Monthly Archives: November 2012
“You can’t have it all.” The hell I can’t.
By “have it all” people mean success (career, education, a life,) and children. If I skip the breeding, am I not having it all? I don’t want kids, and not just because they conflict with category one. I just don’t want kids in the same way I don’t want malaria. No one says that I don’t have it all if I lack some nasty disease or other thing that I would find unpleasant and undesirable.
Oh, and as for the argument, “you can still be successful (education, career, etc) with kids, “ well, yeah, you might be able to, but it will be a hell of a lot harder than it needs to be. Sure, you can maybe complete a marathon if you hamstring yourself at the start of the race, but it will be a hell of a lot harder to do and you’ll get to the finish a lot slower than you otherwise would have – if at all. It doesn’t matter how you define success, whether it means being a wealthy CEO or just having enough that you never want for anything, it’s easier without kids.
So if you have high aspirations but, for whatever reason, also want a litter of babies, well, good luck now. You’ll need it. And if you do eventually manage to reach what you consider to be a high level of success, despite parenthood, then I hope you are not bothered by the knowledge that you could have gotten further, could have done more, could have seen more, and could have been more, because I would be. Such a thought would haunt me forever. No amount of sticky-finger hugs (one of the Kodak moment benefits people trying to sell parenthood often cite, despite it being less representative of the reality of parenthood than screaming and shitting,) could ever make up for the loss. Certain as some (not all) parents are when they comfort themselves about how their lives turned out by insisting that the childfree will regret our choice, the reality is quite the contrary. I would deeply regret ever having even one child – and by then it would be too late. I only get one life. Why should I just throw it away?
So what bugged me about the recent The women who think they’re too clever to have babies article, which had the subtitle: “They’re educated with dynamic careers – and believe motherhood is beneath them. Warning: their views make incendiary reading…” besides the misleading title and subtitle (nowhere did any of the childfree women quoted say anything rude or negative about motherhood other than that they weren’t interested,) was the overall tone. The article absolutely reeked of sour grapes. It’s like it was written by some bitter, jealous school-brat, complaining in the “you think you’re so smart” manner.
With little noticeable difference, I could re-write the entire article like this:
‘Waah! These women made a different life choice than I did. What, do they think they’re better than me? Whereas I chose to follow the crowd and breed, they just had to be different – the freaks! I guess they’re just too good to be mommies – bleh! And look at all this stuff that they got for it: Successful careers, self-confidence, youthful bodies, happiness! Who do they think they are?! Wah! Where’s my happiness!? I had kids just like we’re supposed to and all I got was this lousy gig whining on the Daily Mail – I’m not even a real journalist! Oh, and look at them being so polite in their interview too – they’re just playing nice to rub it in! They think they’re sooo clever! Well, they’ll be sorry! Someday they’ll change their minds and wish they had my life because… just because! But then it will be too late for those stinky doo-doo heads!’
The comments tell much the same story. Many share the author’s delusion that the childfree women interviewed are stuck-up and condescending, that they somewhere went out of their way, in describing how happy they are to be childfree, just to insult parents. I’ve read the article myself and found no such thing, despite the author’s attempt at creating a fake controversy.
You can read the article yourself, and you should if you can manage it without your head exploding, but the women who were interviewed were most like this: (not a real quote) ‘I don’t want children and never have, and having children would conflict with the things that I do want. And so, I decided not to have kids. Since your asking, person conducting the interview, yes, I do credit my success in achieving my goals and my happiness in life with this decision. I’m just not interested in trading that for motherhood, a lifestyle that would simply not satisfy me.’ That’s incendiary, apparently.
So if there is to be outrage, let it be about something that has actually been said. I’ll say what the women interviewed were too polite to say. I don’t just think I’m too clever to have babies, I actually am. It would be pretty stupid enough of me to sabotage my own life, but even worse to do so by having something that I don’t even want anyway. You know what else? Statistically, the better educated a woman is, the more likely she is to be childfree. It’s easier for her to pursue an education if she doesn’t have children, and if she is so driven to achieve a high level of education, she’s less likely to want to waste her degrees by spending the remainder of her life changing diapers. And do you know what else? It’s easier for women to work more, get promoted to higher positions and faster, and make more money (not to mention get to keep it) if they skip motherhood.
That’s reality. You might not like the truth, but it’s the truth all the same. Intelligent people make their decisions based on facts, not fantasies, and weigh the pros and cons and consider the impact on their other life goals. If you find that inflammatory, you might want to address your own insecurities and take a long hard look at how our actions (yours and mine) impact our lives.
New Year’s Eve on the last night of 1999 was a date that I will always remember as one that did not go very well for me. It was the first time in my life that I remember someone predicting a major cataclysm would occur on a certain date. Y2K turned out to not really be a problem, obviously. I bet the preppers stocking their basements with canned peas felt as silly as Harold Camping’s followers felt in 1994 when he predicted the rapture (a prediction that I was not aware of at the time,) and again in 2011 when the same man wrongly predicted the rapture two more times. I image those who think the world will end on the 22nd of December in this year of 2012 when the world keeps right on spinning will likewise feel silly, especially as their very last minute Christmas shopping on the 23rd will be quite rushed.
Anyway, while machines didn’t turn against humanity as they did in the Simpsons, my life went downhill very fast. I had my friend Kathy over for a sleepover, as was a common thing for us to do when there was no school. My father was off at the home of a friend of his, as he often was. And mom was bored at home while off work, as she often was. She asked us if we would like to go to a park on the hill, overlooking the Centennial Bridge spanning the Mississippi between Illinois and Iowa, from which new years fireworks would be shot.
Somehow, it fell upon me to decided whether or not we should go, and I just loved fireworks. It was also left to me, for some reason, to decide where we would sit. I picked an open spot in the crowded park full of people with the same idea. Then I laid down a blanket for us all to sit on so we could be out of the snow. I decided where I sat myself. As I, being stubborn, did not bring a coat, I sat on my mother’s lap for warmth. It’s not hard to think that what happened next was somehow my fault considering how many of the choices were made by me.
At midnight, the fireworks display began. We had a good view of them from the hilltop, even though they were quite a distance away. From my mother’s radio, music played. I began to lose myself in the sight and sound, thoroughly enjoying the show.
