It’s so easy to be misunderstood online.
For example, I’ve been married for 16 years (I hope I did that math right) and my wife and I still mistake each other’s tone in private messengers sometimes because of the way we typed something. Not being able to hear something or looking at a facial gesture can make humor fall flat or even make compliments sound like barbs. There’s a million ways to be taken wrong when we talk by computer.
Now that we are in the accursed age of social media, there are new opportunities to be completely misunderstood, especially when you use it to promote your worldview or try to use your presence as a platform for information. It’s the kind of shit that can break families up if you aren’t careful sharing your convictions. It has definitely ended its share of friendships.
I had a horrendous collision in 2010 on Facebook with an acquaintance from high school. We did not talk in high school but we had a mutual friend and I found her somewhat witty. So I asked for friendship status, and she accepted. I was posting about politics back then as I do now. A few days into our friendship, I called Allen West, a black conservative, an “Oreo”.
For those of us who are new to him, Allen West is an asshole who deserves all the opprobrium we can muster. He’s wrong all day long, often offensively so. But my new friend, a white woman, called me a racist for using the term “Oreo” and unfriended me publicly. I was so confused, raw and hurt. What was worse is that I was having emergent mental health issues and I made a big scene trying to get back at her from calling me that. I felt like she didn’t know me or who the hell I was writing about and therefore she should have shut her politically correct trap. Anyone who knows me knows I am not racist, I reasoned. And anybody who had been following me over the course of my social media career could have understood that. So in the white light of my mind she had a lot of fucking nerve. But, looking back, maybe it’s true that the jibe doesn’t belong to me and I don’t say it anymore just in case. My bedrock grownup principle is that of Hippocrates: to first do no harm.
That being said, I still can’t seem to avoid being provocative on the book of faces in 2018. Most people are used to me going on and on ad infinitum about bad shit happening in the world and suffer me politely or agree with me. Those who don’t do not last long on my page. But in addition to being a red diaper baby politically, I am a proud atheist. And sometimes I like to post Christians Gone Wild. That’s when a Christian person says or does manifestly un-Christlike things. And there’s no shortage of offenders. These people sicken me with their hate and piety. I usually try to deal with them by way of mockery but sometimes the shit makes me mad. Anyway someone I barely know again came from out of nowhere and insinuated that I was being a judgy asshole in the course of pointing out that judgy Christian assholes were saying terrible things about the memory of Anthony Bourdain, who led a life of love, indulgence, and acclamation but could not escape the scourge of depression.
This is not the first time I have upset a Christian on my feed. I almost stopped talking to my younger brother over the subject of religion at a couple of junctures. My family is very, very Christian. And I have gotten into it with him several times over what I am doing when I highlight Christian malfeasance and hypocrisy. I was attacking God, I was told, or making Christians or Christianity look bad. But I maintained at the time it was my feed and I would do what the fuck I felt like with it so I told him to shove it. It got out of hand. I kind of had a snit and unfriended him and we fought privately. Thankfully, we’ve reconciled and understand each other better because what we do on Facebook is an insufficient reason to lose family over. Through him, I learned to let up on my more controversial commentary. You all should see what I don’t post.
But anyway, back to today. I was accused of general hypocrisy and intolerance and then my antagonist disappeared. I didn’t understand where she was coming from at all. Karl Popper has a paradox about intolerance-namely, that you don’t need to tolerate it. I live by that shit. Since our little public row we have also quietly reconciled, and I think we are going to have a much better relationship than the tenuous one we had before we misunderstood each other online.
But it’s time I explained what I’m up to when I criticize Christianity publicly. Some of the reasons I do it are, I’ll admit freely, a little close to home. I grew up Catholic but the family went Assemblies Of God when I was 12, a novel movement in the 1980s. The difference between the solemnity of mass and the booming, surreal party that was a service in the Assemblies could not have been starker. We loved it, the rock, the dance, the tongues, the hands upraised, the mass hysteria of it all. The bathtub behind the pulpit below the giant wooden cross was a source of unceasing curiosity for me, and I was soon dunked in it to be born again. I was ON FIRE for God, if you can imagine that. In time, I would eventually read The Bible all the way through, something I’d have never done in the dreary days of CCD. I was ministering to my family and leading nightly devotions. This new Christianity was something my family could bond over, which was good because we didn’t get along very well outside of that.
