My family is not particularly religious. They believe in God, but growing up, we never went to church or prayed before meals. I knew who God was, and I never questioned if He existed, to me it was just a known fact. I can’t recall any of my classmates mentioning God or religion, and I never gave it another thought. God wasn’t really something that was in the forefront of my mind most days.
If I did something wrong, it wasn’t God I feared punishment from, it was my mother and my teachers, and if I was scared or hurt, I didn’t turn to God, I went to my mom and my sister. As I got older, and noticed that the world around me was disturbingly flawed, I didn’t blame God, I blamed humans, and when people did things that inspired me, I didn’t give the credit to God, I gave it to humans. Somewhere between fifth and eighth grade, I unconsciously reached the conclusion that I didn’t believe in God, but I didn’t realize it consciously until I met Emily. I’ll never remember how it came up, but somehow or another, we started discussing religion. She was religious, and I was not. Emily told me that she would get me to believe in God by the end of the year, and from then on, we debated which of us was right. We knew we weren’t going to change the other’s mind, and we weren’t really trying, just explaining why we felt the way we did. I assumed that my lack of belief was okay, and that everyone would respond the way Emily had, with a little shock and curiosity, but no outright negative emotions.
When I moved to Arkansas, the way the students and teachers in my school were so blatantly religious alarmed me. I had no problem with their beliefs, but it was intimidating to have so many people around me sharing a belief system I didn’t have. I worried that maybe my lack of belief wouldn’t be as tolerated as I had assumed. My then ten year old niece knew I was atheist, and she told her friend. Her friend thought it was interesting, but when she told her mom, her mom suggested that she not talk to me anymore. I was offended, because it wasn’t as if I was trying to convert her daughter or something, I’ve never actually tried to convince someone that their belief in God is wrong, because I don’t think that it is, it’s just not something I can believe in. I came to the conclusion that her mom might have been under the impression that I worshipped Satan, which was laughable to me. For some reason, people seem to miss the fact that being atheist means I don’t believe, which means I can’t possibly worship Satan, because I don’t believe he exists. You can’t have God without Satan, and I don’t believe in either. Even though I was a bit miffed, I didn’t let it bother me, and for the next year or so, I avoided any possible conflict by avoiding the subject altogether.
One day, I was flipping through the radio. I heard something interesting on one of the Christian stations. They were talking about atheists, and being one, I was curious. The host and a guest speaker were saying that atheists really do believe in God, they just refuse to acknowledge Him because they want to be able to do bad things guilt free. Apparently, they had done a study, and most atheists were college boys who wanted to get up to “unsavory activities.” The guest speaker bragged that he had a single sentence that he could say to an atheist to make them believe in God. I had never heard a more ridiculous, arrogant, or ignorant statement. Everything he said made me angrier. I started to worry if this was how most Christians saw atheists, and I was outraged. Every atheist or agnostic that I have ever met believed the way they did because they had been let down in their life, or were horrified by what the world was, or just didn’t believe it was logical. None of them had been faking so they wouldn’t have to worry about being punished for their sins. I’m a relatively good kid, I get good grades, I’ve never done drugs or alcohol, I don’t get into fights with anyone but my sister, and I want to be a librarian. I’ve never needed the threat of fire and brimstone to help me make the right decisions and be a good person, so I’m not entirely sure how I would fit into that “study.” I really hope that those men were the minority, and not the majority, and that they weren’t voicing the opinions of every Christian, because they had one scenario, and it was dead wrong as far as I’m concerned. I hated how they made me realize that some people aren’t okay with what I believe, even though we live in a country where we have the choice to our own religion, which includes having no religion at all.
When people try to get me to believe in God, I’m a little annoyed, but at least I understand it. It’s something they feel strongly about, and to them it’s the only right answer. But when people are hostile toward me, and start making assumptions about me when they have no idea the kind of person I am, I get upset. While I don’t believe in any higher power, I know that religion is something that is vital and valuable to others and should be preserved. I have always respected religion, and it’s agitating that others can’t respect my beliefs, which is why I hope that this one opinion about atheists is not a common one.