Within moments, I felt something hit my shoulder. It felt like a rock. I wondered if some classmate had recognized me, and decided it would be fun to harass me while I was distracted. I decided that I would ignore him, not allowing any bully to ruin my night. Then the sensation started to feel different. Now, rather than a small stone, it felt like I’d been hit with something larger and rougher, like a chunk of concrete broken off a sidewalk. Well, what was done was done, so I continued to ignore it. Then the pain hit. It burned. And I felt a cool trickle of what must have been my own blood. Yes, my blood felt cold on the wound.
I screamed. My irritated and embarrassed mother, who was now the focus of everyone who was able to hear me, demanded to know what was wrong. It took me a few moment to be coherent enough to shout“My arm!”
“What about your arm?”
“I don’t know!”
In the light of my mother’s company truck, we investigated the problem. A concerned bystander, a woman who had overheard, joined us. She took one look at my shoulder and whispered to my mother, loud enough that I was able to hear, “It looks like a gunshot!” Even though it hurt me to move my neck, I had to look. I’d never seen a bullet wound before.
What happened? Probably some fool, who gun control laws evidently weren’t strict enough to prevent owning a firearm, and who was as unaware of local gun ordinances as well as basic physics or just didn’t care, had been celebrating by firing lethal projectiles into the air. Bullets fired from handguns do not just fly to space. They come back to earth, traveling in a high arch. And where do they land? Maybe harmlessly in an empty field or large body of water. Maybe in someone’s home or car. Or maybe in a city park full of people, specifically in the shoulder of a child unaware of the danger.
Does it bother you at all to know that while you’re washing your car, walking your dog, climbing a jungle gym, or pumping gas, some jackass, over a mile away, could end your life in an instant? Your family would never know what happened or who did it. And the jackass? He won’t have even noticed and will carry on with his celebratory fire, perhaps injuring or killing even more people, never caring that he’s putting others in danger. Remember that the next time someone complains about simple gun laws, especially when restrictions on such aren’t nearly as strict as they are for automobiles, machines most people actually need and which aren’t designed with the intent to be used as weapons. He could as well be so very unlucky as I was as he attaches his NRA bumper sticker to his car.
It’s easy for us to explain way bad things happening to us as god’s plan. There has to be some kind of conspiracy because the explanation that “shit happens” isn’t emotionally satisfying. We consider bad things happening in our lives to a big deal, so they need big causes. What’s more, believing that bad thing’s happen as part of a god’s plan makes things seem like there must be some unseen silver lining somewhere, that it’s not all bad. And it seems that imagining that death is not death, but leads to heaven, is something that comforts those who can’t cope with the looming possibility of an untimely end. It’s not the truth, but it’s easy to see why people believed it. Why I believed it.
At the hospital, I got a lot of questions. The nurses were all asking me if I got to see the “waterfall,” a cascade of fireworks off the bridge that was either part of or near the finale. “No, I didn’t see it.” Thanks for reminding me. Those, sadly, were the least annoying form of questioning that I was subjected to.
I spoke with many police officers as well. Apparently, none of the officers were talking to each other so I had to keep retelling the same story, which even I was sick of hearing by the time my stay was through. And that wasn’t even the height of police incompetence. Yes, we had that kind of police force.
The police officers were sure that my non-gun-owning parents were to blame. One of the officers accosted my mom, telling her that in his many years of experience as a cop, he knew gunpowder when he saw it and had found it on my clothes, indicating that I had been shot at close range. Actual forensic testing did not back him up. It may have been a bad idea to assert theories until the evidence is in.
The police were also convinced that my mom’s boyfriend was involved. This was a bit surprising to me as my mom not have a boyfriend, nor was there any male accompanying us that evening apart from my 9-year-old brother. Apparently, somewhere along the way as the police dealt with each other, one of the characters in the story was radically changed. My 11-year-old clearly female friend, Kathy, was recast as an adult male involved in an illicit relationship with my mother.
My friend, by the way, must have been interviewed by the police, making it all the more ridiculous that her character was so radically re-written in the police story. We were each interviewed individually in our turn. My mother told me afterwards that the police had accused her of coaching us kids, as well as that bystander mentioned earlier who later came forward. She told me that the police said to her that it was “suspicious” that we all told the same story. That we all told the same story was “suspicious.” Just writing that sentence makes me want to bang my head against my desk.
You might now be thinking that I must be making this up or just exaggerating. This all sounds like something out of a comedy, some police satire. Truly, I wish that I was making all this up, but I haven’t the imagination for it. This really happened, and it all still amazes me to this day.
Apparently, the truth of the matter wasn’t interesting enough. No, it wasn’t a big conspiracy like on the TV show CSI. They needed a bigger, better explanation. One with more sex and drama. Unlucky celebratory fire from some nobody wasn’t satisfying for them, so they came up with their own explanation, one where everything was planned. Gee. Where does that sound familiar?
the police were sure that my parents were culpable. It was all a conspiracy. Maybe my mother’s boyfriend shot me out of jealousy? Maybe my mother shot me at his request or to impress him? Maybe my mother shot me to demonstrate to her boyfriend that she was no longer connected to my father. Maybe my father shot me, aiming at my unfaithful mother. Maybe my dog did it because she was upset that we didn’t invite her to come to the show (this is a joke one of my exasperated siblings told me.)
Never mind that neither of my parents own firearms. Never mind that my mother didn’t have a boyfriend. Never mind that my father didn’t even know we’d gone to the park that night. Never mind that my mother couldn’t have possibly shot me at that angle if I was sitting on her lap. Never mind that shooting someone sitting in your lap is monumentally stupid. Never mind a shoulder is not the ideal place to shoot someone you mean to kill. Never mind that a park full of people is not the ideal place to shoot someone. Never mind that it’s unwise to bring your own witnesses, my siblings and friend, along when you intend to shoot someone. Never mind that it makes little sense to voluntarily rush someone to the hospital after intentionally shooting them without provocation. Never mind any critical thinking, or any evidence that invalidated the police’s hypothesis that my family was at fault.
Scientists, don’t get mad at me. I’m about to talk about the scientific method in the simplest terms that I know how. To put things very basically, the scientific method is a body of techniques for knowing, really knowing things. All conclusions must be based on solid evidence and must be changed if falsified by the evidence. If you think you know something, you have to demonstrate it’s veracity. You have to show your work.
Again, I’m putting things very, very simply, but when we use the scientific method, we use these steps. First, we first make an observation. In this case, what is observed. Next, we form a hypothesis explaining what we observed. Next, we make our predictions, and conduct our experiments, checking to see if the evidence supports or falsifies the hypothesis. If it doest work, the hypothesis is failed. If the evidence fits, you have a theory.
