Category Archives: Life As An Atheist/agnostic

My little girl has a best friend…

…and her mom is very religious. We’re attending the new friend’s birthday party this weekend and I must admit, I’m a little nervous. I spoke with her mom today and we had a nice conversation and got to know each other, but it became evident very quickly that religion is important in their family. The sad thing about this is that it doesn’t matter one bit to me, but I know if they find out we are a freethinking family, my daughter’s new friendship will be in jeopardy. The woman asked how I was raised while we were on the phone, and I told her honestly about my religious upbringing, but left it at that. I didn’t mention that I’ve left that behind, and now I feel as if I’m betraying her and myself.

I’ve promised myself that I will not lie to her, and if she asks, I will be honest. It’s the best I can do. If she is willing to forbid her daughter to be friends with mine because of my beliefs, then perhaps they aren’t a family we need to be associated with anyway. Right? Right?

Sigh. I’m so nervous…

Guest Post on Parents Beyond Belief

I am honored to be a guest blogger on Parents Beyond Belief! Check out my post, Death and Secular Parenting: Overcoming the Fears. Enjoy!

Public School Time!

My oldest daughter is now officially enrolled in pre-k in the public school system. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. She’s been in a Christian preschool since she was 8 months old, so I’ve had to be very careful about encouraging her  free thought. I was always afraid that she’d run to school and tell her teacher, “Mommy says some people don’t believe in god!” Heh. That would be a fun conference.

But now that she’ll be out of that environment, I feel much more comfortable helping her find answers to her tough questions. She asks about death often, so we observe dead bugs and talk about roadkill and what happens when people die. She’s fascinated with the fact that life can end, and I think it’s fostering a love for living inside her. She is full of life and seems to enjoy ever second. She loves people wholeheartedly and loves to be kind to those who are unkind to her. I feel more confident that we can discuss the different religions with more freedom now that she isn’t required to go to chapel or read Bible stories.

I know it seems odd that an atheist or agnostic person would put their children in a Christian school, but I have reasons. First, the hours worked well for our family. Secondly, she really got a fantastic education. They offered yoga, music, reading and handwriting skill building, and more art than I have room to store. Thirdly, as a person who will grow up in a conservative and largely Christian area, it’s important for her to have knowledge of the Bible, it’s stories, and Christianity in general. Otherwise, she might feel ostracized or embarrassed as an older child. All in all, it’s been good for both of my girls.

She’s growing up and I know life is about to get super-fun. Her intelligent and curious mind is growing every day, and I’m so proud of the little freethinker she is becoming. I’m jealous that she gets this opportunity in life. I feel like I missed out on so much in my childhood because of my restrictive upbringing. I’m very much looking forward to watching her bloom!

No Vacation Bible School for my Kids

My grandmother, the sweet woman, is a devout Christian and probably one of the most genuine people I know. She loves god with all her heart and truly lives the life a Christian should live. She believes some things are wrong (homosexuality and alcohol consumption, for example) but she treats all people equally. She never turns her back on someone because of their sexual orientation, choice of lifestyle, or even belief in god. She did not turn her back on me when I became pregnant before I was married. However, she has no idea that I’m an atheist. I cannot bring myself to tell her because I know it will break her heart. She’s the person in my life I can relate to the most, and she’s been their for me when my own parents were busy squabbling over whose weekend it was to take my brother and myself.

My grandmother asked if she could take my 4-year-old to VBS at the church where I grew up, and where she still attends nearly every available service. I thought one day wouldn’t hurt, but over the course of the last month, so many ridiculous things have happened in the name of Christianity that I can’t bear the thought of my child being exposed to religious dogma. She already attends a Christian school, and that’s all I can take. So, I didn’t send her and I feel terrible that my grandmother didn’t get to show her off to her friends, which was probably her main motivation for asking me to bring her anyway.

I made up excuses for why I didn’t bring her to VBS, and I feel terrible about it. I wish I could tell her the truth. But I know the though of me burning in hell will haunt her until the day she dies, and I just can’t do that to her. She’s chosen to live this life in blind faith, and so she will be blind to my fate. Which, in reality, is most likely just a cease of existence, but this is not how she would see it.

My heart hurts, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing in keeping it from her. At least, I hope I am.

Staying Strong in the (Lack of) Faith

As far as my (lack of) faith goes, I’m fairly new to atheism. This means I must learn news ways of dealing with stress and life situations that does not involve prayer. I still find myself wanting to cry out to “god” when I’m frightened or worried. I catch myself before I do and try to remember that these physical responses are all part of my natural instinct to survive. I suppose when I comes down to it,  I’m technically agnostic. I just lean more toward the belief that there is no god. I think if there is a higher power, it is most certainly not any of the gods that man has created here on Earth.

