Casualties of the Culture War

Casualties of the Culture War August 16, 2016

battlewornRegular readers of this blog have noticed the frequency of posts has gone down considerably of late, and some have been asking me if I’m okay. Quite a few people, in fact, which is encouraging. It helps me know that what I’ve written thus far has already meant something to a number of people. Or at least that I have sweet friends, or maybe both. Thank you for writing.

The honest answer is that I have not been okay. I’ve been struggling to keep it together emotionally after a difficult year. I’m also slower than most to admit when I’m having a hard time. While I process things pretty deeply and thoroughly, I seem to take longer to make up my mind about things than most people do. Even deciding how I feel about something can take me longer than it takes other people around me.

I’m also hesitant to call the last year “difficult” since it still pales in comparison to things I’ve walked through in the past. The way I see it, nothing will ever compare to the challenges I faced before I started writing about my departure from my faith. During those days, I did what I could to hold my beautiful little family together, but the obstacles we encountered turned out to be much larger than we could overcome, and that hurt more than anything else since then. Having said that, the truth is that this has still been a rough year.

New Job, New School

Last year I tried transitioning into full-time activism in the atheism community, but it didn’t work out the way that I hoped it would. I won’t dig up those issues today except to say that it didn’t work out, and that’s that. Fortunately for me, as desperate as high schools in my area are for teachers who can handle what the job has become, it wasn’t difficult for me to find a new school ready to put me to work teaching second-year Algebra. I started teaching last week, and so far it looks like I may be in for a noticeably better year than I had either of the three years before.

I did decide to stop using my preferred name in the application process because it turns out I’m just a little too easy to google. When I first started writing, search engines used to bury me under a British musician by the same name as well as a South African cricketer. Not anymore. Mind you, I don’t regret using my real name to write. But I do have to consider how my role as an atheist writer impacts my ability to do my “real life” job from 9 to 5, so to speak. People around here don’t take kindly to hearing that their child’s teacher is a godless heathen.

So that’s one reason why I haven’t been writing: I’ve been job hunting for quite some time, and I did find a number of jobs that were available to me if only I’d be willing to pick up and relocate to another state. That’s not really an option for me, though, because my children are here and their mother won’t be moving any time soon. In time I came to see that the most reliable work I could find involves returning to the classroom. All that to say the beginning of the school year is always pretty time consuming, and that’s another reason I’ve been away from the blog.

Giving Organized Atheism a Second Look

Another thing that’s made it hard for me to write lately is that I’m still processing a lot of what I experienced over the last year or so. I was a pretty new atheist when I started writing for public consumption, and I had no idea there was this entire subculture of people who write and talk about atheism all the time. In some ways I fit this community but in many ways I really don’t.

It’s hard to pin down what a virtual community is really like. For one thing, it’s not so much a single community as much as it is a network of communities linked to each other in clusters by their common interests. Each one specializes in a different thing: Some are into fighting for the separation of church and state, some are into celebrating science and critical thinking, and still others are all about forming “freethinking” communities at the local level. Some are into organized activism while others are mostly social in their focus.

Another way to dissect it is to note that you have the larger atheist community, which mainly seems to want religion to go away, and you also have the communities for the formerly religious, which tend to be a bit more complicated in their positions. I illustrated my own perspective in my most recent post entitled “Why I Am (Still) Not an Anti-Theist,” and I think a number of folks in that subculture can identify with my own double-mindedness.

After dipping more than just a toe into organized atheism, I eventually discovered a handful of elements which I would call dysfunctional. I see some things that need to be addressed, and I will do what I can to address them in the coming months, provided I allow myself the time I need to do the thinking I need in order to get my head around it all. Some of my silence has stemmed from taking the time to think and process what I’ve learned over the last two or three years of writing for this community.

This Isn’t Just a Game for Me

Having said all that, I think the most basic reason I’ve taken some time off of writing is simply that it can be exhausting fighting battles in a never-ending culture war. It takes a lot out of you.

