I woke up this morning after a long day of arguing with religious extremists, fully prepared to take a day off from the front and do far less important things like working out and grocery shopping. Alas, it was not to be. For no sooner did I log into Twitter than I saw a call to action from my friend Rah (@francosoup) calling the banners to march with the sounds of tympani and trumpets and many a song of battles fought and won.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. Humour me.
Rah, who in real life is a nurse in the UK, was recently contacted by a teenager here in America who was looking for some counseling and advice. This unnamed teenager is a high school student and an atheist who until recently kept her lack of religious beliefs very private. Several of her classmates recently discovered her Twitter account and outed her to her school as an atheist. The atheist teen has since endured a great deal of harassment from her peers over her personal convictions, including being called vile names as she walks down the halls. She is afraid to seek help from the administration, most (if not all) of whom are devout Christians.
Rah’s call to action has led to the creation of the hashtag #AtheistTeen for messages of support. I wanted to include myself among those who have already given excellent advice and support, but being the wordy bastard that I am, I had a difficult time fitting something meaningful into 140 characters.
So, Atheist Teen, you are forced to endure my much longer ramblings. #SorryNotSorry
First, encouragement. I know what you’re going through is tough. I’m not going to be the person who tells you that it’s just high school, they’re just kids, it will pass and your real life will start. Because I understand that even though it’s ‘just high school,’ it’s your life right now. Your education, social circles, possible even your hobbies are rooted in that building currently filled with hostile religious peers. That is rough. Do I know what it’s like? Not exactly. I wasn’t (to my regret) an open atheist in my Evangelical high school. I was an immigrant kid with a funny accent who did the jig, however. So I know the pain of vocal barbs. Kids can be cruel.
But that doesn’t make it right.
Please understand that you are an inspiration right now to people who are ten, twenty, fifty years older than you. Many of us are grateful that we didn’t have to deal with the social stigma of atheism in our formative years. So many of us can’t imagine the courage it’s taking you to walk down the hallway to English class right now. It’s awful and amazing. It’s brutal and brilliant. You are a strong and beautiful young woman who’s walking through the furnace right now. Each and every one of us are going to be right there by you, available for encouragement and support.
I would say that we’re all with you in spirit, but that would be silly since there’s no empirical evidence for the existence of spirits. #AtheistInsideJokes
Secondly, advice. I know that you said (or Rah said) that you’re afraid of the repercussions of going to the devoutly Christian administration. I understand, but despite this I advise you to consider it. It is the job of the people who run your school to create a non-hostile environment for the students who are required to be there. That is the law. This is something that should be brought to their attention. And if the harassment continues, it needs to continue to be brought to their attention.
You see, it’s an almost certainty that you are not the only atheist in your school. What’s happening to you is going to happen to another, maybe while you’re there, maybe not, but it will happen. You have an opportunity to make your school a better place for the next person. It’s a hard choice and a hard road to take, but if we chose what was easy and popular over what’s right, we wouldn’t be atheists.
When people in the hallway call you things like ‘atheist-slut’ and ‘Christian-hater,’ it is your right to decide how to respond to such abuse. If you choose to take the high road and ignore it, good for you. They are trying to prompt a reaction out of you and the classy thing is to not give bullies what they want. That being said, please understand that it is your absolute right to make your feelings and desires known. We tell our girls that if a man touches them in a way they don’t like, they have the right to say ‘no’ and he is required by law to stop.
Well guess what, the same thing applies to any sort of abuse. You have the right to say ‘no.’ You have the right to turn and tell your abusers, “Stop calling me that. It’s hurtful and untrue. Stop it now.” Not only does this put the spotlight back on the bully (something that he or she tries to avoid at all costs) it is a vocal expression of your intent and you have the right to be heard. They must stop. That is the law. And you have the right to use the law to your advantage.
Finally, there seems to be nothing else to say except to post inspiring messages with cartoons.
You’re braver than you know. Be brave.
You’re stronger than you know. Be strong.
Do what is right over what is easy.
Who you are is beautiful. Embrace it.
If there is anything I can do personally, feel free to contact me. And please keep us updated.
To my readers, please consider leaving a brief message with the hashtag #AtheistTeen on Twitter today.