Thursday, June 28, 2012

Devastation Deepening

If you read my previous post, you'll know that I was concerned at having "outed" my family as atheists to our son's best friend. For the sake of clarity, let's call that friend Armen.

I was right to be worried.

Oh, Armen quite glibly "accepted" our atheism, didn't seem at all fazed. Spent the rest of the night laughing and having a seemingly great time with our boy. But he left before 7 am, claiming that, because it was Father's Day, he wanted to be home early. I knew. The moment I came downstairs to find him gone, I knew. But our boy wasn't concerned, said everything seemed just fine.

Everything wasn't fine. In fact, our boy's "best friend" has completely ditched him. Our boy kept trying to hang with him, and Armen kept offering up glib, smiling lies and BS promises. Things like, "Oh, I can't, I'm grounded today, but maybe tomorrow!" Then, twenty minutes later, we see him down the street, hanging with other kids. "I'll come over later this afternoon." Of course, he doesn't. Instead, he goes across the street to hang with the psychopathic, small-animal-killing kids because he knows our boy isn't allowed in that house. To our son's credit, he kept trying, kept giving Armen the benefit of the doubt. But after a week, even he knew.

I did this. By ADMITTING our atheism, I blasted our son's social life to bits. I try not to blame myself, I try to turn it around--if we were CATHOLIC or JEWISH and received this sort of treatment, the world would rise up and condemn this kid for his blatant bigotry. Sadly, we live in a nation that, according to recent polls, holds CHILD RAPISTS in higher esteem than atheists.


Republicans in this country are more likely to want a Muslim in the White House than an Atheist. Now, I don't have a problem with a Muslim in the White House, but let's be honest--the right has a mighty impressive stiffy against Islam. And yet, even Islam is preferable to atheism in their eyes.

It gets worse--you see, a couple of weeks earlier, our boy spent the night at another friend's house. While there, he was cornered by the friend's mother, who wanted to know what church we go to. Our boy was honest--he said we don't go to any church. That was pretty much the last time that friend and our boy hung out. And just night before last, our boy stayed over at another friend's--a mutual friend of Armen's. Mutual friend cornered our son, demanding to know what religion he is. I suppose it's a tribute to our parenting that our boy can't just "lie on the fly," he doesn't know how to fashion BS effortlessly, so he answered honestly. He said he's an atheist. Mutual friend's younger brother said, "We're atheists, too." Mutual friend became very upset, said that they are NOT atheists!

I fear that friendship is now toast, too. I was already concerned--see, the night before, Armen had hidden at the mutual friend's house, while mutual friend lied to our boy and said he wasn't there. Even though we'd watched him go in and, a few minutes after, sneak back out. And I mean SNEAK--he actually ducked down behind bushes and crawled behind a truck. All to hide from the evil atheists.

I’m not just heartbroken and hurt for our boy. No, I'm also scared. Deeply frightened. Understand that people HURT atheists. They do. Not everywhere--gosh, no, in civilized Western nations, atheists are accepted and make up a sizeable chunk of the population. Canada, England, France, etc.? Loaded with atheists who work, live, love just like everyone else. But not here. No, not in America, the Land of the Free. No, here we are despised. I think it's an intellect thing--as a nation, we're increasingly lacking.

So I'm afraid. What we have here is a social group made up of a ten-year-old violent, foul-mouthed, scary-type liar (dangerous lies like "so-and-so hit me with a bat") who steals and kills small animals; The psychopath's twin brother, who is a pale, weak version of his crazy-assed sibling; a glib, cowardly 13 year-old bigot who lies freely, lacks the courage required for honesty, and spends his time doing the bidding of the psychopathic 10 year-olds, and a 13 year old who, while not taking part in the games, dropped our boy like a hot potato the instant we failed the "what church do you go to" test.

A scary group. A group that, between the violent psychopaths and the suck-up, two-faced true believer, could conceivably decide to do our child harm because of his atheism. Don't tell me I'm being paranoid--look at the news. Kids pouring alcohol on other kids and setting them ablaze. Kids shooting other kids. Kids beating other kids. Hell, there have been cases of kids forcibly sodomizing other kids with sticks.


