Being a Non-Believer Where Non-Believers Are the Enemy

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Today, a family friend commented on my Facebook status that they had found my blog. They said the loved me and included a smiley face. Out of fear, I immediately deleted the comment. I know people will find my blog. Rationally and reasonable, I know this is inevitable, but seeing the confirmation that someone had found it made me nauseous and fearful.

I’m outspoken on my blog. It’s like my own sort of messed up diary where I vent and explain where I’ve been and where I’m going and how I’ve seen the path in-between. I have a lot of fear about my future if I continue to be outspoken about my unbelief.

Over the past few months, I’ve become friends with Neil Carter, a Mississippian and an Atheist who lost so much in his life because he no longer believed. His family has been cruel to him, and he lost his job because his school administration found out he didn’t believe. He taught at the middle school I went to. Let that sink in. In one of the best schools in the state, he was fired because he didn’t believe. Of course, they didn’t come out and say that directly, but their intentions were clear enough. On his blog he wrote:
“A few weeks into my previous teaching job, a seventh grader confronted me in front of the class, asking me if it was true that I am an atheist…I knew better than to openly admit my atheism in Mississippi… so I dodged her question and said that I wasn’t at liberty to discuss my religious affiliation in class. She shot back, ‘Why didn’t you say no?!’ “

Far too often, people misinterpret not believing as a personal attack on the faith. When people leave Christianity, it is seen as a betrayal and it’s automatically assumed that we aim to discredit religion and hate religion. When my mother found out I didn’t believe she immediately said: “Since you don’ believe it shouldn’t matter if others do. Please don’t be a discouragement to others who are unsure.” I hadn’t mentioned a single thing about other people’s faith; I had only mentioned my own beliefs.

We’re accused and berated, and this ends up pushing people toward more aggressive positions against religion. As a “diplomatic atheist”(explained here), it often feels like I can’t say anything negative about the faith without being labeled an “angry atheist.”

Sometimes I am angry. I’m angry that if I need an abortion in my state, there is only one place I can go. I’m angry that I arbitrarily can’t buy liquor in some counties because drunkenness is a sin. I’m angry that some people are so against LGBT community that they claim they’d rather die or lose their jobs than allow them to marry. I’m angry that I can’t say I’m bisexual because people don’t acknowledge it as a real orientation (more on that later). I’m angry that the Ku Klux Klan was and is a Christian organization. I hate that the Christian Right has created an entire voting block that votes against their own interests because the other party wants to “murder babies,” without acknowledging that Orthodox Jews (the people who wrote and practice the Old Testament) think life starts at birth, not conception.

If I dare to actually say this opinion on Facebook or to my family, I’d be called a hater. I’d be told I hate Christians. To take a chapter from their own book, I don’t hate the Christians, I hate the behavior.  I hate the historical revisionism. I hate that they won’t admit that Christianity was justification for slavery, for refusing women the right to vote, for maintaining segregation and discrimination against the African American community.

My former high school recently violated a court order and has to pay a fine for having school-sponsored prayer. In the comment section of a news article about this, several people said: “If you don’t want prayer in school, you should homeschool your kids!” Irony is lost on them, but this is the reality. This is daily life in Mississippi.

If I stay in Mississippi, what will happen if my employer discovers I don’t believe? Will I be fired for simply not buying into Christianity? If a Christian was fired for believing, how loud would the uproar be?

Let me clarify: if a person is hired to do a job, they should to that job. If I enter a job knowing I’ll have to say things about Christianity—for good or ill—I am expected to fulfill my duty.  Likewise, if a Christian is hired at a pharmacy, they must do their job and provide medicines even if they disagree with them. That circumstance is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people fired for simply believing or not believing.
Regularly, people are fired for not believing in the South. Christians aren’t fired for being Christians. 70% (and decreasing) of the nation is Christian, and that position of cultural power is used for harm sometimes. If I become a teacher, if a student somehow finds out I don’t believe, I face the very real possibility of being fired no matter how good a teacher I am.

In the South, non-believers are the enemy, even if we aren’t adamantly against the faith. If you treat someone like the enemy, it shouldn’t be so shocking if they eventually get frustrated and actually become an anti-theist.

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8 thoughts on “Being a Non-Believer Where Non-Believers Are the Enemy

  1. I currently live in southern Mississippi and feel like a stranger in a strange land. And I’m so tired of keeping my head down and keeping quiet. Don’t dare ask a simple question…….. Damn sheep!!

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  2. I don’t know what the law in Mississippi is, but in Georgia, one of your examples would not necessarily be true. In Georgia, a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription if the pharmacist feels it is for a purpose that violates the pharmacist’s religious beliefs. I was reminded of this recently when a pharmacist refused to fill a prescription because she felt it was to be used as an abortifacient. Ironically it is more commonly used for women who have just suffered a miscarriage as had the woman seeking the prescription. I personally hoped that Walmart fired the pharmacist for practicing medicine without a license.

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  3. The terrible thing is that Christians aren’t suppose to considering anyone their enemy! When I read and hear stories about Christians behaving in an unkind/hostile/thoughtless way I feel so bad for the people suffering the brunt of it. I wonder what it would take for believers to stop with the fear and tribalism. I wonder what it would take for them to open handedly hear the stories of those who don’t believe… without getting defensive or angry or fearful. I think it would take them believing differently. Not forsaking Christianity, but holding their faith in a different way. I hold hope there will come a day when most Christians will have a faith that leads them to be MORE kind/hospitable/thoughtful, not less.

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  4. I feel quite sad when I hear stories like this. Christians aren’t supposed to treat anyone like an enemy. Unfortunately I think when christian faith is blended with so much tribalism, fear, and thoughtlessness then bad treatment of nonbelievers results. I’m hopeful for the day when most believers are inspired by their faith to be MORE hospitable/kind/thoughtful. More open handed and open armed and open minded. I’m the mean time, I’m very sorry for your bad experiences.

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  5. This is exactly where I am too. I work in a Christian College. And I’m afraid they’ll discover that I’m no longer Christian, and may lose my job. Not to mention of what my family will think.

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  6. Hey Holly, do have any sources for what you said about Orthodox Jews believing life doesn’t start tell birth? I could use that info for an article I’m writing. BTW, just recently found your blog and have really enjoyed it. As an atheist living in the Midwest I can definitely relate to this post.

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    1. I’m so glad you like it! Here are a few Jewish sources for you to peruse at you leisure.

      http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-beginning-of-life-in-judaism/

      http://www.jewfaq.org/birth.htm

      These both reference the Talmud, which is a text written by Rabbis over several centuries. This is basically rabbis arguing about how laws should be interpreted, and each version of the Talmud is quite dense. These sources will give you the best answer.

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