So, I'm very strange; when I have something I need to think about, I process my thoughts by writing about them. Rather than writing a whole new post here, I'm just going to post the essay that came out of my trying to decide to openly call myself an atheist. This was not written for any particular audience, and I haven't edited it, but I think I'll just post it as-is:
Recently, I had an interesting experience. I was chatting with some acquaintances while out at a bar, and in my mildly inebriated state, I confessed something about myself. This was something I had known for a while, which had been true for longer than I had known it, but which I had never said aloud before. One of the men I was talking to looked shocked, and asked me if it was true. I told him it was, and he looked uncomfortable, made his excuses, and didn’t speak to me again the rest of the night. He has been aloof ever since—not avoiding me, but never engaging me in conversation for any length of time. He had learned something about me that made him uncomfortable being my friend.
He had discovered that I was an atheist.
The fact that I had never said it before didn’t really mean much; I have never been the type to talk openly of my beliefs except in the company of those whose reactions I can anticipate, or who already know. I do not think this was out of fear of the way people would react—I had never had anyone react poorly to one of my beliefs until that night, that I recall. I have just felt that if I am secure in my beliefs, there is no need to share them with—or, heaven forbid, force them on—others. So I had been thinking of myself as an atheist for a while before that night, but it had not crossed my mind to share it.
I said that I have been an atheist for longer than I had known it, and I’d like to talk about that briefly. For years I have, when pressed, called myself agnostic. I sing with a group at a local church and I hang out with pagans of various kinds (even participating in their spells and rituals at times), and I couldn’t really see that one way was especially better than any other. It was never especially important to me—the question of what was true, regarding god and religion, didn’t occupy my thoughts terribly often. Within the last year I came to think of this as being “functionally atheist.” I didn’t know what I believed, but for all practical purposes, I was nonreligious.
When I started dating an atheist, it became something I thought about more often—not that he “converted” me, but rather, he introduced me to the works of Richard Dawkins and his like. Here were intelligent men, men of science—something I aspire to be—and they were not content to simply not think about it. The more I became acquainted with the skeptics, the more I reflected on how I disliked religion, and how it did, in fact, clash with my beliefs about the universe to think that god existed. How could someone understand the nature of the universe and still think that there was someone who answered prayers? Or that their spells and rituals could alter the laws of causality? Add in the evils that have been perpetrated in the name of religion over the years, and I find myself no longer merely “functionally” atheist; I actively believe that there is no god, and that religion is a harmful thing both to individuals and to society.
But it did not occur to me, until that night at the bar, to share this belief with the people I knew. My closest friends know, for we do discuss these things from time to time. My facebook friends probably have some idea—I post Dawkins videos regularly now, among other things. One might think that, facing even so mild a negative reaction as I got that night, my inclination would be to continue to keep this thing about me hidden, or even to actively act to hide it. Yet I find myself inclined to do just the opposite. I have this perverse desire to declare it to everyone—perhaps just to see who would react, and how.
I am amused by the fact that some atheists have adopted the scarlet letter, branding themselves with the red A for all to see. A thing that society shuns, turned into a symbol of defiance. Brand me all you like, it seems to say, I am proud of this, and happy to be shunned by those who will shun me.
So, here is my confession, proudly proclaimed: I am an atheist. I’ll wear that A with my head held high.