So, I have this friend who lives in the Midwest (nearest large city of consequence is Chicago1), who shall remain nameless (well, she has a name and all but I’m not telling you what it is) who brought up an interesting, not unusual, and sad dilemma.

She has just moved into a new living situation, and has several roommates none of whom she knows very well. During a conversation not long after she moved in, one of the roommates made a god reference during a conversation. This was a comment that clearly indicated that this person is religious, probably Christian. It was also one of those conversation enders … like, here we have an interesting question of how life works, but no, the truth is that this is just how god wants it to be so we can stop talking about it now.

That situation is not terrible. Having a religious roommate is not necessarily a big issue … it all depends on the person. But what is interesting is this: Do religious people know that their religiosity can be a pain, even offensive, to others? Would religious people be surprised that someone might think twice about having them as a roommate because they are religious? No, of course not. Being religious is normal. Being religiou provides privileges in our society. In fact, not being religious is what requires the explanation!

My friend told me “I’ve not encountered this in a long time. I don’t know anyone on a day to day basis who is religious. I’ve had dozens of roommates, and I’ve never had a religious roommate.”

How many atheists can say that they don’t encounter religious people in day to day life outside of work (where we may have little control over such things)? Well, many. How many Christians can say that they can’t think of too many atheists? Well, a lot can say that, but I strongly suspect that in many cases they have friends who are atheists but they don’t know this bout them. Why don’t they know it? Because the way our society works, you better not speak out that you are an atheist unless forced to do so, or unless you are an activist trying to make a point. When the two worlds collide … religion and atheism … there is almost always conflict, and religion almost always wins.

Another reason for this is that Atheism does not have a lot of built in cuing mechanisms. Many Christians go around saying “Praise god” or “God bless” or “By the love of god” or “Whatever whatever” but you don’t hear similar things coming out of atheists. Maybe we need to get some of that stuff.

Anyway, the point is that in our society religion is de facto, default, and normal, and atheism is looked at askance, at best.

To demonstrate the veracity of this claim, consider the following thought experiment. We go to a fifth grade classroom in a public school in a moderately conservative district in America’s Heartland. Perhaps the public grade school that my friend went to. Or the grade school my daughter went to. It is lunch recess and all but one of the kids has piled out of the room. The one kid left behind has a question for the teacher.

“Ms. Brown, what religion are you?”

Now, since this is an experiment, we need something to measure and compare, so if you please we will split this thought experiment into two alternative universes.

Universe A: Ms. Brown is a Catholic.

“Well, Jane, I’m a Catholic. But this is a public school so we should avoid talk about religion, OK? Now, go outside and play. Or eat your lunch. Or whatever.”

Universe B: Ms. Brown is an Atheist.

“Well, Jane, I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in god. No, go outside and play. Or something.”

What would happen in each of these two universes? Well, in Universe A the kid goes outside and plays and by the end of the day has forgotten the encounter and can’t even remember why the issue came up. In Universe B little Jane goes home and tells her parents that her teacher is an atheist and does not believe in god. A few other parents find out. The principal is called. This is brought up before the school board. The villagers become increasingly agitated, and eventually Ms. Brown is driven into the swamp by a crowd bearing pitchforks and torches.

Or, at the very least, Ms. Brown gets a lot of dirty looks from then on for the rest of her life. Which is unfair to her, but it is, in fact, and you know this, the very least that would happen to her.

The truth is that when the Atheist World and the Religious World overlap or interact in the United States, the Atheist World is expected to give sway, make the excuses, back off, or shut up.

When bus ads saying “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” were placed by Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers just recently, the religious world of Des Moines was deeply offended, they complained, and the bought and paid for, constitutionally protected ads were summarily removed from the buses. (See this writeup.)

The other day a few of us were casually conversing about the new Minnesota Atheist podcast project. This is an extension of Atheist Talk Radio. The question at hand was: Should the podcast be called “Atheist Talk.” The reason to NOT call it Atheist Talk is that some people get put off by the word “Atheist.” I’ve seen this happen. I know of at least a couple of cases where someone was reluctant to be a guest or otherwise involved with Atheist Talk because they were put off by or worried by the word Atheist. The upshot of that conversation was this: The whole point is to move this society closer to not being put off by the Atheists. So dropping the name would be a truly counterproductive thing to do.

So, my friend and I talked about her dilemma. There was no plan, no conclusion, no substantive reaction, we just talked, which had no other effect than to verify that it is she who is normal and everyone else in this world … well, it depends on the person. That conversation was a while ago, and I just heard today that she’s feeling much better about the situation. She is being annoying, though. She happens to be a scientist who studies evolution. What kind of roommate would THAT be if you are a Christian! OMG!

________________
1At least according to the people in Chicago.

Comments

  1. #1 The Science Pundit
    August 6, 2009

    The problem with Ms. Brown (in universe B) is that she didn’t accomodate the easily offended religious sensibilities of the pious rabble. Her behavior was clearly counterproductive and she should have just kept her mouth shut.

