Dear Sister Christian

I went on a two-month mission trip in college and one of the leaders began calling me “Sister Christian”. This leader was a great lady and she often came up with little sayings that were endearing and/or humorous. As a Christian, I thought there was something satisfying in the idea that we were all connected as a family. We were a family that knew the truth of Christ’s love and salvation. So, I began using this new expression, sister Christian, since I preferred it to the more awkward-sounding “Sister (or Brother) in Christ”.

As you likely know, I am no longer a believer in any god and therefore no one can accurately call me sister Christian any longer. But in the letter below, the “feeler” in me chose to address my Christian friends and family in this former way because I like expressing affection. And I am truly grateful that, as human-beings, we are all connected in a familial way, despite our many differences in opinion and belief. (Note: this letter isn’t to anyone in particular, it’s a summation of my feelings and thoughts toward my religious family and friends).

Despite my desire to communicate, sometimes saying what I feel is the last thing I want to do...Here goes!

Communicating what I really feel can be so fun… here goes nothing!

Dear Sister (and Brother) Christian,

I miss you. I miss how things used to be. I miss our conversations. I miss the peace and harmony I felt when hanging out with you. Sadly, I am not sure we can have that back. It seems that you have taken a step back from our relationship. I get it… change can be hard. Especially the unexpected “rock the core beliefs” kind of change that happened to me.

It has been pretty exhausting… the process of:

  • doubting and questioning the faith I have had since I was young
  • seeking the truth despite what I grew up believing and despite what my loved-ones believe
  • realizing that I simply don’t believe anymore
  • sharing this news with people as it seems appropriate (examples here and here)
  • experiencing changes in many relationships
  • deciding how to handle all the changes
  • attempting to treat my friends and family with compassion and understanding
  • figuring out how to raise my children morally, without guidance from a god (examples here and here)
  • figuring out how to have community without church
  • observing you sharing about god at your convenience
  • holding my tongue so as not to offend people
  • and finally starting this blog so I can have a voice.

It is very possible that you are exhausted too and that many of your thoughts and prayers have been spent on my behalf. Maybe you fear for my eternal soul or what may happen to me in this life. Or perhaps, you don’t think about this change in my life at all. Maybe it just doesn’t bother you that much. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between. How do you feel about this change in my life? Well, either way, I felt it necessary to express my thoughts and feelings because while I am at peace with the realization that I’m an atheist, I am not at peace with my relationship with you.

Here are some things I think you should know about me:

  • I am still the same person I used to be
    • I love people and building relationships
    • I love my family A LOT
    • I enjoy being outdoors and staying active
    • I’m caring, honest, genuine, fun and enthusiastic
    • Like most people, I want happiness for myself and my loved-ones
  • I didn’t suddenly become immoral
    • I strive for the things that are in the best interest of myself, my family, my friends and my community
    • I don’t want to steal, lie, cheat, or harm anyone
  • I am not convinced there is a god because I haven’t found sufficient evidence
    • I didn’t lose faith because I wanted an excuse to sin
    • I am not a heathen because I felt harmed by god or his followers
    • While I am open to hearing your evidence, I would advise that you not treat me like a potential convert, I think that will only hurt our relationship
  • I don’t generally feel the need to talk about religion
    • I don’t care what you believe as long as you’re not hurting anyone
    • I enjoy the fact that I don’t need to be an evangelist anymore
    • While I do want you to think critically about your own viewpoint, I don’t want to spend time trying to convince you to agree with me
    • That said, I am open to talking about god and our existence and generally enjoy such conversations

_________________________________________________________________________

If I could have an ideal conversation with you about beliefs it would go something like this:

You: I believe ________ and this is why _________.

Me: OK, I don’t believe ________ and this is why __________.

You: Alright.

(We decide to mutually respect each other’s right to believe or not believe whatever we want as long as it’s not hurting anyone)

Me: Alright, well, that’s enough about religion.

You: Yeah, let’s have fun and enjoy each other’s company and not let religion get in the way.

_________________________________________________________________________

I realize life isn’t so simple, it’s not possible to have it exactly the way we want sometimes. And that’s OK.

