Atheist Tolerance - where do you draw the line?

As I have stated elsewhere on this site (and on my own blog,, I am an "out of the closet" atheist. I am a bit unusual as an atheist, and by that I mean that

1) I have been married (mostly happily ;) ) for 25 years this June (that's twenty five YEARS, in case you missed it), and I have five amazing kids (and one grandkid already!). Most of them are agnostic/atheist, and the rest I'm not sure about (I don't think they're sure either - they're 11 and 12). When people find out that I'm I've been married so long and have five kids they always ask:
-- are you a (Mormon/Catholic/Fundie Christian of some sort/some other religion who has tons of kids)?
-- are they all both of your kids? (I guess most people who have more than 2 kids are "blended families")
-- are any of them adopted?
-- did you figure out what causes pregnancy? (I get really annoyed with this question)
-- and so on (you get the idea)

2) I am also a Unitarian Universalist (UU), and I used to teach RE (Religious Education)

3) I am not only out of the closet, but I proclaim my heathenism (and my love for the FSM - may his noodles stay al-dente and his meatballs stay warm!) - if you don't believe me, look at my avatar pic - that is my work computer (MacBook Pro - MBP), and I speak at 4 - 5 conferences a year, where the attendees see my MBP decorations. I also have a Darwin Fish prominently displayed on the back of my car.

So you now know a little bit about my background, let me get to the heart of this blog entry...

Atheist Tolerance

I live in the Deep South (I live in a town called Flowery Branch GA - and it is as small and rural as it sounds), so I am definitely in the minority here. Since I am fully immersed in the Bible Belt Culture, I silently participate in certain traditions down here - and even commit some of them myself.

For instance, my son's football coach has the team cite the Lord's Prayer after every practice and game. I don't mind it, it is a tradition for the team, and I know that my son is very cognizant of their beliefs and doesn't mind either. Keep in mind that my son's football program is NOT a part of the school system, it is managed by the local booster club - which means that saying a prayer does not violate the separation of church and state.

There are many times down here where a prayer is said - and once again I don't mind, I simply feel it is ok to respect other's beliefs even if I don't participate (I do not bow my head or anything).

Another example is a simple one - I say "bless you" when someone sneezes. Once again it is a part of our culture, and it doesn't refernce any particular deity, so I could just as easily be giving an FSM blessing ;)

When my kids visit a family that attends church, and my they are spending the night, I don't mind them going to church; once again I know they have a grounded, objective knowledge of xianity, and are respectful of other people's beliefs. (and sometimes it is fun for them)

There are probably other examples of religion creeping in day-to-day interactions, and I try to respect them.

Now, let me make this clear - if someone overtly tries to force their religion onto me personally, I do not tolerate that. Furthermore if someone around here tries to single me out and overtly prosthelytise to me or my kids, I will not tolerate it.

Now all of this leads me to my question for this august, intelligent community:

The Question

What religious customs to you tolerate?

I know that, in a perfect world, we could tell people that we're not comfortable with their custom, or we can't participate because of our (lack of) beliefs - and there would be no repercussions.

But this isn't a perfect world.

And often we must interact with the members of our community on an ongoing basis, and we want to keep the relationship positive and thriving.

So, what do you tolerate? What do you balk at? For you parents, did you tolerance change once you had kids, especially if they're participating in extracurricular activities? What do you teach your kids about religion and tolerance?

OK, OK, so this is more than one question - but you get the idea.

Let me know your thoughts!


Views: 145

Comment by Doug Reardon on February 1, 2010 at 12:38am
As long as they aren't "in my face" with it I usually ignore it, if not I let them know I think they're an idiot.
Comment by Jim Stachowski on February 1, 2010 at 7:50am
I must admit I find it a bit annoying when we have a company lunch or dinner and they have a prayer before we eat. I mean theres over 100 people in the room.....chances are not everyone wants to hear about baby Jesus before they eat. This is the same company though that will order 30 pizzas and not one of them will be just a plain cheese for people who do not eat meat. Literally everyone single one of them is like a "meat lovers" pizza.
Comment by Dan on February 1, 2010 at 9:09am
Comment by Wesley on February 1, 2010 at 7:08pm
Hey Rocky, Great Post... I also live in the Bible Belt.. My father was a minister. Most of my family is religious or at least 'spiritually inclined'. My wife's family is religious. Before I became a 'non-believer' I had already left christianity to practice a particular type of yoga.

