what I want you to know: being atheist in america

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. (If you are new to this blog, regularly schedule programming will resume after the holidays, but you can check out the “Best Of” section in the meantime). If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This post is by Erica Manney..

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I am an atheist.

I donate to charity. I volunteer. I adopt dogs from the rescue shelter. I call my grandma twice a week and wish my downstairs neighbors a Merry Christmas. I vote and recite the Pledge of Allegiance where appropriate (yes, I omit “under god,” added in 1954).  I do these things because I was raised to do these things. And yes, I was essentially raised as an atheist, with a thin veil of cultural Judaism.

What does being an atheist have to do with this blog series? Well, I love my internet, and read all sorts of blogs. A good majority of them are written by and populated by Christians of all creeds. That’s cool with me. Everyone has a story to tell, and unless I feel actively preached to, I don’t mind people explaining how their faith helped them get through a tough time, or praise god when something went really right. Live and let live.

And yet, I’m here to tell you that I feel marginalized. Not by bloggers necessarily, but as an American. I know, it sounds crazy -- we all seem to be hearing about the “War on Christmas” lately, but I want the opportunity to tell you what it’s like to not be part of the “moral majority.”

Our former President (before he was elected) said in 1987 that “I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” 

Can you imagine what it feels like as an actual citizen to know that because they aren’t a believer that their president doesn’t feel that they should be considered as such? 

It wasn’t until 2009, in Obama’s heavily religiously influenced inaugural speech that a president even acknowledged that “non believers” are a part of the constituency. 

I think we can agree that there is a wide spectrum of behavior and religious thought, and I’d rather not use this opportunity to defend or rail against atheists who are rude, belittling or hurtful, nor would I like to turn this into a platform for railing against misdeeds done in the name of God, or rant against “bible thumpers.” There’s kooks and jerks on all sides.

But there's seemingly a (sometimes not so subtle) shared understanding that it's only through faith that happiness is found. And maybe some really believe that's true, and that I am actually unhappy and will remain so until I find God, specifically Christ. I can't argue with that, of course - we simply have to agree to disagree.

But I can tell you a little bit about myself, and answer the questions I get most often.

I simply just … don’t believe. I don’t hate god, or Christians or Muslims or Jews or Hindus, etc.  My only real issue with people who have religion is when they are unable to separate their personal religious beliefs from legislative issues at the voting booth. But I suppose that’s a different post altogether.

Yes, I’ve read the Bible. The whole thing – Old and New Testament, which is more than I can say for most people. I consider it wonderful literature and a great allegory with lots of life lessons. I don’t cheat, murder or steal. I live by the Golden Rule, and most of the Ten Commandments (exceptions for Sabbath days, Lord’s name in vein, etc.). I manage to not run rampant as a wild hedonist in the streets without the fear of a vengeful god.

I’ll raise my kids (if I have them) to do the right thing. Same as I was raised. What if they turn out religious? As long as they are good people, who aren’t trying to impose their will on others? Go for it! I’ll bring the matzoh, or decorate the hall for the baptism.

What if I’m wrong? Well, that’s a risk I have to take, I suppose. I’d like to believe that if I am wrong, God will just let me pass into those Pearly Gates because I was a good, moral person. But the real truth is – my faith isn’t a choice. I may be right, and I may be wrong, but it doesn’t matter, because I simply can’t “will” myself into believing in something that I don’t. And while sometimes I absolutely agree that it would be so much easier to believe in an All-Knowing figure who would comfort and love me, especially in a time of grief, I simply … don’t. And I’m okay with that. I like my life. I just want to be acknowledged, and for you to be as okay with my life as I am.




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