Saturday, June 14, 2014

Experiences of An Atheist - From Bad to Bitter

Hi everyone, it's been over a month since I made my last post, and I'm still pretty much on hiatus, but something happened to me today, and I wanted to talk about it with you all. This is a bit more personal and not much to do with the stream of debate posts I've made in the past, so for those of you who prefer that kind of work, I apologize to break away from it, but this really needs to be said.

I've dealt with rejection for my views for many years. I was born and raised in a Protestant family, although my dad was much more accepting of alternate viewpoints than my mother was, and that's what it was. There was a church right down the street. That's how it had to be.

Probably since I was around 14, I was largely forced to hide the fact that I was an atheist. Most people didn't accept it -- if I even tried to question "God" in front of my mother, I was met with anger, hostility, and threat. Don't question the word of God, she told me, or you know what'll happen.

Yeah, I knew what would happen: nothing. The concept of "Hell" had been shoved into my brain since I was in elementary school, and I wasn't buying it. Of course, people who sin go to Hell. That's why my grandmother went to Hell: because she lied to me on her death bed when I was 11 and told me she was going to be okay, even though she was terminally ill with colon cancer. That's why my friend Maria went to Hell: because she jumped in front of a car after being told by her foster mother that she was a burden, a waste of space, and had no hope of getting by after she turned 18. That's why our neighbor was going to Hell: because she had secretly married another man while living with her abusive boyfriend, because when she tried just breaking up and running away, he strangled her.

Lies, suicide, adultery: they're all sins according to God. If he were such a loving being, then why were such things deserving of an eternity of suffering? Burn in Hell for all of eternity for something that happened over the course of two seconds, two minutes, or two years. Incredible. I wasn't buying it. I had learned about the things that had been sanctioned by God in the Bible. Question God, you go to Hell. Do anything he tells you not to do, you go to Hell, unless you beg for forgiveness.

I had also read 1984.

But I could never talk about any of this. Even in school, the moment I brought up atheism, there were groans and jeers. "You think we came from fucking monkeys? That's so stupid."

For a little while, I was convinced I was stupid. Even though my grades were exceptional, and even though I had talents beyond what I ever thought I could have, if there were so many people who couldn't see the world the way I saw it, maybe I was stupid. There was no way that so many people could be wrong, right?

Throughout my high school years, I turned to the internet, and I turned to the library. I found textbooks on evolution, on philosophy, and on thermodynamics. I found YouTube videos of people who were addressing all of the questions and comments I had been faced with. I learned of an entire community of people who had seen and heard it all, and had arguments prepared. They made it look so easy, and they made it sound so clear. I wasn't stupid, I was just in the minority. I studied, I learned, and I told myself that if nobody could listen to the things I was saying, well, that speaks more to their beliefs than my own.

I lived in the United States at the time. When I left for university I had essentially moved out of the USA, but only officially did so for my second year. It had become much easier, because in Canada, there are three times the number of people who understand what I'm saying, compared to the USA. There was more tolerance, more acceptance, and more open discussion about the issues. I felt more at home.

Of course, there have been moments. One day after classes, I wandered around the Toronto area with my "Darwin" shirt on (from JaclynGlenn's clothing line), and an elderly woman approached me. She tapped me on the shoulder and asked to see my shirt very kindly and softly, so I pinched it by the corners and pulled it out so the decal was unwrinkled and clearly visible. She scanned it with her eyes, reading each letter individually before realizing what it said, and then she sighed frustratingly.

"It's a shame that such a beautiful face was wasted on such a disgusting, God-forsaken soul."

Without another word, that woman who seemed so sweet and genuinely curious turned into an aggressor. I was disgusting? God-forsaken? Just for wearing a shirt alluding to an established scientific fact? It was just one of those things, I guess. Yet, it got to me somewhere. The experience was much more personal, and the language was very direct. It didn't seem right to me that I could be judged as having a disgusting "soul" (in other words, the essence of my being was an abomination), just for wearing a shirt that said "Darwin" on it. It wasn't enough to break me though. As I had reminded myself a few times before: after more time has gone by, it's harder to challenge someone's views. I've had to deal with many situations such as these, but it seemed as time went on, the objections I received just got worse and more personal.

