Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've been trying to figure out how to write this post for a long time. It is something deeply personal, but like a lot of personal things, it is something that I think needs to be talked about. Things that fester in closets and under the bed for too long just end up stinking. So, I'm coming out from under the bed, so to speak.

I'm an atheist.

Well, I guess that is just the best word that I have to describe it. I don't believe in God, per say, but that doesn't mean that I don't have a heart for compassion, forgiveness or understanding.

How I got here could perhaps be traced back to being a kid. I stand by that the single best way to confuse a kid about faith is to send them to alternating Sunday schools, Unitarian and Catholic, every other week. Everyone is accepted vs. believe this or you are going to hell. Yeah, that is a lot when you are seven.

However, it is far more complicated than that. First, I need to make it clear that I take no issue with other people's faith. I admire it in fact, and it is something that there are times I wish that I had. I just can't handle the baggage that comes with organized religion. I see too often faith being used as way to exclude and reject, instead of a way to love and care.

For all of her later adult life, my grandmother believed in a faith that told her that her youngest son was an abomination. Fortunately she also had faith in her son, but the conflict was at times hard for her. It was the same faith that had her telling me my mother was a witch who should be burned at the stake.

Faith is used as an excuse to start wars, to displace people based on ancient promises, and to kill. In saying your good fortune happened but for the grace of God, are you then saying that everyone else who didn't have their prayers answered just wasn't good enough? Did not enough people pray for them?

But faith is also there when people need it most. It drives people to care for all of the people around them, especially those who have less than them. I have been impressed by the quiet generosity that I've seen in people, knowing that it is their faith that compels them.

For me, I just can't make those two sides mesh enough for me to believe.

However, like I said, I am not heartless. I try to live every day, and every part of my day, with compassion. While I generally won't donate time or money to organizations that discriminate based on faith or sexual orientation, I make exceptions for a few organizations that work primarily with the poor.

The golden rule is taught in my house. If you don't like it being done to you, don't do it. M learned this year that we help those that have less than us, and that giving gifts is more important than receiving them. We will build on those lessons as she gets older.

It is a hard place to be. Without a faith in a world filled with it. There are challenges. I have had coworkers shocked that I volunteer my time, donate to organizations, and have the capacity forgive, given my (lack of) faith. When people automatically assume your faith, it leaves you uncomfortable having to correct. Often times I just don't argue, choosing going along with it versus answering uncomfortable questions. Other times I find myself having to speak up for those of us that don't have faith.


Anonymous said...

I admire your bravery and honesty here.

I have gone back and forth on the faith/church/spiritual thing over the years, and it's not always an easy place to be.

What I really hadn't noticed until recently was how amazingly dualistic many Christians are. My faith is real; your faith is not. My faith deserves respect; your faith does not.

I also know how much it sucks to have people assume they know what you believe or how you believe, etc., etc.

Anonymous said...

I follow you on Twitter and saw that you were debating on posting this. I'm glad you did. I feel much the same way that you do and believe it is most important to be a good person and a good example to others, religion notwithstanding. Posts like these are one of the reasons I really like your blog.


Pusher said...

I cannot even express how pathetic I find the notion that morality, values, compassion, etc. are dependent on belief in God. Even given the premise that belief in God will make you moral, compassionate and so on, which — dude, if only. The world would be a much better place. But even given that proposition, it's still logic fail for the lose! It's like saying, "Cakes have flour in them. If that food is not a cake, it must not contain flour."

Birdie said...

Right. There. With. You.


I am a recovering Catholic and its tough, especially in this country where Atheist/Agnostic seems to equal Other. I don't want my son to grow up shackled by religion the way I did. I want him to be compelled to do good works simply because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO and because he wants to help others. Not because some vengeful god is hanging over him.

Kate said...

It sucks that you feel you have to justify your lack of faith with the clarification that you DO have compassion, forgiveness and understanding. To me, this religion's ultimate bastardization: that those who don't believe are somehow less, somehow uncaring and lacking any morals. In a word, BULLSHIT.

I counter this idea with very obvious downfalls of such moral authority - such as many religions' dismissal or hate for gays and women. Atheists have no reason to hate. No one has dictated to them that this is acceptable and encouraged. In fact, atheists believe strongly that people should be good and treat other fairly and with respect.

Society needs to understand that atheism and human compassion are intrinsically linked. Without need to justify that you are good "despite" your atheism.

Good for you. Very glad you posted this.

tere said...

don't know if you remember Bess, the woman with the arthritic hands who you introduced yourself to who was knitting when you were 3. She was an atheist and yet acted in more Christ like ways than those who judged others at church. Made me realize that behavior is more important than belief.

Thanks for your honesty.
love you,

happygal said...

What a thoughtful, thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing it.

I often say that it's amazing the amount of hatred and horrible things that are done in the name of religion.

Thanks again.

jen @ negative lane said...

I'm an atheist, too. This really resonated with me, especially your last paragraph. I, too, am tired of people who think a lack of religious faith equals no morality or compassion. I've said it before, but I am not a donkey who needs to be motivated toward good by the promise of a heavenly carrot or the threat of an infernal stick. I am motivated toward good because good begets good. Because the right thing to do is, well, the right thing to do.

Usually it's easy to be up front about my atheism, but sometimes, like you, I find myself going along with people who assume I have faith. It's never when someone expresses a belief in Christian fundamentalism or anything that is negative, restrictive or hate-filled, though. It's the people I meet who have a sort of easy going, hippieish, love-filled faith that is similar to my own faithless, but slightly pagan, let-it-be pragmatism. I think this is why they think I believe like they do and I'm usually okay with that in that instance.

Zahra said...

Brave post. You've wrote about something I've wanted to write for a while, but I keep chickening out. It's hard when you come from such a religious family as mine. It's sometimes easier to change the subject or even lie when the topic of religion comes up. I really admire your bravery.

Liv Lane said...

It sounds to me like you have plenty of faith in your life, just not religion. Faith and chocolate can get you through pretty much anything.
Found you at the Velveteen Mind...glad I did. :)

LutherLiz said...

It is funny. I consider myself religious, and a Christian at that and I struggle everyday with those very things you point out - wars, intolerance and shame brought out by religious conviction.

I believe those are functions of our messed up interpretations about who we think God should be or want.

Honestly I'm not surprised you are a volunteer or a compassionate person. The religious don't have a stranglehold on being good. I'm sorry that people are surprised by it.

Ultimately I do believe in God and I do believe that God's grace is given to all. But I'm not about to force that on others.

Thanks for sharing.

Christie said...

I like this post. I've been working on an atheism post for a few weeks now, and just can't seem to get it to come together....thanks for sharing. :^)

Tammie said...

I, too, agree with you and find myself in a similar situation. Well-written post. Thank you for sharing.

Boston Mamas said...

So interesting. I wrote a post about this topic just the other month -- feeling a similar sense of searching. (And for me, confusion.)

I can't seem to embrace the ritual of organized religion either (sermons make my eyes glaze over), but I do believe in the power of the universe and of coming together collectively with people for spirituality. I'm still looking for what that could be for me.