On coming out as an Atheist
Based on a prompt from Plinky: Describe your worst classroom experience.
I was about 18 years old when I was finally ready to admit I was an Atheist.
Religion was always something I struggled with a bit as a kid. While my parents weren’t fanatically religious, we did attend church from time to time and something about it always felt off for me. I just never really understood what all the fuss was about, and never felt like I connected with any of it. I have also had some pretty negative experiences with religious people, including a thieving (and somewhat pervy) Anglican Vicar, and a week spent at a born-again Christian camp that disguised itself as a horseback riding camp. I won’t get in to those things in detail here, but I’m sure you get the idea.
By the time I was entering university, I had started to come to terms with the fact that I was an Atheist: that I did not feel the presence of any spiritual entities or any belief that they existed and that I was generally okay with the idea that there isn’t an afterlife. Over the years, I’ve generally categorized myself as a relaxed atheist. I try to be as accepting and tolerant of different beliefs as I can, I have no desire to debate the existence of God, I’ve never read The God Delusion, I’ve just gone with my gut, in much the same way I feel like many moderately religious people have done. I just don’t feel it, and I’m okay with that. I’m not a particularly passionate person, and that goes for my feelings about religion and spirituality, or lack thereof.
When I was younger, however, I didn’t know how to express these ideas or really understand them myself. It was all a bit new to me, and so I generally framed these ideas in the contexts I had at my disposal as a university student: science and arm chair logic from my moral philosophy courses. I thing somehow it wasn’t good enough for me to just believe or not believe, I needed an argument, or a reason. I just hadn’t yet realized what I do now: that believing in spiritual entities or concepts or not believing in them is completely irrational either way.
And so when discussing religious beliefs in my Sociology 101 tutorial during my first year at university, I felt I had to announce to the class that I required proof that god existed. I was an atheist after all, and that was what I was supposed to think. Wasn’t it? I was so unsure of it all, and I know that I had difficulty articulating exactly what I was trying to get across. Many of the other students in the class were at least moderately religious, and were far more confident in their beliefs than I was. Some even commented on how they thought atheism was, at least to some extent, pretty reprehensible. I felt like I was being attacked, like the entire class had united against me, and I had a pretty significant amount of angst about this encounter for a long time afterward.
Really, it was all just bad timing. My beliefs weren’t fully formed, and I just wasn’t confident enough in myself to stand up for myself or engage my classmates in a meaningful debate. I just wasn’t ready yet, and now that I am ready, I have no interest in debating it at all.