Despite what some people think, most atheists have come to their conclusions after much discussion, examination and careful thought. It is not something that is easy for most, either. They may have family who does not understand or they may be frightened of what life without God might feel like. They may cling to their god longer than they really believe, simply out of fear.
You see, coming out as an atheist can be a huge milestone in a person’s life. I can’t really say that. My atheist coming out story is relatively boring…
But, I am interested to hear about others’. So, I’ll start:
As a kid, my family identified loosely as Christian until I was in 5th grade. At that point, due to issues at the local public school, I was enrolled in a Catholic school. This was the first time, in my life, that I became truly tied to a church, or a congregation. We started to go to the parish that ran my school, some of the time. But, my mom was always sure to send the donation check each week so that we would keep up the appearance of being parishioner. As members of the congregation, we received a deep discount on tuition.
I liked Catholic school just fine. It wasn’t a bad experience for me. I know that some people recall their times in religious schools as negative, frightening or even abusive. That was not the case for me. In general, I had a very normal elementary and junior high experience, I think. I went to school with lots of rich kids, sure. But, when I went to public high school, I was still going to school with affluent children. I lived in an area just north of Charlotte, NC where kids drove Corvettes to school and everyone spent their weekends boating around the lake on which our community was situated. I didn’t see much of a difference between the types of kids I had gone to middle school with and the kids that I attended high school with. They were all getting into the same kinds of trouble, participating in the same hobbies, watching the same movies. It was almost like… dramatic pause… we were all the same.
As a kid, I idolized Jesus as an incredible prophet with a beautiful message. But, I never considered just how much of what I was being taught about him didn’t match up to the guy I pictured. You see, I was an odd kid, I wrote poetry and stories day and night. I wrote poetry about Jesus and about God that was absolutely terrible, of course, but also dripping with childlike honesty and innocence.
I questioned why God would send a man to do what Jesus had been forced to do. I wondered how a loving father could allow such a thing to happen to anyone, let alone his own child. But, the child thing was also incredibly confusing. Because, I thought we were all his children. Of course, it had become clear that some of his children were better off than others. That made me wonder, too. Why did he favor some of his kids so much more than others? Of course, the questions all flowed from there.
But, I didn’t immediately question the existence of a God. I just began to think that the Church had it wrong. And, I started to create my own vision of God. This is common as people start to lose their faith. However, when you start doing that, you often create a God similar to yourself. He believes in what you believe in. He serves your purposes.
It didn’t take me long to start to think that that might just be a tad too convenient. And, again, I started to question the whole thing. However, I didn’t really lose much sleep. I figured any God that might exist, that I would want to serve, would be kind and loving and I couldn’t fathom such a place as Hell. I knew I was probably an atheist but I guess I just didn’t care enough to worry about it.
Then, my kids entered the picture, and everything changed. The entire way that I saw the world warped like some crazy LSD trip. That is when I began to think harder about what I believed, and what world I hoped my kids would inherit. I started wondering what might happen if my children were gay, or trans, or became handicapped. I started to fear that they might face discrimination for interracial dating, or for choosing an alternative lifestyle. I saw one common thread among all of these social issues, and it seemed to be religion. Not religious people, as a whole. But, religion as an institution.
I was still hesitant to identify as an atheist, however, because I had been programmed by our society to see that type of public declaration as a slap in the face to religious people. It was illogical, but it seemed to be a common opinion that saying that you were atheist was saying that you hated all theists. So, in fear offending someone, I kept pretty quiet. I wrote a blog and never really mentioned it. I just sort of omitted it in most situations. And, that was easy to do, because my atheism isn’t really a big part of my life. It’s just a big part of the perception of what my life might be.
But, see, as my kids got older (and I did too), I became more and more concerned with the state of our society. Then, gay marriage, trans issues and other such human rights issues starting dominating the media, the news and just about everything. It became clear to me at that time that religion was being used as a tool to oppress a group of people, not just in my country, not just in my state, but in my own family and all over my community. I suddenly felt compelled to say something. So, I wrote a few blog posts and posted about my feelings on social media.
I didn’t say that I was an atheist. But, I think it was clear from much of what I said that I was not a huge fan of organized religion. I gradually became more and more overt with my messages. And, to be honest, I can’t say that I remember an exact moment when I made an announcement or anything. It just came naturally. The more I spoke my truth, the more easily it flowed out. The more people I spoke with, the more inspired I became. And, the rest is history, I suppose…
How did you come out? To whom? When? Where? I would love to learn more about your journeys. So, if you feel the desire, please tell me your story below. I will be sharing as many possible via my site and Twitter.