Openly Atheist

This has been an eventful week.  This past Sunday I called my dad and finally told him outright that I don’t believe in the religion he raised me in.  I told him I don’t believe in God or any of it any more.  He basically told me that he was sorry to hear it, but that he still loves me.  Gotta love him!
A few days ago Ryan Bell over at Life After God asked people to post messages on their social media using #IWantBelieversToKnow.  So I did. I posted #‎IWantBelieversToKnow‬ that the more I studied and prayed about god, and the more I asked him to reveal himself to me, the more questions I had that religious folks couldn’t answer. I seriously tried… For years.”  Now I’m knee deep in a FB conversation between a whole lot of people on both sides of the fence.  It’s very interesting, and no one is being rude.

So yeah.  I’m completely out now.  I am an open atheist.  Hopefully my openness will make it easier for someone else to be open about their lack of belief.

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I Outed Myself at Work Today

Today was our first day back after Christmas break.  We had faculty meetings scheduled for the entire day.  Sadly, over the break, one of our students was tragically killed in a home invasion.

To start the faculty meeting, our principal spoke to the tragedy and said that she knows prayer makes a difference.  She asked everyone to join hands and asked one of the teachers to pray.

I stayed in my seat.  I also noticed that a couple of our staff members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses stayed seated as well.  A couple of teachers around me offered me a hand to hold, but I politely declined.  They all moved over away from me toward the circle of hand holding.  One of the teachers turned around and motioned with her head for me to join the circle, and I smiled and shook my head.

After more than 15 minutes of preaching, several prayers, and some possible tongue talking, they all made their ways back to their seats.

At the first break the teacher who motioned me to join the group came over and asked why I didn’t join the prayer: “Don’t you believe in god?”  I smiled and answered that I didn’t.  A couple of other teachers nearby overheard and said they thought I went to (my former) church.  I said that I used to, but not anymore.  They seemed like they thought I was joking with them.  But I reassured them that no, I do not believe in god.  There was a little more discussion about why, but I only had a few minutes before the meeting started back up, so I couldn’t really get into it.  I did say that after studying the scripture more closely I realized what a horrible god the god of the Bible is.  I told them that for him to be worthy of my worship he would have to be as good as I am.  And since I’ve never killed, ordered genocide, or ordered the rape of little girls that I must be better than god.  “It’s in the Bible”, I told them.  Hopefully it will pique their interest and they’ll get in a little study time.

Word was spread to one or two others who informed me that they would be praying for me.  Thanks?  Is that supposed to make me feel better?

Either way, there were a few funny looks and a bit of denial, but nothing bad happened as a result.  Hopefully it will all stay well in the future.

Update

Hey folks,  It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been dealing with some personal issues.  A lot has been happening, but I’ve been having trouble with motivation.  That probably has to do with the fact that I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  I think it’s got a lot to do with my religious upbringing, among other things.  I have been on medication for the last month and it seems to be helping.  I finally get to meet with my therapist for the first time tomorrow.  Hopefully she will help me start working on some of my issues.  This is a big step for me.

Among other things going on…

I got to go to the launch party for Ryan Bell’s new initiative, Life After God.  I took my wife (who is still a christian) and she did the most amazing thing.  When Ryan asked for people to give their opinions on what the movement should focus on, she got up in front of a bunch of atheists and said that she thinks there needs to be more support for people coming out of religion who are still married to religious spouses.  That blew me away!  I was really having doubts about our relationship until that moment.  Sure, there are still things we need to work through, but that’s coming along.

Neil Carter of Godless in Dixie was there and he took a few moments to speak with me and my wife.  He is such an amazing person for caring enough to take the time to give us some advice and try to help us out.  I cannot say enough how thankful I am.  He recommended we read the book In Faith and In Doubt together.  We have started reading it and making notes.  Amazing stuff!  I really think this is going to start some conversations that will improve our relationship and help us for the long run.

There were several other people I met who made a tremendous impact on me.  Cass Midgley of the podcast Everyone’s Agnostic spent some time talking with us.  What a great guy.  He offered to have us on the podcast, but I haven’t contacted him as of yet.  I may do that as soon as I am finished writing this post.

