This was the question my mother-in-law asked me this past weekend when I described the purity culture bullshit that I refuse to be a part of. I literally gave her three sentences worth and she was immediately like, my church would never do that. Now, my husband has made it clear that his church growing up (and the church they still attend) really didn't do that. He was taught that sex before marriage wasn't great, but it wasn't the end of the world if you did it. Women weren't told their bodies were sin factories and weren't encouraged to dress in shapeless clothing to hide their figures. Then she used the No True Scottsman fallacy to try and say that they weren't really Christians if they believed that. I shut that shit down immediately. They most definitely are Christians, they just happen to be more puritanical than your own belief system. People don't instantly lose their religion status because they believe women should never show their clavicle and you think that's okay. As for whether that church actually did that well, I think there are two factors here that aren't being taken into consideration by either my husband nor my mother-in-law.
Culture. My husband grew up in the rural south. Women are (or are married to) farmers, construction workers, carpenters, and factory workers. Those are 95% of the jobs and what the majority of my husband's family and friends did and do. Even at funerals, I have never seen my female in-laws dressed in anything that I would consider "dressy". It's jeans and cammo and heavy sweaters and boots. I'm not trying to be stereotypical here. Dressing up is putting a skirt on with your cammo shirt, maybe a loose blouse if you are feeling exceptionally girly. This is how they choose to dress. This is what the people around them wear and no one cares until it's a wedding whether people look nice or not. Clothes are economical and you wear boots because you own horses or cows or have to clomp through fields. If this was your average church congregant, you don't need to tell them not to dress provocatively. I'll bet you if girls started showing up to church in short mini skirts with their boobs hanging out, there would be a sermon or two about women and their clothing choices.
Perception. I will bet you that there ARE people who were pressured into acting a certain way and dressing a certain way, because their aforementioned culture and religion told them to. Maybe you didn't see it because it didn't happen to you. Maybe no one said anything to you because you never dressed in a way that attracted those types of comments. Nevermind, that most of the comments directed at me weren't them outright calling me out in front of everyone. It was little things. Telling me to put a shirt on when swimming because my boobs were so big and even though none of the other girls were wearing shirts. It was said quietly, pulling me to the side, shaming me. Or the time I wanted to join the dance team and was told by the leader, with just me and my mother there that because they didn't make sports bras in my size (pre-internet where you could find whatever you needed whenever you needed it) I wouldn't be able to join the team. I was in tears, the lady didn't care until my mom pushed a bit. Then she begrudgingly said that I could join if I wore a gold smock to hide my figure. Crying louder I refused. Why should I be singled out and made to look different? I felt so ashamed. I hated my body so much. It was these little barbs that poked holes in my self-esteem. Not a sermon from the pulpit. And I don't believe for a second that a rural Southern Baptist church didn't do this to people too.
What kind of church did I go to? I went to three different Assemblies of God churches from the ages of 3-17. Then I went to a Vineyard Church for 4 years. Then I attended an "independent" church that was really just a reformed Southern Baptist church with a glossy cover for a few months. I then moved to Boston to an Evangelical Covenant Church (which I loved btw). Upon another move I attended another independent church that was also a Southern Baptist/Evangelical church not in disguise. Finally, I went to a Church of the Nazarene that eventually broke off from the denomination because they didn't agree with the denomination telling the pastor what to preach. So lots of different kinds of churches and I am telling you right now, with the exception of the church in Boston, they were all the same. All of them. I didn't go to one weird fluke church or denomination where they and only they taught this. There are thousands upon thousands of churches like this out there. Some preach this shit directly from the pulpit, but the majority go by the method of death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts. Slowly chipping away, making young women ashamed of their bodies, their clothes, their sexuality. Just because you don't see it happening or it didn't happen to you, doesn't mean it isn't.
It is my opinion, that if you attend any of the conservative Evangelical or Baptist churches in America, you are being fed this bullshit one small comment at a time. Sometimes a pastor may actually preach about something, laying out archaic gender roles using Adam & Eve as a standard, but mostly it will be the little things. Youth group youth pastors who never choose you to be on stage because you are curvy or order t-shirts for your summer trip, but yours is two sizes bigger than it should be because they don't want it to be form fitting. Each little thing whacking away at young men and women, telling them how they should be, how they should dress, and what God thinks of you.
It's been a rough week in my home. We had to ask our 19yo adopted son to move out on Friday after repeated incidents that compromised our safety. It was definitely not the optimal solution, but we had exhausted all the therapy/interventions and he was not cooperating in the slightest. I don't feel guilty for kicking him out, although I am deeply concerned for his safety and future. I desperately want him back home where I know he is loved and taken care of and fed. It is also a relief to not have to sleep with our bedroom door locked.
