Being an Atheist from a Devoutly Catholic Background

I have struggled with writing this post. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I loathe confrontation. When I feel I have offended someone, I become a simpering mess of nerves; anticipating the backlash much like a child anticipates painful injections at the dentist.

From perusing multiple blogs here on WordPress, I have arrived at one obvious conclusion: there are a lot of deeply religious people in the blogosphere. Some of my own followers are faithful Christians and that has been why I have found writing this post so difficult. However, I decided that my atheism forms a pretty sizeable part of who I am and it wouldn’t be very honest of me to neglect discussing it at some stage. Also, I am not ashamed of it. I don’t think I need to conceal it.

I said in a previous post, in passing I might add, that I am not religious. I noticed after writing that post that I lost some followers. This may have been for a different reason (I will admit, I’m kind of annoying), but I would bet my (measly) life-savings that it was because I had offended some of my deeply religious (now ex) followers. The thing is, I am completely tolerant of other people’s beliefs. I support someone’s right to express their religious belief, as long as it does not affect the dignity of someone else. I have many Christian friends and I do not judge them for subscribing to a faith that I have chosen not to. In turn, they remain tolerant of my choice.

If you are reading this, and you have been following my blog for some time, it may change your opinion of me. Perhaps you are a person of faith and you are offended by my views. Perhaps you are a person that I have gotten along with and now you feel differently about me. I hope not. Even though I don’t believe in God, that doesn’t affect your faith, right? It’s a personal choice for me. I don’t have scales, or a tail, or horns and I’m not plotting to take over the world (just yet).

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I try to follow an ethical code in life; basically, I try to be kind and just and I don’t intend to cause injury or harm to anyone.

Arriving at my decision to finally admit to myself that I am an atheist was not easy. Firstly, I dislike the word “atheist”. I don’t know why, it just sounds unpleasant but the cap fits me. Secondly, there are a lot of atheists who come across as smug, sanctimonious and downright aggressive (like the YouTube commentator “The Amazing Atheist”, whose points I often largely agree with but who is often utterly detestable). For me, however, my atheism is most unusual when you consider where I came from: a very traditional and conservative Catholic background.

I grew up in a very small village in the south of Ireland at a time where it was still illegal for a married couple to seek a divorce. My parents, particularly my father, are very devout and conservative Catholics who actually voted ‘no’ to divorce in a subsequent referendum due to their strongly held religious convictions (ironically, they are now separated). In my village, everyone was devoutly Catholic. It was a judgemental place, where there was no room for individuality or uniqueness. One villager came out as gay in his late teens, was disowned by his family and moved to Scotland, never to return. Another villager became pregnant out of wedlock and was thrown out of home. I still remember my parents discussing her “situation” in our kitchen with shock. She was sent to live with relatives miles from home. This was in the 1990s, by the way.

I went on to attend an all girls Catholic school, where religious instructing formed a large part of my timetable. When I qualified as a teacher, I also taught at a similar school where I was expected to uphold the Catholic ethos of the school. I have never been able to admit my atheism in any job I have held, because the vast majority of my colleagues have been religious and many schools in Ireland have a Christian ethos.

My parents remain devoutly Catholic and superstitious. My father attends mass every day. My mother prays every day and relies on her faith very heavily to help her through her toughest days. My parents are good people, but they have many conservative views that I do not agree with. To say that we are different would be an understatement. My mother recently announced to me that a son of a friend of hers is “what do you call one of those people who doesn’t believe in God? Yeah, an atheist!” She waited for the shock and horror to register with me. It didn’t.

And so, discussing my atheism with my parents has not been easy. The thing is, I don’t go around announcing it because I don’t feel that it’s necessary. It’s a personal choice. I’m choosing to discuss it here because, well, I can. It came up in conversation when my mother pointed out a church to me that she thought I might like to get married in some day. Here is how the conversation went:

“Oh, look Jane. There’s a beautiful church for you to get married in someday.”

“Hmm.”

“I wonder what parish this is? Who’s the priest I wonder?”

“It doesn’t really matter.”

“I know, I’m only joking. But I know Jack and you will get married someday and it’s no harm to discuss certain aspects of it, is there? I assume it’d be our church anyway, wouldn’t it?”

“Actually Mam, it wouldn’t be any church. We wouldn’t have a church wedding.”

“WHAT?!”

“Mam, when is the last time I went to mass? I’m not religious. It would be hypocritical. I don’t plan on attending mass so I would like a secular wedding and I know Jack would too.”

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What I expect my mother’s reaction to be
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There was silence for a long time after that and we haven’t discussed it since. My father knows that I am not religious, but I’m not sure he knows that I am an atheist. We avoid discussing religion, although occasionally he will pass comments about feast days or saints. I don’t feel that my father would be very happy if I told him that I was not planning on having a religious wedding (although I have heard him bemoan the hypocrisy of couples who do not attend mass and are clearly not religious but who have a church wedding). He may even turn down a wedding invitation because he wouldn’t support a secular wedding (although I’m almost certain he would swallow his pride and attend). He wouldn’t see it as a “real” wedding. And I’m not going to even begun to discuss what will happen when I don’t baptise my children.

