I'm sure many of you come from Christian and Jewish lineages, and are aware of the queer senses of guilt that accompany them. 

As atheists (or secularists) are seldom unified as cultural groups, and scattered across populations, I find that we carry the social identities of our affiliated groups (e.g., Southerners, Americans, Christians, college kids). That is, we are members of social groups that do not share our own thought processes and beliefs (ever heard of an atheist neighborhood?). Just about every major population on the planet is saturated with stupidity, and thus I think we all share a sort of 'Guilt' where by being an atheist we judge our own groups, and thus feel guilty for be associated with them....

For example: every time I read international coverage of American populations (maybe it should be called 'American Guilt'), have a casual conversation with a fellow southerner... etc. 

I mean, I'd be lying if I didn't admit watching Fox makes me want to move to northern Europe.

Anyone?

Tags: america, atheism, atheist, guilt

Views: 186

Replies to This Discussion

Like Ken, I expatriated years ago, and that was even before Fox News made it abundantly clear that the U.S. has no political future. That was made very clear to me when my opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq made me an exceedingly unpopular fellow.
http://www.bidstrup.com/bio.htm#fbi
http://www.bidstrup.com/exile.htm

I live now in a country (Costa Rica) that is being overrun by USAnian expats, and almost without exception are far-right wingers that come down here, see what they don't like and want to change everything. I like to tell them that if they don't like living in the most culturally left-wing, intensively governed, highly regulated and thoroughly policed country in Latin America, they shouldn't come here. If they want to live in a country that is governed along the doctrines they espouse, and has been for years, they should be living in Guatemala or Paraguay or El Salvador where their doctrines have been the governing paradigm for decades. But maybe they come here because they like the results of it being culturally left-wing, intensively governed, highly regulated and thoroughly policed.

I am with Ken in that if you're going to expatriate, though, northern Europe is a terrible place to go in terms of weather. I've lived in the arctic and I've lived in the tropics, and I'm here to tell ya that the tropics are a whole lot better! If you don't like the heat and bugs, just move up into the mountains. I live at 5000 feet, and the weather is spring-like all year. The coldest it ever gets here is the mid 50's, and the warmest is the mid 80's. I rarely ever see a mosquito and only occasionally get bitten by a chigger.

The one aspect of the culture here that I do find annoying is the Catholicism. It is pervasive, everywhere, and informs every aspect of life here. While it is fading (the church has done a great deal to discredit itself in recent years), it is still omnipresent, and is the constitutionally institutionalized state church. Regular attendance at mass is now below 50%.

But atheism is becoming more acceptable. I really stood out when I came here in 2003, but nowadays people don't find me to be all that strange. Humanism is gaining a gradual acceptance. People have begun to realize that atheists can be decent people too, and the Catholic church's constant protestations to the contrary are only discrediting the church anymore.
Scott, I live on the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. Here we have just about every version of Christian Religion known to the Western European or Americans. My wife is a Evangelical Christian (the same group that infested Hawaii and the South Pacific in the first wave of English / American Missionaries). I do not have a problem with that as we do not talk about religion here at home. I do buy gifts at xmas for the kids and my wife but it isn't in the xtian spirit. Kids love gifts and I see nothing wrong with the giving as long as there isn't a religious message attached. My daughter is married to a Mormon, not my cup of tea, but I don't have to live with them, nor do I have to discuss religion with them. Being ex military, I have been raised knowing that people are different, and as long as those differences are not being foisted on me, I will let you have your fantasy and practice what ever you like as long as it doesn't harm me or mine. But, if you cross that line and continue to badger me about my lack of faith, I do and will get really nasty really fast. I think that if you ask Taran about pissed of Chiefs, he will enlighten you on just how serious things can get in a very short time.

My American family, pretty much have disowned me, I didn't fit the bill of a fundie xtian or a Baptist nutter. Revelations to me was a revelation on just how crazy Christianity could get. I, as a child tried to find out as much as possible about religion as I could, but at our home that was not allowed, either you were a believer or you would be made to believe. So at the young age of 17 I managed to get my fathers permission to join the military, and I was away, on my own pretty much for the rest of my life.

