The scarlet letter

I’ve always kind of enjoyed playing the role of contrarian. I believe that most people do from time to time, a_sticker_1_largeotherwise there probably wouldn’t be quite so many movies glorifying the underdog. As I progressed from early 20s to mid 20s to late, late, late 20s–I can actually see 30 peeking at me from around the corner–I guess I mellowed a little. I haven’t exactly loss my fondness for the road less taken (incidentally, one of my favorite poems). Quite frankly, the thought of doing what everyone else is doing, what society expects of me, fills me with panic and dread. Either someone forgot to chip me, or it just didn’t take. But that’s OK. In fact, I kind of prefer it that way. I’d like to think my friends have acclimated to my eccentricities and hopefully derive some degree of amusement or pleasure from them.

The problem is, there are a lot of people who are not terrifically accommodating of personalities, beliefs, and lifestyles that don’t match their own. Some of these people insist that I’m going to hell. Others think it. A group of Christians once attempted to force me to pray with them at a diner. To say that I caused a scene would be putting it mildly and fail to capture what was probably a very humorous scene to the people attempting to eat their breakfast while I flung my hands in the air in an attempt to prevent people from grasping them. I’m told–not asked, because that would imply that I, as a human being and agnostic know more about my belief system than the theist engaged in mentally consigning me to hell–that I couldn’t possibly follow any moral or ethical code. Which is an intensely problematic statement for me, because when I hear that I assume that the only thing preventing the person who said it from murdering someone is the fear that she or he will go to hell for it. I’d much rather opt not to murder, steal, lie, harm, etc. out of empathy for the potential victim. I don’t murder because I know that would inflict a great deal of emotional and physical pain on a number of people. No one had to explain the wrongness of this act to me. And thankfully, I don’t have to play a role in the long history of theists murdering one another in the name of their respective gods. How anyone justifies that is beyond me, by the way. It’s bizarre to me that I even feel obliged to explain that I have not, and would not, engage in murder. Anyone who has seen the way I tear up at the sight of an injured or deceased animal should immediately understand that I have a significant capacity for empathy. I actually consider it one of my best traits.

If you’re wondering what set this off, I just read an article about how the Marine Corps lists “lack or loss of faith” as a problematic indication that a soldier might be depressed or considering suicide. Which struck me as a little hypocritical given that the Marine Corps presents itself as its members as defenders of American freedoms. Apparently freedom of religion mostly means freedom to practice Christianity.

In fact, I can’t seem to read an article that references atheism or agnosticism in anything beyond a problematic light. Articles about how atheism is growing, written in alarmist tones as though atheists and Godzilla are somehow one and the same. Articles depicting atheists as arrogant and out of touch. Articles that are never written by an atheist, or bother to obtain a quote from one. And how could you, when they bite you as soon as you’re within arm range? Articles that never mention the term agnosticism; in fact, many people seem quite unclear on the definition of agnosticism, so allow me to clear that up. Agnosticism is neither a stance against the existence of god nor a stance in favor of it. Simply put, it’s the belief that the existence of a god is unknowable, placing emphasis on the difference between knowing something and believing something, a distinction many theists tend to disregard.

I am an agnostic. I don’t mind answering questions about or discussing my beliefs. In fact, I relish conversation, even the heated stuff. I don’t like being told I’m wrong. (No one does.) I don’t like being preached at. (Again, no one does, especially in an arrogant tone.) I don’t like being told someone will pray for me. (Considering the fact that I don’t believe in god, it seems like an empty gesture mostly intended to convey disagreement or disapproval of my belief system. “Praying for me” is really just rubbing my nose in the fact that you think I’m a sinner, otherwise you’d just pray without telling me about it.) And I really don’t like people who don’t know me assuming I’m some sort of irresponsible, hedonistic monster. (I’m actually a bit of a square who panics at the idea of breaking the rules. I don’t think the hedonistic monsters–whom I highly respect–would have me.)

And unless you confront me about my beliefs, I’ll let you live your life, content with your own set of beliefs, in peace. There’s a chance we’ll be friends, swap book recommendations, see a movie, talk about our cats. But when you make assumptions, accusations, attacks on myself and other agnostics and atheists–such as those in the Marine Corps, who should have support from their administrators no matter what their beliefs–then you’d better hope your god is going to defend you. Because you’ve already shown yourself to be an ignorant, arrogant bigot and I already know you’re not going to be a match for anything I have to say. Not without the benefit of divine intervention, at least.



  1. Acclimated and deriving much amusement and pleasure 🙂

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