The One Privilege I Lack

I am straight, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, upper-middle class, educated male. While society offers me far more benefits than I will ever come close to knowing, I do know what it feels like to be a minority/outsider. Though I cannot say that I am persecuted, I cannot discuss an integral part of who I am with much of my family for fear of what they might say, think, or do. I reject their most precious belief: their belief in God.

You don’t need religion to be a good person. If you cannot tell right from wrong, then you lack empathy, not religion.

– Anonymous

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twin, Huck is forced to make a radical decision: he refuses to turn in an escaped slave, his friend, Jim. For this he knows he is going to hell, as that is what he has been conditioned to believe throughout his whole life. Instead of following (white American) society’s expectations, Huck allows his conscience to guide his actions; this is perhaps the most powerful lesson Mark Twain includes in the novel.

To state the obvious, College Station, Texas is one of the most conservative, religious places in the United States.

I am a tree-huggin’, gun-hatin’, baby-murderin’, queer-lovin’, feminazi lib-‘tard. Moreover, I do not believe in any god.

My parents, while sharing many of my liberal beliefs, are both active Christians. My dad is significantly more tolerant of my beliefs (or lack thereof, rather) than my mom, it seems; every Sunday at lunch — today was no exception — my mom proselytizes me tells me about the great sermon I missed and the many lessons she learned, and, without fail, guilts reminds me how much all the old people (everyone) there miss me. (I don’t have to go to church anymore, thank God (pun intended), but I used to, so all the old people know me and ask where I am.)

If I had to give a label to my beliefs regarding the supernatural, I would not choose the term “atheist”. I usually go with “non-religious”, since it has a lot less bite. There is no way in hell (pun intended) that I would feel comfortable tossing around the word “atheist” in College Station. I’m not crazy. Many think that not following a religion makes one amoral, but that is not the case. Conscience, like Huck taught us, is the ultimate guide. Its development is actually greatly influneced by one’s surroundings; in reality, my thought process today is still heavily influenced by protestant Christianity. I just don’t acknowledge the existence of the supernatural.

Interestingly, I feel my atheism has allowed me to better understand others’ religious beliefs. I can see that those with whom I disagree are just as grounded in their beliefs as I am in mine. I knew the comfort religion brings, and I have an idea to propose: perhaps religion has survived all these millennia, despite the decline of mysticism, because of the effectiveness of their central practices, and not by salvation and divine approval. Perhaps, since prayer and meditation do have such obvious, tangible benefits, they can be explained in Earthly terms. For example, let’s take the popular Christian adage “Let go and let God”: this calls one to abandon any worries and trust that God will make whatever is in question right (that is, in accordance with His/Her will). The believer, in turn, achieves a sense of tranquility and peace, since they are no longer preoccupied with the situation. However, if we take God out of the equation, we still derive the same result. If a situation seems impossible or insurmountable, it probably is. In this case, sit back, and make yourself ready to deal with whatever consequences may arise, instead of trying to control the situation.

Every now and then I wish I had religion. Like I said, I know first-hand how strong a shelter it can be. My family has called upon God in times of struggle, sickness, death, and addiction. I watch them, like an outsider, as their wounds heal, and they reach their peace. My peace is not so easily found. (I’m not saying having faith is easy. It isn’t.) I, personally, must analyze and rationalize every situation, as I have no luxury of saying “God did it”. This is not a path I have chosen. This is how my brain functions.

If you know me, you wouldn’t call me a bad person (at least I hope). But, if you did, you certainly wouldn’t be able to attribute it to my lack of religion.


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