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).
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
What I expect my mother’s reaction to be
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.
Anyway, I gots to go. I have a Richard Dawkins lecture to attend. (Little atheist joke there. We meet Mondays, bring cheese.)