My next course in the CCP curricula was the session on Worldview and Religious Pluralism. I am an Atheist. I was raised Roman Catholic and until my undergraduate years in college, I identified as such. Most people perceive me as being Christian (likely because of my other visible identities), so it usually leads to some interesting conversations when I tell them otherwise.
I am not completely open about my non-religious identity. If people ask, then I explain. My family knows that I am not a practicing Catholic, but the idea of me being Atheist is not brought up. This was evident at a recent Thanksgiving when I was asked to lead the prayer before dinner. Instead of making a big deal about it, I was able to divert the prayer to be led by my younger cousins. I didn’t want to have to get into a discussion about my lack of religious faith with my family at that moment.
To test the waters, I have talked with my mother about getting married not in a church and raising my children without a particular religion. She has been supportive of both initiatives without me having to say it’s because I am an Atheist. Ultimately, I don’t think it is a big deal for my immediate family considering that none of them are currently practicing Catholicism.
Where this has been most interesting was when I first started dating my partner, Lauren. Luckily, my non-religious identity was not an issue for her. She just had questions about what it meant to be Atheist. I’ve also had her friends ask me questions about it as well. On one occasion, I was questioned by Lauren’s aunt during Easter, which was slightly awkward. However, I carefully navigated that one and avoided any disruption in the day’s events.
Depending on the audience, I simply explain that I do not believe in God or another higher being or power. I believe in evidence and proof. This stems from my background and passion for science. To this point, I have not seen evidence or proof that would support a God(s). I also explain that my non-belief in God does not mean that there cannot be one. There could still be a God(s). I just don’t think that there is.
I feel it is also important to point out that my non-belief does not trump someone’s belief. We are allowed to have our own opinions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. I also don’t try to convince people that there is no God(s). Again with religious pluralism and worldview, it’s not my place to convince a person what they should believe or not believe. It is up to them to decide for themselves and what makes sense for them.
Being Atheist means that I am a part of one of the most distrusted groups in America and cannot hold public office in a handful of states. But intolerance is experienced by all religious and non-religious groups. How that intolerance manifests itself is different, but it still exists. What is scary is how people twist and manipulate their beliefs to meet an end that is not representative of the core tenets of the belief. It is in these circumstances that I am most fearful.
My self-exploration to identify as Atheist has led me to be more aware of other religious and non-religious identities. I have become more cognizant of the language that I use and attempt to avoid major religious holidays (specifically non-Chrisitan) when planning events, programs, and training sessions. I still have a lot to learn and have taken steps along my own journey to try and better stand those of non-Christian faiths. I have read about and experienced practices of a few these to try and understand more. And this is something I plan to continue doing as I grow and mature in my own Atheist identity. Even though I do not believe, I still think that it is important to understand why others do and what they believe.