So, if you’ve known me for any real amount of time the details of this post probably won’t surprise you. If you haven’t known me long, or maybe don’t know me at all, it might surprise you a little.
I’m an atheist.
I’ve been an atheist my whole life. I’ve joked that it all started with the truth about Santa but that isn’t true. I’ve always not believed. I don’t come from an atheist family, and I didn’t really know any others growing up – I mean, I am in Utah – but that didn’t keep me from being open about my thoughts.
The first time I ever said I didn’t believe in a god I was still in elementary school, and didn’t even know there was a word for it. It wasn’t something that I had prepared to share, it just kind of came out. We were lined up for lunch and I was getting lectured by a girl named Jenny about the fact that my weekend activities had not included church. I justified it by explaining that if there was a god he should understand having dinner at my grandparents’ house was more important than being in church. I can tell you my answer wasn’t received well by the other 12 year olds.
Through my life I’ve been questioned about my beliefs, accused of lacking morals, been called confused, weird, and lost. In college a group of dorm-mates held an intervention for my roommate out of concern I was going to lead her to Satan. (I tried to explain that I didn’t believe in him either, but they didn’t think I was funny.) Some statements towards me have been humorous, some have been hurtful, but overall I’ve made it a point to let them go. I don’t spend any of my time trying to convert others, and try for the most part to be polite when I refuse the attempts made on me. Living by my own rules of respect has made things easy with my family and beautiful friends. Lately though, its been getting harder and harder for me to be nice about things with the general religious public.
I don’t need to convert people to my beliefs. I don’t care if you believe in God, or gods, the moon, or pasta in a magical bowl. I don’t care if you want to follow every word in the bible, or just every third word. I don’t care if you want to follow the declaration of Samantha Black Crow in American Gods, or the Tao of Pooh. I don’t care if you want to allow yourself to be offended by coffee cups – or coffee for that matter – by two adults deciding to tie the knot, or the sight of women’s knees. You can believe in a special place for your next life, and a warmer place for the rest of us, or you can believe that we’ll all come back as cats. The list of what I will allow you to believe is longer than you may think. Your beliefs are your own and I don’t want to interfere with them. As long as you keep them your own.
The thing that seems to get lost for some out there is that fact. Beliefs are personal. You are blessed with the right to follow the beliefs that fit best for you. For a certain amount of time you are even allowed to make sure your kids follow your beliefs. But once you’re outside of your house – outside of your personal circle – your beliefs end. There is nothing out there that allows you to require your beliefs be followed by anyone else. And don’t even start with the whole “we’re a Christian nation” catch-phrase, because I’ve looked it up. I’ve actually looked a lot of it up. I’ve studied religion as an outsider for years. Almost since I was 12. At times I’ve been able to tell followers of a faith things about their faith they didn’t know. And I was right. And the truth on that old line is that we are not a Christian nation. Our constitution actually disallows our leaders to establish any national religion, or declare one religion over another. It’s called the Establishment Clause, if you want to look it up.
You will always have the right to live your life according to your religious beliefs. And even if I don’t agree with them, I will always support the idea that you have that right. (Unless there’s torture or blood sacrifice involved. There’s a different set of laws regarding all that we have to follow.) But, while I support you, I will also support your neighbor, the guy you work with, and the kid at the car wash to have the right to live as they believe. And while supporting you all, I will always insist that our nation’s laws follow legal standards and the constitution, not the bible or the torah, or your favorite Italian cook book. And I will insist – absolutely insist – on respect. Respect for me, respect for your neighbor, and respect to you right back. And if we can all get there, if we can agree to something as simple as respect, oh, what a world we will be.