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Grow up

May 23, 2011

As I walked the garbage bin to the curb at dusk, the weather was ideal. The boys had just gone to bed. “Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked Roseli. So we did.

Walking hand in hand, Roseli began to tell me the drama that had unfolded at church today. She had heard earlier in the week that a family was moving, and when she ran into the woman in the hallway, Roseli attempted to ask her about the move. Now I wasn’t there, but as Roseli tells it, the woman raised an open palm as if to say, “Talk to the hand,” and said, “I don’t even want to talk to you.”

Roseli couldn’t imagine what her issue was. Later, Roseli saw the woman again and said, “Can we talk?”

She reluctantly agreed and they went into an empty room where this woman spewed forth about 30 minutes worth of angry, nasty, and vile comments about me and what I’ve posted on this blog.

Now I actually like this woman. She’s warm, personable, sweet, and seems like a great mom—at least that’s been my impression of her. I had no idea she despised me so. And she listed a half dozen other women who have decided to distance themselves from us as well.

What is this, high school?

Neither Roseli nor I are upset that some have chosen to distance themselves from us. But I feel bad that my sweet wife has to endure social consequences simply because I no longer share the same cosmic and theological opinions that these women do, and worse yet, that I have the audacity to make my thoughts known. (Heaven forbid!) I find it genuinely puzzling that a mere difference of opinion about the nature of reality can generate such venom.

I suspect that some mistake my criticism of certain beliefs for criticism of them personally. I reject supernaturalism in all its forms, but expressing my disbelief in the supernatural is not the same as calling believers morons.

There are a couple women who have continued to be authentically warm to us, and another couple women who have talked with me directly, for which my respect and esteem for them has only grown. Notably, we’ve had no issues whatsoever with the men in the ward.

So why do I share this story? It’s not to stir the pot (although that can be fun), and it’s certainly not to embarrass this woman—like I said, she seems to be a genuinely nice person who may just be irrationally frightened by (gasp) an atheist who dares open his mouth (or keep a blog, as the case may be). No—I share this story for three reasons.

The first is to illustrate that there can be a real social cost, not only to oneself, but to one’s family, to coming out—as a skeptic, a naturalist, a freethinker, an atheist, or what have you. It’s the same kind of vitriolic response that women fighting for suffrage endured, or that dark skinned people daring to voice the injustice of their oppression endured, or that queers endure even today for simply stating that they exist… Come to think of it, it’s the same kind of ostracism that early Mormons endured!

The second is to invite these women to grow a backbone and tell me your concerns yourself. I’m open. I’m nice. I’m polite. I’m not going to eat your children. Call. Email. Visit—I’ll welcome you warmly, I’ll listen to you, and I’ll probably offer you chocolate.

The third reason for this post is to encourage these same women to rethink the value of ostracizing my wife for anything I’ve written. That makes no sense. Maybe you’re dying to ask her how she can possibly stand living with (shudder) an atheist but you feel uncomfortable asking, but she’s open as well. And if you decide to avoid her because you don’t agree with me, frankly, you’re being unreasonable.

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6 Comments
  1. Carrie permalink

    I’m sorry you’re going through this crap. Even though it’s not comparable to the vitriol you’ve experienced, I lost one of my best friends by coming out as an Ex-Mo/Atheist. She won’t talk to me – and it’s not like I would ever try to convince her to come to the ‘dark side’. She’s so invested in that world view that if it were to crumble she would be devastated.

  2. I have also noticed the tendency that some have to take a general criticism of religion as a personal attack. I always say, if prayer and religion is what helps you make sense of your world, I commend you. So many people go through life without evaluating what is dear to them. Really dear, not what you were taught or told, but YOUR unique views. It is when their views become a source of fear, ostracism, and peer-pressure that I have a problem. Anyone who doesn’t agree with your faith somehow undermines it? I contend that if anyone is threatened by a differing opinion, it doesn’t look very good for your convictions. It appears that you may have some doubt. There is nothing anyone could say to me that would cause me to shout and try to convert anyone to my views. I am confident enough that you can believe anything you like. I ask for the same respect from others, please don’t tell me to change or that I’m wrong, but I have yet to get it.

