This past week, I spent a night at my sister’s house. Her husband is a Lutheran pastor, and I don’t know if it’s just a pastor thing, but he always reads books on Christianity for fun. Books on worship, doctrine, Martin Luther, bible study guides, bible commentaries, Lutheran service practices, the Reformation, you name it, he reads it. Every time I see him, he has a new book. His Lutheran books line the walls of his office in the church.
Lutheran pastors reading Lutheran books isn’t all that strange. Of course, in addition to reading his books, he also spends his weeks preparing sermons for Sunday morning. Similarly, my mother loves to spend her free time reading Christian fiction and women’s devotionals. As an organist, she spends her Saturdays practicing her hymns for Sunday morning. She wears a cross necklace around her neck and sips coffee from mugs with bible verses scrawled on them.
I often think about how they probably don’t even think twice about their freedom to read, write, wear, and rehearse their beliefs. I know it’s petty, but every time that I see another Christian book in our shared Amazon order history, I can’t help but feel jealous. Being in the closet means keeping a meticulously close eye on every detail that could get your atheism on your family’s radar.
For example, I can’t look at atheist books on Amazon because my family will see, so I have to use a different site. While my pastor-in-law’s office is lined with his books, my atheist books are hidden away at my boyfriend’s house. As my sister gives her husband privacy and quiet as he sits to prepare his sermons, I get no similar courtesy for writing my blog posts. I understand that it’s his job, and no one knows I’m writing these posts, but if they knew, they would most likely go out of their way to keep me from writing such blasphemy. When I’m with family, finding the time and privacy to write can mean locking myself in the guest room while the rest of them play board games or staying up to write after everyone’s gone to sleep.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be open about your religious views, no less impose them on others. Not only can my mother believe openly, read her devotionals, and practice her organ hymns, but she can drag me along to her church every Sunday and punish me for not living by her god’s rules. Imagine if my family of Christians had to hide their faith while I constantly publish new blog posts about why their beliefs are wrong, read Dawkins and Hitchens in front of them, and tell them they ought to live by my set of moral values and not their own. It seems so twisted, but if turned around, it’s a reality that I’ve lived with so long that it’s not even weird.
Even when I’m not with my Lutheran family or at my Christian college (e.g. when I’m at work), it seems as though no one is outwardly atheist. The majority of people give no indication of their religious views, but if they do, they’re Christian. I’ve only ever seen one person with atheist bumper stickers in my life. I read The God Delusion on a plane once, and I was paranoid that I would get dirty looks the whole time. It’s not that all the atheists out there are in the closet like I am, but it’s not common to see someone with an atheist t-shirt, necklace, bumper sticker, or even book.
A thought occurred to me this week: what is my goal with this blog? What’s the point of The Closet Atheist? I’ve touched on it before, that I want to set an example for all atheists, that we have morals and that we’re in fact kind and thoughtful, not angry or hateful. But my goal is this:
I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I don’t really care if I make anyone an atheist or if I make you doubt your belief in God. Instead, I’m here to change the way that the world sees atheism, but more importantly, how the world sees atheists. Of course, I can’t speak for all of us, so I speak for myself. I tell my stories about my pastor-in-law and my super-religious mom and my whacky new pastor because they’re my experiences as an atheist. I talk about why I was or wasn’t convinced by Francis Collins’ arguments for God and I give reasons why I don’t believe because maybe things like this will help people understand where I’m coming from. So even if you don’t know any other atheists, at least now you know one.
Of course it will take a lot more than one blog from one girl whose family doesn’t know she’s an atheist to change how we’re viewed, but this is all the difference that I can make right now. The more that atheism can be seen as normal and not an abomination is the sooner that people won’t have to be afraid to openly say, “I’m an atheist, and I’m proud of that.”