Several years ago, I had a friend who had begun to drift from the fold. He started dating a woman who *gasp* had a child out of wedlock AND wasn't religious. The relationship wasn't meant to be, but when said friend (we'll call him M) announced he was atheist a few short months later, the blame was shifted to this woman. Her brother said, "I warned him that she was bad news." The woman wasn't exactly the most stable person, but from what I can tell, her brother thought she was bad news because she was not a Christian. A mutual friend said she just knew something was "off" about the relationship. Rumors swirled and R began to distance himself from his Christian friends. A lot of newly deconverted do this as being preached at isn't exactly what one wants to hear from people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. My only request to M was that he not treat me like I was an idiot for still believing in God. Even as a Christian, I had given up so many of my fundy beliefs and considered myself to be fairly rational, so although I was very accepting of his atheism, my only fear was that he would have some kind of intellectual superiority complex. What I didn't know, what none of us bothered to ask, was whether he was okay. His deconversion process was rather quick and it left him in a very dark place. Depressed and suicidal, he had to start going to counseling over the loss of his faith. It was really rough for him because he had wrapped up much of his identity in his religion. The loss of which threw his entire being into question. Although, I could certainly have been a better friend at this point, I wasn't a bad friend as I never tried to preach to him nor was I accusatory. My thought process was, this is my friend, Christian or not.
But M needed distance and Christians were no longer a part of his in-group. He began attending atheist meet-up groups, something I am a bit jealous of now since my husband would be very non-supportive of this. He found a woman who shared similar views. They got married. We talked every now and then via instance messenger and whatnot, but it was at best, an old friend turned acquaintance. Then I deconverted. And he was my ONLY friend that I knew who was an actual atheist. None of this agnostic, kind of spiritual, not really sure bullshit that half my friends have. So I told him. He listened. And confessed that he really had just cut ties with me because he assumed that he already knew how I felt and what I believed. I confessed to him that by the time he deconverted, I had already moved into a very liberal form of Christianity and believed more than half of the Bible had been mythologized. It's also why I was so understanding of his atheism, because I too had doubts. We chatted a bit more.
Today I was in my hometown visiting with friends and asked if he wanted to catch up over lunch. He agreed. Unknown to me, his wife is one of the jealous types who freaks out about men and women being friends so he showed up super tired because wife had kept him up until 1 in the morning fighting with him about going to lunch with me. The only way she "allowed" is was for him to reassure her that my husband was coming. Unknown to him, my husband needed a break and had no intention of leaving our couch that day. Folks, if you are reading this and you are the type who gets jealous, then I'm telling you right now that you have some control and trust issues and you should get some help for that. I can understand if your spouse has cheated on you, but if they have been friends for a long time, you're just being an asshole for trying to control that situation. I have known this guy since I was 17. I was never interested in him romantically and if I had been, I had plenty of opportunities to pursue that option had I wanted to. I did not. M is a nice guy, but not my kind of guy. Contrary to some people's opinions, men and women can be platonic friends simply because you enjoy each others company. I have several male friends who I have maintained a decades long friendship with and all of us are now happily married to other people and also quite comfortable hanging out alone without those spouses.
Anyway, this is the first time since my deconversion that I have spoken face-to-face with someone who is an avowed atheist. Like I stated before, most of my friends are at best "spiritual" (whatever that means) and so I do find myself tiptoeing around the subject of religion in order to not offend. My parents say bullshit and I just let it go. It's like walking on eggshells with my husband because anytime I bring up anything remotely religious, he gets defensive. But here was someplace I could let my guard down and it was fan-FUCKING-tastic. It felt so good to laugh at the ridiculous things the people in my life have said. My dad had just brought something up earlier that day that I shared and M laughed so hard he snorted. And it felt good. It felt so good to know that I am not alone and that yes this is ridiculous and to know that no one was going to be offended by it.
We caught up. We shared our deconversion processes. We laughed some more. Talked about mutual friends. He's planning on divorcing his wife, an imminent thing that she has no clue about it. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it since I know I am only getting part of the story, but it doesn't matter. I'll be a good friend. I'll listen like I should have done years ago. I won't judge. I won't make it about me or get defensive. This chat only reiterated how much I am in need of an atheist friend who lives nearby. I'm not sure where to find such people, but I need just one friend where I am not either a) hiding my atheism or b) walking on eggshells.
I have never understood people who like to debate and argue. Very early on in my life I learned that arguing with people, whether it was pleasant or not, never got you anything but hurt feelings and broken relationships. Although very capable of defending myself, I prefer to hold myself apart when any kind of drama is going down. I do not insert myself into situations, rarely offer advice, and never ever do I fight with my friends about things we disagree on. If our discussion is turning into a debate, I shut it down quickly. Lucky for me, I am married to man who also sees little value in arguments, although he does like to be right. Well, more like he thinks he is usually right. Now, I am aware that being good at debating can be a strength too. Lawyers, lobbyists, talk show hosts, politicians, moderators, salespeople, philosophers, coaches all have to utilize this trait. But I am none of those.
One of the things that makes me very uncomfortable within the atheism world is how much people debate. Reddit subs are full of people who stumble into debates at Starbucks or randomly at the library. Street epistimology is a thing. Churches and humanist organizations host debates all over the world, usually focusing on one single question. People post videos trying to debate the existence of a god, the validity of their holy book, or some other equally inane thing. Social media is full of regular every day people posting their inane comments supporting their position with the hopes that someone will comment on them. These debates make me extremely uncomfortable. When I was still questioning and seeking, I found that they raised my blood pressure and most of the time I would fast forward through podcasts and call-in talk shows because I couldn't handle the cringy religious people and the arrogant way some of the atheists talked to them. As much as I agree with Hitchens and Dawkins, I loathe the way they talk to people and find their "burns" to be a mixture of cruelty and arrogance.
I dread getting into a debate about religion with someone. Sometimes I will lie and tell people I am religious just to avoid discussion. I've done this three separate times. My one and only experience with a Jehovah's Witness made me angry and uncomfortable. Trying to even explain myself to my husband was hard and not really open for debate. Changing the subject is something that I have become adept at with my Christian friends and family.
Recently, I met an adoptive mom who runs an adoptive mom group. I really need something like this as I am a talker who really needs to talk to other people who understand this crazy adoption life. But when I asked a friend about them, now a co-worker who used to live in their city and also adopted three kids, she warned me that they are very conservative and religious.. This coming from a woman who still thinks I am a Christian and is pretty religious herself. "Well, shit," was my first thought. Come on, I already have enough of these religious right wing fanatics in my life. And now I have to make a decision. Do I do what I do with several of my newer religious friends and just avoid the topic of religion altogether, never professing or denying a belief in a god? Or do I be open and forthright, while also intrinsically inviting debate and drama into my life? Will these women invite me into their homes and lives if they knew I was an agnostic atheist? Will I find myself ostracized within this very small adoption community world? Or worse, will I become the focus of a missionary friendship? I live in the Bible belt, the topic will come up.
I don't know the answer to any of this. I'm not going to change who I am. I'm not suddenly going to become the kind of person who enjoys arguing and debating. But I also know that hiding who I am from people, compartmentalizing friends, is going to eventually bite me on the ass.
What would you do in this situation?
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.