A Letter to the Hundreds of Religions
You’re Not Being Persecuted by Atheists
Recently, I read a piece by another Medium writer expressing a level of frustration with atheists who also write on Medium. The message was adamant — atheists are often pompous and condescending.
I started to respond but by the time I was ready to hit send, I realized that I’d written an article.
When I get that wordy, I tend to delete my response. I’m not often interested in debating an issue. I’d rather examine my reaction first and only then determine whether I’m inspired enough to write something of my own.
There was a distinct tone of exasperation in this piece, however.
The overriding sentiment was plainly stated. The author was tired of atheists writing harsh articles accusing Christians of not thinking for themselves.
Hmmmmm … yes, atheists do that from time to time — these days.
I’m not sure we have a long history of behaving in such a way, but we have become a bit bolder than our ancestors.
Unfortunately, for most of history, American atheists have been pretty quiet, however.
Why? Because they’ve often found themselves in danger if they refused to endorse the religions of their cultures. Not just Christianity, mind you. The dominant religions of any culture have always insisted that their message is the primary message. Entire cultures are influenced by the chosen religion of the people. To ignore the cultural traditions is not easily tolerated. So, if a person had their doubts about the religion they inherited through the sheer lottery of birth, they were reluctant to speak out.
Even today, atheists are certainly outnumbered by Christians in America.
When I was growing up, I can’t remember ever meeting a true-blue atheist or agnostic. Well, I take that back. My dad was an agnostic in his twenties but claims to have had a road to Damascus experience while crossing a Boulder College campus one night. A few years later he converted in a Nazarene Church and thus began a lifelong transition from mainstream churches to finally starting his own church because he couldn’t find a single denomination that upheld the truth according to his interpretations of the Bible. Trust me when I say that my life didn’t improve after his conversion.
I’m sure there were other atheists or agnostics that touched my life in the past, but it probably wasn’t something they felt comfortable talking about.
America’s socially approved religion is Christianity. Contrary to popular opinion, church and state in the US have never really been successfully separated. Our culture is Christian.
Religion has influenced everything in America, including our laws.
For example, in the past the church disapproved of divorce, so the government made it difficult to get a legal divorce. It wasn’t until 1970ish that no fault divorces were easy to attain. Back in the day, living together without a marriage contract was socially frowned upon because Christians defined morality within the American culture. Furthermore, getting a divorce or marrying a person of color were both restricted by laws. These laws were also influenced by our religious culture. If you chose to ignore America’s cultural expectations, people would ostracize you, maybe even hurt you.
Being an atheist was also an American taboo.
In fact, we have yet to elect a president that’s an atheist. It took us years to elect a president who was divorced, but we finally broke that cultural limitation when Reagan took office. Christians relented at last and because of their giant stamp of approval, he was eventually followed by the second divorced president, Trump. Trump garnered huge success with the religious right. They and their gods determine what’s a sin and what isn’t and then American culture sanctions those beliefs. Can you even imagine a president proudly proclaiming that they’re an atheist? Seriously, can you?
Contrary to popular opinion, because we’re the minority, it’s been atheists who were persecuted by the religious not the other way around
Have we become more outspoken? A few of us, yes. We even have famous atheists who are known for debating with believers on podcasts and TV. There are some lay people who have chosen to be more outspoken on occasion, too. People don’t like it, but hey, some of us dare to contradict what comes out of a Christian’s mouth. We might refuse to bow our heads before we share a meal with a Christian. Or when a friend promises to pray for us, we could turn down their offer.
None of the above was common practice back in the day.
Trust me I know. I grew up in a religious family. If I had so much as questioned what they believed, I’d have been severely punished. You don’t forget the looks of disapproval or the beatings. When I left home, I was disowned by my parents because I no longer chose to attend their church. I’ve never met an atheist who reacts like that to their children, but I’ve known lots of religious people from lots of different religious sects who feel obligated to take a stand against unbelievers, even their own offspring.
Still, I agree, some of us are more outspoken these days.
Not to the same extent as the religious. I’ve never had an atheist knock on my door handing out literature nor have I seen one expounding from a street corner. For the most part, I couldn’t pick an atheist out of a crowd, but I can often identify believers. Hats, robes, long dresses, long hair, beards, and other special clothing are worn by many devout. They love making a statement about their lifestyles.
If they leave me alone, I can return the favor.
I know Christians are told to expect to be persecuted, but you’re the majority in America, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be singled out for cruel and unusual treatment. It’s far more likely that it’ll be the other way around.
Atheists will get the dirty looks, the whispers of disapproval, or get disowned by their families.
I’m glad that atheists are speaking out more often. As long as the silent minority keeps quiet, nothing changes. If enough of us talk about why we don’t believe, then maybe our very presence won’t seem so peculiar. Maybe being an atheist will become as normal as being a member of a hundred different churches. I always remind the occasional Christian that we’re just one religion away from being the same. There are hundreds of organized religions that they don’t accept.
I merely refuse to accept one additional religion — their religion.
Plus, I think if Christians have a god on their side, they should have what it takes to endure an outspoken atheist. Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you.
I promise I’ll take your words with a grain of salt as long as you don’t stone me.
Teresa is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.