The Freedom of Autonomy

Most of the time, when I hear the word “autonomy”, it’s being referred to as a negative thing. Almost everyone I know has a pretty steadfast “Jesus take the wheel” mindset. They let go of their worries, send up some prayers, and let God take care of the rest. It’s not their problem anymore, nor should it be. If something doesn’t work out, they simply say that it wasn’t in God’s plan for them and that when he closes one door, he opens another.

The idea of autonomy gives many Christians the impression that if they don’t give control to God, then they are playing god in their own lives. They have taken over the god-role and are assuming that they have that omnipotent amount of control and the freedom to do whatever they want. And putting yourself in God’s place is a way of idolizing yourself and your power, which of course goes against God’s very own ten commandments.

This, however, is not how I see autonomy. The person with the greatest amount of control in your own life should be you and not some external factor or person. No one should have complete control or unquestionable power over your life and what happens to you. That being said, it is true that there is a lot that’s out of your control, but that’s no reason to give up and let someone or something else take over. One of my greatest pet peeves of religion is allowing prayer to take the place of action. If something is hard, that means that you have to work harder, not hand it over to God and say that you’ve done all that you can. Autonomy means standing up for yourself when you know that you’re on your own and there’s no one else who can live your life for you.

I did a bit of research into my family history today. From the looks of it, we have been members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod all the way back to its founding, and Lutherans back even further. The other side of my family had a mix of Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists. I have no way of knowing if there were any closeted atheists, agnostics, or deists mixed in, but for the most part, everyone was religious. It seems to me that I am one of the first, if not the first, atheists in my entire family tree. Needless to say, that is a terrifying discovery. The nature of atheism leaves me with no one to pray to, and the nature of my situation leaves me with no family members to talk to about how to handle being an anomaly with such hugely different views and values. My boyfriend and I have to find our own way in dealing with all of this.

Some may see this as a hopeless situation, and a lot of the time, I find myself in the catch-22 of either living a lie forever or disappointing my family so badly that they shun me forever. However, I do my best to see this as an opportunity for autonomy and a way to actually be honest to myself and take control of what I can. Being (almost) alone in this situation of being a closeted atheist in a stiflingly conservative Christian environment both at home and at school, finding my own personal beliefs (and lack thereof) is something that has brought me great joy. I’m at an age where everyone is still discovering who they are, and among all these believers, being an atheist has been something that is uniquely mine, and I’m proud of it.

Last year, when I was discovering Dawkins, atheism, and myself, I went through a lot of depression and a handful of anxiety attacks as I tried to get comfortable in my own skin. Throughout this year, I’ve become more comfortable as an atheist, and taking control of my situation has been freeing and empowering. In November, I decided that I wanted to start a blog in order to let out some of my pent up frustration and emotions in regards to atheism, religion, and my life. At the beginning, I was terrified even to put my story out on the Internet, and I could barely even say “I am an atheist.” I’ve realized that I had to give up a little bit of that security in order to gain back that much of my sanity. This blog is something that is entirely mine, and it is a way to turn this difficult time into an opportunity to write and create content online, which is another newly discovered passion of mine.

This past Thursday evening, I hit one hundred followers, a milestone at which I had promised myself I would upgrade and become theclosetatheist.blog. I know this may seem small, but to me, it was a huge accomplishment, and it means so much to me that when I wanted something, I went for it, and I did what I set out to do. I am excited to see how much more this small personal blog can grow, and I’m lucky to have so many kind and supportive followers. I already have some ideas for more posts, but I would also love to take suggestions in the comments for what you would like me to write about on future Sundays!

41 Replies to “The Freedom of Autonomy”

  1. I really like this post. You share much in common with the way I was raised. One side of my family is decisively Catholic and the other side is a majority of Methodists. My wife is the only one in my everyday life who believes similar to the way I do. Even my 13-year-old son, who I share costs of, revealed to me some time ago that he is a believer. Because of my feelings of spiritual isolation, I started frequenting Facebook pages and groups to communicate with like-minded individuals and try to understand exactly how I feel. Now I have this blog and it serves me quite well as an outlet for my “sinful” thoughts. I have relatives that are members of the clergy and you can only imagine how delicately I must handle family get-togethers.

    Like

    1. Wow… our lives are scarily similar! I identify pretty closely with all of those things, although I don’t have kids.

      I’d like to take a look at your blog, but WordPress says that disabledscholar.wordpress.com doesn’t exist. Is there another URL I can try?

      Like

          1. The only thing I can think of is that I just upgraded to a personal page and it says it can have problems for the first 72 hours. I hope that’s all it is but please let me know if you’re still having problems next week.

