A few weeks ago, I came out as an atheist in a very public way.
It was terrifying.
I was a born-again Christian for 15 years. Then, last year, I was a Christian in deep contemplation. I read a lot. Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, and Shane Claiborne. After that, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Neal DeGrasse Tyson.
And after that, I was an atheist.
I remember the moment I began to doubt. When Henry was born, I quit my job to stay home with the boys full-time. Gus had just turned 3, and it was the perfect time to get serious about this whole Christian business. We attended a progressive, liberal church (which I made sure everyone knew when they learned I was religious), but I wanted to do more.
And so more we did.
On Monday, Gus sang in the children’s choir at a different congregation. On Thursday, I had women’s bible study. On Friday, we had family bible study. On Sunday, we had church, of course, and I also volunteered in Sunday School once a month.
I loved the community. I loved that we composted our coffee cups. I loved that we talked about social justice.
I didn’t love clapping along to the music. I didn’t love praying out loud.
But that didn’t matter.
Until suddenly, it did.
I began to question my faith on an average morning, sitting on the couch with Gus, a children’s devotional spread open on my lap. It was September 12, and I flipped to the correct page in Gus’s One Year Book of Devotions. I was supposed to read the story and its corresponding bible verse. “Run From Evil,” the page read.
Eh. I flipped the page. I’m not about to teach my 3-year-old that his age-appropriate behavior is evil.
September 13 wasn’t any better.
I kept flipping.
Before long, we were in November, and I still hadn’t found a page I agreed with enough to read.
That’s when it hit me.
I had just skipped over sin, heaven, and hell – no doubt all major tenets of Christianity. Was I on board with any of it?
Fast forward to several months later. I had been reading everything I could get my hands on about faith, god, religion, and science. On this particular evening, Matt and I were watching an episode of Cosmos, the one where Neal DeGrasse Tyson explains how fantastically, beautifully, and wonderfully gigantic the universe is. Either this is true, I thought. Or my concept of God is. It can’t be both. At least not for me.
After a few more months of reading and thinking, I had my answer.
For the most part, I kept my atheism to myself. I called the one friend I knew would give me a whole-hearted, “congratulations!”, but until the day my essay posted on Scary Mommy, only a handful of people knew about my deconversion.
I was afraid to share the news for a lot of reasons, but mostly, I was afraid of:
- People thinking I was immoral, unethical, or an otherwise bad person.
- People assuming I had a dark and hopeless outlook on life. (I don’t. Life is beautiful. For me, atheism means greater possibilities and more astounding what-ifs.)
- People judging my parenting.
- People not wanting their children to play with mine.
- Discrimination from the online homeschool community. (Our local homeschool co-op is secular, and some of the first people I came out to were homeschoolers from our group. The online community, however, is mostly religious.)
- Hurting the religious people in my life.
The day before my essay posted online, I braced myself for the comments section. I was sure to face a lot of criticism. I reached out to a few like-minded friends hoping they might balance out the negative feedback with a few encouraging words.
Little did I know they wouldn’t need to.
As of today, there are 855 reactions to my post. Only 45 are negative. Hundreds of people shared their holiday traditions, both religious and nonreligious alike, and talked about the ways they experience joy and beauty with their children.
In celebration of this diversity of thought, and of the multiple ways we can celebrate beauty, peace, and love with our families, I’ll be posting a collection of secular holiday activities from now until Christmas. I’ll try to choose things we can all get on board with, regardless of our belief systems. I’ve found that people usually have more in common than we think.
Think of it as an advent calendar for the religious and nonreligious alike.
Pin away, if you’re so inclined. I’d love to see more positive secular and nonreligious posts show up on Pinterest. The kind of posts that show what atheists are for, not against. Things like the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Justice. Compassion. Peace. The search for truth and meaning. Among many other things.
I’d love for atheists and religionists to look at what we have in common, rather than what sets us apart.
Interfaith dialogue is essential right now, more than ever. Which is why, instead of raising my kids in the absence of religion, I’m choosing, as an atheist, to expose them to many different religions and belief systems, including my own. This year, we will talk about Christian beliefs. We will talk about Jewish beliefs. We will talk about Muslim beliefs, and Hindu beliefs, and Pagan beliefs, and Humanist beliefs. I want my kids to understand their neighbors. I want them to explore their options, think critically, and choose the way of life that’s best for them.
As we move through December, check back here for links to secular activities, books, crafts, and other experiences to share with your children this holiday season.
Merry Christmas, and happy holidays, to ALL of you.