In my case, what we have observed is an 11-year-old girls with a bullet wound. Everyone agrees that this is what was observed. The police then made various hypothesis to explain the observation. One of these was that my mother shot me. One was that my father shot me. And one is that my mother’s boyfriend shot me, or was involved in some way.
Here are our predictions, tests, and results.
If my mother’s boyfriend was involved in the shooting, that boyfriend would have to exist. We can test that by looking for him. All witnesses to the observed event deny that any adult male was present. We find no evidence that the boyfriend even exists. Upon further investigation, we discover that the person who we had labeled an adult male is actually a fifth-grade girl. Any hypothesis that the mother’s boyfriend was involved is therefore thrown out.
If my mother, father or father shot me, it’s likely that a gun could be found on the person of one of those people, disposed at the site of the shooting, in a vehicle owned by either person, or in the house. No gun was found in any of these locations. Furthermore, neither person had any weapons registered to them. All witnesses deny that either person owned a gun. This test is not conclusive, and does not necessarily prove that neither party could have had a gun, but it is not evidence in favor of the hypothesis the required that one party must have had one. The hypothesis is not supported by the evidence.
If my mother shot me, and all witnesses are correct about my position on her lap at the time, the shot would have had to have been fired from close range. We would expect to find gunpowder residue on the victim’s clothing and skin. One police officer went so far as to insist that there was before any forensic tests were conducted. When said test was actually conducted, no gunpowder residue was found. This means that the shot could not have been fired at very close range, but had to come from at least a few feet away. This does not prove that my mother could not have shot me, but it does prove that the shot could not have come from close range, where all witnesses who observed the even agree that she was. The hypothesis is not supported by the evidence.
If my father shot me, we should be able to demonstrate that he was present. No witnesses claim that he was on the scene. Upon investigation, we discover that he was at a friend’s house, the friend confirming his alibi. No evidence was found that he was on the scene at the time. We have not proved that he couldn’t have been there, but we have no evidence that he was. The hypothesis is not supported by the evidence.
Then, I had my idea. What if the shot was fired by a stranger, someone far away, who was just firing up into the air? If the shot came from above, I would expect there to be no gunpowder residue, at least none sufficient enough to show a close-range shot. There is none found, which means the shot came from at least some distance away that is greater than a few feet. If the shot came from above in a high arch, I would expect the wound to be at a high angle. It is, the entrance wound being at the top of my left shoulder and the exit being in my armpit. Additionally, the entrance is slightly forward of and left of the exit, indicating that the shot came from high above and from ahead of me and to my left. This high angle is not explained by anything else, as there was nothing above me to my left from which anyone could shoot down from. I also have a plausible explanation for why there might be bullets coming down in high arches: celebratory fire for New Year’s Eve. The evidence supports my hypothesis. For the sake of simplicity, I call this conclusion my theory.
A real scientist might argue that, while the evidence does support my hypothesis, it hasn’t quite graduated to the level of theory, as my evidence doesn’t conclusively prove my hypothesis and I haven’t found the shooter to support my conclusion.
Another explanation that fits the evidence might be a shot was fired from an aircraft. This explanation is not probable, but is possible. My hypothesis would be falsified if any evidence was found for the aircraft hypothesis.
In any case, I think we can all agree that I, at 11 years old, was being a bit more scientific that the police were. While I formed my conclusions based on evidence, ready to modify or reject my conclusion should the evidence demand that I do so. The police proposed their conclusions without evidence, which is bad enough, but even tried to force the evidence to fit their conclusions by declaring an 11-year-old girl to be an adult boyfriend and by testifying to the existence of gunpowder residue when none was present.
As my family was, apparently, full of the least competent attempted murderers ever, my siblings and I were sent to separate foster homes. I wasn’t bothered by this at first. I figured the police and child protective services were just following their due diligence and we would be returned home in a few days, at most. A few days turned out to be a few months, during which time, we got very little visitation with each other, were forced to attend counseling in order to see if we would have anything to say that might be used against our parents, and our parents were forced to shell out for lawyers fees, were judged on the condition of our home (my sister’s room had a bad smell to it because she still wet the bed, which is a fault on our parents’ fault, somehow,) and were forced to go to completely unnecessary parenting classes, even though they acted rightly in a tough situation.
One day, after having been in a foster home far longer than I ever expected a child services agent mentioned the possibility of remaining in the custody of the state until I was 18. This upset me greatly, and I had some choice words for him. By then, I’d been in foster care for so long that I was actually given my own room at my foster home. I had also been removed from my usual school and transferred to a new one. At my new school, once the novelty of having a new student in the room wore off, my classmates mostly forgot that I existed. I was lucky if I had someone to sit next to in the cafeteria.
I wasn’t getting on well with the older foster children at my foster home because I was becoming increasingly angry. One day I managed to unintentionally upset the foster mother, because while we were out shopping, she planned to buy me something but I kept insisting that I wanted nothing that she could purchase. At the foster home, I spent most of my time in the yard, when it was warm enough, or reading, or playing a video game. I wasn’t interested in knowing these people.
One day, the foster mother took me with her to church. This church wasn’t at all like the one I’d been to. Looking back, I realize it’s because this new church was Catholic and they did things differently. At my old church, the children were brought to a special room with games and toys, there would be a lesson, and we’d watch Veggie Tales or some other Christian children’s video. On the few occasions that I’d ventured into the chapel to hear the pastor, he was usually performing music with drums and guitar at the altar. When he spoke, he wasn’t just reading from a book, but was actually speaking with the audience as in a conversation. And then he would lead the congregation in prayer, which was also not read from a book.
This Catholic Church was different. We all sat in the pews of the chapel, which was much larger. The Priest never spoke a single word candidly, but only recited from books. There was a lot of getting up and getting down, which was tiring. I wondered how everyone knew when to stand, sit, and kneel. Every once in a while, when he would say something, the entire congregation would give a response in unison. I wondered how they knew what to say and when. Then they’d sing. Their songs weren’t like the Christian rock ballads my pastor had performed, or like the energetic and joyous gospel singing of the Baptist church I’d later visit once. This singing was mechanical and mournful. It was lifeless. I tried to sing along, but I could never tell which song in the songbook was supposed to be next. I wondered how anybody ever knew. With all this, I began to wonder if I was surrounded by zombies rather than living, breathing human beings.
