Friday, November 20, 2015

Why I Am Openly Secular


The decision of whether or not to be open about being an atheist or agnostic is a real struggle for a lot of people. In many parts of the world, but especially here in the U.S., it's looked down upon to be secular. I think many just don't think that it's worth the trouble to voice their opinions on the matter or stir up controversy. Some were raised non-religious and just don't really care to get involved. They just want to live their lives and avoid the subject. Others have left religion and don't want to upset believing family and friends with news of their deconversion. Then there are some who can face serious harm for coming out about their unbelief. They may face anything from being kicked out of their home as a teenager with nowhere to go to being hacked to death with a machete for having an atheist blog in the wrong part of the world. For many people the reasons to not voice their unbelief are legitimate and certainly understandable. For others, I would like to encourage them to speak up and be open about their non-belief. Everyone must decide for themselves what is best for them and how honest about their non-belief they want to be.

I would like to share why I have decided to speak up and why I think it's important for those in the position to do so to also speak up.

Honesty

I want the people who know me to know the real me. If my family or friends like and respect me based on the person I'm pretending to be, then I feel like it's cheap and not legitimate, because they don't actually know who I really am. I am the type of person who chooses to be an open book. You can ask me literally anything about myself and I will tell you without hesitation. A big part of that is because I love to be open and real with people, but another part of that is because I know that being honest and sharing my experiences and thoughts can help others who have experienced the same things or have had the same thoughts and may feel alone.

I know what it feels like to live a lie. I've been there. There was a time in my life when almost no one knew me for who I really was. I lied about everything to cover up for other lies and I sneaked around behind the backs of the people I loved so that I could get away with the shady things I was doing. That was the most miserable, unfulfilling time of my life and I learned from that experience that I cannot live that way ever again.

Honesty was one of the main reason I told everyone in my life that I am now an atheist. I figured that if I lost relationships over this admission then that was a relationship I should lose anyway. I don't want relationships with people that are based on a lie about who I am, what I believe and how I view the world. The relationships worth keeping are the ones with people who like me for who I really am.

That being said, honesty doesn't mean that I need to say, publicly, everything that is on my mind or share every Facebook post that I agree with that may be offensive to the people I love. This is where the thin line is drawn between being honest about who I am and being unnecessarily offensive and rude. I'll admit that I've crossed this line for myself from time to time. Just because I'm passionate about secular values doesn't mean I should drive a wedge in the relationships that I hold incredibly dear with believers. However I do feel a need to walk that line because there are some things that I believe need to be said that may come off as offensive to some, but that I feel are extremely important. I will explain why below.

Opportunity

I am in the position of experiencing very little loss or resistance for my unbelief (aside from the personal grief of losing my faith). My family is loving and accepting of me; I have a job that is not in jeopardy due to my unbelief; I have an amazing husband who will stay by my side and support me no matter what; and I live in a country in which I can speak my mind freely and openly without fear of imprisonment or worse.

With this combination of circumstances I feel that I am in the perfect position to speak up and I know that many people in much worse circumstance have spoken up and dealt with the consequences. To not do so myself seems criminal in light of their sacrifices.

Raising Awareness of Injustice

I've been asked the questions, "Why do you have to be so public about your non-belief? Why not just keep it to yourself?"

I've thought long and hard about these questions and only under the following circumstances will I keep quiet:

When the religious stop pushing their beliefs and religious ideas on others;

When the religious stop trying to legislate based on their specific religious beliefs;

When children are no longer being indoctrinated to believe that there is something wrong with them from the day they were born and that if they fail to follow the specific god that their parents believe in they will be sentenced to an eternity of fiery torment or otherwise punished;

When facts, evidence, science and true history becomes what children are taught in schools;

When gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer people are no longer discriminated against based on an ancient book;

When LGBTQ and atheist teens are no longer kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go;

When what is counted as more important is a person's love and kindness toward the people and the world around them rather than what god they believe in;

When young people can be taught safe and healthy sex practices to keep them alive, healthy and free of unwanted pregnancy instead of taught that having sex is defiling their bodies and they just shouldn't do it;

When violence in the name of an invisible being ceases to be an issue in our world;

When discrimination and hate are no longer backed up by scripture that people believe is the word of god;

When women are held at the same level of respect and authority as men;

When women's sexuality and bodily autonomy is taken seriously;

And when a person can share publicly that they are an atheist and not lose their job, reputation, friends, family, home, marriage, children, political standing or their life.

Until these things are a reality I will not keep quiet.

Passion for Change

I care about this planet, the people who live on it and especially my children. I want this place to be a better place to live for the generations that come after me and I can't sit back and hope that other people do it for me. I, personally, feel a strong desire to be involved in the process of creating change and making this a more loving, accepting and reasonable world. Whether my impact is big or small doesn't really matter to me as long as I'm doing something.

I firmly believe that a world based more strongly on secular humanist values will be a much better place for our future generations to live. No matter how much comfort religious belief offers a person, truth and reality are far more important, especially in the long-term. If a person believes that this life is just a blip in their eternity or that Jesus is coming back soon, how can they possibly take seriously the future of our planet and our children?

Meaning and Purpose

One more thing that drives me to be openly secular, aside from my passion for justice and change, is the fact that being an activist and being involved in creating change is where I find meaning and purpose for my life. I believe that we are all responsible for creating our own meaning and for making a difference in the lives of the people around us in whatever way we can and secular humanist activism is my niche. This is where my passion lies. Loving and helping people is my mission and, in doing so, I've never been happier or more fulfilled in my entire life.


To get in touch with me:
www.facebook.com/jenica.crail
www.facebook.com/reallifebeyondfaith
twitter.com/jenicacrail
jenicacrail@gmail.com

To learn more about being openly secular:
openlysecular.org/




Friday, September 11, 2015

My Experience Coming Out Atheist

When you type "coming out atheist" into Google you get article after article with advice on how to come out and even advice on whether or not to come out at all. Everyone has an opinion on if and when someone should tell the people in their life that they don't believe in god. Over and over I keep reading that people recommend not telling one's family until they're an independent adult because many parents will disown their son or daughter for admitting to being an atheist or withdraw financial support for college. There are also a ton of stories of people who lose their friends, their job, their spouse, their kids (in custody battles), etc. I never realized, before my deconversion, that coming out as an atheist was even a thing and I certainly didn't realize that it could be so life-altering for someone. When I first started recognizing that I didn't believe anymore I started looking into how to tell friends and family. I listened to a couple podcasts by The Thinking Atheist on the subject of coming out to friends and family and tried to figure out how best to go about it myself.

There's plenty of advice nowadays about how and when to tell the people in your life, but I, personally, have been interested in hearing about people's experiences after telling people. It's interesting to hear about people's reactions to the news, the impact it has on relationships, how the encounters go, if it's a positive or a negative experience, etc. I'm going to share with you my experience coming out as an atheist.




My Experience

I didn't have a horrible, tragic experience coming out to friends or family. In fact, my experience was surprisingly quite positive. I had heard from so many people about all the relationships they lost when they started telling people and stories of family members not taking them seriously or accusing them of just being rebellious. My experience was not like that at all. My dad and one of my 3 brothers were already atheists so obviously sharing with them was an easy conversation. The rest of my family members are believers though and more than anything I just didn't want this to come between our relationships.

Of all of them I think it was the hardest to tell my in-laws. For them, this came out of nowhere and was completely unexpected. As far as they knew we were still strong believers and nothing had changed. I hadn't even told them that my dad had come out as an atheist several months earlier. I had no idea what their reaction would be and I was really nervous that they would resent me. I really love them both and would never want anything to come between us that would forever alter our relationship, but I knew that I had to be honest about the conclusions I had come to because it is extremely important to me and I know that their faith is extremely important to them. So one weekend when they came to visit our family my husband and I sat down to talk with them and we told them about the research we had been doing and the conclusions that we had been drawing and that, for me, it had led me to the point of realizing that I no longer believe in god. For my husband, he was still undecided and looking into his own research. They were obviously disappointed and confused and asked a lot of questions. It pained me to answer some of the questions because I knew that, as a believer, it would be difficult to hear some of those things coming out of the mouth of someone they love. All-in-all I felt that it was a good conversation and that by the end of it they could understand where I was coming from, but firmly disagreed with my conclusions (which is fine because I wasn't trying to convince them of anything). The thing that blew me away was their completely unconditional love for me. I had been so nervous that they would resent me and think I was corrupting their son, but they said, "You are our daughter and we love you no matter what." That touched me to my depths! Such a simple, yet so powerful, thing to say to your daughter-in-law. My mom-in-law said that she knows what it feels like to have someone blow up on her for not believing what she is "supposed" to believe and she didn't want to treat us that way. She made it clear that she disagreed, but that absolutely no love or respect was being removed and that she would be praying for us. Such amazing people they are. 

