The Bank of Emotional Goodwill: Some Christians are Abusing It.

In every relationship, there is a level of accumulated emotional goodwill. We’ll compare it to a bank account. We all start out with an empty bank account, and we fill it up with positive interactions with each other. When we ask something of the other person or hurt them, we drain some of that goodwill. If we deposit more than we withdraw, then we have good relationships. If one person withdraws but rarely deposits, we eventually run out of goodwill and then a negative balance occurs- this is when frustration and anger comes up.

Here’s the problem with being a Christian in Americasome of you are constantly draining our tanks of goodwill and you don’t even realize it. You assume that we should be totally fine with how you’re treating us, and that we should never complain about it. Then when you make yet another withdrawal on an empty balance, we snap. You can’t figure out why we’re upset because you don’t understand how you’re draining us on a daily basis.

This is how some of you drain our tanks of goodwill:

  • When people change their beliefs, you make them feel bad about it. “You’ve disappointed us by changing your beliefs and making decisions we don’t approve of. We can’t be happy because you don’t share our beliefs anymore.” Forcing someone to choose between their conscience and making their family happy is a terrible burden to put on anyone. I am not responsible for your happiness. If you cannot be happy because I don’t share your beliefs, then you have a personal problem and you’re taking that problem out on me. That’s unfair.
  • When people change their beliefs, you accuse them of abandoning or betraying you. But we’re just following our conscience, same as you. Just because I started out believing something doesn’t mean I am obligated to continuing believing it. In fact, changing our minds is a normal part of growing up. Of course I started out as a Christian- I didn’t know anything else! One of the worst feelings in the world is knowing that you have failed the expectations of those you love.
  • There is something seriously wrong with you for thinking this way. You are a broken, immoral person for not thinking like us. You must be deceived by the Devil or be mentally compromised somehow; it’s inconceivable that you could change your mind without something being terribly wrong with you. You must be going crazy!” If you have said or implied any of this to your loved ones, then congratulations! You have most likely ripped a hole through their heart and they will forever bear the scars. You have made them feel like a pile of horse dung, destroyed their self esteem and self confidence, and then when they get upset with you for hurting them so much you’ll shake your head and wonder “what did I ever do to them?”
  • Unresolved conflict. Problems don’t just go away because we don’t talk about them. If you’ve hurt someone and have refused to change the hurtful attitudes or actions, or if you won’t even acknowledge that the hurt took place and apologize, then the other person will be forced to deal with that pain in silence even if you have forgotten about it. Every time you post or say something that reminds the person of the hurt you caused them, you are reopening the wound all over again. The only way to solve this is to stop avoiding the problem and fix it head on. If you won’t fix it, then don’t complain when the people you’ve hurt sometimes get emotionally triggered and get upset with you over seemingly nothing. It’s not nothing; it’s all the underlying hurt that hasn’t been resolved. You just poured more salt in the wound and then wonder why they’re mad again.
  • You knowingly and willingly worship a god that you believe will melt the flesh from my bones because I believe the wrong things. The fact that you think I deserve this kind of punishment makes me sick to my stomach if I think about it for too long. Sure, you have a right to believe this way, but you’re not free from how this makes your loved ones feel.
  • You demonize those who disagree with you. It’s one thing to say “I don’t agree with your opinion on this matter.” It’s another thing to imply or outright say that the other person has no morals, is incapable of sound judgment (“deceived by the Devil”), does not deserve compassion if they make decisions you don’t like, and so on. I have many Christian friends, and most of them I get along with perfectly fine because they don’t make me feel inferior to them– we respect each other even when we disagree. So if people are getting mad at how you’re expressing your beliefs, it might be time to reevaluate your methods and attitudes. Don’t blame us for getting mad at you if you’re making yourself needlessly offensive to people.
  • You demean us. “Gay people are unnatural and deviant and they are sexual predators. They will destroy society! I can’t have those perverts around my children. Transgender people are abnormal and shouldn’t be accepted by civilized society. Atheists can’t be trusted. They’re always angry and selfish. They can’t possibly have moral standards and they’re going to ruin society.” Listen carefully- THIS IS VERY HURTFUL STUFF YOU’RE SAYING OR IMPLYING HERE. Also, LGBTQ people face high rates of suicide and assault because these attitudes and inaccurate stereotypes keep being perpetuated and used against us. Something to keep in mind.
  • You tell me what I believe. When my beliefs changed, many Christians immediately applied their atheist/Pro Choice/Feminist/Liberal stereotypes onto me without even bothering to find out who I really was and what I actually believed. And most of their stereotypes were wrong. So they created an image of me in their head that was based on fiction, not fact, and then couldn’t understand why I was upset.
  • You oppress others. Disagreeing with someone is one thing. Even if you’re rude, I can still work around that. But opposing their legal rights? That’s a different story. It’s gone from disagreement to you actively forcing your personal beliefs onto them. Opposing my right to make my own decisions in regards to who I marry, how I plan my family, and opposing my right to not be discriminated against… when you do these things, the message you send is this: “I should make your decisions for you. You aren’t good enough to choose your own path. My personal beliefs are more important than your personal liberty.”
  • Your “Us vs Them” attitude. Mainstream Christianity has declared war on the rest of society because they cannot tolerate the rest of us living or believing things differently than them. And many of you align yourself with this movement and say the same things that they do. If we’re not on the same side as you, then we are either potential converts or enemy combatants. And then when we say “Hey! Back off and let us live in peace! Just end the war already and coexist with us!” you claim that we are attacking you. When you start a war, don’t be surprised when people fight back and tell you that you’re not very nice.
  • You equate disagreement with persecution. People disagreeing with you or telling you that you’re hurting them is not persecution. People asking for the same rights you have is not persecution.

