I figured that I would formally introduce myself.
SGA Atheist stands for "South Georgia Atheist." For those people who may not be that familiar with the State of Georgia in the United States, it is an extremely conservative state. South Georgia specifically is extremely rural and part of the "Deep South."
I am not ashamed of my heritage or my peers here, but obviously being a left-leaning atheist puts me at odds with a lot of people around here. Aside from a group of fellow atheists and agnostics I hang with, most people I come in contact with range from God-believing albeit not a church-goer to the extreme of fanatical fundamentalist evangelicals.
South Georgia is also a very poor area of the nation. I was raised in what I would consider "relative poverty." My parents kept me clothed and fed, but I did not enjoy luxuries like telephones, level and stable floors and air conditioning. My extended family is plagued with social problems such as poverty and mental illness. I myself have struggled with chronic depression and anxiety. I guess this history is what led me to work in a human services field.
I went to a Holiness Pentecostal church as a child. My mother did not go to church too much. Her mother belonged to a strange religious cult that did not believe in going to church, and despite her converting to the Pentecostal faith she herself did not go to church much. My father on the other hand would regularly go with other members of my extended family including my grandmother. My grandmother was an example of a "good Christian." Despite her age and upbringing she did not have a racist bone in her body and praised old school Democrats like FDR. But she was very conservative in her faith, and not a day went by that I remember her wearing pants or cutting her hair short. Of course I now think such behaviors were completely unnecessary, but I still admire her devotion.
Despite being completely immersed in an extremely religious culture and subculture (I remember once thinking that South Baptists were "watered down" and "liberal") I started to have doubts about religion during middle school. GPTV, the Georgia public television station, introduced me to Darwin and science in general. I had an interest in astronomy, and Astronomy magazine introduced me to more very secular views. Those doubts began to grow.
However at the age of 16 I would return to my religious roots, and be baptized. I even at one point considered becoming a minster and eventually married an at the time like-minded woman.
College placed doubts once again however. I not only took several astronomy classes, but I was introduced to physical anthropology and other sciences. I also took up every single class I could that had anything to do with religion. I took a philosophy class about religion and culture, an anthropology class about magic, religion and witchcraft, a history class about Christianity and Islam, a World Religions class and many other classes that explored religion as a social institution. Of course, being a state university, all of these classes were from a purely secular perspective. And unlike my public high school teachers, these professors did not pull any punches when it came to religious sensitivity. Oh and let us not forget studying folks like Karl Marx. Studying Karl Marx in particular was like pulling out a dirty magazine from under my bed at the age of 13. Around here "Marx" is very much a dirty word. I think that is what made it so exciting.
I sort of synthesized my liberal views with my religion at this point, which made for some very strange years. My religion changed at this point as well though, and you started hearing sermons preaching war instead of Jesus. I tried going to the liberal churches, but it was just too unusual for me. Growing up in a very poor rural church, the rich liberal churches seemed alien and ironically without much true compassion. What I did not know at the time is that the reason the liberal churches did not resonate too well with me is that they were fence-sitters.
Then a bunch of personal stuff happened to me, including a divorce. I became discouraged, but now understand that I just was recognizing that my religion wasn't doing anything for me anymore. And at the point I was an atheist deep down inside anyways, I only made myself believe because of what benefit I believe religion had for me. One day I decided to declare myself an atheist. I'm pretty sure it was a Monday. My atheist friends found my statement "I became an atheist on Monday" extremely humorous as it suggested that out of nowhere I became one. Obviously as you see here it didn't quite work out that way.
I keep it on the low however. VERY low. My parents do not know, none of my co-workers know. Very few people know around here because the consequences could be disastrous. Being an open atheist around here could easily mean the end of your career. At least I had good "church" training where I can at least pass off as a Christian when I need to. I just wish it did not have to be that way. Oh and the same goes for being a leftist. Good Lord help you if you are labeled a Marxist.
Yeah I agree that our persecution is nothing like some countries. I sometimes feel weird when people call atheism a "religious minority" because I do not feel like I am in a similar situation with other groups.
Speaking of Moslems though, I'd say that in America they are a group that has even more to fear than we do.