And these crimes are committed over things as trivial as movie tickets or teenage flirtation gone awry. Imagine what kids might do to an atheist? What they might do to someone who ranks lower on the social totem pole than a CHILD RAPIST.

Know what REALLY sticks in my craw? The idea that these kids think they're better than us, more MORAL than us. The psychopaths? Their mother and Armen's father? Drug buddies from days of old. Armen's father? I only know what he looks like because I've seen his MUG SHOT online. Drugs. Armen's mother? I've seen her mug shot, too--prostitution and drugs. His older sister?  Junkie with mug shots.  His older brother? I've seen HIS mug shot--a junkie on his way to prison for felony burglary.  But WE'RE immoral.

We are clean. Our home is clean. We are kind. We do not lie about our neighbors, we do not lie to our friends. We do not do drugs, we are not given to drunkenness, we do not break the law. We are gentle with animals, and we are caring with other people. Most importantly, we do not discriminate against others based upon their religion. Yet WE are immoral.

I fear for our son. I fear for us. I am afraid that someone will call our landlord and fill him in on our evil ways, and he will, as a result, choose not to extend our lease. I am afraid that we will be the victims of vandalism or worse. Through all of this, I keep coming back to one thing: I should have kept my mouth shut. I can take the pressure, but our boy? Our poor, 14 year-old boy? Maybe for him, it would have been better to be silent and okay than loud, proud, and despised.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sadness Ensues

So, there I was, standing on the front lawn under my stinky pear tree, shooting the breeze with the nosy but nice enough neighbor, when it happened.

We were discussing universal health care-type schemes, and I related the story of Harvey, a college acquaintance and staunch Republican who had once told me, in the heat of debate, that poor people who cannot afford health care "deserve to die." Of course, Harvey's employer provided his health care. Harvey's parents scraped to pay his tuition. Unlike little ol' me, who was working two jobs and never had so much as a dime of parental tuition assistance. I also didn't have insurance. A year or so later, I saw Harvey again. His circumstances had changed just a bit--you see, he'd lost his job, lost his insurance, and was thinking of heading down to the local low-income clinic to treat his nasty case of bronchitis. At this point in the story, my neighbor nodded vigorously and said, "Yep, it's just like those damned dirty atheists! They're such cowards, think they can live life like it's a party, denying GAWD'S law, and then cry for forgiveness on their death beds! NO FORGIVENESS! NO! It's too damned late! Shoulda thought of that BEFORE, now shouldn't you have?"

That was my moment, you know? That was the moment when I could have said--I SHOULD have said--"Sonya, I'm an atheist. So is my husband, so is my son." But I didn't. I saw the hardness in her eyes, the angry, hateful curl of her lip, and I kept my mouth shut.

I'm not proud. Good thing I'm not Christian or Muslim, 'cause I'd have failed at that whole "martyrdom" thing. In that split second, I decided that keeping the peace with an otherwise friendly neighbor was more important than standing up for myself and those like me. It's not the first time I've backed down, or, more accurately, I've failed to rise up. Sadly, it likely won't be the last. You see, only fat folks and atheists are still fair game--it's perfectly okay to hate us. Fat I can't hide, but atheism I can. Often I don't. But sometimes I do. I feel helpless to do anything else.

Religious folks don't think atheists understand persecution. They don't think we "get" what it's like to be punished for an ideology. Which is hilarious, really, because they're the ones doing it, all the while crying that any attempt to keep them from legislating their faith or forcing it into the schools willy-nilly is "discrimination." Gimme a break, you don't know the meaning of the word. You haven't had a President of the United States of America say that he doesn't think YOU can really be an American (thank you George Herbert Walker Bush). You haven't been held in contempt of court for refusing to swear on a holy book you don't embrace (and before you snot off about "stop whining and just do it," ask yourself if you'd put your Christian hand on a Q'uran or your Muslim hand on a Torah to swear an oath). No, our courts aren't SUPPOSED to smack atheists for refusing to swear on Bibles, but it doesn't keep some judges from doing exactly that.

