Why “Atheist?”

Some of this information used to be on my about me page, but my circumstances have changed somewhat since I published it, and I want to keep everything up to date.

When I started this blog, I was partially out to my parents, but not completely. I had admitted to them that I no longer identified as Catholic, and was having serious issues with Christianity too. I never said I didn’t believe in God, even though I knew I didn’t. I did this mostly out of consideration of how they would take the news. I then explained that I had no plans to continue attending mass, and even (politely) gave specific reasons for this. They responded, “Well Nan, regardless of what you believe, you have to set a good example for your siblings.” According to them, “setting a good example” included continuing to attend mass and practicing Catholicism as long as I live under their roof. They argued that it wouldn’t make sense to my younger siblings (aged 14 and 18) if I ceased to attend mass. Which is complete bullshit. They’re teenagers. They can handle it.

Then, after a few months of this, I admitted to my parents that I was an atheist. Not just non-Catholic, and non-Christian, not just questioning God’s existence, but a full blown non-believer. And guess what? They never talked to me about it, but on the next Sunday, I simply didn’t come to church, and they didn’t try to force me. This was a huge deal, since every Sunday before that they had simply expected me to attend, had insisted that I go, and acted as if I was a horrible person any time I managed to evade mass, which didn’t happen often, but still. I still get worried every Sunday that I’m going to be dragged there again, but my parents haven’t asked me if I’m going like they used to. They seem to have accepted that I’m not, and I appreciate that. As a young adult, I believe I have the right to make this decision for myself, and I choose not to waste my time on a being I don’t believe in. There was a lot of shouting when I came out, and I had to take a lot of accusations like “You hate God,” and “You just don’t know Him,” none of which are true. But when the shouting was over, everyone went back to going about their lives, and that’s what I intend to do too.

Now, there is a strong negative reaction to the word “atheist” among believers, and I think that’s partially due to the many rumors that have been spread about us. Growing up, I sometimes heard we’re “of the devil,” or have no morals, both of which are ridiculous claims (most atheists do not believe in the devil any more than we believe in God. Not to mention, morality does not have to come from religion). But here’s the thing: atheist is simply a word for a person who is not a theist. It just means, and I’m quoting a dictionary here, “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” More specifically for me, I am an agnostic atheist. I’m agnostic, because I don’t claim to know for sure whether or not there is a God, but also atheist, because I simultaneously do not believe in one, as I do not think there is valid evidence to support that belief, and suspect there can never be. Wikipedia explains this stance pretty clearly:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic_atheism

I came to this conclusion after a great deal of thought, research, and personal experience in a religion. While there are gentler labels for the position I hold, such as “non-theist,” and “humanist,” I prefer to use the one the general public recognizes. This is partially for purposes of clarity, but also because I think people are more likely to respond to someone who calls him or herself an atheist than to someone who simply identifies as a non-believer. The harshness of the word encourages reaction, discussion, and questions. I like that. I want other people to think, research, and ask questions too. I don’t care what conclusion they come to, but I’d like it if other people were willing to question their faith, because we live in a world where information is constantly at our fingertips. Why shouldn’t we use it? Why shouldn’t we think critically? Why shouldn’t we make sure that whatever we believe to be true is actually true?  That’s where I stand on this for now, but I’ll keep this page updated.

As always, happy thinking!

-Nancy

16 thoughts on “Why “Atheist?”

  1. Catholics think atheists are “of the devil,” too? I thought we Protestants were the only ones who thought like that. 🙂

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    • Thank you for your comments! Not all Catholics think that, but some do. There’s definitely some sharing of ideas that occurs between denominations. I think that particular idea stems from the misconception that atheists are against God, rather than simply lacking belief in one, and unfortunately that’s a pretty common misconception.

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    • Where I’m from (upper midwest) catholics do indeed believe nonbelievers are possessed by the devil. In fact that was the reason all my catholic friends and family dumped me as soon as I came out as an atheist…I was an “instrument of the devil” and they risked their eternal souls by “communing” with me. In my church they actively teach atheists are demon possessed, as are a variety of other people (homosexuals, women who have abortions, divorced people, etc).

      I’m relieved Nancy says not all catholics believe that, as I assumed it was standard operation procedure.

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      • Not surprised. My original fundamentalist church pretty much taught the same thing! Thanks for sharing!

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      • I’m so sorry to hear that that happened to you. That must be very difficult to deal with. If at any point you feel like venting to another deconverted former Catholic, go for it. I don’t mind at all.

        I’m from the northern east coast and a blue state, so it’s possible that I’ve experienced a more liberal form of Catholicism (though if asked, they’d definitely insist that there is only ONE church and no variation in church teachings at all). I find it interesting that your church preached that way, as I associated that more with fundamentalism, but I also think what you were taught might (oddly enough) make more sense than the Catholicism I grew up with. I was taught to love the sinner and hate the sin in the case of gay people, abortion, etc, and that caused a lot of double think. It meant I was very angry about what the people in those groups were doing, and hated their every action, but had to somehow find it in my heart to care about them deeply as human beings. In hindsight, that resulted mainly in fear, confusion, and deep-seated misunderstanding of what the people in those groups are like.

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  2. I really appreciate your story, by the way. I’m pleased to hear that your parents respected your decision, and I’m equally pleased that you had the courage to stand up to them about your unbelief.

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  3. Nancy, I’ve been having a lot of fun reading your blog, and am really weired out that we were taught some very different things, even though (as you said) there is supposed to be only One True Church. I’ve been trying to figure out which one of us had the stricter version of catholicism, but it’s a mixed bag as far as I can tell.

