The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter
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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 don’t.

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.

 

CamProfileCamicia 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.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted May 22, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I get it from both sides. I was raised in an atheist household, but an experience that science can’t explain when I was 20 sent me on a “seeker” path. This makes my family very uncomfortable. Yet I’m not a “believer” in any particular religion, so the proselytizers get after me for that. Personally I love talking about all of it, and I believe that morality and compassion have nothing to do with a belief system. But so many people rush to judgment instead of being INTERESTED in different points of view. I can only assume that’s because a different opinion threatens their own beliefs so much they can’t listen. Which also says to me that they aren’t that sure . . .

    • Cam
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I love discussing these things! But I’ve always been one that loves to talk about the things polite society says you shouldn’t discuss! 😉

  2. Rita Van Trump
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    i was raised in an atheist household, and have felt this same way, Camicia. i avoid the subject like the plague because i don’t want to be insulted and shamed, just because of how i was raised and feel.
    i have only had one “good” conversation about my “beliefs” with someone who was doing a learning quest or something for his spiritual learning (an assignment from Sunday school, i think). it was over a decade ago. i was totally honest about how i could feel the way i do…about why i feel the way i do.
    he is my immediate supervisor. he respects my views. he doesn’t believe in my views, but he respects them. i think in that assignment, he learned to respect others’ beliefs.
    i wish more “believers” were like that.

    • Cam
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I have had a lot of crappy conversations, but I’ve also had some really, really wonderful conversations. I’m sure some of those have caused people to reconsider their friendship with me. It’s frustrating, but when I’ve had the opportunity to have the really great ones based in mutual curiosity and understanding – it’s really amazing.

  3. Posted May 22, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Cam, I grew up in a very bizarre religious environment. From a very young age I questioned their teachings and instead of thoughtful conversation was always treated as some kind of heathen. I didn’t question because I didn’t believe in God. I questioned because I didn’t believe in their beliefs about God. I have the absolute most screwed up spirituality you can imagine. I’m pretty sure I believe in God, but I’m not sure if it’s because I actually believe or because I was programmed too. It’s difficult to un-learn something. I can tell you that I find conversations with “Christians” who absolutely refuse to listen to any other side of the argument to be exhausting. All conversations, regardless of your belief should be thought provoking and heart felt. It’s okay to believe differently; it’s not okay to refuse to listen intelligently to any other side. That’s where the problem is. I’m not a heathen because I don’t worship the way some think I should. You’re not a heathen because you don’t believe. The problem lies in people being so un-accepting. Rock on with your bad self. The way I see it is the way I see all things…. you do YOU, I’ll do ME.

  4. Nancy Nally
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    What an amazing way of putting into words what it is like to be us! There are more out gay people in Congress than atheists! Atheists truly are the last group in American society that it is acceptable to marginalize, disparage and even hate. We are society’s untouchables. Discussions of “religious freedom” in a public context always focus on freedom to practice whatever religion a person chooses to – the freedom to NOT practice a religion is usually not even part of the discussion. Like no one wants to admit that atheists even exist. I’m tired of being invisible, afraid to say what I think. I work in a very religious industry and have to basically stay “in the closet” about my lack of belief to avoid professional repercussions. I shouldn’t have to do that anymore than a gay person should have to hide who they are.

    • Cam
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Nancy I once had someone tell me that according to the constitution I had to choose a religion because it said “freedom OF…” not “freedom FROM…”

      I understand your fear of being out as an atheist. That’s one of the reasons it has taken me so long to write this. *hugs* thank you!

  5. James
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    You’re kinda awesome. That is all.

    • Well Written Woman
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      No you

  6. Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    You have put eloquently into words exactly why I too am an atheist. I am a former church attendee (for 12 years, throughout my childhood) but cannot find any belief in either monotheistic or polytheistic religions sustainable or credible. That is my belief. I am a logical, reasoned person. Like you, I respect and admire those of my friends who have a belief in religion (although not necessary the religious organisations themselves!). Luckily I have never had the ‘looks’ or comments you have had… Thank you for writing this!

    • Cam
      Posted May 22, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Thank you for reading!

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