Saturday, October 14, 2006

Should I Come Out?

It's a question I deal with every day. I go to a conservative Christian college. I may have had the wrong reasons for originally deciding to come here but in the end I'm glad I came. I'm glad I came here, but I'm not sure it's good for my mental health. Anyway, I'm glad I came here because I now know that I tried everything in my effort to be a Christian. I know for sure that there was no way that I could ever believe in any god. I tried brainwashing myself by only being around people who believed that way. I wanted desperately to become one. I thought that the reason that I wasn't happy and that everyone else around me seemed happy was because I was lacking a true belief in god. I spent years tormenting myself over this.

Now I am content with my atheism. I wouldn't honestly want to be any other way. People often say that they "choose to believe" something or other. I don't believe it at all. Just because they believe that Jesus is a loving, kind being rather than a vengeful, nitpicking one doesn't mean that they chose that belief. Just because they are much happier that way doesn't mean that they chose it. I spent so long trying to choose to believe in that that I know that it's not a choice.

What I am not content with is being closeted. Attending a university like mine means that I'm automatically there. Everyone automatically assumes that I am of their particular denomination. They are willing to accept a person who is still a Christian but of a different denomination, but some people seem to not be able to wrap their minds around someone who actually doesn't believe in that god. I'm probably making the people that I interact with on a daily basis seem horrible. They're not - they're just ignorant. And there are people who aren't that way. I just wish I could find more of them.

I wish that I had an easier time telling people the truth. Whenever anyone asks me something about anything related to the subject, I choke up. I have a hard time saying what I truely mean. About a week ago I had a really good conversation with a guy who actually listened and was really interested. Weirdly enough he was in the seminary. While it was nice to have him actually pay attention and not spout the line that there's no such thing as a real atheist, it's not enough for me. I need other people who think like me. I crave it. I feel so lonely. And no, it's not because I'm "separated from God".

Jeez, I'm defensive. I've always been defensive about this part of me. It's only recently that I've been able to even be remotely honest about the subject. About 6 months ago I started a myspace and agonized over what to put for religion. I eventually put agnostic and later, as my understanding of myself developed, atheist. But it's something that made me so tense. It shouldn't be that way. There've been times when I've been so apologetic about not going to church and not believing in something supernatural. I don't want to be that way anymore, but I don't know any other way to be.

29 Comments:

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous David said...

Wow. It's amazing how some human experiences are universal - I've had a similar situation growing up in an SDA home (see www.sda.org if you want to know what SDA means). I went to a private elementary school grades 1-8, and still attended church while going to a public charter high school, since I was still living at home. Right now, I'm a Freshman in college (Idaho State U.! woooh!) living in the dorms. I have to say that it is a huge relief to be able to "come out" to other people as not christian, without fearing that my parents or a friend of my parents will hear about it, since it's about 200 miles from home and hardly anyone from the church goes to ISU. After roughly 4-5 years of having serious doubts about religion and not being able to really speak openly about it, a weight came off my shoulders when I was able to talk to others. I should probably note that I'm not a true atheist, in the sense that while I'm not convinced in any way that a god exists, I don't discount the possibility. I simply don't use the pretext of god/heaven/sin/devil/reward-punishment as a decision-making framework anymore.

Your situation is different though, as you go to a conservative christian college.. so most people will be cons. X-ian. Obviously, your the best judge of whether or not to come out as an atheist, or minimally a doubter of religion, but I definitely recommend that if you can find someone to talk to openly about your feelings.. it's a huge relief.

I've found that online exchanges tend to be a bit dry compared to talking to someone in person, but if you want to start up a discussion, sned me an e-mail at anonym2.71828@gmail.com. I think we have a lot of common ground in rationalism.

- David

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger Michael K said...

It's refreshing to read an honest post about spirituality. Thanks for writing from your heart.

 
At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe instead of telling your friends that you are an atheist and that you don't believe in God, you could very concretely, articulately and systematically explain and describe what YOU do believe.

Those that truly are your friends will listen. They may not agree, but they will listen and the friendship will most likely deepen for both people.

I will be honest with you, I am a Christian, and the Bible and God do explain a lot of the unexplainable things that our physical world does not FOR ME.

But these explanations do not work for YOU. This is a great time in your life, before you are married (if you chose to do so) and before you have kids (if you chose to do so) where you get to decide what you DO believe.

I think it is very important for you to learn to articulate what you stand for rather than just what you stand against. Also, if you can articulate what you stand FOR to your friends and family, rather than just what you stand against they are less likely to take offense (hopefully).

Obviously, the Bible and God do not help you to explain the unexplainable.

