Reluctant Warriors

Hi.  My name’s JT.  I’m a naturally shy person who needs a fair amount of my own space.  Theater was a natural outlet for me, since it gave me the opportunity to sing, to pretend, and to indulge my hyperactive imagination – precisely what I did in the safe confines of my room without an audience.  I’m the type who puddles up every time Michaelyn or Christina tells me they love me.  Absent any other influence, I would live in a small town with a decent enough job and enjoy a life of isolated serenity.  I would take walks through the woods and indulge my still hyperactive imagination.  I would read and play video games.  A quiet life is simply what suits me.

I recall the first times I got into confrontations on the subject of religion/politics.  My throat went dry, making my voice audibly hoarse.  I shook.  I forgot facts that should’ve been on the tip of my brain.

Even today when somebody emails me to tell me they’re letting go of god and asking me for books/web sites with good info, I still feel sympathy for them (even though I know their life is likely about to improve).  My goal is to drive religion from people’s minds, but I know there are social penalties people pay for being reasonable with regards to religion.  A part of me doesn’t want to see them go through it.

The reticence to see others sad under any circumstance is still there, but the part of me that sees the danger of religion has grown stronger over time.  The person who seeks to offend for the sake of offense is the person who lusts after conflict.  However, the warrior archetype of social change is usually occupied by someone who was forced into it either by circumstance or by conscience.  They are seldom somebody who naturally relishes battle, they are somebody who has grown accustomed to it over time.

I realize that to live a quiet life apart from the world, at least in my eyes, is to condone the insanity in it.  So I leave my room and I engage religious people.  I eschew gaming with friends or one-on-one time with loved ones and I research and write.  I work against my nature because I think it would be immoral to be complacent and less effective to not fight tooth and claw.  And yes, I fight pretty much every day, even though I’d rather be fishing or napping.

Take Jessica Ahlquist.  Here is a young woman thrown into a maelstrom who has had to grow up long before her time (and far ahead of most of the adults in Cranston).  She is shy and always eager to try and please everybody around her.  She has worked against her nature to fight a good and necessary battle, and yet scores of people accuse her of being evil and selfish.

There are tons of people in this movement like us who fight because we think it’s the best way to change things.  For us a quiet life tainted by guilt is more miserable than a life of staring down the world’s ugliness on a daily basis.  We are the answer to the argument that the gnus are assholes out to offend for the sake of offense.  In fact, the most fiery activists I’ve encountered are often the kindest: Greta Christina, Hemant Mehta, Ed Brayton…hell, anybody who has met PZ Myers in person knows he’s a teddy bear.  We all find our own ways to make it fun and to enjoy the fight, we add snark, make jokes, dress as pirates, etc., but the truth is that most of us would live and let live were we able to stomach the status quo. The truth is that we care too much about the world, about humanity, to watch it from a distance.

We don’t get to live our quiet lives.  What we often get is to listen to others tell us how much we hate peace, and how we’re incapable of masking our anger.  The irony is that for most of us it was a huge and lengthy undertaking to escape our placid natures and to actually get to the point where we could be sincere about our anger.  Most of us saw the necessity of expressing displeasure with our neighbors long before we got past the politics of getting along and long before we were ready to let go of a life of serenity outside the culture war.

Most of the firebrands are not assholes.  We’re normal people (some of us even introverts *raises hand*) who realize that someone has to honestly tell people their beliefs are embarrassing in order for things to change, and we’re willing to tell people the damn truth and to take the rap of being agents of unhappiness that comes with it.

Most of us, including me, have no regrets about this.

These thoughts occurred to me because I realized how glad I was to have people in my life with whom I can share all that I’m doing: the strongly-worded emails to high school administrators, the debates with theists where I tell them they should be ashamed for not doing better, essentially all the people I’m pissing off, and they know that if the world were better I’d be the first to leave it be in lieu of the quiet life.

It means the world to have someone who knows I’m a nice person who makes others unhappy out of necessity, even when the rest of the world doesn’t get it.

If you’re the quiet type, if you’re one of the people who sees the need for the fight but don’t think your personality would ever allow it, you can do it.  There are an increasing number of people who will appreciate just how difficult it was for you.

I’ll understand.

Patheos Atheist LogoLike What Would JT Do? and Patheos Atheist on Facebook!

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.