  2. #2 Nathan Myers
    August 6, 2009

    The roommate should be treated like anyone else with a debilitating but curable mental illness. Very few people start out atheist and then catch religion. Almost everybody is inculcated as a child, so it’s not their fault that they have the disease, or even that they continue trying to propagate it.

    What to do depends on how much responsibility she feels toward helping the roommate. Under normal circumstances her roommate’s problem is her roommate’s business, full stop.

  3. #3 Neil Craig
    August 6, 2009

    She says “Look you believe in a Christian God as taught in church, I believe that the universe doesn’t have an intelligent self aware creator*. I’m sure we have both put a lot of thought into our positions & neither of us are going to persuade the other with some simple insight we never thought of. I’d like to be friends so lets show each other the politeness of steering clear of the subject.”

    * There are a considerable range of views between these 2 (you can be a Bhuddist without believing in a God or accept that quantum physics allows the existence of Cthulhu so long as he isn’t in this universe) but lets keep it simple.

  4. #4 catgirl
    August 6, 2009

    Well, unless that roommate tries to push their religion on everyone else, then your friend should just ignore it. Just mentioning God occasionally should not be a problem. And there’s a lot of diversity among religious people, so your friend shouldn’t assume that her roommate is dumb, crazy, or judgmental unless the roommate actually acts that way.

  5. #5 WTFWJD
    August 6, 2009

    If the roommate starts getting preachy, remind her that you and she were both natural-born atheists. Keep pushing the point — but you were once an atheist, so what changed? This will be a sore point and it may shut her up.

  6. #6 NPD
    August 6, 2009

    That happened when I moved to Vancouver, lo these many years ago. My roommate was an ultra right-wing pro-life Catholic, and I’m… not. We got along mostly by not talking, which was pretty easy since he worked long hours and wasn’t around much.

    I moved out 6 months later.

  7. #7 Mike V
    August 6, 2009

    My first roommate when I went to UMD was very religious. It even came up in our first conversation on the phone before school started. I laid the ground rule that, as I was not a religious person, this was only going to work if he didn’t attempt to convert me.

    In a variety of subtle ways, he tried. At the time I didn’t so much identify as atheist so much as ‘just don’t care’. About halfway through the school year, he announced he was moving out to share a room with someone ‘whose views more closely matched’ his own. At no point did I actively bash religion, I just showed no interest in it whatsoever, and that was still enough for him to want to get away from me. Fortunately, I was able to get a friend from the local gaming group to move in with me and things went better from there.

    So, it’s possible her problem will solve itself.

  8. #8 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2009

    It isn’t a question of how to deal with preaching or evangelizing. It’s a question of how to live with the constant choice of being “rude” (by disagreeing with someone’s explanations of the world or by not following someone else’s god-soaked daily habits) or keeping quiet about who you are and how you see the world.

    It’s the same problem you have when someone starts talking about ghosts and healing touch, only in the case of religion, there’s no recognition that you’re being restrained and polite. Just the expectation and the disapproval if you don’t meet it.

  9. #9 Spiv
    August 6, 2009

    I think we’ve all done this. Or at least most of us social enough to get out of the basement. Sure, it happens that my home is a collection of non-theist persons and their non-theist girlfriends, but that’s clearly fairly selected.

    I do, however, have plenty of religious friends. Some very close. Some very religious. This is starting to sound very “I have gay friends” but you get the idea.

    The most importaint bit, I think, is to recognize that even brilliant people often have wacky beliefs ranging from “hey, I think there’s a god pulling some strings” to “UFOs totally made all the stuff that let us get to the moon. If there really is a moon.”

    Respect the person for their personal qualities, regardless of their religious afflictions and wacky ideas. As for yourself I find (and many of the louder atheists are pleased to disagree with me) that I simply don’t talk about it until someone seems to be comfortable with me as a person on a personal level. It’s easy to disregard a person you barely know, but difficult to disregard someone you know to be intelligent, thoughtful, and kind based on some specific belief.

    Likewise I tend to not mention my tendency to do relativity equations in my spare time during the first date. It might be interesting and cute once you’re a known quantity, but weird and terrifyingly nerdy from a distance.

  10. #10 Marcia Earth
    August 6, 2009

    “In Universe B little Jane goes home and tells her parents that her teacher is an atheist and does not believe in god. A few other parents find out. The principal is called. This is brought up before the school board. The villagers become increasingly agitated, and eventually Ms. Brown is driven into the swamp by a crowd bearing pitchforks and torches.”

    That hasn’t been my experience at all. The anti-atheism you discuss is encountered in some parts of the US, but not every religous person has a problem with atheism.

    I’ve lived in New York City and northern England, where religion (or lack of) is generally not seen as such a big deal.

    So in Universe C, atheist teacher moves to a city where people are more tolerant, and everyone lives happily ever after.

    And the assumption someone who is religious is likely to have a problem with atheists … who’s prejudiced now?

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2009

    So in Universe C, atheist teacher moves to a city where people are more tolerant, and everyone lives happily ever after.

    Oh, well, if we just ship the atheists around to acceptable areas, we’re all good. Except for the atheists who like small towns. And the ones who want to farm. And the ones who want to work in wildlife management. And….