We also met one of the guests that Cass had on his show, Hugh Mann.  He has a great story to tell that shows just how difficult it is to be a nonbeliever in the general area I live in.  What a great guy!

Another great thing that happened just this Saturday was a conversation with my little sister.  She is the one who is no longer a oneness pentecostal, but she is still very christian and very conservative.  Recently she asked me how church was and I told her that I hadn’t been going.  Well, this last Saturday while talking to her she asked whether I was an atheist or an agnostic or what.  I came out and told her point blank that I was both.  To my surprise she said she loves me anyway and she doesn’t want this to mess up our relationship.  She also made a comment that makes me think that my dad will be OK with my non-belief as well, but that is another conversation I will have to have later.

The last thing I’d like to mention is that I received David Silverman’s new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World.  I read it in about two days (in my free time) and I can now say, “I get it!”  I understand why he seems so confrontational.  It’s all about equality.  If you are a closeted atheist, or any stripe of nonbeliever, you should seriously consider reading this book.  He talks about the reasons American Atheists do what they do and how it helps all of us who are nonreligious.  As a result of reading this book, I joined American Atheists, and I have some advocacy plans (tentative) for the Freethinkers Meet-Up group I fellowship with.  I haven’t discussed it with them yet, but I think they will be on board.

That’s what’s been going on with me.  Sorry for taking so long to post.  I think I’m back on the uphill.

Coming Out of the (Non-belief) Closet to My Younger Sister

When I got home this evening my wife was on the phone with my little sister.  I haven’t talked with her in a few weeks, so I grabbed the phone and we spoke about life and kids and all kinds of typical long-distance sibling stuff.  Somewhere along in the conversation, she asked me about how church was going…

I said that I didn’t know.  She reacted in a questioning manner.  I figured that now is the time, if ever it was.

So I told her that I haven’t been to church in several months.  Then I proceeded to explain why.  I explained that the last six or seven years of my life, since leaving oneness pentecostalism have been a search for “the ultimate truth” of god and which version of christianity is right.  I gave her the whole spiel about 40,000 plus versions of christianity using the same source text, but disagreeing over what true christianity is, so there must be some flaws in the source text.

She asked if I had prayed about all of this, and I told her I had done more than my share of praying.  I also told her that I had read the stories of others who had gone through the same things that I had gone through and prayed, and when they got to that point, that’s when they realized god didn’t answer their prayers.  I went through the whole spiel about 90% of prayers aren’t answered, but christians chalk it up to “god working in mysterious ways”.  She said that he also says “no”.  So I asked her how she knows that he actually says “no”.  An answer from silence isn’t an answer at all…

At some point in the conversation, I actually used the phrase, “when I was a christian…” referring to something about praying.  At that point, I knew for sure that it was all or none.  I basically told her that I didn’t believe any of the christian myth anymore.  I said something to the effect of “40,000 versions of christianity disagree over what true christianity is, even while using the same source text, so there must be something wrong with the source text.  And god doesn’t actually answer prayers, except when it’s coincidental, so either there isn’t a god or he doesn’t really care about us.”

I then said something to the effect of “I know you don’t fully understand this or support this or agree with this decision, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.”

What happened next really surprised me.  She actually said that still loved me and didn’t want anything to come between us as brother and sister.  I returned the sentiment.

I am very surprised in one way that she didn’t blow up or go overboard, but in another way I’m not.  Her Facebook persona is a lot more ultra-right wing religious fanatic than she is in real life.  Or maybe she is a lot like me and wants to avoid a confrontation at all costs.  Or maybe (and this is the one I like) she really meant it.

Hopefully it stays this way and she won’t hound me or become negative like so many of the stories I’ve heard from others who have become openly secular with their families.  Obviously this recounting of events is a paraphrase and I’ve left a lot out, but overall, I am more than pleased with how it turned out, considering the horror stories I’ve heard from others about the same situation.  I’ll keep you updated when new things happen in this story.

Coming Out as a Non-Believer to my Brother

I had a great visit with my brother and his family this weekend.  He came through town and spent the 4th with us.  The next morning, he and I were the first up, so we sat on the deck with our coffee and had a conversation about the way things are.

