Learning to Speak Like an Atheist

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I can’t talk about other countries or even other faiths because they did not have the kind of overwhelming effect on my life that Christianity did. It exists everywhere in my life and I can’t believe I never noticed it before. It doesn’t bother me all that much (although, as time progresses I find myself more and more irritated with the behavior of Christians). The only time it ever becomes noticeable is when I am speaking without thinking.

The funny thing is, after I say the Christian word or phrase that feels so familiar to me, my stomach lurches. It knows that it’s wrong. These expressions are such a large part of my “conversational” speaking that they fly through my mouth without stopping at my brain to check-in. Things like:

“I’m going to hell”

“mortal sin”

“good lord”

“Jesus Christ” (in surprise)

“holy shit”/ “holy crap”/ “holy cow”

“oh my god”

“for heaven’s sake”/ “for christ’s sake”

“lord have mercy”

“amen” (in agreement)

They all have Christian undertones and are usually used when I am reactive. Every time my husband hears me say a phrase like this, he gives me a sideways look. He’s not the only Christian that treats me this way since they’ve known of my conversion. Apparently I am not allowed to use those words and phrases now that I don’t believe in a god.

And honestly, it makes sense to do it that way. Using these kinds of phrases in everyday speech just reinforces the presence of the god idea in every day life. I never thought about it when I was a Christian- that these phrases could be off-putting for somebody who does not believe in my god.

I’m starting to understand that Christian = egocentrism. It’s hard to see it when you’re inside the beast of religion. When you push your ideas onto non-believers, you are “saving” them. When you recite the bible verses about God’s love, you are “educating” them. As a Christian, I never stopped to think that maybe I wasn’t doing the absolute best thing for everybody when I tried to convert others. Even if Christianity was a sure ticket to a real place, it’s annoying and difficult to convert someone who is unwilling to listen. That doesn’t make the non-believer wrong. I’ve never actually had a non-Christian ask me to help them convert to my religion. But when men who claim to speak to your creator tell you that you must help educate the world or they will burn in hell, you just do it. Especially if you’re a good person (notice I didn’t say smart person). A good person wants everyone to go to heaven and nobody to suffer. I wasn’t wasting time asking silly questions like “where’s the proof that heaven exists?”

I went to dinner with the in-laws a couple of days ago and the waitress sang to me for my birthday. She had a great voice. My in-laws asked her what church she went to and she replied that she didn’t go to one. They spent the next 5 or 10 minutes trying to tell her all of the best churches in the area, and how to get on a choir, and all the stories they had heard of people being “discovered” through the church. This conversation happened right before tip time so the poor waitress nodded politely and stayed engaged in the conversation. I could practically see it in her eyes that she wasn’t a Christian. My in-laws didn’t. They just knew that this girl was blessed by God with a talent that she could use to bless others. They didn’t think about her own beliefs. They were doing the “right” thing by encouraging her to use her gift as a service to others.

I was mortified and tried unsuccessfully to quiet them in a neutral manner. I would like to say that I stood up and told them to stop assuming that the girl had any interest in God and that they shouldn’t go to a woman’s workplace where she is forced to put up with people and make her listen to you tell her she needs church. But they were my ride home and they still scare me too much to tell about my own atheism.

I know they won’t ask me why I decided to leave the faith. They will insist on telling me endlessly about how good God is and how much I need him and that I’m purchasing a one-way ticket to hell with my soul. Because they are Christians; they really don’t see me as a human being with worldly hopes, strong personal morals, and a bright future ahead. They see me as a future friend in Heaven. A lost soul in need of saving. A new project. A testament to God’s will.

Christians really are egocentric.

Morality

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So after a two day hiatus I am happy to be back writing again. It was my birthday Tuesday and I have been celebrating since Monday night. It’s not every day that you turn 25, right? I just spent the last three days drinking and my liver is ready to take a break.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about where morals come from. I made a decision yesterday that was morally reprehensible to me. At the time I was behaving immorally, I felt a sense of wrongness. This particular act is generally accepted as immoral and most people would think of me as a “bad” person for committing it.

But there are people who do this every day. Someone I’m very close to (who happens to be an atheist) commits this act a couple of times a week. I’ve never understood how he could do something that most people disagree with, on purpose, all the time and never lose any sleep over it.

This particular behavior is not illegal. It doesn’t (physically) hurt anyone in the strictest sense. If you knew me personally, you would know that I even believe there is an evolutionary predisposition to do this thing. So why is it morally wrong? Why do I think it is wrong and my friend does not? Why would I commit this act if I’m against it so strongly?