Then the priest started talking to a cracker. Apparently, it was the flesh of Christ. My pastor never did that. Then the congregation lined up. For what, I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to be the only one left seated so I joined them. In the front, people lined up in a row across the front of the stage, each receiving a cracker and small among of juice a the priest went by. When it became my turn, I held out my hands like the other’s did. Then the priest stopped and said to me, “have you been confirmed?”
“Confirmed?” I had no idea what that meant. He left me empty handed and went on to the next person, as I returned to my seat both dumbfounded and embarrassed. Confirmed? What does that even mean? It’s not that I wanted the stupid cracker anyway, but still, being left out is rough. Clearly, I was not as welcome at this church as I was at mine.
I had no family. No friends. And no church. I was well and truly alone, I thought. My arm was slowly healing, but I had a worse pain take its place. I had never known such true despair before in my young life.
Why did this happen to me anyway? Was I really so bad that I deserved it? Is god punishing me? I can’t recall doing anything especially terrible? Am I such an awful sinner that I can’t even recognize what I’ve done? My whole family is suffering because of me. This is what my sin has wrought. Was god trying to teach me a lesson by punishing me? Or was he using me as an example to teach someone else? Was it a test that I was failing by feeling this miserable?
I begged for forgiveness and cried myself to sleep every night. Religion can see you suffer, cause you to suffer more, feel guilty for suffering, and blame yourself for every suffering in the first place. I was made into the instrument of my own torment. How messed up is that? What kind of “salvation” is this?
Sometimes people claim that god spoke to them, or even that an angel appeared to do the speaking. People claim personally experiencing god this way, and go on to tell everyone else about it. I had often wondered what it would take to get god to appear to me, to speak to me. Then maybe I could get some answers. However, it never happened, no matter how much I prayed, pleaded, and wept. Surely appearing is a small task for the creator of the universe, and such an appearance could do wonders for faith and answer many of my questions. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. So why wouldn’t he just answer me?
What of those people who claim to have personally experienced god? Well, if the Bible is true, it makes sense that at least a few people would be directly spoken to by god, considering how much he’d done that in the history presented in the Bible. Why should he have stopped speaking to people? But it was still weird how selective he was about who he spoke to, and it was similarly strange that it was so rare for two people to claim to have been told the same thing.
Maybe they’re all lying? That surely makes sense for the ones who tell other people what to think, who to vote for, and how to spend their money (donations, of course.) But what of those believers who aren’t in leadership roles of any kind, nor are part of any money-grubbing scheme? What of those who privately believe, and claim to have had a supernatural experience reinforcing this? Were they just making it up?
One night, while in the bedroom I’d been given, I hit a low point. I had been feeling alone, sad, angry, and irrationally guilty for so long that I was losing hope. That’s when It appeared to me. I didn’t question how It got into the foster home without any means of entrance or without alerting anybody, or why It would choose to do so late at night. I didn’t care. I sat up in my bed and watched it where It stood at the foot of my bed. Of course It was here. It didn’t make any sense to question that.
It never identified itself, but I knew exactly who It was. Of course I knew. How could I not know who It was? We had a conversation. It spoke audibly, just as I would have expected It would, and I answered. I’m surprised I didn’t wake anybody up. I asked at one point if It was there to take me away. It wasn’t I don’t remember much of what was said, but I know It meant to comfort me, communicating that I should be strong and patient, and that everything would be OK.
When It said “OK.” I nodded and echoed It, “OK.” Then It slowly vanished right before my eyes. I sat there on my bed, alone again in my darkened room. I sobbed. The human mind can be a cruel thing.
I now knew what those people who aren’t intentionally lying experienced when they say that they were met by god or by a ghost. Had a few details of the supernatural encounter been different, had it been a figure that I would have associated with Jesus or an angel, I might still be convinced to this day that it was all real. But it wasn’t.
It was my mother, who wasn’t even dead to be a ghost. And there was no possible way that she could have actually visited me. For one thing, she didn’t know where I lived. For another, I’m pretty certain she doesn’t have the power of teleportation.
The truth, I immediately realized, was that I’d imagined the whole thing. I’d had such a vivid dream that I had sat up in my bed, maybe even had my eyes open, and spoke in my sleep. As far as I knew, I’d never been prone to somnambulism before. It makes sense that it might have been brought on by the anxiety and stress I’d been feeling.
Nowadays, I am not convinced by anyone’s personal supernatural experience anymore, no matter how certain that they are that what they described really happened to them. Seeing might be believing, but that doesn’t make it true. I’ve experienced things that didn’t really happen too, the difference being only that I am aware of it.
I wish I could say that this was the point in my life when the curtain crashed down and I saw the full truth on the matter of religion, where I realized that people claiming to be witnesses to miracles were either lying, simply imagined the whole affair, or were honestly mistaken. I could have escaped the cave of Plato’s allegory and found real answers.
No. I failed to connect the dots here.
I did, however, cease going to church not long after being returned home. My excuse was “God is everywhere, so why do I need to go somewhere special?” The truth of the matter was that I was lazy and didn’t much care to continue waking up so early on a weekend.
I was well known in school. I might not have always been well-liked by some crowds, but I wasn’t generally hated either. I was that weird kid who would refuse to play kickball but would doodle in gym class instead. My mother was often in a hurry in the mornings and would yank on my hair while attempting to brush it out, and so I developed an aversion to hairbrushes. My hair was cut short so as to not be much work, and it was often messy. As for clothes, I mostly just threw together an outfit without much care apart from ensuring that I was covered (bright green sweatpants and a Power Ranger’s T-shirt with a hole in it seemed like a good match.) I didn’t much care about being attractive. I just didn’t really care at all what anyone thought of me. In a way, I miss being able to carry that sort of attitude.
I badly needed glasses, but I never got them until about second grade. Even then, I often lost them. Of the friends that I would make at recess, I would often have trouble finding them again due to my poor vision. I can’t say that I felt all that lonely though. I usually was happy to entertain myself drawing. I even brought my sketchbook with me to gym class and would sit out games of kickball in favor or doodling.
I was never much bullied. Sure, kids tried to bully me every now and then, but that never went all that well for them. I was no push over. I was a very confrontational child and would stand up for myself. For a time, I was a regular in the principle’s office because I wouldn’t let any Zero Tolerance policy rob me of the right to defend myself when needed. Of course the loser of any scuffle, even if he started it, would paint himself as the victim and me as the aggressor.