  12. #12 Spiv
    August 6, 2009

    btw: in no way do I condone the idea that being atheist, nerdy, gay or just plain unusual should be something that has to be hidden away for fear of offense. These things simply should not be offensive to anyone. The reality does not yet match the ideal.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2009

    Marcia: I’ve lived in New York City and northern England, where religion (or lack of) is generally not seen as such a big deal.

    Actually, I lived in “Boston” (as we call it) for many years, and none of this was ever an issue there, as you say. Here in the Midwest, things are a bit different.

  14. #14 John
    August 6, 2009

    My roommate freshman year was a far right, creationist (an Astronomy major no less, go figure), but a very kind person.
    I too went into college thinking I was conservative. But, after hearing Fox News everyday for that year I knew I firmly stood on the otherside of the spectrum. As far as religion goes, it was an issue we kept mum about. We had a class together in which evolution came up and we discussed it a bit. But after realizing how different our views were and there was no convincing one another, we didn’t really mention it again. Probably out of fear it would cause tension in our living situation.

  15. #15 Rev Matt
    August 6, 2009

    I like “whatever whatever”. That will now be my response to anyone who says “god bless” or “have a blessed day” or anything else. And yes, here in the Midwest being gay is less stigmatizing than being atheist or agnostic (and most of the religious folks in these parts don’t recognize any distinction between the two).

  16. #16 Richard Eis
    August 6, 2009

    This is one of those issues where it depends on the religious person. Politely declining getting involved or yawning and looking bored when the topic comes up (not hard to do) have always worked for me.

  17. #17 ABM
    August 6, 2009

    Is this really that bad? If non-believers and non-religious people can’t handle ever being around religious types… yeah, you might be on the wrong planet. And there are FAR worse traits in a roommate than spiritual disagreement – drug addiction, laziness, dishonesty, serious mental illness (not their fault, I know, but still risky).

    I understand that parts of the US are heavily populated by judgmental bible-thumpers, but even they can’t ALL be the types who would chase your gay/pagan/sexy friends out of the flat, waving a KJV and yelling something about bananas disproving evolution…

  18. #18 Russell
    August 6, 2009

    Greg Laden writes:

    I strongly suspect that in many cases they have friends who are atheists but they don’t know this bout them…

    Yep. I suspect that is true even restricting it to the subset of fellow church-goers. Most churches have a slice of members who attend for social or cultural reasons, but who don’t take the theology seriously.

  19. #19 Bill James
    August 6, 2009

    Oh for Petes sake, everything’s an issue with you people.

    Try this one:

    “OMG, you’re religious? Me too! I worship Satan!”

    The room mate situation will take care of itself.

    Total time expended, about five seconds.

  20. #20 Andrew
    August 6, 2009

    Bill: I can see that you’ve had a lot of roommates.

  21. #21 Phillip IV
    August 6, 2009

    What to do if you accidentally end up with a roommate who is religious?

    File an insurance claim – for severe mental trauma you’ve suffered as result of an accident.

  22. #22 MattXIV
    August 6, 2009

    Being and atheist had having lived in and around small towns in the midwest, I’m calling bullshit to that teacher scenario. Nobody’s ever gone out of their way to give me a hard time – I’ve had people ask why I don’t believe in god and people try to preach to me, but they’ve always been civilized about it and willing to listen to my position if I let the explain theirs. One very religious family was not only ok with me dating their daughter, but prefered me to her previous boyfriends since I was responsible and polite. Midwestern politeness goes a good way towards allowing people to disagree in a civilized manner; it’s hard to get midwesterners to get in your face about something and if it’s happening on a regular basis you need to consider the propect that it’s not because you’re an atheist, but because you’re an asshole. Saying things like religion should be treated like a “debilitating but curable mental illness” is a good example of acting like an asshole, as is steorotyping the people of small towns as ignorant and intolerant. If you go into the situation with the attitude that “these rubes will hate me because I’m ever so educated and progressive”, you shouldn’t be suprised if people hate you, not because of your atheism or politics, but because you’re a pompous ass.

    I’ve also had a religious roommate before. It was fun – we both liked drinking gin and tonic and arguing about religion, so we got along great.

  23. #23 Irene
    August 6, 2009

    Matt, I’m glad to hear that you are an atheist not having experienced anti-atheism, but you are utterly wrong to suggest that such things do not happen.

    Perhaps you have an abrasive personality and people avoid you, and you interpret this as people agreeing with you.

  24. #24 Mandrake
    August 6, 2009

    The 1985/86 school year was my freshman year at the University of Maryland. For the past couple of years, I’ve pretty much considered myself to be a cultural Jew as opposed to an actual, God-believing one. Back then, though, I suppose that I felt that God might or might not exist, but I had other things to worry about.

    Anywho, my dorm roommate was a pretty devout Christian. I don’t remember which denomination. In fact, maybe I never knew. He did have a picture of Jesus hung up on his side of the room. I don’t think he put up a cross. I’m sure he knew I was Jewish, although the only Jewish thing I had on my side of the room was a wall hanging of my zodiac sign and description written in Hebrew. I guess that doesn’t even qualify as Jewish.