All that said, on the phone this morning my mother (who is unaware of my atheist status of the past 5 years) made the comment that my son would always be miserable and unhappy until he found Jesus. As if Christians are never miserable or unhappy. She starting giving me examples of rock stars who have become Christians and how amazing their lives are now and how miserable they were before. This, of course, implies that anyone who is not a Christian is leading a miserable life while also implying that you will magically not have any troubles and your life will turn around if you just got saved. I didn't bother to point out there I know quite a few miserable Christians. Or that Jesus is not going to erase my son's lifetime of abuse and neglect.
I hate this idea that people become Christians and like magic they pull a full 180 and they become these wonderful, happy people. Usually, if you read deeper into those stories, they quit drugs around that time too. I'm sure that helps. And they become part of a community that keeps them accountable while also telling them they are worth something. Not to mention, most (I looked up the guy he was talking about) also begin seeing therapists. They attribute the turnaround to a god, but it seems like the idea of god and redemption is the catalyst for the change, not the change itself.
Sometimes I wish my son would find religion, because I want that magical 180 where he turns his life around and realizes that his bio mom was wrong and he isn't worthless. But I also don't think it works that way and it is good he doesn't have religious baggage on top of the neglect baggage. As for those rock stars, I suspect they were using drugs to soothe some deep hurts that they hadn't dealt with before. I'm glad they found their way out of self-destruction, but I really wish people (particularly Christians) could see that it is THEM who made the change. They are all so much stronger than they think.
For my day job, I work as a freelance editor. I take on various jobs through freelance websites and am currently working for a company where I do developmental editing for books. (Fixing things like flow, pacing, formatting, missing information, incomplete thoughts, etc.) I have read it all. An economics book about China's rise on the world market to a sci-fi book full of intrigue to a self-help book by a teenager. I'm reading first drafts so many of the books need a lot of work and some are more promising than others. But today is the first day I've had to read a religious book. This thing is complete with scripture verses, the gospel message, and a bunch of religious jargon that would alienate any reader who isn't already steeped in religion. (despite the insistence that the book is for those who are searching)
It is taking everything in me not to respond snarkily. I can't even get into the bit about mental illness where she suggests that people wouldn't have depression or mental health issues if they just found their identity in Jesus rather than "the world". There are SO many places with junk Christian-eeze statements. But I just ran across this bit and it just made me shake my head:
Some of the characteristics that come from righteousness are being upright, ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, honorable, blameless, irreproachable, noble, pure, justifiable, defensible, understandable, and reasonable.
True righteousness comes only from God. We cannot attain it without Him. His gift of righteousness allows us live as righteous and all of the characteristics that come with it. Without him, our attempts appear only as arrogance.
It's hard to not reply with something like, "Says you." I am a very principled, moral, honorable, and reasonable person (along with all those other junk words) and I don't have God. I feel very much like a morally righteous person, more-so than when I was a Christian. When I was a Christian I was a judgmental asshole because I did actually think I was all of those things, but I also believed (like this author) that no one else could possible be. I think it's absolute bullshit to tell someone they can't be a good person (because that's basically what she is saying in Christian-eeze) without God.
I remember telling people that and I was wrong. And I hate that I am editing a book that tells people that. And then I remember that I am getting paid $20 and hour and all I have to do is tell her when things don't make sense. Because she is going to write this with or without me. And perhaps I can sneak in a question or two that challenges some of this.
When it comes to social media, I am the Queen of unfollowing, moving people into groups to limit what they can see, and am not afraid to unfriend people I dislike and don't care about. My social media accounts (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) are actually rather pleasant places because of this. I'm friends with a lot of writers so my feeds are mostly full of posts about books, writing, and other creative pursuits.
However, I have reached my limit of adding more religious people to my circle. An old friend friended me on FB the other day. I went to check out his feed to see if I could garner any information about the person he is today before I accepted his friend request. Dude is a full on Baptist missionary to the Dominican Republic. His FB is FULL of constant and unending posts about God, missions work, and scripture. Now, although I understand this is how he makes a living and has dedicated his life too, I just couldn't accept that friend request. I have so many religious people still in my life and I just can't handle another person. Nevermind that it kind of makes me sad now. Once upon a time, I would have considered what he was doing to be noble. Those days are long gone, even before my deconversion. What I see now is a wasted life and wasted potential, converting people who don't need to be converted to a religion that isn't true. It makes me sad to see his three kids and know how they are being heavily indoctrinated to believe this and the chances of them escaping this religion are so low.
And I don't think they really want to be friends with me either. Not just in a FB way but in a personal way. If these people knew who I was now I would just become another conversion mission. And I am kind of done with reconnecting with people who wouldn't like me as I am now. I am also done making new friends in real life who see me as a conversion challenge. Right before I left my most recent job, one of my co-workers said she wanted to have lunch with me, which was odd because in the 5+ years I worked there we never had lunch together. Turns out she wanted to talk about God and invite me to her church for Easter. This made me sad and I politely told her that although I can see she loves her church, but nothing she told me showed me that it was anything different from anything I had been to before. I didn't accept her friend request either.
