Walking away from my faith caused significant pain and rejection. In my last post, I attempted to pull back the emotional curtains and expose the raw, painful truth hidden deep inside me. Many have commented that the post was hard to read. Trust me, it was hard to write. The last line of the article encapsulates the depth of my suffering.
But, that’s not the end of the story! In the midst of my grief, I realized that a new chapter in my life had just begun. Blank, white pages were waiting to be filled with the wonders of this new adventure. LIFE 2.0!
How do you rebuild your life when you don’t have the blueprints? I mean, I understood how to be alive, but I didn’t know how to do so without my faith. From the time I was two-days old, I was in church. Sunday school, worship service, potluck dinners, revivals, special services with dinner on the grounds, youth group, camp– these things and more framed my world. When your existence is defined in one manner for decades, shifting into something unknown is incredibly difficult. I pondered this new reality asking myself, “If I’m not in church five times a week, where should I go? How do I relate to people when all I know is religion?” Christian activities, Christian books, Christian music, even Christian T-Shirts filled every nook-and-cranny of my world. So I sat…and sat… and sat… In the midst of my ‘pity party’, I realized the truth: it’s up to me to pick up the pen and write this new chapter.
Did you know that atheists aren’t the crazy, horn wearing, hell bound heathens that people say they are? Actually, they’re worse! (Sorry. I couldn’t resist that one!) In all seriousness, my new ‘free-thought family’ stepped up and walked beside me as I navigated LIFE 2.0. From the moment I stepped off the stage at AACON 2012, the free-thought movement embraced me and my family. Even though we all live in different parts of the globe, real friendship grew through social media, emails, and phone calls.
Honestly, I didn’t understand how loving a non-believer could be. The presuppositions I had, based on years of indoctrination, left me with an inaccurate picture. While I believed that atheists were immoral, lost, and bound for hell, those beliefs never came close to Catholic Priest Dwight Longenecker’s view of atheists. In an *article that he published, and then removed, he made several derogatory remarks about atheists.
“I have a dreadful feeling that there exists a sort of human sub-species who have lost their spiritual capacity completely.”
Longanecker continues, “If they exist, perhaps they have bred and spread like the alien body-snatchers, and exist in our midst like spiritual zombies—indistinguishable in the teeming mass of humanity except to those few who see them and tremble.” (emphasis mine)
Unfortunately, Longenecker’s opinions are shared by a large number of believers. Even though I didn’t share the same harsh attitude, I still had a disdain for atheists. So this outpouring of compassion completely took me by surprise! Every stereotype crumbled as new relationships sprang up around me. People I’d either met once or only knew on-line began to slowly fill the void left by those who abandoned me.
Being a speaker at conferences is one of my favorite things to do. It’s not because I want to be famous or desire the attention. Instead, my delight is in knowing that my experiences, both past and present, may help someone in their journey. When I’m on the stage, the real me comes out. Expressing myself through a talk is where I’m the most comfortable, most alive, and free. Just like a musician who describes performing as their channel for self expression, public speaking is mine. However, giving a talk isn’t the only joy found at a conference. Reconnecting with others face-to-face and meeting new friends recharges my batteries and energizes me to keep going. As the Mastercard commercial says, it’s ‘priceless‘.
I’d be lying if I said that coming out and being out as an atheist is easy. Risking loss is a given, but there is a silver lining. You’re free to be you. The REAL, 100%, no-holds-barred you. But that’s not all! A myriad of organizations, groups, and individuals stand ready to assist you as you begin life as an out and open freethinker.
The old gym saying, ‘No Pain. No Gain.’ applies to many things, including this one. Pain is definitely a part of my journey, but the gain has exceeded my expectations.
I’m free to be me. There are new roads to travel filled with wonderful opportunities and relationship. It may be uncharted territory, but I’m not afraid. I have a host of companions to guide me each step of the way. That’s LIFE 2.0!
*Dwight Longenecker’s article received many negative comments regarding his harsh words. As a result, he removed the post very quickly. The statements above were copied before his post was removed.