I have never attributed my morality to God or other supernatural circumstances; even when I was a believer, very few things made me afraid of eternal damnation. But the idea that you can make a mistake and a higher power beyond your comprehension can forgive you for it is… comforting. I was taught as a Christian that once you ask for forgiveness, what’s done is done. God doesn’t have man’s memory and he doesn’t hold a grudge. That’s very comforting. If anything, religion had a negative impact on my morality. If I could be divinely forgiven no matter how bad my sin was, then as long as I asked to be forgiven I could continue to sin. It also added the benefit of “confession” through prayer.

So my first major moral transgression since I renounced my faith has just proven to me that I have a major guilty conscious when I don’t have a god to forgive me. I think this revelation will keep me more morally upstanding in the future.

So maybe my morality was created by my understanding for social expectations and my anticipated punishments if I didn’t adhere to those standards. My friend may have a different anticipated punishment for his deeds than I do. The idea of hell might have had a little more say in the development of my morality than I care to admit (whereas he’s always been atheist). I don’t think you need to fear hell to be moral though. I just think that the “forgiveness” of God relieved some of the burden of guilt for me.

Now I am fully aware of the ramifications of my immoral actions to my own self-esteem. I always assumed that morality was connected to society and that morals exist as a framework or reference for how we interact with others. I’m starting to think that morals are bigger than that and are references for how we imagine would should act under all circumstances. Living up to my own moral code makes me feel accomplished, and falling short makes me feel awful, even if nobody got hurt and nothing has changed for anyone else.

I’m pretty sure that being an atheist strengthens my moral boundaries overall. Without God I lack a confidant and a divine exoneration with each incorrect decision I make. This just makes me more careful to think things through because I carry the full burden of guilt now. My moral compass has not deteriorated in my change of faith but my lack of faith reinforces the “punishments” I expect to receive. No god means no faith that things will magically work in my favor when I mess up like this. That’s a huge cross to bear.

P.S.- sorry readers if this was hard to understand. I really am quite worked up about my mistake and have found myself detached from my writing today, distracted. Things will be okay in the long run and my writings will sense again before too long :)

Christianity is Not a Default Setting!

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Last night I was on the phone with my beloved and he asked a seemingly innocent question that was loaded with other junk. I love him, but I can’t say that he is the most tactful person in the world.

He asked me why I needed to tell everyone I was an atheist. He had concluded that nobody really needed to know because it’s not that hard to just not pray when we do family prayers or back away from conversations where believers are judging non-believers. So he wanted to know why I wanted to rock the boat.

I guess it’s a fair question. I mean, I didn’t have to go around telling people I was Christian when I was a believer. But that’s just the problem! In my world at least, Christian is a default setting. Atheists are scary devil-worshipers. I am not trying to be funny because I used to believe this myself about atheists. That’s what everyone I know thinks about atheists. Mike Moore, a fellow blogger, has even written about how atheists are viewed as pawns of the devil to believers. I’ve tried to explain to some Christians that I know that I don’t worship the devil now. Seems a little bit unnecessary seeing as though I don’t believe in him.

So what does this all have to do with my husband’s loaded question?

I don’t really have to tell anyone about my decision. That would actually be pretty easy. I could mentally check out of religious conversations with a few head nods. I can bow my head out of respect for those praying. I did that stuff for a couple of years already. It would be easy to hide behind a thin veil of faked faith… people do it all the time.

But coming out is important to me. I’ve never really liked being a liar. I’ve always been the most honest person I know. I don’t cheat or steal or play “the system” because moralistically speaking, I know that if we all did that then everyone would suffer. Taking the easy way out is a form of misrepresentation (lying).

“So why don’t you just wait until people ask you why you’re not praying and tell them then?” said the husband.

The answer to that question is hard for a believer to understand. I want to represent non-believers. I want my friends and family to know that they know an atheist and that I’m a good person. This is genuinely important to me and I know it won’t be comfortable or easy most of the time.

My goal is to make it easier for people to come out.

Before I ever told anyone I was an atheist I researched a lot. I looked up religions, just as I’ve said before. But the thing that gave me the courage to commit to the atheist label was the social media searches I did. I looked up atheist, atheism, and humanist. I read the rants and the arguments and the jokes about believers. I read the commentary of other atheists that were just as afraid to come out to their loved ones. I found community in the anonymity of the internet. I was able to make the commitment because other atheists had come out. They had views like me and the same frustrations with religion. When I commented on posts and pictures, they replied back with support and empathy.

