Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Atheist" as a derogatory word

Over at Blag Hag Jen asks a simple question:
"How often, if ever, have you been called an atheist in a derogatory way?"
I'm not sure if this question is one Jen is asking or part of a larger meme, but either way, here's my answer:

For the most part, being referred two as an "atheist" in a degrading manner has been exceptionally rare.

The first instance I can recall is one that wasn't even directly to my face. It was while I was dating my second girlfriend and she told her parents she was dating me. I wasn't around, but when she mentioned I was an atheist, her good Catholic mother responded, "Oh. Atheist? That's disgusting."

After we broke up, her mother then sent me numerous Emails saying how glad she was that her daughter wasn't dating an atheist anymore.

I think the reason I haven't had many instances in which it's been used as a derogatory term with me is that, although I'm quite outspoken about my atheism on my blog and with my friends, it's not something that comes up in most circumstances. Atheists don't have as prominent of symbols to wear around as many religious faiths. So short of asking me about my religion, it's not something you're likely to pick up on. Many members of my own family don't realize I'm not religious.

Meanwhile, my students do know. I'd debated a few months about answering their queries on my religious status, but eventually gave up on keeping it a secret about half way through the first semester.

And honestly, it hasn't mattered. Most students just shrug with a sort of "that's nice" attitude, but I have a few students who have a large dose of incredulity at how someone could not believe in God. They've scoffed a few times, implying that I must be crazy to think so, or to maintain that humans share a common ancestor with all life on Earth, or that the Earth is more than ~10,000 years old, but truth be told, I tend to actually feel sorry for those students. Since the school is very sheltered and most of the students live in school housing, they're not exposed to the real world to any large extent. Those students I mentioned can only scoff and expect agreement because they're embedded in a largely sympathetic audience. As soon as they step out into the larger world they're likely to discover that value of ideas depends on more than getting a few of your friends to nod in uncritical agreement. I have a feeling these students are going to be in for a huge shock when (or if) that realization hits.

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