I recently met a young woman online who is about to go off to college. She is a recent deconvert and made the decision to “out” herself in her home. As is common, the experience was less than stellar for her. And she recently linked me to an article she wrote describing what it’s been like. I loved her story and asked if it would be all right to share it for the benefit of other young people in similar situations. Fortunately she agreed. So, without further delay, Emily’s story:
With a mere twelve days left before I leave home for college, I’ve finally come to the frustrating, yet incredibly sad realization that I cannot express my beliefs without being attacked by members of my family, and some of my friends. I’ve realized that I cannot simply live without being quietly or not so quietly judged by the people who are meant to be my comforters and supporters. I am normally quiet and passive when it comes to my beliefs because I am afraid of conflict, and I feel outnumbered. But I can no longer sit back and be trampled. I can’t just cater to everyone around me. I have to be confident enough to defend myself to everyone around me, because I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not.
Tonight, as I sat quietly at the dinner table with my mother and younger brother David, my brother suddenly brought it to my mother’s attention that I was overheard talking on the phone about something with which she did not agree. I had been on the phone the day before with a friend of mine who happens to be atheist, and we were discussing our opinions on current world events. This triggered an onslaught of verbal abuse from my mother, who said that ever since I became an atheist, I am now selfish, “troubled”, coldhearted, and that I see the world from twisted perspective. David, at the wise and all-knowing age of fifteen, feels that my atheist friend Jordan is a bad influence on me, and, in a nazi-like manner, he feels that he must inform my mother at all times of any sort of liberal or atheist talk on my part. He informed my mother that my facebook page is filled with atheist propaganda, and at that, my mother flew off the handle, yelling, “Is that true, Emily? Do you really have atheist things all over your facebook?!” Ha, first of all, I don’t think I have ever posted anything particularly “atheist” or abrasive, because, like I said, I fear conflict, and a part of me has always been afraid to stir up trouble, or displease anyone. Until now. Second of all, even if I did have atheist posts all over my profile, is there supposed to be some sort of crime in that? When I told my mother this, her response was, “Well it just doesn’t look good, and that’s not all you are.” Of course that’s not all am. Being an atheist is only a tiny fraction of who I am as a person, and I find it sick and sad that my loved ones are willing to write me off and harshly judge me simply because I’m an atheist. My father, an abnormally quiet and passive man, who seriously never contributes to any conversation, decided tonight would be the night to jump in and tell me that even if I am an atheist, I don’t need to parade it around. Parade it around? I’m pretty sure 90% of people who read this have no idea that I’m an atheist. He said “I have plently of friends who don’t believe, but that doesn’t mean they tell anyone about it.” So apparently my dad feels that its okay if I’m an atheist, as long as I don’t make it known to anyone. My older brother has also attacked me numerous times, in front of guests as well as behind my back, about my choice in atheist friends, because he feels I am “easily manipluated.” Apparently everyone just thinks I’m stupid, when in reality, I’ve given this subject more thought and consideration than any of them combined.
Let me just say that even though my family claims to be catholic, they have not attended mass since I quit going to church a few months ago. I was the one who always encouraged my family to go to church. And when they didn’t, I would go alone. I was the one who believed it all. So if none of these people in my family truly know about or believe in catholicism, why are they so quick to pounce on me for being an atheist?
I was once very catholic. I graduated from a small, all- girls catholic high school. I attended weekly youth group, and mass. I went on countless retreats and ACTS retreats. I attended many candlelight ceremonies, rosaries, and “see you at the pole”’s. I was a eucharistic minister, I was in the liturgical choir, and attended Catholic HEART workcamp for three consecutive summers. I prayed the rosary in my car on the way to school. I was a group leader for middle school and high school kids. Most of my volunteer work was done through my church. I loved God. I did everything. You cannot say that I was a half baked catholic. And yet, somehow, I changed.
I took a world religions class, I had my first real open minded conversations with many different people about religion, and humanity, and life in general. I read new books, and I watched new videos and debates and documentaries. I spent many hours (and many sleepless nights) agonizing over what it was that I truly believed in. Most importantly, I used my own rationale, and my own original thoughts. And then one day I made a conscious decision to gradually leave my church. And it was very difficult to leave behind many people at church whom I knew loved me and wanted the best for me. But I couldn’t be a part of something I no longer believed in. And for some reason that blows people’s minds. People can’t fathom how or why a person would make such a 180 degree change.
The real problem is, my family can’t figure out why I don’t want to be around them. They don’t understand why I have no respect for them. They want to blame it on the fact that I’m an atheist now, and that it must be because my atheist friend is a bad influence on me, they assume he must be constantly whispering in my ear and telling me to hate my family. The truth is, I have real, personal reasons for disliking them, and being an atheist has nothing to do with it.
I was once told that atheists have “a certain anger in their hearts”. Yes, I am angry. I’m fucking angry that being an atheist is somehow the equivalent to being a monster. I’m angry that something this trivial has to be blown way out of proportion. I’m sick and tired of having people talk about me behind my back, and make judgements about my choice of friends. I’m tired of being told that I’m “troubled” or “easily manipulated,” I’m angry that people think I should be ashamed of myself. As if I am somehow automatically set beneath other people because I am an atheist.
Apart from being angry, I’m simply disappointed in people. I thought I had stronger relationships than this. I thought my loved ones were more open minded than this. I thought people loved and cared more about me than to treat me like some kind of diseased person.
In case you were wondering, I’m not a monster at all. I’m a nineteen year old girl about to go to college. I’m sensitive and I’m shy. I like poetry and french movies. I’m a decent human being who cares about other human beings. And the truth is, even if I pretended otherwise, I would be hurt if anyone decided to cut me out of his or her life just for my religious preferences.
For an example of what Emily has been dealing with at home, I will share what some of her siblings offered in the comments section of her article. I can only assume this type of abuse is acceptable in her home, as her siblings seem to hold nothing back.
Her younger brother’s first post read, in full: “All of y’all are fucking retarded.”
Later when I commented, her other brother hurled back this misogynistic abuse defending the other brother: “Hes not stupid, anybody that knows him (Jordan and Emily included) will tell you that. What’s stupid is insulting a 15 year old who you dont even know, you leathery old twat.”
There was much more–and all quite ugly. I’m amazed Emily has come out of this able to think clearly, not reacting herself in an abusive fashion, and still loving and regarding her family despite how religion has torn them, so obviously as her brothers’ demonstrate, apart.
Best of luck, young lady!