I have never had a guilty feeling about not believing, in fact I still get angry for my fathers strong beliefs in his form of fundimentalism. He was raised by a half Cherokee mother and a Father that came west in the 1800s from Missouri. On mom's side there was a Swedish Grandmother and a Norwegian Grandfather who weren't religious and who had a grandson (Me) to raise during the 2nd War when Dad was off to fight and mom was working in the big city in defense... My first years were of tolerance and understanding and then after the war things unravelled and the rest is history... The Northern European upbringing won btw...

I am respected pretty much by all here, Islanders seem to feel a sense of community still as everyone has to pull together on an island (not too much different than being on a ship). Here a persons worth is judged by how he is a benefit to the community at large... I like that!

I for one enjoy these sessions, I learn more about what makes me and you tick, and how I can improve my communications to others in making myself understood... Now if I could only regain my youth........

Oh, Here's a little sumpin for all of you from me here over the edge of the world. We have sports just like the europeans, soccer, basketball, volleyball, etc, but then we have a national sport. It is Canoe racing.. This photo was shot of the 2nd place team coming in at the finish line on the first leg of the longest canoe race in the world... These men have just paddled the canoe for 19 miles from Huahine to Raiatea with NO breaks or change of crew...

Havai'iki Nui Va'a 2010

Thanks to groups like Origins: Universe, Life, Humankind, and Darwin discussions we can live in areas that are predominantly Christian and still not feel isolated. As an avid golfer I associate with a variety of people. Don't feel guilty for being Atheist, let your actions speak for your character.
Oh, I don't know... In Northern Europe, we don't particularly care about religious sensibilities, and I want to keep it that way, but there is always the matter of 'good citizenship', harking back to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and what have you. That means tolerance and open-mindedness and such. In the end, you can just cut your own flesh by tolerating asininity of various ilks. I think that no one has a reason to feel guilty if s/he does not steal, vandalise or kill. That should be sufficient. A pox on religious taboos.
In Northern Europe, your cultural group is most likely to be your nationality or mother tongue.
Lovely snow out there, by the way.
Have you heard Pat Condell's thoughts about Sweden?
I can understand why some atheists might feel guilt about turning his or her back on their upbringing--especially those who have recently freed themselves of religion. I think, however, that a lot more atheists feel relief or anger or, as has been mentioned, a sense of isolation/alienation.

As for myself, I am intimately familar with guilt. I have lived the majority of my life feeling guilty for so much, most of it stuff I had no control over. Only some of my guilty feelings stemmed from religion, though, back when I was a child. Mostly my feelings of guilt have been a symptom of my depression.

But do I feel guilty about being an atheist? I don't think so. Although I do have problems being open about it, and I have been trying to analyze why. Maybe I just want to avoid confrontation. Maybe I dread disapproval and predjudice. I do live in a small town in the U.S. bible belt. Whatever it is, I am working on changing. I want people to know that there is a different way of thinking and it isn't evil. I am well liked by most people. Finding out I'm an atheist might just change their views of atheists. (One can always hope.)
I can understand why some atheists might feel guilt about turning his or her back on their upbringing--especially those who have recently freed themselves of religion. I think, however, that a lot more atheists feel relief or anger or, as has been mentioned, a sense of isolation/alienation.

As for myself, I am intimately familar with guilt. I have lived the majority of my life feeling guilty for so much, most of it stuff I had no control over. Only some of my guilty feelings stemmed from religion, though, back when I was a child. Mostly my feelings of guilt have been a symptom of my depression.

