Minnesota, Alabama, first grade, high school…all the same

(This post was causing some browsers to crash. Let’s see if browsers are happier if I hide it below the fold.)

Kevin Beck’s response to an interesting article about kids persecuting another kid who was an atheist:

When I first read the blog entry, I thought I was dealing with a bunch of first- or second-graders. Once I quit skimming, I was shocked to learn that the kids in question are all sixth-graders.

Kevin, you are such a naive young innocent. I read the story as a familiar example of common bigotry at all ages — my daughter experienced the same general phenomenon in elementary school, in junior high, and high school. Being an atheist makes you a witch who is going to hell; the fact that she was also active in promoting gay rights made her a lesbian who was going to hell.

At least Skatje‘s story has a happy ending, in that she escaped from the school and is now enrolled at college, a much more tolerant place. The other story also seems to have a fairly happy ending, in that the Madison County School District of Huntsville, Alabama deserves recognition for responding quickly and appropriately to shut down the taunting junior league bigots.


  1. Chinchillazilla says

    I haven’t told anyone, really. Well, my close friends know I’m agnostic, and in US History I poke fun at religion a lot (teacher knows I’m an atheist and he finds my jokes amusing, which is encouraging), but I don’t need the stress that would come of telling people about it.

  2. TAW says

    Wow. So far I haven’t had very bad reactions when I tell people I’m an atheist. A friend tried to give me a bible once in 7th grade and I refused. In 10th grade or so, when I finally decided to call myself an atheist (before then I was agnostic), a Muslim girl looked at me like I was crazy at first, but she tried to be nice. Then my friends in 12th grade looked somewhat surprised at first, but they didn’t care much (heh. what friend right? they don’t mind if i go to hell. lol!). Same in college. Roommates were a bit shocked at first (I actually told them I’d sell my soul because I don’t believe in souls lol). I later “came out” to a whole classroom by stating that religion was the biggest problem in society (and stated my reasons), but the only response I got was an angry “but religion is the cause of a lot of good too”.

    I wish I had decided to be an atheist earlier on, and been more vocal earlier.

  3. says

    TAW wrote:
    “A friend tried to give me a bible once in 7th grade and I refused.”

    I got my way paid into a showing of “The Exorcist” by another kid in high school. He thought it would convince me. It wasn’t the kind of movie he was expecting though. I also got a free copy of C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”

  4. AlanW says

    Well, I say take the bible. read it. You’ll find most xians haven’t actually gone that far (at least that’s been my experience). KNow your enemy. Be the devil that quotes scripture. I really can’t see anyone actually reading that bloody book and not coming away echoing Randolph Churchill’s “God, isn’t god a shit” Sure you can cherry pick the meek shall inherit the earth, and thegolden rule, but for the most part it’s torture, kill, stone, rape, more kill, and lots of ignorance and intolerance.
    I read the whole thing age 11, and that was the end of my catholic indoctrination. That’s why the priests were so dead set against translating the bible out of Latin in the first place…if the marks can’t actually read or understand the damn thing, the priests can simply tell them what it says, and change it at will to suit their purpose. Really, that’s all pat robertson et al are doing nowadays is setting themselves up as the interpreters of the holy word, that their flock of sheep (that’s no accident either) are just too lazy to read for themselves. So, yes. take the thing. then give it back after you’ve highlighted the vindictive barbarism that fills deuteronomy and leviticus, the parts about keeping slaves, stoning brides, plundering cities, and ask them why they worship such a shit.

  5. G. Tingey says

    Or, even worse, try reading “the recital” – the “holy” book of the religion that most revealingly, calls itself: submission.

    Agrrrr ….

  6. John C. Randolph says

    The only time I can remember any kid in school taking exception to my atheism would have been around third grade or so, and I just stood my ground and challenged the proselytizer to prove his claims. I was slightly higher in the elementary school pecking order than he was, so he dropped it by the end of that day.


  7. D. C. Pfeifer says

    I’ve also got a story to share, if you don’t mind.

    I am from Germany and we’ve got quite a different education system than the US. For secondary education children are grouped according to achievement, thus there are three different paths one may attend. These paths are “Hauptschule” (which is the lowest), “Realschule” and “Gymnasium” (which is the highest). My friends and I were all on the Gymnasium. But unfortunately we had to attend a “Gesamtschule” up to grade 10, where all three paths are located at the same school building.

