It’s been a year since that day that I called in to one of the few atheist talk shows that I knew about then, called “Atheists On Air.” I still listen to it from time to time and feel nostalgic. (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/atheistsonair)
I was distraught, anxious calling in to a show for fellow nonbelievers for the first time. I hadn’t told many people about my lack of belief in a god if I’d told anyone, and I had been in the closet for well over ten years, hiding behind my failsafe, fallback religious conviction, but on that day listening to openly atheist people, broadcasting, proud and free, I knew that it was my turn, my time to be out and to be honest.
I listened to the show for a while with sweaty hands, pounding heart of anticipation and anxiety, while that little voice of cultural norm said, “What if someone happened to identify me, and I was outed? What would happen to my social life and my career?” It’s a tangible and realistic fear.
At the time, I had been volunteering for a non-profit organization that was run by fundamentalists who obviously did not know about my position on god; the treatment center was a quasi-clinic wannabe, although from the administration’s perspective, it was more often a church, founded to save souls. The staff routinely proselytized to patients, and failed to schedule patients if their beliefs did not align with staff’s brand of Christianity.
The medico legal issues and religious harassment toward patients at the clinic were frightening. I was seriously considering resigning, was feeling dejected, alone, impotently threatened by religious fanaticism, and while listening to the podcast I impulsively called in.
Cash Feuerstein was the host of the show, and upon making that call, it was the first in a series of steps in genuinely realizing that I wasn’t alone in my non-belief; more so, it would be the baby step of my life developing in a very different way.
His associate who answered my call did her best to put me at ease. It felt like a huge thing that I was doing. They would only use my moniker and not my real name, given that I was not “out”; I’m more relaxed about such things these days, but nonetheless, at the time, I was terrified.
Cash was amazing; he was patient, kind, and understanding. He has said that no matter what we decided to do, whether we come out or not, that it is was better to do something worthwhile with our non-belief in whatever capacity we are able. He had also mentioned the loss of friendships over coming out, and it turned out to be true. Despite hearing disheartening things, it was comforting knowing what to expect, and that it was honest.
He told me that if I had any aptitude for it to start a blog, which is the main reason that I write these articles. He gave me a host of other tips and pieces of advice that were pearls of wisdom for a fledgling-outed atheist. I specifically asked him about debate opportunities, and he quickly provided me with social media pages for debate groups. I joined them the following day, and I’ve learned quite a lot in this endeavor.
I‘ve not de-converted anyone to atheism, but that was not my intention. It’s been an opportunity to not only learn what people believe and why they believe; it’s a study of the diversity of this phenomenon. One thing I’ve learned is that people do change their convictions; I certainly have, and as for Jonathan Swift as often quoted by Christopher Hitchens, I disagree with the sentiment that “one cannot be reasoned out of something that one wasn’t reasoned into”.
People change their convictions all of the time. It may not be an earth shattering alteration of long-standing beliefs, abruptly changing from god-fearing to atheism, and all because someone has a compelling argument or evidence to the contrary; it would be narcissistic to think that. It may simply be that fundamentalism can become less fundamentalist, or that a rigid and inflexible belief system that is generally harmful becomes a little less so with presentation of a contradictory perspective.
That day that I summoned the courage to pick up the phone, I had gone years feeling as though I was the only nonbeliever in my corner of the world; that one simple act opened up an entire universe. Since that day, I’ve participated in exciting and innovative events, have attended live atheist conventions, have met fascinating fellow nonbelievers locally, in other states, and in other countries, have discovered atheist meet ups, and I write for two blogs.
My atheism inspires me. My life is satisfying in a way that I would never have imagined a year ago, and the world is a much different place than it used to be when I felt that I needed to hide in secret with my non-belief. It all seems so silly now, but the reality is that it can be damaging and isolating.
It’s one thing to listen to podcasts, watch the few atheist shows available, read blogs geared toward our non-belief, and that’s great if we’re not in a position to be open; for those of us afforded this extravagance to whatever degree that might be, it can be a reveling, nurturing, and luxuriating experience to explore.
Over the last year, I’ve met quite a number of fellow nonbelievers, some who are writers, other doctors, truck drivers, teachers, students, and many others from all walks of life, and we have encouraged and motivated one another. I saw a terrific meme on the internet that read, “Thank an atheist who has inspired you.” There are lots of them, and that sums up this past year nicely.