One day I hope to be that community for other brave souls.

I’ll never push my lack of belief on someone else, but if someone has questions I want them to be able to come to me. And I want them to be able to tell other believers that they know a real, live atheist that doesn’t worship the devil. Hopefully I can provide that lesson to believers that I know at the cost of my comfort in their ignorance of what I am.

That’s why I have to come out. It’s not for me. It’s for people on the fence who are ready to renounce their religion but don’t want to be alone.

 

How Can I Live Forever?

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The idea of afterlife always made death a little less scary for me as a Christian. The thought of some awesome after party in the sky with my main man JC and all of my best family and friends just sounded awesome. It didn’t make the idea of death welcoming; it just kept the fear of death on the back burner.

Converting to atheism pulled some of those thoughts of death to the forefront of my mind. Having suffered from a disorder that causes a myriad of problems in my body, including depression and anxiety, I was nervous about my current mental state. At first I was sure that I would not be able to push off those thoughts of suicide any longer. I mean, if it’s not a sin, because I won’t burn in hell, because I don’t believe in hell, than what’s stopping me from trying it now?

Then I realized that “Heaven” was just another word for immortality.

Immortality in a literal sense means living forever. As of right now, that is just not possible to do. Eventually everyone will die. The idea of an eternal meeting ground where we “float on our cloud puffs and talk to Jesus about our lives” (as one of my friends so eloquently put it) is comforting. Let’s face it- none of us want to die, and all of us want to be remembered positively.

Heaven takes the guess work out of it. First, we assume our beloved relatives are up there, just hanging out, waiting for us like some divine taxi cab drivers with eternity to spare. Then we imagine that we will be there, and we are taught that the sins of our earthly life don’t matter anymore. That’s a great way to live forever. No worries that our life’s works will be forgotten or that our social debts will be unpaid.

Well, I may not believe in a god, but I still want to live forever. That’s just human nature. The truth is that none of us really know what happens next. A Christian probably believes that we go to heaven or hell. An atheist might believe that our energy leaves our body and our cells die. But in the end, nobody on earth can answer that question. Not a divine book or an anonymous blogger can tell us right now. Everyone on earth should be able to agree that there is no physical evidence of an afterlife. You either believe or you don’t and that’s that.

So how do you live forever? Some people may choose to do that through their career. They may advance their field immeasurably. Some people take on volunteer work and change the lives of others. Many (most?) people have children to leave their genetic code out there- but I can’t have my own kids. I have two step sons though, and I hope to live on through them. Not genetically, but in another way.

Their mom is doing okay financially. Their dad is sending me through college right now. But between both of their parents, my stepsons aren’t inheriting any mansions or secret fortunes. Their parents come from blood lines that are just economically poor. So I plan to break the cycle. I’m going to college to hopefully one day help them pay off their own loans early, or their house, or buy them cars. Maybe they have their own kids and need help with transportation to dance or soccer practice. I don’t really know when I’ll be “called upon” to help them get ahead in life. But it’s my mission to break their personal cycle of poverty in the only way I know how- not spending thousands on IVF and surrogates for the “chance” of motherhood. Maybe between their mom, their dad, and me, we can generate some wealth that they can rely on.

Beyond that, my younger sister got pregnant at 19 and now she has a 2 year old. She’s not ready to be a parent. She prays to her god and then cheats on her husband and abandons her daughter to me or my parents. Some Christian. Anyway, I imagine that one day soon I’ll be of service to my niece. The only thing I can hope to do for my niece is to cultivate a sense of community and love that she is otherwise lacking.

These actions are how I will live forever. I don’t need a promise of a fulfilling afterlife where I can play the harp for Jesus and wash his feet with my hair (ew). I can plan my immortality right here and now. And I urge you to do the same because we really don’t know about heaven or hell, but I wouldn’t put my immortality on it.

The Environmental Impact of Religion

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Last post I talked a little bit about the habits of religion and what “withdrawal” symptoms I had. I’d like to say I just got a little sick to my stomach and found myself praying accidentally, but it was a little more than that, honestly.

Losing my faith gave me a new found perspective on life that I hadn’t anticipated. Atheists are often believed to be the brooding, angry type, but after my conversion I just don’t believe that to be true. My world didn’t collapse or get smaller when I converted- it got infinitely bigger.

