It’s been difficult to be an open atheist in my society. I went into a profession dominated by religious men, and while it doesn’t interfere with the work we do, I’m often faced with smug Christians trying to prove their superiority. I am an atheist firefighter, the only one I know. And here’s why.
I started out as a Christian. Some evangelical branch, I’m not really sure which. Private school for eight years, which indoctrinated me but good. Went to church from time to time, but not as if my immortal soul depended on it. I was devout, just not…that devout.
I liked science and reading from the beginning, and luckily, my school provided good outlets for both those desires. My science was a little weak, which with the six thousand year time constraint for all of history, but I learned that the books on the forbidden list were the best to read, and my parents never let me want for reading material. It expanded my vocabulary, my grammar skills, and my mind.
High school was a public school for me, but I still called myself a Christian. I had a contempt already for the preachy kids, but I also had pity for the atheists. I thought of them as whiners, cry babies, or attention-seekers. I was content to believe my soul saved, and not really put in much work into improving my own character.
In college I was exposed to my first real atheist resources. In the form of Penn and Teller’s Bullshit, a show on Showtime. From there, I springboarded into Youtube, stumbling across Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, James Randi, and a whole cadre of atheist voices. Some were great to hear, some were painful, some were annoying, but each one chipped away at a shell of ossified belief. When it finally shattered, and I stood up to declare myself boldly atheist, it was amazing.
When I realized that there was nothing out there to redeem me, or tell me how to live, or that I needed to obey, I began to take true responsibility for myself. I sought to examine my thoughts and actions more carefully, and established a morality based on reason and humanity.
I wrestled (and still do to this day to some degree) with my sexual desires and shame, and took my first step on the long road to working through them. All that dogma had taught me that sex was sinful, shameful, and even if I was the “right” sexual orientation, I still needed to feel bad about what I wanted. It seems strange to me that I can reject the existence of a god, but the guilt of sex is still rooted deep in me.
After college, I went into emergency medicine, and then into firefighting. Firefighting is a culture steeped deeply in Christianity, and that wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for those who see my skepticism as a slap in their face. I’ve been told that I can’t be moral, that I shouldn’t be working in this field, that I can’t be trusted to have somebody’s back, all because I don’t believe in a magic man looking down on us. I’ve been told that I must believe, deep down, that I just want attention, or that I’m just an idiot. Been told to keep my opinions to myself, shut up, don’t rock the boat. If there are other atheists in my field, I haven’t met them. But that’s okay.
I am a moral man without a god because I do the best I can, with all of my strength, to help as many people as I possibly can. The fact that people don’t understand that I can do this without religion makes me shake my head. The fact that they get angry that I live happily with something they can’t imagine a life without makes me sad. But understand something: my brothers and sisters may scream and shout at me about beliefs, about lifestyles, about politics, about anything. In a firehouse, nothing is sacred. And no matter how angry or riled up we all get around the kitchen table, when the alarm goes off and somebody’s calling for help, we leave our beliefs behind and go to work. I know they have my back, and I hope they know I have theirs. In time, I hope to show them that you can be damned good without god.
The Atheist Firefighter