I recently had an experience which reminded me that being an Atheist does not hold you in the neutral category. We are seen instead as ‘the enemy’ and as much as you try to exclude yourself from fanaticism, the very act of exclusion enrages believers who would declare non-belief to be a far more sinister threat than belief in something, even if that something is in direct opposition to their worldview.
Study 1 (at my current place of employment) : A group of my colleagues and I travelling together in a car, in a country foreign to us all. Passenger 1 declares his intent to find a local church to visit over the weekend in order to participate in worship. Passenger 2 thinks this is a brilliant idea and asks to join. Passenger 3 says he would prefer to pray in his room and skip the service as he is not fond of churches which are not his own. Passenger 4 remains quiet (me). Passenger 4 is grilled relentlessly by the other passengers for a preference or a verdict and responds with “I would prefer not to go”. This does not satisfy and eventually someone demands to know “what god do you believe in”, to which I respond “I do not believe in a god”. The atmosphere turns chilly and much commentary is tossed about “oh.. you believe in NOTHING” etc. I did not argue and asked to be excluded from the conversation, which had been my hope all along. The very next day I was excluded from a lunch invitation to which everyone else was invited and face chicken butt faces from this group whenever we are alone together.
Study 2 (at my previous place of employment) : A fellow atheist and I are having a private conversation in the lunch room, during our lunch break. He tells me about an episode of South Park with anti-religious themes and we have a giggle between ourselves about it. I note my interest in viewing the episode. We continue our lunch, aware of a few others in the lunch room, but none of these people were at or even adjacent to our table at the time the conversation took place. The next day I am called into a meeting with my supervisor and told that he had received a complaint that my friend and I were making intolerant and hateful anti-religious comments in the lunch room and that I ought to be more respectful. The very next day a colleague says “the bible teaches us… “ (goes on to give a preachy rant about how we should be patient with clients) in a group business meeting in front of the same supervisor, who does not bat an eye-lid. Aside from me, there was a Jew and a Muslim in the business meeting, it was far from a meeting of Christians only.
Study 3 (about 2 years ago) : My home is burgled by an opportunistic criminal during a power failure. I am distressed to arrive home to find my living room ransacked and many electronics stolen. I call the police. When they arrive to check the scene of the crime, they begin by inspecting my living room and when they get to the well-stocked book shelf, one of them says to the other.. “Look at this book! “God is not Great”. Who would have a book like this?” (pulls it out my bookshelf and shakes it at me). I say nothing. The other policeman says “with that sort of reading material, no wonder certain things get invited into a home”. The first policeman again : “So you think God is not Great hey? Are you a wiccan or something?” “I am an atheist, and you would be impressed by that book if you took the time to read it” says I. They make scoffing noises and leave MY home.
I have so many more examples. How I cannot ever watch the movie or have the conversation of my choosing when I go out with my fundamentalist mother because she has a list the length of her arm of things which offend her (sex, blasphemy, bad language, anything about science, anything that disses Jesus – in her view). She never compromises for me. EVER. Are we just doormats? Everyone else feels more strongly, rages more loudly, pushes more aggressively. If I spend my life stepping out of the way of these people, when will anyone ever learn to step out of my way when it comes to what I find important.