Nothing in this world matters more to me than you, my precious girls. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’d do anything for you girls. You are a delight to me, and I am happiest when I am with you. I’m so proud of the beautiful young women you are becoming, and I look forward to seeing what direction each of your lives takes as you grow up. I also hope you will always feel comfortable and open towards me and know that you can tell me anything, ask me anything, and I’ll listen and do my best to tell you what you need to know.
I always try to be as open with you girls as I can be, but there is one thing which I have kept to myself for a few years now for a number of reasons which I won’t get into right now. At some point or another you were bound to find out anyway that I haven’t been a Christian for some time. In fact, at this point, I can call myself an atheist (although for reasons I will eventually explain, I identify more with the word “humanist”). You already know that I haven’t attended church with you for a couple of years, but I haven’t been a sincere participant in the Christian faith for more like four years. I attended church the previous two years in Georgia and back here in Mississippi in order to stay on good terms with the people I loved. But the time came when I could no longer do that in a productive way. In time, my presence there became more of a problem for myself and for others, so I quit going.
I haven’t discussed this with you girls because the last couple of years have been difficult enough without having to dive into a conversation as potentially upsetting as this one. Your mother and I both felt that the last thing you needed at a time like this was to have to wrestle with the realization that your dad no longer shares the same faith that he taught you to have from your youngest years. So I have kept that to myself. But in time it has occurred to me that you will be hearing things that I feel need balancing. In particular, you will be hearing things from people around you about people like me that are simply not correct. It worries me that you may be taught by some to think a certain way about me from this point forward, and that it will lead you to misunderstand me. I can’t think of a more painful outcome than for me to lose my relationship with you girls simply because someone gave you an incorrect impression of what I am like. So I would like to take some time to set the record straight.
The first thing you must know is that I am not a bad person simply because I don’t believe in the Christian message anymore. I spent more years in church than all of you combined, so I know what people say about atheists, and I know now just how incorrect some of what they say really is. It will take me some time to explain all the ways people like me are misrepresented, and in time I will answer as many of your questions as I can imagine. But for now I want to just explain that when a person decides he no longer believes in God, it doesn’t mean he stops being a good person. People say some awful things about atheists and, to be honest, they don’t know what they’re talking about. They often assume the worst, and they begin with distrust towards people like me but that’s not really fair.
When you hear someone say something ugly about people like me, something which makes us sound disturbed or wicked simply because we’re not Christians, I hope that you will stop and consider what you know about me. What am I like? You know me as well as anyone else in the world. What do you see? Do I strike you as a bad person? Do you hear me say mean things about people? Do you see me mistreat people? Do you ever see me withhold anything from you that you need? I hope you can say “no” to each of those things because they do not describe me at all. I love you girls with the same love that everyone else has for their own children, and I trust that when you watch me you will see as much grace and patience and goodwill toward others as you see in anyone else. My being a humanist/atheist doesn’t make me less of a good person and I hope you will choose not to listen to people who tell you otherwise.
Obviously this is a very personal thing for me. It is of utmost importance to me that you girls love me for who I am, and I don’t want anyone else skewing your image of me because of their own prejudices. But more than that, as your father I owe it to you to prepare you for the world you are heading into. As such, I do not want to send you out into the world with an incorrect understanding of a large (and growing) group of people out there who are like me. You have spent the last few years in a culture that is unique. The Deep South is unlike any other place in the world. Here you can spend a lot of your time around people who look and think very much the same as you. But there is a larger world out there, with tons of variety, and when you get out there you will find that they don’t always think the same way that folks in the Deep South think about things. I feel I owe it to you to warn you not to judge them too quickly for being different. We’ve all still got plenty to learn from one another. Perhaps this situation will prove to be excellent practice for getting ready to face the rest of the world!
So that’s it for now. I have plenty more to say, but I’ll save it for other letters :-)