Yesterday my best friend told me some information that kind of blew my mind. Let me start with some backstory: We have been best friends for twenty years now. We do tell each other everything, but not always in the moment. It is not unusual that he will tell me a few months after something happened, that it did and how he was feeling at the time. It usually explains a lot about his behaviors and moods around that time. I never push for this information. When he wants to tell me things, he will. The same goes in reverse.
Now, life has been tough for my best friend. He's always struggled with laziness, although that has dissipated over the years as he and his family have grown. There were a lot of anger issues stemming from an abusive father who died when he was young, much to everyone's relief. He's had trouble holding down jobs and has quit more than one in anger, on the spot. I had to inform him once that I would never recommend him for a job at my work. I loved him, but he wasn't a good or reliable worker. His resume over the years has not really improved and shows no clear career path or direction. A few years ago he decided to go back to school, which is awesome. At the same time he and his wife had a baby and then almost exactly a year later they had another one. Anyone who has children will tell you that they test your marriage. Their marriage has all but fallen apart, with both holding on for dear life because that is what they are "supposed" to do in the eyes of God. My best friend is miserable. He sank into some serious depression, which became more and more obvious, but he would deny deny deny. He finally told me a few months ago that he thought he was depressed and I had to say, "Yeah, I know." He seemed surprised by how obvious it was. Dude really really needs to be in therapy, but they can't afford it.
Yesterday he graduated with an associate's degree and over lunch he informs me that he has been shoplifting for years. Say what now? "I don't even know why I kept doing it. At first it was because I didn't have any money to buy the things I wanted so I started taking them. But then, I just kept doing it." He finally got caught a few months ago at an event that he has been going to for years. The vendor is working on getting him banned from all the geek conferences in the area. Clearly, best friend was embarrassed to be caught and embarrassed about the situation, but mostly was confused about why he was doing it. "What's wrong with me?" he asked.
Folks, this explains sooooo much. I always wondered how this guy with barely any money and who was constantly broke, managed to buy so many movies, comics, action figures, etc. He was pocketing them. I always figured he was getting either some really good deals or trading for them. It never occurred to me that he would be stealing them. This also confirms my gut instinct to not hire him to work with me. Now, he says that over time it almost became a compulsion. Like at first it was a concerted effort to obtain things that he wanted. But then he started stealing things he already had, just because. It explains how he was always able to sell things online, but never seemed to run out of things to sell. I also suspect he may have lied about a few things. Back in December he was fired from an overnight jobs for taking drinks from the front display and not paying for them. He says he just forgot to pay. It seemed weird that they wouldn't just make him pay for the drinks and give him a written warning. But now I suspect he was probably taking more than just drinks and he lied to everyone about why he was really fired. He was probably caught stealing.
I'm sure there are a dozen explanations why someone would do this. For him, it probably began as just wanting things and then he liked the feeling it gave him, made him feel more alive. It also makes me incredibly sad. I truly thought he was becoming better, growing, maturing, working hard for the things he has. I thought that having two kids and going back to school were signs of him finally getting his life on track. This degree could actually lead to a solid career where an entry level job pays more than he has ever made before. But he put all of that at risk for what, a few comics or some action figures? Something is wrong with him. Normal adjusted people don't do this shit. And because he has been doing it for years, it's clear that something has been wrong for a long time.
I wish he had told me sooner. I wish he had dealt with these feelings ten years ago. Most of all, I miss the guy I met twenty years ago who went to rock concerts with a blue mohawk, played soccer, laughed easily, and could discuss Marvel vs DC until midnight. He's a good friend, but he clearly struggles with being a good person. Lazy, angry, argumentative, abrasive...this is how people describe him behind his back. I know there is more to him than that, but those labels aren't wrong either. He's still my best friend. I wouldn't trade him for the world. Armed with this new information, perhaps I can help him walk through some of the issues that have led him to this point.
I grew up in the type of Christian sect that believed that things like astrology, tarot cards, reading tea leaves, etc. were tools of the devil. We believed in the literal devil and "opening yourself up" to these things was seen as soul corruption. It was giving the devil a foothold in your life. Nevermind that only God was supposed to know your future, not Tarot cards. God gave you your personality, not a star sign. If you were looking to these things for answers, then you were looking to the wrong person. The devil would give you answers, but only the ones you wanted to hear, only the ones that would lead to paths of destruction. The devil was a liar and a manipulator and eventually would lead you straight to hell. Christians beware of these tools of the devil. To anyone reading this who didn't grow up in such an environment, this probably sounds nuts. It is a very puritanical approach to this "problem", but this comes directly from the Bible.
Leviticus 19:26 NIV, "Do not practice divination or sorcery."
Says Deuteronomy 18:9, 12 & 14 NIV, "Do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there… The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so… Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord."
1 Samuel 15:23 NIV, "Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry."
Daniel 2:2 NIV, informs us, "So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed."