The other hard person to tell was my mom. Even though it wasn't out of nowhere for her, because she knew that I was looking into things and doing a lot of research and reading, she would still be very disappointed to know what I had concluded. I love and respect my mom so much and value her relationship more than most relationships in my life. She is ALWAYS there for me. It doesn't matter what kind of shit I've gotten myself into, she's there. I knew she would be there for me in this instance too, but I also knew that it would break her heart and that fact broke my heart too. When my dad shared with us that he was an atheist I was the one she confided in and shared her feelings with. I was the one who confirmed to her that the Bible says that once you're saved you're always saved and that perhaps god still had dad's soul even though dad had wandered from him. We are not only mother and daughter, but we are very close friends. I can't even think of the specific conversation in which I told mom definitively that I'm an atheist, but it just kind of came out little by little in conversations that we had as I was doing my research. She knew that my research was taking me in the opposite direction than I wanted it to and I think she knew where I would land on things. She had to witness and even be the victim of a few of my emotional breakdowns and she never once reacted badly to me. I said some pretty awful things a couple times when I was really upset (the worst of which when I went off my antidepressants cold turkey). I beat myself up over those times, but she doesn't hold it against me and loves me through all the ups and downs. My mom is amazing. It breaks my heart when I hear people's stories of being disowned by their parents or kicked out of the house. I've even read stories of young teens who were physically abused by a parent for saying that they don't believe in god. I could never fully understand what they have gone through because I couldn't possibly comprehend it.

To tell my brothers and sisters-in-law I wrote a letter and sent it via email so that I could fully express my thoughts and explain a little of what had brought me to my conclusions. They responded well to me even though a couple of them were very sad for me and disappointed. I also wrote a letter to 3 of my best friends to tell them personally. With one of them I was afraid, at first, that I would actually lose their friendship (which thankfully ended up not to be the case). Another one expressed that they loved me and could understand, but completely disagreed with my conclusions and the other agreed with most of what I said, but still believes in "the basics" of Christianity. The strangest thing for me was knowing that I had a pretty big impact on 2 of those people coming to a "relationship with Christ" in the first place. One of those friends was actually an atheist when I met him and I invited him to church and me and my family had many conversations with him about god which resulted in him deciding that he believed. I then had to turn around and basically say, "So, you know how I told you that you were wrong for being an atheist? Well, now I'm an atheist and I was wrong for telling you that you should be a Christian." That's embarrassing. He took it super well though and we had some good laughs over it. He is seriously such a wonderful friend! All 3 of them are!

Coming Out on Facebook

Once I had told family and my 3 closest friends I shared a post on facebook that read:

For the past several years I have had some doubts and hard questions about my Christian beliefs and have sought out answers without much success. I've held onto my beliefs just assuming the answers must be out there and I would hopefully find them or maybe God would reveal them to me. Recently I realized that I needed to actively dig into research about Christianity and figure out why exactly it is that I believe and what evidence there is for those beliefs. I studied the arguments on both the apologetics side and the atheist side with as objective an approach as I could. I truly wanted to find sufficient evidence to continue in my lifelong beliefs...However, what I found was quite the opposite. I no longer trust the Bible as the inerrant word of God and therefore cannot use it to base my entire life on. Not only that but there are a lot of very disturbing stories, laws and commands directly from God in the Bible that indicate to me that the "God" I've been worshiping all these years is NOT the God of the Bible. I have no desire to worship that God. If you don't know what I'm talking about refer to Psalm 137:9, I Timothy 2:12, Jeremiah 19:9, I Peter 2:18, 2 Kings 2:23-24, Deut 22:25-29 (just to name a few). Because of the things I have learned in my very extensive research I can no longer call myself a Christian. This is not the outcome that I wanted when I went into this. I was hoping to strengthen my faith. I realize that this is probably pretty hard for some of you to read, but I wanted to be honest about where I stand on things. I'm open to talk with anyone who has questions for me. Just know that I did not come to this decision without much turmoil, but I now accept that I don't have all the answers and that is ok. Everything actually makes a heck of a lot more sense now though, surprisingly. I'm not going to go into all the details of why I don't believe in this post so if you want to know more pm me.

I really didn't know what kind of response I would get from this post, but I was prepared for the worst. However, I got overwhelmingly positive feedback from almost everyone who contacted me. It kind of blew me away. I received a lot of messages from Christian friends who told me that they still loved me and were praying for me, but even more than that I received messages from people who were either questioning their beliefs or had stopped believing all together and were impressed with my courage to say something publicly. I couldn't believe how many people I knew who were asking the same questions and finding religion lacking. Several people confided in me privately with their questions and concerns, some told me that they had asked many of the same questions I had but were holding onto to their beliefs for one reason or another, and others told me that they went through a similar experience and no longer believed. There were a couple people who were a bit more offensive, considering the backlash I had expected, I experienced nothing even close! I'm one of the lucky ones. Many people do not have even one positive response to them coming out atheist. People wonder why many atheists are angry. Well, considering some of the things they've experienced from believers, who can really blame them.

I'm going to share some of the positive feedback I got from friends and family below (I will not be naming anyone). Some are Christians and some are not.

"I commend you for not being a sheep. Doing research and coming to a logical conclusion based on what you've found or didn't find is the smartest thing you can do. Don't believe or disbelieve just because someone else thinks you should or shouldn't."

"It's not easy to share what you shared. I'm very proud of you. I hope you don't face any backlash or negativity from others. I'll keep you in my thoughts."

From Christian: "bold post! i admire your honesty ... if you'd ever like to talk about spirituality i'd be willing to chat and i'd be very curious to hear about your journey!"

From Christian: "Hey Jenica! Saw your post on fb about your faith journey. I would love to hear more. It is so true that your belief system must be something that you fully understand and own- I really respect that you have taken time and energy to really research and seek answers. Thankful for you, miss you and your family."

"Hey dear, I just wanted to say I admire u for comin out on Facebook about not being a Christian anymore. It took an extreme amount of courage and I believe u r such a strong woman to look up to. I believe it is a choice only u could make and I hope that u r happy wit ur decision. U inspire me to be just as bold wit my beliefs as well...I don't know if I'm technically still a Christian anymore either because of all that I believe in...so thank u for being so brave and sharing ur journey."

From Christian: "Love you friend. I admire your courage for sharing this."

From Christian: "Jenica, even before this post, I knew you well enough (mostly through facebook:)) to be able to say that you are an honest and upfront person. I respect your search for truth very much, and I know that you will continue that search for the rest of your life. One of our greatest weaknesses as Christians is an inability to understand doubts or uncertainties. I've been there and I get it."

"That is why you are a wonderful person, after much searching you're happy and confident and free to spread the wisdom and encouragement to others. You rock girl!

From Christian: "I'm so proud of you, Jenica! It's never an easy decision when it comes to faith. I'm so glad you are freed by your journey. I remember the many lunches and conversations we had years back. I was surprised but happy to see this post. I walked a similar journey before I had met you so I understand. I now have faith in truly caring about people and their rights to be happy and not judged. I try to have grace when people make mistakes. I try to walk the life of Christ not the narrow views of the men who wrote the Old Testament. I completely understand and respect other people's faith or non faith. I married an atheist and couldn't be happier. Thanks again for sharing."

"Thanks for sharing, Jenica! It's so nice to see candid honesty! Kudos to you! I have felt exactly what you refer to here due to all of the religious stuff piled upon me my entire life. Mine was coupled with abuse, which made it all the more confusing. I'm currently on my own journey to figure stuff out. Thanks for the encouragement!"

From Christian: Oh no! Jenica! Much respect to you though. A lot of people don't have the courage to try and find things out in the first place, or to admit to themselves what they've found out, or to admit it to others. Your example of courage helps them. Love you, but you're dead to me (just kidding).

"Thanks for sharing where you're at, boo, that takes guts (but you've never been short on those)."

"That's very brave of you, Jenica. I have always felt left out of some special community because I don't consider myself a Christian, but like you I have done research and just can't believe the things people are told to believe in that faith, and I never wanted to join just to fit in. You can still live a very fulfilling life without having an organized religion to belong to. Just be true to yourself!"

"I don't know you super well, but I so appreciate your honesty. I also really appreciate that you have come to this decision/direction for your life on your own and not just going along with someone else. It shows great character. I wear a smile for you."

From my Mom (Christian): I love you sis. I know this has been a very difficult road for you and all of us as a family but always know that I am proud of you and will always admire you and love you. All who know you know that this decision could not have been easy for you."

