Sunday, November 11, 2007

Please allow me to introduce myself...

Last Friday I woke up late and rushed myself out the door to get to work

In my hurry, I grabbed a sweatshirt from the drawer (Friday is "casual day") and threw it on. It was a gray sweatshirt, and so assumed it was the cheesy one I got from my workplace last year on "Employee Appreciation Day." Every year we worker bees get an article of clothing, emblazoned from the company logo, from our employer. Last year, it was a said sweatshirt with the logo stitched on in an almost florescent orange thread.

If I had taken a moment to look in the mirror before running to the car and gunning the engine, I would have noticed I grabbed the wrong sweatshirt.

I'm an atheist. I am also a skeptic and a freethinker. If you don't know what those are, read a book. (Or maybe I'll define them in a later posting.) My wife also falls into these categories.

What has this got to do with anything?

Keep reading and you'll see.

Being atheists, skeptics and freethinkers, we took time off from our jobs and journeyed to Madison, Wisconsin, last month to participate in the 30th annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an organization to which we both belong.

While there, we had a grand time. We met some really cool people - like PZ Myers, whose "Pharyngula" blog is a favorite of mine - and listened to some of the keener minds of our time. I'll let PZ's assessment of the convention speak for me, if you are interested in a report on the overall affair.

While at the convention, we bought too many books and a large gray sweatshirt for myself. This particular sweatshirt has the word "Infidel" on the front on large and friendly black letters. I loved it!

And that was the one I grabbed as I headed out to work, this morning. I did not realize my mistake until I parked my car at work and reached for my briefcase and caught the word "Infidel" in my rear-view mirror.

I looked down at my chest to double-check and sighed. I was in a bit of a predicament.

My workplace, I'm sad to say, is not an environment where the values of logic and reason aren held in high esteem. It's an unwritten rule there that to get into the upper echelons management you have to be a fundie Christian. There's also a bit of a double-standard regarding personal expression: many of my co-workers openly display their little crosses and fish symbols and "inspirational literature" on the walls of their cubes quite openly.

I tried using a "Darwin fish" mouse pad and was forced by my boss to conceal it within half an hour... she did not want me to start a scene.

So I stared at the word "Infidel" on my chest and wondered if I really wanted to wander into my Christian workplace with such a potentially inflammatory piece of clothing on me. Di I really want to do this in a workplace where:

  • My boss openly declared to me that she no longer "believes in the efficacy of the scientific method" when I asked her to start seeing a doctor about her asthma (rather than the "Chinese medicine" practitioner she now sees)
  • Her boss openly keeps a Bible and several concordances in his office alongside his management materials.
  • And a VP who used the death of an employee last year as an opportunity to witness for Jesus to someone on staff who is Jewish (she got rather upset about that).

No. I would not normally chose to wear such a controversial piece of clothing to work. But once I realized I had done it, I set my teeth and resolved to get through the day, rather than hide it.

Besides, if I drove back home to change, I was going to be late for work. And I hate being late for work.

Well, the day went without much of a hitch. Several co-workers complimented the sweatshirt and did so sincerely. One of them was a Muslim(!), which made me feel good. My boss, it turned out, took PTO that day, so I did not get called into her office.

A lot of True Believers on staff, however, did notice but said nothing. As I expected: direct confrontation is no longer an offended person's way, in my opinion. I'm sure they have complained to their superiors rather than express their disapproval to me directly. My boss will be back in the office tomorrow. I'm sure she'll have words for me then.

So who am I and why am I doing this?

I'm just a working schlub in the Midwest trying to make it through life with his wife. I'm educated, well-employed, and hope to start a family one day. My wife is educated, ambitious, and running her own fairly successful business.

We work hard, we pay our taxes, we are actively involved in our community, and we believe that the United States of America is one of the greatest nations ever to develop on the face of the Earth and are proud to be among its citizens.

But we don't believe in God. And we don't like to take things at face value.

In President Bush II's U.S.A. this makes us suspicious and un-American. Kind if like "communists" during the McCarthy Era. Not that I'm drawing any comparisons, or anything. (*Cough!*)

I'm doing this because there are a lot of sequestered nonbelievers like me in this country. We doubt, we question, or we just don't believe... but if we express it, or express it too much, we are sanctioned by our fellows and, worse yet, pitied by those whose minds are so closed an entire case of WD-40 would not let an independent, critical thought slip through. I'm doing this because I need to express to a wider audience my frustration and dismay at the world slipping into a new Dim AgeTM.

Not a Dark Age. A Dim AgeTM.

The Dark Ages resulted from the collapse of the Roman Empire, the intellectual, technological and civic infrastructure of Europe. It fell away and barbarians squabbled amongst themselves and fought bloody wars among themselves for who gets to own what piece of land or who sits upon what throne on what piece of land.

This Dim AgeTM is different. We still have the intellectual, technological and civic infrastructure that makes this nation great (read "educational and governmental systems"), but there have been forces active almost since the beginning - and steadily gaining steam and power since the days of Barry Goldwater - to chip away at science and reason in education and erode the Bill of Rights in the name of Providence or God or Jesus or whatever you want to call it. We are willfully turning down the light. Or, at least, we are passively allowing others to try to blow out that "candle in the dark," as the late great Carl Sagan called it. And I can't stand it much longer.

So why are you remaining anonymous?

For one thing, I'd like to keep my job. I don't think I would get fired if it got out into the general population that I am an atheist (a few co-workers know, already), but work would become generally uncomfortable. And outside the religious nonsense, I do really like my employer.

More importantly, my wife's business would suffer. She's an independent music teacher, and due to where we live an inordinate number of her clientele are deeply religious. We lived together for a year before we married, and just "living in sin" cost her some customers. If it got out we are atheists? Her business would collapse and she would have to go back to contracting with several music schools in the area, working much longer hours for a good deal less money. That would be unfair to us and unfair to the children she teaches. And the children have become very attached to her.

And sadly, I've known too many Christians who would take personal joy in watching a pair of godless heathens such as us suffer so, regardless of the damage to us or anyone else.

That doesn't mean I'm living in fear that my identity will be discovered. I'm anonymous, for now, and maybe one day I'll reveal my identity. Or maybe I'll be ousted by someone on the net who sees this as a challenge or wants to be annoying. As with the sweatshirt, I'll deal with it when the time comes, setting my teeth and getting through the day.

And it won't all be serious stuff on this blog. There will be irreverence. And jocularity.

And even cocktails.

Welcome to my Dim Age DiaryTM.

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