Over the last week I have allowed my atheism to flare up a bit. Usually I don’t spend much of my day thinking about how much I don’t believe in supernatural powers or superstition. I am busy enough as it is with work and being a good father/husband so it really doesn’t enter my daily thoughts that often. However, something last week or maybe even two weeks ago kicked off a flurry of writing on my part basically defending my beliefs. Now that I think about it, it must have been Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens beginning the process (allegedly) to have Pope Benedict XVI arrested for his role in covering up the sexual abuses committed by the Catholic clergy. This event was followed by the court ruling against the National Day of Prayer. So I suppose there was enough media attention given to issues of philosophy and theology that I was goaded into making some statements myself.
At some point during those “discussions” I found myself tiring of the back and forth. Ultimately I just quit responding and left a few statements without follow-up. After being called a whacko I defended myself and atheists like me and then walked away without even wondering if anything I said would be read or responded to. Maybe I got busy or, more likely, I just got bored. I discussed the issue with my wife and she was a bit appalled that I would be so open about my non-belief in places where our neighbors, coworkers, and other acquaintances could find out about my ideology. I never really worried about it and began to consider if I should. I don’t know that I have a final opinion but I understand her argument.
Here’s the thing. We have to live in a community that isn’t always open to non-traditional opinions. As an adult I really don’t care what other people think. My not caring, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to being vocal about things that can put people off. It is possible and likely anyone in my family could be discriminated against based on my beliefs. This is especially troublesome when it comes to my daughter. I have to consider what people will say and do to her because of her father. Certainly this isn’t fair, it isn’t ethical, and it isn’t moral but it is reality. On top of that, there are the real concerns that I could be denied employment or other things because of my vocal defense of atheist ideas. Yes, this would be illegal, but honestly who wants to get involved in that fight?
What I have to decide is how public and vocal I can be while still protecting my family from the negatives that come with being an atheist. It truly sucks that this has to even be a consideration but let’s be honest about things for a moment. I live in a VERY red state. Take for example this ad from a politician running for governor.
The fact that this kind of clearly racist, bigoted, idiocy can even get on the air proves how backwards this state really is. If you are not familiar with Tim James you may be familiar with his father, former governor Fob James. Fob is famous for many things but I particularly remember his rant against evolution and his support of a special sticker in Alabama textbooks concerning the theory. Oh yeah, and the famous ape dance he did for the Board of Education was particularly a proud moment for this state. Obviously the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Of course this is also the home of Roy Moore, a man who was removed from his judicial post after sneaking a monument to the Ten Commandments into an Alabama Courthouse under the cover of darkness. Guess what, he is also up for governor this year.
What this demonstrates is that tolerance isn’t exactly widespread in my home state. So, I guess I have to consider this when I find myself debating the nature of morality and the origins of the universe from an apologetically non-theistic perspective. Even as I consider the consequences, however, I find that I can not be silent. I will not allow the voices of superstition drown out the voices of reason. I will not be silent when someone calls me a whacko without taking the time to know me. I will not give way to the religious and I will not hold back criticism when I feel it is warranted. I think the important thing, however, is to be aware of the forums in which I engage in such debates, discussions, and arguments. I don’t think it is productive to make a stand at a Parent/Teacher meeting but maybe it is acceptable to do it at a city council meeting. Whatever the case the best I can offer is to at least think about what I say before I say it but I can’t guarantee I will be quiet. Nor should I have to.