From my Dad: "I'm proud of my Jenica."

Why share my experience?

I share all of this because I think it's nice to hear a positive story from time to time in the midst of all of the bad stories. As atheists we tend to only hear the sad or infuriating stories of people who came out to friends and family and were ostracized or attacked, but there are many wonderful, understanding believers out there who treat the non-believers in their life with love and respect. I think that's an important thing to remember. That's not to say that I haven't been offended or angered by any of the things that have been said to me since sharing my non-belief. Some people are incredibly ignorant, but, in my case, they have been the minority and I try to keep that in mind whenever I feel angry about something that has been said.

Why come out at all?

Many of my views, perspectives and beliefs have changed since becoming an atheist (refer to Reflections on Life Beyond Faith). Because of some of the things that I've discovered about myself and the world around me I feel a deep desire to make a difference in whatever way I can - big or small. I call myself an atheist because of what I don't believe, but I call myself a secular humanist because of what I DO believe. I believe that everyone has the right to live and believe as they please so long as their beliefs do not impinge upon or oppress others. I feel a responsibility to my fellow humans, to my children and the future generations to make this world a better place. By coming out and letting the people around me know what I believe and where I stand on certain human rights issues, I've opened the door to be a voice for a movement that I firmly believe in and to speak out against injustice. This is just one of the reasons that I think it's important to tell the people in your life what you really believe or don't believe. It allows you to be a voice and it helps to normalize the concept of atheism so that people will stop equating atheism with things like satan worship.

Coming out can obviously be a complicated issue for some people and I recognize that fact and would encourage people to use their best judgment. I don't want people to be kicked out of their homes, lose their jobs, lose their marriages, be alienated from family and friends, or any other of the awful things that can happen to people who come out atheist. However, if you are not in a situation where any of those things would happen why not just be open and honest with the people in your life and let them know that you're not a believer and you're still a great person with high moral values and a love for life?

The very first atheist I've ever known is my brother, Nate. He told my parents when he was about 15 that he didn't believe in god and that he never had. He told them this and asked that they not make him go to church anymore. They agreed to that. I didn't realize, at the time, the impact it would have on me to know that he didn't believe, but was still an awesome, loving, moral person. I realize now that seeing that he could be a great person with high moral values without god shook some of the foundations of my faith and really made me think. I recognized that Nate was a better person than I was and certainly better than some of the Christians I know and yet he was heading toward an eternity of torment simply because he couldn't believe the unbelievable. I had several conversations with him to pick his brain and try to figure out how and why someone who was raised the same as I was could believe so differently than me. I had hoped that eventually he would change his mind, but I knew from my conversations with him that it wasn't likely. I was forced to ask the question, "How is it 'justice' for a person like him to be sent to hell for eternity for just not believing an ancient story that is hard to believe and has to be taken on faith?" In fact, it got me asking a lot of hard questions. I'm not going to point to him as the reason I'm not a Christian or to anyone specific for that matter, but knowing that you can be good without god and knowing that Nate's eternal fate would be the opposite of justice opened my mind to the possibility that what I believed might not be completely true.

Nate has never even been a very out-spoken, in-your-face atheist, but he has been upfront and honest about what he does and doesn't believe and it made a huge impact on me without me even realizing it. It is for this reason that I think it's important for people to be honest.

If you are questioning, in a crisis situation or just need someone to talk to who won't judge you and won't try to persuade you one way or another you can call the Hotline Project at 1-84-I-DOUBT-IT (1-844-368-2848) or visit Recovering from Religion - hotline project.

If you are in a position of leadership in the church and feel that you don't have a way out please visit The Clergy Project.





Friday, July 17, 2015

Reflections on Life Beyond Faith

Since concluding that I no longer believe the Christian worldview that I grew up with I have re-analyzed almost every aspect of my life. Since my faith and my belief system affected everything in my life I felt it was necessary to metaphorically step back and look at every idea, belief, stance and conviction I had and rediscover it with my new understanding and worldview. More has changed than I could have possibly imagined and the impact of those changes is different than I would have ever imagined.

Atheism, to me, was always such a negative concept. I believed that would be such a miserable, empty way to live and that if I ever stopped believing in god that I would have no reason to live. I thought that people who didn't believe in god were deceived and possibly even in rebellion. All of these ideas were just a result of what I had been taught. I had no personal experience. I just believed what I was told.

In reality, atheism has been quite different than I expected. First of all, it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. The changes in my life have been almost all for the better. I didn't expect that at all. Secondly, I didn't choose it. I simply looked at both sides objectively and drew conclusions based on the facts that were presented to me. It was the first time I had truly done that. Belief is not something you can choose. You either believe something or you don't. I believe that if I jump off of a 12 story building I will fall and, most likely, die as a result. I can't choose not to believe that. That belief is based on evidence. This is much like my disbelief in a god. The lack of evidence leads me to disbelief. Before you jump to the conclusion that I am uninformed on the "evidence for Christianity," you should know that I have studied Christian apologetics, theology, doctrine and history in quite a bit of detail. I find the "proof" unconvincing. Therefore, I cannot believe despite my desperate attempts to continue to believe.

I will now share some of the changes I've experienced since becoming an atheist.

I no longer feel at odds with myself

Possibly the biggest and most freeing change is that I no longer feel cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is "the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values" (cog. diss.). I have grown up as a Bible-believing Christian my whole life (I was 27 when I became an atheist). The Bible, to me, was the inerrant Word of God and what it said was Truth. Trying to reconcile what was in the Bible with what I believed to be true in the real world was very hard. Everything that I learned that didn't reconcile with what the Bible said would have to be crammed into the cookie cutters of my beliefs to fit with reality. At some point all my cookie cutters broke from the stress. Common sense just wasn't fitting for me. There are just too many discrepancies. Too many contradictions. Too many errors. Too many inconsistencies. Not enough evidence. Not enough to base my whole life and my whole worldview on.

I'm less judgmental

It may seem strange, but despite what the Bible teaches about not judging others, I'm actually less judgmental and more accepting of people now than when I was a Christian. I feel that my heart more readily opens to the people around me. When I give this some thought, I think that it is probably because I no longer see people's "sins" as being something that I should despise because God does. I don't feel this obligation to try to change them or save them. Now I can just accept and love them. I still believe in right and wrong and believe that people can do things that are absolutely wrong, but I don't believe that my understanding of right and wrong comes from a deity, but rather from my evolved mind (I'm not going to go into a ton of detail on that in this post - maybe in a future post).

I do judge some people's actions as being wrong based on morality, but my views are not concrete and I can change my perspective of what is right and wrong based on newly discovered facts. For example, I do not believe that homosexuality is wrong or even unnatural because it has become clear through research and scientific studies that people are born with tendencies toward same-sex attraction. I don't have to cling to an old book's laws on this as my absolute truth. I can adapt with new information. Besides, even if people chose to be gay, I don't see anything morally wrong with that anyway. They have a right to decide something for themselves that doesn't cause harm to anyone.

I'm more accepting of differing lifestyles

This plays into being less judgmental. Because I look at people differently and look at their desires and urges and the science behind them differently, I am more quick to accept whatever someone finds fulfilling even if it's not what society considers normal or even my cup of tea. I've been able to open my mind to all of the sexual lifestyle choices people can make and I'm realizing more and more that what goes on behind closed doors with consenting adults is completely their business and no one else's. I no longer have to feel torn about these sentiments. I don't have to be constantly reminding myself that it's not how God created us and that homosexuality grieves God. People are born with same sex attraction, so if I were to believe in a god I would also have to believe that he does indeed create people that way. As it is, I don't believe in a god so that's not an issue. There's no longer contradiction between what science says and what I feel I have to believe based on what the Bible says and I no longer have to try to figure out why it was once okay to stone people to death for being gay.

I'm less depressed

I have clinical depression so it has physiological causes, but my depression is often trigger-based, meaning that a circumstance or stressful feeling can send me into a downward spiral. The fewer triggers I have the fewer bouts of depression I have. Sometimes my episodes of depression are random, but usually they are caused by a trigger.