To begin with, "explain" is defined in the Random House Webster's College Dictionary as, "to make clear or intelligible", "to make known in detail" "to make clear the cause or reason of."

Therefore, the unexplainable would be anything in life that cannot be made clear or intelligible.

For instance a BIG question might be: "Why do I matter?/ Do I matter? " to smaller unknowables like, "Why am I attracted to a skinny guy with braces and acne? Why am I not attracted to _________(fill in the blank)."

From there, I think that you could begin to explain how YOU see the unexplainable.

Also, try to avoid language that your Christian friends use. Explain things in your own language.

Stephen Hawkings was once asked, "Do you believe in God?" His response was along the lines that if God is a culmination of the laws of the Universe, then yes, he believes in a god. His god is the laws of the universe. That is how he explains the unexplainable -- using the laws of the Universe.

For those things that you cannot explain do you think that they are arbitrary? organized? Do you think that the unexplainable is personal? impersonal? Do you think that the unexplainable is evil? good?

Maybe by starting from there...describing how you explain the unexplainable...then you will establish the language to express confidently what you truly believe.

Maybe then you can share without shame and with confidence not what you don't believe...but what you do believe.

I guess this doesn't promise that your Christian friends or your family won't embrace your ideas. But, at least you can articulate with confidence what you DO believe.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous Adam said...

Don't feel alone. This is something that I've struggled with since admitting to myself that I am an atheist. I too tried and tried to find God, feel Jesus, be like my family, but I realized that I wasn't being true to myself. Here in Texas, smack dab in the middle of the conservative bible belt, I have to be very guarded about who I confide my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, to. I'm keenly aware that it could affect my relationships with relatives and friends and coworkers.

I have found some like minded and understanding friends that I can talk to without having to feel that I am putting on a mask or being passively accepting of something that I don't believe, but they are few.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy with my world view and have no wish to be anything other than what I am. I do understand the complications that go with it.

So be strong and know that there are many others out there that feel as you do.

 
At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do hope you are at least attening a academic evangelical school, instead of one of the many fundy-leaning christian schools who only have students as a result of parents attempting to keep their pk's out of trouble (doesn't work, of course) for a few more years.

Me, I went through the opposite: raised Atheist, sent to a secular school, and now love Jesus with all my heart and am intellectually convinced (as much as one can be) that God exists and Jesus (erm - I guess I mean "Joshua" or "Y'Shua", since Jesus wasn't REALLY his name) was the best expression of that reality.

Maybe try a chunk of N.T. Wright before you ditch the possibilities all the way... his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series (currently at 3 volumes) is quite good.

But anyway, glad you are honest...
take care...

Shannon
http://www.myspace.com/setonedgeband

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yeah, and also browse Paul Vitz excellent "The Psychology of Atheism"

 
At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shannon,

I invite you to join exit-fundyism, a Yahoo support group for people who are moving away from fundamentalist religious beliefs (mostly Christian, but not all).

We have all been EXACTLY where you are (though not all attended Christian colleges) in terms of reason and logic replacing the superstition and narrow-mindedness of our earlier years. Not all of us are atheists (some have stayed with spiritual belief) but we can all relate to the fears of "coming out" to our fundy families and friends and hopefully give you some good tips and advice, plus answer questions about "life after fundamentalism."

The process you're going through is very, very tough and I encourage you to take advantage of the support and friendship we can offer at:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/exit-fundyism/

 
At 7:48 PM, Anonymous nicole said...

I had a similar experience when I was at a christian college. I went to japan for a summer internship and abandoned my beliefs. I "came out" to professors who I trusted. They supported me to keep thinking along the same lines...I also felt lonely though because I could not admit it to my peers. In fact, 11 years later (now) I have finally done it.

It has affected some of the opportunities that I have through the university but overall it is worth it because I feel like I can be more of myself in their presence.

Good luck.

I recommend exitfundyism.com on yahoo groups...really great support.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Avi said...

Be careful. People dont want your truth, they think that they alraedy know the truth.As the old saying goes " dont bother me with facts, my mind is already made up". If you tell them what you think when everybody thinks diggerently then you do, well it;s not exactly a good idea. Avi

 
At 5:11 PM, Blogger Chris Williams said...

The sooner you drop the burden of facade, the better position you'll be in.

No one whose desires have any weight wants you to behave like something you're not.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

You will be miserable as a self-avowing athiest in a Christian college. You will go from being friends of others to becoming their project. Their only thought will become how to lead you to salvation.

Having said that, I think you owe it to yourself to be honest with yourself, and about yourself. I just think this would involve changing colleges.

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger Seeker said...