    We had a cordial but friendly relationship. We never discussed religion. In the room, we’d make mostly small talk. We didn’t socialize otherwise. He was fairly quiet and was a pretty easy roommate to have. It definitely could have been worse. The next year, he transferred to Oral Roberts University, and I moved to a different dorm because ours was condemned and torn down to make way for a new building.

    I guess we peacefully coexisted. Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony…

  25. #25 Paul
    August 6, 2009

    I don’t think the problem is the difference in belief system (or non belief as the case may be) but the assumption that it is OK to bring ones beliefs into the conversation as though others shared them. Or at least that is what I read in this post.

  26. #26 Amnesty
    August 6, 2009

    Any atheist that lives in our Christian dominated society and hasn’t experienced anti-atheist behavior and attitudes is extremely lucky.

    I currently work in a christian hospital and I am positive that if it came out that I was an atheist I would be fired within a week of it getting out. It wouldn’t even be something I could debate because it is understood at the hospital that you are a christian, or at the very least you are going to play along. Which is not to say that it is a horrible work environment or anything, but there are certain understandings that my personal beliefs are not to be discussed out of respect for the fact that I very much like having a job.

    Now in a roommate situation it is a little different, my only hope would be that you can come to an understanding what is on or off limits to discuss. If you can’t reach that understanding then I think it’s time to take a vote and kick someone off the island.

  27. #27 Rev Matt
    August 6, 2009

    @Paul (25) and by extension the assumption that the religious point of view is the only correct one and anyone who disagrees is shunned.

  28. #28 a2z
    August 6, 2009

    “I don’t think the problem is the difference in belief system (or non belief as the case may be) but the assumption that it is OK to bring ones beliefs into the conversation as though others shared them. Or at least that is what I read in this post.” Posted by: Paul

    Paul, I totally agree with you. I’m a Christian who chooses not to preach to others. I have an incredibly devout Catholic friend who doesn’t preach to me. However, I’m finding some of my other friends are very irritating with all their atheist proselytizing.

    Let’s live and let live, already.

  29. #29 Paul
    August 6, 2009

    Yeah, those damn atheists, always telling other people how to think and act.

  30. #30 Lord Phat
    August 6, 2009

    I guess I can contribute my perspective here from the opposite side since I am a practicing Catholic, but also a scientist. Unless this person is really evangelical and tries to push her beliefs, I think she could work it out well and make it a learning experience both.

    For one dispelling some of the myths about secular humanism if it ever comes up. A lot of Christians are fed the garbage line that secular humanism and/or evolution caused fascism, communism, name your favorite social ill, etc. or that atheists want to ‘ban Christmas’. As if mass murder and social problems haven’t existed in all times and peoples. She can talk about there are many atheists that have stood for freedom, dignity, and social progress and that religious people shouldn’t fear that others don’t stand for morality. Also, being an atheist doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’. Hopefully she in return will find that many religious people aren’t the mentally handicapped, persecuting/unreasoning maniacs more extreme people like Dawkins want to claim. Or that they want to attribute everything to God that isn’t better explained through natural processes.

    I have been on both sides of this conversation. I have had to discuss with (not berate – it never works) other religious friends that creationism and ID are garbage and believing in God doesn’t require adhering to such nonsense. Understanding back in the day, we were all Monera doesn’t cause social breakdown.

    I have had atheist roommates and friends who have also educated me on their stances and I have learned to respect their position. I have also stood my ground, though I haven’t converted anybody, and I tried to show an appreciation of religion of more than just some infantile superstition or fantasy. Granted, we talked mostly in the language of science or philosophy and it wasn’t one of those ‘you are so dumb’ types of arguments but rather a sharing of perspectives.

    If she is the extreme type, yeah it won’t work but she will probably self-select herself out anyway and go live with more likeminded friends. If she ever asks, she can tell her she’s an atheist (or if she is really worried, soften the blow saying she is agnostic). Really, these days that kind of thing is not such a big deal IMHO. Just make sure she gives her the same respect.

    My $0.02

  31. #31 Mike
    August 6, 2009

    Is this post a joke?

    “Do religious people know that their religiosity can be a pain, even offensive, to others?” There isn’t a big enough eye roll for that.

  32. #32 BAllanJ
    August 6, 2009

    Hmmm… I don’t think it’s a big issue here… I’m certainly out as an atheist in the coffee room at work…

    Ever wonder why it is that the centre part of the US assumes homogeneity of beliefs? Could it be that the population is more homogeneous? I expect there are more immigrants (both foreign and from other parts of the US) on the coasts. The people in the middle are from the middle. Maybe they haven’t had to learn how to get along well with others.

    It’s kinda funny, in this regard, how so many commenters, and the OP too, assume they’re talking to Americans when they’re posting on the internet. Universe A and Universe B are both in the US… You guys seriously need more immigration is all I can say.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2009

    It’s kinda funny, in this regard, how so many commenters, and the OP too, assume they’re talking to Americans

    I don’t assume that, and I usually specify, I this case, not only was I not talking about Americans, but really, I was talking about midwest US. Totally my bad on the geographical chauvinism, but as I say, I usually check myself on that, or at least try to.

