Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition 11.23

Hi, I haven’t been posting these questions on Sundays lately, but I have one for today.

I’ve noticed that conservative Christians have a persecution complex. They think society and secularism and homosexuals and atheists and Democrats are out to get them, and to destroy their way of life. Most of this alleged persecution is imaginary. I find that atheists and skeptics have a persecution complex, too. They think believers are out to get them. Every time I suggest that we can be nice to believers, I get responses like, “I’m not going to be walked on” or “I refuse to be a doormat” or “believers send death threats” and so forth. 

I’ve been an atheist for over a decade and the worst I’ve ever experience is a friend telling me she’d initially been appalled when she found out I’d become an atheist and my in-laws freaking out when Mr. WriterDD and I told them we don’t say grace at our house, no, not even on Thanksgiving. I think the persecution of atheists by religious people is largely blown out of proportion and exaggerated. Like urban legends, the stories always seem to be about someone else, a friend of a friend. So here’s my question:

Have you ever personally been persecuted by believers because of your atheism or skepticism?

No hearsay, and no second-hand stories that happened to friends or relatives, please. No news reports. Give specific, concrete examples of how you, yourself, have been persecuted. What exactly happened? Were the persecutors people you knew or strangers?

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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79 Comments

  1. “I’ve noticed that conservative Christians have a persecution complex. They think society and secularism and homosexuals and atheists and Democrats are out to get them, and to destroy their way of life. Most of this alleged persecution is imaginary. ”

    Yup. I would say that in the US and Canada, it is TOTALLY imaginary, because they define “persecution” as “not getting our way on everything 110% of the time.”

    “I find that atheists and skeptics have a persecution complex, too. They think believers are out to get them.”

    Yup. That’s because the believers frequently are out to get them. It’s not paranoia if someone really is out to get you. It’s not stereotyping when people of a certain belief system DO ignore, insult or try to silence you because you don’t agree with them. Read some of the stuff that the far-Right puts out about the future fate in store for non-believers, heretics and so forth, if they get the power to make it happen. Some of it is frightening. Insert the racial name of your choice in their text instead of the terms above, and their agendas become chillingly clear.

    I suppose it depends on what you call persecution. I have been shunned many times by people that were previously my friends before they discovered that I’m one of “those terrible, immoral, Godless secular humanists” that they were taught to fear, distrust, and hate by their church. I have had people say things like, “I would trust a Christian far more than I would trust a(n) (humanist, atheist, Muslim, ‘unchurched’ person” -whatever the f— THAT term is supposed to mean.

    I have had the things above done or said to me by both people I knew/know, as well as by total strangers that I happened to overhear in public. After a while, I get terribly sick and tired of people (including perfect strangers) telling me that they are going to pray for my soul, that I’m going to Hell, etc.

    Blunt example for adults only: If you were an African-American that had to listen to people comment about “lazy, untrustworthy niggers” in front of you and you had to keep silent for fear of reprisal, you would be fully justified in calling it persecution and would have legal remedies if it were not stopped. Not so for atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. How does that differ to today’s climate for us?

  2. My relationship with my child’s father just ended.

    He blames me…. in particular, my lack of (his) religion. He is making me leave.

    Although I know it is not true (I am not at fault), my atheism is his scapegoat as we speak.

  3. Does social ostracism count as persecution? If it does, then I have three examples, otherwise, only one near-example. Maybe these would go best in a posting on, “How have people made you feel vaguely socially uncomfortable because of your atheism / skepticism?”

    1) At the church I attended as an undergrad, there was a several months long “unit” on apologetics for the college crowd. As a physicist, I felt obliged to correct the misunderstanding of thermodynamics that was being purveyed (the usual… “evolution is forbidden by the 2nd law,” ignoring the fact that the earth is not a closed system, etc. Spouted by a chemical engineer, at that!), and as a sound thinker, I felt I should point out the many logical flaws in the discussion of the historical “trustworthiness” of the gospels. This quickly led to dirty looks and social ostracism (I was no longer welcome at the weekly videogame session or pool game)

    2) The only time my father threatened to strike me was when I came out of the closet as an atheist (and he and my mother called in sick to work and drove 6 hours to visit me at university the next day!). Somehow my sarcastic response of lifting me chin and saying, “How typically Christian,” actually saved my straight teeth. (Fortunately, mellowed since then, as well. For several years, I carried out my share of
    rudeness and disrespect towards theists)

    3) When I was a teacher, my students delighted in asking me about my religious beliefs. I steadfastly replied that it would be inappropriate to tell them (they had figured it out, anyway. Hrm…. science teacher enthusiastically discussing the wonders of the universe from the big bang to evolution, saying the Pledge in it’s pre-McCarthyism form? Not exactly subtle…) One day, in the teachers’ lounge, I asked some of my co-workers for advice, “How should I respond when they ask me if I believe in God?” The automatic, unthinking response from my coworkers was, “Say yes, and move on.” It’s not really persecution, but in that moment I felt incredibly lonely and out of place, and for the first time I felt like I had an issue I couldn’t discuss with other adults. This was also when I really understood the various “awareness raising” movements.

    So, all told, quite mild. Nothing like being beaten, forced from my home, or losing my job (though I am quite sure that openly admitting my atheism in the classroom would have led to a chain of events leading to dismissal, or at least encouragement to transfer… I had a tough enough time with parents calling in when I taught about the big bang, tied in discussions of solution chemistry with evolution via the banded iron formations, etc. If I admitted my atheism, everything I did would have been interpreted through the lens of “he’s trying to destroy my kids’ soul!” Aw, Texas, how I do miss thee…)

  4. Hi Tina,

    First of all, I’m very sorry to hear that. :-(

    Second of all, you are correct that his citing your atheism as the reason he is leaving you is just scapegoating. That reasoning should be regarded just as as harshly if he were leaving you because you wouldn’t become a (born-again Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, whatever). Can he honestly say that he didn’t know of your beliefs before now?
    That is so sad on so many levels, not the least of which is the effect his decision will have on your child.

