Once upon a time I was very religious and it seemed like the whole world was out to get people like me. Now I’m not religious at all and yet it still seems like the whole world is out to get people like me. But one thing has definitely changed. I used to be vocal and open and proud of my religion, but since leaving religion I’ve been quiet.
I don’t want to do that anymore. I want it to be okay to be a parent and an atheist. I want people to know that atheists aren’t evil or hateful. Most of all, I made this choice because I wanted to live an honest life, so it doesn’t seem right for me to hide this anymore.
So here it is: I’m Jess and I’m an atheist. Don’t be afraid of me. Don’t hate me. It’s okay, I promise.
I Promise I Don’t Hate Religion
Seriously, I don’t.
Think of it this way: if you’re a Catholic, no one’s going to assume you hate Presbyterians, right? It’s just not what you believe. It’s not what’s right for you.
Being an atheist is the same kind of choice. This is what I believe. It’s right for me. Just because I don’t believe in organized religion doesn’t mean I find it abhorrent and want it destroyed.
I am a strong believer in religious freedom. I think we should all be able to choose whatever we want to believe, and that should include choosing None of the Above.
So What Do I Believe? What’s My Moral Code?
For the first few months of realizing that I didn’t believe in God, I really struggled with this question. Ultimately, though, the answer was simple.
I have a definite moral code. I always have. In fact, one of the things that was difficult for me was when my own morals and the morals of my religion were in conflict. My moral code hasn’t actually changed much at all. I’ve always had an inherent sense of what I’ve found right and wrong. I’ve also changed that code as I’ve experienced life and seen the reality of life.
I believe in respecting other people’s lives and their right to happiness, respecting property, respecting the world around us. I believe in equality. I believe in helping people. And I really strongly believe that I have no right to tell someone else how to live their life, unless they are endangering other people or themselves.
I rarely find myself in a real moral dilemma, and when I do it’s only because it’s one of those situations where you can’t predict the future and know how things will turn out. You just have to do your best.
But, Really, There Are No Atheists in Foxholes.
I disagree. I honestly haven’t missed religion. I haven’t missed meetings. I haven’t missed prayer.
Our family hasn’t had the easiest time the last few years. A difficult diagnosis is the kind of thing that would make you want to believe in God, but I haven’t once thought of going back to religion or wanted to go back.
I can’t predict my future, but I find it unlikely that I’d ever return or feel the desire for heavenly guidance.
Isn’t it Sad Not Believing God Has a Plan For You?
No. In fact, I find it freeing believing that a lot of things happen by chance. I don’t have to get angry at God when bad things happen. Instead I feel aware that bad things can happen any time and that I only have so much control. I don’t have to blame anyone. Stuff happens. I just control my reaction.
I don’t believe that I control my destiny. I do as much as I can, but I know my own limitations.
So What Exactly Do You Believe?
If we want to get technical I’m an Agnostic who leans Atheist. I default to Agnostic because I don’t feel like I can authoritatively make any statement about what’s really true. I just know what I believe. I find Atheism more rational and appropriate than Deism.
Basically I’m not coming down and saying God Doesn’t Exist in big bold letters. Who am I to say that? Who am I to make that kind of statement? I just know what I believe, how the universe makes sense to me. I don’t want to tell anyone else how things work or what they should believe.
Why It’s Hard Being an Atheist
Polls show I could never be open about my beliefs and achieve any significant elected office. There is one atheist congressman. One in state office. And that’s it. (There are even state Constitutions that forbid an atheist holding office.) My husband can never be a leader in the Boy Scouts and if my son identifies as an atheist when he’s old enough to join, he wouldn’t be allowed to be a member. The Girl Scouts are more open about their membership, but it’s not a cut and dry issue there, either.
It’s funny being on the opposite side of where I was before. It used to feel like being religious was such a minority because you never saw it on television or in movies. Those people didn’t believe in God. They were open about it. I let that matter way too much. The truth was that nearly everyone I knew went to church, even if it was only a few times a year. They were all affiliated with some kind of religion. Real life wasn’t like television at all.
It’s something people tend to keep quiet. Of course, there are a few atheists out there who like to make a big fuss and give the rest of us a bad name. Then again, isn’t that true of everything? If we were more open about our status wouldn’t people see that not all of us are jumping up and down to sue school districts about the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer? My feeling on those issues: sure, it sucks if you are regularly reminded that you don’t fit in, and refusing to say it is isolating. But in the grand scheme of things, this is small potatoes. Still, if a person who believes in God finds it offensive that someone wants to take it out, how would they feel if they had to recite a Pledge saying “without any God”? I don’t ever plan to bring a lawsuit like that, but I find it sad that we’re not more sympathetic towards each other when it comes to this kind of stuff.
But by far, the hardest part about being an atheist is if you’re one of the people who comes from a religious family. It’s hard to make a choice that you feel good about that causes pain to people you love.
So You’re One of Those People Who Worships Science Instead of God?
Nope. I think science is important and amazing. But I also think literature and art are pretty important and amazing, too. I rely heavily on science because it is a search for absolute knowledge and truth. I know enough about scientific research to know that.
But, honestly, if I had to choose between science or art for the rest of my life, I’d choose art any day. (I’m married to a scientist. Admitting this could get me in trouble when he comes home today.)
But What About Your Kids?
Like any kids, mine have been born into their parents’ beliefs. I plan to teach them about religion and allow them to attend church or other services with friends and relatives. I will not try to hide it from them and I won’t lie about my own beliefs. I’m very well educated about religion. I know my Bible backwards and forwards. It does seem kind of weird to me that my kids won’t necessarily know the biblical symbolism that’s all around us in the world. I will encourage them to study it because I think it’s a big part of our society.
Once they’re teenagers they’ll be free to attend any services they like. I may go with them and I will talk about it with them.
Most of all, I will not be disappointed or upset if they choose to become religious. I want them to explore the world and make their own choices.
So that’s it. That’s me. That’s what I believe. I’m not going to be afraid to say it anymore. And I hope you’re not afraid of me for saying it.