We hear these messages constantly, day in and day out, sometimes with flowery language but sometimes almost as bluntly as I wrote it here. (Did I tell you about the Christian online who told me that I deserved to lose most of my friends when my beliefs changed?)

There is nothing wrong with me for being an atheist, for being Pro Choice, a Liberal, or for not being heterosexual. And yet so many people have made it very clear that these parts of me are utterly unacceptable to them- there is something wrong with me because I don’t agree with them anymore.

I’m crying as I write this. You cannot tell me that I’m deficient and a bad person for changing my beliefs without hurting me deeply. There is nothing wrong with me– and yet you think there is. I will never be whole again in your eyes.

Well guess what? Being rejected and judged for who you are hurts, and it causes low self esteem and stress. So in a way, people create their own self-fulfilling prophecies. “People who leave the faith are always angry and lash out at us!” Well of course we are angry! You spend so much effort making us feel inadequate and bad for not believing like you- of course we will not be happy with you and will probably be mad at your religion when we finally leave it! Yes, sometimes people go overboard (I did at first), but you are also making it pretty rough for ex-Christians and then blame us when we get upset.

The Tank Gets Drained

So our tank of emotional goodwill gets drained, and drained, and drained some more. What happens when the tank gets empty and then you make another withdrawal? It goes into the negative and we get irritated. We develop a short fuse with you. You’re taking and taking without depositing enough to fill it back up again. So when you are not depositing, but then make a withdrawal (like posting another thing that reminds me of how little you think of me), you have now pushed us into the negative. It should not surprise you when we get snappy with you when this occurs- after all, you have been abusing our goodwill bank for a very long time.

Understand Your Position of Dominance and Privilege.

Yes, this goodwill bank account thing does go both ways. You have a goodwill tank with us too and we also need to be mindful of how we treat you in return. I’ve never claimed to be perfect at this, and I’ve apologized before for responding in ways that I shouldn’t. But you must understand the difference in power and social dominance here, and understand that for the most part we are forced to be on the defensive against you when we would much rather just live in peace.

As Christians in the USA, you are in the majority- 70% Christians (of various sects) versus 3% atheists and 3.4% LGBTQ.

Please read those stats again. WE ARE THE MINORITY HERE. BY A LANDSLIDE.

When we say something against you, it is NOT the same as you saying it against us because we do not have the social power and privilege behind it like you do. You’re in the overwhelming majority; we’re so small that we have to scream to even be heard compared to you. We face social ostracizing and rates of physical violence and discrimination that many Christians simply can’t relate to because they’re never had to personally see or experience it for themselves. They’re so used to their position of social dominance and privilege that they can’t comprehend what it’s like to live in the US and not have those freedoms.

Almost all of our political leaders identify as Christians. They pray and believe in God, like you.

For LGBTQ or non-Christians to earn the SAME rights as Heterosexual Christians, we have to fight tooth and nail for it just like women and people of color have had to fight for theirs.

And even when we finally win and get some equality, mainstream Christianity gangs up on us to take our rights away again. How many Christian politicians talk about reversing marriage equality, or ending safe abortion access?

Do you have any idea how many millions of dollars are spent by American Christians just to oppose LGBTQ equal rights? It is literally a nationwide campaign to make sure LGBTQ people have to live by Christian values. And in return? LGBTQ people have never once tried to pass laws requiring Christians to marry someone of the same gender, or to become transgender. All we want are equal rights and to be treated with dignity, just like women and people of color have fought for. That is not persecution. This is us asking to be treated fairly, and Mainstream Christianity is freaking out that they don’t get to control us anymore.

Mainstream American Christianity is a massive social machine with one focus- to make America a Christian nation. Christians of this sort are constantly pushing to have their beliefs be adopted by all of society- and then they wonder why minorities like me, who have very little voting power or social power in comparison to them, get so angry about it. You’re acting like bullies, guys. 70% Christians vs 3% atheists/3.4% LGBTQ and you act like this is a fair fight, or that you are somehow the victims.

So you and people like you are draining our goodwill all the time even if you’re not talking to us directly. We see the things you say and support regarding people like us, and we’re not impressed. We are a pitifully small minority in comparison to you, and yet you use your massive influence to paint us as awful people and you actively fight our equality. Our goodwill bank account is constantly in a state of withdrawal, and we are expected to put up with this treatment from you even when you give us nothing in return and contribute to immense societal harm against us. If we object, then we are accused of attacking you.

Expressing Your Beliefs Without Oppressing Others.

If you want non-Christians to stop getting so easily upset with you, then look at how much you and your fellow Christians are draining from our goodwill banks.

When you tear us down by constantly telling saying how bad you think people like us are, are you making a conscious effort to build us back up again? (And no, telling us about Jesus does not count. That’s only a good thing in your world, not ours.) If you want us to respect you, then stop beating us down with your Bible and politics and start making positive deposits into our lives!

It’s hard to get angry at someone who makes you feel good about yourself. And you know what? When you build people up instead of tearing them down, they may actually start to open up to what you have to say. Even if they don’t agree with it, they’re not likely to be hostile towards you if you have treated them with respect and dignity and supported them when they’re being persecuted and needed help.

If you align yourself with Mainstream Christianity, we may start out very apprehensive or nervous around you because we’ve been burned by people affiliated with you so many times before. You can show us that you’re different- and we’d love to see that! But if you do or say the same things to us that everyone else does, then don’t get offended when we respond to you like we do to them- with irritation and justified anger. You’ve shown you’re no different than the other millions of Christians that have made the USA an awful place for us to live in.

So how can you express your beliefs without being oppressive?