  5. Hrm, perhaps I should have hit preview first. Who would’ve thunk that a web based app would interpret an “I’ve” bracketed for emphasis as a the beginning of an italic block? Whoops.

    Oh yes, and a fourth event, from my childhood. My father used to take me to a church with Sunday school. Well, I worked on reading the whole bible, and it was sometime around age ten when the sunday school director asked that I not attend… it upset the other kids when I asked how moral God was, when I would ask about the various genocides, lists of capital crimes, etc. It turns out that Sunday school only addressed the happy happy joy joy parts of the bible, or at least put a “happy happy” spin on horrific events (Noah story death of millions / billions, anyone?)

  6. You mean, beyond the pearl clutching?

    As a military spouse, I was forced to see a chaplain before getting approval to move from our overseas location to my previous home where I could be employed again once he deployed. Obviously, if I wanted to leave my unemployed stay at home lifestyle that meant I needed counseling. And counseling means I need Jesus. Nevermind that in my application to leave I had the support of commanders and a visit to mental health. No, I had to meet with a chaplain with my husband. Thankfully, he was a good guy and didn’t throw us out when our answer to our faith background was none. However, the policy that made a chaplain a requirement is abhorrent. My partner gets weekly devotional emails at his work address that tell him since he’s in a stressful environment, Jesus will help him cope. Then there are all the other minor discriminations in the military that add up to what I think is a legitimate persecution complex.

    I know it’s sort of hearsay b/c I’ve not witnessed it personally (just heard the reports from the husband), but I have too many stories of commanders leading prayers in meetings and singling people out who don’t participate. Or, worse, commanders directly asking people what church they go to, despite it being against the rules. An answer of “I’d rather not share my private life” is unacceptable. Some commanders will openly criticize you for not going to church, constantly, finding ways to work it into every meeting. “Get to know you” groups amongst coworkers turn into “prove the liberals and atheists wrong” groups. Led by the boss of course. My friends come crying to me because they can’t speak out at work and have to vent somewhere. My being a spouse means I’m a safe person to vent to, since speaking up could harm your career, especially when it’s your boss you’d be complaining about.

    I don’t have to look for personal examples of persecution, though. I look to laws being passed by a religious group that codify their beliefs into laws that restrict others. Pharmacists who refuse to give birth control, the recent HHS push to allow any healthcare provider to refuse to participate in “abortion” which can be defined as birth control, laws against gay marriage, abstinence only education, intelligent design in schools. I don’t have to experience those personally to know they exist and are an attack on those with different or no beliefs.

  7. Seems to me that this thread is rapidly closing on the conclusion that there are good grounds to think that there is at least some persecution going on, but mostly on the social level.

    @scaurus: I think that you have one of the better stories so far, because you were in fear for your job/career if you dared to offer an honest answer about your beliefs. Consider this: How different would the situation have been if you had been in pre-Kristallnacht Germany as a circumspect Jewish schoolteacher, and a student asked you if you were Jewish? Remember, many Jews were fired for trumped-up reasons before the Nazis gained enough power to start their real agenda.

    I was also one of those precocious brats that asked unwelcome questions about why an all-loving, all-merciful, all-seeing, all-knowing deity would order his “Chosen People” to kill everyone (sometimes even down to the domsetic animals!) in a country during an invasion, killing millions by the flood, etc. I also made a few choice comments about why the whole Eden “Eve ate the apple” scenario was such a shock to an all-knowing God. WTF?! I was only about 10 or so when I got into trouble in parochial school about THAT one.

    It got to the point that the preists and nuns decided that mocking me was the best way to handle me – so I began to think that I wasn’t all that smart. That lasted until my early 30’s, when I found out that I am in the 90% percentile in intelligence. How different my life could have been if not for Catholic dogma…

  8. scaurus, I too have been told not to share with the group.

    In high school, we went on a weekend retreat camp thing. I had a huge atheist revelation. While I’d never really believed before, things clicked in a way they hadn’t, and I had a miserable and angry time being surrounded at this camp feeling so alone in my experience. I was taken aside by the youth pastor and told not to share my thought with anyone out of concern for them. They’d had good experiences, and I shouldn’t counter that even if we were all asked about it. There was no concern that their experiences being shouted all over further made me feel awful on top of the bad experience that was the camp. No, I was asked to sit silent because this camp had the opposite effect of what was intended.

  9. Yes, but the worst part is that no one takes it seriously. Since atheism is a lack of belief I think that people have a hard time understanding how we could feel “persecuted”. But if it were a racism issue, or a sexism issue, or a gay rights issue, I don’t think people would be so quick to tell me to get over it or that I’m taking it too seriously. As for skepticism, whenever I try to apply that way of thinking in school, I’m often met with a lot of resistance – I’m “Western biased”, I’m “closed-minded”…all that garbage. Oh that Kim she just likes to “complain” and be contrary. Only when people say things that are ridiculous.

  10. Hi Kimbo:
    I went through that living and working in the Bible Belt. Coworkers were free to “witness” all day, but when I told a manager that I considered it harassment and that we weren’t being paid to listen to it, I was told that it was protected speech under the law and that I could not file a harassment complaint. This was especially a problem for me because I was a supervisor over the “witnesser.”

    This same guy nearly became 200 pounds of low-grade hamburger one day when, after explicitly ignoring the manager’s instructions, he took some last minute baggage to a jet that was starting to taxi out and opened the cargo door directly in front of the intake of an operating jet engine. When I called him on the carpet about it and asked him if he had a death wish, he told me that the same manager mentioned previously above had told him to put it in the rear cargo bay behind the engine, citing safety. He told me that he had ignored ignored her, because “She was a woman and women were not supposed to be placed above men or issue orders to men” according to the Bible.

