Of god, women and Natives – Simone Anter

Simone was awarded $300 by FFRF for her essay.

I’m an atheist because I’m a woman. In the varied and rich mix of my background, I’m also Jicarilla Apache and Pascua Pueblo Yaqui. To be a believer would be a renunciation of my Indianhood and of my true self as a woman. Religious zealots have been persecuting my ancestors, both women and Natives, for generations.

I grew up in a blended Native American household in rural Montana. My father’s progressive traditions blended harmoniously with my Italian mother’s encouragement of independent intellectual pursuit. My father’s Native teachings simply explored a kinship with the natural world — a relationship I’ve always understood as a shared evolutionary bond, a mutual dependency that has always ensured survival and not something steeped in absurdity like a belief in god.

In our little town, Christianity was pushed on me from all sides. Teachers wanted to convert me. My classmates’ parents made church attendance a prerequisite for playing with their children, something neither I nor my parents cared to abide by.

No gods or spirits, just the utter joy of the natural world awakening after winter.

Every year my parents would complain to my elementary school principal about the church spaghetti dinner advertised on school property. Every Christmas they would object to the severe Christian bent of the “winter program.” These small acts of resistance tried to safeguard the separation of church and state and to ensure that the only heathen in school would be slightly protected.

These very Christian people, teachers, parents and even the school nurse, often exhibited a ruthless and deep-seated aversion toward those whom they perceived as different, like my father with his long braid or my mother with her foreign accent. I learned early on that intolerance seemed to go hand in hand with a belief in god, and that no amount of church attendance seemed able to curb their mistrust of the heretic.

Unlike several of my friends, I had unfettered access to all kinds of books, including Harry Potter books, which for some absurd reason were considered by those circles to go against the teachings of god. The incongruence of my experience — intellectually nurtured and living in harmony with the natural world at home, and nearly ostracized by the school and social environment — greatly affected my views.

A bible and a gun

As I got older, I was greatly influenced by the history of my Native people and their plight. Their oppressors brandished a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. I soon discovered that the gun will kill you immediately, but the intellectual death brought about by the bible with its misogynistic and cruel views is much more insidious, especially for women.

As I learned about different religions, I also realized that the debasement of women seemed to be an integral part of all of them, where lip service is often paid to women’s roles but always translates into acts of violence, domination and exclusion.

When people asked why I didn’t believe in god, I said, “How I could believe in a god who gave settlers the right to kill Indians? How could I believe when the devout Columbus came to the ‘New World’ and burned 13 Indians alive over green wood in honor of Jesus and the 12 apostles?” [as recounted historically by Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas, a Dominican priest].

History is full of horrific people who destroyed entire tribes in the name of god. The greatest atrocities have always been committed in the name of and for the glory of god, and they go on to this day.

The pernicious influence of religion has been so pervasive in Native American communities that Indians have actually had to adapt their ancient rituals in order to keep them alive. There’s a celebration on my Yaqui reservation called the deer dance. Traditionally, it welcomed spring and celebrated kinship with the deer and all that blooms after winter.

Now it’s held during Easter and is sponsored by the Catholic Church. Instead of welcoming spring, the celebration surrounding the deer dance is steeped in Christian rhetoric and commemorates Jesus’ death. Yet in the main square of Pascua Pueblo, set apart in a small and dark “ramada,” covered with paper flowers made by children, the deer dancer welcomes spring each year. No gods or spirits, just the utter joy of the natural world awakening after winter.

I’m an atheist because reason tells me that the world is what we make it. We are part of this planet, and like all things, we have to live in the cycle of life and death. No one is there to “save” us or to rid us of our bad actions.

Religions and god seem to have developed as tools to control others through fear and to defile the intellect. As a reasoning human being, I will neither be defiled nor controlled.

Simone Anter, 19, lives in Portland, Ore., with her parents, her dog Leftovers and her ferret Nigel. She’s a sophomore at the University of Oregon-Eugene and is majoring in sociology and philosophy. Her goal is to become a civil rights lawyer. She enjoys lacrosse, politics, current affairs and history.

Freedom From Religion Foundation