So when I say I've been less depressed ever since realizing that I no longer believed in Christianity or in any god, I mean that I've had fewer triggers. I've come up with a couple theories of why this is. One is that I no longer have this exhausting cognitive dissonance causing me so much discomfort and unease. Another very large factor is all of the guilt and shame that just came cascading off of me when I let go of these ridiculous rules and standards that I had held onto my whole life. At first it was a relief that I could just live my life without constantly feeling that I didn't read my Bible enough, pray enough, talk to others about Christ enough, etc. Soon it went even deeper than that. I realized that I could let go of the majority of the guilt I had felt throughout my entire life. All the times that I failed to lived up to the standard of being a good Christian girl or failed to live up to the standards I had for myself based on what I considered sin. I had restricted the most natural, beautiful aspects of my humanity by trying to live according to this ancient book. Don't get me wrong, I still feel guilt over things I've done that are morally wrong or were hurtful to other people or myself, but I no longer feel guilt over things that I've done or thoughts I've had that are considered "sin," but that aren't actually morally wrong (i.e. love something or someone more than god, sex before marriage, thinking sexual thoughts about anyone who is not my spouse - which was anyone before I was married, getting angry, feeling pride, doubting god's sovereignty, etc). Those things and many others are only wrong according to a religious perspective and living life with all of those things hanging over your head, whether you can ask forgiveness for them or not, is oppressive. I was taught to believe that I was born an inherently bad person and that I deserve hell and the only way to escape hell is to believe in Jesus based on what the Bible says about him. The Bible that also says to stone adulterers, homosexuals, women who aren't virgins on their wedding night, witches, and unruly children. The Bible that also contradicts itself on almost every aspect of Jesus' life (don't take my word for it, read the stories side by side for yourself).

So yeah, I'm less depressed. A huge oppressive weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now the only things that really depress me are money issues. ;-)


I'm more passionate about life

This life is the only one any of us is guaranteed and what we do while we are here is what really matters. If I live my life as if this is just a vapor quickly fading into eternity and I will live on forever, then it takes away from some the importance of what I do with my every moment. It makes me less likely to care much about the environment or for the future generations. After all, Jesus is supposed to be returning soon anyway, according the Bible. I no longer live in light of eternity, but instead live in light of today. I feel privileged to have a chance to live on this planet while it is so hospitable to life. There will be days in the future that our sun will start dying and this planet will become a very difficult place to live. I also feel lucky that I was born in a prosperous country and into a family that took care of me, loved me and raised me to be a benefit to the people around me. Not everyone has that privilege and I don't take it for granted. I'm also not so arrogant as to say that it's just an example of God's hand on my life. How can people say that when there are so many people in this country and around the world who truly suffer horribly and truly don't deserve it? That level of arrogance astounds me to no end.

I don't take a single day for granted anymore. This life is all I get and I'm going to make the most of it and enjoy it as much as I can. I also think it's so important to attempt to make this a better world for the generations that follow us because Jesus isn't coming to fix everything. We are responsible to take care of our home and our species. I want the generations that follow to live in a more loving, reasonable world.

I'm more open to new ideas

My mind is now completely open to the facts of the world around me and what is observable and testable. When someone comes up with a new theory in science, for instance, I can more openly think about it and consider the possibility of its truth because I'm not held down by my belief that what the Bible says is infallible and therefore, science that proves otherwise must be wrong. This relates to areas other than science as well.

My thirst for knowledge is insatiable

Because my mind is completely free and open to consider all of the facts without having to try to cram everything into my cookie cutters of belief, I have gained an even greater desire and love of knowledge. I've always loved learning and studying things that interested me, but lately I have found that I'm not afraid of approaching certain areas of knowledge anymore. I no longer have to feel afraid of what I might find and the facts that may not line up with what I believe. I had enough troubling things in the Bible itself to contend with that I didn't want to add to my confusion by studying evolution, for instance. Now I can learn about our origins and the science behind what we know of our universe without it causing me to doubt everything that I base my life on.

I'm not afraid to die

This isn't as much a change as it is an observation. I wasn't afraid of death as a Christian either because I firmly believed that my soul was saved and that when I died I would go to heaven. As an atheist I don't believe there is a heaven or hell. There is no solid evidence to suggest that there are such places of eternal bliss or torture. There are only the ancient writings of people with a very limited understanding of the world and the personal experiences of some people who have either had dreams or near death experiences. I'm unconvinced of any of the religions of this world and unconvinced of the evidence given for the existence of a god, a heaven or a place of eternal torment.

This leaves me with nothing to be afraid of surrounding death. Just like every other animal on the face of this planet, I will cease to exist once I die and that is ok. There is no reason to believe that human beings would have any different of a fate than apes, horses, dogs or cats. If humans did have souls it would beg the question of when exactly in the evolutionary process we gained a soul. Did neanderthals have souls then?

I'm ok with not living forever and not having all the answers. Life isn't about death. Life is about living. Let's just focus on this life instead of being concerned about some imagined afterlife.

I have everything to live for

Because I have nothing to die for, I have everything to live for. Over the years I've prayed on many occasions that god would just allow me to die so that I wouldn't have to struggle through life anymore and just go on to the bliss and happiness of heaven. I couldn't understand why he would keep me here if I'm depressed and miserable and begging to come home to him. And if he was going to keep me here for some greater purpose why allow me to be so debilitated by depression? I finally just accepted that god wasn't going to grant me that wish and that I had to just try to make the best of life on my own. I figured maybe there is some greater plan that I was just unaware of. That's what most Christians reading this are probably thinking.

Well, I've never wanted more to live in my entire life than I do now. Even with the voice of my depression in the back of my mind whispering that it would be better if I was dead, my desire to take advantage of the one life I have is louder than that voice in my head. My desire to be here for my husband and my children are stronger than my depression.

I don't see non-Christians as being lost or deceived

In the Biblical perspective those who don't believe in god are fools. Psalm 14 says, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no-one who does good." And again in Psalm 53 it says pretty much the same thing again. When I was a Christian I believed that people who didn't believe in god must be missing something or were being deceived by satan into believing that god doesn't exist. I thought this because it was what was taught to me from the Bible and the Bible was supposedly the inerrant, infallible word of god so it must be true. I had a hard time with this concept though because I knew many non-believers and their reasons for not believing seemed pretty legit and understandable. I also think of all of the other religions and gods in this world and the fact that, as a Christian, I had to believe that they were wrong about their god and they had to believe that I was wrong about my god and the only way to find out for sure is to die. It just doesn't make sense to me that the all-powerful god of the universe would make himself so obscure that billions of people would completely miss him and spend eternity in torment.

I was taught that god doesn't undeniably reveal himself to everyone because if he were to do so then it would take away our free will and we would worship him like robots because we would have no choice but to believe in him and worship him. Recently I've realized how ridiculous that argument is. Just because a god reveals his existence doesn't mean that I HAVE to choose to worship him. If I have free will then I still have the choice to say, "Actually, I still don't think you're worthy of my worship or adoration. No thanks."

So now I don't have to worry about or feel bad for the people in my life who don't believe what I believe. It's a much better and more rewarding way to live to see everyone as equal.

I no longer believe in hell

Along the same lines, I am free of this awful concept of an eternity of punishment and torture for those who don't believe in Jesus during this life. Hell never really made sense to me, but the Bible is pretty clear about punishment in the afterlife for those who don't believe, especially in the New Testament, so I had to believe it if I believed everything else. I had to believe that my brother, who is an atheist, would not only spend eternity separated from god and the rest of his family, but would be burned in a lake of fire forever. I constantly just tried to convince myself that god was sovereign and that he would reveal himself to my brother. The crazy thing is that I knew that this wasn't the case for millions of people who died every day. It was so frustrating that I had to accept hell along with my loving savior. I had to acknowledge that my merciful, loving and just god created an eternal place of torment for people who simply didn't know or weren't convinced of his existence. From any angle that you look at that, it's insane. I'm reading a book by Francis Chan right now called Erasing Hell and, despite the title, he actually explains that the Bible is pretty clear that hell is real. He says that he was really hoping that he would find out otherwise. He shared his devastation when his grandmother died and he knew that she hadn't accepted Christ. He said that he would even prefer that non-believers would just be annihilated after death instead of suffering for eternity. Chan has such a huge heart for people, but because he believes in the infallibility of the Bible he has to accept the existence of hell and it causes him a great deal of pain (just like it did for me).

My hatred of the concept of hell had nothing to do with my apostasy, but ridding myself of the belief has certainly been a huge relief.

I'm more skeptical of everything

Instead of just accepting people's word on things I take a look at the facts for myself. I realize now that I have been terrible at this my whole life. I never actually realized that I was gullible, but in retrospect I most certainly was. I just accepted, as fact, most of what I was told unless it was really far-fetched. I feel that I have now taken a more responsible approach to the information I'm presented with and can make more informed and well-balanced decisions. Being skeptical is not a bad thing. It's healthy and it's necessary.

