Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It's a coming out party! (if you don't count all the bullshit drama...)

So in a country where we pride ourselves on our freedoms and liberties there are few things that get more hate, disdain and violent or threatening behavior than being different.  We are Americans and we like things done the American way and anytime we, as individuals, find that things are not the "American Way" we tend to get a little ugly.

Two such things that get some pretty harsh treatment is coming out as a gay or as an atheist.  For today I will not be dealing with the gay part (and no there are no surprises from me there!) but rather I would like to talk about coming out as an atheist.  Now in a country that has such a large Christian population being an atheist is not a popular thing.  Sure it is not as bad as it used to be but for many of us that grew up in a strong Christian environment it can be quite a huge step to come out and tell people that you have changed, for whatever reason, that you know longer believe what you were raised up believing.

I think back to my "coming out" and in typical fashion it was pretty blunt and straight forward.  I tend to be pretty blunt and to the point.  I wish I had done things differently now and wish I knew then what I have learned along the way the last few years.  So here are some things I wish people had told me back then...

Make it about faith, not about God

I know it seems like semantics but seriously people, isn't a lot of religion about semantics?  I am an atheist.  I do not have a problem with the concept of god.  What I have a problem with is that there is no empirical evidence that can prove the existence of god and therefore what is required is a strong dose of faith.  Famed evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins once said that, "Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."  Even the Bible's definition of faith seems lacking.  If you take Hebrews 11:1 it says, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Simply put substance is not hope and evidence that cannot be seen is not evidence at all.  As an atheist, yes, I do not believe in god.  But I do not believe in god not because I don't like the concept or idea of god but rather because in order to believe in god I would have to have faith and despite the fact that there is no proof of his existence I would have to accept it on faith.  So as an atheist, the root of my belief is NOT that there is no god.  The root of my belief, or lack thereof as the case might be, is that there is no proof and therefore my real problem is with faith, not with god.

Now why is this important when dealing with Christians?  Christians all the time say that they have had moments of doubting their faith.  Preachers even often will say this.  I have likened it to the Staples "Easy" button, except instead of saying easy my big red button has "Faith" on it.  So every time a Christian doubts their faith, they cannot find an explanation to a question or something comes along that makes them scratch their head they find themselves doubting their faith and then "faith" kicks in, like a a big red button and they just accept it, they ignore those doubts and fears and that small voice in their head that says "cough, bullshit, cough" and accept it on faith. So since Christians are familiar with this process, even they can understand the problem with faith.  If you are attacking their god, that is a different matter all together!  Every rule they have followed, every decision they have made, every hope that they have is based on their god.  They can handle you having a problem with faith, but not with you having a problem with their god.  Since the point here, in coming out, is to express YOUR beliefs and not necessarily attack theirs it can make the process a little more palatable to them and makes them a little bit less of a headache because now instead of you having to deal with accusations on how "angry" you are they will just pat you on the head and make some comment about how they too have doubted their faith and it is just a process and you will be back.  This can be just as irritating to you as an intelligent human being but it is, most of the time, less of a problem during family reunions than taking the more aggressive path.

It is a Journey; do not claim to know all the answers

Life is a journey and with every journey there is a beginning and there is a destination.  Never pretend to have all the answer, after all, that is one of the problems with Christianity, it assumes to have all the answers and when it does not have an answer it plugs in the same answer every time ..God.  Christopher Hitchens once said, in what is one of my favorite quotes, "Arguments that explain everything, explain nothing."  If your answer to every unanswerable question is "God" then you have answered nothing in the first place.  The fascinating thing about becoming an atheist, after living such a long time in faith where all the "answers" were provided for us we now have begun a journey to understand the world around us.  Where do we come from?  How did the world begin?  Is it a young world as creationists would have us believe or is it a much older world?  Questions and answers that lead to more questions on all kinds of subjects such as philosophy, theology, morality and theological beliefs loom ahead of us and rather than cowering away from them and hiding behind old myths and legends we search for answers that have facts and impirical evidence.

The important thing though, at this stage, when you are coming out to your family and friends that are believers is that you do not pretend to have all the answers, instead I know that I was awed by the immense questions that loomed ahead of me.  If I was not going to a heaven or hell then what was I here for.  If my purpose was not to be the pawn of some omnipotent being then what was the meaning of my life?  The point is that we do not have all of the answers and we are on a journey to find those answers.  The inevitable answer is that they have the answers and all you have to do is read the Bible, but at that point in the conversation they are missing the point.

