As you know, I’ve never been religious; never believed in a god. I asked for your stories of atheism because I wanted to hear how you became atheists as it’s a process I never experienced and I wanted to know what my fellow atheists had been through. I’ve learned a lot from all that you’ve told me and I thought I’d share some of those lessons with all of you. So, here are ten things I’ve learned about you amazing people from reading your stories:
1. You’ve lost people against your will over this whole atheism thing – relationships with friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, siblings, parents and significant others all seem to be casualties of not sharing their precise beliefs. What’s worse, is that losing these people has not been your choice. It’s been theirs. Your family and friends, overwhelmingly, can’t seem to find room in their hearts for a nonbeliever, no matter how gently you tell them you no longer believe in god. Some of you have offered to go to church, mosque, Bible study, etc, if it meant it would save your relationship but to no avail. Your loved one just couldn’t seem to bring themselves to associate with a heathen for anything. Others have been kicked out as teenagers, beaten, divorced and disowned by your own parents; the two people on earth who are supposed to be there for you no matter what. I’ve read some gut-wrenching stories from you, detailing how you’ve been discarded like a piece of trash. Some of you were teens when you were thrown out of your house to fend for yourself, all because you don’t share their perspective on one topic. I’ve had a few good sobs after reading some of these.
2. Many of you have been physically hurt by religion – The most recent story I read on this topic came from Tanja, who said:
When I was 11, I borrowed a Stephen King book from the library. I was caught and then endured an hour of beatings with said book, the book was burned and I had to do work to pay off the library fine.
Including anonymous stories and stories the author did not want to be published, I’ve read about people being beaten to hospitalization, female genital mutilation and countless threats of violence and threats against your lives. I could feel the terror in some of your words, refusing to use your real name. Y’know, just in case I wasn’t trustworthy and I published your story anyway. Some of you are currently living in fear for your life should anyone find out you no longer believe in the same god as the people around you. These stories make me feel helpless. I can’t do anything to fix your situation or even just slightly improve it and they haunt me for days and weeks after reading them. I hope that, at the very least, writing your story down acts as a sort of catharsis. I’m deeply sorry you’ve had to experience these things and if there was a way I could just pile the lot of you in my family room with some sleeping bags and some tea, I would.
3. Anti-atheist bigotry is alive and well in all of your countries – We’re all abundantly aware of the bigotry against atheists in much of the Middle East. We know it exists in Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. We know it’s not easy for atheists in much of the developing world. What I never expected were the stories I got from Americans, Canadians, British, French, Aussie, New Zealanders, etc. Stories of jobs lost, of families disowning, shunning, kicking teenagers out of their homes. Stories of lost custody battles and violent reactions to atheist and humanist events. There was one mom whose child was made to feel too uncomfortable at Scouts to return. There was a college girl kicked out of her sorority. A new mom with a gorgeous new family disowned by her parents & siblings – legally – in a state that we would consider more liberal than most. I didn’t think it was this bad… but it’s bad out there. We don’t necessarily get vocal about it when these things happen, for fear of more repercussions and so these stories only get whispered about anonymously on silly little blogs like mine, making it feel as though it doesn’t happen much anymore. It does. Sadly, it does a lot.
4. You can’t fake it for long – I’ve received so many stories from people who are faking their belief in god. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, etc. The one common thread with all of you is that you all feel like you’re cracking; like you’re not going to be able to keep it up for much longer. I’ve had other stories sent to me from many of you who were faking their religious beliefs for a while but then hit a wall, and not being able to do it anymore. Despite your fears, you came out and admitted to everyone in your life that you don’t believe in their god anymore. Happily, most of you were met with a sort of “Yeah, we figured” sort of response proving all that time you faked it and worried was for naught. Through all these stories, I hear the same thing: it’s difficult to fake it; it’s demeaning to fake it; it’s not often possible to fake it for long.
5. You’ve seen some shit – Sometimes, when I come away from reading a new story in my inbox, my heart is so heavy I feel like crying for days. There was the girl whose sister was killed by her Muslim brother over a rumour that turned out not to be true. That still haunts me. There was a man whose wife had undergone female genital mutilation as a child. So many of you have been manhandled by perverted priests and pastors and other religious leaders. One of you witnessed a suicide brought on by guilt for not being precisely who god wanted them to be. I am so deeply saddened to hear these stories but so honoured you felt comfortable sending them to me.
6. You’re great writers – Holy shitballs! Half your stories have me reeling at the end, thinking to myself, “why are you sending me this story when you’ve clearly got the skill to start a successful blog yourself?” You’re brilliant! I want to take creative writing lessons from 90% of you!
7. You’re strong – All the shit you’ve been through and yet you’re still here, talking about it, raising awareness for it and being brave as all hell about it. I like to post on my social spaces that I love you guys. I end my videos with it, too. I don’t think you really understand, though. I love and admire you guys so much. I’ve never been surrounded, albeit digitally, by so many fearless people just trying to make a difference. You literally inspire me every day.
8. You’re positive – Almost every single story sent to me has some bit in it about how freeing leaving religion has been for you. Almost all of them have some blurb about the positive impact being an atheist has had on your life. You take all these awful situations we’ve talked about above and you still see the positives in life. You’re all fucking amazing. All of you.
9. You’re smart as all get out – The thoughts you articulate in your personal stories often give me pause. Sometimes it’s because I’d never thought of the topic that way before. Other times it’s because you make such a profoundly good point that I have to remember it for the next time I’m discussing the topic. You shed light on things I’d never thought about before; you teach me new ideas; you show me new ways to think about things. I am constantly challenged by you and I love it.
10. You’re giving – So, so many of you have chosen to fill your time freed up by no longer attending church with amazing things. You’re blood donors, foster parents, volunteers and more. A huge portion of your stories are about how you’ve given back. Your generosity astounds me.
I have enjoyed the last three years of collecting your stories. I hope to keep getting them for many years to come. If you haven’t binged on them yet, check out Your Stories of Atheism, and if you haven’t shared your story yet, click here to submit it.