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.


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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.

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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.


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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. 🙂


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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. 

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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 of weird to me as an outsider that people would ever be separated into groups based on age, gender, or marital/family status.
  • Do nice things for your neighbourhood without bringing up god. Confession: I’m always a little suspicious of church groups who come out into the community. Too often this ends with a tablespoon of proselytization just as you begin to settle into the event. When this doesn’t happen, when the festivities end without anyone pushing the god issue they earn a little bit of trust. Build up enough of it and I’ll happily talk to general-you about anything.
  • Don’t make us a pet project. By that I mean don’t treat the people who do not attend your church like something you need to fix. We can tell the difference between someone who wants to spend time with us because they enjoy our company and someone who wants to evangelize us. I can’t speak for every non-theist but I avoid anyone who gives off even a whiff of the latter.
  • Date pop culture but don’t marry it. It’s good to know about current recording artists, television shows, books and other media. Some of it is actually quite entertaining. Please don’t scrape up similarities between your religious beliefs and what I’m reading/watching/listening to, though. I’d much rather hear about that great new album or book you just discovered, secular or otherwise. There’s always room in my mind for new ideas if they’re well thought out and crisply written.
  • Read your worship songs. Seriously, sit down and read the lyrics. Do they match your church’s theology? Are they (more or less) grammatical? Have they at any time invited your deity to come and enter your sacred place? I once heard a worship song whose lyrics included that phrase. Even as a (at the time) nominal Christian who had grown up with the concept of the church being the bride of Christ I was unnerved by that imagery. Someone who doesn’t have any exposure to Christian theology may very well be even more weirded out than a former preacher’s kid.


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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 odd, like asking for marriage advice from someone who is permanently single or parenting advice from people without kids.  Certain experiences are difficult to grok if you’re not part of them. As a non-theist I only think about religious topics when they directly affect me or my loved ones.

The longer I think about it, though, the more I suspect Bruce may be onto something here.

Should non-theists tell theists what to believe? No. Or at least not so long as what they believe isn’t negatively affecting our lives (e.g. through legislation that discriminates against people based on religion or attempts to blur the line between church and state). And, to be honest, I don’t care about anyone’s theology until or unless it is used against people outside of that religion.

Can non-theists offer a fresh perspective on church culture? Absolutely. Once you become habituated to a routine  it’s difficult to step back and see how some things come across to people who aren’t accustomed to them. To give a mundane example, Drew and I used to live in an apartment building with a finicky front door. You had to insert your key at just the right angle and then jiggle it to get the door to open. People who didn’t know how this door worked could become pretty frustrated. Once you figured out the secret, though, it became second nature. When we moved to a new building I had to train myself to stop jiggling the key. It was no longer necessary.

Sometimes religious gatherings can be like that lock. Visitors don’t know, cannot know all of the quirks of a particular congregation. This isn’t always a bad thing. Discovering the quirks of a small group can be one of the most pleasurable aspects of getting to know new people. I find it really interesting to figure out who is the village peacemaker, jester, shit-stirrer or story-teller. But if there are too many things to figure out new members might give up before they figure out how or if they belong. This is where an outside consultant could come in handy.


I’ll be continuing this conversation on Thursday. In the meantime what do you think? Is Bruce’s idea a good one?

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A Response to Picking Up the Best Bits

Photo by Joe Ravi, license CC-BY-SA 3.0.

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 there are many other people who don’t come from a place of hatred or hostility either.

To be honest my sexual orientation and non-theism tend to surprise others much more often than my decision not to have children.

But there are certain similarities between being childfree and being part of other minority groups or subcultures.  Answering the same questions over and over again grows repetitive and there are times when I wonder, “why is s/he so focused on this one issue instead of everything else we have in common?”

This is where it really helps to have relationships with other people who are also members of group X and grok why I’m so frustrated (or confused, thrilled, or irritated!)

Just like Olivia says, though, sometimes you have to filter the wheat from the chaff. I’m not an angry person and I don’t dwell on the offensive stuff other people say or do.  These things happen.

Angry people aren’t the majority, though. From what I’ve seen for every person looking for a reason to be offended there are two or three who just want to live in peace. The problem is that when the media or the rest of society notices group X they tend to seek out the most controversial, outspoken member they can find. It’s good for ratings and page views and, to be honest, the rest of us are often not as interested in outside attention.

And so the rest of the world continues to assume the worst about group X while those of us who are actually living it roll our eyes and continue on with our daily lives.

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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 what you believe? Of course not. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had about religion have been with people on the other side of the fence.

Just approach people you genuinely like and treat them the same way you’d treat anyone else.

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

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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 to listen to other points of view.

This does not mean that the people you meet there will share your (lack of) religious beliefs but it does seem to reduce the likelihood that you’ll be pressed on the issue.

3.  Talk openly about your non-theism if it is safe to do so. You might have friends, family members or acquaintances who quietly hold the same beliefs!

4. Visit your local library and take note of upcoming special events. My library has hosted experts on a wide variety of topics – history, physics, music, art. As with college and universities, libraries can be a wonderful place to exchange ideas. Or, if nothing else, you could always check out a few books while you’re there. 🙂

5. Still can’t find anything? Start your own site. It can be as simple as signing up for a free blog at WordPress.

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

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