No, he's not gay.
He's an atheist.
And he's very nervous about exiting the non-believer closet.
You see, he fears judgment and rejection -- from family, friends, co-workers. And honestly? I get that. I've been rejected as both a friend and as a romantic partner. I've been judged and shunned (kind of rudely at times, too), by people who consider me not-worth-knowing because I don't believe in their god.
Meh. Their loss.
So, given this seemingly inevitable rejection, my friend thinks I'm brave for being able to announce to people that I don't believe in a god... their god... any god. And he asked how I came to be so brave.
It's not bravery. It's just part of who I am. And it's been a part of who I am for a good portion of my life -- since high school, really. Now, it's not all of who I am... it doesn't define me any more than any one thing about me defines me... but it's part of who I am.
I'm not ashamed of it.
I'm not proud of it either.
It just is.
But his questions and our discussions of late have got me thinking about it; about how we, as a group, are perceived by the world in general... by people who do believe in a god.
In my circle of friends (and in my extended [but definitely not my immediate] family), being an atheist is not really an unusual thing, though it's true that the majority (but definitely not the vast majority) of my peeps fall into the believers-of-something category.
I'm sort of non-discriminatory that way.
There are a whole lot of different types of atheists, just like there are a whole lot of different types of Christians and other people of faith... and while I've met most sorts, most of my atheist friends think more or less the way I do. And we laugh (and shake our heads) at the way we are sometimes perceived, so I figured maybe I could give you all a general picture of atheism from my point of view. Again, I don't presume to speak for all atheists, the same way most of my Christian friends wouldn't presume to speak for all Christians (since you all fall all over the Jesus Spectrum)... but this is the way I see it and the way I "practice" atheism...
- First and foremost, we do not eat babies or kick puppies. Or eat puppies and kick babies. Anymore. (That's so old school.)
- We do not worship the devil. See, the devil is part of religion... and we kind of reject that.
- Even though some of us (and I'm mentioning no names here) might suggest to the Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on our doors that we sacrifice live animals to Beelzebub on a weekly basis, we don't. Really.
- I'd wager that for most of us (me included), atheism is not a way to piss off our mothers. No matter what our mothers think. (It might, however, be a nice little coincidence!)
- Lots of us don't actually claim to know beyond all doubt that there is no god (and yes, I know some of us do... and yes, I know they can quite arrogant about it. Arrogance falls all up and down the religious fence). But unlike people of faith who feel their god, we don't. So we rely on what we know and on what makes sense to us. And what makes sense to us is different from what makes sense to believers. And that? Is actually OK.
- Related to the previous point, lots of us don't even want to argue about it. Why would we? Here's the way I see it: many people more brilliant than I don't believe. Many people more brilliant than I do believe. Who am I to say any of them are wrong? And what can I bring up that they haven't already covered? So I'll just go with what I feel. You go with what you feel. You don't try to change my mind and I won't try to change yours. It's all good.
- Many of us fall into the Humanist category, which means we believe you don't need God to be a good person; we believe people are capable of choosing to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing and not because there could be divine repercussions.
- Given that Humanist thing, most of us have very strong moral compasses/senses of right and wrong, and we tend to stay the course we set for ourselves. When you have no one but yourself from whom to receive absolution, you kind of try to be a good person. Because I don't know about you, but I'm far tougher on myself than any god could be, that's why.
- There are some awful atheists out there, for sure. There are some awful Christians and other believers out there, too. In fact, our prisons are full of people who believe in God. There are a whole lot more believers in jail than non-believers (it's true, look it up). Bottom line? Awful is not confined to any one group of people.
- Lots of us work in service industries because we want to help people. We also volunteer in our communities, we work with kids, we start non-profits, we feed the hungry... we do all manner of good things. It's the moral compass thing. It makes us feel good to do good.
- We love our children. We just choose not to indoctrinate them into the church. And this might shock you, but many of us tell our kids that they need to travel their own spiritual paths (wherever they might lead) -- when they're old enough to understand what that means. In the interim, we teach them right from wrong (again, that moral compass thing).
- Believe it or not, lots of us know even more about religion and the Bible than many believers. See, most of us aren't born atheists; we don't just wake up one day and decide we don't believe. Lots of us were raised in church, right alongside you... but our paths went a different way.
- A bunch of us celebrate Christmas. Because we like presents, that's why. And because the holiday actually focuses on a boatload of traditions and symbols that have nothing to do with Christianity. Hell, Christ wasn't even born at Christmas. Oh, by the way, Happy Holidays!
- And on that note, loads of us believe Christ did live... and that he was probably a pretty great guy (some of us even try to live by many of the values and lessons attributed to him). We just think he was human... and that the Bible - a cool book with some interesting (and some bizarre) stories and lessons - was written by men.
- We don't worry about Hell. We don't believe in it. Well, not in the conventional sense. I figure there are any number of Hells right here on Earth and we each encounter - and sometimes live in - our own, while we're alive.
- We can be thankful without thanking a god (even if we do sometimes say, "thank God!" It's a habit. Sue us). Gratitude doesn't have to be given to any one entity to be valid. Just putting it out there -- just feeling it -- is nice.
- Atheists are not unhappy people who hate Life. Well, there are some like that, certainly, just as there are Christians and other believers like that. And honestly? In my life? I've met many more miserable Christians than I've met miserable atheists. Just sayin'.
- We do believe pretty strongly in the separation of church and state. See, we don't want to stop people from worshipping -- most of us really don't even care what anyone else believes; we simply don't want other peoples' religious views forced on us by our government. It's a freedom of and freedom from religion thing. I know that's one that raises a lot of ire (and it could be a 100-page post all by itself), but it is what it is.
- We know you don't really get us. We kind of don't get you either. But that's OK. It really and truly is. We love lots of you anyway. And we know you love us, too. It's OK. You can admit it.
- Lots of us actually worry about offending our believer friends by stating our views out loud. This seems silly, given that our believer friends don't tend to worry about offending us by stating their views. Go figure.
- We tend not to reject people as friends (or even lovers) because of Believer status. But lots of us have been rejected for being non-believers. Go figure.
In the end, we're just people. Most of us are good... some of us are jerks... just like every other group of people. We love, we care, we work hard, we give, we teach, we laugh and cry and bleed and yell and do everything else that everyone else does... except believe in God. We're not defective or flawed or evil because of our non-belief. We're not people to fear or loathe or pity. Our non-belief doesn't affect anyone else's beliefs in any way, shape, or form. Faith is in you... it's part of you... and it can't be taken or shaken or altered or threatened by anyone else's view.
And given all I've said, I think that my friend should have nothing to fear by stating his beliefs -- or non-beliefs, as the case may be. And I hope one day he feels safe enough to do just that.