By Chris Freitag
I am an atheist. To many people, I might have just written a terrifying sentence. I have been told an atheist is many things, none of which are flattering. The list includes being a Satan worshipper and someone looking eagerly to an eternity in hell. I’ve heard I’m immoral, evil, selfish, dumb, deceitful, manipulative, and in need of saving. I’ve been told “You’re perfect but you’re an atheist, not one of us.” I’ve been judged by people I’ve never met from across this country, who convinced someone I loved to rid herself of me. They claimed to know me based on one word. I’ve even heard that I’m not an atheist, some think I’m joking, questioning my seriousness, thinking I’m trying to do anything to be rebellious or that I’m trying to find myself as if I’m lost. My beliefs have been a discussion point right in front of me, as if I’m invisible.
Many people have shared the above opinions openly. On a personal level, I’ve heard this from family members, friends, girlfriends, coworkers and crushes. But strangers, preachers, social media, public polls, politicians, athletes, celebrities, all from varying religious beliefs, have also felt it necessary to “save the atheist.”
Let me tell you who I am. I’m shy, unable to volunteer an answer in the middle of class or start a group discussion. I’m a sports fan looking to root on my teams in baseball and football. I love everything Disney and long to go back to that world no matter how many times I’ve walked inside their gates. I lose myself in the fantasy of a good book. I’ve made many mistakes and have learned from each and every one. I’m open and respectful to all people, beliefs, and cultures. I am a person of good character. I’m a person who values trust over everything despite having it broken multiple times. I’m a listener; always ready to lend advice or suggestions if asked and community volunteering has been a part of my college life. I am not defined by any one of these things, but all of them together.
Declaring that I am an atheist does not mean that I shy away from seeking out and learning about religions. I have read parts of the Bible and gone to church with friends who have strong connections with their faith in order to show my support and willingness to openly discuss. I have been told that it is good to challenge one’s faith. However, when I am the challenger, the only answer given to me is that “That is how God is,” or “It’s in the Bible so it is true.” When I ask questions, answers cannot be delivered easily.
To clear things up for those who will listen, let me be the one to tell you what I do believe. When I die, that’s it. No heaven, that’s a belief based on religion. No hell, also based on religion. Death is and can be a scary thought for myself and others. However being afraid does not mean refusing my true beliefs, nor expecting others to refuse theirs. I don’t believe in Satan, who is a religious figure. I believe that religion is and can be a great vehicle to provide hope and comfort to those who need it or are reaching out for it, but it is not necessarily for all. I do not believe or choose to approach the subject of religious beliefs by telling others that they are wrong. I do not know that there is no god; I simply lack
the belief that there is any god. I have never tried to convert another person into believing what I do; I only encourage respectful discussion because I also do not believe that the best way to approach religion is to ignore the other side. I do not attend meetings, wake up in the morning and think of how atheistic I am, or need any religious support other than respect, which I think, is owed to every human being.
I often get the feeling as if I am a prize or trophy to other people, unfortunately, not in the way of being a good luck charm to have. Instead I feel like I am a dragon that so many have tried to slay and defeat to prove to others that the evil is gone. I know that there have been many attempts to convert me into believing something – anything. These attempts have been sneaky and subtle; explicit and extreme. I’ve had bible scriptures written and given to me. Guilt and tears have been used as weapons against me. I have had missionaries sprung on me without any warning as if trapping a person is the way to change a belief. Close individuals have told me that they have been praying for me. They weren’t openly sharing that they are praying for me until they learned that I am an atheist. I can only assume that they are praying for me to change who I am rather than for my well-being. Many people have tried to convert me, each believing that they have the one answer that will make me see their light. I am not a trophy. I do not breathe fire. No points are earned by being the one to try to convert me.
To my friends and family, to the strangers who chant at me, and to those I have not yet come in contact with: I am happy and secure in who I am. I would like to thank you for your prayers, as it seems to make you feel better about who I am. I am pleased that you care enough about me that you want me to experience the things that make you happy. There are some of you who tell me I am going to hell and I can tell it makes you sad to say this as much as it hurts me to hear it from you. You are all always in my thoughts and I wish nothing but peace and happiness for each of you. To those who have accepted me for every part of me, thank you most of all. You have allowed me to grow without fear, to question my surroundings, and to learn without limitations the person that I can become.
Yes, I am an atheist but that is only one word and one part of who I am as a person. Do not allow one perception of that word to be formed in concrete and cement your feelings about me. If you do, you suffocate me, and look to silence me and others like me from existence. I work hard every day to break free from your perceptions which look to define me as someone I am not. I break free only for the next person to pour another layer over me and try to seal the cracks but I will never stop chiseling my way out.
I am an atheist, but atheism does not define me.