    If that woman is reading this, I hope she realizes that we all just try to do the best we can with the time we have. We may have a different view about our universe, but we share more in common as humans than our little differences like religion, politics, etc. Remember that tolerance, understanding, and love are what we should be striving for…and I hope that she reaches out to you to learn more about things rather than staying insulated in her little safe zone. It’s fun to meet people with different views! Try it!

    Oh, and regarding the hub bub about all these human labels like religion… What’s that quote?

    “You are never dedicated to something that you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”

    Robert M. Pirsig (1928 -)

    • I hadn’t seen this quotation from Pirsig before. Thanks!

      After I had come out about my nonbelief, many members of the church, including my wife, bore the most fervent testimonies that I had ever seen from them during a fast a testimony meeting. Surely, you would never see people assert something that they believe to be true with such emotion and resolute conviction if they had evidence for their claims. It seems to me that the passion one needs to muster to bear a heartfelt testimony is in compensation for a lack of any shred of evidence.

  3. Jonathan permalink

    This indeed does make me sad. While I do consider myself a religious person, I see no justification in ostracizing anyone for losing that belief. However, to say someone has no shred of evidence is unfair as well. Certainly, there are those that believe with such fervor, yet their foundation is so shaky that any potentially undermining comments truly stir up passion. But it is quite clear that you are very passionate about your view. Since your evidence may be more tangible, I suppose you may feel justified. Believe me when I say that I feel passionate about my worldview, but I find it to be a quiet passion, not one I beat others over the head with. I have come to my conclusions through a lengthy process, feel strongly about them, and still have evidence, even if it cannot be scientifically tested.

    My fear, as I write this, is that without vocal inflection, a smiling face, and with a large gap in our relationship, my words may come off as condescending and further justify your view of many deep believers. Instead, I am trying to be concise and to the point. As stated in my comment on another post, I have deep respect for you, value your friendship, and would say the same words to you in person, likely better conveying the respect behind them. Just know that every time I comment, I will always state exactly what I believe. Hope the right messages comes through 🙂

    • NoriMori permalink

      “I have come to my conclusions through a lengthy process, feel strongly about them, and still have evidence, even if it cannot be scientifically tested.”

      Jonathan, if it cannot be scientifically tested, then it is not evidence.

      “However, to say someone has no shred of evidence is unfair as well.”

      It’s not unfair if it’s true.

      “But it is quite clear that you are very passionate about your view.”

      Which is part of why, like you, I disagree that passion = doubt. There are plenty of people through history who were passionate about their beliefs because they were right, not because they were wrong. But atheist passion I find has little to do with how certain they are. Much of the reason that some atheists are so passionate is because they are also misotheists to varying extents, and for various reasons. A good place to see what those reasons are is to read atheismresource, or to read “The End of Faith” by Sam Harris. Even some of the posts on this very blog will do nicely. Like the May 18th one.

  4. Jonathan permalink

    Know you the difference between a symptom and a sign? A sign is testable, and can be observed by the doctor treating a complaint. A symptom is subjective and is reported, but not observed. It is a personal experience that the afflicted relates. The doctor then uses symptoms and signs to make a diagnosis. Just because he is not able to test for it does not mean it is not a useful indication of something. The same can be said of a spiritual experience.

    Related to evidence, there is significant evidence to support a belief in God as well. The ahteist’s perspective is that any time a causality is found between two natural occuring phenomena, it therefore disproves the need for a supernatural being. While theories may continue to find a deeper cause for laws (i.e. relativity’s accounting for gravitational pull in a spatially 4 dimensional universe), ultimately, the mere fact that a basic law exists is unexplainable by mere science. That law just is there, always has been, always will be. My perspective is that these naturally occuring laws were put in place by a lawgiver. No matter how much evidence you accumulate that these laws can lead to certain events, you still cannot provide a scrap of evidence that God does not exist (a perfectly fair statement, because, as you say, it’s true).

    As a logical person understands quite well, allowing passion to influence your judgment will quite likely lead you to disregard anything that supports a view contrary to that which you hold. A belief in God usually requires a great deal of passion. It often requires so much effort to overthrow that view that it will understandably lead to even greater passion against him. I guarantee you, misotheists are not thinking entirely logically. Their hatred of the God they once believed in will cloud their judgment, and they will, without a doubt, casually disregard any evidence of his existence. When it comes to fallacious reasoning in the arguments for and against God, I’m afraid the knife cuts both ways.

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