I live my life as a proud atheist. That’s actually a little weird to say. There isn’t really anything about not believing in gods that should make a person feel proud. I don’t live my life “proud” of the fact that I don’t believe Harry Potter really battled Voldemort. I’m not “proud” that I’m not scared of clowns and balloons because I know that Stephen King’s It is a work of fiction. (Actually, fuck that…clowns and balloons are scary, I don’t care who you are. Particularly if you’ve read It, which I am currently doing). But living in the United States, where atheists still land near the top of the list of people most despised and near the bottom of the list of people most likely to get elected to public office, I feel like I need to throw that adjective – proud – in there.
Fortunately, I’m in a position in which it doesn’t change my life one way or the other for me to be an “out” atheist. Not everybody is in that same position. People lose jobs, friends, and even families for having the nerve to openly question the validity of claims made by the religious. While we generally don’t need to worry about losing our lives in the United States for being “heathens” as is the terrifying case in places like Bangladesh, it is still something that has extraordinarily negative impacts on the lives of a large percentage of our population.
As I said, I’m luckily in a position in which it’s okay for me to be “out”. Growing up, my family was pretty laid back with religion. At one point, we started a thing where I’d go to the candlelight service at our Presbyterian church with my grandparents, mom, uncle, aunt, and cousins on Christmas Eve. That was largely the extent of church for me and truth be told, I always kind of felt like even that was really more about the beautiful music and the coolness of all the lit candles. I didn’t even get in trouble when I spent the whole service with my unlit candle gripped in my hand until it was soft enough to bend into a “U” to make the candlelight portion of the ceremony a bit funnier. I mean, I ended up at church for some reason or other, here and there, but it was always very casual. More of the “Geez, we should really probably go to church at some point” kind of thing than anything else. My friends all know how I feel and they all accept it. I have annoyed all of them at one point or another, but nobody sees it as a reason to end a friendship. At work, people don’t generally talk about religion. The people I work closest with know where I stand but for the most part, it just doesn’t come up. I certainly wouldn’t need to worry about losing my job regardless of who found out and it certainly wouldn’t matter to me to find out a coworker was religious.
But even though I don’t experience any truly negative impacts in my life due to my lack of religious belief, that doesn’t mean it is irrelevant. Even with a network of incredibly understanding family, friends, and coworkers, I still get the incredulous questions. I still get the invitations to church because if I just experienced this church, it would change my life. I still get the proclamations that I should turn things over to Christ.
That leads me to my point. I’m going to do a series of posts that attempt to bridge that gap between believing and not believing. In my personal life, most of what I deal with in regards to religion is the difficulty believers have in understanding how it is that I can live a normal life without knowing a god is looking out for me. That’s always been the most prominent sort of question but it became noticeably more pronounced after my son was diagnosed with cancer and even more so after we lost him. I totally get that and that’s the first thing I’m going to cover. Actually, death in general. First from the perspective of what I’ve spent the last couple years coming to grips with and then from the other side – accepting our own personal mortality. I’ve also got ideas for a few other things I want to touch on and I know more will come.
The idea here is to give those with a religious mindset a view into the mindset of the atheist. The more people there are who start to understand those differences, accept them as they are, and realize that they don’t mean “evil”, the more people there will be who can comfortably live their lives the way they want to live them without fear of negative repercussions.