I want you to know I am happy. I used to worry so much about what god might be saying to me or how he was leading my life. Now, I feel empowered to make my own choices and take responsibility for my life. I feel free. I feel at peace. I am doing well.

Lastly, I invite you to share anything about yourself that you would like me to know. I welcome your response to this letter if you feel compelled.

With much love,

Vanessa

 

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“Team Jesus Forever, Right?”

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The Out Campaign

When I began blogging last summer, one of my first posts was about Coming out as an Atheist. I mentioned there were extended family members, co-workers, and some friends who after 2 years still didn’t know about this huge change in my life. I had a lofty goal of taking opportunities to come out every chance I got. Well, after 7 months, I can’t say that I’m as far along as I want to be in this regard, but I have certainly made some progress. I wanted to take an opportunity to share with you one instance of coming out to a colleague.

Enter Shannon. I first met her when I was involved in a Christian ministry in college. She is an extremely bubbly, nice, goofy, beautiful, and yes, very devout, woman. Post college, we both remained in the same town and would catch up with each other occasionally. Many years later, prior to quitting my job last summer, we became colleagues for a few months. During those months, even though I was an atheist the entire time, she still knew me as “sold out for Jesus”. Even though she talked about god often, I just didn’t feel comfortable mentioning my lack of belief in a work setting.

file0001113911603When it was my last day at work, she gave me a big hug, passionately exclaimed how much she would miss me, and said, “It’s OK, team Jesus forever, right?” This statement took me SO off guard. I was absolutely not prepared for her to say that to me (in front of other people, mind you) so I had no response at all. I just sort of felt sick to my stomach, said goodbye, and turned around to leave. My issue is that so many people know me as a person that loves god and spends a lot of my time and energy pursuing god and his interests. Well, now that I’m an atheist, that obviously isn’t the least bit true anymore.  I want people to know that I no longer believe the things I use to believe, but how are they going to know if I don’t tell them? I can’t expect them to read my mind, that’s for sure. But the reality is, this can be an entirely awkward topic to bring up depending on how well I know a person and the context in which I encounter them.

So, after having this weird encounter with Shannon, I went home and felt sick about my inability to say something in the moment. I absolutely HAD to respond to “team Jesus forever, right?” Because, um… no, NOT team Jesus… not even if I was a Christian would I feel comfortable with that statement!

_DSC0835Below is the email I sent her that same night. To some, this may seem too soft and lovey dovey. But, this is me. I am often very sensitive to the feelings of others, it’s a part of who I am.

So, this email emerged:

Dearest Shannon –

I just love you and our budding friendship. I have felt the need to be honest with you in regards to my faith or lack there-of, although it is challenging for me to share because of reactions I have had from some family and friends.

In the past couple of years I have realized that I don’t believe in any gods. I look back fondly on all my Navigator (college ministry) memories, friendships, etc. but I have went on a journey of doubt, questioning, then realization that I don’t have enough evidence to believe there is a God. I value my relationships, family and morals immensely and I feel that I am in a good place and a good person without any faith in the supernatural.

I appreciate your spirit, compassion, and emanating love. I hope that we can continue forward in fondness for each other. Take care and seeya soon,

Vanessa

I am not sure how many times I will need to have this conversation with people, probably for the rest of my life to some degree. I do know that I will choose to be honest with people when it becomes necessary, just like it became necessary with Shannon.

Your Turn

Share an awkward moment when someone thought something about you that wasn’t true.

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New ‘About Me’ Page

I transformed from devoted Christian to self-proclaimed atheist, from religious to godless, and I’m here to blog stories, thoughts and ramblings about my Life Sans God.

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I grew up in beautiful Colorado and as a teenager I developed a love for staying active, sharing my life with people, and being my best self. I look back fondly on my high-school memories, in particular I replay one special moment often: the day me and 3 other girls placed 4th in our Medley Relay at the state track meet. Perhaps to some, this might not seem so glorious, and I have other accomplishments that sound better. But each of us worked damn hard that day (and many days prior), we accomplished something great together and I feel that I personally surpassed what I thought I was capable of doing. I literally feel butterflies and excitement all over again just thinking about it.

