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The Perils of Being an Outspoken Atheist

Erik Browne, at Louisiana State University, posted this article about the discrimination he faces in the South as an atheist. Following is my comment:

Kudos, Erik, for standing up to the persecution. Since I live in California, I haven’t faced the kind of outright discrimination of which you speak.

I was raised in an extremely rigid and conservative cult which was started by my parents, (Church Universal and Triumphant) and had tens of thousands of members. I became a minister at age 23, and eventually vice-president of the church. After seeing repeated and glaring contradictions in both the doctrine and management, I left at age 30.

Seven years later, in 2001 I started a website, in which I’ve been very outspoken about the rejection of my former beliefs. Since then, I have been verbally attacked, ridiculed, harassed online, and stalked by believers.

What’s clear is that believers can’t tolerate apostates. We become a threat to their fear-based systems. For daring to speak up and risk whatever divine retribution might be doled out, we place ourselves in one of two positions: 1) We are going to hell and facing spiritual ruin (which can’t be proven) or 2) We present a glaring example that we were able to leave the faith and nothing bad happened to us. Option 1 leaves their belief system intact. Option 2 forces them to face that they have accepted a whole mess of rules and regulations for nothing. It forces them to face up to the fact that their beliefs are subjective and baseless and they are most likely wasting their lives. It forces them to confront the reality of death as final, and the loss of the afterlife fantasy and all that entails. They don’t want to face the second option, so to keep their worldview intact, they have to demonize, or metaphorically "murder" the apostate.

In the Islamic world, they literally kill you. Here in Puritan/Christianville, it’s ‘just’ severe vitriol and discrimination. (And in your case, assault.) But if theists want to be true to their faith, they must tolerate us, accept us, treat us as ‘god’ or ‘jesus’ teaches them to treat their enemies (with love), and deal with whatever contradiction that presents them.

Thanks for speaking out. I don’t think any of us atheists have any less right to speak our views than those in the majority. Religious beliefs, after all, are nothing but opinions. There are thousands of different sects, they don’t agree with each other, and religions have their OWN unpopular minorities. I grew up in one. And after all, if our constitution doesn’t protect unpopular minorities, then it’s not good for much, is it?


Comments (8 comments)

TheGayBlackJew / February 10th, 2007, 11:45 am / #1

I want to see more anger from atheists. I want to see less tolerance for theism, for if we are to work toward becoming a more tolerant species, that which breeds intolerance must not be tolerated.

Sean, you have a very eloquent writing style. Keep up the great work. Dawkins and Harris have at least made atheism more visible, but we need a prominent female to come out as an atheist.

Imagine if Angelina Jolie vocally joined our side? It’s sad, but she could do more damage to theism than 5,000 atheist bloggers. She gets respect for her work with the UN and has the stunning looks our culture values so much. She also seems to be intelligent.

Sure, it would damage her box office potential, but she’s worth tens of millions already. The fact that she doesn’t plan to marry Brad Pitt, despite having a child with him, shows that she plays by her own rules. It could happen.

BlackSun / February 10th, 2007, 2:56 pm / #2

Well, there’s Jodie Foster, Oriana Fallaci (she just died), and several others. Jolie is supposed to have signed on to play Dagny Taggart in the upcoming production of “Atlas Shrugged.” So we pretty much know where she stands. I think she may have more impact this way, since people won’t put up a wall like they have for nitwit Tom Cruise.

Overall, though, I agree with you.

Mylegacy / February 13th, 2007, 8:47 pm / #3

As athiests every day we need to convince one more person to abandon religion. Then, the next morning one more athiest face looks into his or her mirror.

Religion has NEVER been benign. I remember during the Vietnam war when our priests and ministers were telling us it was a sin to make love to someone we loved, but quite OK to napalm babies. Make love not war.

Today the christian right are climinally insane, so-called followers of a guy called christ that allegedly said “love your neighbour as yourself.” and the neocon religionists declare war on homosexuals while letting 40 million of their fellow Americans live without medical care. Insanity, and that’s one of their more benign insanities.

As for islam…don’t get me started…

Jim Jenkins / February 24th, 2007, 3:18 pm / #4

Hey Sean, despite having never heard of you before today, I wanted to take a moment to express my admiration for you and for your work here at Black Sun Journal.

A friend of mine who is into experimental music posted on his own blog a download link for “Songs of American Doomsday Cults, Vol. 14.” I was immediately curious having read some exposes of CUT back in the eighties and having had my own cult experience in my youth. Within a couple of minutes of starting the recording, my partner began to shout at me to “turn that shit off.” When I told him what it was he became fascinated as well. He knew of your father’s work which led to a great conversation. I then went to Wikipedia and read all of the entries which then led me here.