I also still find myself buying into spiritual crap. For example, there’s a local radio station with a morning show I listen to out of sheer morbid curiosity. It’s so ridiculous that I can’t believe I listen to it, but still…I do. Every couple of weeks they feature a famous psychic – Gary Spivey. This man is able to help people with their problems and can “guess” remarkable information about people. I find myself buying into it and often have to change the radio station because of the doubt it places in my mind. As a Christian, I was taught that psychics were “of the devil.” They were false prophets who did more harm than good. Now I see them differently – they are counselors of sorts. They have the gift of reading people, and that’s what I have to keep in mind. Even though I still believe that psychics do more harm than good with their talk of angels and the afterlife, they seem to do more good than many pastors I knew growing up.

Every day is a struggle to keep my feet planted solidly on the ground. I learn more about myself every time I tap into that natural instinct to calm myself without reaching out to a higher power that doesn’t exist. It’s funny, I still feel more free than I ever did as a Christian. I grow and learn every day, and no one tells me what to believe. I decide that for myself. I love life even more now that I know we truly are beings with a free will.

Encouraging Choice

I like to think I’m playing my part in phasing religion out of American life. One of the biggest changes I can see between my parenting style and that of my (divorced) parents is the emphasis on making good choices. I was never encouraged to make good choices. I was never asked to weigh the alternatives and examine the information to decide what course of action to take. I was simply told that the Bible is the end-all and be-all of authority and what is contained in that book is the absolute truth.

Therefore when it came to making choices about having sex, drinking, or pretty much anything, I fled to the Bible to find my answer. This made me a fearful and anxious person. I was constantly afraid of sinning, lest I bring god’s wrath down upon my head. Even though I knew I was saved, I didn’t really feel anything – except fear.

But, I digress. My parents never explained how important choices are in life. They never encouraged me to go to college (How dare I broaden my mind!) and they never encouraged me to make choices because I thought the choice was the right one to make.

Now that I have kids of my own, I find myself asking them questions constantly. When my oldest asks, “Why?” I always ask her, “Well, what do you think?” She spouts off her thoughts and then I explain the whys and why-nots to her. And most importantly, the I-don’t-knows. It seemed like my parents were afraid to say that. “What makes rain?” I would ask. “Rain is just god’s tears,” my mom would say, “and thunder is god bowling.” Yep. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Just because the answer isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it needs to be explained by something someone made up.

Ask my 4-year-old what makes thunder and she’ll tell you how lightning cuts through the air, causing it to slap back together to make a loud boom. It’s beautiful, and it helps me feel good about my non-religious parenting. My girls will grow up being able to analyze information and make proper choices, and I will always encourage learning and curiosity in their precious minds. I can only hope that they realize the value of this and pass it on to their children. Maybe someday the real truth – the provable truth – will prevail in our society. Maybe someday the person who believes in the imaginary man in the sky will be the weird one instead of the other way around. We can only hope.

So, I attended a Christian Funeral Today…

And it was awful. The grandmother of a girl I grew up with passed away last week. I remember her most from church as a kid. She was always nice to me and she hoped I’d be a good role model for my friend.

I decided go to support this friend because I know she has had a rough time lately. The service was being held at the church where I grew up, and I knew there would be a lot of people there that knew me in my evangelical Christian days. It was the worst funeral I’ve ever been to (not that I’ve been to that many, maybe five in my whole life). It was also the first organized Christian event I’ve attended since I realized that my doubts about god were more than just fleeting feelings.

The woman was a Christian, and I’m sure it was the type of funeral she would have wanted. It had old-fashioned hymns, prayers, and lots of talk about following Jesus. In fact, it had too much Jesus talk. The woman’s life was turned into a sermon, the pastor rehashing the requirements for salvation over and over again. I would think a funeral should be used to honor someone’s life, not try to persuade someone to follow a religion. Perhaps that’s what this woman wanted her funeral to be? Near the end, the pastor stated that the family had asked him to explain to people exactly how to become a Christian. Which he did. For ten minutes.

Most of the rest of the service was repetition of the fact that this woman had met her maker and that all should be happy for her because of that. Be happy that she died? Really? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Beyond the fact that almost a quarter of the ceremony time was spent asking people to subscribe to bullshit, I was asked at least six times by different people when I was coming back to church. I suddenly saw myself, 17 years old and pious as the Pope, himself, begging my friends to go to church. I saw myself judging others based on their lifestyles and condemning anyone who didn’t believe what I did. I realized, as they asked me sweetly where I go to church these days, that as a Christian, I had no concept of people believing differently than me. I had no idea I was making people feel so uncomfortable. It was one of the worst experiences of social interaction I’ve ever had.

I had to hold my tongue. I was with my own grandmother, who is a dedicated Christian woman and a respected elder in the church. I knew that opening my mouth would only break her heart, so I sang To God Be the Glory and The Old Rugged Cross with the same vibrating, church-music voice I used as a teenager. Only this time, I didn’t mean a word of it.

