For a long time, I kept my doubts about the god I was taught to believe in hidden. Whenever it came up, I changed the subject or just went with the flow. I bowed my head for grace at my family’s Thanksgiving table. Moved my lips with the words to the Lord’s Prayer on the rare occasions I was obliged to sit in a church. I let the “everything happens for a reason” mantra spill from my face whenever it seemed to fit the situation.
It was awkward, but I was surrounded by believers. Everyone was doing it. I didn’t want to stand out. The irony, of course, was that I was not shy about the fact that I was a stripper.
As I found other out atheists and non-believers, mostly online, I grew more comfortable.
Soon that comfort became the need to tell everyone. I stopped shying away from jokes and memes poking fun at believers and religion, and reveled in sharing them.
It felt so good. Like taking off a pair of tight jeans.
No longer hiding in the shadow of the Christian Cross, I was free to express myself. And the really cool thing was I found many other people like myself. Both online and in my real life. There were so many others who had been hiding their doubts as I had been.
I hadn’t realized it, but I was angry. I was angry at feeling like I had to hide at all. Finally feeling able to express it was cathartic. The angrier and more upsetting the joke or meme, the more I wanted to share it.
There came a point, though, when I started to feel like I was being kind of a jerk. After all, I did know what it felt like to have people throw their own worldviews in my face. It sucks.
And the vast majority of believers in my life, whether church-going Christians or just believers in a higher power, didn’t do that. In fact, it didn’t even come up that often. And when it did, it was more of a passing comment.
The church lady telling me I was going to hell for anything from being a stripper to simply expressing my doubts just wasn’t in my face. Online and social media were a different story, but that doesn’t often accurately reflect the reality of my life. Certainly not with the people, I was close to.
Why was I so angry?
I was angry because I felt like I had to hide. But when I finally let that go, I found it was much more of my own hang-up than any kind of real threat. I don’t live in a country where I could be charged with a crime. Granted, there are still places in America where it isn’t always safe to call yourself an atheist. But even those places aren’t calling for the imprisonment or execution of non-believers. And slowly, even those places are changing.
My anger began to morph into a softer and kinder emotion. I could express myself without making fun of believers. Most of them are just trying to figure out life as I was. They weren’t tossing out bible quotes or threats of eternal damnation. Most of the believers I know aren’t even Christian. They are more likely to share their horoscope than try to get me to worship their god.
Being meh reflected not only how I wanted people to treat me, but also how I felt inside. I just didn’t feel the need to waste my energy on being mad at other people’s beliefs.
I still love a good hitch slap, and I don’t hide my atheism in my everyday life. But I am not as eager as I once was to voice my thoughts in a way that is likely to offend.
Rather than trying to convince believers how wrong they are, I try to get them to think about it. Consider why they believe what they do, and if it is making their lives better.
I do think the world would be a better place with less magical thinking. A softer and gentler approach with believers not only helps normalize and destigmatize atheism, but it is a better way to get people to consider their beliefs and why they believe them.