Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm Coming Out

I have often tiptoed around stating my lack of religious beliefs because, like many people in a minority, I fear being shunned and judged. I've described myself with words like non-religious, humanist, and freethinker and have most recently been playing with the "Unitarian" label. But as my kids get older, I don't want them thinking there is anything wrong with me saying exactly what I am, in terms of my personal religious faith: an atheist. There, I said it. I am an atheist. I AM AN ATHEIST!

Ah, that feels better. Now, it's time to get at the root of why this particular announcement has been difficult for me. Come on, I live in the United States of America, land of religious tolerance, right? Sure, we tolerate Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Methodists... Jews... Muslims-- wait I think I'm getting a little carried away here! As a reminder, I live in Kentucky. We have a Creation Museum. Political candidates campaign with the agenda of having the Ten Commandments displayed in public schools. Many of them genuinely think and assert that we are a "Christian nation" and that our Founding Fathers were all Christians. Actual history appears to be irrelevant.

Because I homeschool my children, and over 80% of homeschooling families in this country are fundamental Christians (likely higher in Kentucky), it is often assumed that I am likewise a Christian. I've had to make some fairly difficult choices reconciling my want to have my kids around other kids and not wanting to paint myself as something I am not. For example, I could join one of several wonderful homeschooling co-ops that are available in the area, if I were willing to sign a statement of faith and either teach my children creationism, or teach them to lie and say they believed in it. Neither route is acceptable to me, as I am homeschooling with the goal of better education for my children, not with the goal of indoctrinating them.

Another example was this past winter when I signed Bonnie up to play Upwards basketball through the local Baptist church in town. (By fourth grade, there are no recreational basketball leagues in the county, because most of the kids can play for their public school teams.) I asked before signing up if it was ok if we were not a Christian family and was assured that would be fine. I knew ahead of time that Bonnie would be given a Bible verse to memorize each week, and I was ok with that as well. I am absolutely not opposed to my kids learning about religion. On the contrary, I try to teach them about as many faiths as I can. I am an atheist after all, but only my children get to decide what they believe. Bonnie enjoyed the basketball season, and I thought it would be something we'd do in subsequent years, until we attended the "awards ceremony" at the end of the season, which ended up being a 2+ hour-long proselytizing session in which kids gave canned answers and were steered to the "correct" answers if they got off track at all. There were games, music and mascots, all to pound in the same message: Believe in Jesus or burn in Hell. But God loves you, and he's merciful! There are so many contradictions in Christianity that I simply cannot get past, but this is definitely the major one.

Another reason I have been hesitant to "come out" as an atheist is the negative connotations that come along with the word. Somewhat humorously, it's often assumed that atheists are Satan worshipers. Just to clarify, we don't believe in him either. Right-wing media like to paint atheists as "godless," as if believing in a god is somehow intertwined with personal morality. I hope that anyone who knows me knows that I believe in treating others with respect, not killing people, and generally trying to be a good person. (That doesn't mean I always succeed!) These are all basic humanist beliefs, and I don't need a Bronze Age text to teach them to me. (Anyone interested should check out this fantastic video that explains why the Bible is not a valid source for morality. I would welcome rational discussion after you have viewed it!)

Some people don't understand how an atheist can believe in nothing. But I believe in the inherent goodness of people and in the beauty and wonder of the natural world. I don't feel like I'm missing something by not believing in any gods. When I start thinking about the injustices and randomness of the world, I don't understand how that could be compatible with an all-powerful, and also all-loving deity. In fact, my head starts to hurt when I consider all of the rationalizing that has to occur to reconcile those two qualities that are attributed to the Judeo-Christian god. To quote Richard Dawkins,  "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."
 

Finally, I have avoided stating my atheism openly because most of my friends and family are religious to some degree. I don't want to sound condescending or hurtful when I dismiss religious beliefs as something I simply cannot understand and don't necessarily respect that much. That doesn't mean I don't respect the right to have religious faith, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't love and respect every single one of my god-loving friends and family members.