I had a few friends, in a circle I kept very small. Then I had a room full of classmates, most whose names I couldn’t be bothered to remember (it was a good year if I knew the teacher’s name.) And that was my school life, pretty much.
There was one girl in particular, who I got along mostly OK with, by the name of Dorothy. Admittedly, she was quite annoying. She was known to be excessively loud, clingy, and careless (she had once dropped a rock on my head off a playground, and had also spilled milk on my head in the cafeteria once.) I was mostly only friends with her because her name reminded me of The Wizard Of Oz, and I had a tendency of feeling compelled to be nice to people, no matter what they’ve done to me in the past, as long as they were being nice to me at the moment, which she usually was.
It was at her invitation that I first attended church. I reckoned I may as well find out who this god character everyone keeps fussing about is. I had little else to do on Sunday mornings anyway.
I’ve always loved the gothic architecture that some churches have. I love the soaring, stained glass windows, and the images that they would depict. I loved the repeating patterns of elegant, pointed arches. I loved flying buttresses that climbed the wall with such grace. I love the strong, stone pillars. Then there was the towering spire, visible from quite some business away, with its breathtaking presence. Before I first attended church, I associated that sort of gothic cathedral construction with all churches, probably because that makes churches highly recognizable. I thought that they were all designed in this fashion.
I’d often wished that I could find a church of that type for sale, and was able to get it zoned as a residence. I was a bit of an odd child, maybe, but it’s hard to deny that a building with that sort of construction would make for a beautiful and rather large dwelling. I imagine that the chapel would have good acoustics, and the pews already provide ample seating, making it the ultimate home theater room.
Much to my surprise the church I was brought to wasn’t at all what I imagined. It was actually quite ugly. I’d seen this building before as it was close to my home, but if it weren’t for the large stone cross, I would have never guessed the hideous thing church. It lacked any symmetry or aesthetic form at all. It looked like a collection of children’s building blocks just thrown together. The exterior was stucco and painted bright blue, and much of it looked to be in disrepair. It certainly lacked the beautiful architecture of the Catholic Church down the street.
I once revisited this church building as an adult, just a few years ago. By then, I’d thrown off the shackles of religion. My purpose for visiting was not one of faith, but of consumerism. What had once been a church had been turned into an antique store, now called Church of Mouse. The building seems to lend itself as well to this purpose. I amuse myself today at the thought of religion as an antique. It seems appropriate, really.
The adults of the church seemed very sure of god, and would talk about him with certainty to each other rather than just when speaking to children as with Santa. Adults can’t be wrong, can they? It was at this church that I learned that, at the age of 8, I was a filthy, dirty, sinner deserving of not only execution, but also the most horrific tortures imaginable for an infinite sentence afterwards. Apparently, snatching a cookie before dinner or feeding my peas to the family dog were very grievous offenses in the eyes of god. As for my young self, it was the first time that I had been told that I was so evil and worthless, the worst of my crimes being simply being born.
It wasn’t all bad though. As it turned out, the members of this church, and only them, the brilliant people that they are, had the cure that I need to cleanse myself of my wickedness and escape condemnation to hell. How lucky for me that I happened to meet people privy to such a thing. It’s odd that no one who didn’t claim have the cure ever even mentioned the need for one, considering how much people went on for the cures of diseases. I would think that this hell would be far worse than cancer or AIDS (whatever those were.)
Thanks to the kindness of the pastor, I was quickly “saved” from from my sentence to hell which, until I met the church people, I never even realized was immanent.
Wait, the concept of hell seems a little bit implausible. I mean, where is it? It can’t be under the crust of the earth, that’s where the mantle and core are. Don’t ask questions! Don’t even think questions! Is it supposed to be on another planet? How do we get there? How do we even get anywhere anyway if we’re dead?
STOP THNKING! STOP DOUBTING! STOP ASKING QUESTIONS! That’s just the devil infecting your mind and trying to trick you into doubting, the punishment for being a victim of this trickery being that eternal torment in hell. Oh no! Sorry, god. I didn’t mean it! I’m so sorry! Please forgive me. I promise not to doubt for a moment ever again. Please don’t burn me. Amen.
And so I became indoctrinated and easily manipulated puppet. I was even an instrument in my own indoctrination. Do as god/I say(s,) hate what god/I hate(s,) hate who god/I hate(s.) Wow, it sure is lucky that I found a teacher who is so in tune with what god thinks. It’s very convenient that he can hear god. … Why can’t I hear god?
Anyone familiar with operant conditioning can see what’s going on here. You do something, so you’re punished (the mere thought of punishment, especially one so severe, is its own punishment here) so eventually, you stop doing that thing (even when that thing is only a thought.) I was not to doubt or to question. To do so meant thinking of hell, the punishment for thinking and questioning. Skepticism was simply not allowed. It was blasphemy. Once that much was accomplished, it was easy to convince me that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” was a sensible argument against respecting the humanity of those evil homosexuals (whatever those were.) I could not ask, “by why is being gay wrong?” expecting any deeper answer than “because god says so,” otherwise… hell.
I don’t remember Santa Clause ever threatening me with anything apart from coal. Even then, that punishment was just for being bad, he didn’t seem to care if I believed in him or questioned his reindeer or not. And that punishment at least was temporary, I’d have next year to learn from the punishment and do better.
Just nod your head. There’s a good little sheep.
It should be said at this point that, for the most part, the church fold were nice. They picked me up and dropped me off every day in their church van. On my first day, they introduced me to everybody and the adults shook my hand, a respect I was rarely afforded as a child. Every day there were snacks available for free, which I appreciated as I rarely awoke in time for breakfast.
The pastor was personable, always chatting with everyone, even the children. And the lessons for children were fun, we mostly played games and watched Christian cartoons. The church folk even got me a Christmas gift.
This was not a fire and brimstone church. Nor was there a time in which they attacked science, at least not in front of me in the time that I attended. Still, all that is needed is the threat of hell, for crimes real and crimes only thought of but not actually carried out, and the rest of the indoctrination takes care of itself.
And then, something even more terrible happened and I was plunged into my own personal dark ages, which I didn’t manage to crawl out from until embarrassingly recently. One day while I was chatting with an adult neighbor about dinosaurs, I imagined how they died out something like 65 million years ago, way before the first humans. Then he did something I wasn’t expecting.
His words were simple, shattered my perception of reality. I was that day made into a creationist, not because of any evidence or convincing argument, but because of the blind fear that church had conditioned me to develop.
