Monday, April 8, 2013

I didn't change, your mind did.

Sorry, no reply to Billy Graham today. We were actually faced with the curious phenomenon of him actually giving proper advice! Someone wrote in and asked if it was okay to cheat on their income taxes, and Mr. Graham rightly told them the correct answer that, no it's not okay to cheat on your tax return. I'm not even going to try and guess why someone thought it was a good idea to write in to a religious advice/question column to ask about a tax question, but I will give credit where credit is due. Billy earns a gold star this week and escapes my criticism for at least until next week.

Instead, I'd like to talk about another very curious phenomenon. Many non-believers may have found
themselves faced with it at some point in their non-theistic lives. If you're like me, there was a point where you didn't believe any longer, but no one knew that you didn't believe. Eventually, as time went by you decided to let that cat out of the bag. Upon revealing this news, how did the receiving party react? One that is certain is that the reactions can vary quite widely.

Personally, I've had it pretty easy thus far. When I told my parents, my father didn't really seem phased, whereas my mother took it okay with slight disappointment, mainly concerned with me telling the rest of the family (which I haven't yet). My brother... No surprise from him. Actually, it turned out he had doubts as well. My wife knew from day one, so no issues there. The biggest reaction I got was from friends.

The first friend that found out was very surprised. In fact, she wanted to know what had happened to cause this change (she assumed I was a Christian since I'm 'so nice and honest'). I was forced to tell her the truth... that nothing had changed. I had actually been an atheist since before we ever met. After that, everything returned back to normal. Most other friends have responded the same way.

Though many haven't been as lucky as I. On an atheist community I'm a member of, we've heard all manner of terrible stories. The reactions I wish to talk about are the ones where upon learning that you area non-believer, the recipient of this news acts as if they have no idea who you are anymore, they no longer trust you, and quite simply, their entire opinion and perception changes in one brief moment.

This really is quite sad, and highlights the shortcomings of the person jumping to such an absurd reaction, rather than the now out of the closet non-believer. The thing that these people don't realize is that you didn't change... only their perception of you has. It would be nice if everyone could be like the friend that I mentioned, and realize that I am still me. That I haven't changed one bit. But the sad fact is that many believers have been conditioned to distrust non-believers. Some have been convinced that we're immoral, deceptive, evil, and under the control of Satan/demons. Quite ridiculous really, but that's the truth we face.

But the simple fact is that what these people have been conditioned to believe is just plain wrong! You have to let them know that you are still the same person you've always been. You are still trustworthy. You are still honest and caring. And that you still love them the same as you always have. When a family member 'fires' you from your babysitting gig, that shows that they are very close-minded and for some reason ignore what their own eyes are telling them in order to try and fall into the picture painted by their priest or church. If a parent hears this news and instantly revokes your curfew out of distrust, or accuses you of Satan worship or drug use, it shows that they aren't paying attention as a parent. That they are valuing a false and fabricated perception over reality.

If a friend's attitude suddenly changes, or they disassociate from you, this shows that they were never real friends to begin with. A true friend will like you for who you are. Them learning the true of your non-belief shouldn't change that if they liked you for you. This is also true with romantic relationships. I've heard of girlfriends, boyfriends and fiances leaving their significant others, or suddenly have their attitudes change towards them once they learned that they do not believe. Again, this tells me that they didn't truly truly love you for you. After all, you didn't change. It's their biased view of you that has changed.

It really is quite sad that this issue actually exists. That religions can cause such division is sickening. Why reduce people to less then they were when you find that they don't hold the same belief as you? They are not suddenly sub-human. They are the same friend, brother, sister, lover, etc they were yesterday. Everything you liked about them yesterday is still true today. So lets move to stop playing these divisive games, judge people by their merits and live happier, more harmonious lives.

-BH

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