Tag Archives: Nontheism

5 Reasons Why You Should Be More Open About Your Life


Every year I take a break from blogging for the last two weeks of December. I will be sharing some of my old favourites in the meantime and will be back in January with new material.  This post was originally published on April 13, 2015.

Several years ago I wrote a blog post about figuring out when to share certain things with other people. It’s a short post, so go read it before you continue on with this one.

When I was writing it, my sexual orientation and (lack of) religious affiliation were on my mind. Some people are also occasionally shocked by my complete disinterest in having kids or my willingness to consider polyamory.

At the time, I didn’t want any of these labels to be the first thing other people learned about me for reasons I discussed in that post.

I’ve since changed my mind for five reasons:

1. Honesty Weeds People Out. There’s something to be said for knowing early on if someone is going to have a problem with such an important part of who you are as a human being. I’m at a point where I want to focus the vast majority of my energy on the positive, supportive people in my life. Figuring out who belongs on this list is critical.

2. It’s Less Awkward. The problem with revealing these kinds of things gradually is that some people let their guard down in truly bizarre ways in private. When they realize that you’re part of the group they just stereotyped or insulted, the conversation can get awkward quickly.

3. You Can Get That Conversation Over With Quickly. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, there are certain questions that people who are part of minority groups hear over and over and over again. For example, “How can you be moral if you don’t believe in God?” or “Do you have a lot of threesomes?”

4. Visibility Improves Everyone’s Lives. Being open about these kinds of things isn’t the right decision for everyone. Some people’s jobs, education, or access to a safe home depends on them keeping certain parts of their lives incredibly quiet. With that being said, one of the best ways to fight against prejudice and stereotypes is to live your life openly and honestly. It’s easy to hate or misunderstand an abstract group of people. It’s harder to do the same thing to a friend, family member, or coworker.

5. You Might Not Be the Only One. One of the most interesting things I noticed about Drew’s tendency to be brutally honest about his life is how often he meets other people who share the same beliefs. Yes, he met others who were completely weirded out by him sometimes, but he also met new friends who found his ideas fascinating.

The Right Way to Grieve

Photo by Juni from Kyoto, Japan.
Photo by Juni from Kyoto, Japan.

The last two years have seen several deaths in our extended families. I haven’t blogged about any of them until now for many different reasons: my strong preference for privacy in certain areas of my life; I wasn’t sure what to say about them; other topics seemed more pressing.

The first person I remember grieving over was my grandmother. When she died I’d just reached the developmental stage in childhood when I realized death was permanent and would someday happen to me. I actually have more memories of missing her than I do of spending time with her. We’d moved around a bit while she was still alive, so I suspect that a lot of the nice  stuff she did with me happened when I was too small to remember it.

For a long time I felt like there might be only one right way to grieve.

– You had to be absolutely devastated that this person was gone.

– You had to believe that even the most severe suffering was worth them still being alive.

– You weren’t supposed to have any nuanced feelings about anything related to this topic.

Yes, it’s possible that I have extremely high standards for myself. 😉 Sometimes this is a good thing, but it can also become an unneeded strain in an already stressful situation.

One of the things I’ve been learning through these past few years is that every experience with death is going to be different because every relationship is unique. It simply isn’t possible for everyone connected to the deceased to have the exact same reaction to his or her death. A son or daughter’s grief is different from how a sibling,  pet, or second cousin might react.

That’s more than just okay – it’s utterly normal.

I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I felt when I stopped worrying about grieving the right way. There is no right way to do it. As much as I would like to type out a foolproof, bulleted plan for figuring out how to react to death, I can’t.

It’s something each of us has to figure out on our own.

The only thing I can tell you is this: if you’ve felt it or thought it, so has someone else. You’re not alone.

How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Makes Us Who We Are

If the embedded video doesn’t play, click here.

This is a 20 minute talk about how people find meaning in their own suffering without relying on supernatural or religious explanations for it. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, try skipping through the first half. The last 5-10 minutes is where this talk gets really good.

Andrew Solomon acknowledges that you can do this while still being really angry about what happened. You don’t have to say something is at all ok in order to find meaning in it.