First, stop crying persecution all the time. This isn’t the Middle East. It’s very frustrating when you say we’re persecuting you when we just want you to leave us alone so we can live in peace. Or, for you to say we’re attacking you when we ask to be treated as equals. Yes, some people are jerks and will argue or throw insults over anything and they’re out of line, but most of us have genuine grievances and have good reason to be angry. That doesn’t mean we’re persecuting you.

Second, make sure you are treating us with respect and dignity. You greatly outnumber us, so it gets overwhelming dealing with stuff like this from all of you all the time. Don’t be another hurtful voice in a sea of hurtful voices. You will not win anyone to Christianity that way. You just make people even more hostile to your religion because you’re hurting us with it.

Thirdly, do not oppose our equal rights. You like having the freedom to make your own decisions, right? You wouldn’t want someone else’s personal beliefs to be forced on you, so don’t do that to us. If anyone ever tried to make it illegal for you to go to church, I’d be right there fighting for your rights. Why? Because I stand for equality- not just for me, but for everyone. It would be nice if you felt my rights were worth fighting for too, but if you can’t support me then at LEAST don’t be one of the ones oppressing me.

 

Sorry this was long, but there are years of pain and frustration that needed an outlet. If you took the time to read it all, perhaps you’ll understand me a bit better now. Either way, I wish you well.

 

What Not to Say to an Atheist When They’re Grieving

086b16bebf7132e2b4770016186d4b25So I’ve had some time to process this, and I’m ready to talk about it.

When well-meaning people say that “There is no comfort or hope without Jesus” or “You can’t get through loss without faith” when addressing people who may not share those beliefs, what’s essentially happening is that they are putting down other people’s beliefs and methods of dealing with grief in order to promote their own. It’s exactly what a salesman does- they belittle their competition so their own product is more enticing.

You may personally need Jesus for comfort and hope. But I do not. And that’s ok.

As an atheist, I don’t need prayer or faith to get through sadness and loss. I’ve lived in both belief systems, and I can tell you from extensive personal experience as an ex-Christian that neither offers a superior method of comfort. They’re just different, and some people may do better with one method over another. We all grieve and find solace in different ways; what works for you may not work for me and vice versa. I acknowledge this, and I don’t tell religious people that prayer is useless as a comfort method just because I personally find no solace in it. That would be incredibly rude and hurtful, and also untrue since prayer is a great comfort to many. It used to be for me too, after all. But lately I have heard so many well meaning people say or imply that their faith and their beliefs are the only way to get through difficult life circumstances. And given recent events, it’s been incredibly frustrating- especially since these exact things were said at the funeral. I sat there, listening to people blatantly say that their method of hope and comfort is the only one that works. No hope without Jesus. No comfort without their religion. Anyone who isn’t a Christian must have hopeless, meaningless lives and couldn’t possibly get through this grief. But it’s not remotely true.

Not gonna lie, hearing those words in that context was so hurtful that I felt like punching a wall or leaving the room. Having the loss of my loved one be so blatantly used to push someone else’s belief system on me in my time of grief was nearly unbearable. But I don’t like making scenes and the focus of the day was supposed to be about our loved one, so I held my peace. Afterwards I went to the bathroom where I bawled my eyes out in a toilet stall because one again my beliefs had been belittled and put down so others could promote their own- and right when I most needed support and to feel emotionally safe and accepted. Once again it was made very clear to me that some Christians will never see my beliefs as worthy of recognition and respect and validation; I will always be their project in need of fixing, the heathen in need of conversion. The only beliefs that mattered were Christian ones.

It would have been far easier if all the many people who have said these things had bad intentions. I could have just written them off as rude, but they were well-intentioned people just trying to help. They genuinely thought this was the best way to act. I’ve always tried my best to give people the benefit of the doubt; that hasn’t changed.

I’m bringing this up now because the people who say these things usually don’t realize how hurtful it is to those who don’t share their beliefs. If nobody ever makes them aware of it in a way that fosters respectful conversation, how can we ever mend bridges and learn to get along better? How will they ever learn to stop pushing away the very people that they’re trying to win over?

I’m also sharing this because if I say nothing, people will assume that I’m perfectly fine with them assuming that it’s ok to act this way towards me. I’m not. I am just to polite to make a scene in the moment.

I don’t hate anyone for saying these things, and I won’t hold a grudge, but I’m really (really!) not ok with it. I waited so I could express my feelings without allowing too much hurt to affect my ability to address this without lashing out.

There is nothing wrong with finding comfort or hope in prayer or a religion or in spirituality. It really doesn’t bother me when I see people pray for their own comfort or when they pray for others who want to be included in that, or if they give thanks for their food without expecting me to join in. That’s fine! Go for it! However, the superiority and exclusionary ideology that puts certain Christians’ beliefs and methods on a pedestal above everybody else’s does bother me- especially when I’m grieving and would like for my beliefs to ALSO be respected and acknowledged as valid and important, even if it’s just done by keeping things more neutral when in potentially mixed company. I don’t expect religious people to do atheist things to make me feel comfortable. I want to make that very clear. I don’t need others to participate in my personal traditions in order to feel respected and validated. Honestly I’d much rather try to make everybody feel welcome and accepted no matter what their beliefs are, and to focus on the life of the person who has passed, rather than focusing on ideologies and people’s personal beliefs which people are surely going to disagree on. It’s the exclusion and the implication that my beliefs are inferior and useless that makes me angry and hurt, not the fact that others believe in God and pray.

Please, hear me. Do not ever tell a non-believer that they have no hope or comfort just because they don’t believe like you. It’s pretty much the most hurtful thing you could possibly say to an atheist when they are grieving. Your good intentions may help us look past it, but they don’t make the words any less hurtful or exclusionary.