    To make matters worse I hail from a particulary “pious” corner of Germany which is thorouhly infested with creationists(no YECs though, and almost no political lobbying, luckily.).

    Both of these facts made my best friend’s and my life quite miserable. He is an outspoken atheist and I’m a skeptic, cynic and agnostic (I’ve got my reasons). Each and every day we were harassed by Realschul-morons who were quite nice before they knew our lack of faith. They preffered to pick on my friend ’cause he wasn’t able to defend himself very well, nonetheless we’ve supported each other and survived until the 11th grade. This is when “Oberstufe” or “sixth form” (that’s the British expression for a related concept)begins. Because our old school lacked the necessary equipment we transfered to another school in another town (which was a pure Gymnasium). Even the religious folks there were tolerant of atheists.

    Through this experience I’ve found out that age only plays a minor role for actively practising bigotry. It depends much more on (the lack of) education and inherited intellect, imho.

  8. djlactin says

    Strange… Where I grew up (a suburb of Vancouver, Canada), it was the believers who were persecuted….well, ‘scorned’ maybe.

  9. David says

    As a fairly small child, once I got into it with a churchgoing neighbor kid who told me: “Well, if you don’t believe in God, then I don’t have to believe in nature.”

    That settled it, I suppose. For both of us in our different ways.

  10. says

    It’s always nice to see the ol’ home town in the news.

    In tenth grade, there was a ninth-grader who tried to punch me every time we passed in the hall because I wore a Darwin Fish T-shirt. Fortunately, even though he was enrolled in JROTC, he was a scrawny little fellow, and even though I’ve always been a nerd, I’m pretty tall and broad-shouldered — making the encounters more amusing than otherwise.

  11. says

    Even if I’m WRONG, even if there is a God, a Heaven, a Hell… it seems to me that Hell will be full of a lot better quality of people than Heaven: People who are tolerant of cultural, religious and social differences, people who THINK, people who at least make some attempt at being objective. I wanna go THERE.

  12. ffakr says

    I find these threads hard to understand since just about everyone I know is an athiest or agnostic. Even my brother who went from liberal to hard core irrational republican (..too much hate in him) is an athiest.
    Maybe it’s a midwest chicago thing.
    I don’t remember any bible thumpers in any of my schools, aside from the kid who’s parents were oppressively religious but they were so nuts that they damaged him to the point where he didn’t interact with anyone. I don’t believe he was allowed to play after school though he was too odd to have real friends.

    This whole persecution thing is just really wierd to me.

  13. Mel says

    I attended white middle-class public schools in a fairly affluent town in the Midwest during the mid-70s to the mid-80s. Religion was rarely if ever discussed by kids. Openly religious kids were generally mocked as the total nerds that they tended to be. It is only in the adult world that I’ve found the opposite: suddenly everyone wants everyone else to know their religious views and everybody is very intolerant of those who don’t share them. I don’t know whether to attribute the difference to a change in the culture or whether it is age-related, i.e., in my socioeconomic group have people become more vehemently religious as they’ve grown up, or has everybody become more vehemently religious as the 70s and 80s have been left behind?

  14. says

    I went to school in a place where religion was a minor issue, and I’d say there were probably as many atheists as religious students (granted most get through apathy rather than intellect). Maybe that’s just how things are in the northeast, but the concept of being harassed for being atheist is quite foreign to me, personally, even though I realize how big a problem it truly is.

  15. Lupmar says

    Like TAW, I “came out” in front of my high school class too, it was during a discussion in a history class, the teacher, who was a very religious person, asked me something like “what do you believe?” and I happened to mention my atheism in the answer. That didin’t bring me any trouble, but he started calling me “The Scientist” from that day on, I took it as a compliment.

  16. says

    I went to Huntsville one weekend, for the Rocket City Marathon in December 2002. They put on a really nice event — the race has been well-regarded in the running community for a number of years, though it would benice if they could do something about the persistent headwind in the second half of the race.

