“Who are you?” The answer to that question can differ depending on your location, time, place and person. At a wedding, we answer that question in relation to the happy couple. “I am the groom’s friend.” “I am the bride’s cousin.” Or at our children’s events—in relation to our child. “I am Bob’s father.”
When taking a personality test, we respond with a set of letters like “ESTJ” that is supposed to provide meaning and insight regarding “Who am I?” Upon interacting with people, we constantly take mental inventory, checking off items, to better determine who the person is.
“Prefers vanilla over chocolate. Check.”
“Doesn’t like dogs. Check.”
“Doesn’t know the words to the song, but will sing loud and proud what they think the lyrics are. Check.”
For over 32 years, who I was consisted of being a Christian. It was a part of every molecule within my body. That meant I relied upon a God to direct my life. New Job? New Wife? New House? A God, somewhere in the cosmos, was intimately concerned and involved with each of those situations in my life.
I derived my morals from what I thought a God was saying—specifically the Protestant Bible. I searched out friends who held similar Christian beliefs, with similar morals, similar Christian goals, and similar Christian emotions. When moving to a new city, we immediately sought out a new church—why? To find others who answered, “Who am I?” in a comparative fashion. And the base foundation of kindred spirit would have to be that they are a Christian. Because this was core to who I was.
When I deconverted (it was four years ago I was in the process. Wow.), it is unremarkable I continued to desire the same relations with the same persons. Despite what you may read in the Christian papers—we don’t deconvert to begin a new life of crime, sin and immorality. We have much the same morals. The same concerns. The same guilt of breaching our moral code. It is no surprise, then, we would want to continue to associate with those who retained the same similarities.
Looking back, I shouldn’t be shocked that Christians wanted no part of this “new” association with me. I (as a Christian) wouldn’t have wanted an association with some new atheist. Atheists were immoral, grumpy, unlearned, anti-god, anti-good, anti-everything-I-wanted-to-be. In answer to the question “Who are you?” they were so far on the opposite end of the spectrum, we could hardly find common ground.
Each year, I go to my wife’s employment work party. There, people answer the question “Who are you?” in one of two fashions. Either you answer by what department you are in (“I am a nurse.”) OR you answer by your relation to the employee followed by what department they are in (“I am the husband of Diane, who is a nurse.”) So we sit at a large table with employees from various departments, and their relations. Nurse with nurse’s spouse. Occupational therapists with occupational therapist’s boyfriend. Secretary alone. And so on.
We have all been to such occasions. What do we do? Although there is only the slimmest commonality, we talk and laugh and joke and get along as best we can. Do we plan a get-together the following Saturday with the same people? Of course not! We return to the friends who are far more like us.
It is much the same level of interaction between Christians and atheists. We could get together for a time, share a few laughs; but in the end we would return back to our own kind. I watched my friends start to pull away from me. The Checklist of similarities just dropped “Christian”—such a huge part of their lives, they were no longer interested in associating with me.
I tried to continue with church, to keep the same friendships. It didn’t work. And not only because of Christians—I was no longer interested in the same subjects. I could only take “Yippee Jesus!” so long. The people wanted to revel in an inspired Bible, and I wanted to discuss why they thought it was inspired, why they thought Paul even wrote 2 Timothy, and their understanding of the compound Greek word which was translated “inspiration.”
So I did the natural thing we all do—looked for friendships amongst atheists. But I found I did not really fit in there, either. I was informed (sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much) how I had to be outraged at the label of “Christmas Tree” for the pine in front of our State Capitol. How a cement block with the 10 Commandments will over turn society as I know it. How “under God” within the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag is oppressive.
I understand these things are important to people…but not to me. My atheism is not dogmatically caught up in separation of Church and State. My atheism consists of being persuaded by the evidence there is no god.
To me, it is as remarkable as the fact I am equally not convinced in Big Foot, Yeti’s, or the Loch Ness Monster. When asked, “Who are you?” we rarely start proclaiming all the things we don’t believe.
“I am a person who thinks UFO’s are bunk.”
“I do not think 9/11 was a U.S. Governmental conspiracy.”
We tend to think of who we are in terms of what we believe—not what we don’t. I believe in living life to the fullest. I believe in enjoying moments, even tough moments, and appreciating them for what they are. I believe there is no such thing as learning too much. And that every person has something to teach.
Part of who I am is a person who loves to discuss Christianity on-line. I enjoy the interaction—the nuance, the new thoughts. I don’t bother in real life because it is too painful a reminder to those I would discuss. Here, on the internet, I think of myself in terms of a label of “atheist.” Because I am so rarely placed in situations where such a label is useful, I don’t as much when not on-line.
As a Christian, my theistic belief defined every element within my life. It defined how I lived, who I lived with, and who I wanted to spend time living with. My lack of theistic belief, I am finding, is less defining in those regards. My lack of theistic belief does not define my morals. It does not define my relationships with others. It doesn’t define who I am.
It says something about me—sure. But it doesn’t demand direction from me. I find it as noteworthy as my preference for carrot cake. I love carrot cake (no nuts; no raisins.) Yet my love for carrot cake does not force me to choose certain people to spend time with; it does not demand I act in certain ways. It means, given the chance, I prefer carrot cake. That’s all.
I don’t mind the label “atheist”—but that is all it is. Exterior. Limited in its use. And something that removed would not change the essence that is me.