So, one of the results of the Oklahoma tornado (what, a week plus ago now, I suppose) is a snippet of an interview that's gone viral. You know the one - with Wolf Blitzer speaking to a young mother, Rebecca Vitsmun, and her child, saying she must feel so blessed how she has to just thank the lord - and her reply of "Actually, I'm an atheist."
But it's more than that. It's not just "I'm an atheist." It's the very kind way she says it - looking almost embarrassed, not for herself but for the question - and the followup statement "And I don't blame anybody for thanking the lord."
So why is this such a big deal?
Oh, how I wish it weren't in the first place. It wouldn't be a big deal at all other than a small chuckle at Mr. Blitzer's goof if it were "I guess you'll be going to mass Sunday" "Oops, no, I'm a baptist, but we'll be at church singing!" I well and truly wish that Atheists weren't demonized or hated from pure ignorance (and preaching from the pulpet - I remember hearing it very well, and see it still today.) I wish we could be accepting of everyone's faith (or lack of it.)
Instead we hear things like "Atheists are the most hated group in America," that people would rather leave their children with (if I'm remembering it right) known rapists than atheists and the like. Now, of course, I have to question those polls and their sample sizes, but still - how would you feel to be part of that group?
And when it comes to the attitude of atheists toward "coming out" - and yes, we do use that phrase, and do acknowledge it can be as hard as "coming out" for the gay and lesbian community, that we can put everything at risk by doing so, and that people have lost jobs, family ties, and marriages over the three simple words "I'm an Atheist" - this young woman is seen, in many respects, as brave. She's in Oklahoma, which, to many Atheists... well, for the most part, the most hostile region is felt to be the Bible Belt, or "The South and environs." I lived in Florida for a few years, and kept my mouth SHUT about being Atheist. "Coming out" on national TV, in that region... I have to see this young woman as being very brave, on top of just being simply honest. (At the same time, one popular podcast by an *ex Christian broadcaster,* Seth Andrews, called "the Thinking Atheist," is based out of Oklahoma, and Matt Dillahunty and AronRa, two big proponents of atheism and reason, are out of Texas and very vocal.)
But really, I have to wonder just how that snippet of interview hit Christians. I know most are just everyday people, and they'll probably just chuckle at it and shake their heads at Wolf Blitzer. But so many I run into online, even just reading comments, go from what may well be nice, rational people to severely hostile when it comes to their religion.
And yes, some atheists will get hostile right back when faced with it - it's a natural reaction to feeling under attack, so to a point, I can understand it from both sides (and it is something I try to avoid, honestly. I don't say I always succeed. I'm human.)
But with being the "most hated group" and everything, what a lightning bolt this had to be. A young woman - not just young woman, but young mother, standing there with her 18 year old, a little shy, very sweet seeming and personable, and (it has to be said) cute, just quietly stating "I'm an atheist." And that she doesn't mind people who want to thank their god doing so. They can see a person, not a screaming, horned demon who eats babies and hates any mention of god. They see someone being gracious about others beliefs. They see someone who could be their coworker or neighbor.
I hope that the Christians in her community are reasonable, that they come together as a community and keep accepting her as part of the community. That they come down on any - like you know will happen - who try doing things like blaming the tornadoes on "God's judgement for her unbelief" or something equally sick. That, I've seen before, many times. Pat Robertson blaming storms on America's "lack of faith" instead of weather, or tornadoes in Florida being blamed on Disney granting benefits to same sex couples several years ago.
Honestly, I have to go about four pages in searching on her name before I start running into the "She still needs god!" nonsense. I'll be curious what crops up this sunday as preachers get their teeth into this - and where that falls in another two weeks as the news about the humanist community sending her money to assist goes down from being a current story.
I do have to take some of our community to task, as well, as I saw a few "CNN/Wolf Blitzer promotes religious worldview" stories, as well. No, guys (and gals,) take a step back. Yes, he made an assumption - and one which, in a (roughly) 75% Christian nation, is about as pushy as assuming the person you see is breathing air. But there's a difference between what he said and "pushing/promoting a religious worldview." He assumed. And he made what, for many, would be a simple closing statement in a human interest story. Other than saying she had to thank god specifically, to me, it's no different than saying "Days like this you have to be happy to just be alive." So let's not blame him or CNN for a simple statement and read more into it than what's there.