In and out

This past week has been an interesting one for me, personally. You see, this week I made an admission that hasn’t come as much of a surprise to many in my life, but my vocalization of it has inspired all sorts of reactions — ranging from the positive to the not-so-positive.

This week I “outed” myself as not having any beliefs in the supernatural — in other words, I’m pretty much an atheist (as in someone without any beliefs in a God — aka without theism [“a – theist”]).

I can already hear the cries of “blasphemer!” and “heretic!” arising from the masses, and I expect that. The thing is, this personal admission of mine has been a long time coming, and isn’t a decision I made overnight (or at any particular atheistic altar call). I guess I’ve been taking small steps away from the faith I was raised in, away from God and church culture — until I realized that I didn’t need to keep up the facade anymore. So, yeah, I don’t believe in God anymore — but I don’t think that necessarily makes me a kitten-kicking, baby-eating immoral monster.

Jerry and I sat down together and wrote out a manifesto that outlined for ourselves, and our family members, where we stand when we identify ourselves as nonbelievers. Here’s an excerpt of what we wrote:

Despite the social connotations that are attached to the word itself, “atheist” simply means we are without a theist belief. We are not against God or his followers (despite the periodic rant or two about some of the scarier fundamentalist types), nor are we simply rebelling against bad experiences in the church. Likewise, this is not inspired by dysfunctional relationships in our past – be it in the church or with family members.

Our disbelief did not occur overnight. This has been a process of slow disengagement with church culture and a growing distrust of biblical standards. Through our spiritual explorations (both as individuals and as members of various faith communities), we consistently found the image of a biblical God lacking in morality and compassion. We also find no evidence to support the belief in God’s literal existence, beyond that which is experiential and sentimental.

Our pursuit is a rational one, and is no longer satisfied by a theory that explains everything (but really explains nothing). We’re tired of having honest and difficult inquiries be silenced by referring to the mysteries of God, requiring more individual faith, or relying solely on prayer to resolve concerns. Please understand, we aren’t expecting you or any other believer to have all of the answers to our questions.

As we started letting go of God, we discovered that we remained the same – only now we no longer called ourselves “Christian.” We had the same intrinsic morals, the same hopes in life, and the same desire for authentic relationships as before. Only now, we didn’t have to continually subdue our doubts and be devoted to a belief system that contradicted our convictions.

Many times when people hear the term atheist, they envision a bitter militant nihilist who is determined to stamp out religion and deter its followers. Just as I can’t paint all Christians with the Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson brush, it’s not fair to color disbelievers as anti-God. We’re not against God or people who choose to believe in the supernatural.

What we are against is the image of a vindictive God who punishes those who don’t subscribe to the particular tenets of one belief system. We are against the fostering of a culture of fear in order to assure the obedience and perpetuation of an idea, a theory in how the world works. We are against viewing the limited messages of the Bible as unquestionable and timeless truths, and are tired of the contortions required to make a first-century male perspective fit a twenty-first century democratic culture.

This past week, after I’ve finally started admitting my disbelief outloud, I’ve experienced a range of response. From some people I love, I’ve had to calm down some tears and misplaced fear. From others in our life, we’ve had non-responses, where our frank admission was simply ignored (or gossiped about). From a friend, I’ve had to face several misconceptions that were directed toward nonbelievers (specifically ex-Christian atheists), where stereotypes of arrogance and short-sightedness were lobbied — both repeatedly and unapologetically.

I’ve always been attracted to debate, and now that I’ve publicly outed myself as an atheist (or secular humanist, which isn’t quite as scary sounding to some), I’m sure I’ll attract even more debate — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As my excerpt above stated, I’m not out on an active campaign to deconvert believers. I’m still fascinated by religion, and I can never deny my Christian background — though it no longer defines me.

What I find interesting is that many believers seem to think that my nonbelief disqualifies me from entering into any discussions about religion. Whereas before, when I was a member of the club, my contributions were viewed askew because of me being a woman, now I’m viewed suspiciously because I don’t necessarily share the same tenets of faith. This is something I’ve encountered in several discussions, and it’s a topic I plan on revisiting in future posts.

I’m not posting this personal topic because I’m looking to debate anyone about faith, or because I owe anyone an apologetic of why I don’t believe. I’m still very much in the process of asking questions and looking for answers — and I can’t confidently say that I’ll always not believe. I can, however, be confident in saying that I will always have questions, and I’ll be on the lookout for evidence that will answer them adequately.

[Comments are open for this post — for now — but if they take an ugly turn, I may close ’em off or work my delete button. Thanks.]

4 thoughts on “In and out”

  1. Wow – coming from central Europe such a statement really sounds strange to me.

    I mean, of course I’m sure that this was a hot thing for you personally, no question there, and that it influenced your view on the world and everything quite a lot.

    But your statement reads like something which influences your environment strongly and changes the way the people act around you in certain ways. And that’s surprising for me, somehow: most of my friends are somewhat non-religious or have their own faiths (meaning independent from all major religions). I would even dare to say that that state is normal in these days among most people here. And only few would care at all if anyone would state that he/she is an atheist. Would be more interesting actually if he/she would state that he/she is a strong believer in the bible word by word.

    Of course as a European I do know that “everyone” cross the ocean is almost mad when it comes to religion. But yet, when I read such statements I’m always a bit shocked and surprised that it really is such a hot topic.

    Sounds like mid-evil times to me 🙁

  2. Your manifesto is nicely articulated. I feel like it could be my own–or I would at least borrow heavily from it were I to try to write one.

    I think that I hesitate from writing one myself because I resent that such manifestos and “outings” of oneself are even necessary (to the extent that they sometimes undoubtedly are). Moreover, however articulate these statements may be, I suspect that they still generally only influence their intended readers to box their authors neatly into yet another fixed category. That sucks, since my main motivation to write such a manifesto would be to escape such narrow expectations, expectations which were at least partly created by my own past pronouncements of where I then stood. Who wants to live up to or disappoint other people’s expectations? I like a looser rudder.

    All this probably comes across as very selfish and self-involved. It probably is. So let me also express my appreciation for what you’ve done and are continuing to do. If every closeted atheist acted as boldly, as honestly and as selflessly, the culture would be more commodious for us all. Thank you!

  3. A friend directed me to your blog, and I’m glad she did. I “came out” last year, mostly via my blog, and I can relate so much to what you are saying. I can’t say that I had any particularly negative reactions, but it was still pretty big for me.

    I’m not great about keeping up with blogs (including my own!), but I’ll try to remember to stop by and visit.

    And uh…welcome to the club? 😉

  4. oops, i just now realized that my friend linked me to this post, which is old. you clearly figured things out long before i did. still glad to have found your blog! 🙂

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