Posts Tagged ‘atheist’

Coming Out

From a friend I learned that someone from formertown posted on facebook about being an atheist. To give a little context, formertown was founded in the 19th century as a religious community, today most of the community are employed by the church or schools. It doesn’t surprise me that there are a few atheists mixed in, but one never knows who they might be. I felt incredibly isolated in formertown because I didn’t know if discussing my true beliefs would result in rejection and possibly also losing my job.  There are/were teachers at the school that weren’t raised in the religion, and I certainly did my best not to disparage it in public, but I felt that at best my work would be subject to additional scrutiny. There are a broad range of religious and political beliefs in the community, but the school has a major part in upholding the status quo, and the more conservative members of the community often have a louder voice, and larger donations. It’s a legitimate concern.

In addition, everyone likes to have an opinion and gossip spreads quickly. Though the opinions of others wouldn’t change my mind, I’m not really wanting to defend my decisions to everyone who asks. It’s one thing to explain my process to a friend, entirely different to have a confrontation at an event (ie. wedding, school, grocery store). While I am curious about how people might react, I also don’t really care about the reactions of random people I barely know, but who know my family tree and think they have the right to give their opinion.

Several of my friends know about the process I’ve gone through to reach my present beliefs, but there are many acquaintances that don’t really know, older friends from high school that have stayed religious and “like” various anti-atheist or pro fox news statements on facebook. I wind up feeling resentful that they feel so confident that I would share their beliefs as a matter of course. Simultaneously I have such admiration for people who make a public stand about who they are and why.

By connecting with the person who posted a public statement about atheism I have also connected with other community members who share my beliefs (I don’t know why seeking an underground network didn’t occur to me while I was in town!) i feel less afraid about making a more public declaration of my stance. One fear of moving away from religion, while thoroughly surrounded by a religious community, is the possibility of losing all community. But I’ve already extricated myself from the community, and live far away from local gossip, so that fear no longer has weight for me.

I’m debating next steps… do I email people I consider friends? Just let it come out in conversation (it hasn’t in past years, soooo). In this age of facebook, it would certainly be expedient to just post a note or a link that outs me, but that also seems pretty passive, though it would get the word out. So that’s where I am for today. Pondering.


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Atheism II

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
— Alice Walker (via An Effort in Memory)
This quote from a friend’s tumblr really struck me. It sums up exactly why I felt more and more out of place in Formertown. My religion of origin claimed that people of any religion could go to heaven if they did good works (this is a simplification obviously). I thought this was a pretty good philosophy, and it is one of the beliefs I liked the most in this religion, but some people within the religion seemed to believe that it had the very best answers of all the religions in all the world. The implication was that sure, you could belong to a different religion and still be a good person, but why would anyone want to when OUR religion was the very best one? As a student in the religious high school and college I felt encouraged to question religious beliefs because we were taught questioning was preferable to blind faith. Of course, as a result of questioning we were supposed to reach the conclusion that of course OUR religion had all the best answers. There was room to question, but not room to disagree.

In the community many people had different opinions of what the religious doctrine meant and how it should be interpreted, but within the school community I felt strong pressure to conform and toe the party line. Ultimately this felt harmful and led to increasing dissatisfaction with the community and church. Disagreeing with a community mindset or individual church’s culture did not cause me to “rebel” by becoming an atheist, but it did make moving away seem much more appealing.

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One reason I was looking forward to the move is that I would be able to live more freely. In PA I worked at a religious secondary school, and I regularly self-censored, saying things people wanted to hear, behaving in ways that others expected. I’ve had a history with the place for 14 years, and my job depended in part on toeing the party line. There’s nothing wrong with behaving professionally, but as time passed it became more and more tiring. Especially as I found myself becoming an atheist.

Since the move I still have been reluctant to talk with new people or old friends about my beliefs, primarily because of my own fears and prejudices.

I have an intense fear that other people will discover I am stupid. Though I carefully form opinions on politics, religion, etc., I am often reluctant to share them unless I know my audience well. I don’t enjoy arguing or proving myself, I do enjoy conversations about ideas and finding out how other people came to their conclusions. To me, it isn’t necessary to convince others to agree with my perspective-but I fear others treating me like a stupid child who needs to be shown how wrong I am. (awkward sentence, I know)

Additionally, for a long time I held the opinion that atheists held no beliefs, or didn’t see the world as a beautiful and mysterious place. Now I know that is not true, but many people from my past do hold that opinion. Admitting that I am an atheist opens a whole big can of worms. In part I am looking forward to it, but some days I don’t feel up to the challenge, and I don’t really care what other people think of it.

I know people who hold a broad spectrum of beliefs, and I love hearing how they came to their conclusions. But I fear others, who I like and respect, making me wrong or deciding I am foolish for my beliefs. This phase won’t last forever, and writing about it helps me stop the fear from having power over me.

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