I came out as an atheist to one of my professors today. This professor has been a spiritual mentor and role model for me during my entire time at Wheaton, so it was important for me to come out to her. It ended up being a good conversation, but boy was it awkward at first. Actually, it turned out a lot better than I expected, given the less than stellar conversation we had when I was first starting to let go of Christianity.
I think when you spring an unexpected piece of information on a person, you have to excuse the first things that come out of their mouth. I’ve found this to be true with most of the people I’ve come out to. Usually the entire first conversation I have with someone upon revealing my atheism just needs to be scratched out completely, until they’ve had time to think about their reaction and we’ve re-learned how to relate to each other. When you have such a fundamental difference between you, you have to put more thought into your words instead of just saying the first thing that comes to mind. Honesty is still best, but not rash honesty.
As expected, she pulled off several faux pas: the “you’re a Christian, you just don’t know it, etc.,” and everyone’s favorite, “God loves you”. Everybody does that, and most of them should probably be forgiven for it. Overall, I’m glad I told her I’m an atheist. It’s important to me for the significant people in my life to know, especially if they’ve been involved in my spiritual life as a Christian, so it’s not like I’m deceiving them.
I’ve had several spiritual mentors as a Christian, and I’ve been feeling that lack of a mentor since I became an atheist. Mostly because I’m still steeped in Christian culture, I’m still trying to figure out what atheism actually looks like. Maybe I’m just trying to take Christian forms and fill them with atheist approximations, and it can’t or shouldn’t be done.
Atheism is exactly the opposite of a religion, and I keep forgetting that. Maybe because Christianity is the only thing I’ve known, and I don’t know what life without religion looks like. There are atheistic things that can fill the place of religion; things like the UU church, which I have ventured into a little, but I’m not really interested in that. I want to be religion-less. So why can’t I actually imagine a life without religion?
Along the same vein, I’ve been feeling like I want to come out en masse at Wheaton. Maybe I’ve been fattened by success, so to speak, but I’m starting to really enjoy being able to relate to my Christian friends as an atheist and navigating relationships across that boundary. I have momentary flings with the idea of dropping my anonymity, at least at Wheaton (internet anonymity is quite a different thing altogether). Here’s what’s stopping me: I feel like coming out to people other than my closest friends is tantamount to making a commitment to atheism.
I’ve been thinking about why the thought of committing to atheism bothers me. It’s not that I think I’ll back out anytime soon, but on principle there’s something wrong with committing to a thing which, by definition, is the absence of religious commitment. At the same time, I don’t want to qualify my atheism with a lack of commitment and leave myself open to bets on how long it will take to convert me back to Christianity. I just want people to know me as I am: not settled into religion or non-religion, but happy with just basic atheism. I’m happy with my life as an atheist, and I don’t want to keep that a secret. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem capable of just listening and receiving someone else’s story.
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