 

Are you a believer who is unsure how to act around non-believers in these situations? Feel free to ask here. I promise I won’t bite. I’ll just be happy that you care enough to try to learn how to interact with us better. 🙂 Are you an atheist or someone of another belief system who has experienced similar things? Share them if you wish. Everyone must be respectful, however. I wrote this to try to build a better understanding between those who so often just do not understand each other, not to facilitate pointless arguments. We can share our frustrations and grievances in a reasonable manner. Anyone who resorts to name calling or attacks other people personally will be banned.

Musings on Love

abbe2097a5d43d479e860eb214022357One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies, First Knight:

Arthur: God uses people like you, Lancelot. Because your heart is open. You hold nothing back. You give all of yourself.
Lancelot: If you knew me better, you would not say such things.
Arthur: Oh, hey, I take the good with the bad, together. I can’t love people in slices.

God stuff aside, this scene really sums up my thoughts about love.

**We can’t love people in slices.** Love, whether it’s romantic or platonic, is not complete if we attach conditions to it. People are not two dimensional caricatures; we are complex, multi-faceted beings that embody both good and bad, intelligence and ignorance, happiness and sadness, strength and weakness. If we only accept the parts that we like about people, then we’re not truly accepting them at all. Instead, we’re holding affection for a false version of them that we have in our heads. It’s like photoshopping a picture of someone and only ever wanting to look at that fake, touched up version of them instead of seeing the actual person. It’s not real, it’s not really them, but we prefer it that way because their real self is not acceptable to us.

If I can’t accept you as you are, do I truly love you or care about you? Or do I only like the plasticized version of you that I’ve created in my head? I don’t think we can say we truly love someone without actually accepting them as they are.

Now it’s true that we’re not always going to like everything a person does or thinks. We may have very different interests and beliefs and feel very strongly about these things being good or bad, and that’s ok. Accepting and loving someone as they are doesn’t mean you personally have to like or do those things, it just means you accept that the other person does, and you don’t look down on them for it. It means that you love the WHOLE them, even if you disagree or dislike some of it. At least that’s how I’ve personally come to see it.

If you get to know me well enough, I’m sure we will eventually disagree on something. I’m very opinionated, after all. 😉 I like seeing intelligent minds sharing their differing opinions in a respectful way. Listening to the perspectives of others is how we learn and grow. If we only ever talk to people who share all of our views, we’ll never be challenged to think anything new.

It should be noted that there’s a huge difference between accepting people as they are and putting up with toxic or abusive behavior, or dealing with a loved one suffering from addiction or obviously self destructive behavior. There are other serious issues at play in these situations besides simply accepting or not accepting someone.

Religious Manipulation Strikes Again

A few days ago, someone from my religious past sent me old photos from my childhood as a nice gesture. Tonight he sent me a religious music video of a worship song that I used to sing all the time when I was religious, one I was rather known for since I sang it passionately in church all the time. The message was clear: He thought that sending me a video of my old favorite worship song would somehow make me want to be a Christian again. 
This person was once a person of great significance in my life when I was a young teenager, he was a mentor figure. Now I can’t communicate with him without him trying to blatantly coerce me back into their belief system. He knew I didn’t like him pushing his beliefs on me because he’d done it before; I removed him from my Facebook friend’s list after repeated failed attempts to get him to respect my wish to not be preached at. So he certainly knew better, and sent it anyways. 

I feel like he used those old photos in a manipulative way to get me to be more receptive to his blatant reconversion attempt. He did something nice for me, so he probably figured that I’d feel obligated to not be mad at his intrusive and unsolicited religious pressuring. 

I don’t hate religion, there are many wonderful religious people that I have a lot of respect for. But I do hate religion being used to pressure or harm others, and I no longer have the patience to let people use their faith to bully or demean me. I’ve grown a backbone over these past years… I started out terrified of negative social confrontation and making people upset with me, and now I have no problem putting people in their place and being unapologetic about having my own opinions. It’s been a very difficult journey of self improvement, facing my fears, and boosting my low self confidence. And like all life journeys, it’s far from over. 

My reply to him was very blunt. I didn’t say anything nasty or mean, that’s not really in my nature, but I certainly didn’t mince words about what I thought of his message. In reply, he preached at me and then insisted on saying “I’ll be praying for you” after I reiterated that I did not like him pushing his beliefs on me. 

I hate this so much. I hate being reminded yet again that people of importance in my life who once praised and respected me when I was religious now think so little of me as an atheist. It’s been several years since I came out as an atheist, and though it’s gotten much better, people’s rejection and negative reactions have yet to stop negatively affecting me. 

I can’t decide if I feel like crying or punching something. Or both amidst some (responsible) weed consumption. But my body says it wants sleep, so that’s going to take priority now that I’ve sorted out some of my thoughts. I find that journaling is an effective way to emotionally process life’s bullshit.  

Would I Worship a God if it Did Exist?

For those who regularly read my blog, you know by now where I stand on evidence and religion. I used to believe in God, but no more. In order for me to ever believe in the existence of a deity again, there would have to be concrete, scientific evidence that proves its existence. Peer reviewed, according to the scientific method- the whole nine yards. This is how I know certain exotic animals exist- I have never seen them myself, but there is a smorgasbord of scientific evidence to show me that they do indeed exist. I don’t see why I should accept less than this when it comes to a deity’s existence, since the question of his existence is far more important than the existence of a rare frog or bird.

But what if that proof did exist, and it was undeniable that a God did exist? And what if this evidence also proved beyond any doubt that this God wanted worship? After all, the Bible says that even demons believe; believing that a god exists and worshiping it are two very different things. Would I give him the worship he (or she or it) seeks?

No. I don’t think I would. Why?

The character of a deity is important.