Here is where I disagree with Andrew. I understand why he focuses so much on the circumstances that have spurred people into doing amazing things, but the former is much less important than the latter.  This is a minor quibble with an otherwise invigorating talk, though, and I suspect that he’d agree with me if we were sitting down to dinner. It’s hard to compress this kind of worldview into such a short amount of time.


Post Hoc and the Good Person Question

Lorena had a great question on her blog last week. For those of you who aren’t interested in following the link, she has a friend who said the following and she wanted to know how other non-theists would respond to it:

I had a classmate in high school. He was a pastor’s kid and did all the right things. He was courteous, loving, kind, friendly, etc. If religion can make a person like that, then I see nothing wrong with religion.

Here’s what I would say:

  1. That sounds post hoc. There are wonderful and terrible people in every religion. That doesn’t mean that one causes the other.
  2. Are some individuals influenced to become better human beings by their beliefs? Of course.
  3.  I’ve also seen some people’s beliefs lead them to act much less loving, kind and compassionate than they would otherwise behave.
  4. Is either phenomenon limited to Christianity? Heck no. Any group with more than one member is bound to include at least one jerk.
  5. What about people whose behaviour isn’t tied to what they believe? Some of us have (de)converted to other labels without growing horns or a halo.
  6. There’s nothing wrong with being religious. There’s also nothing wrong with not being religious. What matters is how you treat people. Everything else is neckbearding.
  7. The only time I get irritated with other belief systems is when they’re shoved into areas in which they don’t belong. See: every U.S. presidential election I can remember.
  8. Why is everyone arguing about this? Let’s all go out for lemonade and cookies instead. My treat. 🙂

Mailbag #7

A reader asks:

What do non-theists think of religion?

I know people who love debating about it and others who never think about such things. So much depends on how that person was raised, the experiences they’ve had with theists and whether they’re actually interested in in the topic. Some love to debate/discuss this stuff, others don’t.

Personally I am losing interest in any kind of religious talk. I’m not offended if other people believe in it I just don’t find the topic engaging these days. There are so many other things in this world to explore.

Often when I do think about religion it’s been triggered by yet another scandal. For some reason we keep hearing news stories about people being abused (often sexually) or swindled by men and women who were considered pillars in their community. Those stories make me so sad because they’re the exact opposite of what any of the religions I’ve ever researched have taught about treating others. I wish we knew why this keeps happening.

But I do still love traditional Christmas carols. Maybe this is weird for someone who isn’t at all interested in the theology behind songs like “Silent Night,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” or “What Child Is This?”  but it remains the prettiest music I’ve ever heard.

Do you have a question for me? Submit it through the contact form or in the comment section of this post. 

A Non-Theist’s Advice for Churches

A continuation of Monday’s post.  Bruce’s recommendations for churches were spot-on. He had too many ideas for me to list them all here but this is what I would have to add if the idea of non-theist consultants was to ever catch on: Ditch homogenous small groups. Or at least make them 100% optional. It’s kind… Read More

Do Churches Need Non-Theist Consultants?

Bruce Gerenscer recently said something fascinating: Mainline churches need a make-over. They need to make themselves relevant again. Perhaps they need to hire an ex-Baptist atheist like me to tell them how their church is viewed from the outside. (yes, perception matters) I’ve never considered this idea before and at first it seemed a little… Read More

A Response to Picking Up the Best Bits

Olivia at Reading in the Bath recently had something interesting to say about her experiences with online childfree groups: So one of the things I’ve enjoyed about sticking around in a few different groups for a while and getting past all the (to me) slightly awkward ‘I like children…with sauce’ jokes, is that I’ve found… Read More

Mailbag #5

Anonymous asks: How do you approach someone who has a non-theistic worldview? Without an agenda. Look, we know when we’re being “courted” through friendship evangelism. It’s disheartening to be treated as a project, to be valued as a friend only if you come around to someone else’s way of thinking. Does this mean you can’t talk about… Read More

Mailbag #4

Anonymous asks: How do you find other non-theists in your community? Hello, Anonymous. Here are a few ideas: 1. Grassroots Skeptics and Atheist Nexus. 2. Visit your local university, college or community college. They often host free or low cost events – plays, musical performances, art exhibits, lectures. I’ve noticed a correlation between intellectual curiosity and a willingness… Read More