Back when I was in college, I took a Child and Family course from a woman named Brenda. She's dead now, so I could use her entire name, but why? One day, Brenda brought up her very favorite developmental theory: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. For those not familiar, the gist is that there is a hierarchy of moral levels, progressing from self-driven, urge-satisfying processes through morality as a result of fear of punishment/promise of reward, and finally on to moral behaviors borne of a true desire to better the world and serve mankind. That's just a rough summation. Brenda announced to the class that atheists cannot reach the higher "post-conventional/developed conscience/ethical universality" stages because a belief in an all-powerful deity is required.

I was 26 years old, and it was the first time I ever "outed" myself. The funny part? At the time, I didn't "self-identify" as an atheist. I still thought of myself as something of a believer. But her assertion was crap, and I knew it for what it was the moment she spat it out there. My hand shot up and I said, "But Doctor S., if we assume that Kohlberg is correct, then what is religion, if not a lower level of morality, one driven by fear of punishment and promise of reward? I mean, doesn't religion represent the very pinnacle of looking to an ultimate authority for guidance and obeying laws based upon fear of punishment and hope for reward?"

Oh, gosh. See, sometimes college isn't really college when you live in Utah. Sometimes it's more church.

I was immediately called to the carpet, dressed down in front of my classmates, and told just how "disappointing" my PROFESSOR found me. Imagine, if you will, a CHRISTIAN being treated the same way in a class. How many minutes do you think would pass before the first attorney called the school? Not me, though. When Brenda suggested that perhaps the class and I were a "poor fit," I took the cue and dropped the course. I managed to fulfill my minor without any more courses from her, but understand that, until that sad day, she'd been one of my favorite professors, and I had been one of her "pet" students. I'd had half a dozen courses from her before, and always aced them.

I was going to say that my atheism ruined all that, but that's neither fair nor true. My atheism didn't ruin anything. Instead, her nasty, prejudicial ideas about my atheism ruined everything. I wonder, did she grade other non-Christian/non-Mormons unfairly, too? Or was she okay with any deity, so long as there was one?

Anyway, back to my neighbor. I let the moment pass--moments, actually, since she went on and on about those dirty, cowardly atheists. I kept thinking that surely she must see the look on my face, see the shock and the sadness, but I don't think she did. I think she was so caught up in her righteous little whirlwind of hate that she completely missed how hurt I was. The funny thing? I had outed us just the night before to one of my son's friends. The boy (who had seemed a nice kid--more on that later) was trying to describe someone in very negative terms, and one of those was, "and he's an atheist." Without even thinking, I said, "So are we." Of course, now I'm worried about that. What if I've screwed my boy up with his friends? Sure, he needs to learn that people who won't tolerate difference or diversity don't make good friends, but at 14 years old, that's a really painful lesson, and it's one I don't want him to learn the hardest of ways.

Believers often say that atheists are lazy. We're "taking the easy way out." That, without the Bible (or Q'uran, or Torah, or what have you), we can't possibly know right from wrong. But this isn't the easy way out. No, not by a long shot. This is, in fact, the hard way, because we don't have some promised afterlife to make up for the crap that happens here. We don't have some invisible authority to grant us forgiveness when we screw up or do wrong. We don't have that comforting fairy-tale of a life ever-after. No, this is it. This is what we have, and we have only this time to make good or bad of it. We treat people kindly because it's what's good for all the world, not because we're afraid we'll be punished. We do charity work and donate to worthy causes because we want to help humanity, not because we think someone up above might be keeping score.

And Sonya? She will probably never know that I'm an atheist. Maybe I should step up and use myself as a educational tool, but you didn't see her eyes. You didn't hear the disgust in her voice. Maybe I should lay myself out there on the altar of teaching, but I probably won't. I'll likely just keep to myself, and Sonya will, perhaps, wonder why the friendly woman next door suddenly became a bit distant--nice, polite, but no longer looking like a potential close friend. And maybe that means I am, in fact, a coward, though of a different variety. I don't know.