    About half our church was what I think you referred to as “tridentine” catholics (though at the time I didn’t know that word). My family was not tridentine though, which I think was because my mom decided to use birth control…a big no-no. Our church had many latin masses in addition to regular masses, and I attended both.

    The main difference I had from you was that I attended public school because catholic school cost too much money…and let me tell you, public school “poisoned” my mind plenty. In fact I had many gay friends and that was my first experience of cognitive dissonance…I liked my gay friends, but they were condemned by the church, which I thought very unfair. I also had plenty of friends whose parents were divorced, and some of my girlfriends had abortions. I learned about creationism in school, but of course my parents told me it was a bunch of crap. So at least I had some secular experiences that you did not, which made my adjustment to adulthood easier. Being homeschooled from catholic texts alone as you were, well, I think that would be a total disaster…I understand how you could have had some problems when you went away to college.

    The idea that you were taught “hate the sin, love the sinner” is shocking to me….it sounds like an extremely liberal and protestant teaching, and my jaw is on the floor that that is how you learned it. So in that sense my church upbringing was super strict and fundamentalist…it’s hate the sin AND hate the sinner around here.

    Your blog is very eye-opening for me and I’m so glad we’ve had a chance to connect!

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    • I’m starting to delve into your blog too and I see what you’re talking about. This is very, very interesting. I’ve been working on and off for a while now on a page dealing with variation within Catholicism, mostly focusing on the difference between the traditionalist or tridentine Catholics and what I believed to be the more mainstream, more liberal version I mostly encountered. I keep having trouble explaining it in ways that will be easy to understand, but now I’m starting to wonder whether there are some regional differences too. That your church had elements of both makes me wonder if some parts of the country are just more traditionalist. At your church, was it common for women to wear the chapel veil (mantilla)? At mine, I only ever saw one or two women who wore it, sometimes none in a given mass.

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      • I too am beginning to think there must be significant regional differences (I would not have guessed that before meeting you). About half our women wore the veil in sunday mass…but in the latin masses, my mom and I were the only ones without veils. I remember my grandma wore the veil. I didn’t understand the reasons for this at the time, but after reading your posts, I think we had a large tridentine population in my area. They had the super conservative clothes and each couple had at least 15 kids.

        I wonder if birth control started this division in the church (though no one would probably admit it!)? I don’t know what your church taught about birth control, but it was strictly forbidden at mine. When I was a kid about half the members ignored that ruling, and since I became an adult, I’d say the vast majority of members didn’t follow that law. But it’s still law that you can’t use birth control. *sigh*

        It’s also possible our ages come into play here. I’m 41 and my particular catholic church has been around for many generations…perhaps as a younger catholic you attended a newer, more modern/liberal catholic church? Just throwing out guesses here!

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      • I really need to finish this page on the differences because I do know where the split occurred between traditional Catholics and the type of Catholicism I grew up with. In short, it’s the result of Vatican II, which changed the way the mass was said in ways that traditional Catholics did not accept. Mass used to always take place in Latin, and the priest used to face the altar, facing away from the congregation, but neither of those things happen at my family’s church. There were stricter rules for communion too, among other things. (You couldn’t receive the host in your hand, only on your tongue. Both are acceptable at the church I went to).

        The church’s stance on birth control is definitely consistent through both forms of Catholicism though. My parents firmly believe that natural family planning is the only acceptable way to avoid pregnancy, so I’m amazed I don’ t have more than two siblings. They do not use birth control, and are also against condoms (“spilling seed” is forbidden. See Genesis 38:9-10) It is very possible that other churchgoers at my family’s parish use birth control though, as the average family size is 2-4 kids. I knew some larger families, but not many there. There ware way more families with 6-12 kids in the Tridentine groups I met.

        Age though, could play a role. My parents remember a time when the decisions of Vatican II hadn’t yet begun to affect the mass (If I understand correctly, it happened gradually, not all at once), so they remember the Latin. My understanding of the decisions of Vatican II is that they weren’t planning to affect the mass as widely as they did. They were just trying to allow for it to sometimes take place in a more accessible form. But of course, people like being able to understand what’s going on during the mass so I’m not surprised it caught on.

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      • I see vatican II took place from 1962-1965. I was born in 1973, and my church holds both traditional masses and latin masses to this day. I’m somewhat surprised that as a catholic you weren’t taught about the latin mass (and were forced to attend some)…but yes, it totally makes sense that people want to understand what is being said in their native language. Again I find this interesting and somewhat shocking that younger generations aren’t being taught a thing about how the old mass was performed. Veeeerrrrrry interesting!

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      • Yeah, the only reason I knew about it was because of the homeschooling group I was involved with. The church really doesn’t make much of an effort to teach people that it comes in (albeit only slightly compared to Protestantism) different forms, though I’m sure they just want to avoid seeming divided in any way.

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  4. One more thing about the veil… I should clarify that when I was a KID, half the women wore veils. I haven’t seen a single veil in the last 15 years at a regular sunday mass. We still have latin masses though too, and almost all the women cover their heads for that.

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    • It sounds to me like your church is like some that I’ve visited in New York and some parts of the south, that embraces both traditions, and has two different types of congregations: the stricter, and the less strict. Latin mass has a much older culture (possibly an older congregation age wise, I’d imagine, though I have never actually attended one), while the novus ordo, or ordinary mass that I was used to, is the result of Vatican II.

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      • I think in my family, we’d be considered the stricter form of catholicism on everything…except for birth control, which my mother took because a doctor told her another baby would paralyze her (she had spine damage from an accident). While your family might have been considered “less strict,” your parents certainly were pretty devout, particularly if they stuck with natural family planning. So we have an interesting mix of catholicism between us. So much for One True Church!

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