As a Christian, my focus was on doing good things for others in the name of Christianity and making sure I prayed correctly to get into heaven. Stupid as it sounds now, I got saved about a dozen times. I never felt whatever it was that you are supposed to feel for long (the filling of the holy spirit?) so I wanted to be sure. However, there’s a big problem to that narrow scope of concerns. If my worries were about when Jesus was coming back for the rapture and what my god thought of my deeds, then I wasn’t thinking about the future. Of course I thought about my future, but I wasn’t looking much further than that.

Think about the thousands of pamphlets that are printed on paper for religious people to pass out. Those pamphlets are destroying a limited resource. Religious texts, buildings that need heating and cooling, the fuel that millions of people waste every Sunday for church- all of that comes from resources that we will be running out of. You don’t worry about that so much if you think the rapture will happen any day now, but now I have my concerns.

Sure, maybe the environment is not everyone’s first concern, but maybe it should be more important.

And as the quote above states, we are wasting our energy as a society on religion. Beyond our natural, irreplaceable resources, we are wasting time and effort fidgeting in pews rather than helping others, because going to church makes people feel good about themselves. That one hour appointment people set each week makes many of them feel exempt from the charitable deeds that could actually change the world. Imagine if the money that people funneled through the church system (that pays for clergy workers, building maintenance, and equipment first) was redirected to the homeless or the hungry. On a larger scope, think of the hours of labor accumulated in cash dollars by the church every single week. It makes my stomach turn.

So even if there was no tithing to the church, there is still the expense of church to the environment and the opportunity cost of going to church (versus whatever else you could be doing).

As a Christian, I never saw this broader scale because I, like many others, operated on the delusion that “god knows what’s best”. I knew about climate change, sure, but I figured that nobody would be around for the large scale repercussions. Denouncing my faith gained me a universal insight that I hadn’t be aware of; one of connectivity and responsibility.

Do you really want to know what atheists are angry about? It’s not “god”. It’s the fact that we can see all the harm that religion does and know that it’s beyond our ability to conquer at this time. We are not upset at someone we know doesn’t exist; we are angry that an idea can slowly ruin the world and that the only people concerned with it are the very people who don’t prescribe to that destructive idea.

We are not angry that you believe in a god. We are angry that you don’t believe in the future of our children and our planet.

Identity Crisis

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One thing I was not prepared for in my conversion was the identity crisis I went through. Because atheism makes logical sense to me, I figured I would just renounce my faith and walk away. I never predicted the stronghold that Christianity would have on me personally.

I did go through a few days were I was on the verge of a panic attack. If you have anxiety disorder, you know what this is like. If you don’t… well, you get a “dread” kind of feeling in your stomach. You have shortness of breath, maybe some flushing of the face. Get a little dizzy. Mainly your stomach feels like it’s on a roller coaster or a fast car on a country road. That feeling. Constantly. For days. I hadn’t anticipated that kind of physical response to my decision. My body was betraying my logic.

But I pushed through, partly because I tried not to think about it. The feeling started when I admitted my lack of faith to my husband. It was the first time I really admitted it out loud- even to myself. Worse than the physical response of anxiety, I caught myself in a couple of prayers. In my defense, I prayed (self-talked?) to calm myself down during heavy anxiety spells (like I was having). If I caught myself compulsively doing it, I could laugh it off.

Please don’t try to tell me that this is because I am meant to be a believer. I don’t buy that for a second. It’s because it really does take a little bit of bravery and strength to renounce anything you’ve believed your whole life. Why do little kids cry when you tell them Santa isn’t real? I questioned my mom for months before she told me and still cried when she did. Letting go is hard.

This anxiety-ridden period and compulsive praying just reminded me of when I quit smoking. It’s the habits of religion that I was detoxing from. When I quit smoking I compulsively reached in my pocket for a cigarette whenever I felt anxious. Now I was reaching for prayer out of habit, too. But I am happy to report that I am two weeks clean and sober from the chains of religion, and that feels good.

Yesterday I was talking to one of my very Christian friends. She has been surprisingly nice about my conversion (and by nice I mean trying not to criticize me beyond telling me I’m going to hell). She had asked me what I was doing all day, and I have no reason to lie to her. I told her that I was researching extreme religions. She asked “why?” and I told her I was bored and done with finals, and religion is still interesting to me.

Then, in a nasty, judge-y tone, she said, “oh, already looking for another religion?”

I wanted to just cuss her out because there’s nothing wrong with expanding my education about any topic, even religion. But between the both of us, I have always been more level-headed, and she was not getting the best of my emotions now. I politely said, “no. It’s good to know about other religions so that when people try to convert me, I can be smart about my responses.”

