First off, let me state that I am in no way minimizing the struggles that folks in the LGBT community go though every day nor the courage required to come out to their family and friends. They have fought hard for their right to exist and be accepted for who they are and I support them whole-heartily. The times, they are a changin when it comes to attitudes regarding sexual identity and sexual preference and I feel we are at the threshold of their social Justice. Changes in the laws are right around the corner. And because the source or their persecution is often rooted religious bigotry, I think that their struggle is indeed our own. Religion cements the “Us and Them” mentality more efficiently than anything else I know.
Surely, mainstream religion will eventually incorporate the homosexual community into the flock and pretend they always have in order to remain socially relevant. But they were wrong about slavery, they were wrong about gender equality, they were wrong about racial equality, and they were wrong about gay rights. In my mind, they have lost all credibility and I have no reason to believe they have "the answer to the meaning of it all" when they are having such are hard time with human dignity and empathy. Also, I know I'm not the first person to draw these parallels, but I thought it before I ever read it, so I'm claiming it. Anyway, I digress...
So, I came to the realization about 10 years ago that there is no God. I've had doubts all my life and was constantly conflicted, but wanted badly to believe. Like everyone else, I dreaded mortality and the notion of an afterlife was very appealing. It didn't hurt that everyone else I knew believed in God and the afterlife and had at least a vague understanding of the details. After all, they were all written down in a very comprehensive yet cryptic manual called "the bible". And if I could someday become a good enough Christian, I could fully comprehend the written word of God. Simply accepting Jesus as my personal savior and letting him mold me into his servant was good enough to get me into heaven, however.
Nevertheless, I eventually and gradually came to my senses, grew up and accepted the truth, regardless of how cold and hard it seemed at the time: There is no god, life is temporal and limited, nature doesn’t care and its up to us. Of course this resulted in feelings of sadness, emptiness and a feeling of insignificance in the universe. This moment of staring into the void however was brief. Because I then realized that I had a limited and by no means guaranteed lifespan, so I needed to make it count. Asking an imaginary friend in the sky for help was pointless and stopping me from taking action and making decisions about my life. It wasn’t in his hands at all. The universe owed me nothing.
It was only after this moment that I really began to tackle personal matters in my life and take charge of it. However, there were, “complications”. I had recently gotten married to a devout Christian. We truly loved each other, and I did not want to hurt her. I was afraid our marriage could not survive the differences. Even worse I thought was the idea that through reason and critical thinking, I could get her to see the truth and give up the security blanket; but I could see that she was holding onto that blanket so very tightly. I did not want to risk crushing her spirit. She was already feeling too vulnerable as it was.
So, I kept my lack of theism to myself. I went through the motions, attending church, reading bible passages out loud, uttering prayers at the prescribed moments and tithing 10-15% of our meager income. For over five years, not a single person other than myself, knew of my atheism. I didn’t even have an imaginary friend in the sky to confide in. So, there I was, in the closet. At times, it got me thinking about my gay older brother we lost in the 90’s and how he must have felt so tormented inside. He could not hide his homosexuality, even as a young child. But everyone was willing to remain in denial and hope that one day he’d grow out of his “sissiness”. Of course, he didn’t. Because being gay was as much a part as who he was as his height or the color of his eyes. He was ostracized from the family as is too far often the case. I’ve often thought that I have it easier. I can choose what I believe, I don’t have to be an atheist. I could be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or even Pastafarian if I want to. This would be the case if it weren’t for cognitive dissonance. The truth is a nasty little parasite that will eventually devour the host if not acknowledged. At least that was my circumstance.
After a few years, I fell into a deep depression. Unable to communicate in an open and honest manner with my wife left me feeling isolated and alone. She felt just as isolated and lonely as I was. Issues that had nothing to do with religion whatsoever were left undiscussed because for a person with faith, it all points back to there for the answers. And again, I was afraid of yanking away her security blanket.
After many frustrating, sleepless nights she eventually got me to open up. It was only when she started asking the direct questions regarding my beliefs that I could be honest with her and tell her what I thought. At first, she was indeed taken aback by my disbelief. What I didn’t realize at the time was, I was her way out too. She, like most people who were born with brains has always questioned the teachings of the bible on some level. But, like most, she was willing to gloss over the inconsistencies and irrationality if it meant eternal life. The thought of Hell didn’t get to her as much as the thought of death being the end. In the church, you are taught that everything you do in life should be in preparation for the afterlife. She did eventually see her way out of it and now considers herself to be agnostic. I’m still working on getting her to admitting she’s an atheist. The ignorance and stigma around that title is still strong however.
Now, we can talk about anything. We are both completely open and honest with each other. This had led to some great discoveries in our marriage that would not have been possible within the shackles of religion. Life isn’t “perfect” but we are both happy. This only happened because I “came out of the closet”. We would have both been miserable for the rest of our lives otherwise. I found out from her that she has always had serious doubts and did a lot of going through the motions herself. She was only able to accept what she believed and didn’t believe because she had someone close to discuss it with.
My point in all of this I guess is this: Hiding in the closet is a selfish act. By doing so, you isolate yourself from others who may think the same way you do and you are doing them no favors by remaining silent yourself. It empowers the religious by allowing them to make the case that their beliefs are the default and the laws of the land should be governed by them. (If you don’t believe that, check out the current GOP field of presidential candidates.) They’ve done us a great service and shown us the way. We won’t be heard if we don’t speak up. Start with the person next to you. And go from there.