To be honest, I find it incredibly hurtful that atheism is invariably accompanied by a negative connation. I do not mean that people look on it as a bad thing, though that, at least when you grow up in Oklahoma and then move to Missouri, is often the case. I mean that when people ask about my faith, religion or beliefs and I reluctantly respond, “Well…I’m an atheist,” they usually reply, “Oh, so you don’t believe in anything?”
I believe in a lot of things. I believe in the scientific method. I believe in the beauty of literature and the fine arts. I believe in the incredible architecture of the absolutely exquisite cathedrals, churches and synagogues at which I have marveled during my travels. I believe in my loving family and amazing friends and the immense love I feel for these human beings. I believe in the tears I shed in moments of pain and happiness, which I have felt as fully as those of my friends who would have prayed in those same instances. I believe in times I have felt loss and in times I have felt everything suddenly come together by beautiful serendipity. I believe that we can make each other feel and experience illogical and impractical things, and that those things are as dazzling as the extraordinary phenomena that make up science and math and history and music.
All of these things that make up a believer’s life make up mine as well. It thus seems startlingly unjust and immensely heartbreaking when my lack of a deity suddenly supersedes all these things. Without a god, I am not supposed to be able to appreciate what others believe him or her to have created.
Fear not: I do know that atheism, by definition, is a lack of belief in something. That does not necessitate a lack of belief in anything and everything. I would not be so hesitant to share what I do not believe in if that revelation didn’t tend to make the religious population of the Midwest assume that I am a half human.
I know that I have not met and spoken with every faithful person in the United States, but the majority of those I have met have felt disgusted by or sorry for me. I have dated young men and had great friends who did not try to convert me but rather expressed their wish that my life could be as “full” and “loving” and “understood” as their’s. I am living and breathing and experiencing just as they are with a fully formed and followed faith. Being different is not being less.
I am not claiming to be part of a persecuted minority. I know that secular humanism as a worldview is something that exists mostly in a privileged sphere of the world. I am also not holding anything against any religion, any religious practitioners, belief, faith or anything associated with spirituality. In fact, I find these things beautiful and fascinating and integral to understanding other people and cultures and histories. I also realize that many outspoken atheists in the public eye are, frankly, assholes about it. I do not align myself with demeaning religion or the people who follow them. I think it is hypocritical and unfair to shove non-belief down people’s throats by claiming that religion is forced upon us. And I understand that this kind of bashing ways of life is what steers people away from understanding atheists as people with as much love and humanity and appreciation of beauty as everyone else.
It is offensive to be assumed to be missing out on what would make me a complete, loved and communal human being because of the things in which I choose to place my faith, time and passion. There have been times when I wished I had faith in God or another deity because I was lonely or heartbroken or trying to cope with something incomprehensible to our tiny human brains. Yet I can’t make myself feel a connection that’s not natural to me. Instead, I look for comfort in the creations and connections of humanity. I don’t think I, or anyone else, should be seen as somehow lacking or incomplete because of that.
I simply wish that when people look at what I believe, they would not so drastically, pityingly change how they look at me.