There’s this scene in the classic Eddie Murphy flick, Coming to America, where the Prince of Zamunda has just arrived in the US for the first time. He leans over his balcony, bubbling over with excitement at being in New York City, and yells, “Good morning, my neighbours!” Almost immediately, a New York-accented voice exclaims angrily, “Aye, fuck you!” Prince Akeem Joffer beams as he shouts, “Yes! Yes! Fuck you, too!”
You see, the Prince here is suffering from a bit of culture shock. He doesn’t get what he sees and hears around New York City; it’s all pretty foreign to him. He’s lost. It's a happy sort of lost but lost nonetheless. This is kinda how an atheist lifer feels around religion of any kind. Sometimes, even around ex-theists.
Over the course of my time writing here as Godless Mom, I’ve noticed a few differences between atheists who never believed and atheists who were once religious. Of course, these things don’t apply to everyone in these groups, there are plenty of exceptions, but I have noticed that these differences are the case more often than not.
Here are 7 ways atheist lifers differ from ex-theists:
1. As a third-generation atheist who has never believed, the Bible is as significant a thing to talk about as Arsenio Hall’s supporting performance in Coming to America.
That is to say, it is completely, the fuck, irrelevant. I don’t care what the book says, or how awful it is or what passages prove God is a douchebag. Ex-theists, on the other hand, generally found their way out of Christianity by questioning the claims of the Bible. They’ve read and reread and memorized the text and can argue it backwards and forwards. These types are needed in our little atheist community, but I myself tend to stick to the singular question, “Why do I need the Bible?” when any theist brings it up. I save the scripture debates for the pros, like Dillahunty.
2. Some ex-theists came out of religion feeling like they’d been duped or fooled.
Understandably, they’re a little gun shy and tend to apply rigorous skepticism to just about anything. They do not want to be fooled again, and they’ll find the holes in just about any story they come across. A lifer atheist, on the other hand, never felt duped by the stories of the Bible or the Quran, so it’s not really a sore spot for us. It’s hard to see our fellow atheists feeling as though they had fallen for something or been fooled when they hadn’t. They’d been indoctrinated. There is a big difference.
3. For someone who has been an atheist their entire life, religion is… well, it’s batshit insane.
It’s like walking into Prince Akeem’s bathroom right when his servant announces, “The royal penis is clean, your highness.” only there’s a drunk clown in the corner throat singing while sitting on the lap of the tallest woman on Earth who is farting the tune from Reading Rainbow while clasping a dozen little strings tied to horseflies buzzing around her head. It’s sort of like that, except then you find out that these characters make a point of getting together to do this every Sunday and if they don’t, the giant man-fairy leaves the comfort of his nest made of beer can tabs in the snowy peaks of Nepal to shave their head and eyebrows in their sleep. Yes, yes, it’s just like that… except fucking weirder.
4. Atheist lifers don’t understand what it feels like to believe in God.
Ex-theists may be able to relate more to believers than an atheist lifer can, and may have more ability to get through to them and cause some doubt. I can only guess what belief feels like, and I know I’m way off because all I can think is how fucking weird the whole thing is.
5. Ex-theists likely experienced some sort of loss or grief when leaving behind their religion.
Some lost a whole community, others lost family. Some even lost their freedom as was the case with my friend, Mubarak. Coming out as an atheist in a religious family is rarely done without any consequences whatsoever, and as an outsider looking in, all I can do is appreciate the bravery it takes. I didn’t have to declare that I was an atheist to my family. I haven’t had to suffer any consequences for being an atheist, outside of a few Twitter trolls. I admire those of you who have had to come out despite the consequences.
6. As someone who has been an atheist my whole life, I can’t follow up a theist’s assertion that “If you just try to open your heart to Jesus, he’ll reveal himself to you” with, “I have tried.”
I haven’t tried. An ex-theist can usually come back with, “You don’t think I have tried?” or something to that effect.
7. As an atheist, I have no desire to take apart the arguments of vocal creationists because creationism is a non-thing for me.
It’s not the truth, and in most of the places I’ve been, most people understand that. Creationism was our past. It’s a relic. In a generation, it’ll be washed out. Some ex-theists grew up in the few areas of the world where creationism is actually valued as one way to explain our origins. Because they grew up surrounded by it, they still feel it is a threat (and it probably is in their community) and, unlike me, feel the need to fight it.
Luckily, the atheism community doesn’t just have room for all types of atheists, it requires them. We need the vocal atheists fighting creationists in the communities where it’s still being taught. We need atheists who can quote the Bible and argue it’s subtleties.
So, while religion is, to me, more foreign than Queens to an African Prince, I appreciate the fact that we all have such varying backgrounds. I look forward to the day that atheists make up the majority and we’ll be more diverse than ever.
Are you an ex-theist or an atheist lifer? Can you think of any differences I missed?