He asked me how that was possible for the dinosaurs to have lived and died so long before the existence of humans, given that the sun, earth, humanity, and all animals were all crated in the same week according to the book of Genesis.
It was at this point that my brain short circuited, a portion of it ceased to function properly. We all joke about hearing something so dumb, that it makes the rest of us dumber for having heard it. To my shame, I can honestly say that this is exactly what happened.
I had heard the story of Adam and Eve before, who hadn’t? The sins of the first humans are, as I had been told, to reason that I deserved eternal torment. I even attempted to read Genesis as a child, but the strange form of English used in the King James Version was not one that was fluent in. Somehow, it never occurred to me before my neighbor asked the question that there might be a conflict between the Bible and the truth. I had never considered it before. But now I could no longer deny the contradiction. I then had to make a choice. I should have just said that the bible’s account of the origin of life on earth was simply wrong, as the evidence that I was, by then, well aware of clearly shows.
However, I just couldn’t say that the bible was wrong – it was the word of god, I’d been drilled to believe. I’d surly go to hell if I didn’t believe the bible. I’d go to hell if I even thought about disbelieving the Bible. To deny the Bible was evil. Satan, I was told, would do anything to make me doubt, and would come in a form that seemed reasonable and attractive.
Science, I had to convince myself, was evil. I had to believe that scientists in many fields, some of the smartest people on the planet, were all wrong. I convinced myself that I was required to believe that dinosaurs never existed. So severe was my fear of torment should I accept dinosaurs that when the marvelous BBC documentary Walking With Dinosaurs, which depicted the awesome creatures in a way I had always wished Paleo Word could, was shown in class, I refused to look. I put my head down on the desk, closed my eyes, and tried to block it all out. It broke my heart that I had to give up my dream of being a paleontologist.
I even rejected fun things like Pokemon, simply because the word “evolution” is used to describe the monsters’ transformation which is nothing remotely like actual biological evolution. Pokemon, at the height of its popularity, was quite difficult to avoid. The devil sure was a crafty, um, devil, trying to lure me to the darkness with cute yellow electric rodents. Or maybe the lord was testing my faith. Given what I’d been carefully lead to believe was at stake, I couldn’t afford a bad mark in god’s grade book.
My parents, to their credit, tried to help me. My father offered me the idea that time was relative and that the bible didn’t really mean six literal days. My mother suggested that I attend different churches or investigate other religions. Sadly, I was dug in like a tick. I was sure that either option meant eternal death. In hindsight, I wish they wouldn’t have just stopped babying me and flat out told me that I’d bought into bull. But they let me believe whatever I believed, even to my detriment, in much the same way most us are told that we must respect any religious belief, no matter how absurd. It’s all the same anyway, I would have probably just dismissed their attempt to de-convert me as the work of the devil or something and buried my head deeper.
I tried not to think about dinosaurs, or the age of the earth, or evolution, or anything that wasn’t consistent with the religion I’d been fed. I couldn’t argue against any of it, so I tried to block it out. I couldn’t doubt, I’d be punished. And I prayed in school before eating my lunch, even though the kids in school mocked me. Oh well. The Bible says that Christians are persecuted, so I figured I was being a good little martyr.
I couldn’t not pray, I’d be punished for that too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a start, trying to remember if I’d prayed before bed or not and then praying anyway for good measure. Please don’t burn me.
When things went well in my life, I credited god. If there was a substitute teacher on a day that I’d forgotten/neglected the previous day’s homework, then god was looking out for me, personally. If a stalled car started, it was god. If my mom made angel food cake, well, that was obviously god. What sense did it ever make to thank anyone else?
I’d been told that I can ask god for anything, and he may or may not oblige. However, I was required to believe that he would deliver whatever I prayed for, else I was doubting his power. But he still might not deliver if it wasn’t in his plan. So… if I prayed for something, I had to believe that it would be there, and was god’s plan, until such a time as it wouldn’t be there and wasn’t god’s plan. I have trouble explaining the cognitive dissonance this particular dilemma caused me, apart from saying that it now reminds me of Schrödinger’s cat.
I was convinced that whenever anything went wrong in my life, I was either being punished for something or tested. Did I just trip and scrape my knee because I was bad and needed to be punished? But I just prayed for forgiveness not even an hour ago, so I should be freshly forgiven! I must have done something wrong that I didn’t realize was wrong. Maybe I’m incapable of realizing everything that I’m doing wrong because I’m just a mere human and am not the all-knowing god. … This game seems rigged. Sorry! Don’t burn me!
Maybe bad things are happening to test me. That’s what happened to Job, right? If I remark on, even in my head, how bad things are, or how unfair god’s justice system seems, I’ve failed. Am I supposed to be… thankful when I’m hurt or hungry?
When I was 11 years old, I was shot. I am a perfect example of the harm even personal, non-violent religious belief can do. I, a mere child, was shot. And I was convinced that I deserved it. Whatever I did to deserve such punishment, it must have been awful. I truly believed myself to be a worthless creature, to deserve such a thing at only 11. I was certain that I did not deserve to live. Is that really such a stretch when Christianity had taught me that humans all deserve eternal death?
When I was very young, I wanted to meet a dinosaur someday. Maybe I even would have liked to keep one as a pet like on The Flintstones. I, of course, knew that I couldn’t, at least not until such a time as the technology in Jurassic Park could become a reality. Until then, I would just have to settle for my large, stuffed Dino the dinosaur toy.
My earliest memories are of staying up late with my father watching Paleo World, wishing that the animatronic dinosaurs shown were more realistic. I was fascinated by dinosaurs and prehistoric history. I would be enthralled listening to Bob Bakker and Jack Horner speculate on the behavior of Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I remember the blank looks I would get from the employees at Chuck-e-Cheese when I would attempt to exchange my handful of tickets for a Parasaurolophus figure. After repeating the animals name a few times, I’d finally say, “The dinosaur with the thing on its head. No, no, not that one. That’s a triceratops, silly.”
Oh yes, I was all about the dinos. All about history. All about science. I was even slowly developing a very basic understanding of evolution. I didn’t want to be Miss America, or a teacher, or a nurse, or a mom, or any other role that society and toy companies market heavily to young girls. I wanted to dig in for dinosaur bones. I used to proudly say that I wanted to be a paleontologist some day, at an age where most children might not be able to pronounce that word. My father seemed pleased with this.
