The Friendly Atheist posted about how a Christian wrote to an atheist, Nadja, who had been murdered, over Facebook, asking if she was sorry now that she was meeting her maker. The Christian, Michelle, has since apologized, which you can read here. And I have a few things I want to say. First, comments like Michelle’s contribute to the toxic atmosphere that many atheists find themselves living in. Second, I don’t find Michelle’s apology sufficient, because I see no attempt from her to reach out to the people she has hurt to learn the reasons why what she said was so harmful. Further, she got a platform to air her version of events, but Nadja does not get a similar platform, and as for the millions of atheists living with such hostility that Michelle displayed to Nadja, well, Michelle decided to ignore them rather than listen to us.
I understand that Michelle has been harassed for this, and I denounce that behavior. It is not okay.
However, she spent about four paragraphs on why her behavior was wrong and six on the mistreatment she has received as a result. And one must keep in mind that Christians dominate in the United States. They can easily find others who share their beliefs, they don’t have to worry about being fired for their beliefs, they have elected representatives who share their beliefs and uphold those beliefs as superior to others, and often create an atmosphere that is hostile to those who hold different beliefs. What Michelle lived with after she wrote that message is what a lot of atheists live with in real life day in and day out, except in our case we are not judged by our actions, well, aside from the action of being truthful about what we believe.
While I don’t believe there is a hell or a maker, what disturbs me is the idea that when I die, that people will gloat on my grave and wonder if I am getting my comeuppance. What worries me is that the things I have accomplished will not mean anything and will not be remembered. The times I spent hours working with someone who is suicidal to help them find the strength to live another day won’t matter. That I worked for several years with an impoverished and maligned group (substance users) while being paid a pittance of a salary because I believe everyone is entitled to quality treatment won’t matter. That I worked hard to educate people about child abuse and to learn healthy ways to parent won’t matter. That I saved a boy from drowning and a family from a house fire won’t matter. That I volunteered, donated, and worked hard to make this world a better place won’t matter. That I overcame having several disabilities to go on and get a master’s degree and own my own business won’t matter. That I loved to create stories and perform music won’t matter. That I worked hard to raise two children without abuse and to enable them to become good people won’t matter. All that will matter to a lot of people is that I did not share their beliefs, so my death will be an occasion for celebration and gloating.
Yet this stripping of people of all of their attributes save whether or not they have the same religious beliefs has a larger impact than whether or not people dance on the graves of others, because it impacts how those people are treated while they are alive. And I think for Christians, to justify this belief that otherwise good people are going to hell, they have to believe those people are really evil no matter what the evidence is, and treat them accordingly. By shunning people who believe different, terminating employment, and harassing them, and in some cases assaulting them. That message Michelle left on the Facebook page of a murdered woman? That’s the sort of stuff atheists are subjected to day in and day out in real life, only worse.
Michelle has apologized, but done little to understand what is is like to live as an atheist in this country or understand how her actions have hurt others. I don’t expect her to convert or change her religious beliefs, and I don’t care about that. What I would like is to see her make an attempt to learn why her comments hurt, and that it was more than a tasteless comment left on a murdered woman’s page, that her actions were a drop in a pool of hurtful behavior that atheists are subjected to on a daily basis in the United States. From her apology, she seems to see her behavior is a one time instance, rather than a point in a complex web of behaviors that Christians engage in on a daily basis that harm atheists.