“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” ~Stephen Roberts
Today one of the managers at work asked a question that I actually had a hard time answering. I don’t usually find myself in that position. I am extremely opinionated, I research things I am interested in extensively, and I usually have no problem saying exactly how I feel. I have found that since I started my job, which involves having a huge online presence, that I have been censoring myself more and more. The things that I used to debate about on message boards constantly are now things that I rarely talk about because I don’t feel that my professional accounts (and even my personal accounts that my coworkers have access to) are the appropriate place to discuss my very strong opinions.
The question that got me all tongue (finger) tied and googly eyed was: How do you balance your professional and personal social media personalities? Is it hard to keep these separate?
After stumbling over an answer that would fit on Twitter (it took me two messages just to say the condensed version I finally came up with), I decided it’s time to figure out how much of my personal persona I want to infiltrate my professional one. There is really only one big reason why this is a struggle for me. One thing about myself that has caused me to get such strong reactions from people that I prefer to keep it private and not put it all out there.
I am Atheist.
To some people that may not seem like such a big deal, but I have gotten some REALLY strong reactions to my belief system before. For example, I used to debate politics on a military message board, and when one of the people I was debating with found out that I was Atheist, they responded telling everyone else in the conversation that my opinions and my reasoning could not be trusted because “Satan will say anything to make sin and evil appear to make sense to the righteous”. My own aunt started crying and screaming “NO! Tell me you are joking! No, no, no! How could you?” when I told her. The most common reaction I get is from people who take my lack of belief in God as a personal slight to their belief system, as if by saying I don’t believe in a deity I am automatically calling them stupid for believing, which is not at all the case.
People with religion can, in most cases, speak pretty freely about it unless they are really trying to proselytize when it is not allowed or appreciated. Most people believe in some kind of a deity, especially a Christian one, so when they talk about religion/God/Jesus/etc they are automatically surrounded with like minded people. I am in a very small minority in my country, and as I have learned, it is one that is chock full of very unflattering assumptions and stereotypes. My beliefs tend to insult people even if those beliefs have nothing to do with them.
When I was trying to find a quote to open this blog post with that I felt gave a glimpse into what Atheism is for me, I came across a website that is a striking example of what I have encountered as an Atheist. Normally I would find this kind of thing amusing, but I have been told these same things from people who made it a point to let me know how distasteful they think my beliefs are, so to me this website is insulting and downright scary because people actually believe what it says.
It is the “Conservapedia” entry on Atheism. This site touts itself as the “Trustworthy Encyclopedia”. A conservative, “correct” version of Wikipedia. Some of the categories that the Atheist entry is broken down into include: “Atheism and Communism”, “Atheism and Mass Murder”, “Intellectuals Increasingly Reject Atheistic Ideology”, “Atheism and the Existence of Evil”, “Targeting of Young People by Atheists on the Internet”, “Atheism and Suicide” and “Internet Infidels and Other Atheist Websites”. This website is painting Atheism as something to protect your children from, a mental disease or defect, or some kind of terrorist threat… Not as an alternative belief system, no outline of what atheism is except for comparisons to evil and immorality, and no explanations of any opinion of Atheism except for unflattering and insulting ones.
The section that bothered me the most was this one though… “Reasonable Explanations for Atheism”. In this section they list a number of what they consider “reasonable” explanations of why someone would choose to be Atheist. These reasons include Moral Depravity, Naiveté/Gullibility, Irrational Thinking, Error, Superficiality, Satanic Deception, Self Deception, and Poor Relationship with Father.
This is why I err on the side of censoring myself, and in turn why I have a hard time separating my personal and professional persona in social media. My beliefs are who I am. Being Atheist is what defines me, along with other things, as a person. A lot of my interests spawn from my atheistic beliefs. It has also been the source of so much verbal abuse in the past that I am wary of revealing that in a professional setting. I believe that religious belief (or lack of religion) is deeply personal because it effects so much of who you are and how you live your life, but when your job intertwines so heavily with all of the outlets you use for expressing your opinions and documenting your life, the lines blur.
My beliefs did not evolve because of rebellion, or because I am irrational or self centered, or out of mental dysfunction or lack of mental capacity. They evolved based on my own experiences, and what I feel to be good, and right, and true. I was raised religious, by a very religious family, and I can appreciate their beliefs. I understand why they find comfort and purpose in religion, just like I find comfort and purpose by denying religious belief in my own life. Atheism, for me, has given me a more solid sense of self, and a more stable sense of purpose. It has given me the ability to appreciate what I have. I don’t take things for granted like I used to. I don’t expect something to be what it’s not, I accept it for what it is. I care more about the people around me because my time with them is limited. While I understand why anyone would believe and find comfort in the idea of life after death, for me that ideology provided more questions than answers and I lost focus on the here and now. I feel more centered, grounded, and invested in my life now than I have ever before. I am not comparing myself to anyone else when I say that I am “more” than I was before, I am comparing myself to myself before I enbraced the belief system I have now.
I always cringe when someone says that Atheists believe in “nothing” because for me, and for the other Atheists I know, that isn’t true. I believe in a lot of things. I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. I believe in the strength of community. I believe in the importance of human dignity. I believe in the value of the individual. I believe in imagination and inspiration. I believe that people should work for the greater good. I believe in the power of giving. I believe that everyone has a right to live according to the dictates of their own conscience, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. I believe a lot of things. God just isn’t one of them. For a long time I tried to redefine “God” to fit my own beliefs, so that I could avoid defining myself as Atheist because I knew that once I did I would be branded a soulless heathen non-believer by a lot of people. I gave up that struggle after a few years and finally embraced what I am.
I am Atheist, and I am proud of it. =D