Every now and then, an email comes along that I’m compelled to share with all of you. With the writer’s permission, I’m posting this one. She mentions this site, but I really do believe any thank-yous must be shared with all of you who blog, who run atheist groups, and who are just open about your atheism.
You’re making it easier for other people to come out of the closet:
I grew up forced to attend a conservative Southern Baptist church, although I have been atheist since I was fifteen. I was turned off to Christianity by my own church, where women could not become ministers, our preacher regularly urged us to send letters to our congressmen proclaiming that gay marriage is an attack on marriage, two church staff members were arrested for embezzlement, and a minister once said in my Sunday School class that he would not allow his white daughter to marry a black man. These things slowly chipped away at my faith.
I was constantly told that heaven would basically be one eternally long worship service, which made me really not want to end up there, and the answer to the question “Why does God allow suffering?” was usually something along the lines of “to allow you to have empathy for other suffering people;” this answer only made me question why God allowed the other people to suffer. Another common answer to the question was “God never causes suffering; Satan does.” I wondered why I was told God was omnipotent when he clearly had no power to stop Satan.
While most Christians I know, including my mother, found Christianity comforting, I only found a judgmental group of people and an unmerciful God, provided he fit their descriptions. I got told often that we should be thinking of God constantly, all day, every day, and that our lives are one constant prayer. I asked how we are supposed to get any enjoyment out of life or be productive people if we were to pray all day instead of doing important things like our jobs and our math homework, and I got no satisfactory answers, except for one girl my age who said that she didn’t subscribe to that particular belief because she didn’t want God there while she was peeing (this is the only reasonable thing I remember anybody ever saying at church).
I was willing to accept these empty explanations as an adolescent because I wanted to, but I started struggling with them at around fourteen or fifteen. Even when I started having doubts, I tried very hard to find faith again for about a year before I realized there were no good reasons for me to have any. I looked to other faiths as well, and having always been attracted to ritualistic traditions, tried on the Jewish and Catholic faiths but found the same problems. After becoming an atheist, I was constantly put in the position of having to lie about my faith, when my parents forced me to attend a church that, while considered very liberal for a Baptist church, still persisted discrimination against women, certain races, and sexual orientations. I also remember one of the worst parts about my father’s funeral as having to listen to people say they were praying for me, telling me that my father was in a better place, or generally telling me to turn to my faith.
My sister is the only family member who knows my views, although others probably suspect when they see me avoiding church at all costs. My mother is a Sunday School teacher and runs her own weekly Bible study at church as well. Even having been an atheist for many years now, I have not often met others who admit to being atheists, and I have found your site incredibly helpful in pointing me toward humanist organizations and in providing a community of people who, like me, do not find religion rational or comforting.
Perhaps you get emails like mine all day long, and perhaps you get sick of reading them (especially when the writers go on and on like I do), but you and your website make me hate people a little less every day, as I find people who do not think atheists are hateful people, people who are as horrified as I am by the sexism and violence promoted in religious texts, and people who are reasonable. So once again, thank you.
For what it’s worth, I never get sick of reading letters like this. It validates a couple of the biggest reasons I choose to keep this blog: I want to reach other atheists and let them know they’re not alone, and I want to convince religious people that they’re following the wrong path to the truth.