This is not a rant about how “atheists have morals, too!”
This is me figuring out how this whole morality thing works. It’s always been easy to be good in life because life has been good to me. I believe I’ve helped more people than I’ve hurt, and I am quicker to love than I am to hate. If morality were as objective as we all hope it is, I would say I’m a pretty moral person.
Recently, I’ve found myself in positions where I can be selfish to the deep detriment of others. I have had to make choices that look out for myself but find consideration for others, and they’ve been difficult to navigate. I believe happiness and goodness lie somewhere in this mix of selflessness and selfishness. I don’t believe one or the other is an ultimate virtue. I believe they are best employed in tandem. The measurement is not set, and we keep adding both, tasting the concoction until it makes that perfect choicetini. I want to help as many other bodies as I can when I help my own.
I don’t want anyone to lose when I win, but I think that’s going to happen sometimes. I think you just have to make sure that the loss is not so deep as to make another person’s situation irredeemable. Don’t destroy things unless those things are destroying others.
Growing up a white, middle class, Christian, cisgender, straight, healthy, athletic, average-looking, American female in a small town in Virginia basically guaranteed that life would be easy for me. I was well-esteemed in my circles in high school, graduated with an effortless 4.2 GPA, and naturally relocated to college where I would continue to easily exist in all my privilege.
They say about privilege that you don’t fully realize you have it until it is threatened or lost. This is why my loss of faith came as such a shock and shook my world more than it probably should have. Suddenly, I started identifying with words like “victim” and “minority,” and painfully, my conservative mind was dragged through liberal realities. I felt abused.
What threw me for an even more surreal loop was realizing that I had also been struggling with my sexuality. And this is where my title comes in: Room for Consideration. As I left faith, I felt like there was no room for me to consider alternate beliefs. I was expected to have one belief and all other considerations only twisted me into vicious cycles of self-loathing. Likewise, I’ve been having to keep this struggle with my sexuality inside ever since realizing that I fell in love with a girl while I fell out of love with my spirituality. It’s not publicly acceptable, and even though I accepted my atheism and shouted it from the rooftops, I was absolutely terrified to even consider that I might not be straight, let alone that I might be very gay.
I don’t want to pull everyone through my entire queer narrative, so I’ll keep this brief. I had one serious boyfriend in high school, and I can’t think of any other guy I’ve been seriously interested in since that time. I had my first crush on a girl when I was 15, but I had no clue that what I had was a crush. I didn’t have the framework for understanding that I could even be attracted to girls in that way. By the time I got to college, I only had crushes on women and never on men. Again, I had no framework for understanding my attractions. At this point, I just assumed that I was straight. I mean, I had a boyfriend in high school, and I knew I’d eventually find “the one” and that would be all it’d take. But by the time senior year rolled around and my faith was almost to its breaking point, I fell so hard for a girl that it was impossible at this point to remain oblivious to my attractions. It was more than a crush, and it scared me so much that I was able to remain in denial about it for quite a while longer.
Once I had deconverted and decided to confront this weirdness going on with my sexuality, I still didn’t want to be disingenuous to the queer community. I didn’t want to be yet another person “trying it out” – some promiscuous “bisexual” girl who winds up with a man and a generally privileged life, setting the whole movement for gay acceptance back another notch. I thought maybe I could sit on the outside looking in for a while. I could just exist without sexuality. I’m not attracted to men, but maybe I don’t need relationships. Maybe I’ll just keep my life uncomplicated and derive joy from my singleness.
Until I arrived at where I am now, which is that this stuff I’m going through is mine, and it is very real for me. Whether or not it is socially acceptable, I’m going to make room for consideration so that I can sort this shit out. I hate that this process offends people or makes people think that I’m flaky or fake. I’m an extrovert who suffers when I keep myself stored inside. So here’s one step out. I am an atheist. I’ve loved a woman, and I hope to love more.
I’m going to be incredibly careful in this post because I don’t want to talk about my family in a disparaging way, but an important part of undergoing a massive shift in belief is working through the relationships that were so attached to the former belief system. Usually, this is family.
For me, it is family. My father was a pastor, and my mom is the type of devout Christian that could care less about logic and reason (not a criticism–just the way she’s wired). For this post, I note that my oldest sister is actually quite a bit like how I was as a Christian, and that’s what makes this whole topic rather intriguing. Lately, she seems to have gotten more and more into Christian apologetics and is frequently in a mode to call out “false teachers.” As her sister who cares more about maintaining a positive, albeit somewhat superficial, relationship with her than about expressing how much her viewpoint grieves me, I just sit and watch. And every time I observe, I’m taken back to some instance in my past when I felt that same conviction and knew that I knew the Truth. It’s not comforting for me to think that my sister is wrong or misguided. What I really think is that she is a product of her raising and is trying to live very true to her beliefs, which is something I can respect.
