Friday, April 15, 2011

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

The title of this post is a mock Latin phrase meaning "don't let the bastards grind you down".   It is not true Latin because, at least in part, "carborundum" is actually an abrasive material used to grind other substances in various industrial processes and was first discovered in the 19th century.  (Those with greater knowledge of Latin may find other things about the phrase to be less than genuine.)

It is a phrase one often hears when speaking with other atheists, especially those that live in highly religious places.  These poor people are subjected to a daily bombardment of abuse that is difficult for others to believe.  The religious people who do the grinding either don't see what they are doing or simply believe that it is deserved.

Other non-believers from more tolerant places simply can't imagine what it feels like.  They don't seem to want to believe that people can actually be so petty and cruel, so they assume that the non-believers in question are either rude and bring it on themselves or are overly sensitive.

This attitude can be quite annoying, especially the notion that non-believers who are subjected to abuse have somehow brought it upon themselves.  Non-believers who think this are either clueless about the facts (and about believers) or have bought in to the idea that atheists should stay in the closet.  As I pointed out before, the notion that atheists should stay in the closet is tantamount to accepting the notion that we don't really have the right to be atheists.  If a person can't speak freely about what he believes, then he is really not free to believe it.

What the religious and these non-believers from more tolerant environments don't understand is that the religious are supremely nosy about the beliefs of others.  They will simply not let others keep their beliefs private.   Worse, once they do find out, they will be hostile and confrontational on some level.  Perhaps they won't bring up the subject of religion, but they will seek out or create conflict with the non-believer because they feel personally insulted by his rejection of religion.  Remember, they can't separate the abstract from the personal.

Often the conflict they create will have nothing to do with religion.  They will simply find some other, more socially acceptable avenue--at least more socially acceptable in the U.S.  In countries where it is still legal to kill apostates, then they don't need to gin up a controversy.  They can just go stone the "damned atheist" to death.

This sort of thing has happened to me personally on repeated occasions--not the stoning but the ginned up confrontations.  One person literally went out of his way and sought me out just to tell me that he hated the type of coffee I drank.  If there is an area of endeavor in which the theist thinks he is better than the atheist, regardless of what it is or why he thinks he is better (they are often wrong on that score), then he will try to use that as a cudgel to beat the atheist over the head.  The result for atheists who live in heavily theistic areas is that they can barely leave their homes without some jerk trying his best to make them feel bad about themselves.

All of this, of course, is to say nothing about the overt prejudice that is aimed our way.  The religious cheerfully and publicly admit that they think we are evil people who have simply rebelled against god because his rules block our evil intentions.  They think we are an evil and pernicious influence.  They do everything they can to keep us from living normal fulfilling lives, such as trying to prevent us from having social lives or dating, oftentimes they will prevent us from pursuing our chosen careers or even from being employed at all.  Again, all of these things have happened to me personally.

Those atheists in such bad situations have to find ways to keep their spirits up and move forward in life without the usual sorts of social support systems that they should be surrounded by.  It is helpful to find other non-believers to talk to, associate with, and have relationships with, but you cannot depend on them to give you the same sort of support the religious give each other.  Many of them will have bought into the idea that atheists should stay in the closet and will blame any discrimination on you (this will be the topic of a later post).  Although this can be maddening, be understanding--to a point--because they are afraid they will be targeted themselves if they do anything to help.

For now, because our numbers are still relatively small, we can't get too upset over this state of affairs.  What we can do, however, is tell other atheists that they need to speak up and, eventually, stand up for what they think and the rights of others who think the same.  Most of all, what we can do is never let the bastards grind us down because, make no mistake, that is what they are consciously trying to do.

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