We were tabling at the Dundee Crown High School activism fair on the National Day of Silence (a day of protest in defense of LGBT rights). There were several people throughout the school who had tape over their mouths signifying that they were participating. I made a point of congratulating each of them I saw.
One of them, Emily, was even wearing this killer shirt.
The back says “EQUALITY” and has a heart with a MM couple, a FF couple, and a MF couple.
The kicker? She was wearing a cross around her neck.
Now you all know me, I never mask my contempt for religion. I also never mask my contempt for bad people. But even though I think faith is a moral failing, there are religious people who are trying. I have moral failings, and I’m trying. This is as good as people can get. The problem is when people don’t realize unreason (under the banner of faith) as a moral failing, or don’t care.
I’m always asked if I worry that my open contempt for faith will push people away. The answer is always no, I don’t. I think people can (and do) respect someone who is honest with them, and this has been my experience.
I wrote my talk for that day geared toward religious people/students, explaining how the goals of secular clubs are similar to their own, and how many of our goals they must share. I talked about the horrors experienced by Damon Fowler, Jessica Ahlquist, and other students. I talked about how the separation of church/state protected them. And I spoke about how secular clubs are something religious people should attend.
The following day I received this letter from Emily.
Hi JT!!We met today at DCHS. My name is Emily ###### and I was the girl with the cross around her neck, supporting DOS. I just wanted to say your presentation really spoke to me! I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves equal rights, no matter who they are! You spoke about how at Crown everyone’s very accepting, which is true! So, I wasn’t aware of how much hate and discrimination there was towards Atheists! I come from a very Catholic Family, and I love my catholic views… well most of them anyways I think most priests need to re read the bible and think a moment or two… but! I believe everyone deserves to worship or not worship if they please! I was wondering if there was any way I could get involved and lend my voice to your cause. I’m not sure how many Religious people have offered to help out or how many people are members of SSA, but you were correct when you said we were on the same side. We’re fighting the same battle! Thanks for speaking today!!! It was a great opening!!!Sincerely,
I expect people to disagree like adults: openly, honestly, and treating those we disagree with like they can handle criticism rather than placating them like a child. At that activism fair I found countless young people who manage this better than many full-fledged grown ups.
And when we respect each other then we can work together without compromising our principles.
There are a few things I would disagree with in Emily’s email. I, of course, don’t think more reading of the bible is what hard-lined religious people need. But that’s a very minor point. The main thing I take exception to in her email is this.
I was wondering if there was any way I could get involved and lend my voice to your cause.
It is not my cause. It is not Richard Dawkins’ cause. It is our cause, Emily; yours and mine. By putting that piece of tape over your mouth and coming to my talk on secular activism you made it your cause. Compassion is the cause of all good people. By wearing that shirt and placing the tape over your mouth, by telling the people in your congregation that LGBT people deserve equality, you are already doing plenty. And when you go back and tell them that atheists are good people, just as compassionate and good as the faithful, you will be taking some of our burden on yourself. It’s a feat that many people twice your age cannot find the constitution to perform.
I’m consistently finding that young people are the ones who want to get out and get their hands dirty. They want to change the world, and they’re the ones who are largely unafraid of challenging the status quo. They are fearless and they are strong. In the case of religious young people, all statistics confirm that they are believing in less fundamental ways than the previous generation – i.e., they are more likely to reject the discrimination against homosexuals, even as that prejudice is kept alive and made durable by the pulpit. They are more likely to empathize the plight of atheists and to join us in opposing anti-atheist sentiment.
These are the people I want to work with. They are the future.
Thank you, Emily. You say my talk resonated with you, but your email similarly moved me. Take pictures, Emily. Someday our paths may cross again and we can recall what the world looked like before we changed it.