My work place is no less inhospitable to atheists. I work in a nondenominational school, where there are atheists attending alongside Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Hindus. As I have already mentioned, I don’t feel the need to discuss my atheism unless I feel it’s necessary. Teachers have the option to opt out of school masses. So this all seems fine, right? On the surface, perhaps. However, as there was a nun on the panel of interviewers when I applied for the job, I knew the school has deep religious ties. Teaching jobs are very rare in Ireland due to a massive over supply of teachers, so it would not be in my best interests to admit my atheism at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m living a big lie, but I suspect it’s the same for many people in Ireland. Some work places are just not very accepting of atheism.

Besides all of this, I know that many of the teachers unintentionally prejudge the atheist students. It is not malicious, I assume it comes from a discomfort and a genuine ignorance about atheism that many people hold; that is, the all atheists must be morally bankrupt and are “just trying to be different”. Whenever it is mentioned that a certain student is atheist, I can feel the negative attitude radiating from the other teachers. It makes me wonder how they would feel if I told them the truth about me.

So there you have it dear readers. I’m an atheist. Will it affect my blog? No. I don’t see how it’s relevant to my blog, which you may have noticed, is hardly teeming with deep philosophical thought. I won’t discuss it often.Why did I post this then? I don’t really know. I felt I needed to say it for some reason. Does it change how you feel about me? I certainly hope not, but if it does then at least you know the truth. I would like to think that we can all just get along.

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Anyway, I gots to go. I have a Richard Dawkins lecture to attend. (Little atheist joke there. We meet Mondays, bring cheese.)

35 thoughts on “Being an Atheist from a Devoutly Catholic Background

  1. deepbluesandseafoamgreens says:

    Regardless of your views on religion, I still think your butt-kicking, pancake-flipping, cat-loving AWESOME.

  2. eileen049 says:

    I have related to so many of your blogs. I don’t think I am an atheist but, in the last few months I have left a faith that I was very involved in. I still haven’t talked to my family about it. So, my dear, I’ve related to your blogs and I still do🙂

  3. Trent Lewin says:

    Good morning Janey. Just wanted to tell you that you have offended me with your atheism and your use of Omen photos, not to mention the repeated images of cats. To me, these things go hand in hand. Just kidding. Like really, I’m pretty positive that in a competition between choir practice and the atheist kegger next door, God would be doing kegstands in seconds… okay, I’m totally going to get struck by lightning for that. But I shan’t notice, for I shall be drunk.

    Okay, on a serious note, well said. I hope you don’t have to defend your views to anyone, and I feel sad that people might leave your blog premises because of such a difference in belief. We all believe many different things, and religion, while a very large dividing point, is just another set of beliefs. Good on your for stating your beliefs – this is much braver than the average schmuck (such as myself) that is too cowardly to say anything on the topic. I respect you for this post; I don’t have to agree with your belief system to do that.

    • janeybgood says:

      Thanks Trent, that means a lot. It’s a very divisive issue here in Ireland and one that I’m not very comfortable discussing. Catholicism is embedded so deeply into our culture that my parents will probably try and have me exorcised. Hey, maybe I’ll even do a 360 head spin?!

      Haha, but really thanks for your comment.

  4. lexborgia says:

    An atheist in Irland! That like a cat a a dog show – tough not to be noticed…and set upon. You poor thing. I also lost readers after my atheist began to show; it’s no big deal. You are who you are. Be. Cheers.

    • janeybgood says:

      Thanks for the comment! You’re right, I’m a little bit of an anomaly. Only in certain parts of the country though, I do happen to be in quite a conservative area unfortunately. You’re also right about losing followers; we wouldn’t get on anyway.

  5. paulfg says:

    Janey, as someone with a growing and embedded “applied” faith and who writes about little else on this blogging malarkey – good on you gel! So many of your comments ticked so many boxes here. So much of your understanding and acceptance and “pragmatism” just lovely to read. And sad. Very sad. Talk about this stuff as often as you want to. It might just make those who prefer to run a mile begin to wonder why they run a mile.

    (And I remember living with a lady (now my wife) who was not allowed to answer the phone for months – just in case my mum or dad was calling. No mobile phones or “who is calling” gizmos in those days. A lot of pragmatism though – then and now)

    • janeybgood says:

      This comment really means a lot to me. I know that you have a lot of faith and I completely respect that. I wouldn’t dream of unfollowing your blog just because I’m not a person of faith, I always enjoy reading different perspectives.
      I suppose I assumed I would be offending people, like your good self, but your comment has blown me out of the water to be honest and I’m just thrilled that tolerant people like you exist. So thank you.

