Monday, July 18, 2005

Atheists in this Time of Faith

Mikaela says:
The L.A. Times ran a good article today about how atheists are organizing themselves to counteract the surge of religiosity in Washington. Specifically, the article does a good job of explaining the prejudice that is getting more and more acceptable and pronounced against those who do not conform to the most conventional religous sects. Those of us who are neither atheists nor born-again believers sometimes find it hard to imagine why it matters so much and how it can affect any part of life other than one's personal faith.

This article points out in good detail exactly how it matters. The time is on the horizon when faith may play a role in your ability to get hired, raise children, or live in certain communities -- and it's already affecting who gets elected.

My own experience with religion has been a roller-coaster ride. I was baptized in the Episcopalian church. I remember vividly the sense of reverance I felt in our beautiful downtown Cathedral with its orderly and high-cermony services (although the next-most vivid memory is of the wintergreen Breathsavers Mom used to keep us quiet). When my parents got divorced, they were both too embarrassed to go back. I started going to the Presbyterian church with my more daily faithful friend and her family. This period was filled with songs about Jesus, and I remember singing to God at night and sometimes crying because I loved him so much. I thought he was so beautiful.

As a teen, I was told by a family friend that I did not believe in God because I did not accept an anthropomorphized version of deity. I believed in energy (I still do) that has order in connection. He told me I was an atheist, and to my family's horror, that's what I told the cameraman at Channel 4 when they interviewed me as one of the speakers at my high school graduation. A girl from another school was suing to get the opening prayer taken out of the commencement ceremony. She felt it was oppressive to her and a violation of the separation of church and state. Declaring my atheism to all of Albuquerque didn't even take a second thought. But my family was deeply shocked and disappointed. They still bring it up to shame me.

Today, I've taken to going to the Universal Unitarian church. It's the ultimate liberal's church, valuing multiculturalism, personal faith, reason, pragmatism, and community. I no longer say I'm an atheist, although I still would to help support someone's valid efforts to protect the essential wall between church and state that protects religious freedom. I feel so far from operating in the confines of this debate that it barely registers in my daily life.

But I think we all must continue to be aware of just how much we stand to lose if present trends continue. This is not about who is right and who is damned; this is about freedom from religious persecution and freedom to decide one's own version of faith. We must not shrink from imagining -- and working to resist -- what happens as these freedoms get stripped away.