    In my defense: I did provide geographical context. I spoke of a personal conversation with a person, in the mid west, and so on. I actually avoided geographical details beyond that for privacy reasons.

    The truth is that 50% of my readers are coming in from IP’s in the US. There is no second country with a huge percentage, but Canada plus the UK plus Australia plus Germany plus India almost = the US. Keep in mind that the IP addresses for many countries, go through Europe, so hidden here is some East African and southern African readership, for instance.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    August 6, 2009

    Mike, are you rolling your eyes because you think this is obvious, or are you rolling your eyes because you believe this is not true? And no, I do not joke about the concerns of my friends. I am concerned about the concerns of my friends. I’m a concern-blogger.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2009

    a2z, where are you finding this atheist proselytizing, people’s Facebook posts? I post about atheism on Facebook and on my blog because I find the topic interesting, because I want people to know they do know an atheist, and because a large number of the people who read my stuff in both places are atheists. I don’t do it because I’m trying to change anyone else’s mind about their religion. Maybe their assumptions about mine, but that’s somewhat different.

    If you mention a sermon you found interesting, are you trying to convert me? If you mention a TSA agent you found annoying, are you trying to get me to rebel against the government? If you wax enthusiastic about knitting, are you suggesting I need to take up needles? No, you’re just talking about your life.

    That’s exactly the problem that an atheist faces in a situation like this. As far as society in general (in the U.S.) is concerned, mentioning religion is just talking about your life. Mentioning atheism is somehow encroaching on someone else’s. Do you do it anyway, or do you hang out in the closet?

  36. #36 Mike
    August 6, 2009

    No, I find it ridiculous that someone could be pained by someone else’s religiousity. That’s like being offended by someone’s knitting hobby or preference for Pepsi over Coke.

  37. #37 sg
    August 6, 2009

    Uh, Newton, Euler and Ramanujan were all very religious. Personally, I think it would have been pretty cool to have one for a roommate. We could have discussed ideas etc. Not all religious people are to be feared and loathed. Some are even interesting and intelligent. Maybe she should just give the human being she gets as a roommate a chance. I would be more worried about having a drunk, thief or a slob as a roommate, which is what I got, but maybe I am just dating myself.

  38. #38 The Ridger
    August 6, 2009

    Mike, it’s quite clear you’ve never had a roommate who went on and on about heaven and hell and which one you were going to. Which is lucky, but doesn’t mean religion = Coke and atheism = Pepsi. Particularly for those folks who breathe their religion, reading nothing but religious books, condemning television shows for featuring a Companion = hooker (had a co-worker shut down a conversation about Firefly by announcing that the show was too immoral for him to watch or let his children watch and he was shocked we liked it) and making every single thing that happens a proof of God.

    However, don’t they know? Yes, they do. And usually they’re proud of it. Because being offensive to the heathen is a Good Thing.

  39. #39 Stephanie Z
    August 6, 2009

    Mike, the only kind of pain you can imagine is offense? Bummer, dude. Your imagination’s busted. Still, we’re here to help. Try reading the comments on this post. People are telling you where the pain is.

  40. #40 Lou FCD
    August 6, 2009

    Tell your friend to buy a lion and charge admission.

  41. #41 Beth
    August 6, 2009

    Man, if I hadn’t known better I would have thought you were talking about me. I’m in almost the exact same situation; Chicagoland area, Christian housemates, but my landlord is evangelical as well. Hell, the city I’m living in is dominated by the college Billy Graham graduated from. Strangely enough going to a Unitarian Universalist Church helps in many ways, if only to be able to say, ‘oh yeah, I’ve already found a church’ and not have to explain my atheism if I don’t want to.

  42. #42 jay
    August 6, 2009

    Getting a bit off here but…. it bears back on the cause of the original problem

    A while back there was a case (9th circuit?) where a roommate matching service was ordered to stop taking information about preferences and characteristics (religion, sexuality, etc) as a violation of housing law.

    This is a threatening and highly anti-freedom-of-association position for the coutt to take. There is, as I see it, a great difference between commercial transactions (landlord/tennant, buyer/seller, employer/employee) and roommate. This is personal, you need to live with that person in a rather intimate setting, you need to trust that person, you need to be comfortable with that person in ways that a landlord and tennant never approach. It’s almost like the court deciding about what basis you can choose your dates, or your friends.

    What is next, the courts deciding what criteria can be used in dating services?

    Roommates need to evaluate one another, and to reject any such arrangement for any reason.

  43. #43 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 6, 2009

    No, I find it ridiculous that someone could be pained by someone else’s religiousity. That’s like being offended by someone’s knitting hobby or preference for Pepsi over Coke.

    Now it’s time to roll my eyes, and then request that you change your first name. You are embarrassing all the rest of us Mikes (religious and atheist.)