    It would have been a waste of a perfectly good jet engine to suck him through it.

  11. As a kid, I was harassed because of my atheism. Eventually, I was tricked and guilted into becoming a “believer.”

    As an adult, one of my co-workers told me that I would “have to make a choice” soon because of my lack of belief. I also had to deal with a supervisor who would open attack atheism at work, and go on and on about his religious beliefs.

    I’ve never been arrested for having the wrong beliefs, and I’m going to work to keep our government from becoming a theocracy.

  12. Growing up gay in various provinces of the American South, I’ve mastered the fine and difficult art of keeping my mouth shut. So no, I haven’t ever been personally the recipient of bigotry or discrimination yet. I’m sure I’m one of the lucky ones.

  13. I wouldn’t say persecuted, however I have lost a couple of friends. One most recently recently has been a friend for almost a year and now refuses to speak to me since finding out. As for the details nothing dramatic, he asked what the small red A on my car was about.

    The other time was when I was younger. A friend asked why I didn’t attend church. He apparently told his parents who then called my parents. I was told we were no longer allowed to be friends.

  14. Every example I have of “persecution” about religion is when I was a kid, Of course, I’m less open about my beliefs now and normally just say that it’s a private matter. I was raised a Unitarian which in Cobb county Georgia was one step from an atheist. When I was seven, the school bus driver found out about my being an “atheist” and wouldn’t let me leave the bus until I acknowledged Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. I was normally an obedient kid but I just stood there and didn’t say anything. This stand off happened for several minutes until my father came out of the house and talked to her and later the principal and later the superintendent.
    In fourth grade my entire class was invited to a girl’s birthday party. I was initially invited. However, I was uninvited because I was apparently an atheist.
    These are the main episodes I remember. But there were several times when I lost a friend as a boy because I was a Unitarian/atheist. When I became a teenager I decided to never talk about it and always have deflected conversations about the topic.

  15. My father & stepmother told me I shouldn’t be allowed to see my daughter (I’m non-custodial) without supervision specifically because I am not a Christian and assisted in keeping her from me for a bit.

    There are other examples, more passive, like that my parents and I almost never talk, try though we might to maintain the illusion of a real relationship.

    I don’t believe that I’m the only one who has had something happen like what my folks did with my kid. I do believe that religion is destructive and is Love’s greatest enemy. I don’t want to be an angry atheist and fight with people, but I do believe that the sooner we’re rid of religion, the better for all of us.

    So I can understand why religious people feel persecuted. And I can understand why non-religious people feel persecuted. I look forward to the day when the dead skin of superstition naturally crumbles away and we’re left with just people being people. It’ll be nice.

  16. I can’t say I ever have but I’m up for jury selection in a couple of months so here’s to hoping. ;)

    I’m not very “out” with it. I don’t Hide it by any means but it will be an issue with my grandparents if they were to find out and frankly I’m not interested in causing friction in the last few years I have with them. I’m certain they’d get over it (they did when my aunt converted to Judaism), I’m not so certain they will be around long enough for them to get there. And since no god is telling me to make unbelievers of everyone I take that as a sign .

    I have had a few faith based discussion with co-workers and things have been very cool. One guy at work seems to be on a bit of a quest. Raised fundamentalist (not sure what flavor) which he later rejected, he’s always searching for something to fill that hole. I think he’s gone through at least three since I’ve known him (each as wacky as the last) and he never seems to realize that his new puppy is going to pee on the rug just like the last one did.

    As a kid I told my parents that I wasn’t going back to that Sunday school. I said it was bad for me to spend time around people that couldn’t even manage simple arithmetic. I later learned my dad appreciated having an ally in his battle to end the Sunday visits to the house of self righteous boredom.

  17. What do you mean by ‘persecuted’? I haven’t been physically struck over my atheism since I left high school. I have had a few people tell me they’d never hire me (not that I was looking for a job with any of them). I have gone to give blood, been asked by religion, and then told ‘I don’t understand why you’re here, or why anyone would want your blood’ when I said I was an atheist. But since becoming an adult, these kinds of incidents have been rare. Most of the time, it only makes little negative differences, not big negative differences. And I should note – most of the time, when I tell people they’re sure I’m joking.

    No atheist is forced to wear a sign – or forced to tell anyone their lack of belief. This, I can assure, blunts or prevents much persecution that would otherwise occur.

  18. @Justin:

    “I do believe that religion is destructive and is Love’s greatest enemy. I don’t want to be an angry atheist and fight with people, but I do believe that the sooner we’re rid of religion, the better for all of us.”

    ::sigh::

  19. @Cygore: “As an adult, one of my co-workers told me that I would “have to make a choice” soon because of my lack of belief. I also had to deal with a supervisor who would open attack atheism at work, and go on and on about his religious beliefs.”

    Seems to me that your being told that “you have to make a choice” and the open attacks on your philosophy of life by a supervisor constitutes an open threat and a hostile work environment, not to mention that it is a non sequitur, as you have already made your choice not to believe.

    @Justin: What was done to you apprears to be outright discrimination on religious grounds. Isn’t that unlawful?

    @llewelly: “I have had a few people tell me they’d never hire me (not that I was looking for a job with any of them).” I’ve had that happen, too.

    “No atheist is forced to wear a sign – or forced to tell anyone their lack of belief. This, I can assure, blunts or prevents much persecution that would otherwise occur.”
    True, but should I have to actively hide what I am because others may not like it?

    @bug_girl: It’s sad that scientists have to hide that way.

