I was watching this video today, and it got me thinking about being an atheist in America. I actually don’t notice much (if any) discrimination. I think it’s because of my location — the Pacific Northwest is an ideal place to be an atheist. We’re not at all uncommon around here. A friend of mine once told me that our state has the highest rate of churches per capita, and the lowest attendance. If true, that’s a really interesting factoid.
If you watch that video, there are interviews of mid-west/ Bible belt atheists, and how they get treated by classmates, teachers, neighbors, etc. when they come out as atheists. One woman was kicked out of her apartment by her landlord; one girl was called ‘devil worshipper’ by her teachers and told to leave America; and one family lost all their friends because they spoke out about public school time being used for religious indoctrination. The other day, an Ohio atheist posted a question on reddit about his group of friends being kicked out of a pizza place because one of them was wearing a shirt with the red “A” symbol on it. The waitress asked what it meant, they said they were atheists, and the owner came over and kicked them out — but only after taking payment and refusing to box up the leftover food for them.
These kind of stories always surprise me. Around here, anti-atheist sentiment is highest during the holiday season — this is when I tend to say, “Merry Christmas,” instead of “Happy Holidays” because I don’t really want to be subjected to a rant from a random bystander about the sanctity of Christmas. In recent years, I will admit that when I’ve been subjected to those rants, I’ve responded by just pointing out that Christmas — like Easter and Halloween — is a co-opted celebration of a seasonal shift, often referred to as a pagan celebration, and that celebrations of these holidays pre-date the arrival of christianity.
But most of the year, no-one seems to really care one way or the other. I do sometimes worry that my atheism is affecting my job prospects — there’s no way I would know, since the only way a potential employer could know is by googling my name and then refusing to hire me based on the information available online. I don’t think that’s too likely, though. And to be completely honest, the type of employer who would refuse to hire me based solely on my lack of religious belief is the type of employer whose work environment would likely prove toxic and difficult for me.
Anyway, another thing that linked video up there made me think of was the popular idea that atheists “hate” god. I’ve actually met a misotheist. I found out when we were having a discussion about church — I mentioned in passing that I’d been raised LDS (we saw the missionaries walking through the neighborhood), and she asked if I still went to church. I said no, then hesitated — we’d only known each other a short time, and I wasn’t sure how she’d react, but I decided to bull forward. I figure if someone is going to judge me negatively about something intrinsic to my personality, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. So I said, “Actually, I’m an atheist.”
“Yeah?” She responded. “I don’t believe in god, neither.”
I felt a wash of relief, and smiled — but the smile faded seconds later, as she continued talking, “God ain’t never done nothing to me, so I’m not gonna do nothing for god. He can f*** himself.” She proceeded to rant about god in a way that indicated she did, actually, believe in a higher celestial being — and she really, really hated this being.
I interrupted and said, “No, I don’t believe in god. Like, I’m an atheist — I don’t have anything against god, I just don’t believe there’s sufficient evidence to prove god exists. You sound more like a misotheist, to be honest.”
She just looked at me, her brows drawn slightly together in confusion, and an awkward silence followed. In a chipper voice, I added, “I am anti-religion, though! I think churches and religions are a damaging construct that encourage otherwise kind and decent people to engage in unkind and cruel behaviors, like homophobia, racism, and sexism.”
The conversation limped on for a minute or so more, and then we changed the subject. She is a strange lady. Anyway, that situation clearly highlighted to me that some people honestly believe atheists hate god, and that some uneducated misotheists might believe there is no difference between atheism and hating god. That’s weird to me. You can’t hate something imaginary. I don’t hate the teletubbies or Edward from Twilight. I hate the fact that Twilight was written, I hate the writing “style” (heavy sarcastic quote marks) of Twilight, I hate how all the characters are one dimensional, and I hate that it’s such an obvious LDS religious allegory — but I don’t actually hate Edward what-ever-his name is, because he’s a fictional character. Ditto for Voldemort — evil bastard, scary as all get out, employees dementors (which are basically just walking depression spreaders) — but I don’t walk around hating Voldemort all day because he’s a fictional character.
Tell me one imaginary thing that you actively hate. Like that you spend energy and time on hating — leprechauns, unicorns, centaurs, pegasi, Norse gods, Greek gods, the Chesire cat. Anything? Do you actively hate any of those things? Do you sit around going, “Geez, leprechauns are such dicks. Hiding their gold like the selfish little bastards they are. Why can’t they share the gold? What kind of magic is being selfish?”
No. You don’t. Because they’re fictional characters. And that’s how I respond to god. I don’t hate god. I don’t fear god or love god or anything like that. God is a fictional character, and I respond to that mythology in the same way I respond to any mythology — with a detached interest and enjoyment of studying it.
I do rather hate the way that an imaginary character influences society as a whole, with religious believers fearing/ hating atheists, homosexuals, and other religions — because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. But that’s not god’s fault; that’s the fault of his fans. I wouldn’t blame Marvel if a Comic-con convention got out of hand and supervillians and heroes rioted en masse in the streets. Some people just take the stuff they read a little too seriously.