I'm afraid of hurting or driving away some of the people I love

Because I don't feel that I should remain silent about my perspectives, I'm often concerned that I'm going to drive a wedge in the relationships I have with Christians in my family and friends. I'm afraid that they will grow to resent me because of my views and lack of belief in the god that they love and worship. I'm afraid that they will not respect me because they'll believe that I'm deceived or in rebellion. I'm afraid that my beliefs will always be the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about (this would be hard for me because I've always been a very open person and love to talk about deep and intimate things). I'm afraid that they will take my disbelief as an offense against their intelligence or a condescending attitude. I don't feel this way. I know that there are many very intelligent people who believe in a god.

It is because of these fears that I try to be careful about what I say and things I share on social media. I don't think that I should have to hide who I am to avoid the discomfort of others, but I also don't think being obnoxious and rude is necessary either. I do consider myself to be a secular activist, but I, obviously, am sympathetic to religious (especially Christian) perspectives, having been there myself.






Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What do you mean you're an atheist?


When I started sharing with people that I was no longer a Christian and that I now identify as an atheist. I was met with a bit more confusion than I had expected. I received questions like, "So what does that mean? Do you not believe in Jesus then?" "What do you believe will happen to you when you die?" "Do you not believe there is a god or do you believe there is a god and are just choosing not to worship him?" These questions surprised me a bit because I thought the word atheist was pretty well understood. I found it was necessary to be a bit more specific. Also, atheism gets a lot of negative stigma in our society, especially in the U.S., because the majority of people believe in god in one form or another. Another reason it receives negative stigma, though, is because it is misunderstood sometimes. Some people tend to equate atheism with immorality, rebellion, anger, hate, satanism, etc. In reality, those traits don't describe most atheists. As I've grown more and more familiar with the atheist community I realize how many absolutely wonderful, caring, loving people have come to the same conclusions about god and religion that I have. Even though, as a Christian, I considered myself accepting and loving toward atheists, I still fell for some of the stigma surrounding the label because of how atheism is portrayed within the church.

So let's take a look at what atheism actually is and some of the main reasons someone doesn't believe in god.

Atheism is a term that means, disbelief in a god or deity. For most atheists it's not necessarily about making a definitive claim that there is absolutely not a god. We simply deny the claim that there is a god. Why would we do such a crazy thing?! There are a lot of reasons that someone decides that they can't believe in a god. For most people it's a combination of many reasons, like it is for me. Often there is the one overarching reason that was the ultimate reason for our final conclusion, but it still tends to be a combination of many reasons.

Some of the reasons for not believing are: the unreliability (and often absurdity) of the scriptures; the problem of pain and suffering; the seemingly mythical nature of the claims and stories of scripture; the flawed historicity and/or science of scripture; hypocrisy of believers; atrocities committed by the followers (past and present); contact with a variety of other religions; philosophical thinking that leads them to distrust the claims of religion, etc. The journey into unbelief is different for ever person. Some people don't believe from the very start. I have a brother who was that way. He grew up in the same home as I did with the same Christian upbringing, but I became a devout believer and he never believed any of it. Some people are born skeptics and some of us grow into our skepticism. Here's an article that talks in more detail about why people become atheists (Why Do People Become Atheist?).

Millions of people leave religion and become agnostic or atheist (agnostic, meaning they acknowledge that they cannot know one way or another whether there is a god and they don't take a stand either way). As I mentioned above, the reasons vary drastically for each person or are a combination of all of the reasons above and more. It has been amazing to me to discover how many people walk away from their faith. The only stories I had heard in great number were of unbelievers becoming believers (mostly children and young people). I didn't hear many stories of apostasy (abandonment of religious belief) and when I did the person was made to seem like a fool. I have also found that there are many clergy persons who find that they can no longer believe and often feel trapped in their role as a pastor, priest, etc. There is even a project designed to help people in that position because it is such a big problem. It's called the Clergy Project. There is also a hotline that people can call if they are questioning their faith, experiencing a crisis of faith, dealing with the negative impact of religion on their life or have friends or family that are dealing with any of those things. It's called The Hotline Project.

Why am I an atheist?

For me, the main reason for my deconversion was discovering the overwhelmingly errant nature of the Bible. As a fundamentalist, I relied fully on the Bible, as the inerrant Word of God, to be my source of truth, instruction, guidance, and salvation. I trusted, based on what I was taught, that it was indeed inerrant and without flaw, revealing the true nature of the one true God. When I finally let myself take a truly objective look at the Bible, the errors of my thinking became painfully clear to me. Without being able to trust the Bible to be the Word of God I could not trust that Christianity was true in any sense. I never wanted to be someone who cherry picked the Bible for the stuff that was agreeable to me while leaving out the rest. Inevitably, if you want to be a Christian you HAVE to cherry pick. Either that or call some things metaphorical or allegorical while taking other things literally. The problem with that is, who is to say what is intended to be taken as metaphor and what isn't? Within Christianity there are many different interpretations of key doctrines in the Bible. This, to me, raises a lot of red flags.

At that point I started to take a look at things outside of the scriptures that weren't compatible with my Christian worldview and the dominoes tumbled. Homosexuality was a big one, as I've described in previous posts. Another big thing was the scientific discoveries that contradict the Bible's account. The pain and suffering in this world filled with the supposedly beloved children of God was another troubling factor. Fallen world or not, how can an all-loving, all-powerful God look down on a child being repeatedly and brutally sexually abused and do absolutely nothing. Just, merciful and all-loving? I think not. That doesn't even mention all of the violent atrocities commanded by God in the Bible, which even included slaughtering innocent children of other tribes.

Those reasons and many more have put nail after nail into the coffin of my faith in a god.

So what does it mean that I'm an atheist?

It means that I do not and cannot believe that there is a god. I'm not claiming that there is absolutely not a god, but given the lack of evidence for an all-powerful, all-knowing, just and loving god, I have to deny his existence. In fact, I deny the existence of any god, even an uninvolved deity. The concept just doesn't make sense to me. Since I don't believe in a god, I don't believe in Jesus being the son of god or god himself (or both). If I were to find out that there was, in fact, a god, I couldn't say that I would definitely worship him given my current view of him. I conclude that there is probably nothing after this life. I don't believe that we live on after death because I see no reason to believe that. It's wishful thinking, in my opinion, because we can't stand the idea of ceasing to exist. That is a very real and understandable feeling, but I don't think it's based in reality.

However, I don't see life as being void of meaning and joy. We have this one life, this one opportunity to live and love and be loved. We can do everything in our power to make this a better world for the generations to come and for the people around us. Since I don't look forward to whatever is after death, I can focus on the here and now and making the most of every day that I get to live on this planet (out in the boonies of our galaxy) that is temporarily hospitable to life. I'm going to do my best to soak up all the good that this life can give me and limit as much of the bad as possible for myself and the people around me, especially my family and loved ones. That gives my life meaning, purpose and joy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sex Beyond Belief


Sex....hmmm...let me think on that.....oh sorry, I got side tracked. eh hem. Anyway, let's talk about sex. Sex is quite possibly the most powerful thing in our world. It is an extremely powerful motivating factor. It causes us to do things we wouldn't typically do, it causes us to go against our own standards at times, it sells products, it can be used to give intense pleasure or to inflict intense pain, it has been the cause of wars, the source of shame and guilt, it can make or break a marriage or relationship, and it is both beautiful and sometimes ugly.

The aspect about sex that I would like to talk about is how it changes (or maybe doesn't change) after leaving religion or faith. What is sex to a non-believer? What role should it play? Is it sacred? Does it hold the same beauty? Is it more or less enjoyable? All of the answers depend on the person in question. We all experience sex differently and have our own experiences that mold our reaction to sex. So....what effect does the experience of religion have on our reaction to sex?

It has been very interesting to me in my journey out of Christianity to get a new perspective on certain aspects of my life. The crazy thing is that things have changed for me in ways that I was not expecting! It's been very eye-opening in many ways. I have had to step back and reconsider pretty much everything in my worldview. My faith was at the center of everything I believed about the world and about myself. I feel like I'm kind of starting over in some ways. The foundation of my personality and the effects of my experiences remain and sculpt who I am, but my worldview and beliefs dramatically alter my outlook on life, love, death, sex, parenting, marriage, and everything else.

What were my beliefs about sex as a Christian?

When I was about 11 or 12 years old I had "the talk" with my mom about sex/making love and what it is and how it's done between a husband and wife. She explained to me in very plain terms how it's done and that it is a very pleasurable and wonderful gift from God for a husband and wife. She told me that someday I'll meet a man that I'll very much want to make love to and that as a Christian woman I should wait until our wedding night. I don't know if it was the way she explained it all to me or if it was just my nature, but I immediately grasped the beauty and intimacy of sex and as I thought about the male and female body I thought it was so "cool" that they fit together so perfectly and that it felt good too!

