This post requires certain admissions. First, I pay a cleaning service to clean the downstairs rooms of our house once every two weeks. Second, I do not believe in God.
These two seemingly unrelated facts collided yesterday, and a funny post at BlueGal this morning (on the topic of Alabama license plates) prompted me to recount the experience.
A change in our regular cleaning crew brought Mr. Business Owner to our house, a fact I noticed when I parked behind his vehicle on the street. His car sports typical Christian regalia: Jesus fish, foam cross waving on the end of the antenna, a couple of “Pray” magnetic ribbons.
The man himself is decorated much the same, with not one gold cross dangling from his neck, but at least a quarter pound of gold chains, crosses and crucifixes on display. Hard not to notice.
Perhaps that’s why I felt gob-smacked with a dose of “jesus-is-my-personal-savior” spittle when he shouted out a “have a blessed day” as he was leaving.
Blessed by whom? by what? At what point do displays of holiness, piety and/or religious belief become aggressive and offensive?
Granted, you can guess my political leanings by reading the bumper stickers on my car, but I don’t adorn myself with ACLU necklaces (if there were such a thing) or give “Have a Feminist Day!” shout-outs to every stranger and acquaintance I meet in the course of a day. And when it comes to my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, I find that I’m even more circumspect – not because I lack the conviction of my beliefs, but because atheism is so widely misunderstood and reviled. I simply don’t have the energy to constantly defend and explain my position every time someone wants to lay their blessings and prayers on my person. Gracious acceptance has always been my rule, even though I don’t share the same beliefs.
Now comes evidence that my inherent discreteness about being an atheist is a reasonable response. A recent study, to be published in April finds that:
Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.
Edgell also argues that today’s atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past—they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. “It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common ‘core’ of values that make them trustworthy—and in America, that ‘core’ has historically been religious,” says Edgell. Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Lovely. Or, as I learned from none other than BlueGal herself, the most withering dismissal a southerner can depart . . . “Bless your heart.”