Daniel 2:27-28 NKJ, "Daniel answered in the presence of the king, and said, 'The secret which the king has demanded, the wise men, the astrologers, the magicians, and the soothsayers cannot declare to the king. But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these…'
Obviously the whole allowing-the-devil-in thing isn't anywhere in there, but leave it to Christians to twist an already God-detested thing into something even worse.
Weirdly enough the Bible itself seems to support the practice of astrology and such as being real, true, and a daily part of life. The wise men or Magi used star signs to determine that a King had been born in Israel and set off to find that child which took months and possibly even years. I've seen where Christians attempt to explain that this is astronomy not astrology, but two Astronomy courses in college included nothing about looking up in the sky and if you see a star in the middle of the forehead of the ram (this represented Israel in ancient times) that meant that a King had been born in that country. I was taught that astronomy is anything but random and stars are not signs of anything. I've also seen where it is suggested that God forbade astrology and so the wise men were actually receiving messages directly from God and thus weren't astrologers. I want to point out that at no point is it said that the Magi were followers of the Jewish God and most likely had their own religion that showed them this sign. In the Old Testament we have the story of the witch who brings up the ghost of Samuel for King Saul. Although this practice is detestable in the eyes of God, the point here is that it is possible. The Bible itself concedes that divination really does work, it's just that God doesn't like it. So this idea by Christians, particularly of the Evangelical kind, that astrology and divination is bad is both Biblical and founded within the religion itself.
Let's stop for a moment and talk about that though, shall we. Astrology is based on star signs that are incorrect based on actually Astronomy. And it seriously tries to convince us that your personality and life choices and guided by this. Of course, this completely ignores human psychology, the complexity of the human brain, and how outside influences shape who we are as people. There are people who have brain traumas through car accidents or abuse who literally become different people. One bruise too many on our poor grey matter and we are no longer the same person. Nevermind, that there is no possible way you can divide up billions of people into twelve categories and say that is how someone is and this is what is going to happen in their lives because of the time they were born.
I tried an experiment once. I found a "reputable" astrologer who offered daily horoscope readings. Reputable meaning a friend who is into this stuff highly recommended her and said she changed his life. For a month (at the very low cost of $30) I received a daily horoscope as well as specific things having to do with me. Except I didn't read them. I filtered them into an email and instead kept a daily journal of what had happened to me that day. I've kept journals for years so this was no big deal. I detailed any interesting interactions with family, friends, and customers. I mentioned if I had had a hard day or a good day, if any money had unexpectedly come my way, interesting mail. I put any health issues, whether I woke up with a stuffed up nose, if I had to use my inhaler, etc. And then at the end of the month, I compared. I compared my daily horoscope to what actually happened during my day. As you can imagine, there were no correlations beyond some very obvious coincidences and some seriously pushing it twisting of the words. I was apparently supposed to be in the middle of a love sign and according to my horoscope, I am a love magnet. At the time, there was literally none of that going on. No flirting, no guys who were interested, no dates, nada. If I was a love magnet, I was attracting something other than male human beings, which is kind of the thing I am interested in when it comes to romance.
I walked away believing that astrology and divination was a load of hooey. That's some cognitive dissonance there though because I still believed the Bible and the Bible says that it is real, just not a good thing for believers of the Bible to do. Of course, now I think the whole thing is a load of hogwash. Completely and totally. I do not believe that the time of year you are born determines anything beyond whether you can have a pool party or an ice skating party theme. I don't believe that Tarot cards, palm reading, crystal balls, or mind reading are any more accurate than reading the cracks in a sidewalk to determine your future.
What really confuses me though are the Christians who actually do believe in astrology and divination and practice it. When I was younger I thought it was one of those fun pretend things, like filling out an online multiple choice survey will tell you what Hogwarts house you belong in. I truly thought it was just a game and that people didn't really believe it. However, I learned that there are people out there who do truly and deeply believe in this, even Christians who have been expressly told it is wrong to do so. One friend constantly shares memes and videos with tag lines like, "I bet they're an Aries" or "That's a Virgo for you". As if this somehow explains the complex behavior of another human being and with the assumption that she is correct. Another woman I know quite literally will call out sick if her horoscope warns her of impending doom. She absolutely believes that the reason she is still alive and doing well is because she is so careful about following her horoscope. It also means she is in insane amounts of debts because whenever her horoscope tells her that she is going to make a big purchase or go on an adventure, she takes that as a sign that she must spend money or travel somewhere in order to fulfill whatever destiny the universe has laid out for her. It's insane. But at least she isn't a Christian. The Christians who adhere to this nonsense and also claim to be believers of the Bible are going directly against it, never mind that the idea that God controls your destiny is removed from the equation. To suggest that God is using astrology and divination to tell you things is akin to blasphemy.
The whole thing is nuts. Believing you are allowing the devil in is just as crazy as believing that tea leaves will tell you your future.
Note: I don't actually believe the Nativity story is at all true or accurate. I doubt that there were any wise men who traveled to Israel and believe this was added to the story to give it legitimacy. In other words, if even worshipers of other gods received this "sign" from the true God, then Jesus really is the Messiah.