Not everyone has an immediate positive reaction to the sex talk, but for whatever reason I thought it was beautiful and I believed, just as my mom had told me, that it was a gift from God to be cherished between a man and woman in marriage alone. I also learned from my mom, dad, Christian books and sermons over the years that sex is a fundamental element to a successful marriage. It is important for a married couple to keep intimate closeness and good communication in the "marriage bed." I learned that once you're married anything goes as long as you both consent and it is between only the two of you. I couldn't wait to get married and spread my wings (or legs) sexually with my husband! How exciting to get to explore all the wonders of our bodies together and for the rest of our lives! I watched as my parents' marriage grew, strengthened and blossomed over the years (they have been married 29 years now) and I knew that their sex life grew along with their marriage and love for each other. Just like everything else, though, sex has its many struggles and trials and they were open and honest with me about the struggles and beauties of sex. I am so grateful to them for their openness and ease of communication with me on the subject. Because of their willingness to be candid about that subject with me I learned so much and have knowledge and wisdom beyond my years in many areas, not just sex.

My beliefs were that sex was created as a beautiful gift from God, but it had very specific limits. First of all, it is meant for marriage only! Marriage had to be between and man and woman (who were born that way). It also was to be kept sacred within the bonds of marriage (in other words no adultery). As a teenager I was determined to keep sex sacred and to keep myself "pure" for my future husband. I had no doubt that I could do it. It was of utmost importance to me! My parents bought me a silver purity ring and I wore that thing like a wedding band. I was married to Jesus and to have sex before marriage meant that I would cheat on him and I could not and would not ever do that!

My parents and I decided that I wouldn't date in high school (they involved me in decisions like that because they are amazing parents). I decided that I only wanted to date someone if they seemed like someone I could possibly marry. I didn't date for fun. When I was 15, almost 16, I met a boy and fell for him instantly. He was a Christian too and we had both decided not to date in high school so we just started developing our friendship as a foundation for down the road when we would date. The chemistry between us was unbearable! We were in love and extremely horny teenagers. I started to realize why so many people failed to save sex for marriage. This was proving to be a challenge! We managed control for a couple years, but when I was 17 and he was 18 we started messing around a bit. We started dating in my senior year of high school and in my freshman year of college we kept pushing the limits until one day we slipped and went too far. This failure sent me into a downward spiral of shame and guilt that led me down a dark road. I continued to have sex with him and figured that it was too late for my purity so what was the point in continuing to try to fight for it. I was bitter and angry at myself. I started to act out in other ways. I lied to my parents on a regular basis about where I was going and who I was with. I craved male attention and soaked it up whenever I got it. I started cheating on my boyfriend with another guy who I had also fallen for and I was in such a mess emotionally that I couldn't tell up from down anymore. I just kept doing what felt good to keep the awful feelings of guilt and shame away cause I couldn't take it.

Eventually, I was found out and I, quite literally, felt like my whole world was crumbling beneath me. My parents had no idea of any of it and were horrified to find out what I had been doing and that I had been cheating on the man I love and who I had planned to marry. They couldn't make sense of the whole thing because it just didn't seem like me. I was extremely depressed and suicidal for a while after that and started going to a counselor who helped me work through it and got me on antidepressants.

That was a very dark and sad part of my life and it was all because of sexual guilt and shame that my religious beliefs told me I deserved. If I hadn't felt so horrible about my intimacy with my boyfriend, who I had known for years and who I knew that I absolutely loved, then the downward spiral wouldn't have begun. I worked for years on forgiving myself and coming to the realization that I still had worth. For a while it was hard for me to believe that any Christian man would want to marry a woman so scarred and with such a shady past. Not to mention, I didn't have my purity to give him. How could I possibly be worth anything to him? In the Old Testament they stoned girls who were found to not be virgins on their wedding night! Was that what I deserved? If so, I would happily put an end to it myself. I hated myself. I had one primary goal as a young woman and that was to maintain my purity until marriage and I had utterly blown it. I was the worst failure imaginable.

Why do I share all this? Well, the idea of biblical sex was a beautiful one, but when I failed at the guidelines it quickly became ugly and could have huge consequences. Not every Christian young person has the same determination as I did to be pure until marriage, but for the ones who do and fail, it is devastating. I suffered for years because of it and though I thought I had forgiven myself, even though I continued to make mistakes throughout my early twenties, I brought that guilt into my marriage and kept it tucked away in the back of my mind. Every once in a while it plagued me and I felt inadequate for my husband who I felt deserved better than me. I didn't even realize that it was still taking a toll on me until I had become a nonbeliever and started rethinking all of the different areas of my life that my beliefs had an effect on (which is pretty much all of them).

What effect did my deconversion have on my view of myself and my sexuality?

It wasn't until my deconversion that I actually felt freedom from my guilt and shame and was able to fully embrace my sexuality! That was a totally unexpected effect of my deconversion. I hadn't thought that I had anything left to let go of but I found that apparently I still did.

The freedom I felt translated into a more lightweight, free-spirited renewal of my sexuality with my husband and I think he likes it! As it turns out, I'm not the only one who has felt a huge weight lifted in the area of sexuality after deconverting. There was a study done by Dr. Darrel Ray and Amanda Brown on atheists, agnostics and secular people on how religion and leaving religion affects sex. The study shows that leaving religion has a drastically positive effect on people's sex lives. It has an especially positive effect on the sex lives of those who were fundamentalist in their beliefs, but are no longer believers (Atheists Do It Better: Why Leaving Religion Leads to Better Sex).

I realize that there are many religious couples who have wonderful and satisfying sex lives like my parents did and still do, but I also know that religion has a very detrimental effect on many people's sex lives and self-worth. I nearly took my own life because of the shame I felt over something that I now know to be a natural part of being human! Sexual guilt and shame ruins lives and marriages and it is extremely prevalent in religious communities all over the world.

What I believe now

Now that I don't believe that there is a God who has put rules and guidelines on our sexuality, I believe that it is a completely natural act between humans to enjoy intimacy, express love, create children or just enjoy because we can. I do think that there is a strong psychological bond that forms between people who engage in sex that is probably a part of our evolution to ensure that our offspring will be cared for, but I believe that the bond can be broken and remade with multiple lovers throughout ones lifetime and that we can handle this as long as we don't have religious views that cast shame and guilt on us that our minds hold onto for years.

I still see sex as being beautiful and sacred, but in a different way. I've been able to accept myself as a very sexual woman. I love (verb) through physical touch and physical intimacy so for me I need it more than I even want it! To feel that level of closeness with my husband is an absolute necessity for me and I love sex and love-making as much, if not more, than I ever have.

I have also been able to open my mind more fully to people who identify as homosexual or bisexual. I have felt for years that what the Bible says about homosexuality isn't fair because people are born that way and to deprive them of physical intimacy with someone who they are attracted to and/or in love with is one of the worst forms of cruelty. I know that if I was a lesbian I would not be able or willing to give up an entire lifetime of love and companionship just because I was born with an attraction to the wrong sex! Nor should I! Homosexuality is natural and even occurs in other animals. It is nothing to be ashamed of and should not be judged by anyone. I feel very strongly about this. I see way too many people suffer because of religious people who feel the need to impress their beliefs on society to please god. Someone's sexual orientation does not harm anyone! The only harm is brought on by those who judge and try to take away their rights.

I have actually come to a realization in my own sexuality that I am, at least partially, bisexual. I don't act on the female attractions (though I have in the past) because I feel that it is important to be loyal to my husband. I'm definitely primarily heterosexual, but I now realize that there is nothing wrong with my attraction to females and I don't have to deny it anymore.

If you're curious to learn how I came to the conclusions I've drawn about my disbelief in religion or god, see my post titled My Journey Into Atheism.

What needs to change?

The biggest thing that I believe needs to change in our country and all over the world, where sex is misunderstood and repressed, is better education to young people. We need to do a much better job of educating, not only about what sex is, but also about how to have safe sex. It is unrealistic to think that teaching abstinence will solve the problem. The areas of the country that suffer the most in the areas of teen pregnancy and STIs are the areas that lack proper education about safe sex practices and it is usually because of religious intolerance of sex education being taught in school (Article on Sex Health Education). Teenagers are, inevitably, going to have sex. We need to give them the proper information and guidance they need to make good decisions.

So...What now? Love, love and love some more and when you think you've had enough do it again! Without shame and with an open heart!

Monday, May 11, 2015

The 5 Hardest Questions I Had Before My Deconversion


As a Christian, I had doubts for years before I finally decided to do some extensive research for myself on what I believe and why I believe it. It's not that I hadn't looked into the answers for my questions before, but when I did it was always one-sided. I looked for answers to my questions from Christian sources because I truly believed that there were, in fact, answers or explanations. There were some questions that I had that I realized I probably wouldn't find answers to and that I would have to just ask God about when I got to Heaven some day. I looked forward to things finally making sense in Heaven. Things made so little sense in this world. God didn't make sense! I never really thought that walking away from my faith was really an option because I just couldn't imagine not believing. Of course it's all true! How could so many people believe a lie?! The problem, in my mind, was our limited understanding because we're not God and his ways are "higher than our ways."

