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.
For people like myself who used to believe that homosexuality is a sin for religious reasons and have now come to understand homosexual relationships from a naturalistic perspective, it’s very difficult to listen to not only the religious arguments against gay marriage but to the disparagement of gay relationships and seeing them branded as sinful. This issue grieves me for so many reasons, so I tried discussing the possibility that evangelicals are misunderstanding what the Bible says (or does not say) about homosexuality with my dad, who has a PhD from a conservative Reformed Baptist seminary.
When I presented my challenge, he said, “I still don’t get why people who don’t believe in God feel the need to modify Christian documents in order to make more palatable to themselves a position that they have indicated they will never hold due to lack of evidence.”
To me, this point he is making is like saying, “I don’t understand why we should compromise on anything. I believe what I believe, and nothing you atheists can say will sway me in any direction.” Now, I know that’s not what he said or meant, but it doesn’t seem far off. I’ve consistently said that I have no intention of trying to pull my friends and family away from their Christian beliefs, but I do feel compelled to challenge them when they believe something that negatively affects others. I am not trying to “modify Christian documents,” and I honestly don’t care whether or not I myself find anything in the Bible palatable. I still won’t believe it’s true. My concern is how people who believe it use it as a weapon. I have history on my side in this argument. How many times historically have Christians reinterpreted scripture? Can I not trust that such a thing can happen again in a new time? I’ve not smudged out anything in the Bible. I’ve only suggested that the original copies and contexts be revisited for the sake of trying to understand why it is necessary that so many loving people continue to be belittled and shamed by modern interpretations.
My dad’s statement is also an example of the Christian perception that everyone is out to destroy their truth. On the contrary, I’m trying to work within their system to make for a more loving, hospitable society. I am accommodating to their rules by looking at the original language. As has been the case more often than I’d have anticipated, I feel like I’m basically being a better Christian than most Christians I know. This is the greatest irony of being an atheist humanist.
I just tweeted something and was like, “Shit! I need to mull over that thought before it’s gone.” So here I am, mulling.
The tweet: “I’m not sure how it’s possible to truly embrace the probable extent of your own ignorance and still believe in god.”
This thought hits something to my atheist core. I am increasingly comfortable with calling myself an atheist, and I think this statement says it all. So much of believing in god rests on the mystery of god. If god wasn’t mysterious, it would mean that god was evident. We’d be able to test and prove god’s existence. With mystery, we can’t. We just get a bunch of ranting angry atheists looking like they need a nice calming back-rub from Jesus (alternately, a laying on of hands by believers if/when Jesus isn’t present).
I guess what makes this post so important to me is that I want to explain why I call myself an atheist. I call myself an atheist because I work toward an understanding of the fullest extent of my ignorance that I can grasp. The more I admit that I don’t know, the more I encroach on the territory that is “god” and admit that I don’t know those things. I admit that I don’t know some of god’s attributes. I admit that I don’t know god’s will. I admit that I don’t know if there is a heaven or a hell. The more I admit, the less obvious god is. I was finally able to admit that I don’t know if god is even there. Since I don’t know if god is there, I’m not sure how to profess a belief that god is there. Once I admit that I don’t know something, I don’t hold onto a belief in that something. My default for not knowing is not believing. It’s still possible for me to hope that there is a god, and sometimes I do. But I never believe that there is a god. I don’t think it’s possible to believe in god after embracing the extent of your own ignorance. I really don’t.
To those of you who do, please explain.
Now, I do need to clarify that I am also agnostic. Often people hear me explain my atheism and say, “That sounds agnostic to me.” That’s because it is! It is my agnosticism that informs my atheism. Because I don’t know that something is true, I am not compelled to believe that the thing is true. Without the knowledge, I am agnostic. Without the belief, I am atheist.