"Mom. Dad. I have to tell you something..."
"Coming out of the closet" is a term usually associated with gays and lesbians announcing to their friends and family that they are homosexual. Few regret the action, having found a way toward a more open and satisfying life.
It wasn't until recently that I realized that I live within my own closet.
No, I'm not gay.
But I have been hiding. Hiding from friends who might not want to be such if they knew. Hiding from persecution of my beliefs.
Because I do not believe in God.
There. I said it. I'm supposed to feel better now, right? Damn.
Okay, I'm guessing you all probably want more on the topic...
First of all, I feel the need to explain that I consider myself an agnostic, which means that I'm really just not religious/spiritual/etc. (versus flat out not believing there is a god).
Here is my view of the difference between Religious Folk v. Atheists v. Agnostics:
The Christian/God-Believer says, "Yes there is a God."
The Atheist says, "No, there is no God."
Agnostic just shrugs and says, "Eh?"
Okay, so technically an Atheist either (1) denies the existence of God, or (2) literally is non-theist or simply lacking a belief in God without actively denying God's existence.
I personally prefer to consider myself an Agnostic non-theist. It is a belief related to the existence or non-existence of God and most agnostics believe that we (collectively) do not have any way of knowing whether a god (or gods) exist. Because there is no way for you or me to prove (or disprove) a god's existence, then why fret over it. Eventually, maybe, I'll find out but until then, I might as well just enjoy life (and football on Sundays).
Speaking of Sundays, I think my agnosticism started early in my life. My mom was never big in to going to church, but Dad took Sissy and I practically every Sunday. My only memories of church was that is was insanely boring and had creepy old people who insisted on talking to me. But I did like the singing. Singing is good.
At 15 years of age, Dad let us make the decision of whether we wanted to keep going to church with him every Sunday or stay home. I'm pretty sure my reasoning was something like: "hmmm...go to boring church or sleep in? yeah, no brainer, dude." I might have thrown in a "Could church *be* more boring?" Give me a brake, Friends was big that year and I've always admired Ms. Chanadaler Bong.
In discussing this further with Sissy and Mr. Bee, I realized that besides just finding church unappealing, I really felt out of place. Just like when homosexual people say that they just felt "different" growing up, that's exactly how I felt when I was at church. I'd be hanging out with the kids in youth group and thinking to myself, "Weird. They're all, like, religious and whatnot..." Since quitting church, God/religion/faith has never played a big role in my life. Well, I guess it didn't really play a big part in my life beforehand either (besides church on Sundays). Since 15, I've never attended church. I didn't get married at a church. In fact, our biggest requirement of an officiant for our wedding was that the "G" word not be mentioned. Baby Bee has not been baptised (and I don't even know if I was, to be honest).
One of the reason I wanted to "come out of the closet" on my blog is because I think that people who are religious don't realize how persecuted non-believers are. While I've been lucky enough in my adult life to find a spouse and close friends that share my beliefs, it hasn't always been that way. I was already suffering discrimination for my beliefs by junior year of high school. I vividly remember being told by friends in high school that, unfortunately, I would be burning in eternal hellfire since I didn't believe in God. Now, my friends were not happy about the turn of events for my eternal soul, but felt the need to declare my fate none-the-less. All this despite the fact that I lived just about the most pious lifestyle a teenager has ever lived (save for Joan of Arc, maybe). I didn't even drink alcohol until my 21st birthday! AND I believed that sex should be saved for marriage. Okay, my opinion on that one changed as I got older...
As a non-believer, you get put in to this "box" by "normal" people. We must be sinners, immoral, untrustworthy, arrogant, hypocritical, self-righteous and (my personal favorite) liberal infidels. Some people ask, "Well, without the Bible/God, what authority do you accept as a guide to conduct?" Well, first of all, common sense is good. Just because I wasn't raised in with overly-religious parents doesn't mean that I grew up in a hedonistic sin-filled home. I grew up with rules...LOTS of rules. Seriously. Just because God doesn't play a role in my life, doesn't mean that I don't have compassion for others or the ability to tell right from wrong.
But the persecution of non-believers doesn't just stop with the assumption that you are a sinner with no moral compass. Even as I sit on my couch typing this with America's Next Top Model playing in the background, one of the models declares that it's unfair that a certain model won a prize that will feature Christmas accessories because "she's hates holidays. She's an atheist. I love Christmas! I'd love to do [the photo shoot]!" Just because someone is atheist or agnostic doesn't mean they don't like (or shouldn't) celebrate holidays. For the record, I LOOOOVE Christmas. I just look at it as a time to celebrate family and friends, and most importantly, presents (kidding! Screw the family and friends; just give me stuff).
Being a non-believer isn't easy. I'll always remember four and a half years ago when I found out that Mr. Bee had pre-cancerous growths, had to have a full colectomy, AND found out that he has a degenerative, un-curable liver disease. One of the first things I thought was "this would be so much easier to deal with if I believed in God." Having faith in someone/something that had a master plan or who could make everything better if I just prayed hard enough would have maybe made the situation a little easier to deal with. But I didn't have any of that. I just had to sit with the realization that my fiancée (now my husband) might develop cancer and may (still) require a liver transplant. I had nothing to lean on but myself. And I think I'm a stronger person now because of it. At least I hope I am.
I have to be supportive/accepting of all religions, simply because I am in the minority. A 2001 survey found 15% of the adult population in the United States have no religious affiliation, still significantly less than in other postindustrial countries such as United Kingdom (44%) and Sweden (69%). The other 85% of the U.S. just think non-believers are jerks when we point out the "so help me Gods," "under Gods," and "In god we trusts" that are everywhere in our society. I get that our country was founded under those ideals, but let's not forget that it was also founded while escaping from religious persecution.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota conducted a poll that found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who rated them below Muslims, recent immigrants and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society". They also associated atheists with undesirable attributes such as criminal behavior, rampant materialism, and cultural elitism. When participants were asked whether they agreed with the statement, "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group," atheists again led minorities, with 48 percent disapproval. "I know atheists aren't studied that much as a sociological group, but I guess atheists are one of the last groups remaining that it's still socially acceptable to hate."
So you might understand why "coming out of the closet" was a difficult decision for me to make.
So there it is. I'm not religious.
Am I ready for the consequences? I've weighed the risks: I'm sure not everyone will accept me for who I am. I'm sure someone out there will be offended at my religious views and vice versa.
But please don't think we can't be friends because we have differing views on one aspect of our lives. We may have different schedules on Sunday and most likely are voting for different presidential candidates, but isn't there more to life? Like television?
Song title: Losing My Religion by R.E.M.
"Mom. Dad. I have to tell you something..."