A Nice Way to Begin the Week

The best perk of writing a blog is that every now and then you feel relevant and useful.

Myles in Mississippi sent along an email that I’m sure a lot of other atheists can relate to… the third paragraph is especially heartbreaking:

Dear Mr. Mehta,

My name is Myles and I am an atheist in Mississippi. I know that you may get a lot of email and probably don’t have time to read the especially long ones, but I wanted to give you a little of my story, and to thank you.

I am a new viewer of your blog (a follower now), and I recently saw your video discussion with Jay. What you said about how many young people become atheists was exactly right in my case. I am 20 now but I began to doubt the existence of God at around the age of 12 or 13, with no outside help. Like you said I never really had anybody give me any challenging questions about my own faith, but it was at that age that I began to question where I really came from, how the world worked, and why it was that I was a Christian and not a Muslim or a Jew. I began to search for basic answers that were never answered by my parents, Sunday school teachers, youth directors, or preachers. I spent many hours in the library at school and at Barnes and Noble (unbeknownst to my parents) reading everything that I could get my hands on about evolution, the Big Bang, physics, theology, and almost anything science. The answers that I found caused me to renounce my faith and at around the age of 16 I was a full-fledged atheist.

My parents didn’t find out until I was 18 and in college, but the news devastated them. For the first year that my mother found out she continually cried for me, and I’ve had preachers and a few of her friends try to talk to me about my lost faith. Since I live in Mississippi I naturally have no atheist friends. I actually do not personally know one atheist. I go to Mississippi State University and the amount of Christians here is staggering (about 98%). It is extremely difficult to live in a place that shuns your thoughts about religion. I am unable to talk to my family, friends, or any acquaintances about it. It is sites like yours that get me through the day, because it is there that I know that there is still some sanity in the world.

If you don’t already, I just think that you should be aware of how religious some parts of this country are. And I want you to know that your words are making an impact on lives in those regions. Your blog and others is what keeps us in contact with other atheists that we would otherwise not be able to talk to. Thank you.

Yours,

Myles

He wrote me the letter, but I think it should go out to the entire atheist blogosphere — all of you who are writing about atheism as if it’s a normal, rational idea and who do not hide your beliefs.

Myles is not the only person who relies on reason to get him through the day. Surely, there are atheists in his area as well as other places where Christians are in the majority.

This is why it’s so important to come out as a non-believer. The more vocal and open we are, the more others will feel comfortable exploring that option or saying that they feel the same way.

  • Mike

    I think it’s important for Myles to understand that he *does* know some atheists, he just doesn’t know it. The odds are that he knows a handful of people that have lost their faith, they just don’t want to lose their family, their friends, or just don’t have the courage to admit to themselves that they are no longer religious.

    It probably feels lonely sometimes thinking you’re the only one… the key is finding the people that prove you aren’t the only one. They are there, you just have to look. (I live in the midwest, trust me… I know the feeling!)

  • Kate

    I feel like we should be sponsoring the relocation of atheists to “needed” areas, just like the Jewish community!

    We should feel good that the internet allows people like Myles to find other atheists, though! Though it’s disheartening that he doesn’t personally know a single atheist, at least the internet allows for sites like this where people can discuss things and find a community.

  • http://gimparoo.wordpress.com Scott

    Arkansas atheist here. I do know a few others, since I work at the local University, but we are certainly rare. My advice to Myles is to get to know the people in the computer science classes or maybe the physics students. I guarantee there are a few more closeted atheists hanging around the hard science classes.

  • http://www.juanformoso.com.ar Juan Manuel

    I’m an atheist in Argentina. Luckily here religion is not as widespread as it is in the states… there are a *lot* of religious people, but at least you have a little more freedom expressing you are an atheist (or perhaps it’s because I’m so lucky to be surrounded but people who feel like me)

    I went to a catholic elementary school, and started thinking for myself when I was 13 and went to highschool… and had no problems even though my mother is highly spiritual

    Anyway, I feel for Myles and every other person in the world who is trapped in the pressure of others, and cannot express him/herself freely

  • http://backacrosstheline.blogspot.com/ BamaGal

    Living in Alabama I know what it is like to feel alone in my beliefs. One day I decided to google Alabama atheists. I got tons of results. Plus I found a meetup group right in my area. So now I don’t feel so isolated.

