Do I sit quietly or fight? I feel this is a question that’s been floating around in my brain for my whole life.
I grew up in the rural Midwest, and although my own family wasn’t very religious, I was completely surrounded by Christianity in our community. I didn’t consider myself an atheist growing up, but I sure as hell wasn’t a Christian like my neighbors and friends. I was a skeptic even as a kid and Christianity was the biggest, most annoying thorn in my side. I didn’t know what brainwashing meant back then, but I knew Bible stories were pretty ridiculous and I just couldn’t understand how anyone could believe them. There was obviously something wrong with me. At the time it felt like there was no escape and I would be looked down upon forever.
I went to public school and my education should have felt like a sanctuary, but people from where I’m from know that public school doesn’t mean secular. Religious posters donned the walls of many of our classrooms and many of our school functions began or ended with a prayer — the most visible being our football games.
This brings me to one of the proudest moments of my high school career. I was a senior and didn’t give a fuck. I knew I was getting the hell out of town when I left for college and the entire year my dad kept pleading with me, “just graduate!” I was in the marching band and decided to walk out of the stadium during the last prayer of the game. I was the beaming recipient of an after-school detention. I don’t really remember my parents saying anything to me about it. I probably just got another “just graduate!”
Like many wayward teenagers, I dabbled a bit in Wicca. The school guidance counselor called me to her office and questioned me when I came to school wearing a necklace with a pentagram on it. She said she just wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt anybody. Another trouble-making friend of mine got a Book of Shadows taken away from her at school.
I was a lot more vocal when I was younger.
Fast forward to now and I’m living in Toledo, Ohio — about forty miles from where I grew up — with a family of my own. I have many years of solid atheism under my belt but the stakes are higher now. I’m scared to speak out. I have a daughter and I have to think about my job. If I live openly as an atheist things could be a lot harder. Even though I grew up in the country and Toledo is a city, it’s still pretty conservative here. Ridicule and discrimination are real possibilities if I speak out against religion or reveal that I’m an atheist.
So, that question comes up again — do I sit quietly or fight?
Next month my poetry book will be released — it’s all about being an atheist mom in the Midwest. Having a book published feels like a pretty public admission of atheism, and I’ve decided if people around here find out about the book, I’ll let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I won’t be shouting from the rooftops of Toledo that I reject religion, but if it comes up — no more hiding. I’m an atheist.
(If you’re curious, my poetry book is called, Free to Roam: Poems from a Heathen Mommy, and will be released 2/2/21. It is for sale on my publisher’s site freethoughthouse.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.)