As I recall this story, it occurs to me that this event could have easily happened with or without god in my life. But the reality at that time, is that I was zealous for god and for the souls of every living person I knew. Don’t get me wrong, there were times I struggled to retain this fervor, but I was always sincere in my attempts to attain greatness for god.

Over 10 years later, I am the same person. I love staying active, sharing my life with people, and being my best self, only now I focus on running AND yoga and I share life with my husband and two preschool aged boys. Oh, and becoming my best self no longer involves a god of any kind.

Do you want to hear more stories, thoughts and ramblings now that my Life is Sans God? Well then… follow my blog!

**Please let me know what you think about my new About Me page**

This was Day 8 of the Zero to Hero Challenge. Learn more here.

Losing Faith

What was that fledgling idea I had when I decided to start this blog? Well, I really wanted a comfortable place to communicate honestly my reasons for coming out of the faith.  Though I had planned to write a post about my long journey to becoming an atheist months ago, I admit I have been dragging my feet. So, even though it’s really hard for me to be this intentionally vulnerable (it’s like pulling teeth without pain medication)… I will saddle up and share the story of how I lost my faith.

If you missed the brief history of my religious background, check it out here.

Questioning Sin

I would say that my deconversion from Christianity began about 8 years ago, in early 2006, when I was newly married. We moved into a small basement apartment of a house in “Old Town”. Several people lived upstairs and across the hall in the basement there was one other apartment next to ours. That’s where Nick lived. Nick was purposefully and awkwardly funny, he introduced us to the world of Ultimate Frisbee, and frankly he turned out to be a great neighbor. We swapped keys at some point and if we were out of town Nick would sometimes call and say, “Can I borrow some milk? O, and can I hang out and watch the game at your place?” And he offered the same hospitality to us. That’s really the best kind of neighbor.

Ultimate Frisbee Costume Tournament (Nick, Matt, me)

Ultimate Frisbee Costume Tournament
(Nick, Matt, me)

The first time we had Nick over for dinner we initiated our common ritual, praying before the meal. Right after the prayer Nick said, “So, you guys are Christians, huh? You ever seen Broke Back Mountain?” I laughed at his intentional prodding but even though I hadn’t seen the movie, at the time the idea of a film “promoting homosexuality” made me feel uncomfortable. I certainly would struggle to admit it back then, but I was homophobic and I thought homosexuality was a sin. I believed you should love the sinner and hate the sin of gay sex. In a later conversation Nick, my husband and I got into a more in-depth discussion about being gay and there were a few things Nick said that struck a cord with me, big time. He said:

  • Most of the stuff that is in the bible makes sense to me because it usually forbids hurting someone in some way, but I’ve never understood what it says about being gay… if you’re gay, you’re not hurting anyone.
  • Imagine if we lived in a world where the “normal” or common thing was to be gay and everybody discriminated against or looked down on straight people.
  • Why would someone choose to be discriminated against by choosing to be gay?
  • Why would god let someone be born with homosexual tendencies and then punish them for those tendencies?

Huh, I had never thought of it from that point of view before. It’s amazing how these questions planted a seed in me that I mulled over for years. I really struggled with the thought that I was discriminating against people that had done nothing wrong, even if my discrimination was frowning at them in silent judgment of their lifestyle. But on the other hand, the bible was the infallible word of God, it was God breathed! My insides were telling me “I don’t like this dogma that I have been brought to believe about gay people” but the bible was telling me “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? … Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men … will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

My response to all of this was: well, I will just set those types of verses aside and try not to worry about them. At this time I didn’t fully throw them out because that begs the question, what other verses can be thrown out? This was the start of my cognitive dissonance and for the time being I was able to keep my doubts at bay.

Questioning God

Gradually, over the next 5 years I transformed from a conservative Christian (biblical inerrancy belief and devout religious practice) to a liberal Christian (personal biblical interpretation and relaxed religious practice).

