I outgrew my nontheist closet the other day. Partly I was forced and partly I was just tired of the smothering Christian closet I’d been existing in for the last year.
I received an email from the principal of the school where I was a teacher, requesting to meet with me regarding my social media use. I had no idea what things on social media he was referring to, but I figured that, whatever it was, my job was in jeopardy.
My job being in jeopardy was a relief. I had not self-identified as a Christian for several weeks, and I had been considering resigning from my position as a matter of personal integrity. This school requires their teachers to affirm and sign a statement of faith. You have to believe the “right” things to work there. And I most definitely no longer believed the “right” things. I wrote up my resignation letter and went to the meeting.
It turned out, my review of Peter Enn’s The Bible Tells Me So (see previous post!) and my questioning biblical inerrancy was enough that they were going to force my resignation regardless. I didn’t believe the right things. Also, I used the word “fucking” and the acronym “Classy AF” on my Instagram. Let’s just be honest here, it wasn’t just my religious beliefs. But I’m fairly certain that the religious beliefs were the driving force. I told them openly, I do not identify as a Christian. What a weight was lifted when I handed them my letter, turned in my textbooks, and walked out of First Baptist Belton as a free woman.
I promptly posted a declarative statement on Facebook publicly coming out of the nonreligious closet to my friends. In hindsight, I wish I had been a little more slow and gentle with this process. I wish that I had spoken to my family and my best friends in person, or at least written a letter. This post is an attempt to explain myself a little better than simply saying “I am not a Christian.”
My thoughtful friend, Jake, asked me: “What does it mean for you to not be a Christian? What exactly is it you’re rejecting, if you don’t mind me asking?” My friend, Diana, asked “Are you nothing, a follower of Christ, agnostic, or what would you describe it as?”
Let me go through these step by step. And please know that, if you are someone with whom I have a close friend or familial relationship with, that my rejection of Christianity is not a rejection of you. And I am also not responsible for your reaction to me leaving the Christian tribe, whether your reaction is positive or negative.
What does it mean for me to not be a Christian? It means that I do not believe that Jesus Christ was the son of god. I do not believe that I need to accept him as a savior to be saved from a fiery afterlife. I do not believe that I need to evangelize others and bring them into the Christian tribe to save their souls. I do not believe that a literal firey torment awaits all those who do not accepts Jesus as their savior. I have always considered the primary tenet of Christianity to be belief in Christ as the Messiah and Savior. As I do not believe that, I do not consider myself a Christian.
What am I rejecting? Let me write a few bullet points of ideas that I have rejected that stem from the Christian religion. I won’t go deep into them, but if anyone would like to discuss them in further detail, I’m willing.
- a literal, physical hell
- Biblical literalism, inerrancy, and infallibility
- Creationism of the type of Answers in Genesis
- the divinity of Christ; I do not deny that Jesus was a historical figure at all, or that he did great things
- the idea of God’s sovereignty, divine providence, a divine plan, etc.
- penal substitutionary atonement
- Total depravity of humanity
Am I nothing? I would have to say that I’m “nothing” in the sense that I don’t align myself with a particular religion anymore. I retain a belief in the spirit and remain deeply spiritual.
Am I a follower of Christ? Only in the sense that I want to follow the way of love. I believe that Jesus Christ had the most altruistic and loving vision for humanity contained in his teachings of love. I do not reject those teachings. I follow the way of Christ’s love, the same as I will follow the way of the Buddha in compassion and detachment.
Am I agnostic? Yes. I do not believe that the existence of god/gods can either be proven or disproven. It would be overconfident of myself to label myself a sincere and total atheist. I am atheistic about the monotheistic god that has developed over the last 4,000 years in the three main monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But regarding the existence of a god/gods in general, I am agnostic.
So, what does all this mean for me? It means that I am choosing to live my life without the guilt and chains that Christianity thrust upon me for 26 years. It means that I will do my best to be kind, compassionate, and altruistic. It means that I will make this world a better place, since I only have this one wild and beautiful life. It means I will focus less on believing the “right things” and more on being a good person. It means that no, I am not going to donate to your church or your mission trip or your monthly support fund. It means that I am going to politely close the door if you try to knock on my door and invite me to church. It means that I will respectfully not join in with religious activities if I do not want to, and I will not attempt to meld with the tribe out of a sense of self-preservation, as I have in the past. I will get to be me, true to myself and what I actually believe. It also means that I am not abandoning my friends or family, and I hope they don’t abandon me. As I said, me rejecting this religion is not me rejecting you, unless that is all you are. In any case, I am not going to be the one to burn any bridges.
Let me share a quick quote that spoke to me from a video I watched this morning about “coming out of the atheist closet” by Neil Carter, author of Godless in Dixie:
Atheism is the answer to one question: do you believe in gods? It’s not a comprehensive life stance. It doesn’t answer all the questions of life, it doesn’t tell you how to run a society… by itself it’s not a comprehensive worldview. It’s just an answer to one question.”
I’d have to say that this sentiment relates to much of what I have written here. I have in no way detailed my entire life stance in a mere 1,200 words. I have in no way answered all the questions to life at this point. I’m on a lifelong journey of self-discovery, and coming into my honest truth as a nontheist is where I have arrived.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading, thank you for listening, and thank you for being in my life. Also, thank you in advance for not seeking to evangelize, reconvert, or save me. I say that in the kindest, most loving way possible.