    There is a Mississippi group over at Atheist Nexus. Maybe Miles could join with them. He should just google Mississippi atheists and see what he finds. He isn’t alone in his beliefs in his area.

  • ungullible

    I wonder if Myles underestimates the number of like-minded individuals at MSU. Certainly there are others who are feeling similarly alone. Perhaps Myles could write an anonymous letter to his school paper asking for such people who might be interested in meeting to contact him. Register a temporary/disposable email address and publish that in the letter. Perhaps others have better advice on how to meet other freethinkers on campus while maintaining some level of anonymity?

  • Jim Baerg

    Has Myles checked out this bunch:

    http://www.msatheists.org/

    & this fellow has mentioned being in Mississippi on the blog
    http://www.atheistrev.com/

    Perhaps he can arrange a face to face meeting through them.

  • http://aclevererversion.blogspot.com/ EnsignRose

    It’s wonderful that Myles has found solace in the words from Atheist Blogs, but I hope that he is also seeking out people that he actively discuss his beliefs with, or at least someone he can be friends with, without fear of persecution or judgment. I wonder if he’s yet found Atheist Nexus

  • http://thankgodyourealive.com/ John

    Myles,
    Read up on the history of the civil rights movement in this country. There are a lot of similarities. I sometimes feel guilty about being sort of an “accomodationist,” in that I feel religion is– in the long run– doomed to peeter out. Not gracefully, or graciously, but it is inevitable. So I feel that “confrontation” is often counterproductive.
    “Take faith.” Non-believers have reason, the worldwide increase in education, and time our side. (Admittedly, the “moral imperative” argument isn’t going to work, any more than it did during the civil rights fight.)
    Remember: “A rising tide raises all boats.”
    And you’re far from alone.
    John

  • Erp

    He might want to check out the Mississippi Atheists at http://www.msatheists.org/

    A quick check shows the nearest UUA group is in Tupelo (about 60 miles away). UUA is often a subtle way for atheists to find each other. Nearest humanist group seems to be Meridian (also not near). There appears to have been or is a MSU Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers group http://www.msuatheists.org/, but, it seems a bit defunct. Faculty adviser is J. Patrick Lestrade in Physics and Astronomy.

  • http://3thinkers.blogspot.com/ Sarah

    Two things come to mind. Vjack at Atheist Revolution is from Miss. And he is part of another blog Mississippi Atheists.

    http://www.atheistrev.com/

    http://www.msatheists.org/

    By the way, Georgia (where I live) has a fairly large number of atheists in its ranks, but until last year I had no idea. Sometimes you just have to reach out to find them.

  • Simon

    Thankfully, in this case, the solution is quite easy.

    I am at Mississippi State myself and we do have a ‘atheist; agnostic and free thinkers’ association.

    We only meet once or twice a month but we have a mailing list available here: msuatheists@googlegroups.com

    See you around Myles.

  • Claudia

    One of the things that motivates me most about these sites and the general secular “cause” is the support that it can give to atheists in more lonely circumstances.

    My own story is 180º from Myles. I come from an atheist family that has been 100% nonbeliever for at least the past 100 years. Until I read the God Delusion and started to visit atheist websites, the thought of discrimination and isolation of atheists hadn’t even occurred to me. Now that I know about it though, I’m convinced that providing new atheists and theists who are doubting with a strong support structure and community is absolutely essential. It’s that fear of isolation that can keep a person within a religion even when they have doubts. We must reach out to and help atheists, especially those in the rural US.

  • P

    Myles! I feel you, man. I’m from the (not so) Great state of Okla-keep your bibles close but your shotguns closer- homa. Everyday I feel the ferocious vapidity of the religious right (I live only a few miles from Oral Roberts University) breathing down my neck. It’s so hard to stay silent when people are so vocal about their beliefs. There are obnoxious (but usually hilarious) bible meetings where I work at least two times a week, and I’d loooove to speak my mind or to engage them, but I know in so doing I would ‘offend’ someone, or some such nonsense.
    I also have a library of atheism blogs bookmarked on my browser. Glad to hear that someone else finds a refuge of some sort on these sites.