It's been three weeks since I quit my job. I have a few potential leads and a steady part-time gig through UpWork that will start in a week. I have a job interview for a part-time job teaching babies how to swim and am working for a friend cleaning houses for a few hours a week. It's not enough, but it is a beginning. The amount of work and money to start a business was not a surprise, however the order in which things needed to be done in was. I'm probably going to write a quick article to sell that will talk about starting a LLC in my state, complete with the proper links. Starting your own business is easy...getting other people to know about your business is a whole different matter and requires self-promotion that I am uncomfortable with but doing anyway.
Of course, as you would expect, according to my religious friends and family, I'm going to do great because God is guiding me. If I dare express concern or worry about something, the immediate reply is something along the lines of "God's got your back." It's to the point where I have stopped telling those people about any worries or struggles I am having. What I need is practical solutions and maybe a bit of sympathy. I know it's only been three weeks, but so far I've gotten no leads from my actual website. I need to get traffic to my website. My prices are competitive but on the lower end, but I can't afford to join all the organizations and groups that I could possibly make more contacts with. I can't afford to go to any of the writer conferences either. Not yet at least. I think I could really make a go of this, I can definitely do the work, but I need to convince people that they need to pick me. I have no idea how to do that beyond reaching out to my various writing groups that I am already a part of. As far as I can tell, no deity has been helping me with this either. They didn't go to the bank or fill out the applications or build a website. And since I didn't really know how to do any of that before now, it's not like that deity gave me some great knowledge to do it. It took a lot of research to figure out what to do and even know it is taking research to figure out what to do next.
I cannot even begin to express how completely ridiculous the idea of a god sounds to me at this point. It's almost as ridiculous as someone talking about their star signs or reading tea leaves.
Today I put in my resignation at work. This is a big deal. I thought this would be my job until I retired. But there is no room for growth and since my last supervisor left, I have become more and more of a scapegoat for my department. Admittedly, I make some rather repetitive mistakes, but I am a dedicated, hard working, perfectionist who does a fairly solid job most of the time. After a mid-year evaluation that had absolutely no positives written in it, I knew it was time. My husband makes enough to float us for a while and I am going to make a go at freelance editing and writing full time. Maybe monetize several of the podcasts and blogs that my husband and I have going. Even a little bit of money from ads and Amazon is better than nothing. I may pick up a part time job. Maybe not. The real goal though is to get a book published. I've written several middle grade and young adult books. I used to have an agent, but she sucked so I need to find a new one. I know that if I just have the time to write, I can get things done. But working a full time job, especially one that has become super stressful lately, means that I have no mental energy to write at night or on the weekends. I just want to sleep and veg and paint miniatures.
As I do, I ran the idea of quitting through several friends and family before actually doing it,each person bringing their unique perspective and questions to the table. Husband is analytical and knows our budget, but seems confused by my fear of failure. My mother is always super supportive and thinks I should do what makes me happy. My best friend has never had a solid career of any kind so he is more prone to suggest you quit if you aren't happy.
One friend, *Kelsey knows about my deconversion and is the one I have written about in the past who considers herself "spiritual" which loosely means she calls herself a Christian while making up her own religion. To quote her (as best I can remember), "I know you don't really believe in God anymore, but perhaps this is what you are meant to do. Maybe this is God leading your path even though you don't believe."
I reject this notion of divine intervention in our lives for several reasons that go beyond me not being convinced there is a god. The first is simple, If this god cared so much about what our jobs are or our general happiness as humans, then he is doing a really shitty job of it. South Sudan is one of the first examples I think of. A country, predominantly Christians is ransacked by those from the north who commit war crimes that rival the Nazis. Women aren't just raped, their breasts and lips are cut off, mutilated for reasons that are mind boggling. You don't think those women didn't cry out to God? Those who survived began to walk. Without food or water, thousands died along the way. Once they arrived in their neighboring country, they were turned away. So they walked on, many dying of starvation and dehydration. You don't think those cried out to God? Once they did arrive, they became stateless, refugees in a country that could barely support them, living in poverty that many Americans can't even comprehend. You think they didn't cry out to God? And you are trying to tell me that that God, the same one who those South Sudanese refugees cried out to, gives a shit about me quitting my job and "being happy". This idea that the Christian god cares about its followers and their happiness is born purely out of a place of privilege and wealth. If you look outside our own culture, the evidence is clear, if there is a god he does not give a single shit about the happiness of his followers, let alone those who don't believe in him.
