Do I Sit Quietly or Fight — Confessions of a Black Swamp Atheist

Do I sit quietly or fight? I feel this is a question that’s been floating around in my brain for my whole life.

I grew up in the rural Midwest, and although my own family wasn’t very religious, I was completely surrounded by Christianity in our community. I didn’t consider myself an atheist growing up, but I sure as hell wasn’t a Christian like my neighbors and friends. I was a skeptic even as a kid and Christianity was the biggest, most annoying thorn in my side. I didn’t know what brainwashing meant back then, but I knew Bible stories were pretty ridiculous and I just couldn’t understand how anyone could believe them. There was obviously something wrong with me. At the time it felt like there was no escape and I would be looked down upon forever.

I went to public school and my education should have felt like a sanctuary, but people from where I’m from know that public school doesn’t mean secular. Religious posters donned the walls of many of our classrooms and many of our school functions began or ended with a prayer — the most visible being our football games. 

This brings me to one of the proudest moments of my high school career. I was a senior and didn’t give a fuck. I knew I was getting the hell out of town when I left for college and the entire year my dad kept pleading with me, “just graduate!” I was in the marching band and decided to walk out of the stadium during the last prayer of the game. I was the beaming recipient of an after-school detention. I don’t really remember my parents saying anything to me about it. I probably just got another “just graduate!”

Like many wayward teenagers, I dabbled a bit in Wicca. The school guidance counselor called me to her office and questioned me when I came to school wearing a necklace with a pentagram on it. She said she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt anybody. Another trouble-making friend of mine got a Book of Shadows taken away from her at school.

I was a lot more vocal when I was younger.

Fast forward to now and I’m living in Toledo, Ohio — about forty miles from where I grew up — with a family of my own. I have many years of solid atheism under my belt but the stakes are higher now. I’m scared to speak out. I have a daughter and I have to think about my job. If I live openly as an atheist things could be a lot harder. Even though I grew up in the country and Toledo is a city, it’s still pretty conservative here. Ridicule and discrimination are real possibilities if I speak out against religion or reveal that I’m an atheist.

So, that question comes up again — do I sit quietly or fight? 

Next month my poetry book will be released — it’s all about being an atheist mom in the Midwest. Having a book published feels like a pretty public admission of atheism, and I’ve decided if people around here find out about the book, I’ll let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I won’t be shouting from the rooftops of Toledo that I reject religion, but if it comes up — no more hiding. I’m an atheist.

(If you’re curious, my poetry book is called, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy, and will be released 2/2/21. It is for sale on my publisher’s site, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.)


  1. John Morales says

    … do I sit quietly or fight?

    Well, open defiance is futile, and you think it would affect your family negatively.

    But it’s not a dichotomy, is it?

    There’s always subtle subversion, for example, or passive resistance, and you’re (I think) doing a great job inoculating your daughter. That’s a win.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    There’s always the option of moving yourself and your family to a place that is safer – somewhere that isn’t a backward theocracy occupied mainly by people who would ostracise an atheist. Anywhere in Europe would work. I would recommend New Zealand, but right now they’re widely rejecting probable plague carriers. I just don’t get why anyone would visit, much less try to live in, the USA.

    • ashes says

      The thought has crossed my mind many times.

      When I was a teenager, I studied abroad and spent a year in Denmark. It was definitely a rare opportunity for someone living where I grew up. I went from having never met an atheist in my life to living in a country full of them. Even though I didn’t quite consider myself an atheist yet, it was absolutely amazing and had a big impact on my life down the road. I often wonder what it would be like to raise my daughter there.

      But then again, NW Ohio is my home. My ancestors played a part in the early history of the area and my family’s farm was established in 1852. Even though I complain about being an atheist in Toledo, there are a million other reasons why I love living here. The city is gritty and lively and I even love our crazy weather. If anything I want to live here and see Toledo and the US become a better place to live. I want to be a part of that.

  3. blf says

    I’ve nothing really to add to what @1 & @2 have said / suggested, albeit it does seem to me that if you perceive your family to be in physical danger — you didn’t mention that directly — than perhaps a rethink of continuing to live in the area is advisable?

    In terms of assertive — not aggressive — tactics, comedy can be one of a number of good choices. As an example from some years ago (this example is not too applicable to the situation as described), when the Fred Phelps hate cult was more actively in the news, some of their anti-LGBTQ+ ranting “demonstrations” were counter-demonstrated by Pastafrains (FSM) dressed up as pirates. The hate gang would wave about “god hates gays” (and similar) signs, the pirates — who invartiably outnumbered the tiny hate gang — would wave plastic cutlesses and signs saying something like “god Hates Shrimp”, “Support Fornication”, and so on.

    Another example, perhaps more applicable (and perhaps similar to your pentagram jewelry): Many yonks ago I had to attend a “computer security” conference known to be heavily-attended by military and spook types. Everyday at the conference I showed up wearing a T-shirt, badge, or both (most, as it happens, from Greenpeace) saying things like “Military Intelligence is an Oxymoron”, “Peace in Space” (Ronaddled Raygun’s “Star Wars” fantasies were still around), and so on. I definitely got some nasty looks, but that was it… though this was a conference of professionals (and the people I was most likely to annoy weren’t those I needed to talk to).

    • ashes says

      I love the idea of comedy tactics!

      I feel discrimination is far more likely than physical harm. If we were in serious danger we would leave. It’s more like a fear of losing my job or being denied opportunities.

      I put a Chthulu sticker in the shape of a Jesus fish on the back of my car and I was certain my car would be vandalized but to my surprise, nobody touched my car. So a few months down the road I got a little braver and put a sticker of the American Atheists logo on my car and still, my car is fine. I just assume that no one around here knows what those things are but it sucks that I had to think about what I put on my car.

      • blf says

        “[A] Chthulu sticker in the shape of a Jesus fish” — I didn’t know there was such a thing. (Now that I do, it’s easy to find them via, e.g., Generalissimo Google™.) In fact, there’s an entire article on variant ichthys symbols at Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge (albeit the image of the Chthulu variant is rather poor). However, it does note that some variants are, or have been construed to be, smug, mocking the individual rather than the idea, or racist. (No such criticism of the Chthulu variant is mentioned, nor do I myself have any such criticism of that (or several other) variants).

  4. says

    You don’t owe atheism anything and christians are dangerous when confronted.

    I am pretty “out” but I’ve been belligerently challenged by christians when I’m not in the mood for all the complex dance of epistemology – then, I just say “my beliefs are complicated.” (It’s true! The two slit experiment still rocks my socks) I used to just think pityingly about the eventual death of their religion, but now I actively hate them, so much that I don’t even want to talk to them.

  5. agents15 says

    I say ‘fight’ with a lowercase ‘f’, because you have to set the terms of what you consider to be victory.
    I see you’ve published a book. Congrats! That’s a decent victory in its own rights.
    What change do you want to see in your community? More atheists? Less religiosity? Fewer missionaries? Or something simpler like more tolerance from the locals?
    How you’ll fight is determined by what your goal is. But remember that when you have the initiative, you get to set the battlefield and you get to choose the battles.

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