It’s a strange time to be an American, my friends. A very strange time indeed. On the one hand, everyone is more sensitive than ever. Any sentence taken out of context can be used to destroy a person. You can post a silly comment on Twitter, fall asleep and wake to find the entire world has decided to shame you for it. Why you? Just because. Because outrage and disgust are the IT past-time, and you are simply this week’s unlucky Target.
On the other hand, not being PC can make you exceedingly popular. You can come right out and say that Muslims don’t belong here and Mexicans cross the border to rape and kill. And that? That right there will boost you to the top of the list of Republican presidential candidates.
A strange, strange time.
Me, I try not to be outraged by much. The way I see it, most people who say something outrageous don’t really mean any harm. It was a joke or a mistake or just a moment of stupidity, a temporary condition to which no one is immune. And the ones who say nothing BUT outrageous things, they’re usually full of shit. They don’t mean most of it either. They’re just trying to tap into the base emotions of the frustrated masses and make news. It’s nothing but a cheap, reliable con.
What does this have to do with atheism? Well, simply by being a person who doesn’t believe in God, you can be considered offensive. I know. It’s ridiculous, right? With all the thousands of Gods out there to believe in, you still have to choose the right one to impress each individual you meet or you could wind up offending them. That’s a tall order. You must fail. Everyone fails. Unless you believe in every single available God on the table, you’re a non-believer in somebody’s God, and I’m pretty sure believing in more than one God is also considered offensive to a lot of people, so YOU ALL FAIL. Whether you tell the world you believe in any God or no God at all, you’re upsetting somebody.
So you have a choice. Share or keep it to yourself. Ideally, you could keep it to yourself, because it’s nobody’s business anyway. But by keeping quiet, you also allow yourself to be disregarded, marginalized, misunderstood, under-counted, under-represented, voiceless, and sometimes abused by those who suspect things about you without even admitting it.
This is something the LGBT community has struggled with forever. Why would you share something you feel may as well be kept private? It’s nobody’s business who you sleep with, but what if keeping quiet means someone can fire you on a hunch? Or make disgusting jokes about people like you? Or let a horrible disease thin your ranks at a dizzying rate while nobody lifts a finger to stop it? Well, then keeping quiet may hurt your cause, even if you never considered it your cause. Sometimes you feel compelled to be honest and say, “This is who I am. There’s nothing wrong with me. Deal with it.”
To what end? In the hopes that one day no one will have to admit anything or accuse anybody, because it will all be normal. You will have the freedom to be as private or as loud as you want, because we’ll all be on a level playing field. Equally respected, under the law, and hopefully in all of society.
That’s the goal.
So even though I say things that are knowingly offensive, it’s only because there are millions of people out there who are voiceless and frustrated and misunderstood and hurting. There are people who find me who could be killed for saying the things I say, but they can sneak away and read my words and know they’re not alone. How can I not be there for them? When I have the legal right in this strange, strange time in this still-wonderful country to do so? When the worst thing that can, and has, happened to me is losing some friends and getting a handful of meaningless death threats?
It’s a long game. I get that. And I’m really too small to matter much. But you see, I don’t believe in an after-life, but I do believe that what we do and say can change the world for the better, can set things in motion or keep them in motion in a way that can improve the lives of all who follow. We can live on in that way, without anyone remembering our names. And I’m okay with that.