            Like

            1. That’s strange. It should be working whether it is through WordPress telling me that it is at your new domain name or it would redirect me automatically. I upgraded from theclosetatheist39.wordpress.com to theclosetatheist.com but both of those links lead you to my blog.

              Like

  2. A know some Christians that are not so self assured, and those that say they are maybe saying it because they are expected to.

    Great point on being responsible for your own decisions and actions.

    I am glad you are proud. Most Christians seem to think being proud is like having leprosy. When pride does get in the way is when because of your talents and hard work you believe you are better than others.

    I found that the firmer I became as an atheist the more peace and assurance I had in my life. There are other reasons for this, but they are a major factor.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “One of my greatest pet peeves of religion is allowing prayer to take the place of action”
    You won’t believe this, but in my English exam, we had reading comprehension (I’m supposing you know what it is, despite different education systems) and the passage was about how prayer is important. And I simply could not believe it when one of the questions said explain why it is important for a nation, as a collective entity, to pray. In what I consider to the most heroic act of my life (I’m pretty lame, FYI) I ranted about how making the nation pray would be against the secular ideals, since it would involve excluding atheists and agnostics. And if you’re excluding anyone from “the nation as a collective entity” on the basis of religious belief or lack thereof, then you’re acting against the principles upon which the country was built.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. well they didnt say you had to agree, just explain. you did a brave thing, indeed, and I’d love to know how you were graded on that question.

      One other point: which religion? Which ‘god’ do you pray to? Is it still a collective prayer if everyone chooses their own god to pray to? Won’t that confuse them?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I’d be getting my paper on 14th and I have half a mind of making a post about what happens. I’d post photos of it, so people can see what happened. It actually was a one mark question, so there wasn’t a lot on stake, but I am absolutely unbearably eager to see the teacher’s reaction to my answer. I even went as far ahead as to write ‘ I realise my answer isn’t the proper one you’d expect, but if independent thinking is not being given marks, then you know something’s wrong with education system’

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Aayush,

      I actually saw this comment as soon as you wrote it, and I meant to respond, but I forgot (sorry!). Anyways, I think that is really cool! I’ve had essay questions like that before too (albeit it can be expected at my school) and it is really nerve-wracking to respond in a way that you think/know they will disagree with. Last semester the final question on my last final exam of finals week was my thoughts on the quote that if Bertrand Russell were to stand before God, and God were to ask, “why didn’t you believe in me?” and Russell says “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.” I was supposed to respond with my thoughts on whether there was enough evidence to believe in God…. obviously I don’t, and I wasn’t about to lie. But I aced the test; I’m glad that my professor was more concerned with me giving a thoughtful and facts-based response rather than the expected “of course God is real!” response.

      Do you go to a Christian school, or is this an instance of a public school system forcing religion where it doesn’t belong?

      And I do see your response as heroic (you can call me lame too: I got the same adrenaline rush during my exam), and I would absolutely love to see a post about it on your blog! If I can get a hold of it, I might one day post about my test on here as well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My school is a private, non religious one. It does make us do prayers in the morning, but not towards any particular religion, just general ones. And to my immense disappointment, the response to my answer was rather underwhelming. The teacher just wrote ‘Too Long’ and didn’t give any marks. So there’s not really a point to making a post about it.

        Like

            1. Also sounds as if he were ducking your comments in the answer. He may have felt you were asking for a response, i.e., trouble, and so he just ignored the entire incident.
              Agreed, that was lazy and mean.
              I guess you got your answer, though, even if it’s not the one you expected.

              Like

  4. I vote that you celebrate your autonomy by surprise us writing about the things you about the topics you think are important for you to write about.. Practise your autonomy, because practice makes perfect. Remember, this is your blog to do with as you please. And obviously it pleases you to ask others about what they want you to write. But that is the opposite of autonomy, still choosing others to make up your mind for you. Maybe you need to think about how autonomous you want to be? take an inch, take a kilometer. Even having your atheist boyfriend involved in your decisions takes away from your autonomy. Think about it. Autonomy is yours for the having, but it isn’t something you can share.
    rawgod

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True autonomy is akin to the monk who lives in a cave and survives on roots, berries, and rainwater. We need other people, however peripherally, in our lives, as companions, lovers, friends, confidantes.
      I didn’t see that she was asking others to make up her mind for her, only wanting them to suggest topics they might like to discuss. There’s a huge difference there.

      We are all autonomous, to varying degrees; how we handle it is what makes us who we are. The fact that she is flying in the face of a very strong family ethic is courageous, to say the least.

