Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I'm Starting A Blog

I said in my last post (what, a month ago?) that I would explain briefly why I've decided to start a blog.

Yes, lame, more blog posts about blog posting. I promise this will be the last such post for awhile. But it's important, so bear with me....the reason I'm starting this blog is because I was recently put in a situation where I could very well have lost my job, solely because I am an atheist.

About a month ago, I went to a lecture at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. Hemant Mehta was speaking to the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) there, and as I'm a fan of his (more on that later), I went to hear him speak and have him sign my copy of his book. I actually got a lot more than I bargained for --- at most, I expected him to say, "thanks for coming," *maybe* sign my book, and that would be that. But as it turned out, several of the other SSA members stuck around after the lecture and we all ended up going out to eat at this Mexican place a few blocks away. And Hemant came along! Woot! Got pictures and everything. It was really cool --- laid back, discussion (not really debating, just talking), meeting people who were just "coming out" as atheists or agnostics, as well as people who had identified as such for a long time. It was an interesting evening for someone who lives in Alabama and can't take three steps without running into five aggressively evangelistic Christians.

So anyway....I want to say real quick that I DO NOT talk about religion or politics in public, ESPECIALLY at work. EVER. It's a personal policy because of situations exactly like this.

The problem started that next Monday. I went to work, just like normal. No problem. I've mentioned to some of my friends at work (in passing) that I don't really do religion, that I don't believe in an afterlife, etc., so it was my understanding that they basically knew this much about me, and were more or less "okay" with it --- even if they didn't *like* it, per se, we seemed to get along pretty well, and nobody ever tried to argue with me or convert me or anything. So it's not like this came out of NOWHERE; they knew that I was nonreligious. We just never talked about it because there was never a reason to.

Well, that Monday, this older lady I work with asked me how my weekend was. I figured if I kept light on the details, it would be no problem to tell her that "I met one of my internet heroes this weekend, and got him to sign me a copy of his book." She asked who it was, I told her his name, and she had never heard of him. I said, "Well, he's this atheist guy who basically promotes synergy between religious groups and atheist/secular charities and stuff. He has a blog," etc. etc., minor details. Well, she stuck on that word "atheist" and made it clear that she disapproved.

I didn't want to argue about it, so I kinda tried to defer the conversation in another direction. Instead of outright defending Mr. Mehta, I said something to the effect of, "well, at least he's not like that pastor guy that was gonna burn all those Korans. I mean, it's not like he's going around ****ing on people's faith, he's just trying to help people out." She said that yes, he WAS as bad as the Koran-burning pastor, actually WORSE, because "at least that guy believed in some god." That was when I realized it was a bad conversation. So I just kinda shrugged and went back to work, like, "well, anyway, it's over now, so...."

But she followed me into the other room and started trying to argue with me. "So you don't believe in god? Well how did all this get here, then? Who created everything?" I told her, "I don't know." She said, "that's right," and kind of mocked me, like "take that!" I tried to walk away again, but she followed me and said, "What I don't get is, you don't believe in god because you can't see him, but can you see the wind? Do you believe in the wind?" I told her that this was a really gross simplification of even the most primitive atheist belief. It really seemed to be bothering her, though, so I said, "Look, it's not like I'm hostile to religion. My mom's Baptist and my dad's some weird kind of naturalist or something. I've grown up around Muslims and Christians and all kinds of weird stuff. It's no problem to me." I basically tried to assure her that I wasn't going to try and convert her to Satanism or whatever. She interrupted me, though, and insisted that I "must've had some tragic event happen in my childhood to drive me away from GAWD," since my mom was so Baptist (she's actually not that religious, she considers herself "spiritual") and I was raised that way.

Well, I got pissed at that point and decided to bail out. I just said, "That's entirely wrong," and I walked out. She was busy with something by that time, so she couldn't follow me.

Well, I thought it was all done with after that. In a completely unrelated story, I had just purchased this book (the same day, as it were) by Christopher Hitchens (for research purposes) called "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." It was sitting by the coat rack in the back of the store, and I had taken it out to read it earlier when I'd gone on break. Well, I have a feeling this lady went and said something to somebody, because *all of a sudden* people were taking a heavy interest in what I was reading at the time. The book got slightly defaced (someone poured water on it), but since it was still readable, I decided to keep bringing it to work. Other people bring prayer books all the time, so I figured fair is fair --- breaktime at work is pretty much the only time I have to read most days, so I'll be damned if I'm not gonna read what I wanna read. I never talked about it to anyone, and I never showed it to anyone. The only way it would've bothered anyone is if THEY looked at it or if THEY asked about it. Otherwise they'd most likely never even know I was reading it.

