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?