I was pleasantly surprised a few years ago when I found out how many people shared my experience in leaving fundamentalist religion. The Internet is a great place to connect with them.

The world is a bigger place without the Christian god, isn't it?

 
At 1:43 AM, Blogger Jacob said...

"I need other people who think like me. I crave it. I feel so lonely."

I get that. I can't say I'm an atheist, but I know the feeling of being alienated from the people around me because of beliefs I can't help but have. I hope you find a good community.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

Thanks Jacob. I'm hoping to find a good community too. Internet ones are fine, but they can't really compare to real life. What I have to do first is to actually start talking to people about it. I can think of about one person who thinks like me in that regard.

I think that everyone needs to be stimulated in certain ways. I'm sure that I'd feel the same way if everyone I knew was much less smart than me. Actually, I think that's part of the reason I disliked high school and middle school; I was much more intellectual than everyone else. I know that there were people who were as smart as me, but they just weren't as interested in pursuing their intellectual growth. I've filled that desire in me now, so I guess that's one reason that I've moved on to caring about people who are spiritually similar to me.

 
At 12:26 AM, Blogger cv said...

Hi Shannon,

I hope that this finds you well.

20 Years ago, I was you. I was a single woman going to a conservative Christian college.

I went to church 9 times a week, read my bible and tried to pray. I came to the realization that I was going to college really to prove to the leaders of my church that I was 'A Good Girl'.

At that time, I was still a believer , but have since become an agnostic. I just don't know.

What I will say is this: I do not regret leaving.

Being true to yourself is all you have. If one day you re-embrace your faith, then that's ok.

Act with deliberation, and don't harm yourself or others, but be true to who you are. You will be happier for it.

If you would like to talk to me further, please feel free to contact me through my blog. I will happily talk through anything with you.

I do not regret my choice at all. The people who have stayed my friends were truly friends, the ones who did not I did not need.

My best wishes to you!

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Nice post. You may want to read this interesting article . . We atheists need to come out of the closet.

http://www.wired.com/news/wiredmag/0,71985-0.html?tw=wn_index_1

 
At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Alana said...

I understand your defensiveness. My friends think I participate in Atheist web groups because I need constant reassurance that I'm right. When I tell them it's just lonely being an Atheist, they assume it's because I crave a close relationship with God. I also go to a conservative university. It's not religious, but most of the people here are conservative Christians. There are days when I feel at odds with everyone, but it becomes easier when you are open about your beliefs. Most people are respectful about my beliefs. It also gets easier with time. Try to keep your chin up and know that just because nearly everyone agrees on some issue, that doesn't make them right or you wrong. Peace.

 
At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Erika said...

If I were you, I would seriously consider the advice of the person who suggested changing colleges. That will take awhile, though. Until then, I would suggest avoiding the subject at school but not lying about your beliefs when asked. You'll feel much better about it if you are honest, and the subject can usually be avoided (or changed) if you even half try. If you need to talk about things related to the loss of your faith, look for an atheist discussion group, either in the community surrounding your university (if there is one- you might want to check at the UU church, if there is one), or on the web. That way, you can find people who won't be personally offended when you openly disbelieve. There will also be people who have gone through the same thing you are going through now, and who will how you feel.

 
At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shannon, I live in Australia which is mainly a Christian country, but with none of the bigotery I observe going on in America. We have true Freedom of Religion and one can openly say:"I am an Atheist" and not be made to suffer. I am a bedraggled refugee from the Roman Catholic Church and my studies of Astronomuy convinced me that there is no "god/creator". I would never be able to say that in the Bible Belt of the United States. Don't let these bigoted Bible Thumpers push you around. In spite of what Geo. Dubya says you have the right under the 1st. Amendement to be an Atheist.

 
At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shannon,
Perhaps you need a bridge. The Unitarian Church can be that bridge. There you will be welcome as an atheist. There you can talk about all sorts of things. Unitarians have been accused of being 'too' intellectual.

The other reason is that the Unitarian Church can provide you with a cover until you leave college and join the larger community.

If you tell your classmates you are an atheist, they will not ever leave you alone. It will be their duty to convert you. However, if you tell them you are a Unitarian, they might have questions, but they will be less likely to bombard you with their proselytizing.

As Edwin Kagin says, Atheism is a conclusion, not a belief. You worked hard to achieve your personal enlightenment, treat it carefully until you are much more certain about how to defend your reasoned position, and until you are surrounded by at least some people of reason.

Good Luck

 
At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Mizlee at aol dot com said...