Why would someone want to be worshiped? To me, the desire to be openly adored and worshiped signifies a deep character problem. It signifies pride and ego that needs stoking, or a major insecurity problem that they are trying to overcome. It also makes me think of narcissism. To be blunt, I cannot think of a single positive reason for wanting to be worshiped.

Think about it. What kind of people do you respect the most? The people who do good things and then demand recognition for it, or the people who do good without any thought of reward or praise? Doesn’t the demand or desire for public praise kind of negate the good that the person does? It becomes a pride and status thing, rather than simply a good thing, when we do things for others in expectation of recognition or reward.

Desiring a “thank you” for a job well done is one thing; desiring worship is another thing altogether.

A good father or ruler does not demand or expect worship.

Many forms of religion view God as a father or mother. Christianity especially reveres God as a father figure. What kind of father wants to see his children prostrated on the ground in submission and humility, like servants or second-class people? What kind of father constantly needs the praise of his children and gets angry when they do not praise him in the way he wants? Not a very good one. We generally call this abuse or bad parenting, depending on the severity. It’s certainly not loving behavior that respects the autonomy and rights of others. And what about nations where ruler worship is required, such as North Korea? Don’t we usually see this kind of behavior from a ruler as extremely negative and unjust to their people?

Doing good deeds does not mean someone deserves worship.

Of course, thanking someone for a good deed is nice to do. But thanking someone is different from worshiping them. If a kind stranger helps me with my groceries, I will certainly say thank you. But I will not worship him or adore him unconditionally.

If God is real, and he created us and this world and is directly involved in our everyday lives, then he is responsible for both our joys and our pain. Why should I thank him for my joys without also holding him accountable for my pain? If a parent gives their child clothing but also knowingly allows a rapist to harm them, should we expect the child to adore their parents? Of course not! Of course, real parents are imperfect and not all-knowing and child molesting tragically happens without their knowledge or permission; but God isn’t supposed to have those limitations. If he knows all and can prevent any pain he chooses, what kind of twisted father would allow his child to be raped or their sibling murdered?

Besides, I didn’t ask to be created. It’s like a parent expecting their child to be eternally grateful for the labor that their mother went through as she gave birth. Yes, she did a great thing and it was very hard. No, it’s not fair to hold that over a child’s head in order to make them adore her. I have a friend whose mother used to always bring up her “18 hours of awful labor!” anytime she wanted to make my friend feel guilty for not appreciating her enough. That’s not love, that’s manipulation.

My freedom and self respect is important to me.

When someone has true freedom and self respect, they do not feel the need to bow before anyone else. Even if one person has more power than the other, true equality and freedom means that we still do not need to bow before them. When we live in a system where the powerful are revered and the powerless are expected to adore them, we live in injustice. I could not serve a deity who acted like this. 

In summary, I think that it’s very unlikely that I would serve a deity even if one was proven to exist. But until there is proof that one exists, it’s all hypothetical and does t really matter. I wrote this primarily because I’m often asked what it would take for me to be a Christian again.

When Christians Question Our Mental Capability to Change our Beliefs

I’ve noticed an interesting trend since my deconversion a few years ago: When we become Christians, we are commended for making a wise decision. Even if we were indoctrinated from an early age and were never shown alternative beliefs as viable options, people rarely question whether or not our decision to become a Christian was based on manipulation, coercion, social pressure, or whether it was used as a crutch during difficult times. However, when we stop believing and become atheists, the first thing some Christians do is question our mental capabilities and our ability to understand our decision.

Here are questions that atheists are regularly asked when they leave their religious faith and openly come out as a non-believer to their religious loved ones. If these same questions were asked of recently converted Christians, they would certainly (and understandably) be considered offensive.

  • “Did someone influence, manipulate, pressure, or coerce you to make that decision? Who in your life convinced you to believe that way?”
  • “Have you really thought it through?”
  • “What trauma or difficult life event caused you to believe this way?”

And then there are the equally offensive assumptions:

  • “You must be deceived by the devil. Your mind has been taken over by demonic influences.”
  • “It’s just a phase, you’ll come back when you’ve come to your senses.”
  • “You must never have been a Christian in the first place; you must have been mistaken about how sincere of a believer you actually were.”

Basically, if you choose to be a Christian, it’s automatically assumed that you’re mentally capable of making that decision without coercion or manipulation involved. If you choose to stop being a Christian, suddenly your mental capabilities, decision-making abilities, and the validity of your deconversion itself are called into question.

Smart, mentally capable people choose Christianity- mentally deficient, damaged, easily influenced people choose atheism. That’s the overwhelming message I received when I came out as an atheist. 

In the words of Adrian Black (see his blog here), another atheist I know who recently came out publicly and whose mental capability was immediately questioned right off the bat:

“Dismissing my decision as something I was coerced, tricked, or forced into is very much questioning my mental ability to decide for myself. It’s amazed me in the times I have been questioned about this how quickly people forget who they’re talking too. To think that I would flippantly justify or be misled on this of all things… If you are looking for the person who persuaded or coerced me, who broke the shackles of my belief, than look here. I am the one who challenged myself… as I always have.

‘Great Precaution Not To Offend A Minister’: Couple Denied Marriage Explains Why They Chose A Judge (link)

“We took great precaution not to offend a minister — that’s why we went to a judge to get married, never dreaming that he couldn’t follow the law,” Wilson told WTOL. “That he wouldn’t follow the law.”

“To go through that experience when it’s not pleasant and singles you out at a time in your life when you’re celebrating the fact that you have the same right as everyone else, it’s just not good. I don’t want anyone else to go through it,” she added.

But of course, the religious right will never be satisfied. Most same-sex couples who want to marry aren’t asking clergy members they don’t know to marry them, to avoid awkward situations and out of respect for their religious beliefs.