      • paulfg says:

        Weirdly, I see more faith in you than in a lot of those professing to have “faith.” To choose not to marry in church takes guts. And for the “right reasons” (whatever they are) takes even more guts. After 5 decades plus I see a God who is Love who is God. That simple and that free. And in that simplicity (and with the patience he has shown in my case) I see nothing at odds with your own journey. If there is something I have learned from my journey, it is that “same-ness, one-ness and individuality is where its at (if this is beginning to sound like a sales pitch – I apologise – nothing is further from my mind). Take it simply as this: your frustration that something so beautiful, so free, and so loving is twisted into something so judgmental, so divisive and so controlling … we share the same frustration. For my money Love is Love – free, undemanding and uncomplicated – yet “Everything” as a foundation stone. I kinda like it – and see it as a sin standing in anyone’s way of savouring the same joy – yet in their own way, their own time, and of their own choosing. 🙂

      • janeybgood says:

        Again, thank you. I appreciate how you are so open minded and have not made and assumptions or judgements. If only everything could be this simple and everyone were this tolerant but alas, there is so much hatred in the world and so much judgement, it is just so refreshing to speak to someone like this. I hope that I’ve shown that not atheists are arrogant or provocative, while you have shown that not all Christians are judgemental.

  6. Sean Smithson says:

    As someone who has recently gone through the ‘struggling with a post’ process, I just wanted to say well done and good job. Probably before you started following me, I did a spoof post about being Tamil and noticed that I lost some Tamil followers. Obviously that wasn’t my intention and I know the circumstances are slightly different but it still affected me.

    But like you, I did nothing wrong and you can never know how people are going to react to things… Just be you man. Not sure if this comment made any sense, sorry. But hopefully you know what I’m trying to say.

  7. Julie the Workaholic says:

    Oh, Janey!

    What a wonderful post!🙂

    I, too, was raised in a traditional Catholic family, and in my teen years sampled other Christian based denominations. My folks were not terribly pleased, but at the same time, they were holding on to the thought that any church was better than none.

    I’m not exactly anonymous on my own blog, therefore don’t delve into my spiritual side on it. I lean Pagan, and I can count on one hand the number of people in my small, traditional Southern town who know this about me. As far as most are concerned here, Pagan = Satanist, so it would be unwise of me to advertise. This irony is not lost on me, as I am not a believer in the devil. It’s more like the concept of the duality of all things.🙂

    My pointy witch’s hat off to you for being brave enough to put this out there.

    Like one of the commenters above said, it would be sad to lose readership because of your religious (or lack thereof) beliefs. Just keep on being you, Babe! You are great at it!❤

    • janeybgood says:

      Thanks once again for such a lovely comment🙂 it’s a tough situation, because so many people equate atheism, or any religion that doesn’t quite fit the general perception of “normal” as being synonymous with “evil” or “immoral.” I try to be a good person, and I just don’t believe I need a faith to dictate that to me.
      Paganism sounds so interesting. I love the natural element to it.
      Your comment made me all warm and fuzzy, THANKS!

  8. Mélanie says:

    Bonsoir Janey! your post is simply excellent, congrats, admiration and respect… my very best and bonne continuation! glad to have come across your awesome blog… cheers, Mélanie – Toulouse, France

  9. Wordifull Melanie says:

    🙂 I was born into a southern baptist family and explored/researched many different religions before concluding that they didn’t work for me. It really is a personal choice. Brave of you in your circumstance to admit..but it really shouldn’t make a difference. I’m friends with people of all different races, religious beliefs and regardless of sexual orientation. If you are a GOOD person you are a good person, period.

    I understand how some people react and the bias are still there…some people truly do believe that atheists = satanists. Do they not get that if we do not believe in god then we do not believe in satan?

    Blah!

    So when people give me grief and site examples of “evil” athesists I say well just because some Catholic priests are pedophiles doesn’t make all Catholic priests pedophiles, does it?

    So anyway just be you, be kind, stay away from toxic people no matter what their flavor and be happy.

    • janeybgood says:

      Thanks for this comment. You’ve made great points.

      And that’s exactly my point too: I’m not a bad person. And I’m certainly not judgemental. It was Ash Wednesday last week (the beginning of Lent in the Catholic Church) and there were some missionaries and a priest in our school. I welcomed them and even made them tea. I didn’t discuss religion with them but I was very respectful.
      However, one thing did affect me. On Ash Wednesday, many Catholics have ash smeared on their foreheads in the sign of a cross. The priest was walking around doing this to the staff, including the principal. I made my excuses and quietly left the room because I didn’t want attention drawn to the fact that I wasn’t being blessed. I felt so different from everyone else.
      It didn’t stop there. I’ve been asked about four or five times since Lent started “what did you give up?” Nearly every teacher here has given up chocolate or some favourite treat. Again, I am notable by my cookie chomping at break time. It’s an unusual situation, but my job could be in jeopardy if people find out about my atheism.

      It must have been hard coming out of a southern Baptist background and trying to get acceptance but you are totally right. We need to focus more on people rather than their faiths.

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