If We’re Going To Get To The Truth, We’ve Got To Have Facts

by And the White Lion Roars!

My list of questions this week is long, but I think it may mean two posts because of a couple of things that happened this week that I feel need to be addressed. Not because I am itching to talk about a reality show, which I already hate, but because of something like other things I’ve experienced in my life that are connected, however tenuously.

It starts this way; way back in the 1990’s I got a second piercing in one ear. This was before I got a tattoo, but that’s another story. I was in my thirties, and a married adult, who had already had more exposure to the world and other cultures and lifestyles than either of my parents have to this day. My parents, I must add, are fundamentalist Baptists, just for connectivity. My dad’s response to this second piercing was that I was advertising for a same-sex relationship. Now, when either of my parents say things like this I revert to my fifteen-year old self, roll my eyes and say, “No I’m not.” But when I thought of it later, my unproductive use of sarcasm took over, and I thought that my response should have been, “Really. Did one of your many lesbian friends tell you that?” Because I know that his circle would not welcome a homosexual, and he might never have met one.

The same was true of both my parents and grandparents attempts to “teach” me what to expect from integrated schools. In high school, my black friends could come to the house on weekends, but they were not allowed to spend the night. These are people from the old south, who grew up with Jim Crow laws in rural Arkansas and Texas. They had never known any black people in their circles, and all they had to go on was what they heard from someone else.

This is true of them, and those like them, on so many levels that I’m a little surprised when anyone is surprised by the ignorant things that those of this ilk say. When I was against going to war in Iraq my mother said to me, “Well, I think it’s right, and so does everyone in my Sunday school.” I’m no longer surprised by this. She, and many others, have chosen to keep their circles very, very small because of their fear of what may be outside those well drawn borderlines. So, of course, there is typically one news channel that these folks watch, and that is enough because what they say on that channel is “true” according to their experience.

All that said, a minor celebrity named Phil Robertson, who attained stardom on a reality TV program called “Duck Dynasty” made his fifteen minutes of fame even greater by saying during an interview in a magazine that homosexuality leads to bestiality, and that blacks were happier during the pre-Civil Rights era. The thing to remember about Phil Robertson is that he is a small, southern Louisiana town boy, a fundamentalist, conservative Christian. While I realize that there are plenty of people of color in Louisiana, if you’ve ever watched Duck Dynasty, have you ever seen a black person in the circle this family runs in? I’m not certain I’ve ever even seen a black person in the school rooms of the Robertson grandchildren. Are any of them gay? It is entirely possible that Phil Robertson has never met a gay person. But I have. I have many gay friends, and have known many others. I remember Harvey Milk saying that if someone knows a person who is gay they would vote two to one for gay rights legislation (or at least that’s what Sean Penn said when he was playing Milk in the movie.)

I must say that not one of the gay people I know has ever engaged in bestiality or child abuse, which is another thing that conservatives like to accuse homosexuals of. But to someone who has never met a gay person (that they know of,) when someone they respect, such as a preacher, stands in the pulpit and equates such acts, they accept it without question; they have no other facts on which to base any opposing opinion. I remember an old bumper sticker/t-shirt/protest placard that said, “How Dare You Assume That I Am Heterosexual.” When I read that I thought, “Yeah. I would wear that.” I am heterosexual, but it is a major pet-peeve of mine for anyone to assume that they know anything about anything without actual knowledge of that subject.

Another incident that occurred this week that is “different, but same,” had to do with atheists. It was something called “What Atheists Believe,” and purported to know what atheists believe. I just got angry as I read it on Facebook, posted by a friend I’ve known for a long time is a believer. This thing claimed that atheists believe there are no consequences for our actions, we can do whatever we want. That atheists believe that materialism is great, and in fact is essentially all there is. Of course, I could go off on the entire, multi-billion dollar “gospel of prosperity,” and the very famous TV preachers who claim that your wealth is a sign that you have found favor with god, but that’s another story. I could also wax long on the many, many Christians I’ve known who claim it doesn’t matter what they do on earth because they are forgiven as a result of their faith. But that’s a rant for another day. What was clear about this drivel was that it was authored by someone who didn’t bother asking any atheists what they actually believe. I am not just an atheist, but I have made contact with atheist groups when I lived in Illinois, and continue talking to both believers and non-believers today. So I may be speaking from a place of knowledge when I say that the beliefs pronounced in this thing are essentially wrong. Not that there are no atheists who believe that there are no consequences for our actions, or atheists who are excessively materialistic. But on the whole, I find the atheists that I know to be very much in love with other humans, to the degree that some non-theists refer to themselves as “humanists.” Of course there are consequences for our actions. But they are now, and some are good, some are bad. I’d say Phil Robertson experienced some real time consequences for his expressions of ignorance this week when he was suspended indefinitely from his reality show for his comments. If I said things that embarrassed my boss I might also lose my job. If I offend people I care about, they get mad at me, and may cut me out of their lives. I don’t want to live in a world where the rewards for the good that I do are somewhere down the line, and all I can hope for on earth is suffering and living in a heavenly city with streets of gold after I die as a reward. In my conversations with other atheists, we talk about how all we have is now, and therefore we must make this life the best life we can. That means a life without hate. It means a life in which doing for others is its own reward. But most of all, what I took from this silly list of false assertions is that it is not helpful to assume that if someone doesn’t believe what I believe, that I know what they do believe. If anyone is interested in  what I believe as an atheist, just ask me. I am always up for a respectful conversation.