She didn’t talk to me much longer after that.

She’s not the first person in the last couple of weeks that has assumed that I’m an atheist taking a break from religion and plan on rejoining it at some point.

I could give her the statistics. I could tell her about our low number of prisoners, or our higher levels of education. I could give her the history of how her “peaceful” religion was spread by wars and forced upon weaker nations. I could try to explain (again) that not being Christian doesn’t make me mad at a god that I don’t believe in.

But she is close-minded and I am tired of trying to apologize for my personal “revelation”. I fear this is the beginning of the end of a long-standing friendship, and I have a feeling I have more of this kind of thing to look forward to.

In the end though no one person (or twenty) is worth my hypocrisy for their peace of mind.

In the Religious Closet

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I’m currently in the closet. My loving husband finally found out two weeks ago, and of course I told my closest friends. At the end of the day though, most people look at me and assume I’m a Christian.

And two years ago, they would have been right.

I was once a pretty serious Christian. I went to church on Sundays, praise group on Wednesdays, and bible study on Thursdays. I participated in organizing all the community events and my husband and I were both very active with vacation bible school. I was never pushy when it came to converting people to my faith; I always assumed that if I led a moral life, people would follow me- and they did. Our small church grew and found more members than it had ever had with a disproportionately large young adult group.

But I never felt like I quite belonged in my church. We sang powerful songs of love and redemption, and then I would listen to stories of the pastor’s grandsons taking girls to the basement to have sex… during service. The pianist would talk about how she loved everyone but then would laugh at people who were improperly dressed. Most of the congregation was welcoming until they found out you were homosexual or got pregnant out of wedlock. After awhile, the ponzi scheme the pastor’s family was running on us believers was revealed and the church disbanded.

I would spend the next couple of years looking unsuccessfully for a new church. Christian churches are rather clique-y sometimes and we were poor. I didn’t have “Sunday best”; I had jeans and a t-shirt. I would be invited to churches with promises that I dressed okay, but then the judgmental stares would start. As the years passed I realized that I didn’t identify with Christianity. There were questions I wanted answers to, things that didn’t add up.

My in-laws are pastors and I started asking them these questions. The first thing I asked was if people were supposed to tithe before or after taxes. A simple question fueled an hour long debate between the both of them. That left a bad taste in my mouth.

Then I started college. That would be where things really stopped adding up for me. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to scientific studies. I had to learn how to read them. I had to learn how to understand them. These studies contradicted my faith and I started searching for a reason to keep believing.

Then in college I took a learning and cognition class and was introduced to Pascal’s wager. It was of comfort to me. I could continue to tell myself that belief was necessary, even if I questioned it. What did I really have to lose? Eventually even this line of thought broke down. What if I were to believe in the wrong god? What if I insulted the true god by believing in a false god?

For a couple more years I sat in limbo, afraid to move. I researched all kinds of religion. They all had logistical differences, but many of them had the same themes. So I had to figure out why my religion was correct. To figure this out I had to ask myself… why do I believe in it? I figured out that-

1. I grew up in a Christian household (all I ever knew)

2. I was afraid to be wrong (because being wrong meant burning in hell)

3. Everyone I knew believed (and not believing meant I was an easy target)

Seriously, the difference between being a Christian and being Hindu was down to where I was born. I could have been into Scientology if my parents were members. I could have had 2 or 3 “moms” if I was born into a FLDS household. In the end, I “knew” that Christianity was right because I was born Christian, just like every other religion’s members “know” that they are right. Everybody just wants the whole world to follow their belief system.

So two weeks ago I denounced my faith and joined the ranks of the hated atheists. I finally had the courage to call myself a non-believer. When I realized that religion was circumstantial and scientifically detrimental, I knew atheism was the choice for me. And so far I’ve told a few people about my new outlook on life, but the worst of the confessions are yet to come.

By alienating those who do not believe what they believe, religious people do the opposite of what their grand books teach. Call a believer out on this though, and suddenly I’m the heathen. I’ve often been told that I’m a good Christian because of my strength and moralistic values. But I haven’t been a full believer in years and I wasn’t a believer when I was developing those morals and values. Atheists are not inherently bad because they find no use for religion. They are proof that humans create a moral code beyond their fear of heaven and hell. For that, we are actually a benefit to humankind. Embrace us; don’t chase us with your bible verses and pitch forks.

Don’t burn me at the stake for being different from you.

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