The word is far worse than a simple pejorative. Where I come from, it is practically hate speech. In fact, it is less an insult and more an accusation for which there is no defense, and the penalty is worse than death. To avoid this social penalty, many hide behind the label of agnostic. An agnostic is an atheist who is afraid to admit it. Such a person claims to be open to all possibilities, but lives like the atheist he really is. Such a path is not for me.
That said, I still do not self identify as an atheist. The word is too emotionally charged. It would be like walking around saying you are a racist, or worst yet, a sex offender. It would be better if I were to identify as a draft dodging, flag burning communist than to say that I am an atheist. But in point of fact, that is exactly what I am.
I am completely non-theistic. I do not leave any room for doubt that there is, or even could be a supernatural God being as portrayed in the bible. To pretend that such a possibility is equally as valid as say, string theory, is absolutely absurd and disingenuous. Mine is not just a rejection of the god of the bible, but of the underlying worldview that presupposes such a construct.
In the Deep South, this makes me more than a minority; it makes me a villain. In the Christian story, the villain is the devil. The bible labels those a fool who say there is no god. That makes me both a demon and a fool. Where I live, it is hard to become more marginalized than that. In the South, the only thing worse than an atheist is a murderer, and that is not a universal sentiment. Had I come out as gay, or impregnated countless young ladies, or become addicted to drugs, my mother would still be able to hold on to the idea that at least I still believed in God. A drug-addicted, gay, promiscuous Christian is far better than a clean, straight, monogamous atheist.
One of the worst things about rushing ahead of the pack is that you find yourself alone, abandoned by the ones you once ran with. As the saying goes, “One step ahead, and you’re a leader. Two steps ahead, and you’re a martyr. Going full atheist in a world of hardcore believers is most definitely two steps ahead.
There are two sides of being an outcast. The most obvious is how you are viewed by others. The second is how you start to view others. In both cases, your former in-group is now the others. As much as they change the image they had of you, you change the image you had of them. It is simply not possible for things to remain as they were. You might, as I was, be inclined to pretend that nothing had changed. But that illusion cannot last for very long.
Try to imagine that you were once a part of the Flat Earth society. You grew up in it. All your friends, family, and associates are still a part of it. But for some turn of luck you cannot fully explain, you discovered the round-earth truth. What of your relationships with all the people you once knew? Not only do you know the truth, it is obvious to you. More than that, any notion of flat earth is borderline insane to you. Suddenly, everyone you know is like a small child in their understanding of the world. Not only are they like children, they are like dull, slow children.
You might even try to help them to see the truth of things by sharing the science of round earth with them. They meet your evidence with derision and scorn. Those round-earth scientists are brainwashed, are lying, are a part of the anti-flat earth conspiracy, are afraid to speak out from fear of being ostracized within the scientific community. The only real scientists are the tiny fraction of scientists that promote the flat-earth view of the world. Those are the enlightened scientists. Why history is filled with great men of science who believed in flat-earth. After such hopeless discussions, it it difficult to say whether they pity you more than you pity them.
Once you see flat-earthism for the utterly bankrupt and laughably stupid idea it really is in light of current data, you can’t help but to consider those who hang on to the notion as laughably stupid as well. How could you not? They are either ignorant by choice, or ignorant because they really can’t do any better. Either way, their ignorance places them in a category of people whose judgements and insights are not to be trusted. Although they are competent in many areas, they are incapable of understanding fundamental truths about how the world works.
Overnight, those good people that made up your entire community and who helped to shape your worldview, are now as looney as toons. They are mere caricatures of what you once thought they were. If you are going to preach the round-earth truth and marginalize the flat-earth doctrine and the apologists who espouse it, then you are in the unenviable position of marginalizing everyone you once held dear. You may still hold them dear. But you have no choice but to undermine their influence, lest they raise up yet another generation of flat-earthers who will be unable to process the truth. Like it or not, your former community is now the others.
