Monday, 18 April 2011

Coming Out as an Atheist

The concept that one would have to 'come out' as an atheist is something that's almost brand-new to me. In this regard, I undoubtedly come from privilege. Even though my mother is very Christian, and disappointed that I would reject her faith, in the end the decision was an easy one for her: that I was her son, and she'd love me no matter what. Additionally, I grew up in the very large, diverse city of Toronto, and was gleefully exposed to many different viewpoints from very early on. My grade school had representatives of a great many cultures, races, and religions.

In a sense, I never really "rejected" Christianity. I can remember growing up, thinking myself Christian, but believing absolutely none of it and attaching no importance to it whatsoever. When I eventually did start actually putting some thought into it, I came to the conclusion that I had been an Agnostic my entire life, and had been calling myself a Christian simply because that label had been applied to me, and I accepted it as easily as I did my name or my hair colour. It was just something that I was. It was less a matter of a life-changing decision for me, and more a matter of finding a new label that better suited me.

My readings lately have opened my eyes to the plight that some Atheists go through, and it's been shocking to me. Parents who reject their children because of a lack of faith? Entire communities who denigrate the outed atheist as being immoral, Hell-bound? Even the concept of a community that was focused entirely on the Church was something of a surprise to me.

I've now moved from Toronto to a fairly small, almost rural area of Ontario. The population here is overwhelmingly Christian. I did look around, and there are no synagogues, temples, mosques, or atheist/agnostic groups in the area. Not one, at least that I could locate. We're a long way from the bible belt here, certainly. But it did make me start to wonder. Are there people here, questioning their faith? Do they worry that the community, or their families, will react negatively if they start to question Christianity? Would the community react negatively? I'm unsure. It's not something I've ever brought up with any of my neighbours.

But I read the stories, so many of them, of people who've struggled with what they do and do not believe, and I think that if it is happening in my area, I'd like to help. I'd like to be there, available to offer my reasons for why I don't believe, to those who are questioning. (A la the Friendly Atheist, who does an excellent job). I'm trying now to figure out if there are those in the community that would want to ask questions, and how to let them know that I'm willing to help them find answers.

To that end, I'm considering offering the idea of just such a thing to the local newspaper. It's a tiny paper, the kind where 'Local man bakes pie' is occasionally front-page news. There's at least one opinion section in it already, a man who offers the point of view of the senior citizen. I'm thinking maybe I could do the same thing, from the point of view of an atheist. Maybe reduce the perception that atheists are immoral, god-hating pricks. I'm not even sure how prevalent that attitude is around here, if it even exists at all, which is causing me some doubt in the whole thing. But the only other thing I can think to do would be to go out and start asking everyone I see if they hate atheists or not.

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