He’s actually the one who started it.  Since it was a Sunday morning, and my wife had already left for church, I think that’s what prompted him to talk about it.  He mentioned how much more time he has now that he doesn’t regularly go to church.  A few years ago, he moved from the west coast to the northern limits of the South and started attending my uncle’s church.  My uncle is a dyed-in-the-wool oneness pentecostal who still holds to the “holiness standards”, while my brother is a pretty normal guy.  They had a falling out over a lot of things, but mostly my uncle’s attitude toward other people, especially other christians.  The easiest way to describe it is that my uncle’s stance is “they’re all going to hell because they don’t believe the way we do.”  That didn’t sit well with my brother who is a lot more willing to let all kinds of christians into heaven.

After that, they started going to a small independent church that used to be baptist, but some of the ministers there made my brother reconsider.  My brother got into this “hyper grace” movement (I think as a result of the spat with my uncle), and some of the ministers at the new church didn’t teach that.  My brother finally stopped going regularly about the same time that I finally realized I was no longer a believer in the supernatural.  His wife decided to continue going until the current season of AWANA is over, since she is in charge of it.  The last he told me about his situation is that they are thinking about just having a small circle of friends start a house-to-house fellowship on Sundays instead of doing traditional church.

But in the midst of this conversation, I started talking about my own journey.  I reiterated a few points I had already told him about in phone conversations in the past.  I mentioned the archaeology issue and some of the scriptural non-agreement issues.  Then I started talking about John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith and it’s inherent points.  I then told him that this lead me to the point thatI needed something to hold onto about the faith that would make it real.  “The prophesies of Jesus as messiah in the Old Testament” I told him “were the only thing that would keep it real for me.  But when I started studying them, they broke down too.”

Then I told him that I no longer believe any of it.

He almost didn’t react at all.  He just kind of nodded and kept on talking, as if he had already figured that out about me.  No fireworks, no “A-Ha!”, no crazy shenanigans.  Just my brother and me having a conversation.

I really think it’s kind of dead for him too, but he just doesn’t want to go as far as I have.  He still holds on to the love of god.  His Facebook feed is full of posts from Danny Lee Silk, who is all about loving others, and a couple of other hyper grace preachers, who are very similar to universalists.  Back in April he even posted an article about why homosexuals are good for the church, and it’s a positive slant on that issue.  In our conversation he said that he just wants to make the world a better place by being a good person to everyone he meets.  But he didn’t even relate that to being good because of god or religion.  I really think he’s lost his faith in christianity, but hasn’t seen enough evidence in the right places to make his give it up entirely.  As John Loftus says, “Most people won’t find their faith improbable until they find it impossible.”  I think that’s where he is.

The evening before, he mentioned off-hand that while they were living on the west coast they had gone to a market night and were sitting in front of a cafe having a cup of coffee.  While they were sitting there an atheist group started setting up their awning and display for the market night.  My brother said that he got up and helped them finish setting up.  Afterward, one of them asked if he was an atheist, and he said, “No, but you looked like you needed help.”  After a bit more conversation he started to leave.  He shook they guy’s hand and said “God bless you… Just kidding.”  I’m not sure why he brought that up, but I’m sure it had something to do with our conversation the next morning.  I’m still processing it all.

My Son Got Baptized

A few weeks ago my wife informed me that our youngest son was going to be baptized.  She told me that she wanted me to be there to support him during this important event in his life.  I had very mixed feelings about this, but I decided to do the “good for the family” thing and go without any argument on my part.

The backstory is that a few weeks ago, she asked if I wanted to go to  graduation party for one of the kids in the church and I told her I didn’t care to.  She got moody for a few days, and when she asked me again, I gave her the same answer.  She then went off on me a little about me not wanting to spend time with her and the kids.  Which is not true: I actually do, just not around church folks, since I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing… And all that.  So I finally told her that I didn’t realize it was that important to her, and conceded.  It actually wasn’t that bad.  They are a very gracious family and didn’t bring up anything about me not being in church for a while.

So this time, when she asked, I said yes almost immediately.

So this Wednesday night I got to the service in the middle of the announcements, so I actually had to look around for a seat.  I noticed some of my wife’s baptist family sitting near the front.  They came just for the occasion, so I decided to go sit in an empty seat near them.  None of them know yet that I’ve rejected their religion, so I was hoping none of the regulars would do that awkward “We haven’t seen you in soooo long” spiel that I was almost expecting and blow my cover, so to speak.