  20. In an effort to remain as skeptical as possible (damn, ASAP is already taken) I think it’s important to remember that it’s not really religion that causes this, rather it’s xenophobia. I belive it’s important to remember that ridding the world of religion will not solve this (well it will for atheists but not for the next group to be deemed “different”).

    People just don’t trust people that are different. I’ve had way more social difficulties because I’m weird than because I’m an atheist. I’ve never lost a friend over my lack of faith but man you should see how people react when I tell them that Blade Runner is over rated and has terrible pacing.

    Religion isn’t the only belief people hold dear.

    I also can’t help but notice as I read this thread what a self selected sample we are.

  21. I’d have to say that what I’ve been through wouldn’t count as persecution – social ostracism, as was mentioned above, is a more apt description. It has, however, caused a mental hackles-raising and wariness around overtly religious folk that is otherwise pretty unfortunate.

    Anyways, my main (other than familial-rejection stuff, which seems to be pretty typical) “persecution” would have been in high school, where my field hockey coach was a very religious woman. She constantly brought in her form of Christianity to the team, having us sing about God, telling us Christian themed stories, even asserting that she knew, “none of you are heathens”. We didn’t get along by any means, especially after I admitted I was an atheist. There wasn’t anything tangible that she did, I was just… slowly excluded from the team.

    Other than that, though, I lost a couple friends and had a fight with the rest of my family.

    While it could have been worse, I shouldn’t have happened at all, which is more my issue that any persecution complex.

  22. As a kid I was definitely persecuted for being a Jew. I’ve been physically attacked, verbally threatened, and psychologically hurt. Though part of me wishes I responded differently as a kid, to do so, though it would have been “brave”, it retrospect, would have been completely foolish. Yet, it still bothers me to this very day.

    And while I presently describe myself as someone who does not believe in organized religion at all, I do identify myself culturally as a Jew primarily because of happy childhood traditions and the psychologic battlewounds still suffered. The religion itself, however, means nothing to me if that makes any sense.

    In fact, my first declaration of independence, came in the form of a speech I delievered as a freshman in college. In a nutshell, I highlighted how organized religion has done more harm than good throughout it’s duration. That was before I understood it’s roots in superstition and that it was reinforced by those in power as a mode of populace control.

    So as an agnostic, have I been persecuted? Get serious. No. I have had true believer friends worry about my place in heaven and they have tried to “show me the way.” And sadly, in one case, when the conversations became totally focused on that, it cost me her friendship – my decision. I do not scream down at others. I do not routinely belittle others for their belief. However, if their belief contradicts science and if their belief undermines science or the society in which I live in and if they are actively participating in that undermining I will aggressively call them on it. If they are a passive participant I will simply review the facts as I know it, knowing full well that facts have nothing to do with their beliefs and that it will not change their beliefs. But it does defend my own. I can’t remember ever being attacked or persecuted during these conversations, perhaps because I do not go looking for converts, but merely discuss this if I am directly questioned about what I believe.

  23. @halincoh: Just because worse things have happened to other people, doesn’t make the feelings of social isolationism et al (which may be perceived as “persecution”) invalid. So it’s a little much to say “get serious” as if the question and the people who feel that way are foolish. Clearly there’s some negative feelings here among some people that are caused by others. Maybe we shouldn’t call it “persecution” per se, but their feelings are valid.

  24. @Kimbo Jones: I completely agree. I think the definition of persecution is tinted by the severity of many of the more infamous examples of it.

    I see no reason to lessen the idea simply because your boss made work hard but didn’t murder your family.
    Both are unacceptable, the degree is the only difference.

  25. It’s only been about seven months since my thinking really crystallized and I realized that I actually have been an atheist, not an agnostic, for the past thirty years or so. I haven’t believed in the Christian god, or any other god from an organized religion, in all of that time. My view (and I know how odd this sounds) was that there might be a god but that the various religions were misinterpreting. Clearly, I was trying to hang on to the security blanket that the Catholic Church gave me. Also, quite frankly, I had a good bit of fear about being pushed away and left alone.

    What (or rather, who) caused me to re-examine what I really though and finally make a choice? Ben Stein and the people trying to do the bad things in Texas. They’re just plain wrong and they need to be stopped.

    Except for four of my friends (two in AZ and two here in FL) I’ve been keeping quite about this change in my belief system. I know that I’m going to have problems with my family in NY and some people here in FL that are quite religious. There will definitely be some arguments that I’m not looking forward to.

    So, I’ve been avoiding the issue of this AI. It never bothered me what people believe in, as long as it isn’t criminal and they don’t try to force it on others.

    When I claimed to be an agnostic, my dad and others were always trying to get me to go back to “The Church” I explained that if I did, I would have to exclude most of the human race including a lot of decent friends that were not Catholic. Their response basically was a sarcastic “Well, OK, if that’s what you believe in”.

    Back in September, when my dad and oldest brother visited me here in FL, it was the same old thing. Except that now my brother is “Born Again” and believes in ID. I can’t seem to help loving them as my dad and my brother, but I really wished they’d just shut up and go home.

    Something I’d like to say to everyone here is that I appreciate you being here. There’s a lot I can do on my own, but finally tossing all the bronze age religious myths that I was raised on where they belong (in the toilet) is rather a rough road.

  26. I wasn’t exactly persecuted for being an Atheist, but I certainly suffered at the hands of the Christian Brothers from the age of 7 when I started regular school to 16 when I went to College.

