Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Coming Out Story, And The Insidious Nature Of Religion

Recovering From Religion often tweets/posts good questions to provoke conversation.  Here's one from yesterday.
So, here's a short story of me coming out as a non-believer.

Having always been an atheist, I went into college as an atheist.  I was not yet an activist.  I don't think I even really identified as the word "atheist".  By that point, I had put very little thought into it all.  Even after spending 6 years in a church youth group while openly not believing and not participating in most of the few religious things they did.

When making friends, I put zero thought into their religion.  I didn't give a shit about their religion even when I befriended a girl who always wore the same cross necklace.  The only reason I even noticed the cross was because it was the only way I could tell her apart from her identical twin sister.  The only time I ever remarked on the necklace was to request that she keep wearing it until I could tell them apart without it.

I enjoyed my friendship with the pair of them, who were my lunch companions every day for the first several months I was at college.  We never argued over our religious differences.  Those differences never came up at all.  I honestly don't even know the exact point they found out (or figured out) that I was an atheist.  I never made a point of telling them.  At least not until it came up.

One day, they decided to invite me to a meeting of a group they belonged.  Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  Maybe they thought I was Christian and had made the same assumption most people do.  Maybe this was the moment they found out I was not a Christian.  Either way, their response to me telling them I'd be out of place in that group because I was neither of those things (Christian or Athlete) changed the nature of our relationship forever.

"We don't want you to go to Hell."

I'd been around religious people all my life, but that was the first time anyone had suggested that my fate possibly involved Hell.

My response was not fear.  Hell is often used to scare people into believing, but Hell was never something capable of inducing fear in me.  I'm not wired that way.

My response not offense either.  While I find the concept of Hell offensive, I took the invitation as them wanting to include their friend in a group they enjoyed.  And I took the bit about Hell as them being genuinely concerned for my fate, not wanting me to suffer.

Nevertheless, that incident meant the end of two friendships I valued.  I do not recall if it was me or them who pulled away.  I never held ill will toward them, and I never had any reason to believe either of them did so toward me.  There was no fighting.  No arguing.  There was only that one implication that I was going to Hell.  We simply drifted apart.  It was not even until years later that I realized this incident was the cause of us drifting apart, but I have no doubt that it was.  And I have no doubt that this was not the only time in my life this has happened to me.

I still regret that we didn't remain friends.  They were fun.  They were good people.  Two good people that I lost from my life all because of their religion and what it says about people who do not share that religion.

Religion does not just cause obvious harm.  It's not always family we lose because of it.  It's more insidious than that.  Sometimes it just quietly kills the relationships between people who found each other and would otherwise be quite close.

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