Hi, from Covington, Kentucky! The neighbor of Cincinnati, Ohio.

My name is Amanda Ashcraft. I work for the postal service, write numerous articles about ex religious life and childhood abuse, parent four beautiful children, and live openly secular as a humanism practicing atheist.

I grew up in a charismatic home in southwest Ohio, my earliest memories being that of a Pentecostal church with wonderful music, a very loving pastor, and always trying to get God's direct attention so I knew he was real. We had congregation members who would get "slain in the spirit", my own mother often cried in euphoria while speaking in tongues during services. The day I was saved at age five, all I could think of was how proud my mother would be of me. I really didn't understand who Jesus was and what his sacrifice meant at that young age, but my pastor still pronounced me saved when I repeated his magical prayer of acceptance.

You have to understand why I sought my mother's approval instead of that of God. My home life was abusive, but on the outside, my family appeared like an everyday middle class family in the 80's. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a machinist at a large tool factory. Being an only child, one would think I had it made, but as I mentioned, my home life was abusive. It started off just verbally, eventually escalating to more physical episodes, and even sexual abuse came into my experiences before I was ten years old. This type of home life caused me to act out in some of the worst ways possible, had me believing I was being tormented by demons, and truly set me on a path to get God to somehow help me, or at least get Satan himself to punish me for being so bad. To accomplish that would mean I had proof that God knew what was happening to me.

By the time I was sixteen, I'd managed to get out of my family home but it was like going from one bad situation to another seeing how I was pregnant and married by the time I was seventeen. My parents had agreed to sign the license for me to get married under age. This was a disappointment on many levels for me, but I wasn't surprised that my mom would pick her sexually abusing husband, my father, over her only child. It just reaffirmed that I had somehow deserved all this happening to me. Still looking for God, or at least some real proof that I was really at fault for everything that had happened to me growing up, I eventually got into the mindset that I was a total failure and my life was going to never be as good as it could have been. Not that I had any idea what success would look like.

By the time I was twenty-eight I'd given up on looking for God anymore in my life. I'd hit a very hard wall in my life where I realized I was repeating a lot of the abuse cycle I'd grown up in. My immediate family was torn apart. My own parents didn't understand what went wrong, but it had to be I wasn't right with God. I had to face myself and make a decision. Do I keep wandering around, hoping I will magically be saved from the disaster that was my life? Or do I get up off my knees and carry my own damn cross? Do I face who I am, clean out my relationship closet, and quit faking along in a lifestyle I knew was just an escapist's path?

Here I am ten years later after carrying my own cross. I have a good job, pursue my writing desires, have better relationships with my children than I ever thought possible or even deserved for that matter, and I am openly secular. I completely cut ties not just with religion, but with my parents and other overly zealous family about four years ago. That was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I realized interacting with them was too toxic. Even better was the fact I ended the relationship on my own terms. I was no longer at their mercy of being cut off from help. I didn't have to go to their home and fake it religiously, or keep quiet about my lack of faith. I realized that I was keeping them in my life because I felt I owed them something for all the years they would bail me out of trouble that they had guided me into to begin with.

I am openly secular and I do understand the shunning one can face. The constant scrutiny of what one's intentions truly are simply because they are secular. The possible danger of becoming homeless, jobless, or even being physically threatened simply for not believing in the same cultural traditions as everyone else. Yes, I don't call belief in a deity religion, I call it cultural tradition because that is what it is.

But I am here to tell you that I have been through the tunnel from closeted atheist to openly secular. It isn't easy, but you are not alone. Since I made the decision to quit believing and start publicly acknowledging my lack of belief, I find I have more confidence than ever before. I have freedom of expression. I have the constitutional guarantee to purse not just liberty and happiness, but my life! There are so many resources out there to help you be free and live as you see fit. You would also be surprised how many people are out there to help. Even in the religious communities there are those who abhor atheists and agnostics having to filter who they are in order to maintain living conditions, family relationships, and employment. You can't find a rock to hold onto if you don't put yourself out there is what I am trying to say. This is the only life you get, how many years do you plan to keep faking or hiding in it?