But then, at the end of 2011, the floodgates opened and the questions just started flowing. Below are some of the things I could not reconcile with my god belief. Keep in mind that I may have asked some of these questions earlier in my life but this was the first time I asked them without assuming I already had the right answer from god.

  • Why are there so many religions? There are many good people of various religions but they can’t all be right. If I put my belief in the wrong god, yet I live a good, well-intentioned life, why is it justified for me to go to hell for eternity?
  • How is it that god is all knowing, all powerful, and all good and still he allows evil? Read more about the Problem of Evil
  • Eternal torture for not believing in the right god is an exceptionally vengeful punishment, is it not? Eternity is a REALLY long time. Read more of my thoughts on hell
  • It’s self-centered to look at my situation and say, “I am so lucky to have been born in this day and age in America, thank you god”, when so many terrible things have happened and continue to happen all over the world. Why does god allow all the terrible stuff to happen to people yet he gets credit for a successful surgery completed by a trained medical doctor?
  • Why does god get credit for things that have another explanation?
  • If I don’t know why something good happened, why should I just assume “well, it must have been god that did it”? If I attribute good things to god, why don’t I attribute the bad things to him as well?
  • Why is it necessary to “catch ’em young” (teach religion to our youth)? If something is true it shouldn’t matter when or how someone encounters it, it’s still the truth.
  • When I look around and see beautiful and magnificent things in nature, just because I don’t understand the mechanisms that happened over time to make it happen, why should I attribute it to a god?
  • Why does the holy spirit say contradictory things to people?
  • Why does the bible contradict itself?
  • How is a bible verse good evidence for god? Why should I believe the bible just because the bible says so or Christians say so?
  • Why does god need our financial help to do his work?
  • Why is god so sneaky? Why doesn’t he just reveal himself to everyone on earth and save us all?

While some may be able to come away from all of these questions with some justification for god, ultimately, I can no longer suspend my disbelief. If I am to put my trust and belief in a god, I need sufficient evidence that such a god truly exists. So far I have found no such evidence.

A big thanks to Nick for helping me start to question the bible. An even bigger thanks to my husband for helping me question throughout the entire process. Lastly, I am grateful to myself for resolving to say to god, “If you are real and you created me, I trust that you want me to freely use my god-given brain to question and process information in an honest way, without fear”.  It was that statement that allowed me to let go of my fears and ultimately be set free from the chains of religion. Can I get an amen? 😉

sagan quoteThis was Day 3 of the Zero to Hero Challenge. Learn more here.

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Coming Out as an Atheist

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So it’s true, I have come out as an atheist to my close family and friends.

BUT, there are extended family members, co-workers and some friends who do not know about this huge change I have made in my world view. There are people who were in my conservative Christian college group who still send me letters requesting financial support for their ministry (I don’t even take the time to read these letters anymore because they make me angry). There are a whole lot of people I know who think I’m a good Christian girl. They don’t know that I now find myself a more compassionate, moral, mindful, truthful and confident person then I have ever been before in my life. All that, plus I’m an atheist, and I am proud of it!proud atheist photo: Proud Atheist proudatheistfig.gif

A few thoughts:

  • Coming out seems challenging because I used to be a hard core Christian – I thought it was my responsibility to evangelize and bring the inerrant, inspired Word of God to the ends of the earth and many know that about me.
  • Being a conservative believer sold out for Jesus is what people expect me to be and that is part of why I feel the need to proclaim “No, I think that God, Jesus and Christianity are harmful, wrong, immoral and false at best”.
  • I really don’t want people assuming that I agree with their world view when I don’t.
  • I fear the affects this could have on my immediate family, my husband Matt and I’s work environments, my extended family dynamics, etc.
  • With Matt’s family in particular, an emotional chasm has formed between them and us. I fear that coming out as an atheist will only fuel their anger.

    After almost two years, it's time to come out

    After almost two years, it’s time to come out

In the end, I think that being brave and being who I am is the right thing to do. When I’m ready, I plan to take the opportunity to come out as an atheist as needed, every chance I get!

Follow-Up: Check out my follow-up post “Team Jesus Forever, Right” where I share a story about coming out to a colleague.