Being sick makes you feel lots of things. One of them is angry. Another is bitter. I didn’t realize how much of both of these things had crept up in me until Paris was attacked this week. I adore Paris. I have spent time there; I’ve studied French, and like many Americans, think it’s a lovely city. So, I cried and cried as I watched the events unfold on the news. I was racked with grief, literally.
Then, I found myself, the next day, engaging in pointless arguments on Facebook, as all Facebook arguments are. Why? Why was I doing this? I supported France in my way, certainly. I gave to the Red Cross, and I checked on those I knew in France. I obligatorily changed my profile picture. But then, I antagonized the world about all the memes I saw about prayer.
Here’s what I thought: the irony of the situation there is that it was caused by religion. It was caused by zealotry and religious extremism, so those whose immediate response is to pray for those affected, didn’t they get that religion is part of the problem? It was maddening to me. But, one of my dear friends pointed out to me that I can’t accept prayer in one context (as I do when it’s offered for me) but mock it in another. She’s right. I respect her greatly. So, when she says I’m being mean, I have to step back and ask myself what the heck I’m doing.
The thing is, I have been doing a lot of reading lately. I’ve been researching what other people think of me, not personally, but me as an Atheist. I’ve been reading up on religious conceptions of Atheists. I’ve been learning that, for the most part, for example, dogma teaches that Atheists are incapable of being good people. For example, did you know that 53% of Americans said they would NOT elect an Atheist president; this is in contrast to the 43% of Americans that would NOT elect a Homosexual president (Religious Tolerance). Atheists are literally the last taboo. This can get to a person, creep up on a person’s soul and eat away at you, if you let it.
For example, supposedly, we don’t give to charity, unless it benefits us. In an article on the Christian Post, Brittany Smith argues that Atheist giving “centers on propaganda towards their anti-religion agenda or for ‘activist’ causes.” She cites the American Atheists’ annual Christmas billboard campaign, which she says “many” (a very accurate number, obviously) Atheists “give money [also accurate and well-tabulated] toward.”
When I read something like this, it gets under my skin. It itches. It rubs. It makes a blister. It makes me imagine church-loads full of people being poised against me, being taught to imagine me counting my piles of money like Scrooge McDuck, and then dropping pennies in baskets labeled, “hate Christians.” Or, maybe we are going to meetings, clasping our hands to figure out ways to encourage Christians to join our God-hating cause? Seriously, what do they think we are doing? Because it’s not that!
What these imaginary Christians don’t know is that my family gives about the same amount of money to charity that Christians are told to tithe every year. In other words, we give a few thousand dollars to charity every year. Furthermore, not a dollar of it is to so-called “propaganda” or “anti-religion” agenda. I’ve never given any money to American Atheists, or to any Atheist cause. I don’t see why.
In case anyone wants to know, our money this year, has gone to: National Public Radio, Dogs on Deployment, ASPCA, Autism Speaks, The Red Cross, Conquer Chiari, and Peta. We chose our charitable causes based on a few criteria: do we use them (NPR), does their mission matter to us (Autism, Chiari, and animal-related causes). That’s it. So, I argue that it’s Christian charities that are propaganda-related; how many Christian charities are also interested in spreading faith on mission-related trips, while also helping build homes or sharing vaccines? We don’t do that with our money. We just help. No hidden agenda.
Divorce with a Side of Suicide
I was cheered about my quality as a human being, based on a national study of divorce statistics done by Religious Tolerance.org. Apparently, Atheists aren’t the worst people in the world. In fact, we get divorced less than most other “religions.”
Atheists divorce at a rate of 21%; meanwhile, religions, such as Born Again Christians (27%), Mormons (24%), Protestant (25%), Other Christians (24%) and Baptists (29%), all divorce at higher rates. However, even this comparison of simple numbers can’t be had at simple face value, upon deeper digging by Christians (Religious Tolerance).
I read several disparaging sour-grapes things about this. Not the least of which was this, regarding the fact that we have a low divorce rate because we have a low marriage rate to begin with: “Atheists have a reputation for being arrogant, angry, socially challenged, immoral, uncharitable, cowardly and engaging in profanity, so their attractiveness as a potential marriage partner is significantly diminished” (Conservapedia). Yikes, I guess I should feel lucky that my husband married me, huh?
Oh, and it’s also possible that our divorce rate is low because we may have tricked our partner into marrying us (yes, you read that right). Of course, the God-fearing partner, because they are moral and true, would never walk away (and since we are essentially unmarry-able, it’d be crazy to for us to walk away, obviously!). See, they hope to, first of all save us from ourselves; and second of all, they hope to save themselves, by being married to us.
