unitarians, and in some congregations, it would be a positive. I live near the only Unitarian Church in town. If only it didn’t bore me so.

"My husband is very kind, civil, and a gentleman, and everyone commented on how much he is admired for those qualities.”

So how does it work for him to associate with mean-spirited people who become even more mean-spirited when they’re drinking?

"I smiled - holding my Pepsi and knowing that after all I had heard, if I had mentioned being an athiest, all hell would have broken loose.

If not for wanting to protect Joe, would you have told them?

"Oprah is too full of herself”

I find her anti-intellectualism to be an embarrassment and am confounded by her popularity. She’s a fellow Mississippian, by the way.

"Why, if you are a died-in-the-wool, for sure, Atheist do you continue going to churches that are mostly established for those who believe in God?”

I’ve written pretty steadily about this since I started going to Resurrection, either in July or August, and nothing comes to mind to add at the moment.

"She often chastises me for falling for the "fairy tales" and tells me that she cannot believe that I am as intelligent of a person as I am and still believe all that I read in the Bible.”

If she accepts you as you are, why does she treat you with disrespect? As I see it, she’s not trying to understand you; she’s just dumping on you. I also doubt that she’s even portraying your beliefs accurately.

"Or could it be possible that you are just searching for SOMETHING to believe in?”

I think it has more to do with being a part of a loving community, the existence of which is a constant (unlike nearly every other community I’ve been a part of), and which takes up subjects that interest me. Then, of course, there’s the liturgy, which, along with its liberalism, is why I’m attracted to the Episcopal Church. Any “SOMETHING” that I might find to believe in would come from these things rather than a belief in heaven, prayer, divine providence, etc.

"when I point out that Christians are guilty of all the evil that they speak about, they only say, "yes, that is true, but atheists are the worst.’"

It would be considered bad manners to ask for proof, no doubt, since they would have none to offer and couldn’t even find any to offer. People never think you for challenging their prejudices.

lotta joy said...

"My husband is very kind, civil, and a gentleman, and everyone commented on how much he is admired for those qualities.”

So how does it work for him to associate with mean-spirited people who become even more mean-spirited when they’re drinking?

He's someone I admire greatly because he CAN be in the midst of such and still retain this sense of dignity that the others find intriguing. The oddest thing is that they are becoming more attracted to his demeanor as their admiration confounds them. It seems the very fact he can remain true to himself is causing the others to become less 'robust' in voicing their opinions.

"I smiled - holding my Pepsi and knowing that after all I had heard, if I had mentioned being an athiest, all hell would have broken loose.

If not for wanting to protect Joe, would you have told them?

Nah. I don't feel the need to explain myself or my beliefs any more than I'd feel it necessary to discuss other things of a personal nature. (YOU taught me that) I'm not looking for approval or controversy. Which is pretty much a reflection of how Joe manages to be "of" the group (Board members, of which he is one) but not "in" the group.

PhilipH said...

I always avoid discussing religion and politics when either topic crops up - which is seldom as my socialising diminishes as I age.

Blog conversations are different perhaps and on your blog Snowy it is something I can, and do, have a say.

In general conversation I honestly see little point in voicing opinions on politics or religion as I know virtually zilch about politics and religion is just fantasy, and one cannot say anything factual about a fantasy.

My sis-in-law, a spinster of one month older than I, is a Baptist, a Billy Graham born again woman who spent many years in Kobe, Japan, trying to persuade Shintoists, Buddhists any other 'ists' to adopt Christianity - and probably failing for 99 per cent of the time. She still 'keeps me in her prayers' and suchlike when she calls or writes. Absolutely no point in my discussing religion with such a died-in-the-wool believer. No point at all.
On the other hand I have a recently discovered 'great niece', Louise H, who told me a week ago that she was now feeling a lot happier after joining Islam. She said she hesitated to tell me this because Muslims etc., are not liked by most Christian (or any other religion). I said I was so happy for her that she was feeling a lot happier in herself. She is only 22 and a beautiful young lady - and she's Asian looking. Her white Mum obviously fell for a non-white man.

