Monday, March 18, 2013

On Passing As Normal

Over at Balancing Jane, a post on what it means to pass as normal in America.

Read it here.

This one struck home to me, because she's talking (partly) about the Christian/Atheist divide, and as an atheist in Arkansas, sometimes I just shut up about the fact that I'm an atheist when I'm teaching, especially with my freshmen students.

For instance, right now in my 1213 class, I have a couple of older returning students who have made comments about essays we've read -- side comments, comments that I felt I could pretend not to hear -- but comments to the effect that the author of the essay was not a reliable source because he or she was an atheist.

(No actual evidence in any of these cases that the writers were atheists, btw.  I think what made the students think so was that the writers were clearly scientists and were writing about evolution as factual.  Ergo...)

Part of me wanted to challenge the students.  To wheel on them and go down their throats, drive them to the wall with the force of my logic.

It would have been totally off topic, for once thing; and for another, another part of me knew/suspected that at this point in the semester (two weeks into the class) if they learned I was an atheist, they would lose all trust in me.

So I exercised one of the most important tools in the professor's toolkit, selective deafness, and pursued other issues.

But it bothers me, because if atheists stay in the closest, as it were, then people like these students, who are decent enough people, continue to believe what they believe: that atheists are monsters, that we have no moral compass, that the only good people are people just like them.

Which -- as we know -- could not be further from the truth.


Anonymous said...

I have people in my family who lie, cheat, use others mercilessly, and call it Christianity. The only high ground they have is the certainty that they are "saved." But are they "really" saved? They aren't 100% sure, which makes the show of religious devotion all the more important. I'm sure they find it comforting, all that talk of being forgiven and how belief is all that matters, not "deeds." So bad behavior is always redeemable, and so easily. Whatever they do is wiped away with a sincere prayer every Sunday, and they walk out of the church reassured but unchanged. It's a sad and cruel way to live, and yet it's hard to pity those who behave so consistently badly. I try to stay away from it, but they are my family and they aren't all bad. Most of them are sweet people who, if anything, are just so bullied by the rightness of the family's religion that they are too tolerant and forgiving of bad behavior even when they are the frequent victims of it. They cling to it, even though it does very little for them. And if I stay away because of the outrages of the few, I have no family at all. The nice ones line up to defend the sociopaths at all costs. They feel sorry for them. And we're all sinners, right? All fallen short? Some of us are shorter than others. So I show up for a couple of holidays a year and live just far enough away to avoid most of the drama. I'm the only atheist. I am the alien in this family. And they are the normal ones. It sucks. Maybe I just have no business living in the Midwest. The only thing that keeps me sane is that I married another atheist when I lived in California, where we should have stayed.

If you aren't normal, they can spot you a mile away. I was raised to be normal, so I know. Passing as normal is an illusion. I'd say we might as well own what we are, but I think it's too dangerous around here. If we want to own being who we are, we should live on the west coast, around others who have fled their origins or who were not raised to be Bible-thumpers. My husband and I aren't in a position to do that, unfortunately. We could have, years ago, and we didn't get it. Then the economy fell and we fell with it. Too late! We have each other and a few cherished friends. It has to be enough. --L

delagar said...

L, that is essentially my position, almost exactly. Except not the California part!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it wouldn't have to be California. --L

delagar said...


lfconrad said...

Coming to this conversation VERY late, I still have to say that several times in our Gay-Straight Alliance meetings we have observed that "coming out" as an Atheist in this part of the Bible belt might actually be more dangerous for some than coming out as gay.