    CB schools are well known for academic excellence, child molesting and their “Pro-active” stance on bad behaviour, everyone gets regular beatings to make sure they got you for stuff they didn’t know about and to “Beat the Faith into Young Boys”

    Had I been an Atheist then, and told them about it, who knows what they would have done. I’m pretty sure it would have involved me bending over a desk with my trousers round my ankles though

  27. Writerdd, please be careful about taking these postings as a representative sample. There’s all sorts of reasons why the liklihood of the average atheistic Skepchick commenter to have faced persecution would be different from that of the average atheist, including:

    – Maybe the sort of people who are comfortable hanging out on blogs regularly are likely to have been brought up in more liberal environments?
    – Or perhaps they’re more likely to have been atheists from the beginning rather than being born into a religious community that they then disassociated with?
    – Maybe the fairly light-hearted tone of this site attracts a different audience than someplace like, say, the de-conversion blog?

    I’m not disagreeing with your overall point, that it’s worth being nice to (and, politically, allies with) theists, who are on the whole nice people.

    But from a skeptical point of view, a bunch of anecdotes collected from just a single point don’t add up to much.

  28. @russellsugden: I wouldn’t doubt it. They’re evangelical Catholic, aren’t they?

    At least one of the priests that were stationed at the church I was forced to go to in New York went to jail when the shit hit the fan for molestation. I was living in Arizona at the time, and Arizona sent quite a bunch to jail, including The Bishop of Phoenix.

    The Jesuits at the college I went to were surprisingly progressive for a Catholic order, but they seemed to like to drink about as much as the students. Maybe because they took an oath of celibacy and there were hot young women around that they couldn’t get their hands on?

  29. No, I have been very careful about who I tell. I used to be more open when I worked as a public employee becuase I knew I couldn’t be fired for being an atheist. I don’t talk about it at all now that I work in private industry. I don’t think the partners would do anything but I know that some of out client would raise hell and in the end we have to keep them happy. So I am just unwilling to take the chance. Very few people who know me know that I am an atheist. I am nervous about my name even being here but I just don’t like the thought of not being a part of this online community. As a former memeber of the Church of Christ I can tell you that they really want to persecute atheists. It was talked about constantly.

  30. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever been discriminated against for being an atheist. Partly because it took me a long time to figure out that I was, and partly because I don’t go shouting it out on street corners. Oddly, of the few people I’ve really shared this sort of discussion with, the ones who were most willing to respond constructively were all Catholic monks. Which is fitting, I guess, since I went to high school at an abbey.
    We had theology courses from 7th-11th grade which were either about church history, which were explanatory rather than “believe this or go to hell”, and were really fascinating when we covered the history of certain beliefs, which were acknowledged to have changed over time. (For 12th grade theology, my greek class translated the Gospel of John from ancient greek to english. apparently, the king James version is pretty terribly fouled up.)

    So, I have had absolutely NO problems with organized religion, or monks or priests or nuns, etc., which seems to be pretty unique here. Thought I’d share an opposing view.

  31. No. I have a persecution complex because of sexism, but not because I’m an atheist.

    Whenever it’s come up and I’ve been challenged I took the opportunity to turn it into a constructive dialogue about misconceptions of atheists. I would do that with the assholes who pull over to tell me take my top off on the street, but I get the impression they aren’t interested.

  32. Ya know, reading these responses, just makes me sooooo glad that I don’t live in the USA. I really don’t think that the average Australian (Christian or no) could give a flying F*%$. (Of course that means that there will be a slew of Aussies claiming otherwise)

    That being said, the only thing that gets a lot of my friends and cohorts all fired up, is fundamentalism (of any ilk) being shoved down our throats.

    I’m not an atheist, nor am I a Christian. Thankfully nothing has happened to me because of that, and nothing ever will.

    Yay for Canberra – so laid back, you’d swear we were comatose…

  33. I was evaluated near the top of my pay grade one year and at the very bottom the next. In between that time I had happened to mention in front of several superiors “Thank God I’m an atheist”. Bah, it was probably coincidence my evals dropped at near free fall speed. New year, new command, I’m ranked #1.

  34. A direct answer to a direct question: No. I don’t know how many people I know realise I’m an atheist, but I’m pretty confident none of them would care.

    Of course I’m a New Zealander and religion simply doesn’t form part of the public sphere here. People discuss their religion in an off-handed manner when it happens to coincide with the topic of discussion, if at all. So it wouldn’t be a good idea to generalise my experiences to a US context.

  35. @Rats Acre:

    I have to agree. Growing up in Australia in a non-religious family, I always felt like it was the norm. If anything it was the strongly religious kids that would get teased in primary school. And anyone that believed in the bible literally was seen as a complete kook. I had a few friends that went to church, but no one ever talked about being religious. Church was just something that a few people did on a Sunday, but never really talked about.

    Even a few years after high school, I had a friend tell me that he had become a born-again a couple of years previously, but he didn’t tell any of of mutual friends, because he knew he’d just be ridiculed. I was fine with it, we’re still friends, and we just don’t talk about religion, same as we never used to.

    I wasn’t even aware about how bad it is in the US until I found the whole skeptic movement and read about people’s experiences. It really was a shock to find out that atheism is something that has to be hidden.

    I guess the moral of the story is that you should all move to Australia! However, it does make me wonder why I’m applying for grad school in the US….

  36. I got laid off because I wasn’t part of my bosses’ church.
    They kept hiring people from their church and cutting my hours, even promoting a young car-thief again at the expense of hours for me.
    It was a crappy $8/hr catering job, so I wasn’t too worried, it was easy to get a better job. Also, other than the laying me off thing, they were alright people, a little too right wing and fox-newsy for my taste, but generally well intentioned.
    I don’t think they were intending to act in the negative, or out of any malice towards me as a non-christian. They just wanted to help out fellow church members, and had limited resources with which to do so.

  37. @Tina ::sigh:: is exactly how I feel sometimes.

    @QuestionAuthority It’s illegal but it’s a civil matter, so I’d have had to hire a lawyer, file a lawsuit and so on, costing me loads of cash I’ve not got and, more importantly, seriously damage the odds of ever being able to get my family reconciled again. Some people get off on being estranged. I don’t.

