What’s the Worst Thing a Proselytizing-Attack Can Do, Anyway?


a self-portrait I painted, in a different decade

This happened near the end of Summer school, about four years ago. I haven’t been able to write about it until now, but my life is now separated into the unknowing part before this day, when I was so often angry without knowing why, and the part after I painfully found the truth which explains this anger. 

The three-second video above was correct — for weeks afterwards, I couldn’t handle the truth, and was having one PTSD attack after another as a result. There was a break between Summer School and the resumption of the normal school year in the Fall, and that’s a good thing, because I had a lot of “repair work” to do before I was fit to be around large numbers of people again.

All of this followed what I refer to as a “proselytizing attack.” The person aggressively proselytizing to me at me was also a teacher, and the only thing he did right was to avoid this activity in the presence of students. In another religion, one inflicted on my family, by my father,  when I was a teenager (Soka Gakkai, a variant of Buddhism), the technique he used is called shakabuku, which translates from the Japanese as “bend and flatten” — although this teacher was, of course, using a Christian version of shakabuku. My entire family was subjected to these efforts to “bend and flatten” us, during my father’s four or so years as a practicing Soka Gakkai member. Many years earlier, before I was born, he had actually been a minister in a certain Protestant Christian denomination. There were many other “religions of the year” my father dragged us to, as I was growing up. If one wishes to raise a skeptic, that method is quite likely to work, but I would hardly call it good parenting.

I tried to politely end these unpleasant after-school conversations, explaining to the other teacher that I only have two ways which work, for me, to gain confidence in ideas: mathematical proof, and the scientific method. What he was looking for was faith, a different form of thinking, and one which is alien to me — my mind simply will not “bend” in such a direction, which helps explain why proselytizing efforts of the “bend and flatten” variety never have the desired effect with me.

Polite efforts to end this rude behavior repeatedly failed. No one else was nearby at the moment I finally snapped — so I could say whatever I wanted to the other teacher, while remaining unheard by others.

“Listen,” I said, “do you really want to know how to get fewer atheists in the world? I can tell you exactly how to do that.”

He said that, yes, of course, he did want to know how to do this.

“Here’s how,” I said. “It’s simple, really. Just tell your fellow Christians to stop raping children!”

He had no reply, for, in the wake of such things as the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal, and similar scandals in other churches, there is no satisfactory reply to such a statement. The truth of it is self-evident (provided one does not generalize the statement to encompass all Christians, for that would clearly be false), and the message to stop the “Christian shakabuku” had finally penetrated this other teacher’s mental defenses. I then realized something that explained the intensity of my dislike for this man: he used a voice with a hypnotic quality, a trick my father also used to influence, and manipulate, others. 

I turned around, walked away, and he did not follow. I returned to my classroom, where I had work left to do, such as preparing for the next school day’s lessons, before leaving. I was also acutely aware that I was in far too heightened an emotional state to safely drive. Therefore, to calm down, I played the following song, at maximum volume, on repeat, perhaps a dozen times, scream-singing along with the vocals, as I prepared my classroom for the next day. 

After venting enough fury to be able to safely drive home, I did so . . . and listened to this song some more, along with another song by Muse, the two of which I used to scream myself into exhaustion.

I finally collapsed into sleep, but it wasn’t restful, for I was too angry — for weeks — to ever reach deep sleep. I knew only dark, emerging memories and half-memories, as well as horrific dreams that temporarily turned sleep into a form of torture, rather than a healing process. Not being stupid, I got the therapy I obviously needed, after the proselytizing-attack, and my reaction to it, caused the truth to fall painfully into place. By the time the school year began, I could once again function.

My earliest memory is from age 2 1/2, and involves surviving an attack of a type that often kills infants and young children: shaken baby syndrome. This was described as the “story within the story” told, right here, in the context of Daredevil fan-fiction. It was bad enough when that memory surfaced, but this was even worse. The only “good” thing about what I had learned had been done to me was that it was before age 2 1/2, and, for this reason, could not become a “focused,” clear memory, as my recollection of the near-death-by-shaking is. Instead of sharp memories, I was getting imagery like this . . .

. . . But the intensity of my reaction left me with no doubt about what had happened, at an age when I was too young to defend myself, nor even tell anyone else.

Years later, I even abandoned the term “atheist,” choosing  to simply use “skeptic” instead, a switch which angered far more people — atheists, of course — than I ever expected. I now realize a major reason I made that change, and it’s the fact that I have seen so many obnoxious atheists using “atheistic shakabuku” — and I am, for obvious reasons, hypersensitive to any form of shakabuku, whether it be religious or anti-religious. Humans are not meant to be painfully bent, nor flattened, and I want nothing to do with those who engage in such atrocious behavior. Whether they are religious, or not, no longer matters to me — what does mean something is, rather, their lack of respect for their fellow human beings.