      I keep thinking, it might be wise if she keeps the closet door closed on this in her homelife, at least until she is independent both physically and monetarily, of her family. That may sound hypercritical, but it’s also common sense.

      Like

  5. “The nature of atheism leaves me with no one to pray to, and the nature of my situation leaves me with no family members to talk to about how to handle being an anomaly with such hugely different views and values”

    I completely understand this, I’ve been an atheist for ten years, but I still get family members who say, “you’ll change your mind one day,” “I’m praying for you”, “I used to be an atheist then I had children.”

    Congrats on reaching 100!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I find that religion can be a crutch for uncertainty. Instead of investigating and solving a problem, a religious individual leans on what scripture says or what their priest/church teaches. Their only answer to “why” they believe something or to what they should do in a given circumstance is that whatever it says in their chosen book. No need to think! God did the thinking for me. Talk about giving up autonomy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right on the money, but the sad thing is, they have been taught since birth to lean on the church. As I said elsewhere, most churches encourage this, even their language reflects it. “Our Father” , priests referred to as Father, the church portrayed as our spiritual home…usually the people who move away from religtion are already independent thinkers, and the move out from under the religious umbrella is just the final step.

      Even in the church no one is encouraged to question, to debate. Try it, and you get an elbow in the ribs from your mother and a hard stare from the priest or minister. “god’s will”, they say, and that’s the end of that.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I love your points about autonomy. At least with my family’s Catholicism, one area I find autonomy to be compromised by religion is in politics. My parents literally decide how to vote based on the church position on several controversial issues (abortion being number 1). While there’s nothing wrong with voting based on one’s ideas about an issue, I’ve watched my parents flip-flop on issues until the church makes a statement about it. It freaks me out, honestly. They wait to be told how to vote before making a decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it’s the same with any religion, nancy. The church owns the faithful, and the church becomes advisor, parent, owner. It sounds harsh, but if you listen to the language…a priest is called “Father” and he refers to God as the Holy Father. Believers are ‘his cihldren” . It’s a constant drumming that we are not worthy, we must pray to Mother Mary or Joseph, “we are as little chldren…”

      And yes, they want to be told. They’ve been trained from birth to obey, to let the priests guide them in all aspects. Churches do not encourage independent thought. =)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find it so unhealthy to live that way, and it reminds me of cultism. One thing I really love about atheism is that while most atheists have similar opinions on political issues, there’s no viewpoint that we are required to follow the way that followers of religion are forced to do. For example, I’ve always thought of myself as pro-life, but I believe that since atheism has opened my mind to critical thinking, I’ve become more open to hearing the arguments for pro-choice. Right now I’m kind of in the middle, which is fine, since there’s not any kind of rule that atheists have to be pro-choice.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. And the magic word is choice. We don’t have to do anything that our own personal conscience tells us is wrong. We don’t have to do anything because a church tells us we must.
          In many ways it’s a more natural way of choosing, since it comes from the inside, rather than imposed on us by a religion. And every religion has different do’s and don’ts. and their sins (don’t wear red, you mustn’t sing on sundays, no dancing at all, ever) vary wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other.

          Prochoice is just that. It allows a woman to vote her conscience. No one is telling her what to do with her own body. I would like to think we have progressed beyond the days of Hester Prynne and the scarlet letter…

          Like

  8. As someone who is concerned (and oppressed) by the influence of religion on society, I’d be interested to hear what, if anything, the Lutheran community are doing to ‘spread the word’ – to promote their world view to the wider community.
    Congratulations on reaching 100 followers. You deserve it for such a well-written, well-presented, supportive, and rather inspirational blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Lutheran Church is heavily involved in charitable work (not as much as the Catholic church), so much of their evangelizing is done through these activities. They also have an entire Lutheran radio station in St. Louis (KFUO), and it runs the Lutheran Family Services, a foster/adoption/etc. organizing. As religious principle, Lutherans aren’t as committed to “works of faith” as they are committed to simply believing church doctrine. This goes all the way back to the 1500s when Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses and nailed them to the local church’s door.

      Like

  9. this: “and taking control of my situation has been freeing and empowering.” yes, I thought. You’ve got it.

    As scary as it is to let go of that last hand-hold, when you realize that you’re hanging on all by yourself, and not suffering the torment of the damned, this is exaccly what if feels like.

    I agree with timothy (waving), but also realizing that by writing this stuff down, the ‘what if…” things, you are letting a lot of these fears go. Just the act of writing them out can loosen a lot of concerns up when you see them spelled out that way.

    If you wanted to take this a step further, think about how you would actually handle the events.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s