And for those reading this that want to understand what it means to be secular, I will tell you what it means to me. To be secular means I don't color every thing I do with a belief system. In fact, it's quite the opposite. For example, I deliver mail. I deliver birthday cards, gun magazines, flyers for penis enlargement pills. I deliver newsletters with cut up babies on the front for the pro life movement and I put envelopes filled with just absolute hate towards LGBT groups and the poor in mailboxes every day. I deliver all these things unquestioningly, because it is the customer's right to have these materials. That is what being secular is all about. It isn't my decision to decide that what you are receiving is too offensive because I don't believe in it. I will defend your right to worship anything you choose, and I will defend your right to express your faith. I will also fight you tooth and nail when you try to fire me because I don't have faith in your particular deity. I will call you to the carpet whenever you use your brand of faith to emotionally abuse others into believing in it too.

I want our governmental processes to no longer be swayed by a civic duty to remnants of the the Red Scare of the 50's. You can be a great American and serve our country in all branches of government without being a Christian.

This is secularism at its core for me. It's never going to go away, and every year there are more and more of other like minded folks like myself standing up and being heard. We share the same world as you. We play in the same sandbox with you everyday. You benefit from my tax dollars. You benefit from my love of my fellow man in everything I do to help others. You are going to have to stop trying to exclude us as members of society because we more than pay our share to be in it.

And to those who are reading this article and are too scared to say anything, or maybe you wonder what is the point of making a big deal out of being secular. Consider the benefit of working together in large numbers. Imagine how much more freedom we could help bring to our beautiful nation and actually catch up with the rest of the first world. Until we stand up and demand better for ourselves and future generations, we will barely be more than a theocratically run government that stunts the American dream so many prize and aspire for in their youth. Let's not let this happen and stand up together, today.

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Comment by Bluegrass Skeptic on April 26, 2015 at 6:47pm

Funny thing about early American settlers. They were the totally bigoted pricks you see today. See, when they left England, they first went to the Dutch for refuge. When the kids started integrating and taking on Dutch culture? The settlers were all "fuck no" and left...this time to the states. Where they eventually killed the Indians, turned on each other and started burning witches, and now here we are...

Comment by Gerald Payne on April 25, 2015 at 4:08pm

Secularism, atheism, naturalism, scepticism, these titles really do carry a stigma in the states. It's as though they're an introductory personality warning, a brand mark to put people on their guard. In the UK your more likely to get odd looks if claim religious beliefs rather than deny them. I get called a heathen every day of the week by some of my Irish mates but it's no more than friendly banter, in fact I wear it like a badge of honour. Most Brits on the other hand simply couldn't care less about religion, births, deaths, and marriages being the sum total of their acquaintance with the church. It's ironic that a lot of the early American settlers were people persecuted for their beliefs and three hundred years down the line their descendants are persecuting people for their beliefs.

Comment by Gerald Payne on April 24, 2015 at 6:22pm

Great piece. A privilege to read it.

Comment by Bluegrass Skeptic on April 24, 2015 at 6:01pm

Truly, y'all are making me blush. I've read some of the backgrounds on profiles out there and am equally impressed with the recounting. I hope someday to be able to look back on this and laugh, no longer feeling such a pressure to be seen and heard.

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on April 23, 2015 at 9:01pm

Excellent!  Extremely well written, wish I had your talent for writing.  

I didn't experience any of the shunning, having been born into an already secular family and society.

Though I did turn to Christianity in my late teens to early adult years, I soon snapped out of it and returned to my natural atheism.

It was a case of: WTF was I thinking?

Truly I wasn't thinking, I taking the lazy, following others route.

Great to see you have found some solid ground for your secular life and realized as I did, that our parents did make mistakes, correcting those mistakes made for a much happier family life and enables a much closer, harmonious relationship with your children.

Keep up the great work and look forward to seeing more of your excellent writing.

:-D~

Comment by Michael Penn on April 23, 2015 at 7:54pm

That's a very powerful piece, Amanda. You had me reliving some of my past for a while there, but not to the extremes you had to endure. I love how you write and it's so easy to see how much better everything would be with a secular view.

Here's my Pentecostal friend telling me that someday a lot of people are going to "wake up dead" and not be in a good place. The obvious answer is that something is wrong with his thinking. It's called religion.

Then you get these wonderful people that want to start a home for the poor and homeless somewhere, but first they must pray to Jesus. Their need of prayer tells you exactly what the center of this endeavor will be.

Go secular. No guilt, sin, salvation, or need of any deities. My real freedom and joy came with a lifting of guilt that only being atheist can bring.

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