This article was written by Amanda K. Metskas. Amanda is a graduate student in Political Science at the Ohio State University. She is also the president of the board of Camp Quest (www.camp-quest.org) a residential summer camp for young atheists, agnostics, humanists and other naturalists.
Religion was the biggest bone of contention growing up in my household. It started at age 5 with "Mommy, why doesn't Daddy have to go to church and I do?" When I was asked to write this piece, I thought this will be easy, I have so much I can say about my "struggle with disbelief," but as I sit down to write it I get this sick feeling in my stomach. I want to talk about the fights we had about religion in my family, and the accommodation we came to, and how we are still negotiating the issue today. But when I go to start writing I keep picturing my mom sitting at the computer googling my name and reading this article. (Life was so much easier before parents became Internet-savvy). I don't want to upset her. I don't want to violate my parents' privacy by airing their beliefs and conflicts for all to see. (As you might guess, "Metskas" is not the most common last name in the universe).
The fact that I have this feeling when asked to write this article is evidence of another type of struggle I have with disbelief - this isn't the struggle where I realized I didn't believe in God and searched for other answers to the eternal questions, and found out that the eternal questions are called that for a reason and became more comfortable with living my life the best way I knew how without all the answers. All that happened, but this is a different story.
This struggle isn't about searching for answers, it's about being comfortable saying "I'm not religious," when strangers casually ask me where I go to church. It's about saying "I am the President of Camp Quest, a summer camp aimed at kids from nonreligious families," instead of hiding behind, "I help run a non-profit summer camp."
Why is that so scary? When Camp Quest appeared on Good Morning America last summer I almost told the film crew to make sure I wasn't in any of the shots they aired because I didn't want my aunts and uncles to happen to see me. At the last minute I regained my courage -- if I'm not ashamed of what I believe, then why should I act like I am? As an atheist and a humanist I do my best to make good ethical decisions founded on reason. I am involved in the Freethought movement because I believe it promotes values that are good for society. Simply being open about what I think is not the same as pushing my beliefs on someone else. Honesty about who I am should not give anyone cause to be offended. I am done with hiding, I resolve again.
Last summer my mom told me that she had to pretend that I wasn't an atheist because the alternative was too upsetting for her. Society, even through the most well-meaning voices, gives nonbelievers that message all the time - "who you are is not okay, so we are going to pretend you are someone else." My daily struggle with disbelief is to make that pretending harder, to avoid going along with it even though it might be easier and more comfortable for everyone. Some days I do better than others.
This article originally appeared as part of SSA eNews No. 10 - My Struggle with Disbelief, Part 2.