  38. As a searching believer, I was persecuted for not toeing the party line. Promotions within our ministry team seemed to mysteriously pass my wife and I by for less experienced, less committed couples who were better at parroting the leaders values.

    Since I got out of the church completely, I’ve not been persecuted, just made to feel very uncomfortable. The military really goes for public prayer. Campus Crusade calls the Air Force officer candidate school “our tax supported missionary training center.”

    The cruelest loss of a friend I had was a very close female friend, who, when I told her I was an atheist, told me she didn’t trust me alone with her anymore since without the holy spirit I would rape her as soon as I got the chance. Going from best friend to potential rapist in 10 minutes hurt a lot.

  39. I don’t know if it still exists, but around 10 years ago, I belonged to an email list called “EX-TIAN”, a sort of support group for recovering Christians. If you want to read lots of first-hand accounts of Christian-on-atheist persecution, read archives of that list.

    Personally, I’ve experienced LOTS of persecution by Christians, but it was all before I went atheist. They know better than to try to persecute me now.

  40. Short answer, No.

    Long answer. At school I was the senior Jewish pupil and had to lead the others at morning assembly every day. My conscientiousness and pious demeanour made me very popular with the principal; possibly less so with my fellow red-sea-pedestrians. What would have happened if I had refused the “honour” on the grounds of irreligious-conscience I will never know.

    There was also the time the shit hot the fan when my father found out I was dating a non-Jew. I guess that counts as religious persecution, although it was only indirectly related to my atheism. But as everyone knows Judaism is different – it’s more about what you do than what you believe.

  41. Persecution of atheists, agnostics and skeptics seems to be a problem that is much, much greater in the US than in many other Western societies. Here in Germany nobody will go even so far to raise an eyebrow when someone mentions that he or she is an atheist. I even had some very friendly discussion with protestant and catholic priests about their faith and the bible and even they had no problem with my lack of faith. But in general matters of faith are not that important in Germany (or the most of Europe). I am pretty sure that if some German politician would use the same christian rhetoric like US politicians they would probably be laughed at.

  42. There’s a lot of US bashing, but let’s not let Canada of the hook. Up here, we seem pretty tolerant as a nation, but as individuals, not necessarily so much. There are a lot of small town folk with small town “values” (i.e., racism, sexism, church every Sunday, etc), particularly in the more rural provinces. Usually nothing terribly violent happens unless there’s drugs involved, but the attitudes are there.

  43. Frankly, I’ve been abused more by religious folks for being raised Catholic than for being a skeptic. (And sadly, I’ve been abused more by fellow skeptics for not being a committed atheist than I have been by religious folks – “If you are agnostic and you don’t know it, clap your hands …”).

    With that caveat, during the 80s, my mother, a committed, if liberal Catholic, and other members of the local school board were widely denounced in the community by fundamentalists for poisoning the youth of the community with secular humanist thought when not accusing them of witchcraft. While I won’t claim to know the religious affiliations of the various board members, I’m reasonably confident it was an atheist laden cabal trying to destroy the city’s youth.

    The mistake that the atheist and skeptic community is making when they hear these labels spoken with venom is in thinking that they are usually spoken about real atheists and skeptics. More often, it strikes me that it is a label hurled at liberal theists to undermine their political and other positions. While the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens may attract virulence from the “intellectuals” of the religious right, I doubt most people in the mega-church pews know or care about them, because they are too busy being told that Barack Obama is an Islamic, socialist, Arab, atheist, secularist anti-Christ.

    In short, the religious conservatives, I suspect, care more about co-religionists who have the dangerous notions that gays should marry, women should choose, and we are descended of apes. But if we want to feel persecuted as a community, then lets do so.

  44. Not directly atheist related, but I did have a creationist insinuate that because I “believe in” evolution that I want war and to kill people.

    But I’m highly private and keep my atheism to myself for the most part. It’s been hard even to tell my close friends as I worry about their response. One friend reacted like I was a bigot at first, but we talked it out and we understand each other now.

  45. I have not encountered any persecution, but there may be a reason. My “social set, ” although from different religious & social beliefs, is nevertheless rather open minded to personal beliefs. These friends & associates rarely even mention my or their beliefs as regard to religion or social status. our discussions basically range from science to technology and leave sex, religion, war & politics to oneself.

  46. I’ve never had any issues with being persecuted because of being a woman, an atheist, or a non-white person. At least nothing big enough to be worth mentioning.

    But I do see, in this thread and other stories I read, that persecution happens every day.

    But I guess since none of those have impacted me *directly* and *personally*, I should just assume that everything is OK :)

    I’m a straight married woman too and Prop 8 really has very little bearing on my rights. That didn’t stop me and plenty of others from protesting it. Unfairness happens; just because it doesn’t impact you directly, doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur or that it should be marginalized.

  47. “They think believers are out to get them.”

    Well, not out to get us, but most of them are out the convert them, which is fucking annoying.

    And if I say I’m an atheist, it’s *over* and they try even harder to convert you.

  48. Persecuted? Not 100% sure, which probably means no. I did get in trouble at work a few times because of my skepticism though. I work in radio, and I once refused to do an advertisement for a ‘spirit faire’. Some lady was coming to town with a big ass drum and a pouch full of crystals, promising to heal people for something like $35 a head. Long story short, my boss was pissed, but I stuck to my guns and didn’t do the ad.

    Other than constantly having to overhear people bash atheism, science, ‘liberals’ and homosexuality, that’s about it.

