Bias works both ways. Like most atheists, I’ve experienced anti-atheist bias. But because I was raised without religion, I wasn’t really exposed to many believers. My image of fundamentalists was formed by Pat Robertson and the so-called Moral Majority.
As I said in the first part of this two part series, evangelicals might as well have been from outer space to me. I only saw the most fervently zealous amongst them. That is, until I began interacting and befriending some evangelical Christians as an active member of Friends of the Mountain Dulcimer.
But I was only able to see their true quality after I fell into my coma and especially during my recovery. Through I was admittedly chickenshit about declaring my atheism, I laid plenty of hints that I was secular. Whenever someone was sick or had lost a loved one, I always said that I would be keeping them in my thoughts. I alternately referred to myself as as a “secular Jew” or a skeptic. I’m sure many–if not most–were able to read between the lines.
During my recovery, my attitudes slowly softened toward the sincerely held religious sentiments of my Christian friends. Oh, I stated upfront that I didn’t believe in miracles whenever someone called my recovery that. Indeed, it was in these conversations where I first gently mocked the idea by calling myself Miracle Girl.
Once upon a time, I chafed whenever someone told me they would pray for me. Coming from my friends, I began to see it for it was–their way to feel like they were helping me in a way they thought would actually be effective in a very real way.
Forget the fact that, as atheists, we believe prayer is worse than useless, since it’s often offered in lieu of actual assistance. Most of these friends lived on the other side of the country. Though one dear Christian friend across the pond was able to do both–pray for me and materially help my mood in the nursing home by sending me beautiful postcards of his home port, Bristol. I would always feel my mood lighten whenever I glanced at his postcards, as well as the others sent by my Christian FOTMD friends. He recorded a dulcimer video for me that filled me with genuine joy.
No, I don’t think being Christian made them better people. But their belief didn’t make them lesser, either.
I think the depth of the friendships I had made–and especially what their support for me and Keith during my coma and recovery meant to me–was what made being banished from FOTMD so incredibly painful for me.
By this time, my secular writing career was growing in leaps and bounds (without the actually leaping and bounding, which would’ve sent me sprawling on my face). First, I sold my Skeptical Inquirer article. Almost immediately after that, Free Inquiry accepted my first essay for the magazine. I couldn’t believe my good fortune; none of my short stories were published by the first magazine I submitted them to. And I couldn’t help bragging a bit.
My secular writing essentially outed me to my friends. They of course stuck with me. Exposure to people who are different from yourself tends to broaden horizons. And that goes both ways too. That’s why it was so important to the LGBT movement when more and more of their community began coming out.
I wish I had been open about my atheism earlier, but the people who came to be my friends had been inculcated from childhood with the idea that atheists are immoral and inherently untrustworthy. After they got to know me, they had to incorporate my atheism into their previous image of me.
I was so busy writing that I had less and less time to chat about mountain dulcimers on FOTMD. But I still loved the wisecracking and silliness with my friends. During this time, I was continuing to post pics of my rehab walks, with details about physical improvements, as I had since I returned home from the nursing home. My friends seemed to revel in reading about my progress. But not all of them, as I would soon learn–especially the founder of FOTMD.
I gather that a couple of my moderator friends agreed with Strumelia that my recovery posts simply didn’t belong on a mountain dulcimer website. Okay, fine. There was no way for me to know that because these same people were continuing to make encouraging comments on my posts. I’m a direct person, as you have not doubt already noticed.
Just tell me what you think. Is that too much to ask?
But things only went downhill from there. Keith and I were particularly offended when Strumelia banned me from even mentioning my illness and recovery. At that time, my recovery was my life.
It would take too long to get into the details of the colossal misunderstanding that precipitated the expulsion. I thought the tempest in a teapot was simmering down. Then, suddenly, Strumelia banished both me and Keith, setting light to the years of PMs with my friends I had yet to copy (they were going to be left behind after a server migration.)
I’m so glad that I at least managed to save all of my coma-related posts! But I felt like I had been gut-punched. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t that FOTMD meant so much, but my friends were everything to me.
Yet I didn’t lick my wounds. Being the upfront and positive person that I am, I took action in the only way I could, I went to my dulcimer Facebook groups and put out a call for my FOTMD friends, telling everyone who asked what had transpired. I now get my silliness fix from them on Facebook. (Though I lost one particularly strident fundy friend over my atheistic posts.)
I came to FOTMD as a beginning dulcimer player trying to learn how to play using the traditional noter/drone technique. But what I came back with was a passel of friends and an understanding that evangelicals are more than their religious beliefs. They’re not all bug-eyed fundagelicals. Aside from the loudly hateful voices, many are caring people with beliefs I disagree with.
We need an atheist’s version of loving the sinner, but hating the sin. Hating the haters, while loving the loving, perhaps. Humans are complex, and we don’t do atheism any favors when we lose sight of that fact.
Here is part one: The Godless Meets the God-Fearing.