48 comments:

  1. OMG You're gonna burn in hell!!!! ok, just kidding. Maybe toasted, but not burn completely. I consider myself to be atheist too and don't believe in organized religion at all. I want my kids to choose what they believe as it took a lot of years for me to realize I wasn't Christian. I was raised to be Christian and thought I was until I was in my 30's. Then I got clear and started asking questions and digging for answers. I don't want my kids going through that. Just wanted to say nice post - it's wonderful when you can really be yourself around everyone.

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  2. Excellent post. And most excellent you are homeschooling your kids.
    I really think you'd enjoy the parenting philosophies of Stefan Molyneux - you can youtube many video-talks.
    Sending kids to public schools and churches is a form of abuse, if you ask me, even if the intentions are seemingly good and the people are seemingly "kind" - there is clearly a blindness.

    Cheers!

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  3. Very insightful and well put. Home schooling makes it possible to tailor education to the parents' philosophy and the kids' unique interests and abilities. The diversity of approaches (compared to the one-size-fits-all public school) is one of its great qualities. It seems hypocritical that so many parents who exercise this freedom of choice would judge others for failing to follow their cookie-cutter method of Christian homeschooling.

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  4. Raza, I agree that it's hypocritical, but one has to consider the reasons why fundamental Christians are homeschooling in the first place. I personally don't believe it's so their children can learn the value of rational thought and rigorous academic discourse, especially when their "science" texts are written by theologians.

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  5. It's a shame that any reasonable person has to come out of any particular closet. And worry about being punished for it. I certainly get what you are saying. When people ask me about that sort of stuff, I tell them it's complicated--just like me. I am not an Atheists, but I certainly do not really truly belong in any formal religious community either. Legalism and Dogma seem to me to be the antithesis of critical thinking. The good news is that I occasionally meet people of a variety of backgrounds who share similar observations.

    Hang in there.

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  6. I don't know where that extra S came from. I am not an Atheist. --that is what I meant to say.

    As for stereotyping and demonizing, well--some folks have too much time on their hands and they don't spend enough of it living an examined life. So they "examine" yours instead.

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  7. HALLELUJAH!

    (couldn't resist)

    prinn xxxx

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  8. So awesome to run across other atheists - I just posted about "coming out" as well :) http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/

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  9. Ok I just have to say the add I'm getting at the bottom is for christianmingle.com!!! Talk about the wrong target market. Other than that great post. I wish I could "come out" but I'll wait until my mom dies. I don't really feel like hearing it constantly from her if I was to actually say the words to her. Everyone, who is actually close to me already knows.

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  10. I'm a Kentucky Atheist who came out this year as well. It's hard when everyone you know is religious, but I decided that I could only help the Atheist label by being open about it and showing people that we are not morally debased lunatics. Congratulations!

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    1. I'm in Lexington, Kentucky and came out 4 years ago. Living here with religious family, friends and coworkers is difficult but hiding was worse. One must be confident about their meaning of life to the point where expressing it is a need.

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  11. Good on ya! Another homeschooling atheist here (www.mychola.blogspot.com) I kept opening the closet door a little wider each time until I eventually fell out. People got used to me teaching my kids at home and people are getting used to the fact that I'm a non-believer as well. Welcome to the club!

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  12. Thank you for coming out!!!!!! We are also atheist, and have had a hard time coming out in our very conservative religious community. We've also homeschooled our boys for the last 7 years (and felt pretty isolated in that community--being the only non-believers in the local homeschool group). The intolerance in our country is absurd!

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  13. Good for you! I grew up in one of those fundamentalist homeschool families, and I am now an atheist, so I understand how hard your decision was! I think about these same sorts of things with regard to my daughter - including my desire to not make her think beliefs are something to hide or be ashamed of.

