Let’s get this out of the way right now: I am an atheist.
Atheism (n): The theory or belief that a god does not exist.
Unlike traditional religions, Atheism can be defined in one sentence, yet much like traditional religions a whole slew of stereotypes come with the label. As soon as I tell someone about my beliefs, I can see their opinions toward me changing right in front of my eyes. Fellow atheists smile, say something along the lines of: That’s cool, me too. And then we move along. There is not much else to say on the topic in our eyes. What everyone else thinks varies from disconcerting, to funny, to downright offensive.
There are the obvious things that most associate with the word atheist, and some of those apply to me: liberal, pro-choice (and from that I get even more stereotyped for things as extreme as “baby killer”), and pro-gay marriage, for example. However, these things do not apply to all atheists. We are not all the same; we share one belief. For some, being an atheist is an integral part of who they are and how they conduct themselves, but for most non-believers I know being an atheist is more of an afterthought, something they wholeheartedly believe but do not think has an affect on the person that they are. Not believing in a god often has no correlation to political standings. Of course, being classified as these things is not a big deal, it’s the other ways that people sometimes classify us.
There are the people who I reveal this part of me to who suddenly seem scared. It doesn’t matter how close we were before, suddenly I am arrogant, immoral, a devil worshiper, and actively attempting to “convert” everyone I know into my non-religion. And at first when I heard these things I was deeply offended. I said sarcastic things that probably did nothing for my case (Oh yeah, you talk to me for more than a couple minutes and you better believe I’m dragging you to Hell with me.), rolled my eyes, and made no attempt to explain my choices to people. I thought that if I could accept them for their beliefs, even if I thought they were wrong, why could they not accept me for mine?
Now, I know that I have to break down my reasoning and tell people why I think the way I do. Of course, even that is apparently disrespectful to some.
I was never really raised on religion. It wasn’t a concept that my parents felt strongly either way about and they certainly did not push it on me. When I did go to church (a Christmas and Easter type deal, if at all), I found it to be boring and stuffy. When I got older I discovered my own political beliefs, which were liberal especially in social issues. What little I did know about religious people was that the majority tended to be generally unaccepting towards the LGBT community and misogynistic beliefs were much more common.
I realize, of course, that this does not apply to all people of religion, but I definitely began to back away from anything that could support what I see as complete close-mindedness. Also my logical side had always made me question any biblical stories I heard. I could not take stories like Adam and Eve literally, and frankly I usually didn’t appreciate the metaphorical resonances as well. I understand why people find strength in these tales, but I was always cynical and unconvinced.
One of the things I am told most often is that it’s fine to be an Atheist, but I should not tell people about it. Basically, I should hide what I believe because I could “taint” other people’s beliefs. To this I say: why? People talk about the holidays all the time, or wear t-shirts that have bible passages talking about Jesus plastered all over them, and that’s totally acceptable here at our secular public high school, but I mention that I don’t believe in God and suddenly I’m trying to convert you? I don’t think so. I would hope that faith is strong enough to survive a couple of comments from some random 16 year old with a column.
This isn’t to say I support “Christian Bashing” or any type of insulting. (Although I think the idea that people can be legitimately hurt by said bashing here in America is pretty laughable. Christians make up 78 percent of the US population, it’s pretty tough to discriminate against them.) What I do support is the 1st Amendment, which gives my right to free speech. I don’t use this right as an excuse to attack people, which is what often happens to LGBTQ people who are attacked behind the excuse of “religious freedom.” No one should be boxed in because of their personal beliefs.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that religion does not define people. Good people can have no faith in a god and horrible people can go to church every week, and vice versa. Most of us fall in shades of gray, not overly religious and not amazingly kind or extremely malicious. I should not lose respect or get put into a billion stereotypes just because I identify as an atheist.