October 2, 2009

Death Threats: Just Another Risk of Atheist Blogging

Gift From A CoworkerImage by minusman via Flickr

If you are a regular reader of Proud Atheists, you know what recently happened to its author, Mark. The short version is that Mark and his family were threatened by what initially appeared to be a dangerous Christian extremist via email. Mark contacted the FBI to report the incident (which I consider a smart move on his part). As it turns out, it appears that the perpetrator may have been a child (reportedly age 12) playing a prank. Mark received a couple of comments on his blog from people claiming to be the parents of the perpetrator. A couple days later, Mark posted an update saying that the investigation was closed and the matter had been resolved. I'm glad to hear that. He was right to take the threat seriously, and I hope any of us would have done so had we been in his place.

Many outside the small community of atheists who are open about their atheism and willing to speak their minds have a hard time believing that hate mail, including threats, is not uncommon. It is a sad truth. Many of us, even those who are less public about their identities than Mark, receive unbelievably vile hate mail on a fairly regular basis. Most of the threats I receive are passive (e.g., "I've been praying that you die of cancer."). I tend to dismiss these rather easily, especially when they involve prayer. But the active threats can be scary and are something to take very seriously.

Especially in the U.S., we should be aware that atheism has come to be associated with virtually everything despised by mainstream culture. It is no wonder that we consistently rank at the top of any "most hated" list. I'm not advocating hypervigilance here, but I do think we should be careful and take time to evaluate our own level of risk.

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