Jan 10, 2011

Timidity in fear of reprisal

I haven’t written much on here thus far about the big G, mostly because I went through my big non-theistic binge some two or three years ago. Had I been writing then I surely would have been overflowing with thoughts on the matter, but as it has since become more-or-less “settled” for me I don’t often find topics to discuss. I’m also not too keen personally on ranting about how there is no god.

As a libertarian (something I have mentioned a few times on here now), I’m much more of a “live and let live” kind of guy, and as such I don’t really desire to trample on other people’s faith. If you ask me about it, I’ll tell you honestly: I don’t buy it and I think it’s horseshit. But then, nobody asks me. Maybe that’s for the best, as I’d rather like to avoid the inevitable consequences that would cause.

But that’s what brings me to the table today: atheist cowardice.

jesusbillboardI live in the South. Here it isn’t uncommon to see billboards sporting phrases like “I love you, I love you, I love you… –God” or the infamous Jesus street-sign-themed one (seen at right). Down here there are churches everywhere, everyone says “Merry Christmas”, and liquor isn’t sold on Sundays. We are truly the Bible Belt.

Here it is a safe assumption that the other human being you are addressing is Christian, so I’ve long since stopped getting annoyed much by it. I am not rude nor am I confrontational. Nevertheless, I don’t parrot it back. I always reply courteously but… distinctly secular. You’ll not find any “God Bless” signatures or “Thank the Lord!” from me.

I entertain others frequently without giving it away. I’m like a ninja sneaking around the congregation. At work I hear talk of church socials, bible study groups, Wednesday nights, Sunday worship, Easter, Christmas, so-and-so from my church did this or that. Lucky for me, I’ve never been asked point blank. I’ve resolved to answer questions posed to me honestly, but even so I am careful not to divulge unsolicited.

But even so I am somewhat thankful that so far nobody has actually asked me any of the following:

  • Where do you go to church?
  • Who’s your pastor?
  • Do you go on Wednesdays too or just Sundays?

It isn’t like these questions never get asked at all; on the contrary, I’ve heard it asked of other co-workers by other co-workers in casual conversation. Of course, we’re all Christian friends here, so no offense was taken nor any scene made and the question was answered easily and comfortably.

I’m just lucky it hasn’t been directed at me.

Why? Any normal atheist can tell you. The militant and abrasive ones already have NOGOD license plates and make a point to be insufferable, even to us. But most atheists aren’t like that. We love our families and friends and jobs and don’t want to see it all fall apart, even slightly, because we happen to be a Hell-bound unbelieving sinner.

We know that should we be “outted” that there is no telling what might happen. It probably wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would probably mean ostracizing. Coworkers would probably associate with you less… maybe they won’t invite you to lunch as often or at all, maybe they won’t stop by your desk for chit-chat, or maybe they’ll start being cold and different to you.

It is a very real fear for a lot of us, and one that we atheists perhaps agonize over a lot I think. Are we ashamed? I don’t think so; at least, I’m not. Are we liars to the world if we don’t make sure to correct others’ assumptions? Everyone at work assumes I’m Christian, too, even though I’m not. It is because it is a safe assumption that they do not ask or verify. I know this, yet even so I don’t go out of my way to say “Excuse me, before we go any further, you need to know that I’m not actually Christian. Okay, so tell me about that game Saturday? Who won?”

Why make your life difficult just to eschew the stereotypes? Is it noble? Is it foolish? Neither? I freely admit I am somewhat of a coward, but I also like to have a smooth conflict-free life, if I can help it. A life of good times is far more preferable to me. I don’t see it is as compromising on my principles or opinions.

But I must live with the nagging fear that at any moment, any day now, I could be asked something directly and I’ll have to let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

What is perhaps a bit ironic is that I’m not going out of my way to be covert about my position. I am not flashy about it, but it isn’t a secret. Just as I will answer honestly if asked I also have little hints here and there, sometimes overtly, yet the blinders of life prevent others from noticing I guess. Or saying anything about it, maybe. In particular, my car is free of bumper stickers and other such crap save for two items that I have added, both rather small. One is a scarlet letter and the other is a Darwin fish. Ballsy, I know!

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