Another thing about this is that it helps us avoid one of the biggest mistakes that we as atheists make when interacting with Christians, condescending. Let's face it, one of the things that most Christians hate about atheists is that all to often we treat them like they are stupid for believing.  Now, out of respect to those that might read this and are believers, I want you to know that as atheists we do sometimes feel that people that believe willfully allow themselves to be misled and I know that this attitude can come across as condescending and I really can't blame you.  But in all fairness, we feel condescended to and judged by Christians most of the time as well, and while I know that two wrongs do not make a right, unfortunately the reality of it is that anybody that does not agree with us is an idiot regardless of the belief system or lack thereof.  As an atheist coming out to your friends the question is are you doing it to irritate them and stir up a nest or to declare where you stand on one of the biggest issues of our time?  Are you doing it for them or for yourself?  Determine your motive and act accordingly, but I will tell you from experience that condescending to them or treating them like idiots is not going to help your case or the reputation and image of atheists and secular humanists everywhere.

Be respectful

This is obvious, or should be at least but seriously...there is no need or cause to be rude about it.  How many of us have dealt with Christians judging us because we don't do things right, or because we doubt, or we don't believe, or we don't go to church and a myriad of other things and how did that make us feel?  Now do not get me wrong, I am not saying that there are not times that confrontation is not necessary.  A perfect example of this was the late Christopher Hitchens who was and still is one of my heroes, an intelligent man with a sharp brain and a sharper tongue.  He once said that, "There can be no progress without head-on confrontation."  And sometimes that confrontation becomes necessary.  The point is that while I have little to no respect for religion I do have respect for the religious individual simply because I demand respect and therefore I give respect.  The moment that respect is not given I have often responded in kind without apology.  However, if you are just coming out you may not want to start a big fight with a group of people that you are not prepared to deal with.

Don't expect it to be easy

Let's face it, you are testing everything they believe by saying that it is not enough for you.  There is a herd mentality in Christianity that cannot be denied.  Hitchens again said it the best when he said that, "Everything about Christianity is contained in the pathetic image of 'the flock.'" When you determine that you are not part of the flock anymore the other members of the flock that are directly connected to you may feel threatened.  Think about it, if there is a chance that you are right then there is a chance that they are wrong.  They have to bring you back to the "fold" as much for your good as for theirs since it would reassure them that they are right.

The point is that you should not go into this expecting it to be easy.  You will be called names.  You will be told that a "fool hath said in his heart, there is no God."  You will be told that you are the problem with America.  That you will be dragging your children to hell with you.  You will be told that you cannot be a moral person, faithful person or a responsible partner.  You will be told that atheists cannot be trusted and should not be able to vote.  You will be told.that this is a Christian nation and if you can't handle that then just go ahead move to communist Russia (that is no longer Communist), to Iran or to some other equally disagreeable place.  You will be told you are going to hell.  You will be told that God believes in you even if you don't believe in him.  And the list goes on and on.  It will not just happen when you come out it will become a way of life as long as they are a part of your life and if they are family that will be for a very long time.  Congratulations, you have become the prodigal son/daughter and you have become the prize in a very long, and aggravating game and there is not a damn thing you can do about it!

But here is the thing.  It is worth it all.  Did you ever watch the movie, "The Matrix"?  It has one of my favorite scenes as an atheist and I know I have mentioned it before.  The scene where Morpheus offers two pills to Neo and one would send him back to his own bed and he could go on believing whatever he wanted to and the other would wake him up from the lies he had been living and he would find out deep the rabbit hole goes.  That was the choice you made...the choice to discover, the choice to free your mind and become something more.  Not only did you make the choice but you had the courage to stand up and let it be known.  That is not something to be ashamed of and ultimately it is something worth taking a little heat and a little needling over.

Don't be a martyr but don't be a victim

This is important.  Don't do this to get attention.  Don't do this because you know it is going to stir up trouble.  Please, for the sake of the rest of us, don't demean the rest of us with your foolish emotional and useless games.  Don't become a persecuted martyr.  There are enough Christians playing the victim and the persecuted card, don't add yourself to that pile of shit!  You are not a a martyr, you made a choice that opens up a world of possibilities and a world of questions and a world of discovery.  Enjoy that!  On the other hand do not be a victim, do not let Christians bully you around and make no mistake, there are those that will.  Christians are taught that they have to "save souls" at any expense, the supposed author of Jude in the Bible refers to it as, "And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh." (Jude 1:23) In other words, any means necessary even if you have to scare them to death!  Recognize that you have just as much rights as the Christians do in this fine country in which we live.

Christopher Hitchens once said (and yes, I am a big fan of his) that you should "take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way."  Congratulations on making that decision and on moving away from the herd.  You now have a chance to stand up to this mentality that is ruling our country to be a dissident, if you will.  Remember that, "Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith.  We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.  We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake." (Hitchens)



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