A bit after I sat down, one of the men in the church came over and shook my hand.  He had the strangest grin on his face as he said, “It is sooo good to see you.”

So then they baptized about 15 people, my son among them.  As I was sitting there, my chest got tight and I had a bit of difficulty breathing when he got into the water.  I still don’t know exactly how to explain what I was feeling.  As I write this, I am re-experiencing that exact same feeling.  It’s a bit of sadness combined with disappointment in myself for not being able to really explain my side of things, partially because of his age and partially because I don’t want to mess things up, as far as my relationship with my family.  There’s also some lack of sureness.  There’s a bit of doubt about whether I’ve made the right decision about my faith (although that goes away pretty quickly when I look at the evidence) but more about the future of my family.  I do not want to lose them.  I don’t want my family to fail.  And that’s constantly on my mind.  I know if it fails for “difference of view” reasons, that would be my fault for realizing what a sham Christianity is, but I cannot continue to live by a faith that isn’t true.  So I’ll keep doing everything I can to keep the peace and make this strange new version of my family work.

Anyway, when they started baptizing these kids and teenagers, the rest of the youth group would run up to the front and hold up signs they had made for each of those being baptized.  They had personalized each sign with a pithy saying or rhyme for each person.  All of this was accompanied by cheers and clapping.  It was very irreverent to the baptists in the family, but that’s just run of the mill for this church.  I guess they’re keeping it “relevant” for the youth.

All the while this was happening, I was thinking about the power of indoctrination.  Everyone was so into what was going on: buying every word he said.  The pastor made sure to tell everyone that once they were baptized their lives would be changed.  “You’ll be a new person” he said.  Ironically (or maybe not), the next day my son continued to act exactly as he did prior to being baptized.  No change at all.  I remember when my older son was baptized, I had the exact same observation about how rude he could be to his brother.  Only this time, I understand why there was no change: it’s just water, not Jesus magic.

After the last baptism, they asked everyone to stand, so I slipped out the back.  As I was walking into the foyer, one of the assistant pastors nearly ran my down.  She also had that weird grin.  “I just wanted to let you know how happy I am that you came tonight.”

As I was walking through the foyer, the other assistant pastor said something about how wonderful it was for my son to be baptized.  I just kind of nodded and said “Mmhmmm” or something.  It was all so surreal.

Anyway, that’s what happened.  My son got baptized.  I’m still processing the experience.

Two Approaches to Atheism

I’ve been watching videos on Youtube the last few days and found some interesting views on Atheism.

One of the most relevant for me is Neil Carter of the Godless in Dixie blog on Patheos.  I personally identify with many of the things he has said and written about.  We both live in the south.  We both come from fundamentalist/ evangelical backgrounds. We are both teachers.  We are both trying to find our place in this new world of rejecting the norms of the society we find ourselves in.  I really like Neil’s advice in the video below.  I think this is pretty much where I find myself right now.

Another view that I am starting to identify with is David Silverman of American Atheists.  He has been an atheist since he was a kid, and is the president of a major Atheist organization.  He has a different perspective.  I aspire to be this open about my beliefs (or lack thereof) someday.

That being said, I see the value of both of these views.  Both have a relevant place, but It seems to me as a continuum, with Neil’s position being a great starting point, and David’s being a great fulfillment.  That’s an oversimplification, but hopefully you’ll get my point.

In a conversation with my wife last night, who still goes to church and identifies as a Christian, she asked me why I have to obsess with “this stuff” so much.  “When will you just make this who you are and get on with your life?”  As a response, I showed her Neil’s above video.  Neil does a great job of explaining the difficulties of openly identifying as an atheist where I live.  In addition, all of my immediate family are deeply spiritual people who base their entire worldview on the Bible.  So in order to not sour my relationship with them, I am trying to ease them into who I have become.  But that’s just my personal journey.  It’s probably similar to some others’ journeys, and completely different that another others’ journeys.  Either way, I see both of these views as important, viable ways to address where I am.  It’s not an argument, it’s just different ways of addressing the situation.  As David Silverman says at the end of the video, “Avoid attacking intramovement” (other views on atheism).  We’re all out there doing what we can, where we are.