  49. Late to the show but here I go… .

    Was a Christian for twenty five years and never had a persecution complex nor was I persecuted. Been an atheist for a few years and still don’t have a persecution complex and still not being persecuted. However I remain unimpressed by broad brush stroke assertions and arguments. The majority of comments I hear at work however have been non religious types (college educated and professing to be progressive liberals) disparaging, bashing and even being vindictive toward religious types in a generally ignorant and often truly bigoted manner. The flip side of the coin has also been interesting to observe in that the conservative Christian types are generally more judgmental toward our clients where as the non believers are more judgmental toward their co-workers.

  50. Well when I was in basic training I was told I either had to go to a religious service or stay in the barracks and clean I believe that is a form of persecution. latter after I was assigned to my first duty station I was the most qualified for a position and was passed up for it, it was not a promotion in rank but a promotion in position the person who was chosen was someone who had less time and experience and was nowhere near as proficient in the area of fire direction control. Now on the surface that may not look like persecution for my lack of belief but I was the top person being offered the position until about a week before the position was filled. what you may ask could have happened well I was on brigade staff duty with my platoon sergeant and he was talking about church and I said well I am an atheist I have been reading on all the religions of the world for years and have come to the conclusion that none of them make any since. he went on to tell me I was just lost and trying to find my way, I go on to tell him that, that I found that statement to be insulting and I was in fact an atheist. The conversation progressed to me saying I didn’t think anything was wrong with belief but it just wasn’t for me. Now that was before I had really made all the connections with belief and what it does to people. Well it seemed as if we had had an enlightening conversation with each other but I would latter find out that that was not the case. Other than the position I had loss I was also informed that my platoon sergeant was bad mouthing me for my atheism. On top of that there was the mandatory head bowing during prayers during ceremonies and so forth.

  51. Thanks everyone, for sharing your experiences.

    Yeah, the military stuff definitely sucks, not to mention that it is completely illegal. I hope that gets fixed in the next administration.

    It also sucks when any group tries to push their beliefs onto the larger population through legislation, and especially when that leads to legalizing discrimination. That’s actually my biggest beef with religious extremists. I hope that prop8 gets thrown out by the CA courts.

    As far as personal encounters go, I worry about what is happening to this country when we can’t talk to our neighbors and coworkers about these issues. It seems like people would rather call the cops these days if their neighbor is making noise than go nextdoor and ask them politely to keep it down. I personally think the same kind of thing is true with the way believers and unbelievers fail to interact.

  52. In high school, I painted something in art class that involved a cross. A girl asked me about my faith. When I informed her that I didn’t go to church and didn’t really have any faith, she promptly told me I was going to go to hell for, basically, drawing a cross and not giving it HER meaning.

  53. Hey dd: How did this get started? Why this AI? Just curious.

    I can’t say that I am outright biased against the religious. However, I will cheerfully admit to a certain amount of caution or circumspection around them in both the workplace and socially.
    I will intervene if I hear someone spouting off complete scientific nonsense in an effort to support a religious viewpoint. Some of the deliberately skewed misconceptions about things like the Second Law of Thermodynamics just tick me off.

    However, it can be dangerous to be an outspoken atheist when the people above you (and even your coworkers) are overly religious. Many will decide that you must be evil or shouldn’t be trusted, as some have noted above. This can be carried to the extreme of religiously motivated termination. They can fire you and feel good about it, having “set back Satan’s agenda, punished the unbeliever, etc.”

    Defensive measures on my part are bowing my head during public prayers – What’s going in in my head is not subject to scrutiny.

  54. I’ve been ganged up on, dismissed, screamed at, and told that I “just don’t understand”. My thoughts are questioned, but when I apply any scrutiny to their arguments I am called ‘disrespectful’. I get glared at for not standing for the pledge or bowing my head in prayer.

  55. Does it count as personal persecution every election season when those polls are published that show that something like nine percent of Americans would even consider voting for an atheist candidate? It might be considered personal if I had ever seriously considered running, but how could I seriously consider running against such widespread prejudice?

  56. @ Carbon – “But from a skeptical point of view, a bunch of anecdotes collected from just a single point don’t add up to much.” I couldn’ t agree more! This discussion doesn’t provide any meaningful evidence of anything unless it can be put into some greater context – precisely defining levels and types of persecution, comparing them with what happens in other places and has happened in other times, etc.

    But for the record, let me provide my “null finding” anecdote. I have not been persecuted by anyone, for any reason, ever – in my 48 years of life to date. By persecution I mean someone who has the power over me to withhold a benefit or threaten a punishment, actually doing so. I have been lucky, perhaps in the circumstances of my life that my personal power has never been threatened in this way.

    I also do not recall any instance of personal abuse – if I have received such, it did not make much of an impression.

    I have had many communication challenges with people who would like very much to re-convert me and bring me back to the fold – and I know for a fact that every one who has approached me with this agenda really does care deeply about me, notwithstanding their inability to trust me to find my way, so I do not count it as persecution or abuse – just a communication challenge.

    Re cultural differences, I do find that my move to Ireland at age 22 (after I had, with great fanfare within my own family, left the born-again Christian faith), gave a different perspective. Ireland does seem to be moving away from a more religiously-controlled era, and it is not considered proper to enquire into another’s faith or lack of it in the workplace, at least. This contrasts quite nicely from my experience in youth, both in the US and during my parents’ missionarydom in a Central American country.

  57. @writerdd:

    It also sucks when any group tries to push their beliefs onto the larger population through legislation, and especially when that leads to legalizing discrimination. That’s actually my biggest beef with religious extremists.

    But don’t you see, that’s exactly what they accuse us of doing when we fight against creationism being taught in science classes or strike down some attempt to put the Ten Commandments in a courthouse. We are pushing our beliefs on them via legislation. When the GOP complains about judges making laws from the bench, it’s invariably about something the religious people want to fight about.

