“You must not have been a true Christian (or Jew or Muslim or…) since now you’re an atheist.” This is a common theme we hear from religious people of whatever sects we may have left behind in our process of arriving at atheism. Sadly, few of us — albeit, more all the time — had the luxury of growing up godless. And, sadly, there are always some of our former co-religionists ready to lash out with this angry pronouncement.
What a speaker is saying when they toss this at an atheist is: No! You may not claim membership in my tribe as any part of your journey or life story. Even if we sat next to each other in church for years! It’s an element of othering, making the non-believer more firmly outside the boundaries of the tribe. It may be that some religious people need this artificial boost in order to hold the negative attitude they are told they must hold about someone with whom they previously had a warm relationship.
Of course this is simply an assertion with no basis in any recognizable reality. Ask any atheist who was not raised that way and they will freely share that up to the point of their deconversion, they were sincere and maybe even devout in their belief in the religious system from which they eventually emerged. Not only that, but few of us discarded entirely everything we experienced there. I can say personally that my development as an atheist did nothing to expunge the love my Jewish background had inculcated in me for (among other things) books, logic and reasoning, or pickled herring in cream sauce. And what American loves pickled herring in cream sauce, and was never a true Jew?
Think for a moment about Johnny Damon. Was he truly a Red Sox in 2004, when he helped Boston beat the Yankees in a singular ALCS comeback and then sweep the Cardinals in the World Series? Boston won its first World Series in 86 years, and Johnny Damon was on the team float in that parade. But once he became a player for the deeply hated rival Yankees in 2006, there were surely many Boston fans cursing him as “never a true Red Sox.” As if they could go back and change the past by declaring it not true. What was his sin? Doing what was right for him and his baseball career, and taking the best contract offered to him.
Nobody’s becoming an atheist is a gesture aimed at someone religious they know. It would be nice if the very process itself were not attacked in return.
This #3 of a series covering the top ten goofy things religious people say to atheists.