It seems with Easter, and the improvement of weather from freezing to tolerable, that there is an uptick in religious pursuits. As if after getting through the last rather heavy Christmas and Easter seasons, the rekindling of faith hits a critical mass and a bunch of stupid just starts flowing out of religious mouths with increased zeal. I tried to see if any research has popped up on what time of year is also more common for atheists to come out of their closets and put a stop to the social pressures of religious dogma. I couldn't find anything at all. I highly doubt it's coincidence that in my own wanderings around the various atheist websites and forums that I peruse, I have seen a lot of recent activity of those who are dealing with increased pressure to convert, increased insistence to fall in line with family, and thoughts of escape. All of this right after the last six months of holidays is hardly a coincidence in my book either. So, we'll just call it a hunch that this time of year, many of us reach a burn out point.
In all honesty, this is the time of year I go meticulously through my various social media news feeds and stop following certain friends. It's a smart way to help me avoid "Good news" burn out. In fact, I jokingly refer to it as my safety plan. It protects my acquaintances from my own "tired of Jesus" attitude being shot their way after reading the same chain letter about divine glory three times a day for a month after Resurrection Day.
If you haven't guessed, having a safety plan is the topic du jour. Often we read how to shut down unsolicited religious recruiting, or how to protect ourselves from discrimination in the work place. This is only a small part of the social blending many of us have to do in order to live in our communities though. At some point, many of us can't pretend anymore. We feel disgusted with ourselves for hiding, and are tired of having to bask in holy celebrations. We're leopards that can't change our spots, and like any other species, we can't be our best when we can't even be in an environment that will allow us to survive and flourish. But revelation means consequences, and for some, their very freedom is at stake.
Recently, I became acquaintances with a young college age woman. She lives at home, mom pays for college, and she came out as an atheist not too long ago. She couldn't take the mandatory belief that was being required of her anymore. Her mother didn't take the revelation very well at all, and the situation at home has degraded to communication being restricted, and even talk of the daughter being possessed by demons has started floating amongst the family.
This is a very serious threat to the young woman's human rights being violated, and her mother holds all the cards to her current state of living. We're talking college financing, room and board, and so much more. This is turning into an extortion scenario. Fortunately, this college student planned ahead a little bit by making others in our community aware of her predicament, and actively sought advice on how to deal with it all, as well as trying to understand what resources are available to her if she were to be on the street or unable to leave.
Another online contact of mine in Nebraska had an intervention put together by his uncle and the church he was required to attend. He is twenty-four years old, living with his uncle while he finishes school. He didn't see the harm in pretending until school was completed, but his relative figured out he was an atheist, and took action. No less than twenty church members showed up at the relative's home that day, convinced there was a terrible evil at work in this man's life. They wouldn't let him leave! Instead, they made him sit there for hours, being prayed upon until they thought they'd convinced him he needed God. As soon as the parishioners left, this kid left as quick as he could, happy to couch surf with friends until he could arrange campus housing.
Both these examples illustrate the need for safety plans. Especially if you are covert about your disbelief, and kind of have a good idea your lack of faith could cause a huge fluster within family or church communities. The reality is many believers think they own a monopoly on keeping their flock in the pasture. Lawmakers and pastors alike have skewed their understanding of religious freedom to include having little consequence to worry about if too forceful in their practice of faith.
"Oh, they didn't mean any real harm by cornering you. Your family just was trying to show concern."
Do not tolerate this kind of thinking from anyone! Here are a few things to do if you are living as an atheist in secret due to fear, or if you decide to come out to an unwelcoming crowd. These are basics, and always see room for improvement depending on your situation.
Buddy Up! Even if only via internet, a larger social group of the same ideology is always a benefit when in a jam and looking for options. Sometimes you need to just become friends with someone local, and they don't have to necessarily be an atheist. There are many moderate Christians out there who absolutely abhor the abuse they are seeing in their faith. Reach out and meet people. Share your story. You might just find a rock to hold on to.
Have a resource list for other human service agencies. This includes domestic abuse hotlines, shelters, and even secular advocacy groups. If you are attending college or school, have your counselor numbers on hand. Here are a few links that can help you out to understand what constitutes actionable abuse, and ways to deal with it or escape.
Do your best to keep a bug out bag somewhere accessible that only you and a trusted person know the location of. A bug out bag is a lightweight emergency bag that you can grab and go with little notice. Include items like food, bank information, prepaid phone minutes, and even documentation of your housing situation. Try to also include in that bag any updated documentation of abuse you've suffered.
Talk with the local police or sheriff in your area about your situation. Just asking questions doesn't mean you automatically have to do anything. Ask them if you happen to be living with family, can they just throw you out? Can you prosecute them if you aren't allowed to leave at will, or are being harassed all night? Is a driver' license enough to prove you legally have a right to stay in the home and not be thrown out? Think about what you might have to face if church members or family call your boss? Can you have the police write a harassment report? Know your rights so you can handle possible situations.
If you are being threatened with an unwanted intervention, exorcism, eviction, job loss, or anything along a menacing line of action, try to get it documented. Even if simply via text messages or emails. Save those voice mails where Aunt Sue says you have to talk to the pastor or you're kicked out of her house. This is evidence for abuse and extortion. Save it all! When you have to deal with Aunt Sue, possibly with the police involved, or in a court setting, you can smash her "good Christian woman" image with her threats and manipulation in black and white.
I really want to say use this option as a last resort, but sometimes, you just can't. If at any point you fear for your safety with family, friends, or church members, Call The Law.
I can't stress this enough. Worse case, the police can at least calm things down, and this can buy you some extra time to search out options to exit. At no point is it acceptable to abuse someone because they do not believe in the same sky fairy as you. You do not give up your personal freedom simply because someone is doing you a favor or service. Never. A little reality check from the authorities will also help reinforce your right to be who you are. Boundaries are tricky, and sometimes a police cruiser pulling up will encourage a bully to back off, even if long enough to let you safely leave on your own terms.
In addition to calling the law, and how law enforcement can calm things down, keeping calm is something you need to focus on. There is only one rational person in the room during a "crisis of faith" scenario, and that's you. As much as it hurts, as much as you are offended, angered, frustrated and just sick of the bullshit, do not lose your control. Any moment where you sink to their emotional lows of "concerned" interventionists, you immediately confirm their neurotic claims and beliefs. Just quietly remove yourself from the situation if possible, or call for help.
In closing, you might not be able to avoid the parallels between escaping religious abuse and domestic abuse. Honestly, there isn't a difference in practice, it's just society doesn't see religiously motivated control measures as abuse. Yet, a husband restraining his wife against her will is abuse. It's a scary double standard, flimsily protected as a religious freedom to some extent. Times are changing though, in that children are dying from simple disease because of faith healing, LGBTQ are being discriminated against in business, and women's rights are being legislated away, and the courts are starting to step up. And the change in thoughts can be seen in the court rooms.
Children that have died thanks to faith healing are now having their parents prosecuted, and civil suits against bigoted business practices are awarding those who were discriminated against. This shows that the definition of abuse is broadening, and religious oppression within Christianity is being seen added in to some cases that are being tried now. And this broadening figures into your safety plan.These ideas for a safety plan involve thinking ahead, understanding what constitutes abuse, and some preparation for the worst case scenarios. Even if you can't use all of the suggestions listed, to utilize just a couple will still aid in your journey to live freely.
We are guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in this country, but sometimes you have to keep fighting for it. I hope some of the tips and resources I listed here will help maybe even spark a few more ideas not mentioned here. I really hope there will be recognition that what some view as acceptable behavior to keep religious members in the spirit actually are abusive control measures, and are not acceptable at all.