    I was there with a number of my club-mates who also hail from New England, and we were all taken slightly aback by the way things unfolded at the day-before-the-race gathering for “elite” runners. Both the race director and the “elite athlete” coordinator were around 80, which itself is a little strangebut hardly concerning, but then the entire affair began to take on the flavor of a tent revival: Jesus this, Jesus that, if Christ wants you to run fast you will, etc. I almost laughed because I thought I was privy to a joke, as did my mates. But it dawned on me later, as I trundled past approximately the six zillionth church on the course well before we left downtown, that I was in a different world.

    The race went well, so I should probably pray in retrospect.

  17. says

    regarding browser crashes, firefox 2 on linux doesn’t seem to crash, but it is having trouble with the oversized “K” in Kevin that starts a paragraph being part of a link, since it wants to underline or box the whole link, but there’s this weird big K that makes it not a rectangle. Maybe some browsers don’t handle that as gracefully? Just a guess.

  18. todd. says

    Is it possibly the html entity ellipsis in the title bar that browsers don’t like?

  19. says

    The high school I went to in NSW, Aust we got to leave early on Mondays because they dropped the religious period. Teacher left crying or something. There was a group at school but there were very quiet and mocked if they said anything.

    I moved from Sydney to Arizona 2 months ago and have been steeling myself for the god questions, but nobody has asked me yet. Not sure whether to be relieved or disappointed.

  20. Jason says

    Yeah, I’d guess the ellipsis though it shouldn’t. Just change it to periods with spaces in between . . .

  21. TAW says

    “the Exorcist” is supposed to make you christian? LOL!!!


    Well, I say take the bible.

    quoting bible verses isn’t my style. Sure, there are plenty out there that would make you not want to be a christian, but my style is to attack religion in general, not specific religions. Besides, I can’t understand a damned word in the bible :P I HAVE tried reading short sections of it, but it’s pure torture. For me, it’s like trying to read a badly written story in a language I’m just starting to learn.

  22. Daedalus says

    Imagine my surprise when I picked up my new ‘God Bless America’ car tag yesterday (separation of church and state?). I’m going to have to pay $50 dollars extra to get a new customized one. Atheists are slipping into dhimmitude here in Alabama.

  23. says

    In the fifties, when I was in elementary school, prayer was forced and regular. My school in Dallas had lots of Jewish students, but they were forced to beg to Jesus for mercy and succor. There was no opting out. In my first four years, It didn’t effect me, so I didn’t give a rats ass. I was just trying to get plastic army men and rolls of caps, and Jesus didn’t seem able to deliver any of these things. Then I got a Jewish friend, and the scales fell from my eyes. Because everyone else was bowed in silence during the incantation, we could get away with sitting back and grinning at each other. Fifth graders you know. The petitioning of Jesus continued all through my public education, no matter what the courts ruled. By Junior High I was a rock ribbed atheist. Entering North Texas State, I was not allowed to not have no religion when registering. This was indeed the golden age of forced prayer and loyalty oaths in the United States.

  24. says

    The North Alabama Rant you link to is one of the most viewed posts on all of WordPress today, as is my post you linked to yesterday on intelligent design in Dallas.

    Interesting to know that your blog can drive such readership. It may be comment on how poorly read the rest of blogdom is; it may be a comment on how the internet brings out atheists who are afraid to speak up otherwise. In any case, it’s interesting. Clearly Pharyngula deserves closer watching . . .

  25. says

    When I was in basic training I had a fair amount of trouble with a couple evangelical Xtians in my platoon, when they found out I was atheist. I was offered violence a couple of times because the idiots equated “atheist” = “communist” and this was the 80’s and the communists were the “enemy” In retrospect it was kind of funny, but at the time, when we were all sitting around on the range with loaded M-16s and someone starts saying things like “I ought to send you to hell right now…” it takes on an added meaning.

  26. Uber says

    it may be a comment on how the internet brings out atheists who are afraid to speak up otherwise. In any case, it’s interesting. Clearly Pharyngula deserves closer watching .

    This is the truth. I have always maintained there are far more than 10% of the nation who know they are atheists. It’s just not politically acceptable to say it outloud yet. On the internet people can express it more freely.

    I think atheists/agnostics/skeptics underrepresent and the numbers of religious adherents(especially the RCC) is vastly overstated.