    Either you are clueless in this or a troll. It would be so nice to live in your little world where there is no conflict, where no boats are rocked, where everybody slaps each other on the back and says “You’re cool, Man, and so am I.” Is everything made of chocolate and frosting where you live, or what? Are your clouds made of cotton candy and the ponies all give rides without trying to bite the children?

    It may be ridiculous that people are offended by other’s religious beliefs or lack thereof, but guess what? We live in a world in which atheist groups have to go through courts just to get signs placed on buses, where people demand, demand I say to have any sort of atheist billboards taken down because they are scaring away customers.

    I used to be pretty quiet about being an atheist, myself. But I’ll give you an example of how easily religious people get offended at work about atheism. Just recently I found out that someone I work with is an atheist, and she brought in a couple of books just to read to herself between calls. She was taken into HR and given a Talking To for having the book “The God Delusion” at her desk, and the manager asked her not to read it at work because people were upset by it. Not that she was preaching or forcing other people to read the book, that she was reading to herself. It was the title alone that frightened people.

    Never mind that others sit there between calls, unmolested, reading bibles and highlighting and studying them. I am not offended by that, and neither is my co-worker, but we are offended that people are so quick to complain that we are not religious (and publicly so.).

    Sometimes we have to fill out these inane survey things that they put up on the wall that ask questions like “Who is your hero?” “What’s your favorite color?” “If a movie were made about your life, who would play you?” Some people put “Jesus Christ cause he died for my sins.” I put John Wilkins, Greg Laden, PZ Myers. Nobody gets it, but hey…

    I have had room mates who were religious, and if things work out the way I want them to over the next few weeks I will have another and I expect that things will be just fine, but that doesn’t mean I will get to generalize to everyone.

    Stop rolling your eyes when these issues come up, Mike. There’s a world outside your window.

  44. #44 george.w
    August 6, 2009

    I have a co-worker and friend who is Christian, in some kind of postmodern way that I don’t understand since my background is in Christian fundamentalism. He knows I’m an atheist and when we talk about stuff neither of us tries to be anything we’re not. But that’s one relationship.

    There are also people who just never let up. It would be the equivalent of me just mocking everyone who drives a car to work, constantly putting them down for their carbon footprint, for all the money they send to countries that hate America, how bikes make less noise pollution, etc. If I did that, I’d be a jerk, just as some people are jerks about being religious. I ride my bike, some people have pictures of Jesus in their offices (my friend isn’t one of those).

    But my Christian/friend co-worker is also a fanatical cyclist, riding to work in the snow and during thunderstorms like me, so it’s all good. So I guess the only contribution I have is to advise your friend with the Christian roomate to use various analogies of not being a jerk. Because that, and not Christianity itself, would be the problem.

    Lot of good discussion about Christian self-awareness at Stupid Evil Bastard; “A Christian asks, I’m the bad guy? How did that happen?

  45. #45 MadScientist
    August 6, 2009

    I start trying to educate people about the TRUE god(s) – allah, vishnu, ganesh, hanuman, the various buddhas, etc. None of that christian crap and their imaginary god.

    The other game I play is “screw with their imagined source of morals” – you bring up some topic on morality, slap them with bible verses presenting a different view and try to convince them of that biblical view. It’s really not very hard. What’s tough is trying to keep away from convincing them that god wants them to murder people for him – that’s something there’s plenty of in the bible.

  46. #46 Marc Mielke
    August 6, 2009

    I appear to be automatically assumed atheist/unbeliever as soon as I meet anyone. Not that believers aren’t nice to me, but I have found a few talking behind my back (not wise to do to the guy who drives the manager home).

    It’s almost like I have ‘Suck the Cock of Satan’ tattooed across my forehead.

  47. #47 Tern
    August 7, 2009

    As a UK resident it never ceases to amaze me how xIAN US is.

    Here 80% of 2001 census described themselves as christian, but for most that would be culturally christian or more sympathetic to christianity than another religion. Churches are empty in the main and declining and whatever some may like to think we are not in any way a religious country. Thank goodness.

    If anything here people who are religious keep it under their hats. Declairing atheism is in no way frowned upon.

    Despite all plus points of US, the overt in your face religious fanaticism of so many of its people would for me override all other reasons for wanting to ever live there.

  48. #48 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    I appreciate all the comments on this post. For those who are saying that there really is not problem with this sort of thing, I recommend this post:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/08/steve_of_homer_blog_left_an_an.php

    And the links and follows therefrom.

  49. #49 kdjhdkdl
    August 7, 2009

    My current roommate is devoutly religious, has pictures of the jebus plastered all over and everything. He did not have them up when I viewed the place (he hadn’t moved in yet) and I didn’t know he was that religious.

    The real problem is that he owns the house, and according to the laws here, there is NO protection against being evicted from a room, for any reason. The best I could do if he evicted me is sue in small claims court because he broke the contract. All I would get is my moving expenses, without any compensation for time and suffering, I have seen for myself that’s the way the legal system works here.

    I would never let him how I’m an atheist, I just say I don’t know anything about that stuff and have never thought about it. He keeps trying to convert me by inviting me to watch movies involving religion, including paying for both of us to go to the theater.