But do I feel guilty about being an atheist? I don't think so. Although I do have problems being open about it, and I have been trying to analyze why. Maybe I just want to avoid confrontation. Maybe I dread disapproval and predjudice. I do live in a small town in the U.S. bible belt. Whatever it is, I am working on changing. I want people to know that there is a different way of thinking and it isn't evil. I am well liked by most people. Finding out I'm an atheist might just change their views of atheists. (One can always hope.)
I've noticed a lot of people interpreting this as my disclosure of a kind of neurotic guilt for being an atheist that I wish to reconcile. I would just like to emphasize to everyone that we are an evolved coalitionary species, that is, we are built to desire group affiliation and belonging. Feelings of guilt and social identity are part of our hard-wiring, so regardless of our knowledge that Fox news doesn't represent us, when we conceptualize ourselves as part of the same group (thinking of Americans vs. Europeans), we then take on the ability to experience guilt for their actions. I don't so much mean this is a neurosis I want to confront, as its a cynically hilarious, ironic part of being human, and especially of being atheist. When I feel guilty for being associated with New Orleans, or even for having beliefs that offend others, I do not let it bother me nor drive my behavior. Instead, I just sit back and laugh about the irony of it all, that no matter how much we change, we are always human, all too human. (great book, Nietzsche anyone?)
Ken, I understand what you are saying about the religious families. I grew up as a fourth-generation Mormon in a family with a very strong pioneer heritage; my mother was raised in a farming town founded by her father under orders from Brigham Young. Her grandmother was buried in Winter Quarters, IA, where she died enroute to Salt Lake City while pushing a handcart. So you can well imagine how my family felt when I announced that I was an atheist and would no longer accept the religious doctrines of the Mormon Church. That was bad enough, but when I came out as a gay man and sought excommunication (it was the only way to get unchurched back then) it was pretty much over as far as any relationship with my family was concerned. Today, among my dozens of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, I might get a total of one or two emails per year. And that is it for all the communication with them that I have anymore. Can't even remember the last time any of them ever picked up a phone and called me. In the seven years I have lived down here, I have never been visited by a family member (but have been by several friends). So much for those tightly-knit Mormon families.

Do I feel guilty about any of this? Either from not being a religionist, an ex-Mormon or a close family member?

No. I do not. Not at all. I felt a lot of guilt early on about leaving the church, but I quickly realized that such guilt was part of the religious programming to which I had been subjected. It took a lot of years to get over that - so deeply was the Mormon heritage ingrained in me. I now have ZERO guilt about atheism or my status as an ex-Mormon generally, and realize that my moral outlook is entirely of my choosing, not The Bearded One's. So no, I feel no guilt about not being a religionist or being an ex-Mormon.

I am convinced that a major part of the vague sense of guilt that many atheists seem to feel is that they are somehow being lesser persons for not believing in a god, and that is purely cultural indoctrination, informed as it is by religion, in an effort to encourage religious conversion. So get over it, people. You are solely responsible for being the person you are, and you have no one to answer for it to, other than yourself. That guilt is simply programming designed to nudge you back into the fold (like the rest of the sheep).

My only regret (which is not associated with any guilt) is my loss of family. It would be nice to have some family that actually cared, but I also realize that to achieve that, I would not be able to be true to myself, and I consider that to be a higher priority. So I accept what I cannot change and try to maintain the integrity to refuse to go out of my way to make bigots comfortable with their bigotry, even if they happen to be my own biological family. The decision to move away from me was theirs, not mine, and I refuse to feel guilty about any of it.
Scott, I totally understand, I have a mother, a sister and some nephews and nieces and their kids and grandkids left in the states. We no longer correspond, Everyone in the family knew that I had left home due to the religious gulf that separated us, but until I was diagnosed with colon cancer and they asked me about my desires for a funeral etc, and I told them that I wanted NO xtian burial and in fact if I were to die, they were to have my body cremated and my ashes shipped Home to the Isles and my wife and family. My family here knows that there is to be NO service or religious ceremonies at my grave site. I have asked that Taps be played and that is all. Not that I will hear it, but that I want people to know how the US Military buries their dead.. Afterwards I care not if there is a marker or not... I know that my life on this island will be remembered for about 50 years after my passing (if we last that long). After that no one will even know who I was.... I was made of star dust and I will return to star dust... I feel fortunate to have managed to live as it is.. I only hope that I managed to do something with my life and enrich others by my living and doing. If I have done that then I have done my job to advance human kind.. Not by any spiritual means but by what evolution was meant to do...


Nice post Scott, and keep em coming.... You are needed in here....

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