The price of not believing in God in Oklahoma

May 13, 2007 | By | 19 Replies More

For you gentle and tolerant Believers out there, this video is not necessarily aimed at you. I know that many inclusive Believers like you do, indeed, exist.

For you gentle and tolerant Believers who keep wondering why non-believers in America keep claiming that they are facing rampant discrimination, this video is for you.

For all of you holy people who insist that non-believers are per se immoral (and therefore, hellbound) and that all non-believers should automatically be excluded from the political process, I hold out little hope that anything I could say or do would matter in the least to you.


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Category: American Culture, Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (19)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    What would Jesus say about the mean bigots in that town?  Looks like we don't need to go to Iraq to look for religiously-motivated terrorists…we have plenty right here at home.

  2. Edgar Montrose says:

    I lived in Oklahoma City; 1995-1998. Based upon my experiences there, nothing in this story surprises me. Nothing.

  3. Jason Rayl says:

    Just to put a little perspective on this, what I see going on there is less religious-inspired than good old fashioned cliquishness. We have to understand that this is a community response to Someone Who Flaunts Their Differences. Many of us should be old enough to remember when it was just boys wearing their hair long that got much the same treatment. Or a refusal to say the pledge of allegiance AT ALL during the Vietnam War. Or questioning our national stance on communism. Or…

    People gather together in small groups–like small towns–in order to share a common understanding of how they think the world ought to be. Someone comes in from the outside of that group and says "I'm not going to be like you" in some fundamental way, and the barbas start flying.

    What makes it worse here is that the religious foundation makes it very difficult to make these people ashamed of what is little more than in-group bullying. After all, god's on their side, and with someone like that telling you you're right, why should a lousy outsider be aloud to change it?

  4. gatomjp says:

    This story proves yet again that devout Christians are often the least Christ-like people you will ever meet.

  5. Edgar Montrose says:

    "Good old fashioned cliquishness"? I guess I assumed that Good Christians would be above that sort of thing, particularly adult Good Christians in positions of authority. My mistake.

  6. Erika Price says:

    Vicki: same response, only slightly different reason. But in both cases, the bigots of the town would use religion to make it acceptable to discriminate against someone who gives them the heebie-jeebies. Did you hear how that minister's wife refered to atheism? "I don't really know what they believe in, certainly not in any God that I believe in…" Atheism scares these folk because it seems strange and threatening, and very fortunately, their religion supports such bigotry. If a lesbian minister came to town, her difference in sexuality would give them the heebie-jeebies and they would fall back on the religious opposition to homosexuality to justify their bigotry.

    So can you "blame" religion for their backward thinking and intolerant action? Not exactly; you can blame their isolation and profound ignorance for giving them their destroy-all-others mentality, and blame religion for making it so effortlessly defended. Instead of feeling like hatemongering hicks, the people feel like valiant upholders of the faith. Such a feat only religion can achieve.

  7. Tim Hogan says:

    The courage and conviction displayed by someone so young stands as an example to us all. Kudos to her parents for raising an awesome child.

  8. grumpypilgrim says:

    I can’t get over the courage it took for that young woman to stand outside the circle her teammates, smack in the center of the school gymnasium for all to see, and defend the U.S. Constitution. She showed more courage with that one act than George Bush and his entire Administration have shown in six years in the White House. She is the sort of leader America needs…someone to shine a light of reality onto hypocrites who pervert the fundamental principle of their own religion: love your neighbor as yourself.

  9. Vicki Baker says:

    I agree with Jason. It’s hard for me to believe that an Episcopalian minister and her female partner would get a much better reception in this town. In fact, the reaction would likely be a lot worse, despite the shared belief in God.

  10. anon says:

    I admire this young lady's courage. I hope this experience doesn't deter her from realizing her great potential.

    The treatment she received is not at all surprising coming from a town populated by a small-minded xenophobes. They need to do some serious introspecting before they can claim even a shred of credibility.

  11. Dan Klarmann says:

    I don't think that religiosity causes small-mindedness; but rather the other way around. I personally know many theists that are reasonably open minded about social and intellectual issues. I don't know any closed-minded people who are Godless.

    Merely anecdotal evidence, I admit.