But taxpayer employees of the state have, as written above, a legal duty and sworn oath to do their jobs, “faithfully and impartially.”

How much more are same-sex couples supposed to do to appease anti-gay activists and “Christians”?

What more does the religious right want?

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/_great_precaution_not_to_offend_a_minister_couple_denied_marriage_explains_why_they_chose_a_judge

So what more can we do? This couple specifically didn’t go to a church in order to not offend any clergy, and they were STILL faced with a religious person who refused to marry them, even though it was literally his job to do so.

This is the next stage of the LGBTQ movement for equality- making sure that state officials actually obey the law. State officials are NOT entitled to refuse service to anyone because of their personal beliefs- they are obligated to represent the law, not themselves, even when they personally disagree with the law. Any government official that cannot represent the law consistently should find a new profession, since they’re unable to fulfill their most basic duties which they swear to uphold.

“God is Not a Christian” -Quote

“…The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for me.

I mean, God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindi or Buddhist. All of those are human systems, which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition. But I don’t think my tradition defines God. It only points me to God.”

http://deadstate.org/retired-priest-hell-was-invented-by-the-church-to-control-people-with-fear/

THIS.

To My Christian Friends who Oppose Marriage Equality

This past week has been a roller coaster of emotion for me. On one hand, marriage equality finally came to the U.S.- although there are still other important areas to be worked on, this was a massive step for LGBTQ equality and that’s wonderful! My first Pride Festival was also a very positive experience; I loved the acceptance and freedom to by myself that I felt there. It was a safe and happy place and I was able to meet other people just like me. I was also very happy to see support from countless Christians in my life this past week- even those that did not personally agree with me were still vocal in their support of my right to choose for myself, and they shared my joy with me even as they stayed true to their own religious beliefs.

But there was another side to this past weekend- Christians who don’t approve of marriage equality did a lot of posting and talking about their feelings on the matter. Of course it’s your right to believe whatever you want and express those beliefs, and I’ll always support that right because freedom can’t be given only to those we agree with- but your words come with consequences. And often it’s other people who have to live with the consequences of words we so causally throw around.

I cried this past weekend. I cried because the way you used your freedom of speech hurt me deeply. You’re not strangers on the internet, people I’ve never met who understandably wouldn’t have as much personal empathy for me. But you are people I know personally, people who claim to respect and care about me. I need to express to you how you’ve made me feel this week, I need you to understand the power of your words to tear people down and push people even farther away from your faith.

1. This isn’t just a simple disagreement.

I disagree with my Christian friends all the time. Our conversations usually look like this:

(Me) “I believe homosexuality isn’t a sin. I don’t believe in sin. Therefore I would marry someone of the same sex if I fell in love with them.”

(Them) “I believe homosexuality is a sin. Therefore I would not date or marry someone of the same gender.”

THAT is a disagreement. We both have our views, we express them respectfully, and neither of us are forcing our views on each other. This, however, is what has been happening with the issue of marriage equality:

(Me) “I believe homosexuality isn’t a sin. I don’t believe in sin. Therefore I would marry someone of the same sex if I fell in love with them.”

(Them) “I believe homosexuality is a sin. Therefore, no one should be allowed to marry someone of the same gender, even if their beliefs say otherwise. I also believe that you are pushing your beliefs on me by even asking to marry someone of the same gender.” religion-505x320

Do you see the difference? You’re not just disagreeing with me, you’re literally telling me that I do not deserve legal freedom to follow my own beliefs if they happen to be different from yours. You want YOUR religious beliefs to be legally enforced on my personal life. That isn’t a disagreement- that is you using your religion to oppress me.

And then, to add insult to injury, you are getting upset at me for even ASKING to be allowed to legally live out my own beliefs, or for pointing out that the way you’re addressing this issue is extremely hurtful and oppressive to the LGBTQ community. My fight for legal equality is presented as an attack on your religious beliefs, even though you’re the ones trying to make me live according to your beliefs and not mine. Me wanting to live out my own beliefs is not an attack on your religious freedom.

When you say we don’t deserve legal equality, you’re saying that we are second class citizens who can’t and shouldn’t make decisions for ourselves. By saying that your personal religious beliefs should trump our personal freedom, that you should dictate how we’re allowed to live our lives, you dehumanize and demean us.

You’re also going against everything our nation stands for, since our nation was literally founding on the idea that all people should be free to follow their own personal beliefs without our shared government promoting any of them over another. The same constitutional clause that unequivocally protects your right to follow your religion also protects me from being forced to follow your religion in any way.

I don’t care what you believe about sin. That’s a matter of personal belief. I may respectfully debate it with you (if we both want to have that conversation), but as long as you’re not shaming, belittling, or mocking me I don’t care what you believe. However- I DO care that you think your beliefs about sin should be enforced and regulated via our shared government, which was founded upon freedom for every American. Freedom and justice for ALL, not freedom and justice for Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians. Your religious freedoms only extend as far as my freedoms begin. I can’t (and wouldn’t!!) force you to marry someone of the same gender or perform same sex marriages, and you can’t (and shouldn’t!!) force me not to.

2. You have dehumanized and mocked me and my struggles.

This week I’ve watched as my Pride symbols have been taken apart, mocked, belittled, and appropriated to support your own cause. Here are some examples:

o-STRAIGHT-PRIDE-facebook10574291_742552252457683_9052486822310658960_n

7b4fe5c396a8791e3e1ddc76304d370c

Please stop.