The second reason I reject this idea of divine intervention controlling my decisions is because it takes away all agency and responsibility. This was a decision that weighed on my very heavily. I researched for months how to start my own editorial business. My husband and I crunched the numbers several times, looking for the right time financially for me to quit. I talked to my family and friends, particularly those who had run their own business. Heck, I even went to lunch with my former boss to get her perspective on this. Pros and cons were weighed and at one point I even pondered the implications of regret. What would I regret more....quitting and perhaps failing or staying in this dead end job? I decided the second would hold bigger regrets for me. There are some scary things in this too, like the loss of a retirement plan so that too had to be considered and a solution found. To suggest that none of this was hard or shouldn't be hard because there is a divine being controlling my actions and will probably maybe might help me out, takes away any culpability on my part which isn't okay with me. I made this decision, the consequences are on me. This may or may not work out. I'll work hard and fight to keep afloat, but that is on me and I am okay with that.
Besides this world that Christians like to talk about where this god of theirs actually cares about people just doesn't match up with the world around us. It may match up for the middle-class white people going to Evangelical churches, but most of the world doesn't live that way and it takes a lot of hubris to suggest that everything you have is because of a god, because by default it means the people who don't get special attention must be doing something wrong.
I listen to a lot of Podcasts and YouTube while working, getting dressed, making dinner, etc. I am aware that YouTube is videos, but I don't watch the videos, I just listen. There are quite a few atheist activists that I have discovered during my deconversion journey. Some were great in the beginning. I used to love The Atheist Experience, a call-in show where believers can call in and talk to atheists about belief. It's basically a debate show. In the beginning I loved it because people were asking the questions that I had and the atheists made some really good points. I saw how flimsy the arguments were on the part of the believers. However, the show also raises my blood pressure. It makes me uncomfortable to listen to people argue and some of the believers had such stupid/illogical/brainwashed ideas that I would have to fast forward through the show. I also don't always agree with how the atheists on the show treat their callers. I understand that they have listened to the same dumb arguments for years, but they will get angry at a believer for interrupting them and then do the same thing a minute later. I've heard the reasoning behind this and I still disagree. I don't really watch/listen to the show anymore because of it, although occasionally I'll click on a clip that sounds interesting. My personal favorite is The Thinking Atheist as he is usually very measured and informative.
One thing I do not do is listen to any of this around my husband. The first reason is simply that he is super defensive when it comes to anyone trying to disprove religion or if they claim to be an atheist. He flat out dislikes the idea of anyone trying to destroy the faith of someone else. Although he believes himself to be very rational in this area, the evidence I have seen is that the minute atheist is tacked onto something, he becomes extremely critical of everything they say. He speaks about them as hateful or angry people, pushing the stereotype of angry atheist onto all of them, whether they are being hateful or not. On Sunday morning as I was getting dressed I mistakenly assumed my husband had gotten out of bed and was downstairs making breakfast as he always does on Sunday mornings. So I turned on Mr. Atheist's newest video.
I like Mr. Atheist. I don't always agree with him mind you. There probably isn't a person on this planet that I agree with 100% of the time, but I like his platform and his delivery of information. What I didn't know was that thanks to Daylight Savings Time throwing him off, my husband was laying in bed listening to the entire episode. And he had a problem with it. Later he told me, "That guy you were listening to this morning. He was so hateful. I mean, you can just tell he is so full of hate and loathing." I turned back the episode in my head and was confused. Hateful? Loathing perhaps, but hateful? Watch the video above and tell me what you think.
Husband's logic was that because Mr. Atheist was happy that Cardinal Pell is finally getting his commupance, he is a hateful bad person. Good people don't rejoice in people going to jail, especially if they haven't gone to trial yet and haven't been convicted. My husband is the epitomy of Lawful Good, or so he says. I think he is Lawful Neutral. He absolutely downright refuses to be a part of any side until the law has gotten involved, evidence has been presented, and a conviction has been declared. This does mean that he doesn't agree with things like the #MeToo movement. Not because he doesn't think that it can't happen or even that it is okay, but because they are baseless accusations with no evidence, which means that they mean nothing. Accusations aren't fact. Without facts it's just a rumor, although certainly a rumor that could destroy lives. I agree with him in that we live in a society where we try people through the media long before they ever arrive in a courtroom. I also know that we, the laymen, are often not made aware of certain evidences that lawyers, judges, juries, and police are made aware of. Like half of the country, I was completely on board with Michael Brown being innocent and having his hands up and not deserving of death by cop. That was until all the evidence came out showing that an office had been attacked by Brown inside his vehicle and a gunshot had gone off IN the car. Then the fact that he was shot from the front, not behind and that the bullet wounds were consistent with a person charging head first towards someone. That started to paint a very different picture. Not one full of innocence. I was forced to face the idea that I had chosen the wrong "side" in this debate. It was a humbling experience. One could start being a conspiracy theorist at that point and refuse to believe the evidence because it doesn't line up with the narrative you wanted to believe. A lot of people I know did this. The cops lied, they planted evidence, witnesses said (eye witness accounts are not evidence), etc. If the evidence is true though, then we have a police officer whose life and career have been destroyed because people want to believe their own truths when it comes to certain situations. Not to mention the countless businesses that were destroyed by raging mobs and people who were hurt. So I completely understand why my husband is loathe to take a side without evidence. It makes sense.