For some people, the headlines and blog posts they read in their atheisty newsfeeds are just entertaining curiosities. People love to read about the latest ridiculous thing said by Pat Robertson, or maybe Franklin Graham, or Ken Ham, or Ray Comfort. My home state of Mississippi provides endless journalistic fodder for Raw Story or Huffington Post (or Patheos) because people in my state live in such an alternate reality—a reality in which Obama’s coming for your guns, the Common Core curriculum is designed to turn your children gay, and praying for potholes to get fixed sounds like a legitimate solution (our city mayor actually said that).

But for me, these aren’t just punchlines in a running gag. These are snapshots of the environment in which I live. This is the atmosphere I breathe, the water in which I swim. It can be suffocating for someone like me, yes. And of course I’d rather live in a place that wasn’t so trapped in another time and another place. But that’s not an option for me. I’m rooted where I am for the time being and consequently I have to learn to live here one way or another.

That means that every time someone stirs up controversy, the trenches between me and my surroundings grow even deeper. Every time my new tribe mocks the nutty things religious Southerners do, life gets a little bit harder for people like me because now everyone around me is upset. They’re on the defensive, and they feel they’re fighting to preserve a way of life that’s being threatened by the godless liberal atheist Muslims or whatever.

In short, the culture wars polarize people, and sometimes that means tearing individual lives and families apart. When you step back and look at the big picture, you can make an argument for the necessity of this fight. I can’t really disagree with the inevitability of it all. But some of us live on the fault lines of these seismic shifts, and the social world we’re seeing torn apart is our own, whether we are into the Jesus thing or not.

People like me pay the greatest cost in the culture wars because we become the collateral damage in the fight for the soul of the nation. The battles are necessary, I agree. But it takes a lot out of you when you’re living on the front lines of the battle. And sure, some of us will win accolades from our own team for laying our reputations on the line, and some will achieve those fleeting 15 minutes of fame so that bloggers can earn their quota of ad revenues for the month.

But the real life cost for those people is that after the virtual fanfare dies down, they return to lives that are damaged because they didn’t just lie down and let their surrounding cultural norms run them over. People will turn away from them, and relationships will be strained. Friends will be lost and maybe even jobs as well. In time they will likely decide they have to move away from where they live because the discomfort and isolation becomes just too much.

You do what you have to do, and in the end I still feel an authentic life is preferable to one that’s fake. But some days you wonder if it would really be so bad to just ask for the blue pill—to see if they couldn’t just plug you back into the Matrix and make you forget what you figured out that brought all this grief on you in the first place.

Learning to Take Care of Yourself

I’ve been working on learning what it looks like to take care of my own needs. Frankly, I haven’t a clue how to do that. Where I come from, the word “self” is a negative word. It usually appears in front of hyphens to indicate things that ordinarily would be fine but suddenly are not because now they make God unhappy. I know I don’t inhabit that symbolic world anymore, but its lessons are still anchored into the bedrock of the way I evaluate my own worth in the world—for better or for worse.

Some of the self-care I’ve needed has involved disengaging from the larger virtual world that has become my home away from home. I’ve been slower to respond to messages and to post new things because I’ve tried to take a little time to get my own head on straight. I hope people will forgive my sporadic visibility, but I also trust that it won’t last forever.

My new daily schedule is as regular as it is hectic, which is both good and bad. I don’t have much free time, but when those times come I expect my thoughts will be significantly more focused in the coming weeks. I intend to unload some of what’s been on my mind, so I hope you’ll keep coming back to this place to see what’s going on.

Oh, and speaking of self-care…I’ve started a new job that will stabilize my ability to stay on top of my many financial obligations, which means I’ll have a little breathing room in my income soon. But for the current month, things are tight, and now would be a good time to lean on support from friends who want to help.

If you’d like to help support what I do (and keep me from needing a weekend job so I can just keep writing in my free time), the most convenient way would be to either give through Paypal or else to become a sponsor of Godless in Dixie on Patreon. You can go to either those sites by clicking on one of the images below.

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