Despite believing all of this I still had a tough time with some of the hard questions that I couldn't find answers to and it sent me spiraling into a very "dry season." That's Christianese for not feeling close to God or just having a hard time connecting with God. I was definitely having a hard time because I just couldn't get past some of these things that hadn't been making sense to me. It started becoming difficult for me to pray or to worship on Sunday mornings (which I've always loved!). I lost the desire to read my Bible because it only raised more questions and I couldn't help but get frustrated anytime I read it. My husband and I were part of a community group through our church and each week we had homework as a couple that we needed to complete before our next meeting and there were several occasions when I would go through the discussion questions with my husband and couldn't help but just give sarcastic answers or just answer truthfully in a way that was definitely not what the question was looking for. When we were at group I played along and tried to be respectful, but inside I was a mass of confusion and irritation. I thought to myself, "Am I the only one who thinks this passage doesn't make sense?" "Is there something wrong with me?"

I often assumed that I must be "under attack" by the enemy and that he wanted to render me useless for the "kingdom of God." I prayed that God would help me get past all my doubts and questions so that I could be a better Christian and be a good Christian wife and mother. I knew I was being a good wife and mother overall, but I felt that I was lacking in being a "Christian woman" because I was so plagued with doubt. How could I raise my kids to have unwavering faith if I couldn't manage it myself?

I've put together the 5 hardest questions I had before becoming an atheist (at least I think these were the hardest ones. I had so many). Some of these may be questions you've had and some of them may be things you haven't thought of. Either way, I hope it provokes thoughtful consideration and internal dialog (as well as external dialog! I would love to engage with you about this subject).

5 Hard Questions

  1. From birth we are cursed with a sin nature because of original sin, but are held responsible for our sin, the punishment of which is eternity in hell. The only way to achieve salvation is to interpret the Bible correctly and receive salvation from belief in Jesus and his sacrifice. However, the Bible is difficult to understand and has seemingly contradictory explanations of how salvation is attained. If we had no choice to be sinful then why are we held responsible for it? Also, shouldn't the source of salvation be a lot more clear and understandable to everyone so that more people would put their faith in it? If God wants all people to be saved then why would he not do a better job of revealing himself through the words of scripture. Instead the Bible causes a ton of confusion and controversy. Doesn't seem like the inspired word of God to me.
  2. Hell is a very severe and eternal punishment for simply not knowing, understanding or believing the Bible's explanation of salvation. People are born into other religions and believe whole-heartedly in their god just to find out at death that they were wrong and now will suffer for eternity separated from the true god? How is this just?
  3. Homosexuality is not a choice and yet it is considered a terrible sin. How can a huge portion of the people in this world be denied love, companionship and a relationship with god because of an attraction they were born with? Also, why do we hold to the belief that homosexuality is wrong, but not to other commands in the Bible such as not letting women speak in church and requiring them to cover their heads? Paul said it was shameful for women to speak in church, but we brush that off as being cultural. Why don't we brush off other things such as homosexuality as being for that culture?
  4. Why is God called loving and merciful when, in the Old Testament's stories of the Israelite conquest, he specifically orders his chosen people to massacre their enemies, showing no mercy to men, women, children and animals? This cannot be called justice when it involves the murder of innocent children and babies. God also commanded the Israelite soldiers to take the virgin girls for themselves after killing their entire families. How is this the God we believe is loving and just?
  5. Why does the Bible routinely depict God as manifesting himself in dramatic, unmistakable ways and performing obvious miracles even before the eyes of nonbelievers and skeptics, when no such thing happens in the world today?
The answers and explanations that I have found for these questions and many others were just simply insufficient and inadequate to truly make sense of these things. I have read and listened to everything I could get my hands on in regards to these subjects and have continued to look at explanations that are presented to me. I am unsatisfied with the answers given and, honestly, don't think there is any excuse for the bible to be considered the word of god when it is so obviously flawed on so many levels. 

*I want to make sure that I mention that it was not these questions that ultimately led me to conclude that I no longer believed in Christianity or the Bible. They were just the questions that drove a wedge in my faith and made me start thinking critically about my beliefs.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Till Death Do Us Part - Interfaith Marriage and Marriage Beyond Faith

In this post I'll be taking a look at both marriage outside of religion/faith and interfaith marriages. This topic is of specific interest to me because I'm now faced with the possibility of either of those scenarios being true in my own marriage. I have recently become an agnostic atheist and my husband is not sure yet what he believes. He's still doing his own research. I've been thinking, what if we end up disagreeing on matters of faith and become an interfaith couple? Will we be able to maintain the same level of relational intimacy? Will we be able to come to compromises? How will we raise our children? Will we grow to resent each other? Will we even be able to speak to each other about matters of faith without offending each other?

There are also questions that are raised if he ends up coming to the same conclusions as I did. Our entire outlook on life changes with these realizations, including our outlook on marriage. Do our vows still hold the same meaning if they were made in a church, under God? Our entire wedding ceremony was Christian and reflected our belief that God would be the center of our marriage. Should we recommit ourselves to each other? How and where can we find community outside of a church? What will we teach our children about religion? Do we still believe that marriage is forever? What should we do about holidays? Do we still celebrate them? If so, how will we celebrate them? There are just so many things to consider and reconsider.

I will attempt to answer some of these questions in this post so read on!

Interfaith Marriage


What is interfaith marriage?

Interfaith marriages or relationships are those that are between people who hold different views, values, or beliefs in regards to religion or faith. Approximately 42% of marriages in the U.S. are interfaith and the number has been rising (3). In fact, about 50% of Jewish men and women intermarry (9). They aren't the only ones though. About 50% of Catholics intermarry as well (7). The number of interfaith marriages has been rising because of an increasingly diversified culture and growing tolerance of other religious perspectives (2). There are also those cases in which a couple who married, holding the same beliefs, become an interfaith couple when one of them changes their beliefs. In some cases one spouse will actually convert to the other spouse's religion to create unity. Interfaith marriage can be difficult on a couple, sometimes creating a wedge in their relationship. This is especially true if one of the partners is a fundamentalist believer or if both are very set in their individual beliefs (1).

Does interfaith marriage work?

Interfaith marriages face many difficulties and are more likely to end in divorce than marriages between people of the same beliefs (1). People's religious beliefs affect every area of their lives including child-rearing, money, sex, traditions, worldviews, food, culture, community, family relationships, etc. If a person's spouse has religious views that affect every area of their life differently then that can obviously cause problems in the relationship and make it more difficult to come to agreements or compromises. Many times the strain proves to be too much and the marriage fails. Typically the more flexible the couple is with their own religious views the more likely their marriage is to succeed (9). Those who are evangelical or fundamentalist have a much harder time with an interfaith marriage because of the difficulty coming to compromises due to their strongly held belief systems. Even though interfaith marriage is typically more difficult for couples than same faith marriages, there are those that work. Many of those being happy relationships. An advantage to interfaith marriage is that someone who marries someone of another religion tends to develop a more positive attitude toward their spouse's religion as a whole (3). This can aid in the growing trend toward religious tolerance and acceptance of others with differing belief systems.

How to make interfaith marriage work?


Open/Honest Communication: The absolute most important aspect of interfaith marriage is keeping open and honest communication. This is key to the success of the marriage. Be willing to talk honestly about everything and refrain from harboring resentment. Discuss subjects such as raising children, beliefs about birth control, dietary restrictions, religious practices, holidays, family relationships, etc (4). Try to discuss these subjects before getting married, but if you're already married, it's not too late. Talk to your spouse. Discuss concerns. Share your beliefs with one another. Look for similarities and differences between your beliefs and values and focus on your similarities. Discuss how to make life decisions that honor both systems of belief.


Respect: Be respectful of each other even if you disagree. Don't mock each other's beliefs or belittle one another. This will only cause resentment. After learning about the similarities and differences in values, discuss these with openness, understanding and respect. Understand that every person holds their own beliefs for their own reasons. Try not to be judgmental of their reasons for holding their specific beliefs.

Get advice and insights: Go to other couples you know who have successful interfaith marriages and ask for advice and find out how they've made their relationship work. Get encouragement whenever you can.

Be flexible: Flexibility, understanding and communication is how an interfaith marriage can work. Be willing to bend and be selfless in your marriage. Compromises will have to be made. It's inevitable. The more flexible you are the happier your marriage will be.

