I recently “came out” as an atheist and it has been somewhat difficult on a number of fronts. Although I have been skeptical of religion for many years both as gut instinct that it was self-serving, and rational analysis that what they teach is nearly impossible, when I finally decided to officially tell people that I did not believe in a god rather than hiding behind “I’m spiritual not religious” things have gotten strange.
Almost everyone I know is either religious in the traditional sense or some adherent of New Age spiritual/universalist beliefs. Most have been OK with it on the surface, although some have seemed condescending and amused as though this is somehow a “phase.” One or two have been somewhat hostile. In deference to their feelings I purposely have not engaged in debate with them. An old high school acquaintance who is now a conservative minister has been a bit hostile and accused me of not wanting to “defend” my beliefs to him as though I were required to give an accounting of myself!
I am also gay. Surprisingly, much of the religiosity I am bumping up against is within the LGBT community where it seems people are falling all over themselves to be super-religious in response to the religious right. By actually admitting I am an atheist some of them seem to think I am playing into the hands of our enemies (I am a frequent speaker at LGBT events.)
In addition, I find myself avoiding religious people whenever possible. Part of this is that it simply has begun to trouble me how much reliance is put on these superstitions. I purposely avoid people whom I know will respond to every illness, problem, or world event with prayer or “sending energy and healing.” I studiously avoid New Age friends who babble on about 2012, energy healing, cleansing rituals, and other nonsense. These are all well meaning folks, but their beliefs just rub me raw at the moment and I often find myself responding poorly to their barrage of superstitious beliefs.
How do I integrate my atheism in a world where I am surrounded by people extolling the virtues of their personal superstition or delusion without constantly blowing my stack or being forced to debate belief and non-belief? I really don’t want to become a recluse only speaking to others who have given up these things!
Thanks for your help.
Becoming a Loner
You didn’t mention having any atheist friends. You said you don’t want to become a recluse who only talks to non-believers, but you don’t seem to even have that outlet. Without any relief from all the people talking about their favorite invisible entities or intangible energies, of course you’re getting fed up and starting to become unsocial.
You’re suffering from overexposure to secondary woo.
Yes, you will probably always be surrounded by a majority of people who believe inane things, and they will get to you sometimes. But you can be more relaxed and tolerant while in their midst if you can detoxify from the secondary woo on a regular basis.
Socializing with rationalists could be like stepping outside of a crowded, stuffy room full of woo smokers for several minutes of fresh air. After you’ve recharged your bloodstream with oxygen, you can go back into the room and work comfortably with the others for quite a while without feeling like you’re suffocating.
So firstly, find a group of atheists and rationalists, and meet with them frequently and regularly to relax, swap stories, laugh and be encouraged. You need mental oxygen.
Secondly, begin to develop a sense of calmness and confidence within yourself. Think about how fortunate you are. You have, against high odds, freed yourself from superstitious chains that hobble the minds of most people. Yes, what they believe is nonsense to you, but think of yourself not as being better than them, just luckier. That will help you to avoid being smug or condescending, like those religious and New Age acquaintances you mentioned. The whole mentality of thinking in terms of being superior or inferior to others is a trap. If you see yourself either way, you won’t be happy being with others, and so you’ll likely start isolating.
I have to wonder if some of the hostility that you’re sensing in others is their reaction to the hostility they’re sensing in you. You can help to defuse the situation by removing your resentment.
When other people refer to their reliance on undetectable beings and powers that are outside of themselves, just notice it, and apply your rational mind to your own emotional response. Ask yourself if you really need to spend time and energy being upset about their peculiar thoughts that you don’t share. They’re doing what they have to do, and it’s just not what you have to do. If you spend no time or energy making any heavy judgmental evaluations about them, you won’t feel frustrated or angry that you have to work with them.
And it’s important for you to be able to work with them, because you have important work to do, and you can’t do it alone.
I assume that you’re working for the benefit of the entire LGBT community, not just the rational ones. In order for all of you to succeed in gaining justice and equality, you must all overlook your differences and focus on your common goals. Respond with that idea whenever any of your LGBT associates express some problem they have with your atheism. United you stand, divided you fall.
If you’re a frequent speaker at LGBT events, that means your powers of persuasion are appreciated. You can continue to use that ability to further the LGBT cause, but also, perhaps more subtly, you can further the cause of reason as well. Discreetly plant seeds of rational thinking in every one of your speeches. Keep them small and understated so they are accepted easily. Be the patient gardener instead of the frustrated rebel.
Finally, you may have to divest yourself of the more seriously negative acquaintances in your life. After you relax your own tension and resentment about others, several may gradually respond favorably, but a few might not. No matter how calm or self confident you get, there are a few folks who are simply toxic. If, after a reasonable amount of time some remain hostile, then you should quietly drift away from them. You have more important things to do with your time and talent than to waste them on futile debates or on avoiding futile debates with people who will not even consider letting go of their antagonism, or listening with open minds.
Becoming, you can treat these interactions with believers as opportunities to grow and mature within yourself, to see beyond your differences and to achieve aspirations that you and they share. Perhaps you will change your name from Becoming a Loner to Becoming a Leader.