Mine is a generation without heroes. What the History channel hasn’t ruined for us, the internet has. We know their secrets. We have seen the men and women behind the curtain. Because of what we know, we now look down on the people we once looked up to. The truth is there for all to see. They are no better than us. There is no reason to believe that their answers are any better than ours.
Now that I see the worldview of my mentors as bat-guano crazy, I can’t exactly go to them for advice about anything that matters. Suppose I was having a problem with my marriage. It is hardly worthwhile to go to someone who is likely to suggest that the first step I should take is to rededicate my life and marriage to god. That answer would not only be useless, but offensive. They just as well tell me to rededicate my marriage to Diana: goddess of love, pray twice a day to Zeus, and pay a small tribute to Loki once a month.
No matter what I asked such a person, and regardless of her answer, there would come the moment in the conversation when they would feel compelled to offer up a prayer on my behalf. Since praying is not fundamentally different than faith healing or a Voodoo incantation, it would just ruin the whole encounter. I simply could not take seriously any advice that was accompanied by an appeal to magic.
Today, I find myself completely without mentors. It is not as if I have all the answers. At age 44, I most certainly do not. But because my life was peopled with magical thinkers, leaving the world of magical thinkers has left me without advisors. That leaves me as the highest authority in my life. That said, I am not sure my best lights are any worse than someone who believes in holy water, or that eating a bite of cracker places them in magical contact with the body of their crucified god. I feel like mentors and heroes are important. On the other side of religion, I feel the loss of them daily.
Once I set to the task, I thought this project would be easy. More fool, I. There are so many things that lead a person to take one path or the other, he is not even aware of all of them. In a cosmic sense, I have no idea why I, alone in my family, have been able to break away from the theistic worldview. Not only do I not wish to believe, but I am so made that I cannot believe.
I have tried to believe with all my might. I have tried to fit into the faith community on both sides of my own faith. I never wanted to rock the boat or be a rebel. I never wanted to hear my own father tell me to my face that I was a hopelessly lost infidel controlled by Satan. But I have lived long enough to hear those words, and recently enough so that they still ring fresh in my mind.
The Church of Christ is an interesting case study. It is one of those denominations that either has to be completely right, or all religion is wrong. You do not leave the Church of Christ for another denomination as a general rule. Once you walk away from the churches of Christ, you walk away from theism. They manage to poison the entire well of religion. I suspect they have made more atheists out of their adherents than Christopher Hitchens.
Hyper-rigid religions do not allow their members any flexibility. To bend is to break. Had I grown up on the more liberal side of the churches of Christ, I might have hung in a lot longer. But I suspect that I would have eventually left anyways. Liberal churches would have been more accommodating to my doubts. But at the end of the day, I still would have rejected even the liberal notion of god. I would also have rejected the bible as any kind of authority.
I suspect my path was determined more by nature than nurture. I really am incapable of believing in any extraordinary thing in the absence of extraordinary evidence. It is much like a person born with extra chromosomes that create gender confusion. I simply could not have chosen to be any other way. I tried. Perhaps evolution has naturally selected some of us to see the universe as it is, omitting the gene that allows us to believe in fantasies.
Does that sound the tiniest bit arrogant and self-important to you? It does to me too. Yet I cannot be any other way. I am surrounded by people who believe the world is powered by more magic than a Harry Potter novel, and is populated with more magical beings than Middle Earth. I have no choice but to think myself elevated above that. I am not sorry, and I shall never recant. I am on a mission of sorts. One might even call it evangelistic. Perhaps that is just more cruft from my Church of Christ upbringing.
My mission is to spread the truth of reality in a world intent on embracing fantasy. I use my blog as my pulpit. I hope to reach people who are much as I was. I say the things I wish someone had said to me when I was younger and impressionable. I would consider the mission a success if I can help one person avoid wasting their life on a false and unworthy god. If I can help a thousand get beyond religion, that would be even better.