Happy Secular Sunday everyone!
Coming Out and Coming up With Labels for Ourselves
When I came out to my mother as an Atheist, she refused to accept the term.
“You’re a Humanist!” she kept telling me.
At the time I had just begun to identify with the fact that I absolutely did not believe in a god, and I hated the word agnostic in particular because it is so often a cop-out to admitting ones true beliefs, or lack thereof. I wasn’t even very familiar with humanism yet, but I hated how human-centric the label sounded (I also care deeply about animals and the environment, not just people… ).
It angered me to be labeled by her as something that I didn’t identify with.
I kept spitting back at her, “No mom, I am not a Humanist, I’m an Atheist! That is just what I am!”
My mother grew up in, and was scarred by, a fundamentalist Christian household. She now considers herself to be non-religious (though she likes to go to church for the singing) or agnostic. We now generally agree that we both do not believe in the God that Christians believe in. Together we are non-believers.
She feels safer using the terms agnostic, or non-religious. So do I – and that makes me angry.
The bottom line is that the term atheist scares her because it upsets people. She worries about her children and she worries that I will be harmed by society if I come out as an atheist. No worries there mom! I’m still very much in the closet. But what burns me up is that she is so fearful of the negative consequences of using that term that she is reluctant to let me use it in private discourse with her!
When I had my first coming out conversation with a childhood friend who I knew to be agnostic she also shied away from the term atheist. When she told me she was definitely agnostic and “spiritual but not religious” I inwardly rolled my eyes. She has since been able to admit to me in private discussion that she is atheist, but she’d never announce it publicly.
As of yet neither will I.
It is an interesting path to be on, that seeks to go a step beyond being non-religious. Being non-religious or agnostic is not enough for some of us – those terms are for people who continue about their lives without ever giving much thought to the whole issue of god/no god. Not a day goes by without me contemplating the universe without god and my place in it – as well as my right to assert such things in public and the fears that prevent me from doing so.
I’m consumed daily with the contradictory quests to reclaim the word Atheist with the hope that it eventually will no longer be a bad word, as well as to find other terms that also describe me, in addition to, or possibly better than Atheist.
This quest makes me rub up against another word that my fellow Atheists and Skeptics severely reject: Spiritual.
I will examine this more closely in my next post.