But then, a couple of days later, my GM came out and asked me blatantly, "So you don't believe in god?" She's a Christian, too, but I figured if anyone would have some sense about this it would be the GM. So I said, "Well....you could say that." So then my manager says, "Well, how do you think this all got here? Who created the world?" And that other lady, who's at the other end of the room listening, says, "That's what *I* asked him." And I told her the same thing I'd said before, "I don't know." So my GM smugly says, "You know, that's the one question that people who 'don't believe' just don't have an answer for." I tried once more to derail the conversation in another direction to keep the peace, so I said, "yeah, you're right. It's a mystery. But there are mysteries no matter how you look at the world, not even god explains everything." She countered with, "Well, the Bible has probably more truth in it than any other book."

This is when I started getting irritated....like I ****ing ASKED you for your advice? Jeez, leave me alone! So I said, "Yeah, my favorite part is where Jesus teaches us how to properly beat our slaves, with a close second place going to the verse that says women can't hold authority over men or teach them." She just looked at me with this weird expression like she'd never heard of those verses before.

And so suddenly people started to have "complaints" about my work, which, for the last 3 years, had been perfectly satisfactory (to the point that they still call me in to work when other people don't show up). I started putting in applications elsewhere, just to be safe.

Well, I do still have my job now, and the issue seems to have blown over....but you can tell that something's not the same, and it probably never will be. The lady who first tried to convert me seems to have realized that she overstepped her legal boundaries by harassing me at work, and she's stepped her game down a little bit, but she still doesn't like me and she's not afraid to let me know. She doesn't trust me at all anymore, anytime I make a mistake she acts as though I did it deliberately to piss her off (even if she wasn't even involved or affected at all), and she talks trash about me when I'm not there. She shamelessly tries to egg me on about religion in front of other employees --- just a week or two ago, she told me about the miners that had been rescued in Europe or wherever that was, and what a miracle that was. I just kinda said, "Yeah, that is pretty cool that they all survived." She turned to me really conspicuously and said, "If that don't prove to you that there's a god..." and trailed off, as if waiting for a response. I shrugged it off and went back to work. I tried to deal with the passive-aggression by just acting like I always do, while also going the extra mile to be prompt and considerate of everyone, so they'd be able to see that I'm not some kind of relativist assface just because I don't share their religion.

It all went well until one day when she was trying to get me to do some asinine job that she should've been able to do. I was very, very, VERY busy, and she was not, and I have reason to suspect that she was doing this just to give me a hard time, but she asked me to perform a specific job. I said I was busy but that I'd try to get to it as soon as I could. She said, "you're a man, and men do things like that," as if the fact that I was a man had any bearing on whose job I should be doing besides my own. I got irritable and I said, "Oh, yeah, I have a penis! That means I can perform incredible feats!" She went on to argue something about how men could do things that women can't, and so in my frustration I said, "Look, I know the Bible says that men are better than women and we're supposed to rule over you, but I don't buy that." It shut her up very quickly, and we haven't had any issues like that since. I didn't like being rude like that, but I felt it was necessary to stand my ground --- up to that point, she seemed to have this impression that I was just going to keep letting her push me around and harass me and make my job difficult. That quip was my way of putting my foot down and letting her know that there is a line that should not be crossed.

I realized something after all this happened: if I had been a shy person, or an easily-intimidated person, then this environment would very easily have driven be "back into hiding" as an atheist. I would have succumbed to the constant pressure from people who want to change me by force or get rid of me if they can't. As it stands, this situation actually made me more confident in my atheism, and more inclined to speak out about it and stand up for it when it comes under attack. I realized that there are other people out there who are less inclined towards confrontation that I am. And so that is one purpose of this blog --- to reach out to people who are atheists, or maybe who are just agnostic or even religious, but who have felt the sting of alienation that stems solely from discrimination based on religious difference, be it in the workplace, at home, or among "friends." I don't expect to change the world or change anyone's life, but I can tell my stories as they happen and provide knowledge and experience to people who want it and who will listen. Statistics are made one person at a time, after all :D

That pretty much sums it up....I started this blog because of a small period of time wherein I could have lost my job due to my atheism --- I want to say something now, while it's fresh in my mind, so it can be on the table for future reference --- but it is by no means restricted to that topic. That's just the jumping-off point for where I plan to go in the future. I won't be re-treading ground like that. Expect new content like essays, debates, musings, maybe even some interviews at some point. I also write songs, I'll upload them here if they're relevant to the topic.

Well, thanks for reading, all three of you --- see you next post!

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