This past month the world lost another child to suicide. Asher Brown, a 13 year old student, shot himself with a pistol in his home in Texas. He was bullied relentlessly for his religion and being gay. Asher wasn’t the first to end his hell. He followed in the footsteps of Seth Walsh and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.
I once knew a girl who everyone teased for being too “churchy”. She carried a bible, went to church every other night and quoted verses during class. The torment she received was cruel and relentless. I learned that she started cutting. When that didn’t work she resorted to drinking and drugs. The last I heard she was homeless. I don’t even know if she is still alive.
When I was 13 I was the ugly girl. I had bad hair and bad skin. I was cornered and had things thrown at me and I couldn’t walk with my head up. At 14 I was considering suicide. I consider my experience as getting of easy.
Why does bullying happen? Because one person feels superior to another, and feels justified in putting the other down. In my case my classmates felt justified in making me feel worthless because I didn’t look like them. In Brown, Walsh and Walker-Hoover’s case their classmates apparently disagreed with homosexuality. Since they believed it to be wrong, they tormented them. Maybe they hoped to literally scare them straight. Maybe they just felt it was what god wanted them to do.
Brown was also ridiculed for his religion, as with the girl I knew, and probably didn’t do enough to help. People felt their beliefs were so absurd the only reasonable action was to poke fun at their beliefs. Obviously if it were pointed out to them that that their lifestyle was ridiculous they could change to be just like everyone else.
I look at these tormentors and I used to attribute it to the immaturity of adolescence. I thought it would go away in my adult life. However, more and more, in what I used to consider my own community, I hear the same argument. Religious people believe in silly and irrational things so they deserve to be ridiculed. When I hear this argument I think of the people I mentioned above and become physically ill. What people did to them was a disgrace to humanity. No human being should ever treat another in that way. Why should I turn around and do the same to people whose beliefs I disagree with?
I could probably predict the counter arguments. These are just kids. But those kids were bullied because their religion taught them to hate gays. Some beliefs are dangerous and they need to stop. I wouldn’t disagree with these statements. I disagree with the method of solving the problems.
I’ve come under fire for disagreeing with ridicule. I’ve been told I can’t tell other people how to be an atheist (an extremely hypocritical statement). I’ve been criticized for not understanding the other side. I’ve been told I’m isolating my allies. Are these people really my allies though? I’ve begun to believe I’m striving for an entirely different goal. The argument for ridicule is to force these people to face their “crazy and dangerous beliefs”. I just want people to be ethical human beings.
I’m not out to make atheists. When I started questioning my beliefs and ultimately lost my belief I became extremely depressed. I felt I had nothing to live for, but at the same time was terrified of death. I started drinking on the sly more than I should have been and could have easily self destructed had I not found a passion(which I will discuss later). Unfortunately I didn’t have a welcoming community. All around me I found myself witnessing the same behaviour I experienced as a teenager, the same behavior that almost led me to end my life. You can’t predict how someone will react to your ridicule. I know many adults who still take harsh words to heart and can’t deal with reality. I’ve had to many people in my life commit suicide due to outside influence. Granted they were already emotionally unstable, but that doesn’t change the outcome. Not everyone is going to react the same way. Some people may have their beliefs ridiculed and become lose their religion and gain freedom. Others may not be able to cope. I can’t risk having blood on my hands.
I want to make it abundantly clear that my choice to not ridicule doesn’t mean that I’m not as aggressive or brave as the “new atheists”. It takes a lot of courage to be a lone voice in a crowd. It took a lot out of me to fight for a cause, only to have people turn their backs on me for daring to disagree and challenge them. I am 100% open about my atheism and hide nothing. I also want to make it clear that I don’t “pussyfoot” or let religious people walk all over me. If I see injustices I fight to end them. My tools(grassroots organizations and community action) may be different than blogs and snarky comments, but I am still on the front lines.
I mentioned before that I have a passion that has helped get me through. That passion is Camp Quest of Minnesota. Not only do I have the privilege to work with some dedicated adults and amazing children, but the outcome helps me validate my life. I feel less guilty about the things I could have done in my past and focus on the things these kids will do. We teach kids to respect those that differ in beliefs than them and to be good people. So far, the kids are getting it better than most adults I know.
I want to end by saying that I don’t expect anyone to change their mind. I only want to share my story and perspective so people will know I’m more than a bleeding heart who can’t stand up for herself. It is up to us atheists to make up our own ethical system as we don’t have a book to tell us how to act (though that is open for debate). Ridicule does not play a part in mine.