I can remember being about seven or eight years old. I was at school, and one of my classmates asked me if I was a Christian. I answered yes because I could remember thinking there weren’t any other options. I didn’t know there were more choices.
I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina at the Women’s Hospital, just a few miles away. I have lived in the Bible Belt my entire life, but I am an atheist. To me, religion just never made any sense.
I had so many questions and worries. I couldn’t understand why a loving god would send me to hell even if I was a good person, just because I didn’t believe in him. I didn’t understand why people would live their lives a certain way for fear that there was a god that they could not prove existed rather than living the life they wanted to live.
I was always more scared at the prospect of living a certain way for fear of not going to heaven and heaven not existing. I remember trying express these feelings to my friends and peers, and they said I just didn’t understand God. They said that if you did not believe then you were just inherently a bad person. They said you couldn’t be a good person without God.
I felt like a good person. I felt like the people I knew who didn’t go to church were good people. I felt like my family members were good people. I felt like they did not deserve to be condemned for just believing what they thought was right.
As I got older I thought about people in other countries with other religions and how, according to my peers, they would be condemned for not believing. They did not have the ability to be exposed to Christianity, and who was to say their religion was right. Of all the thousands of religions that have existed throughout history, who is to say theirs is the one and only right one? These questions bothered me.
I felt like I was condemned by my peers for not believing in their god. I felt like I didn’t belong because I was one among many.
I can remember being in high school and being afraid to talk about my lack of religion. I would go to friends houses or community events and bow my head and pray because I was scared of what they would say if they knew that I did not believe in their god. I was afraid they would assume I was a bad, evil person.
When I was in high school, one of my friends told her dad I was an atheist, and he told her to tell the teacher that I couldn’t sit with her anymore. There were people who thought my being an atheist meant I worshipped Satan. A guy found out I was an atheist in high school and said, “But you’re a pretty, white girl.”
While being an atheist in the Bible Belt is something I can hide, it still hurts to have to hide who I am. I always feel the need to prove to people I am a good person before I tell them I am an atheist. I help people more than most others when I am around religious people.
I try to be more kind than usual all because I feel like I have to prove I am a good person even though I am an atheist. I also enjoy being a nice person and helping people aside from that. My partner and I have been together for over a year. I adore his grandmother. She loves me and always comments on how helpful and sweet I am, but I will never tell her I am an atheist because it would change the way she feels about me.
Even when I tell people I am an atheist, I use the phrase nonreligious because it is less offensive than the word atheist.
I do not feel like I am a bad person. I do not feel like I should instill fear in people. I feel like without religion, I am still a kind, considerate person, so why don’t other people feel that way? Religion is very important to people.
To some, it is one of the most central parts of who they are. Religion should not be a boundary for us to cross, a wall for us to climb, or a dictator for us to overthrow. Religion, and the lack of it, should bring us together rather than tear us apart. Love should bring us together and cause us to accept the path that is meant for each of us.
Everyone’s life journey is different, and we should respect that for everyone.