He was not so pleased, however, with holes I’d dig in the yard. I once dug a holes so deep that I dropped my little sister into it, leaving only her head sticking out. To my amusement, she was unable to climb out again on her own. Of course I realized that I probably wouldn’t find any dinosaur fossils in my yard, and certainly not so close to the surface as I could dig. I could still enjoy pretending that I was on a dig site. I knew that I wasn’t really a world-renown paleontologist/adventurer extraordinaire and that I wouldn’t really discover the remains of some new species of enormous therapod hidden just under the paving stones. But I could still pretend, at least until I was caught. Make believe is fine when you’re aware that it is just that.
I once dreamed of being a paleontologist. Religion, specifically Christianity and the creationism is afflicted my mind with, ruined that dream. For those years, I had no dream anymore. I was told I must “please god,” in what I did with my life, but such vague instruction doesn’t give me any solid career leads. I wonder, now that I’m freed from the grip that denying reality in favor of myth had on me for so long, if it’s not too late to revisit my old dream. I think a little girl digging in the dirt would be pleased.
Or has the hole in my scientific education left by years of creationist “teaching” too much to make up for now? I lament that I will never know who I’d be, how I’d think, what I would know, or what would be doing right now had I, in my youth, the courage to reject the lie that is the Bible.
Although my family was not particularly religious, and did not pray or attend church or speak about religion at all, this “God” fellow seemed to keep coming up among people I encountered quite a bit. I remember, in kindergarten, watching a girl configure two magnets into a plus sign, saying “I’m making a cross for god.” I had no idea what a god was or what the connection to the letter “t” might be.
That was how I usually heard people talk about god, when not preaching.
They would mention god in references. When anyone spoke about god, it was in a sort of abstract, impersonal sense much as in the manner a child might use when mentioning about The President or the Queen of England, and always with the sense as if referring to an idea, rather than a person you could expect to ever meet.
It’s easy to get children to believe in god. Everything is new and amazing to us. If airplanes can fly, why couldn’t donkeys talk? Talking animals sounds like a lot of fun anyway. As for god, it made little more sense to question that he exists than to question that The President exists, as young children aren’t interested in watching the news anyway. Children have little to no frame of reference as to what is real or plausible, so we mostly just trust the adults around us to know what they’re talking about. This gullibility and trust is often exploited for the amusement of adults in the form of tooth fairies and Santa Clause.
Speaking of Santa Clause, I never believed in him. Oddly, it wasn’t the flying reindeer that tipped me off. Why couldn’t there be flying reindeer? After all there were flying squirrels, right? Yes, I once thought that flying squirrels could really fly. The feat of hitting every house in one night didn’t bother me that much either. At the time, I had no concept for how big the planet was.
I realized that, no matter what mall I went to or what time, Santa was there all throughout the holiday season.
Why? Shouldn’t he have important work to do anyway? And how did he deliver presents to my home even though my chimney only lead to my furnace, and not to any fireplace? And about those presents, if Santa brings them, why did I need to write a list for Grandma? Why did I find these presents unwrapped in the attic moths ahead? Why were there the same number of presents under the tree the night before Christmas as there were the night before? And why did none of the presents say that they were from Santa, rather than Grandma? I caught on very quickly that I was being lied to, and I didn’t appreciate it one bit.
I remember even feeling insulted when adults would try to talk to me about Santa, as if he were real. It’s not that I wanted all mention of Santa removed from the celebration. Although Santa is a myth, he is at least, a fun myth. I only wish the myth would be treated that way.
My mother would get angry at me when I said aloud that Santa isn’t real. She would tell me that I must continue to play along and pretend that Santa is real, even though I knew that he wasn’t, so that my younger sibling would continue to be deceived. Apparently, the truth spoils the fun and it would be cruel of me to upset my siblings to become disillusioned. Yes, it was my fault for telling the truth, not mom’s fault for lying in the first place.
My Kindergarten and first grade teachers seemed to be of the same opinion. I was not to speak the words “Santa Clause is a myth,” lest any of the other students be bothered. Surely it was some sort of character fault on my part to “ruin” the “harmless” beliefs of others by simply telling the them the truth or even just encouraging them to question the whole Santa Clause business.
Much to my regret in hindsight, I mostly kept my mouth shut about Santa Clause, conforming to the rest of the class and my family in acting as if Santa was or even could be real. The thought didn’t cross my mind at the time, but looking back, I wonder how many of those other children also disbelieved in Santa? Maybe there were others, but they either remained silent on the matter or played along. Possibly, they had been told the same thing that I was: “Don’t ruin it for others.”
I wonder what would have happened if one student boldly stood up before the class and declared “Santa Clause is not real.” Would the other students have argued that he was? Might that bold student have been laughed at for her disbelief and forced back into silence? Or would the entire class gasped in sudden horror and broken down in tears at the shocking revelation? Would that student forever be the villainous Grinch who ruined Christmas for everybody?
At the time, I was sure that I was alone in a sea of believers, the only one knowing the truth but sworn to secrecy. I had been coached to think to think that this was indeed the case. In reality, however, I doubt now that many of my classmates then actually believed in Santa Clause by the time they made it to first and second grade, but were just playing along for the same reason that I was. Because no one spoke up, each of us was certain that we were alone is our disbelief, and because we thought we were alone, we didn’t speak up. Those few who perhaps truly did believe in Santa, or who at least would like us to believe in Santa, were the only ones that had a voice, so were the only ones who had power.
I have another mental image. Maybe instead of being met with negativity, the bold child would be validated. What if the student, fed-up with the patronizing and insults to her intelligence, boldly stood at her desk and addressed the class, again saying “Santa Clause is not real.” The class would fall silent and all would stare, but the student would remain standing all the same, unwavering. Then one student, then, another, then another, would stand up and proclaim “I don’t believe in Santa Clause either!”
Soon, the whole class would be standing standing and cheering, each pleased to see that they weren’t actually alone as they had believed. Each seeing that they could quit the ridiculous charade of pretending to believe in something they knew to be false. They would all learn the virtues of honesty and courage. They would learn that there is freedom in truth such as can never be found in lies. Those students would still enjoy Christmas, if that’s what they celebrated, but then they could do so in a more mature way. And those students could still enjoy the stories and iconography of Santa Clause without having to pretend to believe he is a real person.