  12. grumpypilgrim says:

    Erika's comment raises an insightful and disturbing question: to what extent do people join religious groups merely to legitimize their deep-seated bigotry? Imagine, for a moment, that you are a bigot. Perhaps you are a xenophobe or a homophobe. Perhaps you despise women, especially those who want abortions…or jobs (i.e., a non-traditional role in society). Perhaps you hate poor people, Black people or immigrants. Perhaps you hate environmentalists — people who would criticize your materialism and conspicuous consumption. Perhaps you are an Arab who hates Westerners (i.e., Christians who plunder your holy lands for oil and Jews who plunder it for their religious homeland). Now imagine your fair-minded neighbors have shunned you for your hostile, anti-social beliefs. Now imagine you discover a group of people who not only support your bigotry, but claim it is approved by God. They tell you it's OK to hate others, because God *wants you to*. See, right there in that holy book, it says it's OK to oppose homosexuals…or women who use contraceptives…or environmentalists who want to conserve our planet's resources for future generations…or scientists who tell us we share common ancestry with other apes…or Yankees who want you to share your bus seat with "n*ggers"…or Muslims who wear those strange burkas…or Americans who consume your oil and then allow their women to drive cars…etc. What better way to shield your bigotry than by wrapping it in a cloak of religion, which makes it untouchable by those who disparage it? If I call your bigotry what it is, then you can protect yourself by dismissing me as a sinner…a disbeliever…a heretic…a blasphemer…a satan worshipper…an atheist. *I* become the evil one and you remain blessed by God.

    Of course, many good people join religious groups for other reasons, but many do fit this pattern. The only question is: how many?

  13. Jason Rayl says:


    You thesis is borne out by watching splinter groups of established churches. The Lutherans, certain Baptist, Methodist sects, etc. When it perceived that the church has "strayed" (i.e. become too liberal) you will see a large faction split off and found a "truer" church–which is never more liberal, always more conservative or bigoted.

  14. Vicki Baker says:

    Erika writes "Such a feat only religion can achieve." Unfortunately, I think the tendency to justify our selfish or violent actions with noble-sounding rationalizations is not limited to religion. Think of all the murders that have been carried out in the name of "freedon" or "the people" from the time of the French Revolution and even before.

    I think it's a mistake to project all human irrationality onto religion, and think we will get rid of irrationality if we get rid of religion.

  15. Erich Vieth says:

    Vicki: You've got my vote on this one: "I think it’s a mistake to project all human irrationality onto religion, and think we will get rid of irrationality if we get rid of religion."

    Organized religion is merely one method of justifying unenlightened conduct. If you got rid of all religions, we'd still be praying at our sports stadiums & shopping malls and we'd be clamoring to create and join all kinds of societies and clubs that justify all kinds of boorishness, violence, narcisism and mischief.

  16. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Jason's comment, we have seen exactly this happen in the past few years within the Episcopal church (the U.S. branch of the Anglican church). The Episcopal church elected a female presiding bishop, even though the Anglican church does not ordain female bishops. The Anglicans — who are obviously more conservative than the Episcopals — responded by calling for a schism. What most people don't know, however, is that some right-wing Episcopal churches in America also split off from the mainline Episcopal church, because they considered the mainline Episcopals to be "sinners." Here is a story about it:….

  17. grumpypilgrim says:

    Further to Vicki's and Erich's comments, it would be interesting to run the experiment, because I suspect they would both be correct: deprived of a religion to legitimize their hatred, bigots would simply turn to or form other groups that serve the same function. Nazis and the KKK come quickly to mind.

  18. A. J. Shorter says:

    I would suspect that this is an example of small town bigotry and the tribal paradigm which separates the world into "us versus them", whatever the criteria. At the high school I attended in Oklahoma, the young woman whose Christian beliefs forbade her from saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the US and who also rejected the idolatry of sports was likewise ostracized, at least by her classmates.

    Or it could be that the town of Hardesty (population around 275) is full of lying, hypocritical, poorly educated and unsophisticated crackers who use the cloak of religion to bully those who don't agree with them. Maybe as a result of living in the God-forsaken panhandle of Oklahoma. On reflection, that may be the more likely explanation.

  19. Ben says:

    Actually, if you leave them alone, the Okies are pretty self-sufficient…

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