The question then is, Is it hateful to want people to be convicted of crimes? Is that revenge or is it wanting justice? By wanting Cardinal Pell to be prosecuted and imprisoned, is that a hateful act? Husband says that no one should be happy or rejoice in someone going to prison. That is a tragedy for everyone involved. It's a life wasted, a failure on someone's part to help the accused. There are victims who, even if the person is jailed, still have to suffer through this for the rest of their lives. If you claim to be better than someone, then you can't go around gloating and seeking revenge. You have to be better. You have to want to help both victims and victimizers. They are all people who are deserving of love, pity, and redemption. I would posit that Mr. Atheist never said he was "better" than anyone, although it is implied that he is better than a child molester, which in all first-world countries, is a given. But who is making that rule? That you can't be happy when a known child molester goes to prison and is off the streets? Husband? I would say it is very human to breath a sigh of relief and experience some kind of euphoria when someone who is bad has gotten their just desserts. (To be clear, Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of anything. In the eyes of the law, he is still innocent.) Does it make someone hateful? Perhaps if the person was being cruel for no reason or wanted people to get hurt because they disagreed with an idea or something, but to suggest someone is hateful because they are happy that a rapist is going to jail? Even without a conviction, I would say this is a normal response. It becomes hateful when you refuse to accept evidence of their innocence and continue to declare that the person is guilty just because you say they are. It is hateful when you continue to vilify their name because you decided that there was some evidence that the judge, jury, and lawyers missed and that this person who has been deemed innocent deserves some kind of mob justice. I absolutely believe that Michael Jackson is being tried through the media via a documentary after having been declared innocent of the crime he was accused of. The man is dead and the only people who this is hurting now is his family. That's not justice. That's cruelty. It is also hateful that after someone has been to prison for a crime, they continue to be persecuted for their crime and are unable to work or live normally again because in our society we seem to think people need a lifetime to pay for crimes that the law says only deserve 10 years in prison.
I personally don't think Mr. Atheist is being hateful in wanting a priest to be prosecuted for his alleged crimes. The way the Catholic church has handled it is not the way an organization should act if someone is innocent. Sadly, because so many priests have been caught diddling little kids, he IS being lumped into a much bigger problem, innocent or not. Perhaps the evidence will show that he is innocent. If that happens, there will be people who will refuse to believe it. There will be atheists who, despite being huge proponents of evidence for a god, don't hold the same convictions when it comes to law and justice.
A small personal story: When I was a teenager a friend at church told me that her step-father had been molesting her for eight years. I was the first person she had ever told. I knew immediately that this was beyond me and I found an adult who I knew had suffered through something similar who could help. A few days later he was arrested. I was supremely happy that this man had been arrested and was going to be prosecuted. My friend could have been lying. In the eyes of the law he was still innocent. But I knew that she wasn't lying and the fact that he could no longer hurt her filled me with so much relief and happiness. He ended up being convicted of his crime and served five years in prison for what he did. I was not a hateful person for wanting him to be imprisoned and prosecuted. I saw firsthand the devastation it brought to my friend and her family. It destroyed a marriage. And I was still glad it happened because it was right.
Lesson learned though....be careful what you listen to around your husband who thinks most atheists are angry and hateful. If he hadn't found this thing to knit pick over, it would have been something else. Double-check to be sure he is not sitting in the next room otherwise you will have an uncomfortable conversation about the morality of justice seekers in the parking lot of the grocery store.
Books are my life. Quite literally, books are what pay my bills. I write books, have a degree in publishing and a master's in creative writing, worked in bookstores for just under thirteen years, work for a publisher now, and have my own library. If I have an expertise in any subject, it would be books. As a teenager who grew up without a television, books were my only gateway into a world outside my own. I gobbled up anything and everything that seemed the least bit interesting. I read medical textbooks, ancient history, literary classics, sci-fi, fantasy, sociology, religion. The only two genres I don't gravitate towards is mystery and romances. Mysteries because I don't care in the least bit for surprises and romances because I find romance cloying, particularly in romance books. Books were also the first places where I "met" atheists.
Atheists are particularly present in sci-fi books, my favorite genre by far. When I was younger I used to just assume that if the character in the story was an atheist, then the author themselves was an atheist. It never occurred to me that there could be more nuance than that. As such, the minute I saw an atheist on the page, I would immediately be defensive. After all, atheists have an agenda so surely there was something the author was trying to get across in their book. Exceptions applied if the faithless had a bit more faith by the end. Ship of Fools by Steven Russo is a book in which the main protagonist is a staunch atheist on a religious pilgrimage deep space vessel. But he has an experience involving the giant stained glass windows depicting Christ while on a space walk and begins to see the beauty of religion. As a Christian, I loved that. I assumed that the author must be religious because only someone religious could write something so meaningful. (for the record, the books is amazing and I definitely think I was reading more into it) Since my deconversion I've only come across a few books where the main character is unapologetically atheist and I've disliked all of them for various reasons. Ready Player One for example is a fantastic novel, but there is an entire page dedicated to Wade's meandering thoughts on religion. And then it is never mentioned again. It's a diatribe against religion, but is pointless since it means absolutely nothing to the story. An authorial intrusion at its worst as it serves no purpose in the story.