  27. Keanus says

    Huntsville and Madison County were a good place for this to happen. When the old Redstone Arsenal on the outskirts of Huntsville were chosen for the Army Missle Command as the base for one of NASA’s first rocket development sites, the town metamorphosed from a sleepy old southern cotton market near the Tennessee River to an international city. The US moved in hundreds of German rocket scientists and their families (Werner Von Braun was the best known) in the late 40’s and they, along with many American engineer and science types, changed the city totally. I spent 18 months stationed there in the early 60’s as a guidance specialist with the Army Missle Command and enjoyed my contact with the German expatriots, the frequent static tests of Saturn boosters (they were very, very loud) and the unbelievably rich cultural life of music, theatre and the like. But if one went down the road a piece to Scottsville, Guntersville, Decatur, or Florence, one encountered the old south. Huntsville was different with the population dominated by people not from the old south. I’m sure that flavor has persisted, with some of the German expats probably into their third or fourth generation by now.

  28. Mooser says

    Women can demonstrate the depth and fervency of their belief in God by sleeping with me. It works every time.

  29. SN says

    I grew up in a small predominantly Baptist town in Southeast Texas. My mother considers herself a Christian, but my dad is an atheist. I always leaned toward my dad’s way of thinking, but never really thought it was a big deal, as religion was never discussed at all in my family, one way or the other (looking back, I’m sure that was because of the disagreement my parents had). When I was in high school, my school found out he was an atheist. We started getting anonymous letters in the mail quoting bible verses about how we would go to hell if we weren’t saved. One of my friends told me the school thought I was a devil worshiper. Our family car was vandalized a few times too (very Christian behavior…). Sadly, this wasn’t that long ago.
    *sigh* I couldn’t wait to move. I chose a college in the South though, and even though they are more tolerant, I get to hear preachers hanging around campus yelling at the students calling us sinners and fornicators just about every day. Or a student group with signs offering to pray for you…

  30. AC says

    I’ve lived in Huntsville for all but the first year of my life, and I did my K-12 time in the city schools. I can second the comments by Keanus here as well as those in the original blog posting. I’ve traveled the state fairly widely, and Huntsville is one of the very few places in Alabama I think I could live. It’s a relatively sane city with a strong science/engineering/technology economy.

  31. Stevie Foster says

    I’m in college at CSU Chico, and I’m still prejudiced against for being an atheist. I think it’s because Chico is a fairly conservative town in California, but it’s still disappointing to be still be a “religious” outcast at college.

  32. SmellyTerror says

    Well I went to a government high school in Australia, and the one Christian in my class (at least, the only one willing to admit it) regularly got the everloving crap beaten out of him in arguments about religion. I kinda feel bad about being so mean about his funny, backward beliefs, but kids can be horrible.

    He’s still a good friend, and now an athiest.

  33. cv says

    Can’t remember the lead up but on the bus I told this one kid I was an atheist so he called me an asshole.
    On a related note that same kid and his friend took me down (not quite ‘beat me up’ as I got away to a teacher in time) in an auditorium filled with people because I talked back to one of his friends.
    Bigotry and violence often go together.

  34. Richard Simons says

    I went to the local high school in England where we had a class in ‘Religious Education’ every week. However, religion was not a major issue and there was a tendency for the teachers of the subject to be ridiculed by the kids. There was mild interest in the religious beliefs, but it seemed to have no more significance than whether you preferred chicken or beef.

    I think this is true generally for Britain, that your religious beliefs are seen as a personal matter and it is the height of rudeness to ask another to justify them. I suspect most people would not know the religious beliefs of their Member of Parliament, for example.

    Which reminds me of the story told by Maurice Chevalier, that he understood that the English did not talk to strangers and never discussed religion, food, health or their emotions. At dinner on the boat train from Paris to London he silently pushed the mustard towards the person sitting opposite who said ‘God knows, I’d love to, but my stomach won’t let me.’ All his illusions shattered in one sentence.

  35. Paul Flocken says

    And where is the problem?

    Posted by: xd | April 11, 2007 04:38 AM

    It’s funny that the mother is incredulous that someone could just stop believing in a god, but presumably she would have no problem with someone who suddenly starts believing in a god and being (allegedly) saved.