  58. [quote]But don’t you see, that’s exactly what they accuse us of doing when we fight against creationism being taught in science classes or strike down some attempt to put the Ten Commandments in a courthouse.[/quote]

    Actually it is not he same. Point 1)

    Creationism isn’t science therefore it doesn’t belong in a science class.

    Point 2)

    The Ten Commandments is a religious symbol and therefore does not belong in a public place since that gives preference to a religious group thus going against the separation of church and state.

  59. @ Kimbo

    That “get serious” comment was directed to ME specifically, not to skeptics as a group. The truth is that any leader or spokesperson for any sociopolitical movement or subculture will become a target for some type of abuse by members of a different sociopolitical movement or subculture if they perceive those contrary thought leaders as undermining the good of their own group. Thus Steve Novella is attacked. P.Z is attacked. Christopher Hitchens is attacked. Michael Shermer is attacked. Others too, off course, are attacked. If you lead the flock , you’ll get the first rock. It’s easier to hide amongst the sheep. Those at the back of most herds can also be picked off easily.

    I’m in the middle of the skeptical pack. Most here are in the middle or towards the front. We have asked each other over and over again how do we best discuss our beliefs with true believers, how do we shoot down fallacy ridden arguements, how do we educate ourselves and others? How are we , ourselves fallible? How can we, as people, improve. Where do we get good information. How best to share good information. What is good information? Those who visit here, even our leaders, are not SUCCESSFULLY persecuted because knowledge is a very sharp sword.

    With that said Kimbo, “get serious”, I guess ,indeed applies to us as a group, because we are not weak knuckheads. We simply aren’t. Others may try, but to succeed … listen … a mainstream movie, a MOVIE … EXPELLED … tried to undermine a sacred cow of skepticism ( Evolution )… and it failed. So to all our persecuters I’ll say it again, GET SERIOUS and get a life.

  60. “The Ten Commandments is a religious symbol and therefore does not belong in a public place since that gives preference to a religious group thus going against the separation of church and state.”

    Rubbish! The 10 Commandments are the fundamental basis for all of our laws (Thou Shalt Not Kill, Thou Shalt Not Steal, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, etc), and are therefore appropriate for display at courthouses and legislatures.

  61. @Bowie Bill:

    Is that why First Degree Coveting and Premeditated Not Honoring Thy Parents are capital crimes, punishable by death in 43 states?

    Oh, which reminds me. The next [i]America’s Most Wanted[/i] has a feature on a serial Other Gods Before Me Haver. Should be something to see….

    (Sorry. I expect this same claim from my brother when I see him over Thanksgiving. Gotta stay ready :) )

  62. @bluescat48:

    I agree with you. But there are LOTS of religious folks (not all, but enough to notice, and they are LOUD) who claim THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN and get offended when we protest against things like creationism and putting religious icons in city buildings.

    (ESPECIALLY courthouses. Jeez. If I’m drug into a courthouse, the last thing I want is to be told I’m getting some Old Testament judgment.)

  63. While both sides (religious and non-religious) have people sticking up for what they deem as right, the big difference between the two is that one side is giving scientific facts on life while the other is reading from a gory, incoherent book that preaches hate and intolerance.

    My father is very conservative, but also believes that the Catholic Church is built on fear and propaganda. I spent most of my life living in a small conservative town, and growing up I remember always being out-of-place as religion and homophobia and racism ran rampant in town. Looking back at my child-hood, it saddens me to think about how some people could be so cruel and yet it’s okay because they go to church, couple that with the small-town idea that what gender you are defines what you do (BOTH sides are to blame, as there were women who are sexist against men, just like some men were sexist against women. It’s frustrating how insecure some people can be, male and female). I have never fit that “mold” of the stereotypical guy ( as I love romantic movies, and am not into muscle cars or sports or hunting) and sadly that kept me out of many circles in grade school.

    I love talking about religion and atheism, but when it turns into finger-pointing or a shouting match, I’d rather walk away and do something productive. After all, we only get one life, so why waste it being around negative people.
    ~

  64. [quote]Rubbish! The 10 Commandments are the fundamental basis for all of our laws (Thou Shalt Not Kill, Thou Shalt Not Steal, Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness, etc), and are therefore appropriate for display at courthouses and legislatures[/quote]

    O really then explain how “I am the Lord, thy God…” is not religious.

  65. Why can’t the Ten Commandments be both a fundamental legal basis and religious? And why not put it in our public square right next to the Code of Hammurabai and a statue of Lady Justice or Justia, the Roman Goddess?

    Do our numerous Greco-Roman national monuments oppress us with their pagan underpinnings? Should we not go to the Olympics or theater because of their religious origins?

    Acknowledging the 10 commandments as a historical foundation of our legal system isn’t the problem … it is only when some want to replace the legal system that grew out of earlier traditions with Mosaic Law.

  66. Mark Mulkerin:

    Why can’t the Ten Commandments be both a fundamental legal basis and religious? And why not put it in our public square right next to the Code of Hammurabai and a statue of Lady Justice or Justia, the Roman Goddess?

    The Ten Commandments is, of course, most emphatically not “the basis” for US law, or indeed any modern system of law in the British or European tradition.

    However, it did indeed feed into the system and, as you correctly guessed, this is why there’s a frieze depicting the Ten Commandments in the chamber of the US Supreme Court. It also, of course, depicts Hammurabi, Lycurgus of Sparta, Confucius, Mohammed, Charlemagne, King John holding the Magna Carta, Sir William Blackstone and Chief Justice John Marshall, amongst others.

    This kind of “all inclusive display” is no problem at all. The problem is emphasising the Ten Commandments to the exclusion of all other, and many much more significant, contributions to the history of the rule of law.

    (Incidentally, a Rabbi told me recently that the decalogue isn’t technically “commandments”. Can anyone confirm?)

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