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  14. What a wonderful post! I arrived at your blog through a link from the Friendly Atheist, but I will stay to read your other posts as well. Best of luck to you.

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  15. Amen sista - good for you! Atheist homeschooler from Ohio here. I know how hard it is being in this tiny, tiny minority. It makes me so glad every time I find another Atheist homeschooler out there. I have been blogging about it a bit, and people close to me know that I'm an Atheist, but I am just beginning to meet local homeschoolers and most of them don't know that I am and probably wouldn't want to associate with me or my kids if they knew. It's crazy. I will definitely be following your blog!

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  16. Very cool! Can I add you to my blogroll at raising3thinkers.com?

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  17. I'm an atheist in MA and blog about raising my two kids as non-goddies (I'ma humore writer, too). It's funny that even in one of the more secular areas of the country announcing that I'm an atheist is an act of rebellion.

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  18. Thank you for your courage and integrity.

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  19. Excellent post. I am also a homeschooling atheist - only in Arkansas. We have often encountered many of the same problems with statements of faith being required before the kids could participate in extracurricular activities. It is so nice to find other secular homeschooling families! You have a new reader.

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  20. This is a wonderful post -- I especially like this: "I don't want to sound condescending or hurtful when I dismiss religious beliefs as something I simply cannot understand and don't necessarily respect that much. That doesn't mean I don't respect the right to have religious faith, and it certainly doesn't mean I don't love and respect every single one of my god-loving friends and family members."

    I've had a hard time articulating this thought before, but this is exactly how I feel, I respect the right, but not necessarily the belief. Thank you for opening up and raising freethinking children in Kentucky!

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  21. Hi. My name is Emily and I am a homeschooler and an atheist. I, too, keep my religious beliefs to myself for fear of being judged, ostracized or proselytized.

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  22. Leanna,

    I'd LOVE to re-post your blog on the site! Email me if you'd be willing...info at secularhomeschool.com. Thanks...congrats on coming out, btw. ;)

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  23. Awesome post. I'm not a homeschooler, but I am a parent and an athiest and you've just added a new reader to your blog. Mine is over at www.gratefultobeofthisworld.blogspot.com

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  24. Congratulations. I was brought up atheist so I always admire people who have the courage in their convictions to come out. As someone who's been out my whole life I have had maybe 2 or 3 rude comments in 37 years so far. I'm going to have to read your blog now and experience your bravery vicariously.

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  25. Great post! It is hard being different. I am an atheist in Georgia raising a little freethinker and though she is currently in private preschool, I like to supplement at home with homeschooling resources. Most of the homeschooling blogs I have seen do have a very religious lean but we just take what we can use from them. I'm lucky to have a group of mom friends(mostly Christian) who don't judge me because I am an atheist.

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  26. Welcome to the wonderful world of Atheist Homeschooling. My homeschooling days are over, but I totally understand where you are coming from.

    I am pretty much done blogging, but my blog still stands with links to many other atheist homeschool blogs.

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  27. Thank you so much for this!! I'm in a really similar boat and hope to be brave enough to do this so openly on my blog some day. It took a lot of fortitude for me to finally come out as a homeschooler at all to my family yesterday. I was in a cold sweat because we really haven't had those discussions yet. I figured adding a blatant message that I'm also an atheist would be just too much for the grandmas! But I so admire you for being so upfront about it. I'm going to feature your blog on my links list and hope my visitors will pop over and see what a compassionate, thinking atheist is like, firsthand.

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  28. Btw - I see you are in Kentucky. We're in Cincinnati just across the Ohio River from KY and I definitely feel your pain. It's not technically the Bible Belt here, but we have (or had) Touchdown Jesus and that Creation Museum is in the tristate area. And then there's the enormous, almost entirely religious Midwest Homeschooling Convention every year where thousands of religious homeschoolers descend on the city en masse. Most of them are completely nice people, don't get me wrong, but I definitely get it.

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  29. Thank you all!