Hi, Shannon,
Welcome to the ranks of unbelievers. My father was an Episcopalian priest, so I understood from a very early age that questioning things to do with religion was NOT A GOOD IDEA. He did have to put food on the table after all. I knew I did not believe from the time I began asking embarrassing questions (about age 7), and getting evasive answers from my mother. Still, my parents' greatest gift to me was in not indoctrinating me how to think. Imaging my surprise when Daddy told me (about a year before he died at 86), the he was an atheist himself! And yet..... I was sort of in the closet until just a few years ago, and only came out when I realized the terrible danger we are all in from the Christian right. Diffidence and polite respect must be discarded. As for you, I think you need to change colleges, or you will not be able to be who you truly are. I am an (almost wise) old lady and would be willing to share a different perspective if you wish. Just be comforted in the fact that you are not alone.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger Jeannette said...

I've been in a very similar situation. It's hard. But it's not you it's them.

 
At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shannon: Years ago, in a freethought publication, I read an autobiographical piece by an English professor (now deceased) who was forced by his father into studyng for the ministry, even though he (the future professor) was secretly an atheist. (The only thing that saved him from having to preach was his father's sudden death just before his graduation from the seminary.) I actually wrote a play which fictionalized his story. I guess the point of this post is ... bad as it is, your situation could be a LOT worse. (By the way, I'm from Michigan too.)

 
At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Transfer. By remaining there you're setting yourself up for misery and failure. Unless you are actively seeking this for whatever reason it's time move on.

If you want to stay in state, transfer to a large secular place, like Michigan State or the University of Michigan. There you can seek out other like-minded individuals if you want to pro-actively explore your philosophies or blend in the background if not.

The point is, your atheistic viewpoint is just another part of your life, one of many things that create the balance of who you are. Luckily (for now) you live in a country where you can find acceptance (OK, not everywhere) and a sense of peace, so you can concentrate on all aspects of your life - your studies, love interests and goals.

One more thing - don't fall into this annoying trap: a feature sometimes seen in newly "open atheists" is they wear their identity like a chip on their shoulder, seeking attention they feel they would not otherwise get, as a proxy for rejecting their upbringing or authority, etc. "Look at me, I'm an atheist!" Not because they have truly embraced what being an atheist entails. At the most basic, atheism means accepting there are no deities/supernatural powers. Period. It's not a religous belief or faith, it is the absence of those things.

To say you don't believe in a god *should* be akin to saying you don't believe in the tooth fairy, but in a world where most people treat their deity-based religions very seriously, you mustn't be any less cavalier about *why* you chose to come out or how you behave around those who think otherwise. Separate your convictions from those around you; this isn't a popularity contest, it's your outlook on life.

What is often attached to atheism is that morality, ethics, etc. must come from both within the individual and a secular code of conduct. Morality and ethics is something most traditionally, and incorrectly, associated with religions, though most modern laws in the U.S. have no religious connotation. Some religions are atheistic but most are not.

As an ex-Christian you must explore what parts of your moral and ethical code will remain once you "come out of the closet." This isn't something you will be able to answer soon; it may take you the rest of your life to sort out.

Finally, just because you're an atheist doesn't mean you're automatically "on the left" of any hot button issues either. You may still be conservative on issues surrounding gay lifestyle, feminism, race, etc. outside of a religious context. So if you choose to "come out" don't let these other matters get tied up in your choice. Be yourself, whomever that may be.

Good luck.

 
At 10:47 PM, Blogger Raymond said...

If your position is agnosticism or atheism then you need to stop playing the victim and decide what you want to do.
And it's a sad day when the horrendously overused generic term "coming out" is parroted so frequently in todays world.
If you are an atheist then what you have found is yet another form of religion.You believe in a miracle without a miracle worker.

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

I go to a Jesuit Catholic college (Xavier University). Atheists need to speak up because that is the only way logic and reason will spread. I argue religion in all my classes. Take advantage of being an atheist in that environment. I don't see what the hesitation is, just tell them why their wrong. Take pride in being an athiest and don't sit around waiting for fundmentalists to kill more innocent people in the name of their imaginary 'friend'.
Have a good one,
Chris

 
At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it makes you feel any better, you're not the only person who's felt this. I know what's it's like to feel different from everyone around me.

 
At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant "around you"

 
At 10:13 AM, Blogger Elaine said...

Dear Shannon,

I am wondering why you are at a Christian College. There are so many academically good schools out there why a Christian one. Christians go because they want a Christian atmosphere. So maybe you should ask yourself why am I here feeling like I'm in the closet when I don't have to. You can't blame the Christians for assuming you are one when you go to a Christian school.

I hope this doesn't sound belittling because I do not mean it that way.

Sincerely,
A servant of the Lord Jesus Christ

 

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