I keep in touch via the web with Louise, never met her in person. But I will discuss her new religion with pleasure because she seems to need reassurance. I think this is worthwhile because her new belief makes her happy, and that's worth everything.

Snowbrush said...

"It seems the very fact he can remain true to himself is causing the others to become less 'robust' in voicing their opinions.”

I can imagine that, but it seems to me that he’s associating with people who are beneath his level of maturity. I often feel that way about myself, but I tend to not stay around. You might say that I don’t suffer fools gladly, whereas he appears to do just that. Sometimes I wish I could (were more open, as it were, to seeing the good in people), but I don’t make much effort. Maybe he’s just one of these people who loves the whole world.

"don't feel the need to explain myself or my beliefs any more than I'd feel it necessary to discuss other things of a personal nature. (YOU taught me that)"

I have mixed feelings about it. Part of the reason that it was so easy for so many years to discriminate against gay people was that they kept their gayness a secret. Now, they’re even open about it on Jeopardy! I think the same is true of atheism. If all atheists were open about being atheists, theists would be forced to see that we’re not two-headed monsters who, as Linda pointed out, go through life committing crimes. Yet, I’m hardly one of those atheists who wear atheistic t-shirts and puts atheistic bumper stickers on their cars. For one thing, I don’t have the guts, and for another, I think it’s too easy for theists to dismiss such people as fanatics. Actually, I do too, because I see them as the equivalent of those Christians who walk around with six inch crosses hanging from their necks. Still, I usually make no particular effort to hide my atheism, and even when I do try to be less than forthcoming about it for what I think is an intelligent reason (as at this church), I end up feeling that I’m being unfaithful to that which I think is the truth—that there is no supernatural deity. I believe that it’s a matter of integrity that I not, by keeping silent, allow people to believe I’m what I’m other than what I am, unless, of course, I have a damn good reason for doing so, as I did with George, and as I thought I did with this church. I had the notion that I would let it out by bits and pieces, but I find that I’m resenting that because by doing it, I’m implying that I have this shameful secret that I can only share with those who know me well.

Snowbrush said...

"I'm not looking for approval or controversy. Which is pretty much a reflection of how Joe manages to be "of" the group (Board members, of which he is one) but not "in" the group.”

I don’t know what to think. Joe’s way works for Joe, and it seems to have a salutary effect on others, but I couldn’t do it. Some people can keep their shut and others can’t, and I’m among the last group. I’m not an “in your face” kind of person, but I’m definitely out there, and I definitely turn a lot of people off by being that way.

"on your blog Snowy it is something I can, and do, have a say.”

And a valuable say it is, too.

“In general conversation I honestly see little point in voicing opinions on politics or religion as I know virtually zilch about politics and religion is just fantasy, and one cannot say anything factual about a fantasy.”

I, too, am hesitant to talk politics because of my ignorance. I do keep up with the news, and I do listen to lengthy political discussions on public radio, but I always feel that I would need to do a lot more to have an intelligent opinion about the particulars of what’s going on. As for religion, I can talk about it intelligently, and as for saying factual things about fantasies, I guess I don’t quite follow you as it is very much so possible to combat fantasies with factual statements. Of course, with someone like your sister-in-law, it would probably make no difference, so it’s always a matter of a person choosing his or her battles. As for myself, I honestly enjoy talking about religion as long as the other person is receptive. Of course, I try to stay receptive too, but the truth is that I almost never hear anything that I haven’t already considered.

lotta joy said...

Ah! A genuine discussion is happening here! Haven't seen that in AGES! But you've got me dissecting the differences.

Joe can hold his own, while the others are trying to BE what they think is manly: the equivalent of smoking a cigarette to be part of their peerage. Joe, by definition, is "his own man" and steadfast.

I, like Joe, am fully grounded in my beliefs and feel no need to convince anyone that I am right. I am. And it's not up for debate. In my heart, knowing they are wrong is not going to change their opinion, and I'm not invested in trying.

