If you’ve been following my story over the past month, then you’ll know that my proverbial closet door kind of got bust open by a leaked secret and that after turmoil and hard decisions, I ended up telling my mom I’m an atheist. On the chance that you indeed have been reading my story, then you are probably curious about what happened next.
At the end of my first coming-out conversation with my mom, I let her know that I was more than open to this being an on-going dialogue rather than an awkward topic that never comes up. So about a week ago, we had somewhat of a follow-up conversation where she asked me all of the questions (and reprimands and the like) that she had thought of and written down over two weeks since our first talk. Here I’ll outline some of her main points and why she thinks I’m the crazy one, which show that rather than a true dialogue, it was quite the lopsided interaction, loaded with misunderstanding.
I’ll start off being blunt with you: my mom doesn’t just think I’m crazy; she thinks you are, too. I didn’t tell her about this blog, but in coming out I had to mention that revealing your atheism to religious parents is a really big deal, and it’s a common thing for my generation to endure. I told her how often people are really terrified to do it, as I was, and some people even risk being thrown out of the house or losing financial support. Actually, she was quite offended that I would even imagine her throwing me out on the street or not loving me because of a difference of beliefs, but I had no idea how she would react. I didn’t really think she would do that, but it was the worst possible scenario, and I had to be prepared for anything.
Later, my Internet research came up again when we discussed where I learned about atheism and arguments for and against the existence of God. She claimed that since I don’t know any unbelievers in person, and the primary way that I’ve learned about it is through the Internet, I shouldn’t trust anything I read online about it. To my readers whose blogs I also follow: unless you’re a Christian, I shouldn’t trust anything you say because you’re probably a crazed Internet psycho who hates God . . . sorry to inform you. (I guess you can’t trust me either, because I am too!)
My confirmation bias
This is one thing that as soon as my mom said it, I tried to explain why it wasn’t true, but she wasn’t having it. First she went on for a while about how I decided not to believe because I wanted a lack of accountability to authority and whatnot… I was dumbfounded to hear this from her. Any of us, as atheists, have heard “You just want to sin!” in numerous variations since deconverting, and I hear it so much that it doesn’t really get to me anymore. But it’s just so blatantly wrong, falsely accusing us of something that doesn’t even make sense, and hearing it from my own mother kind of stung. I couldn’t help but cringe as she said it. I did try to explain that for atheists, the accountability is now to ourselves and each other rather than a god who would forgive us every Sunday at communion, but that, along with any other justification I gave, was moot.
In order to confirm my anti-God and anti-accountability bias, according to my dear mother, I’m in the business of manipulating facts in the face of clear evidence for God (since as real-life miracles and answered prayers which she did not hesitate to provide) in order to find him absent. Even though I always look at the question from all sides, reading books both for and against the existence of God and taking Apologetics 101 (which I miraculously aced, if you were curious), the only reason I do so, according to her, is because I think I’m smarter than the creator of the universe.
I tried my best to explain that a confirmation bias towards atheism, for a Christian child, really does not make any sense. I’d been told tale after tale in which I was given the end answer, and when I later went to gather the facts and any explanation, the story didn’t hold up. If I’d had any confirmation bias, it would have been in favor of their veracity, but having no one ever tell me that there was a chance Genesis was false, I had no way to arrive at that conclusion but on my own. I never imagined that God didn’t exist until I went through the arguments by myself and pieced together the whole picture. For me, the answer came only after the questions: the opposite of a confirmation bias.
And the conversion attempts begin…
Throughout the conversation, my mom’s greatest point was that I “never gave God a chance.” I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it well to you, but I understood where she was coming from even though I didn’t agree. She emphasized something that she brought up briefly in our initial conversation: instead of looking at the logical arguments on both sides of the God debate, I should instead read the Bible and devotional books. I should give praying a try, and humble myself rather than trying to outsmart and disprove God. It doesn’t make any sense, I know, but if you have had similar coming-out conversations then you might sympathize. She was trying to say that this really is a matter of the heart instead of the head. It was more about getting into the right mindset, because my “confirmation bias” would keep me from seeing the truth no matter what the facts said.
What she, and many other Christians, doesn’t understand, is that we atheists like to start from square one and build from there: first we use what we know to determine if we can find a reason to believe in God, and if we do then we might consider practicing a religion. Take note though, that this doesn’t usually happen. Atheists converting back to religion after leaving it is almost unheard of, and for good reason. We don’t see the evidence we’re looking for, and until we do, we’re not going to worship an invisible and undetectable deity.
At the end of our conversation, my mom slyly mentioned again that she did in fact pay for my tuition and while she wasn’t about to throw me out on the street, she wanted me to do her a favor–if you can call it that. She then produced a piece of art that had been sitting by her, hidden in a shopping bag throughout our conversation. It was a bible verse that she wanted–required–that I display in plain sight in my dorm and my future place of residence.
She explained that this was the verse given to me when I was confirmed into our Lutheran church, which was very significant to her. She teared up as she told me that I can’t deny that it’s a sign from God that I was assigned a verse about following God and never being “snatched out of His hand.” I now have it in my dorm, which I always took pride in being my own space, not littered with bible verses or religious propaganda, but I guess it is a small price to pay for coming out of the closet.
I’m learning that there is no point in trying to explain my side to my mother, because she really sees my beliefs as ludicrous. It’s frustrating, but it’s not a big deal, because I’m confident that I’m not the crazy one here. After our conversation, I printed out the paper that explains my secular humanist beliefs as well as the essay that initially moved me to atheism. I know she’ll hate them–and I even warned her that she would–but if she truly wants to know what I believe, then these essays are a good place to start.