    I have added a screen saver password to my computer, and I considered using an encrypted proxy so he couldn’t spy on my internet traffic. But he is so incredibly ignorant I don’t think that’s a risk. My heart jumps when he knocks on my door for whatever reason and I have asked him not too. I am keeping an eye on the classified ads for another place to live, but there is a housing crisis in my city at present and I’m having a very difficult time finding something suitable.

    But otherwise he’s actually a more reasonable than average guy in some ways, just profoundly ignorant.

  50. #50 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    kd: Sorry, you are in a sucky situation, I hope it resolves.

    When I read He keeps trying to convert me by inviting me to watch movies involving religion, including paying for both of us to go to the theater. first I read “paying” as “praying.” Either way, it’s sucky.

  51. #51 kdjhdkdl
    August 7, 2009

    Oh, and did I mention that the police do the eviction for free? Yes, that’s how it works. They come on short notice and escort you out. It’s absolutely amazing but true, I do not know for sure, but I bet they would put your stuff on the street if there was nowhere else. My and your tax money hard at work!

  52. #52 kdjhdkdl
    August 7, 2009

    Oh, I didn’t see your response before I posted that last. Thanks for the sympathies, Greg.

  53. #53 MnM
    August 7, 2009

    As far as society in general (in the U.S.) is concerned, mentioning religion is just talking about your life. Mentioning atheism is somehow encroaching on someone else’s

    I think the problem is that many religious people have experience talking with atheists end up talking to the zealot who insults and demeans their beliefs.

    Most religious people and most atheists aren’t going to be a problem as a room mate (or whatever). It’s the obnoxious few that lack the ability to agree-to-disagree and make the situation/relationship work that wreck the reputation of the rest. And I mean the obnoxious few on both sides.

    Although I am a happily practicing Mormon (who believes strongly in science), I have always been able to get along with my room mates and neighbors. I try to be friendly, polite and civil and expect the same in return.

  54. #54 daedalus2u
    August 7, 2009

    If he is trying to convert you, that is a good sign (provided you can remain strong enough to resist). If he evicts you, he loses that opportunity and if that experience totally turns you against his version of Christianity, then it is his fault that you will burn in Hell for eternity.

    In other words, he gets good do-bee points for converting you, but he gets major mega bad karma for permanently turning you away from God. That bad karma is multiplied if he does something “non-Christian” that drives you away.

    If the issue comes up, mention how much you are learning about a Christian lifestyle by sharing his house with him. Don’t ever lie, but think of ways to speak that he will interpret as you moving on a spiritual path (which he is convinced will only lead to the place where he is).

  55. #55 MattXIV
    August 7, 2009

    Greg,

    I’m not saying that it never happens, but I’m saying you’re vastly exagerating the scope, making it sound like if you’re outed as an atheist in the midwest the only thing you can do is pack up and leave town before you’re tarred and feathered. Even in that post, you label something that’s not a death threat and not from the midwest as one to serve your victimology. Some internet tough guy wishes atheists were dead – bo frickin’ ho. When you call your political opponents “brownshirts” in an argument over healthcare you can’t complain when you get a heaping helping of rudeness in return.

    Dealing with people who you disagree with is part of living in civilized society. If you’re offended by the mere fact that people who do believe in god go around saying things like “God bless” or that people who disagree with you on healthcare policy have the termacity to protest, you’re the one who has a problem. Other people do not have an obligation to create an environment where ideas that contradict your worldview aren’t expressed. We don’t need atheist equivalents of Bill Bennett conflating criticism of atheism with oppression. You can’t go on about how it “pains” you to be exposed to other people’s religion, then complain that people aren’t comfortable with atheism. Anybody who is “pained” by people disagreeing with them needs to grow the hell up regardless of what their views are.

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    Matt, I can’t believe you are defending these thugs at the town hall meetings.

    Oh, and the driving into the swamp thing? That is a metaphor.

    Do you know anyone in a job surrounded by christians who gets outed as an atheist, who’s work life was then made miserable because of the damn christians praying and insinuating and clicking the tongues and so on. Is that OK with you that this happens? Is it OK with you that harassment in the workplace is considered OK for atheists but not for anyone else?

  57. #57 Stephanie Z
    August 7, 2009

    Matt, where did I call him a brownshirt? I did tell him he was getting vaporish. Is that a mortal insult now? Get a sense of perspective, dude, before you go around telling other people to check theirs.

  58. #58 MattXIV
    August 7, 2009

    Greg,

    You can believe it, just like you can believe that I defended Code Pink for much of the same stuff. When the other side is in charge dissent is patriotic, when you’re guy’s in charge, its unacceptable. Read you loud and clear.

    Stephanie Z,

    On second inspection, the post calling the protestors brownshits was authored by someone else – I assumed that you were the author since you were the one defending it in comments. I stand corrected in that regard as you were not responsible for lowering the tone of the debate to that level.

  59. #59 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    Matt, there is a difference in tactics here, and you are well aware of that.

  60. #60 MattXIV
    August 7, 2009

    Greg,

    No there isn’t. You may have convinced your own feeble mind that there is through some selective amnesia, but this is the exact same shit that went down during the Iraq War debates with the parties reversed.