    In hoping you can flee Mississippi to live a sane life, and also to great beer,

    Parker

  • Josha

    Myles, It’s great that you can find some solace in the online atheist community! Most of us do. It says a lot that you are openly atheist in such a conservative community. I encourage you to speak your mind, because you may find friends in unlikely places.

    I’m from Virginia, home of Pat Robertson and Liberty University, and feel the same isolation that you probably do. I didn’t even know how many atheists existed until I went online. I’ve driven a couple of hours to meet up with other freethinkers, when I can. It’s so worth it, to just be yourself without someone judging you, saying you are immoral or feeling like you can’t even speak your mind freely because friends and family will get upset.

    Good luck finding other MSU atheists :)

  • http://www.jewelisms.com Jewel

    Myles, thank you for sharing your story. It can be difficult when you feel alone. Please know, though, that you’re not alone. Chances are you’ve met other atheists that just keep quiet about it because of the religiosity of the area.

    I didn’t meet my first “out” atheist until I was in my mid/late 20′s. I also grew up in a pretty religious area and much of my family is very religious.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Heartbreaking. Stories like that make me even more sick every time I see or hear Christian(ists) whine about how “persecuted” they are here in the US. I’d like to see them spend just one week in the Bible Belt as an atheist, or better yet a gay atheist. They’d learn what real persecution is.

  • Skepticat

    I hope Myles is reading this. I live less than an hour from MSU and I can assure you that there are several atheists in this area.

    A friend and I have been toying with the idea of starting some sort of group in the Northeast Mississippi area. If Myles or anyone else around would like to discuss it, email me at skepticatsbox@gmail.com.

    Myles, you aren’t alone.

  • i am a dodt

    Myles,
    While I have no practical advice such as a local group (I’m nowhere near MS), I would like to express my empathy and to encourage your fortitude.

  • Mo

    I’m also an atheist deep in Christian country here in Birmingham, AL. You’re not alone. And I think you may find that as you continue your education, you’ll meet more like minded individuals.

  • Faye

    I used to live in Oklahoma and went through the same sort of experience. I finally got sick of making my mother cry every time the conversation started pointing to my lack of religion, and wound up moving to Washington. I used to keep in contact with her more, a phone call every now in then, e-mails, stuff like that, but when she tried to use the death of my great-grandmother to shove religion at me was when I stopped talking to her. Up until then, I could understand why she was worried, and why she acted like she did, but when she asked me where I thought Nana was at the funeral, I hit the roof.

    It’s really sad to have parted like that, and I hope you don’t have to go through the same things.

  • nomadz

    Woaw. I didn’t think being an atheist was that hard in (some parts of) the USA.
    I am from Europe, and in my country, truly religious people are a (laughed-at) minority. It’s considered completely normal to be an atheist. And it’s almots considered PC to laugh at religion.
    I feel bad for you guys. I can’t imagine living in a place where everybody believes in imaginary beings. It must feel like living in a mental institution.
    Good luck to ya’ll !

  • Catherine

    I really feel for him. I came out as a non-believer a little under a year ago (I live in Virginia) and even my husband has taken to treating me differently whenever religion, science or spirituality are mentioned. None of my co-workers get it and they all tell me that I’m not really an atheist and that atheism is only a step away from communism. My husband doesn’t want me to mention my beliefs to his parents because they would have a cow (especially since I’m expecting their first grandchild so they’d think I’m “infecting” him or something).
    It is so difficult when everyone around you discusses their beliefs but they do everything they can to minimize yours or the lack thereof

  • David D.G.

    nomadz wrote:

    I feel bad for you guys. I can’t imagine living in a place where everybody believes in imaginary beings. It must feel like living in a mental institution.

    Oh, it’s worse than that — the crazies are the ones running the asylum!

    ~David D.G.

  • http://www.bookishbelle.wordpress.com BookishBelle

    Living in Louisiana…I can relate. We are lucky enough to have a good pocket of friends that are like-minded, but we are WELL in the minority in our area.

    Myles, it’s looks like several people have great suggestions. I hope you meet with them!!


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