The LGBTQ community faces discrimination and persecution that Christians in the United States don’t even come close to understanding. 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ teens and young adults that were thrown out of their homes when they came out of the closet, or that left home in desperation because they couldn’t stand the constant judgment and stigma from their loved ones. Transgender people face a 66% risk of violence or attempted violence, most have been severely bullied or discriminated against, and 41% of them have attempted suicide because of how society treats them. LGBTQ people are regularly assaulted, harassed, and judged in public places in the United States. Many have literally lost their lives, whether because of violence enacted against them or because of suicide after years of unending societal torment. The LGBTQ community faces a high rate of depression because of the stigmas and discrimination they have to endure. BQstZ8vCEAA6IqI

THIS is what these symbols represent. Our struggles, the blood and tears we have shed, and the hope of one day gaining freedom from oppression, societal violence, and unjust laws. Our flags and colors and symbols represent unimaginable struggle, but also courage and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. The rainbow represents HOPE for us, just as it represents hope for you. For us it represents hope that there is beauty after a storm. We can both gain equal and different inspiration from this beautiful manifestation of nature. 

And yet you mock our symbols, manipulate them to promote your own religious agendas, you put our symbolism down to build up your own. And then you wonder why the LGBTQ community gets angry at you?

3. “God will judge our nation for this!” “It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah!”

This is so incredibly insulting. With all the horrible things happening in the world and in the United States, such as sex trafficking and priests sexually abusing children and black churches being burned by racist terrorism, THIS is the issue you think that God will destroy America over? Loving committed relationships will ruin our nation, but the Christian holocaust of Native Americans in our early history didn’t? Our massive slave trade and legalized racism prior to the 60’s didn’t? America’s terrible treatment of the LGBTQ community wouldn’t? If your God would judge America for loving relationships but not these atrocities, then he is an unjust monster that is not worthy of worship.

4. “We win in the end!”

I didn’t see this one specifically on my friends’ posts, but it was certainly being thrown around by a lot of Christians this weekend. Even if you believe this is true, try to see it from our point of view. Your God is going to destroy us anyways in the end, and you’re happy about this? Wow.

5. “One Man One Woman” isn’t just insulting, it isn’t even Biblical.

one_man_and_one_woman_is_a_marriage_shirt-r64bca016ec19467d9304d1d1817ac763_f0yq2_1024This one has long been posted by anti-gay Christians, and a huge number of Christians on my Facebook have been posting them this week. it’s by far been the most popular. But here’s the problem: It’s not even Biblical.

While the Bible may not allow same sex marriages (debated hotly in Christian circles), it certainly DOES allow polygamy, sex slaves (concubines) and treating women like property. The only place that says a man should have a single wife is specifically referring to bishops. This is an issue that Christian missionaries overseas have had to come to grips with, since other nations still embrace polygamy even while also embracing Christ. These missionaries had to acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t actually condemn polygamy, and thus they had no right to condemn the cultural practices of the local people. I studied this when I was in Bible college preparing to be an overseas missionary, and I remember having to reevaluate my idea of what marriage meant in other Christian cultures.

“One man and one woman” is NOT the only type of marriage God allowed in scripture, so these memes are far more indicative of your own personal prejudice than of God’s alleged words. So not only are these memes hurtful because you’re making it clear that our marriages disgust you, but they don’t even match what your own Bible says about the types of marriage that God allegedly condones. i_support_traditional_marriage_pin-rd49d3b1df1b24668a0ff03ad723ca880_x7efx_1024

And as for the memes that state “I support traditional marriage”: “Traditional” doesn’t mean it’s right. Banning interracial marriages was once traditional too. Treating women like property was once traditional. Marrying girls barely out of puberty (or still in puberty) is STILL traditional in many countries. Until 1993, “traditional marriage” included the legal rights of the husband to rape his wife, and not that long ago wives were not allowed to vote or hold their own property. And the Biblical versions of marriage are VERY different than the marriage traditions we hold today.

“Traditional marriage” is a meaningless phrase that can be translated into “We’ve always done it this way, and I don’t want to change it!” Our laws should not be based on tradition, but on what’s fair and just for all citizens. And sometimes that means challenging and changing traditions that shouldn’t have been traditions in the first place.

6. You Were the Catalyst for Me Leaving Christianity.

Not directly, and probably not for the reasons you’re thinking, but it’s true. Years ago, when I was still a Christian, the state of Maine was voting on marriage equality. Although I believed it was a sin at the time, I didn’t think it was right to force any of my beliefs on non-believers, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. I had several gay and lesbian friends and I supported and loved them even though I disagreed. However, countless Christian friends on my Facebook were not so empathetic. Most of these Christians were people I went to Bible college with, though there were others from my circles growing up.

The message they sent was clear: They did not respect or love these people. They wanted to force their religion on them, and were not above dehumanizing and degrading them to accomplish this. And not only that, but they started attacking and belittling any Christians who dared to disagree with them. I saw this on one of my friend’s pages: “You can’t be a Christian and support gay marriage!” Really? You’re speaking for God now?

Their hateful attitudes and lack of empathy caused me to question whether or not being gay was actually a sin. After all, Jesus never said the things they were saying. Was this anti-gay attitude really Biblical after all? So I dug deeper into scripture and actually listened to other Christians who believed it wasn’t a sin, and I was shocked. The issue wasn’t as black and white as I’d thought- there were other legitimate ways to interpret those scriptures, similar to how we interpreted verses about slavery.

That day I realized two things that shocked me to my very core- One, my Christian circles only accepted me if I thought just like them, and two, that the church that I had trusted to teach me truth had been wrong on something really important. This last realization caused me to dig into other issues as well. Once I started openly questioning my faith, the questions I’d pushed down for years on many issues all came flooding to the surface. Eventually I wondered whether the Bible was divinely inspired, and realized I didn’t think it was. And then came the biggest question of all: Does God actually exist? My answer surprised me, but it was also comforting too because I no longer had to try to explain away the things that had never made sense to me. I no longer had to struggle with cognitive dissonance.