But what I mostly have been taking from all of this is how much observing her makes me glad not to feel that conviction anymore. I know she would be hurt to hear this, but it is so incredibly true and so incredibly refreshing. Unlike my family, I no longer have to be prepared to explain why I believe what I do. I sit in the “I don’t know” and watch them “know.” There’s no pressure and no urgency. I take my time and allow myself to be skeptical and confused most of the time without desperately clawing for assurance or God’s approval. Freedom–true freedom–does not exist with contingencies. With freedom, there is no submission and no expectation. Freedom honors individual integrity. It is optimistically autonomous. The package of “freedom” seen in the Bible relies on adherence and forms a paradox with submission.
And so, I’ve chosen to be truly free. That is me, the optimistically autonomous. The Jones family anomaly. The antithetical offspring. Always pleased to make your acquaintance and never with the hope that you will bend to my beliefs.
Sometimes Christians read my blog and feel very sad for me regardless of what I say. I could be raving about how awesome my life has been since I stopped believing in any deities (which it has been–seriously, this has been the greatest year of my life), or I could be lamenting how difficult my relationships are. Either way, they feel so very sorry for me.
Common reactions from “understanding” Christians are either an expression of pity or a presentation of positive Scripture verses that express God’s love, as though those verses will prove to me not only that the Christian God exists but that such a god is actually good. These people assume that I had such a horrendous teaching of the gospel growing up that clearly I was misled. I challenge you to talk to my father with a Ph.D in Theology and let him school you in the things he taught me, specifically on the vast, beautiful topic of God’s love. Then we can speak again, and your ignorant self can tell me how much I was misled from truly understanding the God of the Bible.
Here is something very true: I. Don’t. Care. About. Your. God.
Do I care about you? I might if you give me a chance. If your agenda is to speak Bible at me, then probably not. I won’t want to be friends. If your chief desire is to change my system of beliefs, I will have very little respect for you. I don’t preach at you. I don’t go onto your blog to tell you that you’re wrong, that you seem “confused” or “misguided” or to express pity. See, I try to be nice and make an effort to avoid that unnecessary conflict.
If you feel sorry for me, keep it to yourself. And if you feel sorry for me when I’ve just had the greatest year of my life…well, fuck you.
Things commonly said by former evangelical Christians to current evangelical Christians:
“I only experienced true freedom when I stopped believing.”
“I’m so glad I don’t have to believe the same things as you anymore. The cognitive dissonance was unbearable.”
“I couldn’t believe in god now even if I wanted to.”
I know that at least my family and friends have been disturbed by the complete 180 on my view of Christian doctrine, and the most difficult part about coping with that change for me has been in trying to respect those who believe while dealing with how angry I am at the things they believe. This is an almost impossible balance to strike, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever maintained that balance for more than one minute this past year. The angrier I am, the more they see me as being in “rebellion.” The more I try to be understanding, the more convinced they are that I might come back. Through all of this, there’s little to no respect for where I am in the present.
In terms of present certainties, one thing worth clarifying is that I absolutely know that I will never believe in god the same way I did before. I will never be convinced that there is a hell, nor will I believe that humans are born into sin. It’s possible that I could believe in some deity again. It seems unlikely at this point, and I’m not sure under what condition it would happen, nor what that deity would be like. But sure, it’s possible. Any theists can at least hold onto that hope if they must hold onto any wild dreams of my potential future theistic leanings.
If I tell my family that I know I will never go back to believing as they do, they won’t (and can’t) believe that’s true. According to them, I will only find true peace in Scripture. I will only find true fellowship with “the family of God.” I can only find meaning in transforming my heart and mind toward the will of God. But as experience has shown me this past year, I’ve only been able to find true peace as a freethinker who is not bound to her beliefs by fear. I’ve only found true fellowship with those who don’t judge my perversions, who show me more grace for my downfalls than believers ever did, and who love even the things about me that God by his very “perfect” nature cannot. I can only make sense of the world by no longer clinging to Absolute Meaning and Purpose. My obsession with purpose as a Christian drove me absolutely fucking insane. Now the truest thing I know about meaning is that it is not apparent at all as an objective entity, and I can just as well craft my own purposes that satisfy me, especially this me who no longer believes in eternal life or cosmic reason. The weight of those things forced me to care more than is healthy about eschatological consequences, and now I’ve reached a way healthier perspective on myself in this universe that keeps me humble and wanting to learn.
So, why would a believer want me to go back? Oh, because they’re scared.
At the end of the day, I can sleep without guilt or grief. Even with days full of debates, deep thought and confusion, I don’t lay in bed concerned about a soul–my soul or anyone else’s. I recognize the absurdity and wonder of life, and I choose to embrace its contradictions. I’ve settled in the thought that I might be wrong about ultimates, but I don’t feel accountable to that. I don’t feel shame for existing, and I’m not obligated to insist that others believe anything at all.