Three years ago today, I announced to the world that I’m an atheist.
Today, it’s difficult to relate how worried I was about the announcement. Throughout 2014, as I steadfastly wrote about my conclusion, I had regular conversations with my wife about whether I should make it public. I knew that if I made the announcement, there would be questions. And I knew what most of those questions would be, so I attempted to answer them within the webpages that explain my position. When I finally decided to publish, I even created a webpage explaining why — lest anyone misunderstand.
Unable to entirely keep the secret, I wrote several poems during 2014 that would have been revealing to a discerning reader. The first was That Never Shone, in May. Others contained hints. Then in September, Refine referred to the work I was creating. In October, I outright said I was rebuilding my worldview, and: “It won’t be long before my secret’s out.” I referred to religion as a “monster in my mind”. In January 2015, I was finished, but still not ready to announce that I was an atheist.
How is it possible that I was 42 years old and afraid to tell friends and family that I no longer believed in unsubstantiated ancient myths?
Looking back, my fears were only partially justified. Most people didn’t respond at all. A few fellow atheists offered encouraging words. A few longtime online friends told me they too were atheists. My still-religious wife stood behind me one hundred percent, and when I asked her to proofread my webpages she called the writing “epic”. Another friend called it “spectacular” and “one of the most comprehensive, logical, honest and genuine attempts at this type of work”. A longtime Christian friend commented on Facebook: “my… understanding of my own imperfections compels me to not stand in judgment of you… I support you no matter what.” Via private email, I learned of another closet atheist among my close real-life circles, which was encouraging.
But then came the “sad” comments — “I’m sad to hear this”, “This made me sad”, and “I can’t ‘like’ this.” The worst response came in an email with a six-point numbered list of terse statements. The first two points called me a liar — claiming I still do believe in God. The third claimed the person was praying for me. The fourth point said my “super-intelligence” was a “detriment” in this matter. The last two points said they were “grieved” and that they loved me.
That was the worst of it.
It turned out that 2016 politics were more divisive between my family and I than was my 2015 announcement of atheism.
In the intervening three years, I’ve occasionally added new pages to that section of my website — including the lengthy Why There Almost Certainly Is No God — and I have repeatedly updated the original pages, correcting spelling and grammar errors, updating links, adding new information, adjusting phrases, etc.
Despite what it might look like from the other side of this blog, I don’t think about atheism or politics twenty-four hours a day. In fact, I’m entirely certain that I’d rather not think of either one ever again. Life has a way of forcing both topics to the surface fairly often.
I’d like to think that 10 years from now, the topic will rarely-if-ever arise. But I know it will. Because my children will be teenagers then. Because I live in Texas. Because everyone in my family (except me and one other) is still religious.