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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9 comments:

  1. So I went with my family to OC for Father's Day and I was telling my brother about your experience, since we were on the topic of social issues, politics and religion (yeah, I know, shitty conversation to have with your brother), and only 3 minutes later, we're stopped by two guys who came from California with a Christian organization to ask people questions about their spiritual beliefs.

    Now, at first the guys just asked us about how far we were in college, where we go, if we like it, 3 words to describe our lives, etc. Then we got into spiritual questions and both of us were thinking "oh boy, here we go," but to our surprise, it turned out to be a pleasant conversation. Albeit I felt bad because the guys were asking me questions that would require me to believe in God and Christ, but they were perfectly okay with me being honest about my views as an atheist.

    Here's something I thought about: these two guys were taking a random sample of people in OC and asking them questions about their spiritual beliefs. They see two guys who look like they're in college and ask them questions. Really, what did they think the chances were of them flipping the coin and getting:

    1: A guy who takes the stance that no divine beings exist, but that we can never know for sure, and then;
    2: A guy who takes the stance that either one or an infinite number of divine beings exist, but that we are not required to accept their existence in order to go to Heaven.

    These views are on incredibly odd points of the spectrum, and both are entirely incompatible with these two guys' beliefs (they were Protestant, but belonged to a non-denominational church), so of course, I'm thinking they're gonna get pissed. What were the chances, right? How often do they encounter that in a place like OC? But it was incredibly cordial, they wanted me to be honest with them about my views, and it was very respectful the entire time.

    I told them your story, and they thought it was outrageous, that it was sickening, and they were sorry that you had such a terrible experience, and that people can't just talk about these things.

    I don't know, Lex. I think you're getting some really bad luck, or maybe you're not presenting yourself well. Even if it were the latter, you're not deserving of that kind of stuff. I don't have an answer for you, and I can't say that my experiences have been anywhere close to yours (except one time when I was in Philly, and when it came out that I was an atheist, one of the guys said "Ooooh you probably shouldn't be here, that's trouble here"). I wish you didn't have to deal with this.

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    1. Oh wow, the coincidence of you running into that the day after this happens to me, and only minutes after talking about it. Pretty ironic. At any rate, I'm glad you were able to have such a conversation, and I'd be curious to know the questions they were asking you and how you responded. Still, I HOPE I'm not coming off badly enough that somebody would want to stab me (that is, I hope it's their fault, not mine), but who knows. I'll ask people to tell me what they think of my attitude. Thanks for commenting Nick. :)

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  2. Never encountered anything quite like this. I've gotten insults online and stuff but never anything in person.

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    1. And that's probably for the best. I'm glad you didn't experience anything like what I did.

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  3. I think this is the first time I read a blog and responded to it but I've never experienced anything like this just one of my friends who is a muslim thinks im crazy because I think aliens visited earth a long time ago and through genetic engineering caused man to skip a few million years of evolution to go from ape to man quicker than what it naturally would take.

    Anyways I myself believe in god but not the way most people do. I believe he is energy and consciousness that is apart of everything and to become close to god I meditate everyday. I used to be a christian, then changed to a gnostic christian and finally now my views of god and reality are very different thanks to spiritual and scientific research I've done in the last 4 years.

    I have mostly very open minded friends but most people arent that way. most people have been stupified by society and their way of thinking has evolved according to society so you should expect ignorant reactions towards yourself if you walk around wearing something that contradicts organized religion the least bit. So I would say dont wear your shirts anymore and if you do make sure you keep training in Martial Arts to protect yourself.

    Since youre a female people will be quicker to attack you than a male so you should really try to go 2nd degree and 3rd degree quickly. I wear similar shirts myself but dont get bothered because of my physical stature but I have been taught some traditional Martial arts as well as boxing so if I am attacked Im ready.

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    1. I've met a few people who hold similar beliefs to you, and while I disagree with them, out of respect I'm not going to start challenging you on them here, hahahaha.

      I've considered not wearing the shirts anymore, but I've spent quite a hefty penny on them in sum total, and I'm not sure what means more to me: absolutely ensuring that this doesn't happen again, or making the statement that such events don't bring me down.

      I'd also continue my martial arts training, but I have to find out whether or not I'd have any obligations after attaining 2nd degree. I know that it qualifies you to be an instructor, but I don't know if there are any actual commitments. If not, then I'm definitely picking it up again.

      Thanks for your input Dack. Feel free to comment any time.

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    2. you're welcome and I wouldn't mind you "challenging" me on my religion at all. I dont get offended by stuff like that, I have zero bricks up my ass. the only thing that offends me is someone in a real life situation disrespecting me.

      Oh and Im pretty sure that if you went 2nd degree you wouldnt have to be a instructor or take on more responsibility's but maybe if your dojo is short handed on instructors and they like you might be asked to instruct or assist in instruction but you definitely dont have to. Anyways Good luck with everything

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    3. Hahaha well I'm glad you're comfortable in that. Thank you, and thanks for the information. Looks like I'm going back to Okinawa Kenpo.

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  4. Whimsical AscentJuly 8, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    I had to read through this again just to make sure I had everything down to the teeth, and I did. My word, I can't even begin to imagine how you could reflect on, let alone immediately handle a situation like this so well. I know you said it got to you, but it seems that you're hardly even affected by it. In fact, I'd say this probably only strengthened you. You know you'll have to deal with this sort of thing for the fact that you're an atheist, and you're prepared to do it again. Of course, I've never had to deal with such a thing, but I can see it in your attitude. You've come to terms with this, and you're ready to go through it again. I really do respect that, and you. I hope you'll come out of hiatus soon and start sharing your views on religious matters in the same detail you do with your more science-related posts. I look forward to it.

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