To those who do engage in aggressive proseltyzing, I have only this to say: please stop. Even if you played no part in it, there is no denying that abuse, by religious authority figures, has happened to thousands, perhaps millions, of people — and one cannot know which of us have such traumatic events in our personal backgrounds. For this reason, no one knows what harm proselytizing might do to any given person.

[Note: absolutely none of this happened at my current school.]

The True Story of My Attempt, with a Friend, To Invent a Religion


The True Story of My Attempt, with a Friend, To Invent a Religion

Many years ago, with the help of a friend, I attempted to create a new religion. The idea to try this was prompted by observation:  everywhere we looked, we saw examples of religion gone horribly wrong (persecution of gays, oppression of women, religious wars, etc.), although we were willing to concede that, centuries ago, many or most religions might have started with good intentions.

This took place in the American South, during the Reagan era, and that, no doubt, had a strong influence on our approach. First and foremost, we wanted to make certain that nothing be included in this new religion which was ever incorrect, or could be subject to misuse — and so anything proposed for inclusion had to be thoroughly analyzed and debated, with an eye towards the tendency of human beings to screw everything up. If we were going to go to all the trouble of inventing a religion, after all, we did not want that to happen to it.

It took a while for us to decide where to begin. Selecting a supreme being was rejected as a starting point, on the grounds that neither of us had compelling evidence for such a being’s existence. Therefore, we turned away from considerations of the supernatural, and instead examined questions of ethics and human behavior.

An important question came up in our discussion: what were things people actually do which are always wrong, in the sense that such actions could never, under any circumstances, be justified? It seemed like a good place to start. First, we considered various acts of violence, starting with people killing people.

This provided a good jumping-off point for considering specific acts for our “things not to do” list, but it didn’t take long to decide against including the act of killing someone on our list of acts that could never be justified. Sometimes, after all, people have good cause to use deadly force against an attacker, in self-defense. We also discussed the situation where someone has to choose between letting an attacker kill their family, or killing the attacker first, to prevent a larger slaughter. For these reasons, therefore, we did not include a prohibition against killing — although we certainly weren’t going to encourage it, either. Most killings of people, after all, cannot be justified — but we were looking only for those acts which could never be justified.

We then turned our attention to the crime of rape. This was not a hypothetical topic to us, at all; both of us knew people, very close to us, who had survived being raped. We could think of no set of circumstances which could ever possibly justify such an act, and so we agreed that we had found the first item on our list of acts which were always wrong. Don’t rape: what sane person could possibly argue with that?

Having settled on that, we tried to find another never-justifiable act. We discussed the taking of others’ possessions — stealing — and quickly realized that neither of us would be willing to condemn a person who stole food from a store to feed their starving family. Theft, therefore, did not make our list.

What about torture, though? The only possible situation we were even willing to consider where torture might be justified was for the purposes of obtaining vital information in an emergency. For example, if some lunatic is known to have planted a bomb somewhere, is the use of torture, to find the bomb’s location in time to disarm it, a justifiable act?

We decided it was not, on the grounds that, when tortured, people can be coerced to say anything, true or false. In other words, information gained via the use of torture is simply unreliable. Having disposed of the only proposed justification we could think of for the use of torture, we decided it should be included, with rape, on our list of unjustifiable acts.

At that point, I looked around. We were outside, in a large open area near both a school, and several apartment complexes. I noticed empty beer cans, and broken glass bottles, all over the place. The wind blew paper and plastic debris past us. I then spotted several mostly-unused trash cans, and imagined a small child running around, barefooted. If people had actually made the small effort to put all this trash I was seeing in the trash cans, such a child could run around much more safely — but, as things actually were, the simple act of a child playing barefoot wouldn’t be safe at all. One misstep, and a happily playing child would become a crying kid, bleeding, due to broken glass which could easily have been thrown away properly — and should have been.

“I’ve got a third one,” I said, as I picked up a nearby piece of discarded, broken glass, and threw it away. “Littering. Who needs trash, like this, all over the place?”

My friend responded with laughter, but did not disagree. Our list of unjustifiable acts was now up to three: rape, torture, and littering.

After that, we kept talking, but moved on to other topics. We were teenagers, after all, and our attempt to invent a new religion had already occupied our minds for much longer than the typical teenager’s attention-span. This was as far as we made it, on this particular project.

Now that I consider it, decades later, though, perhaps we didn’t take this any further because there simply was no need to do so. Imagine, for a moment, how much more pleasant life would be if no one committed rape, nobody was ever tortured, and people stopped throwing their trash everywhere. Also, try — just try — to imagine someone perverting such a simple set of three ethical principles into a holy war, an inquisition, or an effort to oppress some hated subgroup of the population. I can’t see it happening, myself.

This much is certain: many other attempts have been made to invent religions, and some have succeeded . . . with, in many cases, much harm happening as a result. Religion, and religious differences, have been the cause of millions of deaths, throughout history, and our brief foray into religion-building will have no such dire consequences.