    Sarah, I attended the Midwest Homeschooling Convention this spring. Though I found some amazing deals on curricula, I definitely felt like a fish out of water in that convention hall!

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  30. Good for you! I hope you can find suitable activities for your kids, sans the proselytizing. I'm in TN, currently embarrassed over the "don't say gay" bill and those nuts in Murfreesboro trying to prevent the muslim center from being built. Atheist Southerners Unite! :)

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  31. You have stood for integrity, and no one ever said that was going to be easy.

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  32. Awesome. Congrats, and wonderful to have another out atheist in the world.

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  33. I was home-schooled as a child by a christian family (so basically, indoctrinated). I never had a problem with living and learning at home, but I would like to see less brain-washing involved. It is great to see someone like you, teaching your kids to have open minds and teaching them about all the religions.

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  34. Saw this linked on Facebook by the head of CFI-DC. Yay for you, for speaking out and standing up for what you believe (and don't believe)! And thanks for following the Wall of Separation - I work for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and I admin our Facebook page.

    Best wishes!

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  35. Hooray for you! This is how to make an avalanche: just keep adding snowflakes.

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  36. You have a great post here, and a great quote:
    >Some people don't understand how an atheist can believe in nothing. But I believe in the inherent goodness of people and in the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

    I would also say: we don't understand how any theist can believe, with nothing for evidence.
    :-)

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  37. Found you through "A Different Path" and linked to the video (above), then watched three of them. My husband even turned down football to listen (!)

    We are homeschooling, non-religious (but awash in believers in a rural Michigan county). Just had a talk with my son (10) about "god" this morning and he's on the skeptic's path already (Yay!)

    I'm reading Dan Barker and releasing the guilt I feel for doubting the superstitions (Christian, New Age, etc.) of friends and family. Having a community helps, even if we're states apart!
    home4goodmichigan.blogspot.com

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  38. Christian here--- (Sorry Leanna part of this is copied from a comment I made on one of your other posts.) I respect and can understand atheism. (And will vouch for Leanna's wonderfulness too!) I am saddened that too many Christians and people of other faiths are not accepting of others. We were not all meant to be the same or at the same levels of understanding or perspectives. Jesus was all about putting a stop to the ridiculous man-made rules and judgments. I think it's naive to believe God speaks to exclusively us in the very human-edited bible. Unfortunately many Christians are very narrow-minded and use "faith" as a crutch that "God will take care of everything". Phooey! We're here to live and do things ourselves. Too me, we were intelligently made with great care and love that is revealing itself through our love and respect of each other and through our discoveries of technology--sort of a reverse engineering discovery. I often tell my grandkids math is the language of the universe--the very key to how God made us. Maybe God is simply a nerdy 10-year old playing xbox . . . Whoever he is, he works from inside of us and has left an amazing puzzle to figure out. For me, the ultimate proof of God is that our brains are infinitely capable of pursuing and learning the great puzzle. That's my take!

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  39. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

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  40. Hi, I came across this post on the Secular Homeschool site.

    You and I have several things in common, I live in KY as well (moved here over 15 years ago to attend UK), I just came out as an Atheist http://www.super-daddy.net/2012/02/this-i-believe.html and I am getting ready to homeschool my daughter.

    You're right, it is very hard being an Atheist and living in KY. I live in Lexington and it is still rather difficult to find groups that I feel comfortable being in.

    I loved this post, it is spot on.

    Good luck,

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    1. Great to meet you, Kevin, and thank you. Good luck with your homeschooling adventure!

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  41. Good for you! Though I'm not exactly an atheist, my idea of God is radically different from most of my neighbors, and I attend a UU church. I feel very similar to you in terms of "coming out" about that. By being homeschoolers, I feel even more like a fish out of water!

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    1. Thank you! We have attended a UU church on several occasions and really enjoyed it. I wish there were one closer to us!

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  42. WOO HOO!!!!!!!!!
    From another atheist homeschooling Momma!

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