I’ve spent the past few hours reading this entire ECP thread including the comments and I must say that I am quite impressed. I think that it took an incredible amount of courage to do what you have done. I’m also amazed at the compassion that you have shown in responding to both your family’s true believers and to those that blame you for having been sucked in in the first place.

You were saved by Rush, I was saved by pot. To make a long story short, my wife and I signed over all of our possessions to an authoritarian fundamentalist christian group back in the seventies and if I had not succumbed to temptation at a work party and gotten high, it’s possible that I’d still be there today. Instead we were excommunicated and I was forced to deal head on with my beliefs and my actions. It took years for us to sort out what had happened, but in the end I became a life long atheist and perhaps more importantly a lover of science and history.

I am most grateful for the fact that my daughter was born shortly after we left the group and she was never exposed to any of that insanity. Needless to say, she was raised with a healthy dose of skepticism about all dogma.

Anyway, I’m happy to hear that you landed on your feet and seem to be having a rocking good time with your obviously hip and well adjusted progeny. My best to you and your family.

Jim

BlackSun / February 26th, 2007, 11:16 am / #5

Jim,

Thanks so much. Your comments mean a great deal to me. It seems often that people who haven’t fallen hard for religion don’t understand the dangers. They act as if it’s harmless, and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Only when people such as yourself go through the trauma of turning over large portions of time, money, and life energy do they seem to understand the dangers.

I’m wondering about your pot experience: Did you smoke pot and get kicked out because you got caught? Or did the pot smoking lead to introspection and your questioning of the faith?

Glad to hear your daughter escaped the whole mess. My kids are often mystified when I tell them stories of the life they were born into.

Best regards to you and your family also.

Jim Jenkins / February 26th, 2007, 12:38 pm / #6

We lived communally and I came home from the party both high and filled with guilt. I woke up a friend and admitted my lapse and had him pray with me figuring that was the end of it. My friend felt obliged to notify the leadership of what I’d done and instead of asking me directly, one of the elders contacted my work, claimed to be my legal guardian and asked about my performance. My boss refused to give them any information but called me in to find out why I had a legal guardian as I was nineteen at the time. This led to a major confrontation at home which led to our decision to leave. We sought out legal council in an attempt to get our stuff back and we were partially successful. I still have my official damnation papers from the group which I keep as a reminder.

The hardest part for me after leaving was admitting to myself that I had been deluded. I spoke in tongues, had demons cast out me and was miraculously healed on a number of occasions. At first I didn’t deny the reality of any of that. I just thought that my group had lost its way and I had to somehow separate the truth from the falsehood. I eventually had to face the fact that it had ALL been fantasy from the very beginning.

Although it was a tough realization, I believe that it was the best thing that could have happened. I learned to question ALL authority. Plus the realization that under the right circumstances I could say things and believe things that were demonstrably untrue acted as a kind of inoculation against future participation in group hysteria.

And then there was exposure to Darwin and Bertrand Russell and Joseph Campbell and a whole host of thinkers, scientists and philosophers too numerous to mention.

Appollonia / January 30th, 2008, 8:11 pm / #7

I have read all of these comments, and I must say: you are preaching against intolorence and the freedom to have your own beliefs, which is great, but don’t you think in being so adamant about relenquishing religion, isn’t that being intolorent? People have the right to their own beliefs and people should tolerate them, correct? So why aren’t you doing the same with such Religions as Christianity and Judaism?

BlackSun / January 31st, 2008, 12:03 pm / #8

Appollonia,

Of course people have the “right” to believe whatever they choose. But what I’m against is privileging certain beliefs against scrutiny. I’m also against the intrusion of beliefs on public policy.

I’m also a strong proponent of fact-based reasoning. In other words, there are things on which we can all agree–the sky is blue, etc. We should strive to increase the objective nature of the human dialog. Religions increase dissension and add nothing to the base of human knowledge.

There are many facts such as “the earth is round” which have been at one time denied by religion. Today, it’s the factual nature of evolution which is denied by some believers. We should not support the miseducation of children or the politicization of such facts to fit religious agendas. Facts are established by science, and science can also tell us accurately when we do NOT know something, even down to our levels of uncertainty. Instead of making up easy answers, we should agree to keep such things in the realm of inquiry.

So my basic position about religion is that it resides in the domain of personal feelings. As such, people have the right to their feelings, but when the expression of those feelings interferes directly in the lives of others, it should not be tolerated.

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