Now that I have labeled myself as an atheist, I'm beginning to see how colorful and amalgamated my new cohorts truly are.
I see many who have deep passion for action and change. Brimming with ideas on how to make society become more accepting of our non-belief, many atheists wield an unfettered openness and fearlessness. I see people anxious to go "head to head" against the status quo concerning the negative views theists generally have against atheists.
I believe these sentiments are noble and worthy; I privately watch such atheists with admiration and envy.
I also see many who are passive and quite. Change is desired, but prudence restricts their openness. A sensitivity is there amid a simmering passion for change. Caution is on the lips of such an atheist. This type of non-believer constantly reiterates the fact that we need to evaluate our activism before we try to change the world around us.
I am one of the latter types. I'm still in the closet, peeking through the crack I've made in the door frame. I want to come out, but too many people are watching me. I don't want to ruin important relationships that are too meaningful to me. I'm flexible enough to accept any changes they might make, but perhaps they wouldn't know what to do with me. We're simply not at the same level of tolerance.
I'm not referring to the casual acquaintance or even the stranger on the street. I don't mind if these people know about my non-belief. Rather, I refer to family members which I love deeply; loved ones that may only have a few precious years left in my life. Should I become open before such people, I would lose them long before necessary. I also have close friends that would perhaps feel betrayed should I ever come out in an open, fearless, and brazen fashion.
And then, there is my place of employment. One never knows how Christian employers my treat an apostate atheist.
Hey -- I gotta eat.
So, I keep quite -- except around a few select people and within the medium of this blog.
I think nearly all atheists can agree that we want more acceptance from the religious world. We want to know that we can be open and expressive about our non-belief without the backlash of possible discrimination.
We want others to realize that we atheists do not have horns on our heads and a pointy tail. We are not amoral by default. We're not imps of the devil.
In light of this, we must also be careful that we remember that religion in and of itself is not always the problem. Intolerance is the problem. Yes, religion easily fuels intolerance. In many cases, religion even creates intolerance.
But the religious have a right to enjoy and express their beliefs just as we as atheists desire the same rights to free expression of non-belief.
I've noticed that many people who possess high mental acumen in a particular subject matter -- or overall -- have a tendency to be impatient with those who do not share their mental gift.
Have you ever talked on the phone with a tech support representative who was gruff and terse? Usually this is because they do not want to spend time helping anyone with such elementary things as double-clicking. Geeks generally do not want to help someone figure out a problem which, in their minds, has such a painfully obvious solution. Either that or they were busy being geeks and didn't want to be bothered by your support call.
This seems to happen in any facet of life.
I think the same happens between many atheists and theists. The logic that convinces one to become an atheist becomes so apparent and obvious. At the very least, all the faiths of our time are mythological at best. So, should god truly exist and the atheist were mistaken, god would still probably be far more understanding at our mistake than his alleged followers would ever be. After all, shouldn't god actually transcend humanity? Isn't that the whole idea of being a deity?
So, I think many atheists become impatient with theists. Why can't the religious zealot open his or her eyes and see? Can't theists see the abuse? Why don't they see the hurt? Don't they see the obvious mythological elements to their beliefs?
No, they don't. Because they are brainwashed.
I was brainwashed, too. At my earliest memories, I was Christian. Family members have told me that I tried to witness to people when I was very young. My devotion to Christ spans beyond my own memories.
Can you imagine the difficulty in deprogramming this mindset? Impacting such a phenomena takes time -- and the results happen at a pace of one person at a time in many cases.
But, to imply that the religious are totally devoid of reasoning is dangerous. I wouldn't be writing this blog today if that statement were true for every religious person.
If atheists are to do much good in changing how the religious sees us, we will have to be tolerant, patient, and understanding. We can't simply reduce the theists and religious to "dummies" or "idiots" all the time. Name calling and being belligerent won't help -- even if many religious people are that way towards us. Theists need patient help over time before they can have any hope of overcoming the hurdles of their own bias concerning their faith and their misguided feelings towards the atheist. This change must come in small doses. A little here, a little there.
So be patient with anyone who doesn't see eye to eye with you -- regardless of what you believe. Be patient with anyone who hasn't arrived to where you are yet.
Be mindful that your impatience may undermine your passion for activism and change. Your zeal for tolerance may produce the very intolerance you despise.