I end up feeling that I’m being unfaithful to that which I think is the truth—that there is no supernatural deity.

The trick word here is "think". Before, (unless I am wrong) you were more inclined to say "believe".

(I'm not challenging you) but how can you feel unfaithful to what you know is correct? Ease up on the expectations you place upon yourself.

There is not necessary to debate absolute truth, and to attempt it is actually bringing it down to something DEBATABLE.

Die hard christians were brought up to debate, due to the fact someone else wrote what they are supposed to defend, and even the words they were to use for such an occasion: By rote.

I think you're letting "feelings" dictate what you "think" you should be doing and "should" creates slippery slopes and needless distress.

I hate to take up all your comment section with things others might have no interest in, and you can always contact me via email.

Just know that I love you and have for many years. I have followed so many changes in your posts and thoughts. I'm not one to challenge what you believe, think, or feel. And I think I might be coming off like I'm trying to.

If I am, I'm doing a poor job of just stating MY thoughts. Not change YOURS.

Strayer said...

You are going to a church, and yet you are an atheist and you don't think people will talk? I barely believe you are an atheist anymore since you're often off to try another church. Are you hoping to find an argument in favor of Christianity you can believe? Otherwise, I would think maybe you should leave the church people alone. It's still to me the strangest thing, that you want to go to church and be accepted at church as an atheist.

Snowbrush said...

"The trick word here is "think". Before, (unless I am wrong) you were more inclined to say "believe.'"

I would draw no distinction between the two, although I think religious people often use "believe" instead of "think" as if belief is somehow on a loftier level.

"how can you feel unfaithful to what you know is correct?"

By keeping quiet about it when doing so would lead people to perceive me as other than what I am.

"Ease up on the expectations you place upon yourself."

They're reasonable expectations, I believe/think.

"There is not necessary to debate absolute truth, and to attempt it is actually bringing it down to something DEBATABLE."

What on earth is absolute truth?

"Die hard christians were brought up to debate"

I have almost never met such a person. Of course, it could be that I intimidate them, not because I'm a scary character but because I'm not a confused 16 year old who can't hold his own in an argument. It could also be that they rightly view me as a waste of their time.

Strayer, I might be wrong, of course, but is something bothering you other than me going to church?

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

You'll stay if you get something out of it. If not, you'll leave.

I've had friends that are atheists, agnostic and preachers. I don't judge people. It's not my place. Do what makes you happy and as long as you aren't hurting anyone else, who cares?? Don't preach to me and I won't preach to you... And I'll bet I'm a lot happier and folks who try to control the world.

Snowbrush said...

"I hate to take up all your comment section with things others might have no interest in, and you can always contact me via email.”

Sis, I wish you wouldn’t worry about this. I have no problem with long comments, and I really like to know what my thoughts bring up for others.

"It's still to me the strangest thing, that you want to go to church and be accepted at church as an atheist.”

I can understand that, but I have written an awful lot about it over many months, so for you to imply that you are as clueless as if you had just walked into this blog doesn’t encourage me to continue trying. I think that, more than most, I present myself on my blog—and in my life--in a way that is open to condemnation. It’s strange to me that people emphasize the importance of being oneself, but when they see me being myself, they say I’m only looking for approval. Well, yes, we all seek approval, but to seek it by presenting ourselves falsely is one thing, and to seek it by presenting ourselves as we are is quite another if only because it so seldom works. Unlike most people, I’m pretty open, and this sometimes angers people. They think they should understand me, and if they don’t understand me, they assume there’s something wrong with me, and I need to either change or justify myself to their satisfaction. I actually try to do the latter (it benefits me to do this), but I need something back, some specific question, not just a general condemnation.

"I'll bet I'm a lot happier and folks who try to control the world."

No doubt, but i don't see how you can pull it off. When the world is so fucked in so many way, I don't know you can be okay within yourself about it being that way. For instance, religion brings some good into the world, but it also cuts people's heads off, figuratively if not literally. I feel that I HAVE to fight against that, that I would be letting myself down if I didn't fight against that. I don't do enough, it's true, but I do something.