I'm not 'out' of the box to everyone, but I wasn't out of the box about the yoga either. If you are quiet people assume that you believe like they do. This was fine by me as I didn't want it to reflect negatively on my father while he was alive....(he died in 2004 and was a tremendous human being) I also didn't want to unnecessarily cause problems for my wife with her family.

Where I draw the line... I speak up when people spout literalisms... like the earth is only 6,000 years old....etc and the universe is even younger. Evolution was conceived by the devil...etc.. God made the fossils to 'test' us.

I'm completely honest with my son about what I believe...and what I DON'T and why. I encourage him NOT to get into debates with his peers about these things. He's already ostracised enough with his ADHD. I try to encourage him to think about these things for himself and come to his own conclusions.
Comment by Shawn on February 5, 2010 at 4:06pm
I live just outside of Vancouver, Canada and religious expression is not in the community as much as I read as it is south of the 49th. We get the 7th day advents coming by once a month, but no prayers at public events as far as I have seen, sports or otherwise.

That said, I don't tolerate it at all if the meaning is beyond cultural. I still tell people and don't mind getting told "Merry Christmas", and "God Bless You" when someone sneezes. It's when the line crosses from cultural reference to an actual reference to God I get my hackles up.
Comment by Geektheist (Rocky Oliver) on February 10, 2010 at 1:37pm
Jean Marie said, "Also, congrats on the 25 years!! I don't see how that sets you apart from others atheists specifically, i know some long term atheist pair bondings...."

I know and you know that this doesn't set me apart from others from an atheist standpoint, because we're both atheists. My point is that most of the xians around here, especially the "fundie" ones (i.e. fundamentalist xians), strongly believe that a life without "Jesus Christ in [your] heart" is a life of misery, and that nothing will last. Most are shocked - shocked I tell you! - that an atheist can have a stable life, long-term marriage, healthy happy kids, good job, etc. All these things would be considered "blessings" in their eyes - and how can an atheist have a "blessed life"?

Hopefully that clears things up!

Comment by Geektheist (Rocky Oliver) on February 10, 2010 at 1:51pm
Wesley said, "Where I draw the line... I speak up when people spout literalisms... like the earth is only 6,000 years old....etc and the universe is even younger. Evolution was conceived by the devil...etc.. God made the fossils to 'test' us."

That last one absolutely FLOORS me when I hear that!! Pardon my french, but ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!? (that's what I say to people who say that).

There's a phrase used in drama called the "suspension of disbelief". Basically it means that you temporarily turn off that part of your brain that automatically disbelieves something, so that you can "get into" a movie or play more deeply, thereby increasing your enjoyment of the performance. A good example of that is when people jump or scream in scary movies, etc. The rational part of your head knows it isn't real, but your brain temporarily tells that part of your head to "shhhh" so you can really get into the performance or story.

I also have decided that something similar must be taking place with otherwise rational people who believe in religions, especially the stuff in the Bible. These seemingly intelligent people MUST be suspending disbelief so that they can more readily accept the crap in their mythology. And as atheists and other nonbelievers point out the ludicrousness of these tenets, they constantly make up crap that is more and more insane, just so they can keep believing and keep their "faith".

So the ones who claim, "God made the fossils to 'test' us.", are simply being idiots.

Batshit. Crazy. Idiots.

What do y'all (I'm a Southerner, therefore I am allowed to use "y'all" ;) ) think of my theory concerning the Suspension of Disbelief?

And BTW, I want to thank everyone for your support and for engaging in a good discussion regarding my post.



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