Make love: Keeping the intimacy in your marriage isn't only about communication! It's also about physical intimacy. Marriages that work are the ones that maintain physical loving as well as emotional intimacy. Don't underestimate the power of sex. There's a reason make-up sex is a thing. A couple that plays together stays together! This is true for all marriages and intimate relationships. Learn about each other's bodies and explore each other. Sex brings incredible closeness and can soften resentful hearts. Be sure that you are making love to your spouse and not just getting off. There is a huge difference. Make them feel loved, appreciated and respected in bed and that attitude will reflect in the rest of the marriage.

Effects on the children

Interfaith marriage can be tough on kids. They may feel confused about what is truth and what isn't. They may feel like if they choose to believe one faith over the other they will be siding with one parent over the other. Some interfaith couples are more prone to conflict because of their differing beliefs, which can be hard on the kids.

A friend of mine shared his experience with me of growing up in an interfaith home. His parents argued so often that he wondered when they were finally going to get a divorce. He saw many of his friends' parents getting divorces and, with how much his parents argued, he figured it was just a matter of time. His parents have managed to stay together and their marriage is stronger now than ever, even though they still have different beliefs. My friend attributes their marriage's success to his Christian mother's forgiveness and love. This may be true. I won't claim to know what kept their marriage together. However, I know that in my own experience growing up in a home with both parents being Christian and believing exactly the same things in matters of faith, they sure did fight a lot and even came close to giving up on occasions. My parents are now an interfaith couple, with my mom being a Christian and my dad being an atheist, and they love each other just as much now, if not more, than they ever have. Marriage inevitably brings conflict and difficulties and I, personally, believe that if you can work through the challenges of life together then you will reap the rewards years down the road.

It was hard for my friend to watch his parents fight all those years and to know that it was because they didn't agree on some of the fundamental aspects of their lives. Children watch their parents and learn how to resolve conflict by example. They may respect how their parents resolved their conflicts and strive to do the same in their own relationships or they may hate the way their parents fought and strive to be better or they may hate the way their parents fought and end up acting the same way. The responsibility lies on the parents to be a good example to the kids in regards to conflict resolution and the responsibility is on the kids to grow up and make decisions for themselves on how they will interact in their marriage and other relationships.

It may seem that interfaith marriage would have only negative effects on children, but in reality it can have many advantages. Children in interfaith families tend to grow up with the ability to think more critically about faith and come to their own conclusions on what they believe (2). Exposing a child to different religious perspectives gives them a more broad and open understanding of the world and the differing ideas and beliefs that people possess. It gives them the opportunity to make choices for themselves instead of taking whatever they are spoon fed as truth. Children actually handle growing up in interfaith homes pretty well overall (10). This article has more info on this topic: 7 Myths About Raising Interfaith Kids.

Some parents will choose to raise their children in one of the parents' faiths and not the other in an attempt to avoid confusing them. They want them to be able to identify as one particular religion. More often than not it's the mother's religion in which the children are brought up (1). Although, this approach may seem to make sense, it may actually prove to be more beneficial to let the children experience both religions and come to their own decisions on faith. This can be true even if one of the parents is agnostic or atheist. Being open and honest with your children is just as important as being open and honest with each other. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for and they are capable of taking an objective look and drawing their own conclusion. Giving them the proper tools in order to do that is the best thing you can do for a kid. Another friend of mine has been married to her husband for 17 years and has had different religious views than him the entire time. In fact, when they married she was Christian and he Muslim. They exposed their kids to both religions and let them decide for themselves what they would believe and the kids all came to their own conclusions. I believe that this is the best way to handle raising kids in an interfaith marriage, but every couple has to make this decision for themselves. Again, communication, respect, flexibility and patience are key!



Marriage Beyond Faith


What were my prior beliefs about marriage?

Before my journey into agnostic atheism I was a devout, Bible-believing Christian. I believed that marriage was a sacred gift from God meant for a man and a woman. I believed marriage could only be successful if both partners were dedicated to loving God more than they loved each other and seeking him in every aspect of their lives. When I made my vow to my husband at our wedding I believed I was also making that vow to God. I wanted every aspect of our life and our marriage to be centered on our faith in Christ. The Bible says that divorce is committing adultery and I took that very seriously.


What does marriage mean now?

Now that my beliefs have changed, what does marriage mean to me? Do our vows still hold the same meaning? If I dare, I would say that our marriage holds even more meaning now. Now, when we work through challenges and fight to stay together and love each other in good times and bad we're doing it because we want to and because we truly love each other rather than because we've been commanded to do so. I now believe that I have one life to live and this is IT and I have chosen to spend that one life with Patrick. That, to me, holds so much more meaning now. I believe that our vows still hold meaning because whether we were making them to ourselves and God or just to ourselves we still promised each other that we would stay together forever. That promise still holds true and I intend to keep my word. I chose to marry Patrick because he is the most amazing man I know and I'm absolutely obsessed with him. That feeling has only gotten stronger in the past 7 years (2 years dating and almost 5 years married) and I anticipate that it will continue to grow in the years ahead. Whether we hold the same beliefs or not is ultimately irrelevant because I don't love him for what he believes, I love him for who he is. He's the man of my dreams and the incredible father of my children. What does marriage mean to me? It means that I take this one life that I have to live and I pledge it to the one man that I want to spend it with.

Is a strong marriage/relationship possible without God?

Absolutely yes, it is. In fact agnostics and atheists have one of the lowest divorce rates in the U.S. (6). I was interested to learn that the highest divorce rate in the country is within the Bible belt (5). According to a study by the Barna Research Group (a Christian research group) Christians have one of the highest divorce rates while atheists have the lowest (6). In an article from ReligiousTolerance.org an explanation is given for a possible reason that scientifically minded atheist couples have an easier time coming to agreements and compromises. It says:
"Scientific beliefs are generally based on observation and experimentation. Opinions can be debated and resolved. The belief with the best supporting evidence wins. However, religious beliefs tend to be based on faith." (7)
I don't say that to bash Christianity, but just because I found it fascinating that I was taught that marriage can only be successful if God is at the center of it, but, as it turns out, those who don't even believe in God seem to have the most successful marriages. The statistics certainly don't back up the claim that marriage takes three.


Where do we find community?

One of the first concerns I had when I started coming to grips with my unbelief was the question of where to find community outside of my Christian community. Community is something religion does really well and I want to maintain a connection with others outside of the church setting. I was directed to a website called www.meetup.com. On this website you can input your interests, beliefs and hobbies and it'll suggest certain groups in your area with other people who are interested in the same things. It's an awesome idea and a great way to meet new people and get connected with others. Also, getting involved in local events or charities is another way to meet people and engage. Participating in events at a public library can also be a way to connect.

What will we teach the kids about religion?

Patrick and I plan to teach the boys about as many different religions as we can and explain what different religions teach. We will be open and honest with them about what we believe, but will not force our beliefs or conclusions on them. They will be free to make up their minds on what they, personally, believe. They will be allowed to attend church services whenever they want and when they come home we will have conversations about what they learned and discuss what they thought about the experience and the teaching. I want to raise open-minded, critical thinking, intelligent children who will learn to think for themselves.

Holidays?

We plan to continue to celebrate holidays even if Patrick decides he no longer believes in Christianity. We've discussed this and have decided that we see holidays as being a cultural thing to be enjoyed by all within that culture not just Christians. Christmas will be a time of family and gift giving that will be fun for the children. I wouldn't want to rob them of the joys of that season just because we no longer believe in "the reason for the season." In all actuality, Christmas is such a mess of pagan and Christian traditions it's hard to say that it's actually a Christian holiday at all. Look into it for yourself. It's kind of crazy how much of that holiday is based on pagan and mythical traditions. Watch Christmas: Behind the Curtain. Every secular family must come to their own decisions regarding holidays, but for us, we still plan on celebrating them in our own way.

Please share if you found this post helpful!


Resources 
  1. http://www.mapsofworld.com/infographics/poll/do-interfaith-marriages-work-infographic-text.html
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VcXZkdo8t4
  3. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/04/19/seven-things-dont-know-about-interfaith-marriage/
  4. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-an-Interfaith-Marriage-Work
  5. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2013/11/study-atheists-get-divorced-less-than-deeply-religious-couples/
  6. http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/atheist-marriages-last-longer-christian-marriages-research-says#
  7. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ifm_divo.htm
  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/06/opinion/interfaith-marriages-a-mixed-blessing.html?_r=0
  9. http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-emotional-challenges-of-interfaith-marriage/000561
  10. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-katz-miller/7-myths-about-raising-interfaith-kids_b_4177648.html