Those students who weren’t quite sure if they believed in Santa or not would realize that disbelief was, in fact, an option. Those students would realize that it was perfectly OK to question the existence of Santa Clause and admit to disbelief if that’s what they came to. Maybe they’d stand too before the spontaneous event in the classroom was through. Those few students who would remain seated would at least have the seed of doubt planted in them, now wondering what reason they had for believing in Santa. No doubt these believing students would eventually come to the realization that he isn’t real on their own, given time and the space to do so.
Maybe then the adults who had pushed the fairy tale on us all would see the error of their ways. Maybe then they would realize that children are more intelligent than believed, and that it might have been wrong to lie to them. Oh, what a marvelous scene that would be, to see a room intended to be a place to inform and expand young minds actually utilized as such, rather than merely another setting of cultural conformity, censorship, and revisionist history.
Then, when the event was through, we’d all go on making Santa out of various crafting materials, the same as we were doing before. We might even sing songs about Santa too. And watch movies about him. The difference being simply that we no longer needing to pretend that Santa was anything other than a fun, yet still entirely fictional, character.
I don’t kid myself though. Scenes like I described are the stuff of Oscar-Bait films and just don’t happen in reality. Looking back now, I think that the bold student most likely would have been answered with a chorus of “Duh!” and instructed by the teacher to sit down and shut up, thoroughly chastised for speaking at all, even a truth. Still, it’s a pretty dream.
I didn’t doubt the existence of god though. Honestly, I didn’t even give it much thought. I just took the existence of god for granted, putting it in the same category as The President, rather than where he belonged, the category that Santa Clause fell into. Maybe if men dressed as god (however god might dress) routinely appeared in malls for children to sit on, or if teachers had giggled while their class made macaroni art of god, I might have caught on.
Maybe what I needed was some bold person to stand up proudly, without care for what other’s will think of the words, boldly declaring, “God is not real.”
The line spilling out from CU Boulder’s Mackey Auditorium was a long, slow one. The people waiting in line wondered aloud if the author would be able to sign all of the books of everyone waiting in line. One person said that they overheard one of the security guards say that the author would only sign about 100 books and turn everyone else away. To be fair, it was late. It wasn’t hard to imagine that Richard Dawkins would probably prefer to return to his hotel room, or wherever he was staying while touring the United States, rather than entertain the crowd of fans all night.
As I stood with my copy of his newest book, The Magic Of Reality, the very book that he had just finished giving a presentation on, I kept my hopes up. Just being here meant a lot to me. That man’s work has had a lot of influence on who I am and how I see the world today. It was amazing to have had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the auditorium, where he had the full attention of the audience. He was every bit as intelligent and witty as person as he’s ever been in his books or on film, and with that same dry sense of humor.
There was only one more thing that could have made the evening perfect. All I wanted was a signature. I said to the gentleman ahead of me, “Well, if Mr. Dawkins doesn’t have to hear every single person’s personal atheist story, we might get our signatures.”
The man grinned cheerfully and responded, “Oh, don’t worry. Mine is only about 20 minutes long.” And then he proceeded to tell me about some project he and some other people were working on, atheists tracts fashioned as elaborate satire of the infamous Chick Tracts. Later, an excited woman who had evidently been at the head of the line told the man that she’d had a chance to talk to Mr. Dawkins about their tracts, and Mr. Dawkins like the idea. I was happy for them, although they were strangers. But I was happier still that they, and a group of other people, left the line soon after.
I think that every atheist has a story. For most, it involves escape from the religion that they were brought up in. For such people, de-conversion isn’t always easy. Investigating what you’ve held so deeply to be true, and rejecting your old notions if you could not justify them. To do so means changing who you think you are, how you perceive yourself as a human being, because it means re-defining your identity, to which religion had for so long played a major role. It means admitting that you were wrong. Doing this requires lot of honesty and courage. Being “out” as an atheist requires even more, as it means dealing with the judgments from society, and possibly even being ostracized by family and friends.
Even those who have never had never been part of any religion from which to escape have stories. Nearly everyone has at least heard of religion. And despite how evangelists seem to believe as they knock on my door to deliver me “the good news,” I have heard of Jesus, as has everyone in the US and much of the rest of planet. It’s unlikely that anyone who has never subscribed to religion in their life time has never been proselytized to, directly or indirectly. At such an occasion, the non-believer was in a position to consider religion, even if just long enough to reject it.
What’s more, whether we were always atheists or escaped from atheism, we are affected, as is everyone else on the planet, by religion in some way. All too often, religion impacts scientific advancement, education, domestic laws, and foreign affairs, and never in any positive way. All the more reason to speak up and be heard. Tell politicians who pass laws based on their personal convictions to their myths of choice, “Speak for yourself.”
Every atheist has a story. I think most of us would like to tell them. I had an atheist story that I, of course, would have liked to tell Richard Dawkins. I wondered how fast I would have to speak to be able to tell it in the moment it takes for him to write his name.
Well, it didn’t matter. The late-night book-signing was neither the time nor the place, and I’m sure Mr. Dawkins must be just about sick to death of hearing everyone’s story by now anyway. Heck, he looked like he had just about had it with singing books by the time it was finally my turn (Yes, I made it!) It seems signing books was every bit as tedious as I expected it must be. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have everyone want to tell you their story too. He smiled politely.
I said “Hello, sir.”
He said “Hello,” back. Then he quickly signed by book, returned it to me, and waved the next person forward.
I was happy, absolutely giddy, to have gotten his signature. That was more than enough for me. I believe my exact thoughts at the time were, “HOLY CRAP! Richard Dawkins signed my book! He even smiled at me! He is so awesome! Squee! Forget rock stars, I want autographs from kick-ass biologists! Oh, hi, boyfriend. I totally didn’t forget you were here. OK Maybe I did a little. But isn’t Richard Dawkins great?!” Yes, it seems that I might just be a bit of a fan-girl over a 71-year-old science man. Is that weird?
So I didn’t bore Mr. Dawkins to death and irritate everyone who stood behind me in line by telling my story. Still, I think it’s important for atheists to tell their personal stories, even if we can’t deliver them in the three seconds it takes scientists to scribble their names. The perspective of atheists is a valid, yet tragically overlooked one. Mr. Dawkins himself spends a great deal of time speaking about atheism, and even endorses the Atheist Out Campaign which encourages atheists to come out of the proverbial closet in the same manner as homosexuals. The goal is to foster a visible and vocal atheist community. To speak about being an atheist is an important part of being “out.”
So speak up. Speak out. Be heard. Tell your story. You might just inspire someone else to do the same. Each voice may be small by itself, but together, we can be hard to ignore.