  61. #61 Mountain Humanist
    August 7, 2009

    Greg: Typo in blog post:

    “Being religious is normal. Being religiou provides privileges in our society. In fact, not being religious is what requires the explanation!”

    Just an FYI

  62. #62 Greg Laden
    August 7, 2009

    Matt, stuff the insults please.

    You are apparently unaware of the fact that organized protests are called organized protests because there is a playbook. There are procedures, objectives, limits, etc. Some of the code pink protests involved small numbers of individuals going into congressional meetings, yelling, and getting arrested. To my knowledge there was not an effort to shut down several different public town hall meetings. If there were, I’m wrong, you document, I’ll allow you to keep commenting even without apologizing for the feeble mind remark. Otherwise I might shut you down and silence your voice so you know how that feels.

    You have one hour to produce documentation proving that Code Pink used the same tactics that these friends of yours are using, or to withdraw your statement. Please include documentation of the code pink ladies beating up people that disagree with them, as well ad documentation of code pink ladies hanging members of congress in effigy, along wiht your documentation of systematically closing down several town meetings.

    I’m looking at my watch and counting.

    60 minutes…
    59 minutes and 59 seconds…
    59 minutes and 58 seconds…

  63. #63 Ben Zvan
    August 7, 2009

    @36 – Mike: Pepsi over Coke? Please! I have driven to Canada specifically to get Coke with sugar instead of corn syrup. Pepsi is morally inferior to Coke in every way possible.

  64. #64 rsm
    August 8, 2009

    Hey… where did you guys get all the religious roommates. I just got the Indian dude whose mother delivered a 80L freezer full of food every two weeks, the Korean dude with a pair of (usually quite hot) Korean chicks hanging around and some random student which at one point needed to be taught how to fry an egg and needed someone to proof his papers because he hadn’t passed either the TOEFL or the IELTS when he moved in…

    The only evangelistic christian I got to know is now a genuine member of the Atheist blogging community… right, so on to that ‘how are things now in propagandaland topic’.

  65. #65 Bob
    August 8, 2009

    I think the problem is that many religious people have experience talking with atheists end up talking to the zealot who insults and demeans their beliefs.

    Or perhaps being challenged or held accouontable for repugnant opinions stemming from their religious beliefs.

    An example: minding my own business, eating lunch at a great local tap, a firefighter from the station next door was commenting on waterboarding, and what a non-issue it was, and doing whatever it takes to get the bad guy, etc. He wasn’t talking directly to me but it was obvious he didn’t expect any disagreement in the room.

    Politely, calmly, and in a civil tone, I called him out on his bullshit.

    Some might call that liberal zealotry; I call it gentle public embarassment to, in some small way, keep my country from sliding further into an abyss of cruelty and groupthink.

    The conversation stayed civil, if uncomfortable. I didn’t engage him to convince him I was right; I engaged publicly to show him and others that there’s an opposing view, and maybe shame into keeping horrible ideas like that to himself, going forward.

    And so it goes with religious bullshit. If religious belief didn’t hold such a privileged position in our culture, there would be more criticism of bad ideas and repugnant opinions. As it is however, there’s a serious stigma and even tangible consequences to calling out this bullshit. Therein lies the topic – keeping silent to keep the peace.

    I don’t have your experiences so I can’t judge whether you’re surrounded by asshole atheists or the religious people you know expect to not be challenged when they say stupid things. Hell, those aren’t even mutually exclusive. I will conjecture that a lot of religious people will take personal offense at having the whole notion of faith (accepting claims without evidence) challenged; it’s something that makes them happy, and they’d rather be happy than think about whether what they believe makes any sense. And as has been said in other threads, not having one’s bad ideas and repugnant opinions actively agreed with may well cause offense to the religious too.

    In the current climate, atheists can’t win no matter how they behave, but sadly, I believe that’s always been the case. The religious usually expect carte blanche and most of the time they get it.

  66. #66 Brigid Abernathy
    California
    April 16, 2014

    By “religious” we are referring solely to Christianity? If you think Christians are annoying, try living with a Wiccan. All day long, it’s nothing but magic, magic, magic. Everything is magic. Pardon me, Magick. Everything in the known Universe can be explained by magick. Don’t even bother trying to explain evolution. These Goddess-loving wand-wavers will shut down that conversation in a hailstorm of appeals to Freya. Believe me, it’s a good thing this thread has ethnocentrically defined “religious” to mean Christian, I tell you what! It’s also a good thing this conversation is online, not in person down in the Thor’s Hammer Thumping Belt.

  67. #67 Politicalguineapig
    April 16, 2014

    Meh. I did it for a year. Of course, we’d been friends for a while and I knew going in that most people around me were going to be religious (small Catholic women’s college, got a good deal, and figured I didn’t need guys broing it up everywhere). So, kept my head down, avoided her parents, didn’t discuss politics. Oddly enough, she was pretty liberal for a good Catholic girl.
    The most serious spats we had were over the thermostat or my cleaning ability (pathetically low, but I tried to keep the mess corralled.)

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