I've spoken at seminars about atheism, about evolution (mostly common misconceptions), and about philosophy - seminars that were open to the general public on campus. Once, after finishing, I had someone say to the audience: "See, this is why women need to shut the fuck up, because they sound so damn stupid."

I went to Quebec once with another one of my atheist shirts on, and had someone tell me (roughly translated): "Oh, so you think you evolved from that Somali fuck down the street." Now, it had not only been bigoted towards atheism, but plainly racist. Who they were referring to was a grocery store clerk, who had immigrated from Somalia, who was operating on the corner of that block. I decided to buy my lunch from him that day, and I sat in the store and talked to him about his experiences.

And on top of it all, I've received rape threats, death threats, and so much more for the things I've put online. I never share it because it's just not worth it, and I try to keep the discussion as legitimate as possible on my blog, but it all happens.

But today, it was the worst I had ever experienced.

I live in a house that's fairly distant from any organized neighborhood, only 4 or 5 other houses in the near vicinity. I decided to visit my friend Vanessa, who lives a few miles away from me. She picked me up and drove me back to her neighborhood, and we took a walk. Of course, I had been wearing my "Fiction" shirt, and someone took notice. They recognized me, probably from having been in the neighborhood before, and called out my name.

"You think you've got any right coming around here and telling people what they believe isn't true? You think you're so much better than everyone else? Fucking bitch."

At this point, I was a bit startled, but was trying to remain calm, while Vanessa was trying to defend me. "She's allowed to think and say what she wants," she yelled at him, "and what the fuck is your problem judging her because of a shirt?" It's at this point I should mention that Vanessa is a theist, although she doesn't subscribe to a specific religion.

"Not around here she can't do that. I've got an idea, how about she takes her shirt off- no, both of you take your shirts off, and you shut the fuck up and show everyone the only thing you're good for."

Something my friends know about me is that when someone is insulting me, or a friend, I don't take too kindly to it. I'm not a bold person, but if I'm threatened like that, I don't shut up. Of course, when all logical discourse is beyond reach, I resort to witty comebacks.

"Or, you can pull down your pants and show everyone what you're not good for," I snapped back at him, Vanessa giving me a high five with an enthusiastic "fuck yeah." So, what does our guest do?

He pulls a knife on me.

"Yeah, you'd like to see what I'm good at, wouldn't you?"

This thing is pressed against my throat, and Vanessa is backing away to make sure she stays safe. Of course, I didn't blame her -- nobody should ever have to deal with a situation like that if there's a chance to keep themselves out of harm's way. And she knew I could take care of myself. Something else that my friends know about me: I'm a 1st degree black belt, and I've handled a street fight before. And I'm always armed.

So of course, I'm thinking this guy is just some kind of stupid. Even if I weren't prepared, what did he honestly think was going to happen? Was it worth getting arrested to kill me? No matter what, it was gonna end badly for him.

So, saving the drama, the situation quickly turned to the point where I was standing at a safe distance away from this guy, unharmed, with my knife out as well, ready to take any sudden movements. The cops come because somebody saw the incident and reported it, all 3 of us get taken in, and I have to sit at the station until my uncle can come get me. Luckily, I had two witnesses attesting to the fact that I was attacked, and my weapon was legal. The whole incident took about 4 hours to resolve, and then another hour before my uncle could come get me.

So... today I had a knife pulled on me, implied threat of rape/murder, and a pointlessly long amount of time with the police. For what?

For being an atheist.

Not even -- for wearing a shirt.

I don't deal with this stuff every day. I can count these incidents on my fingers, and I wear these shirts very frequently. It's really a one in a hundred chance of this happening for me.

Still, am I just unlucky, or is there something to this? I've become indifferent to the verbal assaults and childish insults, and bitter to things beyond that, but today was outrageous, it was serious, and it was horrific. I never felt like I was in any danger, but that's only because I was the one in the situation. If it were any average person, if it were Vanessa, things could have, and probably would have, ended a lot differently.

I'm reaching out to the community: does anyone else have anything like this that they've experienced? I want to know, because this got to me, and if anyone else has had to deal with such real threats, I want them to know that they're not alone.

Thank you very much for reading.

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