This isn’t a post about adultery, but this is a post about shame.
I have a confession to make.
Most of my friends and family know that I am passionate about (civil) discussions of religion, especially when religion and some religious believers demand that our political system and our culture follow their version of faith, be it in our personal lives or in our political and business systems. I am pretty sure most of them just assume I’m “spiritual” and not religious or that I do believe in a God or a higher power of some sort even though I don’t believe in church.
I am an atheist.
This means I don’t believe in God, Allah, Vishnu, Krishna, or any other supreme being. I don’t believe heaven, hell or any other sort of salvation or damnation concepts.
I’ve said those four words a few times in front of various religious friends and family and I can see them wince at the word. Once or twice I was even shushed as if I’d used seriously foul language in front of children, but they are too polite or forgiving, or even maybe they know me well enough to know that I’m not that atheist.
Identifying as an atheist does not mean that I am morally deficient, misguided in my views of the universe, or that science is my substitute for the divine. It does not mean I hate Christians or Muslims or America. It just means that I don’t — I can’t — believe in a supreme being that intercedes in our day to day life to either bring us fortune or bring us hope.
Please don’t close your browser yet. I promise I am not about to go on a vitriolic rant about religion or people of faith.
Sometimes people say to me, “How can you not look at the beauty of the sky and not believe in God?”
To be honest, I just can’t. I’ve tried. The idea that a single being could create the vastness of our universe just seems, for lack of a better term, absurd. I guess it’s like trying to convince someone that the Taj Mahal or Empire State was built single-handedly.
I remember being five or six years old and watching the space shuttle launch into outer space and thinking that if God lived in the sky someone surely would have seen him. We had been to the moon and back, and still no sign of a deity. Sure, there is still a possible infinity to explore beyond our tiny corner of the universe, but I think I just figured that if there was a God like the one described in religion that he or she would surely have made their self known the moment we left the planet. I mean if a deity put us here, wouldn’t they notice if we left? Especially one that seems so concerned with what we do in our day to day (and private) lives.
When I look at the sky I feel awe, and wonder, and curiosity, but mostly I feel simultaneously infinite and infinitesimal. I feel as if the possibilities of my curiosity and my existence will somehow live forever and even if my life were to span a millennium, it would still not be enough to know or experience all of the vastness of the observable universe (which our knowledge of is expanding daily).
I’ve had people comment on my various writing works discussing my depression or anxiety telling me that I just needed to make the decision to believe or that if I just prayed I would find God and all my negative brain activity would disappear.
I have tried, and I’ve come to the same conclusion every time. I can’t force myself into belief.
I want to clear a few things up about myself as an atheist, and maybe about a lot of other atheists.
I love my friends of various faiths. I love the way their God, their interpretation of their religion’s scripture, and their ritual give their lives meaning.
There have been times that I wished my mind and my heart would allow me to overlook all of the terrible things done in God’s name or all of the awful things done because someone was following words written down hundreds or thousands of years ago that may have been culturally relevant then, but in our current society are considered abusive. I wish I could ignore the abuse that is and has been heaped upon women, those of other beliefs, and those who refuse to conform to the beliefs of the time, even when that time is now.
When I say I believe in evolution, that doesn’t just mean I believe in the Theory of Evolution and how we came to be, but it means that I believe in a constant evolution. I believe that we grow based on our experiences and we adapt to our culture and our surroundings and those that do not adapt will cease to exist. If we as a species do not evolve with the changes of the earth (whether man made or natural), we too will perish.
The few times I’ve admitted that I’m an atheist, there is often a palpable discomfort that lingers in the air.
In some company it is almost like trying to drop the C-word gracefully, but it’s something that needs to be said so that I can explain my perspective in some conversational circles.
I hate this feeling.
I hate seeing the flicker of judgment pass through the face of those I care about. I hate that in that second, whether conscious or not, they have weighed me against all of the horrible things they’ve heard at church about atheists. I hate that even though I’ve never belonged to a church or believed in God, that I automatically look inward to be certain that I am not the immoral, God-hating, religious bashing heretic they’ve been taught to fear and loathe. I hate that we have both weighed me against those who spew vitriol against the religious and spend their free time insulting anyone that is religious.
In their faces, I feel my shame. Shame that I have identified myself with people who would engage others with the sole purpose of instigation and castigation.
I am not ashamed to not believe in God, but it is shameful that atheists are the least trusted and most despised demographic. I am ashamed of the talking heads that seemingly represent atheists in the social sphere. I find it abhorrent that so many atheists would insult believers just for believing.
I would rather break bread with a hundred people who don’t share my belief, but are willing to engage in a conversation about it — no matter how uncomfortable for either of us, than one person who will insult anyone who doesn’t share their lack of belief.
Camicia Bennett: Founder of The Well Written Woman, Florida Native and cerebral creature, she loves her husband, yoga, red wine, potty humor, swearing superfluously and putting hats on her dog. If given her druthers she’d be surfing the web and writing randomness from someplace sunny and tropical whilst sipping her favorite vino. Oh wait, that’s exactly what she does.You can find her randomly sharing her own brand of slightly pretentious propaganda at her personal blog.