Sympathy For The Devil

The first time that someone called me an atheist, I was very insulted. This was in December 2010. My crazy Muslim ex saw a picture of me sans hijab on Facebook and went ballistic. “You’re an atheist“, he said, his words dripping with condescension,”you’re the worst type of a person on this planet and you should be executed!” A number of thoughts raced through my mind. This man had no idea where I was in terms of religion at this point, because he had not asked and I had not volunteered that information to him. The simple fact of seeing my head uncovered was enough for him to assume I was an atheist. I was angered by his assumption and also insulted by the fact that he’d lumped me in with ‘those people’. I had no problem dissociating myself from the Abrahamic faiths, but I didn’t want to be associated with atheists either.  For even though I thought myself to be open-minded, I still held prejudice towards those who were willing to openly state there was no God. It was simply how I’d been raised. Sure, as a Christian I thought that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc were all wrong, but at least they believed in something. What could one say to one who professed no belief at all?

My mind went back to January 2003. I remember the evening clearly. I was sitting across from my date at IHOP. It was late, we’d finished eating and were in the middle of a spirited discussion on religion. Back then I rarely attended church but still considered myself a Baptist and would defend my faith.  He was the product of an interfaith marriage and had different views regarding religion as a result. So there I was, pressing him and telling him that Jesus is the only way, when he drops a bomb on me.

‘You should know that I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in Jesus or Allah. God only exists in our minds, none of it is real’.

If I had still been eating, I would have choked. “You’re a WHAT?”, I replied. I had never encountered a Black atheist before and was deeply shocked. He repeated himself. I was amazed. I immediately felt a sense of disappointment. There was so much about him that I desired in a mate. He was extremely intelligent-to this day one of the most brilliant men that I have ever encountered. He was educated-completed a double major in three years. He was articulate, ambitious, hard-working, respectful, tall and very handsome. But as soon as he told me he was an atheist, my view of him changed. In my mind he was no longer fit to be a potential long-term interest or husband. He didn’t believe in god, which meant he was damaged goods, flawed, deficient, confused and inferior as far as I was concerned.

Never mind the fact that I had my own questions and doubts about Christianity.

Never mind the fact that I wasn’t living according to its rules.

Never mind the fact that I’d been ‘fornicating’ with him and planned to continue doing so.

He was the atheist, he was the one openly stating that he didn’t believe in god, and I immediately judged him harshly in my mind for that.

All of my thoughts from that night came back to me when I was called an atheist. I thought of the way I’d heard atheists discussed growing up. I remembered when the news of the brutal murder and dismemberment of atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hare broke in 1995. I recalled the smug self-righteousness that my elders displayed upon hearing the news, stating that was what happened when you “messed with god” and that O’Hare deserved such a fate for getting prayer ‘taken out of the schools’. I remembered all of the sermons I’d heard based on Romans 1:18-32, and the way nonbelievers were often vilified. And though I no longer viewed atheism as negatively as I had in my early twenties, I didn’t want to be associated with it out of fear. I knew all too well how atheists were viewed and had more sympathy for them. More than racial minorities, more than ‘illegal immigrants’, more than Muslims and even more than gays, atheists were one of the most despised minorities in my country. I didn’t want to experience that. So even after I apostatized, I still identified as a theist. I didn’t think I could exist without holding on to the concept of god. I was able to kick the habit of organized religion itself, but unable to say goodbye to my god delusion. Saying that I believed in god would be my security blanket, my protection against being lumped in with the atheists.

There was only one problem with this: I didn’t truly believe in any deity. Professing belief in a deity to others is certainly the more comfortable thing for me to do. But it would be dishonest of me. So here I am, thirty one years old and coming to grips with the fact that I’m an agnostic atheist. I’ve gone beyond having sympathy for atheists, a group so often accused of being misguided and evil. I’ve now joined their ranks.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

7 thoughts on “Sympathy For The Devil

  1. “You’re an atheist“, he said, his words dripping with condescension,”you’re the worst type of a person on this planet and you should be executed!”

    Pretty typical, and not at all surprising — particularly, to be blunt, coming from a self-righteous muslim. In this kind of world view atheists are somehow worse than child rapers, or mass murders, or even killers who would without hesitation execute someone because of their differing philosophical opinions. Several years ago at my job I happened to walk into the middle of a religious discussion between two co-workers, and one of them turned to me and asked what christian denomination I subscribed to. When I casually told her I’m an atheist it was as if I had literally just punched her in the gut: she was left trying to catch her breath, while stammering for something to say for several seconds. When she was finally able to pull a sentence together she basically said, “I had no idea you’re an ATHEIST — you don’t ACT like one.” I asked her just what an atheist acts like, and she sheepishly offered, “Well, you’re nice…”

  2. Reading the title I thought you were going to bring up a question I wondered years ago in church. “If prayer changes people and removes sins, then why can’t we pray for the devil and have him change his ways?” But bravo… Amazing how brain washed we are to assume we know how other faiths/people should act or what they believe.

  3. OMG, I am so glad I found your post! I get it, I get it, I do. Prior to leaving the fold (like 27 yrs ago), I would practice being “an atheist on the bus”. My commutes from the Bible College I was attending at the time to the Old Venerated Downtown Portland Public Library where I worked amidst people who were “of the world” were sort of terrifying, but those were important rides, rides in which I learned to tolerate life, for about 30 minutes at a time, without the security blanket. Still, it is such a painful ongoing experience to be considered so foul simply because you don’t believe in God. Please come visit my site any time, I have yet to write much about my experiences with leaving God, but it’s sort of interwoven into my texts. People who leave families who believe are particularly vulnerable. Take care.

  4. Hi Patrice,

    Thanks for stopping by and reading. I can relate to your post in terms of family and the assumptions people make when you’re a disbeliever. I’ve found that building a small community of like-minded individuals has helped me somewhat, but for the most part I’ve only been able to find such people online. It would be so nice to have people in my vicinity who think the same that I can hang out with.

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