Monday, September 5, 2011

The Loneliness of the "A" Word

("Atheist" that is.)

Just a few months ago, I was still in the phase where my journal says things like:

All my questioning isn't to leave behind Christianity... that's not what I want to do. I want to go deeper, to ask every question, look under every rock.

The choice is clear: I accept the Bible as the basis for my spirituality and remain "in dialog" with and around it, remaining "a Christian." Or I reject the Bible's authority and sacred status, meaning I can't call myself a Christian. I definitely want the former. I hope I'm able to do it. I can't imagine leaving Christianity.

I'm starting to accept that there are many paths to God, not just the "Christian" path. I don't have to put down others' beliefs in order to fully embrace my own. I don't have to be judgmental. I can just celebrate life and God.

I know there is a powerful purpose in prayer.

Can you see how hard I was struggling to remain a Christian? I thought I'd just widen my beliefs. I thought I would become more "progressive" and refuse to be judgmental. I already had liberal beliefs about things like heaven, hell, the resurrection, gays, sex outside marriage, etc. But I was still determined to stay a Christian.

During that time, I tried to talk to three of my girlfriends about this spiritual revolution I was going through. I said over and over, "I'm still a Christian, don't worry!" But it was impossible to share my thoughts without them becoming sincerely worried about me.

Now that my journey has progressed to embracing the "A" word, I don't feel like I can talk to them about it at all. It feels lonely.

You're probably thinking, "You should just tell them. If they're your friends, they'll accept you. If they can't accept you, then you're better off without them - they're not true friends."

But life's more complicated than that, right? These are my BFFs. The ones I envision rocking on the front porch with, 40 years from now, when we break down and buy those Cracker Barrel rockers (and all our husbands are gone, of course). These are the friends I have margaritas with as often as possible. Or coffee when happy hour's not possible. I've worked years to cultivate and build these relationships, and they mean everything to me. I don't easily consider jeopardizing them.

Would they still accept me? Absolutely. But they'd be scared for me, and worried about me. They'd pray for me. They'd waste all kinds of time and emotional energy fretting about my soul. In all of this, they'd be sincere and full of loving concern.

Can you see how I wouldn't want to allow that?

They also might feel kind of unsafe around me. Maybe some of them would feel they couldn't be friends with me because they're afraid of my influence rubbing off on them. They'd be truly frightened. And sad. They'd be so sad!

I don't want to make my friends sad.

Since this is all so new to me, I'm fine remaining in the closet for now. Maybe I'll figure out how to do this. Or get some new friends or something. I just can't cause these friends this kind of pain right now. I'm overwhelmed dealing with my own stuff! Maybe in the future I can talk about it.

But not now.

How did you deal with your friends? Have you lost any over your atheism?


  1. No one commented on this?! Well, allow me.

    I am getting the impression we had very similar leaving the faith experiences. I, too, thought that digging deeper and searching further would only make my view of God richer and more holistic. I was genuinely sad when that wasn't what happened. Sad until I realized it was really okay.

    I came out to my closest friends almost immediately. I'd been struggling with the doubt for so long, and my closest friends knew that. They didn't quite know the depths of it, and they were quite concerned the way yours are when you "go too far." Realizing I wasn't a Christian anymore was sort of a light bulb realization for me.

    I was able to tell my friends because I just finished college, and I don't live near any of my good friends anymore. I told all of them over the phone. One Christian friend actually told me she was happy I'd made this decision because she knew how much trying to have faith tore me to pieces. She saw how unbearable the cognitive dissonance was for me.

    It's hard to tell if some of my friends don't contact me because we don't live near each other or because I'm now the "A" word (yeah, it still sounds kinda dirty to me, too). I just kind of hope for the former.

    As for telling my family, I just did that recently. It's been hard. I basically can't talk to my mom about anything but surface stuff, and I know she's agonizing over the idea of me going to hell. My sisters are upset, and my former pastor dad is confused. It's kind of a mess, but we're all working through it. They all promise to love me unconditionally, so I hope to see that promise fulfilled.

    I know that telling your friends will be hard, but not telling them is a disservice to your trust in their friendship. No, you won't connect with them on a spiritual level anymore, but real friends are real friends. Love is love. If anything, this will challenge them in their own understanding of what it means to love. I think it would be good all around. Painful and awkward at first, but ultimately good.

  2. Perhaps I can channel Dan Savage for a moment and suggest that it gets better. I'm not so naive as to think everyone gets over it but I came out gradually over a long period to my family and friends.

    I know there's been some consternation and upset. And perhaps by moving at about the time I became an Atheist I avoided many of the hard conversations. In the end though those who I really care about still care about me and accept my lack of faith.

    That, I think, is how it gets better in most cases. Gradually family comes to realize that you're still the same person you always were and that they love you regardless of your beliefs.

    p.s. tried logging in why my wordpress account but it just kept failing.

  3. You're not alone in being cautious about telling your friends about walking away from Christianity. I have best friends that I have been reluctant to tell about my embracing the A word as you call it. They know I'm no longer active in the Church but they think it's because of some problems we had with the youth group leaders. To be honest that was an out I used to walk away from the Church. I wish I had an answer for you as how to handle it but I'm still struggling with it as well. I just wanted to tell you that you're not alone.

  4. Your journal reads very much like mine. My bible also is a progression of non-faith. Someday my children (who left their inherited religion behind long before I did) will find a crazy road map from staunch believer through questioning wonderer to 'how-did-I-ever-believe-this? agnostic. Yeah, I'm still not to atheist, altho I tried it on. Just didn't fit. Yet.
    I wouldn't recommend sharing any of this w/ your bff's. I did with one, and I am sorry I did. There is a gulf between us now. She is also a relative, and I doubt now that she can keep it to herself. I'm sure she diligently prays for me, but I also sense she doesn't want to talk with me as much as she used to. I hope time will change things, but I know from experience on the other side that a person's Christianity defines who she is. So it's hard to relate with one who isn't -- unless you are in evangelistic mode, of course.
    All that to say, I won't be sharing with anyone else as long as things are as they are. There's just no common ground. Good luck and thanks again for your blog. It's my favorite.

  5. I just recently breathed myself into "agnostic" from "doubting, struggling, fighting like hell Christian" and I haven't told anybody. I want to, so badly, because I don't want to go to church or pray or fake such a pivotal life-point. But it would break my parents' hearts, no question. They would still love me, I'm sure, but they would be so so unbearably sad that I just couldn't deal with it.

  6. i told them all and was so easy to let go of them. i craved to get back to my world i had before and to my non christian friends. i am struggling to tell my non christian friends that i am coming back to church now, i don't want them to know. i don't want to be religious, i don't want anything to do with faith, but i don't know how to stop. i envy you...