Recently, I finished reading Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry. In this contemporary young adult book we are introduced to Michael, whose dad has moved them yet again to a new town with a new school and new friends. Except this time, this self-professed atheist is sent to the best school in town, which also happens to be a Catholic school. Michael is out of his depth from the beginning, but quickly finds a few friends who started a secret club called Heretics Anonymous. This small crew of five mostly sit in the basement and complain about the school. Unlike Michael, all of them are believers who just don't agree with all of the Catholic church's teachings. Hence the name of their little group. Michael is technically an apostate, but they let him join anyway. Right away Michael starts to shake things up, convincing other in the group that they should go public, using malicious compliance as their main tool. The dress code says they can only wear ties ordered from one particular company? Okay. The kids order the ugliest ties they can find on that company's website and pass them around the school. The pranks begin to really shake up the school, but not for the better. Soon kids are getting in trouble for things that HA did, one girl seems to be on a personal mission to destroy HA, his friends are becoming frightened, and his fledgling relationship with the leader of HA is in jeopardy. Not to mention that Michael is having a really hard time holding back his deep resentment of his dad for bringing them here in the first place. When things go south, Michael takes the blame, but deep hurt doesn't go away with one apology.
Sounds like an interesting premise, right? Atheist stuck in a private Catholic school surrounded by religion and bucking the system? My problem with the whole thing though was that Michael knows absolutely nothing about religion. Growing up in a culture surrounded by religion, he knows the very very basics of Judeo-Christian religions, but has never even cracked open a Bible. But he sure as hell has some strong opinions about religion. This bothered me. A lot. Those who grow up with a lack of religion, rarely even think about it. It's so normal not to believe and they seem miffed by the whole religion thing in general. It's been such a non-thing for them. The angry atheist stereotype (which is how Michael comes across often) are usually those who have left religion and are harboring a lot of anger towards the "lie" they were taught. I see a lot of these on Reddit, a lot of which are young people. They were raised in a Christian home and after lots of research have come to the conclusion that there isn't evidence for a God, particularly the Christian god and they feel disillusioned. Some, like a lot of YouTube activists become rather "militant" (for lack of a better word) about it. But these people actually know religion. They know what it is they are against, what teachings they abhor, what doesn't work for them, why they don't believe. Michael knows nothing. To me this makes him the worst kind of atheist.
Now, I am aware that this is fictional, but Michael is the epitomy of atheist stereotype....from a believers perspective. I've seen it over and over again now, this belief that those who don't believe in God, just haven't had the right experience yet or haven't read the Bible or just need to make the right friends in order to change their minds. Michael is all three of these. The reason Michael bothered me so much though was that he knew so little. He is militant in his beliefs, yet hasn't taken a moment to find out about the faiths of others. Without any Biblical knowledge, he looks like an idiot in theology class and can't argue any point because he doesn't know what the other side believes. If he just wanted to be chill and not rock the boat, perhaps this would be okay, but since he feels the need to be in your face about his nonbelief, it's just unacceptable. Nevermind that Michael in this book is just a general asshole overall. He disparages other people's beliefs at every turn, without knowing what they believe or why. He is in your face for absolutely no reason beyond being a jerk. Not only didn't I like Michael as a character, I also hated him for being the Christian stereotype of angry teenage atheist who knows nothing about religion.
I don't know the author's religious viewpoints, but I would wager that she was raised Catholic (quick Google check...yes, I am correct) and although she probably isn't as religious as her parents would like her to be now, she still holds onto the upbringing as something positive, even if there are cracks in the foundation of belief. I'm sure she has met several atheists over the years, but can't seem to shake the stereotypes she grew up with. I can also see that she was really trying not to make religion the good or bad guy, showing the reader that there is more nuance than that. I just don't think she did it well and Michael was a terrible foil for it. The character I wanted to understand and never really did was Lucy, Michael's love interest. I wanted to know why she had trouble with the Catholic church, where those ideas were coming from. Did she read the entire Bible and came away with questions? Was her faith eroding? Did she find herself staying up at night thinking about theology? What were her original motivations for starting a group called Heretics Anonymous? Once Michael takes the blame, why is she so angry with him still? She went along with almost everything except the thing that got him caught. Was she mad at him for going against the group's wishes or was it the way it was done? The reader was never given much of a glimpse into Lucy's motivations, but she was by far the more interesting and complex character. She was also not a stereotype.
There aren't many outright atheist or agnostic characters in children's literature. Young adult books would obviously be more prone to have them, but authors seem to steer clear of this by just not mentioning religion at all. That's why they stand out. I used to be defensive when I came across any book with this type of character. It turns out, I still am.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.