Without going into too much boring detail, I slowly discovered that Christians were not special. It had marginal success in changing people fundamentally. Moreover, no matter how hard I tried, I could not hear the voice of God. Tried to speak in tongues and could not let go and babble. Tried to listen and only heard myself. I was reading Nietzsche and other accounts of the human experience and my identity was soon shattered. There were many ways to think about the world all of a sudden and there was something compelling about that.
I was Done, unable to go back to faith, like a bell that can’t be unrung. And really, that is one of the things that actually makes me happy inside. I feel good because I learned I am a good person (good enough, that is) without needing to be told. I love this life. There will never be a shortage of things to learn about in this age of technological miracles. Death may be difficult to navigate knowing you will never be the organized bag of biological goo that you are now ever again but I don’t care if you think you’ll wake up on the other side, it’s probably a terrifying process for anyone. After a safe, long life mostly full of abundance in a First World country with sons (and grandkids, maybe!) and a loving partner/friend it would be greedy of me to ask for more. We may go to our end not understanding this life completely, but that’s OK. Certainty is an illusion. The joke is on our big-brained species. We’ll only ever know a sliver of what’s actually going on at any given time. The best you can do is try to leave this mess a little better than when you found it.
Sometimes I get a little too prideful about my lack of faith and I want to let my little snarky light shine. But it’s not all beer and skittles. Nonbelief is not without its own set of problems, because Christians by and large distrust atheists and eight out of ten of you in America are Christian. We are generally not welcome in your midst, often thought of as demon-possessed and of evil intent. We are a minority, and all the requisite problems of being one come with the territory of being an atheist. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am SO glad I live here and now because I could be stretched on a rack in harsher times or get my head chopped off in other parts of the world today for disbelief. Still, we and minority faiths are repeatedly disrespected in the public sphere regularly by Christians, because so often you go out of your way to push salvation upon those who do not feel they need saving-and while I understand that you’ve been charged to do this by your bible, it would be better for all to let people be people and that way we learn to live with each other instead of against each other-first do no harm. I won’t survive to see an atheist president. Neither will my kids, probably. You keep telling them at public school to respect a creator and mix justice with religion by putting slogans on public buildings and vehicles. You invoke gods for wisdom in civic settings. You cite “religious freedom” to discriminate. And you get away with it because you are very clever about how you impress your dominant beliefs upon those who think differently than you.
Of course, not all of you are like this, and I thank God I know you. And you need to know that I am not calling you out when I take bad Christians to task. I’m not even attacking Christianity in just about every case. There’s nothing wrong with it in particular that makes it any worse or any better than any other belief system. What did Thomas Jefferson say? “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” I don’t understand why you would get mad at me for pointing out people that make your faith look really bad. I would think, rather, that you should be doubly angry at them instead. Because they won’t go away if you stay silent-they will claim the One True Faith out from under the more tolerant of you. Here’s what I truly do not get-if indeed the word of God is the ultimate word of God, then why are so many crazy, shitty people taking away strange and different things from reading it? I would think that The Word of God would be pretty clear about how to be a Christian, with Him being a god and all. But it’s not, because people still find the basis for hate in his holy name and we all ought to know by now that Christ for the most part wasn’t down with that. The aforementioned Nietzsche was wildly misunderstood and often wrong because like the title of one of his books, he was “human, all too human”. But in my head there should be no erroneous interpretation of God’s will, because a perfect being wouldn’t roll the dice hoping a bunch of half bright monkeys would all catch his drift. Bullet points would probably be far better than verses, Lord, in case a sequel is in the works.
To conclude, I am not your problem. I think it’s the height of offense and vile evilness to say that someone’s loved one is going to hell because he was suidcidal or that he’d be alive if he wasn’t an atheist. Or how about this guy that’s saying homosexuals need to be put to death in the 21st century? That’s everybody’s fucking problem, not just mine or yours and frankly I am trying to sound the call. I don’t have to tolerate any of it, and neither should you. Ignoring will not solve the problem.
For the record, I think Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher are sometimes really shit atheists. I’ve given you a nice headstart so you can post about bad examples of atheists if you want. I promise I will not take it personal.