When the service was over, and after being asked a few more times when I was coming back to church, I was dying to get out the front door. The second I stepped into the sunshine, I felt like I could breathe again.

I was reminded today that even though my path might be rockier, there’s a reason I chose it. I am more free and liberated from my sins than those people will ever be.

I Can’t Hold My Tongue

But I should. Or should I? I don’t know. Saying what’s on my mind in a public way seems only to lead to frustration, rapid heartbeat, and outbursts of anger all around. I feel very passionately about some things and my opinions are usually rooted in personal experience, beliefs and research. So when something comes up that makes me feel that warm rise of anger in my gut, I am compelled to share my thoughts. I found out this week that even in a “safe” place with people who supposedly believe similarly to me, it’s not exactly safe to share opinion. People will jump on any flaw in order to discredit a person, even if it’s not really a flaw.

It’s necessary to comment on blogs to join the conversation and build links back to my blog, but I’m not so sure I’m comfortable putting myself out there like that just yet. I mean, I’m barely comfortable sharing my new belief system with people I know or with someone face-to-face. Why should I give a stranger the opportunity to make fun of me for putting a word in italics?

I’ll tell you why – because even in the freethinking world there are assholes, and assholes aren’t worth stifling my voice. So, there you have it. Make fun of me, world, for feeling passionately about the need to educate my freethinking children about the religions they will be around as they grow up. Make fun of me for believing that the atheist/agnostic community should stop bashing religion and instead, act with the intelligence and open-mindedness we claim to have. I will continue to share my opinions, both online and off, and will refuse to let pettiness get the best of me. Arguing online is pointless. In the end, someone always ends up looking stupid. It’s not going to be me.

Sometimes nothing happens…

and that’s when I wonder if my kids are learning anything from me. Some days go by and there don’t seem to be many (or any) opportunities for learning. Nothing spectacular or blog-worthy takes place. But my dear husband reminded me that for children, every moment is an opportunity for learning.

Every reminder to use manners, every hug between Mom and Dad that the kids can see, every time a scraped knee or bumped head needs comforting, every time a sibling argument needs a mediator – all are moments during which I can teach my children how to be caring, loving, and giving without religion.

More and more, I’m learning how to live this lifestyle. I love that I’m teaching my children to be respectful and kind not because they’ll go to hell if they don’t, or because some invisible man says they should, but because it’s the right thing to do. More and more, I relish my newfound freedom.

Letting Go of the Hatred

I don’t hate many things. In fact, I can only think of a handful of things off the top of my head, and none of them is a living thing. I hate putting clean dishes away, though I don’t mind putting the dirty ones in the dishwasher. I hate putting clean laundry away, but I like putting the dirty ones in the washer. (There’s a pattern here, you think?) I don’t want to hate those things, but they’re necessary to the success of my household and therefore I tolerate them and complete the tasks as needed.

I feel much the same way about religion. I don’t want to hate it, and I’m not entirely sure where my hatred for it comes from. Perhaps it’s because I now fully understand the ridiculousness of it all. And perhaps it’s because I can now see how genuinely stupid some people are. My eyes have been opened to the world and all the bad that religion has done. It’s difficult for me to see the good through all of that.

I think my religious upbringing was good for me in some ways. I moved out of my dad’s house when I gradated at 17 and rebelled wildly against all that was taught to me as a teenager. I stopped going to church, I found comfort in the worldly pleasures of life that were once so taboo I couldn’t even speak of them. I often wonder if I would have been wild had religion not contained me, like maybe that wildness was ingrained in me. But I also wonder if religion is the reason I had that careless disregard for consequences. I don’t feel like was robbed of my childhood, but I do wonder how I would have turned out if I had been raised in a family that believed in free thought and education. Religion probably did some good for me, but I couldn’t see the bad it was doing at the time.

So, I have this deep hatred for religion – the conservative Baptist faith in particular, probably because that’s the denomination with which I am most familiar. Every time I read about the bullying of a gay person or the church’s stance on abortion rights, an anger swells inside of me that rivals that which I felt toward Satan as a believer. An evangelical feeling comes over me and I feel the need to shout to the world how crazy these people are. I feel the need to convert people (I was a major harvester of souls for the Baptist church) and I want to post on all my social networks links that expose the backwardness of the church. The trouble is that I know this is not the way to go about giving atheism and agnosticism a good name. The beauty of my new belief system is that I am not required by a higher power to share my beliefs or gain converts. It’s difficult to move past that way of thinking.

Since I have the dawning of a new year at my doorstep, I’ve decided to work hard to let go of that hatred and to move past that unfounded need to harvest “souls” for my new belief system. As my mind becomes more open and accepting of all types of beliefs, I have to realize that religion is one of those necessary things in life. It will always be part of the world. Some people need religion to live “normal” lives. Therefore, it’s just one of those things I must accept. It’s going to be a process.