It happens every year. A new year invites people to set goals for themselves, regardless of their prior history with the practice. Some people do keep them, and by year’s end can proudly say they stuck to their will and carried out their ideas from fruition to completion (in some shape or form). Others have renewed devotion at the start that eventually dwindles down to nothing in the span of months or weeks, perhaps even days after January 1st for some reason or another.
I used to set resolutions for myself at the start of the new year, and more often than not I ended up falling into the second category of well-meaning individuals whom I previously described. At some point, I realized that such a list was not the way to go, even if it was the primary method of organization I see dividends from in other areas of my life. So much could happen within the year that I grew worried about external circumstances changing the course of my journey. This time around in the second week of the new year, I think I have figured out a way around this problem: create and attend to one serious resolution—something I can stick to in terms of the majority, so even if I don’t do absolutely everything, I can still end the year and say I accomplished something.
My resolution? Learn more about my nonreligious identity, and how to navigate with it in my daily life.
For those of you who saw the notification for this post because you follow me on Facebook, you may already be well aware that I do not subscribe to religion. A former Nondenominational Christian, I have called myself an atheist for a couple of years by this point (I can’t remember the actual year I decided to begin what some may call “deconversion.”). Before I was sure of this new identity, I made sure to engage in research to inform my decision. I have heard complaints about atheists from those who subscribe to religion to some degree, saying that they chose atheism for a “stupid reason” (ex.: One prayer or series of prayers weren’t answered; they didn’t get what they wanted from God, etc.), or that the atheist(s) in question wasn’t a genuine believer to begin with. This was why I wanted to find out more about what it meant to be an atheist before I decided to call myself one, too. I wanted to be able to know that I made this decision in an informed and serious manner, and that I wasn’t seeking out any ol’ reason to throw away my years of religious devotion. In fact, it was a hard decision and a very difficult journey I undertook that eventually resulted in “deconverting” (I will continue to put quotes around this word and its various forms, since I’m not sure how many people actually use the term in casual speech.) I wanted to be completely sure that I wanted to take this path, or if there was another path I was better suited for. I did know one thing, though: a complete and unwavering continuation of a religious belief and lifestyle was definitely not for me.
I often see posts about religion from friends and family. They thank God for success and express understanding in His will when things don’t go exactly according to their plan. He is an absolute and almighty force in their lives, and this resolution of mine is by no means undertaken to compete or denounce what makes them happy. I have chosen to undertake this journey into my identity and keep a public record of it for accountability because (to the best of my knowledge) having a religion in the United States has been the preferred state of living. Anyone who had doubts or claimed disbelief were called troubled, misguided, confused, and all other manner of pity-driven language. At the most severe, people have been punished for not subscribing to the religion of the majority. This country prides itself on diversity, but sometimes it seems that diversity is criminalized at the same time. In other words, the United States welcomes people of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds, but when they get here their differences are scrutinized and made the object(s) of public judgement. I undertake this resolution to make sense of why this is so, and how the phenomenon can be redirected into kindness and respect for all people. I see reposts and testimonies about the Christian god on Facebook every day, but it would be lovely to see more people proclaim that they are proudly nonreligious, should that apply to them.
Consideration of a nonreligious lifestyle should not be taboo, but instead be regarded as a journey of knowledge and open-mindedness. I also want to strive to be less inflammatory and more informed, which may inevitably lead me to remove my following from non-religious pages that I follow. The beauty and flaw about being a part of the nonreligious is that there is no set of rules to abide by (again, to my present knowledge). In my observations, it’s one of the core appeals—people who may have been religious can enjoy a free system wherein they are encouraged to develop their own thoughts and beliefs about a variety of topics, instead of consuming information fed to them without further study. However, even nonreligious folk get into arguments about what X means or what Y actually posits against or for Z. Right now, I don’t feel like I have too many concrete things to pin to my own identity as an atheist, and I want to change that this year. I have a list of books that I have narrowed down—and will narrow down further later on—to order from Amazon when I have the chance. My love of reading is going to be key in carrying out this resolution, and from time to time I may post about what I learn. My sub-goal in this respect is to maintain a respectful, open-minded position sans bias, but also be true to my thoughts and opinions before reading a book. One criticism made about atheists in particular is that they all fall under the mindset that religion is a poison, or some similar sentiment. In my list, there is at least one book that holds this stance. I have listed it because I want to be open-minded within nonreligious points of view in addition to the divide between religious subscription and departure.
It took me a long while to tell classmates, a fair few of my friends, and especially my parents that I was an atheist, since most of these people knew I was once an ardent, self-proclaimed child of God. This procrastination was based on a fear that some people have more trouble with in other parts of the country, specifically those regions where religion has greater importance in various levels of community and government alike. I am aware that my revealing process was easier than it has and will be for others, and in that regard I hope to provide insight that makes the process less scary—or at least, more informed. In some places, coming out as nonreligious is considered to be just as scary as being anything but straight, which means people who have both of these secrets may lead lives ruled by a conglomerate fear. There is still a stigma surrounding atheists and the nonreligious, and by educating myself and undergoing a journey of self-discovery I hope to combat this in some way.
If for some reason you are a loved one in my life who honestly had no idea I am an atheist, this may serve as my “coming out.” I assure you that I am the same person you once met and grew to befriend, save for some newfound knowledge about myself. Just because I claim atheism to describe my set of thoughts and opinions regarding religion, it does not mean I am any less kind or less friendly. I have not become cruel without reason, and I am not completely against any point of view, even though I do not believe that there are religious deities at work in my life or yours. That’s all it means, and while not completely verbatim it is in part based on the definition of atheism. While you might think I’ve just contradicted yourself, engage in conversation with me on the topic and you will find that I am completely open to understanding why people follow a religion in a number of different disciplines. As long as you are open-minded with me, I will not be obstinate with you. The only limit is that I refuse to subscribe to religion. This does not mean I threw morals out the window or that I live a hedonistic, “sinful” lifestyle. Although my lack of religion may be “sinful” to you in and of itself, I encourage you to ask yourself why a disconnect from religion automatically turns any nonreligious folks into unruly, destructive people. I remain a human being, and have been on the receiving end of peace in my inquiries and findings similar to what you testify experiencing within your faith (if you hold one).
I am aware that some may read this and not care if I am religious or not, and regard me as a friend regardless of this distinction. If this applies to you, I wholeheartedly thank you for your acceptance and continued friendship.
If you are nonreligious—“out” or not—I encourage further conversation on this topic with me if you should ever want to do so. Your fears, should they exist for you, are legitimate and understandable. I have experienced some version of this fear, and while our situations may not be identical, I reach out a helping hand. I am by no means an expert, and that’s not even the point of my resolution, but in my experience one of the first important steps to becoming comfortable with who you are is by engaging in some way with someone who holds these views (even it just means watching YouTube, which is the first thing I did; hearing stories from other “deconverted” individuals helped me understand my own reasons for making my decision).
So, here’s the TL;DR version: I am an atheist, and my only New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to educate myself about atheism and what it means to be an atheist so that I can navigate the world as an atheist confidently. This does not mean I aim to be an asshole to the religious. Rather, my aim is to develop my sense of self and gain insights that can aid me in the conversations I have with others (religious and nonreligious alike) on the topic.