Skylar is 24.
She just became an atheist and is facing a lot of the difficulties that come with that territory. Ironically, even with atheist parents, this is not an easy process.
This is her story:
I’m a new atheist.
I’m an atheist.
That’s a little hard to wrap my head around. It’s been about a week now, and I’m to the point of stating it (i.e. my brand spankin’ new Facebook religion entry), but not advertising it (i.e. I chose to “hide” that on my mini-feed). Frankly, I don’t think anyone will believe me.
Once upon a time, my Facebook religion entry said “window shopper.” I was raised by atheistic parents in the Bible Belt but fell prey to the students who told me that, according to their parents, my parents (and therefore, me) were going to Hell (complicated, right?). Religion has always been divisive in my life. For instance, my aunt and grandmother concocted a plan to kidnap my infant self. Yes, I mean this literally and seriously, and unbeknownst to me, it tore my family apart for years. What amazes me is that my aunt never attended church either — the religious excuse was just a means to a personal end for her. But I believe my grandmother had misguided concern for my well-being. She didn’t believe that non-religious parents could raise an ethical, well-adjusted child.
My mother is openly and unabashedly hateful towards theists, and she made church the forbidden fruit. Combine forbidden fruit with the fact that all social life in my town revolved around one’s church. I desperately wanted to attend church and be “normal.”
My mother eventually allowed me to attend church, but only Catholic church “because they’re not religious.” I also spent a couple of years at an evangelical church. When I misbehaved in high school, I wasn’t grounded; I was forbidden to go to youth group. Like many teens, I forayed into paganism at various points along the way, but that was something I didn’t advertise. My senior year of high school, I fell away from everything, in spite of still being a leader in the Catholic youth retreat programs Quest and Search.
At the ripe young age of twenty, I was engaged to a lapsed reform Jew from Scotland, who suffered a great deal of religious discrimination growing up. One day he joked that I needed to be Jewish to “have his babies,” so being the inquisitive type, I started researching the faith. I fell in love with Judaism, and long story short, that’s what ended our relationship a year later. He had such a negative relationship with Judaism that my love for it drove a wedge between us. I spent four years working towards the goal of an orthodox conversion, which was never completed. I know I’m going to miss Judaism. A lot, in fact. However, I was never very good at following rules. Lots and lots of rules.
Running in some pretty “intellectual” circles, I’m always amazed by the people who criticize my forays into religion. I am known as the religious equivalent of John “the Flip Flopper” Kerry. Simply by exploring many different religious views, my opinions on those worldviews are worthless to them. Since I “can’t seem to pick a religion,” people stop listening when I mention one. “Oh, right, are you still trying Judaism?” is something I hear a lot. You’d think four years would say something! Reactions like those would be very different if I were Christian, however. In general, the most irrational people seem to be the ones who most demand consistency in opinions. But I have the unfortunate habit of being willing to accept a better premise. This translates to many people as, “can’t make a decision and stick with it.” I hold my opinions very strongly, which you know if you’ve ever argued with me, but if a better answer presents itself, I am able to drop my previous opinion quickly and without a fuss. I don’t feel the need to linger and fight when I’ve been proven wrong or simply misguided. Why is that a negative quality? Perhaps the world would be a better place if people could compromise so easily.
So now I face the difficult decisions of who to tell about my atheism and when to tell them. I can guarantee that 80% of the people who’ve known me a while will roll their eyes. It’s serious enough that it makes me doubt myself and my intellect. If enough people tell you that you are incapable of maintaining a decision, when does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy? I bought in to years of people saying I was too logical, too rational, too “un-emotional.” When did we as a society decide that rationality was a bad thing and that logic and emotion are mutually exclusive? I can only hope that the logic, beauty, and consistency I’ve discovered will help keep me afloat. Who knows how long it’ll take for anyone to take me seriously! My parents may be atheists, but after cramming religious dogma down their throats since the age of three (thanks, my other Grandma!), I don’t expect them to believe that I’m really an atheist anytime soon.
Whoever thought it would be hard to tell atheist parents that you’re an atheist?