If these Christians in my life had not been so blatantly hateful towards the LGBTQ community and Christians who supported them, I would probably never have started questioning my faith. If my religion had been a source of love and acceptance instead of division and intolerance that was causing immense pain to LGBTQ people I cared about, I would have had very little reason to question those beliefs. But you made it impossible for me to coast along anymore. You forced me to dig deeper, to ask the tougher questions. And for that I thank you.

I want to clarify that I didn’t leave Christianity because of mean Christians. I’m not foolish enough to judge the validity of an entire belief system on the hurtful actions of some. There are mean atheists too, every group has its good and bad members. Truth is not determined by how people act. However, while your attitudes didn’t directly result in my unbelief, it was the catalyst that caused me to begin openly questioning my beliefs.

I know that converting people to your belief system is important to you, and keeping them in the faith is even more important to you- and the way you’re dealing with this specific issue is turning people away from your faith in so many different ways. For some like me, it was the catalyst that got us questioning our beliefs in general and was thus an indirect cause of our leaving the faith to become atheists or agnostics. For others, the hatred and anger coming from the church made them not want any part of it anymore, so they left the church to follow God in their own way, often joining the ranks of the “nones” who have no specific religious affiliation.

Here’s my point: If you want to get people into your faith, and to stop people from leaving it, then you HAVE to change how you’re addressing this issue. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs on sin to acknowledge that how you’re treating sinners isn’t effective and may not be how God would want you to act.

Conclusion:

I love you all, even those of you who have caused me pain this week. I don’t begrudge you your right to express your beliefs just as I express mine. But I need you to understand that how you’re addressing this issue affects me and the rest of the LGBTQ community. It’s hard to see my friends post and say these things, even as they claim to love and respect me. Saying “I love you!” means little when you’re using your religion to belittle and hurt me. And when I’m hurting, sometimes my filter doesn’t work as well as it should. I’m more apt to passionately comment on those posts trying to make you see how hurtful it is. I’m more apt to share posts that may hurt you in return, things that on a normal day I’d refrain from posting. I’m not excusing any reactions I’ve had that may have gone too far, I’m just saying that I’m not perfect and when my friends act this way it feels like I have to defend my right to even exist in their world. I’m saying that in my pain I sometimes lash out because I just want the pain and judgment to stop, and nobody seems to listen when I say things nicely. I’m doing my best to coexist with you, but some days you make it so damn hard.

I don’t expect any of you to change your beliefs on homosexuality being a sin. I’ve never asked that and never will. But I am hoping that perhaps you’ll find a new, kinder, more effective way to address it, just as you address other sins.

Charleston Shootings: It Indicates a Huge Problem that We’re Not Addressing.

WittyFacebookStatusMindPictures-12125The attack in Charleston was racist fueled terrorism. It was a terrorist attack, carried out by a white person who believed that black people were ruining his country. We can’t make excuses for this. Our nation is not post-racial, it’s still divided by hate and unfounded fear of people who are different, and tragically innocent people like these churchgoers are paying the price for the hatred and stigma of others. 
And it’s not just people of color who suffer from this national divide and ingrained hatred of those who are different… other groups face similar violence daily in the U.S. by people with the same kind of attitude.
 
You know what really stopped me in my tracks when reading about this incident? The shooter blamed black people for the problems in this nation. He basically said black people were destroying America. In his words: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country — and you have to go.”
 
After I became an atheist, I had strikingly similar sentiments directed towards me. “Atheists are ruining our country! Atheists should leave America! Atheists are evil and immoral and will ruin everything!” Over and over and over and over again, like a broken record that I can’t shut off. Even from people I care about, this stigma of “atheists ruining our nation” was and is continually perpetuated and thrown in my face. This hateful and erroneous belief is even taught in churches. Atheists are the enemy, “we must convert them or fight their evil influence and take back our nation!” and so on. And an even worse attitude is levied against the LGBTQA community, which I am a part of too, so now I get a double serving of the “you’re ruining our nation!” stigma.
So what happens when they teach these ideas to someone who’s prone to violence?  
 
WHEN YOU TEACH AND PROMOTE LIES ABOUT ENTIRE GROUPS OF PEOPLE, WHEN YOU ENCOURAGE HATE AND FEAR, VIOLENCE AGAINST THE STIGMATIZED GROUP IS USUALLY THE RESULT.
 
Yeah, I’m text-yelling. I’m yelling because your words have power, and when you say untrue and horrible things about black people or LGBTQA people or atheists or any other stigmatized groups, then YOU are contributing to a culture that is divided against itself, that fosters domestic terrorism against its own citizens on a regular basis. Yeah, you have freedom of speech, you can say what you want. But your freedom may be literally costing people their lives because not everyone has the restraint against violence that you do. They hear your rants about certain people ruining your country, and they jump to the next logical conclusion: The people ruining their country have to be destroyed to restore order and balance.
.
So stop it. Stop perpetuating racism and hatred and misunderstanding of LGBTQA people, atheists, Muslim Americans, and anyone else who dares to not be a white heterosexual cisgender Christian. STOP. If you don’t, then start blaming yourself for these acts of violence committed against them because you’re partly responsible for it.
NO ONE deserves to be attacked or marginalized for who they are or what they believe. No one deserves to live in a nation where other citizens regularly put them down and enact violence against them just because they’re different. I am opposed to terrorism in all its forms- at home and abroad. It just makes me mad to see so many Americans talk about ISIS and then ignore or explain away terrorist acts right in their own backyard. Terrorism isn’t terrorism because someone with a turban does it… terrorism takes many forms, and it happens here among us, by us.