But, never fear, because “Atheism provides little long-term incentive for a meaningful life (what meaning?), and not surprisingly, it’s associated with higher rates of suicide,” (Christian Post). See, there’s always the hope that our divorce rate is low because we off ourselves because we can’t stand our purposeless lives, thus freeing our God-fearing partner of the burden of divorce. Is that the idea? Because that’s what it sounds like.
This is THE most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen. With this explanation, not only do Christians seem sort of cool with the suicide of another human being; but, they seem almost gleeful about it, as using it explains away their higher divorce rate than an Atheist's. What, the actual fuck!?
The most common explanation for the suicide thing is the following quote, from the 2004 Journal of American Psychiatry:
“Concerning suicide rates, this is the one indicator of societal health in which religious nations fare much better than secular nations. According to the 2003 World Health Organization's report on international male suicides rates (which compared 100 countries), of the top ten nations with the highest male suicide rates, all but one (Sri Lanka) are strongly irreligious nations with high levels of atheism. It is interesting to note, however, that of the top remaining nine nations leading the world in male suicide rates, all are former Soviet/Communist nations, such as Belarus, Ukraine, and Latvia. Of the bottom ten nations with the lowest male suicide rates, all are highly religious nations with statistically insignificant levels of organic atheism”
Some things you might notice, or rather what you don’t notice. It’s a statement of facts, but it draws no conclusions. These countries are also countries with high rates of alcoholism, significant poverty, and ex-communism. Shall we blame any single one of those factors? Or, do we need a lesson about causation and correlation? Perhaps, I could make the statement that ending communism causes suicide just as easily. Or, the lack of Levis. Damn you Levis! Damn you!
You can see why I got a case of bitter-heart lately. With just these two categories, I felt beat up. You can see why. Then an asshole in a red hat claims religious persecution because Starbucks produced red cups this year. I am aware that his sense of Christian entitlement was a media farce, and the outrage was a media created machine; I get that. But, when people like me actually are persecuted like you just read above, people like him make me sick.
So, I caught myself getting really bitter and angry on Facebook this week. I was raging at people. I was saying things that are uncharacteristic of me. I was intolerant. I was mean. I got into arguments. I had to take a step back.
My husband said, “what is wrong. No really, what is wrong.” And all of this came pouring out. I cried. I cried for all the people who are suffering, people like me, not just me. People like me. I cried for all the pain. I cried for the people who died. And then when I finished crying, he said I needed to explain it. I needed to write about it
As soon as I turned my computer on, this is what I saw, and this is what put it over the top, negativity about what's happened in Paris, from someone I immediately de-friended, and deleted, which made me determined, right this second, to write. I'd like to say this is the only comment like it that I've seen, but it isn't, it's only an example:
"Am I the only one of my friends that has not put the French flag on my profile picture? I pray for the dead and the loss and grief of the families and friends. But do you follow world news at all? France is a socialist country that brought “refugees” into their own country. And now Obama just brought in these so called “refugees” into Louisiana. In the picture, I saw not one women or child, only men. The Trojan horse is real people, wake up!"
We’ll ignore, for a second that people still have trouble determining when to use the word “woman,” and when to use “women.” Gah! But, this is why I’m upset. This is why I have to shut down. This is why I have to start deleting and why I began taking everything to heart. This. Exactly this. This status literally made me break down into sobs.
Putting the word refugees into air quotes doesn’t dehumanize them. They are still real people, fleeing from their homes, their memories, their families. They are fighting for their lives (not looking for a free-ride, as someone so horribly said yesterday to me). And whether someone is a socialist, a communist, a democrat or a republican doesn’t mean they are less of a person. They are human beings. I’m a human being. You are a human being.
Help one another. Lend food, water, shelter and kindness. How dare we turn away scared, meek and mild. We are the most powerful nation in the world, and I’d be ashamed to be part of a nation that didn’t help people fleeing in terror from these horrible people. Ashamed. And, I don’t have to believe in God to feel that way. It’s just human decency.
And right now, there’s no real evidence that all these terrorists were air-quote-refugees; but no one bothers to pay attention to that. They are so concerned with their agendas; they waste energy turning away kindness.
The cruelty I see after an event like this terrifies me. It scares me to hear people, instead of looking into the faces of fathers, who have lost their children, after a journey they had hoped would save their lives, accuse him of being a terrorist because he’s dressed differently than an American. It terrifies me that an American would close their doors to a lonely man, bereft of his family, simply because he’s a man; or even a woman and child, because they are Muslims. It makes my heart bleed for them. I know the pain of feeling persecuted, not like them, not even close, but I feel so badly for them that I can’t stand the conversation anymore. It makes me so angry and sad.
I want to help, and I don’t know how; but, I know that engaging with cruel people isn’t the answer. They won’t change their closed minds. They won’t be able to hear me. They can only hear their own voices; they are too loud to hear the whispers of kindness. So, I’ve disengaged from the conversation, to protect my own sanity, to protect my heart.
Paris, je t’aime toujours.