Yesterday our close friends baptised their baby in the Greek Orthodox church. We happen to know that the Dad is an atheist and the Mom, well, she may believe in God but I would hardly call her religious (let alone orthodox). Like many cultures, religion and family are intimately tied together and these celebrations are opportunities to do just that – celebrate. The ceremony was held at the same church where we attended our friends’ wedding – where he (a red-haired Scot) was officially baptised into the Greek Orthodox religion and partook in all kinds of weird ceremonial dress and dance to do it. It was a total blast to watch – nobody could help but draw parallels between what we were witnessing and the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.
Our daughter had never been to a church before and was full of awe, confusion and questions about what on earth was going on. In hindsight I maybe should have prepped her about what we were about to see but to be honest, I was more focused on the ouzo-infused after party than the event itself. As we sat in the hot and ornately decorated church (the walls are covered in gold, stained glass, pictures of haloed saints, complex imagery and oh, did I mention gold?), she asked me “Why is that man singing? What are they putting on the boy’s head? Why are they putting oil on his head? Why are there candles? Why do I have to be quiet? Why is the boy wearing that hat?” I am afraid I didn’t have many good answers for her. I couldn’t explain those things to an adult, let alone a three-year-old.
I explained that this was a church and that some people believe in God and they go to church. She knows that we don’t believe in God – that’s about as far as the conversation has gotten. When she asked me “Why do some people believe in God?” I sat there, baffled for a minute. “Because it makes them feel good honey. Just like you have pink blanky.”
She was happy with that and I realized, some of the tough questions really can be answered that simply.
Loneliness is a basic human emotion. It is biologically implanted in order to keep us in packs. Living in tribes, communities, protecting one another and ensuring the survival of our offspring. It is also what drives most people to religion. I have had a few comments lately (yes, I do read them all!) expressing gratitude for reminding them that they are not alone.
It makes me sad and frustrated because the lack of support and community is the secular world’s biggest failure. There are so many of us out there – so many atheists and not-so-sures who want to feel a part of something but don’t want to abandon their faculties to do it. We are a community of skeptics and rationalists and good moral people who can learn from one another, and gain strength from one another and affect change in the world. We just don’t have our shit together quite yet.
Liberally minded people tend not to feel as strongly about things. The very nature of our thought process means we don’t believe in forcing others to think like us. It limits our ability to recruit and form a cohesive group. The internet has obviously made that easier but for many people, the warmth that comes from sitting and talking with someone who shares your values and understands who you are, cannot be matched by a computer screen.
Come out of the closet. Tell the people around you that you are an atheist – I promise you that some of your friends, co-workers, neighbours and even family members are also atheists, or at the very least, unsure. You just don’t know it yet. Spend time thinking about your own journey to atheism so that when asked you can give a quick, convincing yet friendly synopsis. It’s not easy but it needs to be done. Many people don’t think they even know an atheist – let them know they not only know one, that they like one and hey, even love one!
And for those of you who read this blog – you are not alone. Even if there is no bearded man in the sky watching over you today, there are millions of people in this world who respect, understand, and share your world view. Help us turn this whisper into a roar.