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Ask Surly Amy: Political Suicide

Ask Surly Amy

Dear Surly Amy,
I’m a high school senior who attends a relaxed Catholic School. We have occasional masses, and I’m still in the closet, but it’s pretty open door. I don’t rock the boat, and I’m honest if asked directly. In the homily of a recent mass, the priest played the old “atheists can’t disprove God” canard. I usually can it, but this time I raised my hand. The priest didn’t call on me, and I kept my hand up for the next five minutes until he finished. After all this, I’ve found the school to be different from what I expected. Teachers are critical: we had a long talk about what “political suicide” “means”. The student body took it better than expected: thumbs-ups and back-pats, a number of people I didn’t expect to approve took time to make sure I knew that they felt the priest was out of line too. Did I commit political suicide in the eyes of the teachers? Should I apologize? What do I do next time the priest says something? General advice?

Dear Wil,

I think it is absolutely wonderful that you are standing up for what you think is correct regardless of what the authority figure is saying. It takes a lot of bravery to raise you hand in a room full of people who have been taught to disagree with you. I salute you.

As for the warning of political suicide, if you are being warned that the the other students won’t vote for you for class president or sit next to you in the lunch hall because you have an understanding of science and critical thinking I wouldn’t worry a bit about it. I can’t speak for everyone but I can assure you that most of the readers of this blog and the leaders in skepticism, scientific discovery, education and communication have been outcasts at one time or another in their life and that it is no big f-ing deal. It just gave us all time to read more books and come up with more brilliant ideas! But if political suicide means that your teachers are threatening to prevent you from getting into a decent college then I suppose you have a problem. If they can somehow hold you back then you may have to play along until you graduate. It sucks but sometimes you have to play the game to get ahead.

I am not sure of the particulars of your situation but one thing I can assure you of is this: the drama of high school is not as big a deal as it may seem while you are in the midst of it and lucky for you, as a senior you are almost done! So set your sights on a good college education (that’s where the fun is) and continue to think rationally and be self-assured. We are rooting for you!

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Beware those patting you on the back, they make be checking for the best place to put the knife.

    I’m not trying to rain on your parade, you’ve got a great story. I wish the rest of the world was more similar to this.

    However, I’m always suspicious. I wouldn’t doubt that those who were wishing you the best turn out to use this information against you.

    Or maybe I’ve just seen too much tv/movies.

  2. I attended Catholic school, grade, middle and high.

    Once in high school I sent a religion teacher from the class crying, since I would not let up on how ridiculous the whole premise was. I felt guilty about that, since I still believed at the time, and wanted her to talk me down. It had the opposite effect, and served to germinate a seed of doubt that took some time to grow.

    Regardless, the incident did not affect my standing or lack thereof with the other students at all.

    I suspect Will was much more polite than I was. Your priest may have ignored you, but at least you didn’t drive him from the room in tears.

  3. Political suicide? If declining church membership levels are any indicator, distancing yourself from the Catholic Church in any way is actually going to be GREAT for you, politically speaking.

  4. I suspect you’re going to be damn proud of this moment for a long, long time. I know I regret a few of the opportunities I was apathetic instead of loud.

  5. Good for you Will! Stand up for what you believe! :)
    I second Amy, compared to all the mess that awaits everyone in adulthood, high school may not be a huge deal. But just because something will seem like no big deal _some day_, it doesn’t mean it’s really not a big deal while it’s happening. Will, you have yet to learn a lot about yourself, about other people, and what matters in life. So do I, and I’m much older than you. But this is a perfect time for you to explore your own beliefs, to learn what others believe and why, and most importantly for now: how to navigate in a world where you’re sticking out like a sore thumb, but not give up on your earnest beliefs. I was the sole Atheist in a religious high school too. I was ostracized, insulted, yelled at…. But I made sure that I did my school work so well that no one could give me a bad grade unless I really deserved it, and I slowly relaxed into the situation. I was very respectful of others’ beliefs, but stood behind my own beliefs firmly. Stay friendly, respectful, but firm. Give your best in classes. In other words, don’t give the school any material to use against you. A life with more freedom is ahead of you, and you’re not alone :)

  6. Amy- Fortunately, I’m already into my first choice. I don’t think teachers could hurt me enough to get the college to rescind my acceptance – I think I generally do solid enough work to push my case if someone started grading unfairly.

    Dale Husband- Where I am, it’s actually the least religious private school around. Unfortunately, the quality of the pubic schools is pretty bad – with no funding, we’ve had 2 public school closures in recent years, several teacher layoffs have happened recently, and class sizes are now gigantic. I don’t think I’d really change much if I got a do over – it’s usually a good school and if nothing else, going here has forced me to defend my opinions in the face of direct criticism.

    infinitemonkey- I hope not, but I’ll certainly keep it in mind. The information’s pretty public now, I guess, and I’ll be careful not to put myself in a corner where it could hurt me.

    sonjaz-Thanks. Can’t tell you how nice it is to hear from someone looking back on a similar situation.


  7. First of all, good job, Will! You have great courage for a person of your age and situation. Many adults wouldn’t have taken that stand in public. Well done! Well done indeed!

    @DaleHusband: I also attended parochial schools until early high school. Depending on where you happen to live, sometimes the public schools are so awful that your parents have no choice if they want you to have a good education. That was the reason in my case. I had Jewish and Protestant friends in Catholic school for the same resaon – there was nowhere else to send kids except terrible public schools – Granted, this was outside the US, but the principle still holds.

    The atheist/believer thing didn’t play into my situation much back then…I was still at the questioning stage and I was sent to the office or nicely told to STFU when I pushed issues a little too far for the nun’s comfort. You also have to keep in mind that the nuns and priests in my time were very much advocates for corporal punishment…ala George Carlin stories.

    High school politics are severely overrated, except for the mild advantage of being to put those offices on college applications and scholarship requests. One finds that those huge mountains in the far distance that look so tall and menacing are really 6 inches high once you get to them.

    I do agree with InfiniteMonkey, though. Keep “Checking your six,” i.e. Watch your back. Both classmates and adults can backstab you – Beware who you trust. Remember, all you have to to is “Live Long and Prosper” long enough to graduate high school. There’s an end in sight for this situation.

    Again, I salute you!

  8. I went to catholic school from the first grade until high school. This was in Puerto Rico and I never had a problem. I questioned my religion teacher about what for me didn’t made sense. They would try to explain and then tell me that I had to believe it by faith.
    For graduating high school there was a requirement that you go to a religious retreat. I went, told the counselor that I was an atheist they tried to convinced me a couple of times. I didn’t have any problems with other students.
    My friends discussed religion a lot so we already kind of knew what we thought.
    Like Amy said High School for most people because such a small part of their life after you leave that you shouldn’t worry much about it.

  9. You too, yocahu? That’s where I went to school until I was about 13…from about 1964 – 1972.

  10. @yocahu: Heh, wow. I too, went to Catholic school in Puerto Rico. I graduated in 2005. I wasn’t an open and vocal atheist until after high school, but the doubts were there. I asked my share of hard questions and they germinated a seed much like Zapski’s, but with less crying and more “let’s talk after class”.
    Ninjinuity, things’ll be fine. Don’t stress about it too much. You’re almost out anyway.

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