By Dori Hackleman
I’d like to preface this piece by saying that these are MY views and opinions, and they do not speak for the Julie staff as whole.
Ok, now that that’s cleared up, here’s my story:
I stopped believing in God when I was about eight-years-old for reasons that I’m not going to get into now. For one thing, I don’t need a bunch of religious people telling me that I must not have tried hard enough to have a relationship with God, something that’s a little insensitive and ignorant to say. As a child, your heart and your mind are as open as they will ever be, so the ideal time to let God into your heart would be then, correct?
And up until the age of eight, I did think I had a pretty good relationship with God. I said my nightly prayer, I went to church, I memorized all the prayers on my rosary beads, I went through the motions. But unfortunately, I realized at a young age that I was the only person who could protect me and look out for me, and prayer wasn’t going to save me from the situation I was in. It was then that I became stronger. I started believing in myself. It wasn’t until later that I finally figured out where I stood and what to call myself when it came to my religion, or lack thereof.
Now let’s back pedal a little bit and have a little history lesson:
I’m going to guess that a lot of you don’t know how the town Liberal, Missouri, located about 40 miles from Joplin, came to be. In 1880, a man named George H. Walser bought some land and created an atheists-only haven and named it Liberal.
According to an advertisement penned by Walser encouraging non-believers to move to Liberal, he:
“found a town without a church, [w]here unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training,” and where Christians were not allowed. “His idea was to build up a town that should exclusively be the home of Infidels…a town that should have neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon.”
Some of the early inhabitants of Liberal even encouraged other infidels to move to their town by publishing an advertisement which boasted that Liberal “is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell or devil.”
Of course, it being Missouri and the 1800s, the town was doomed from the start. It didn’t take long for the religious folk in the neighboring communities to decide Liberal needed Jesus and make repeated attempts to invade the small town. The people of Liberal attempted to build a barbed wire fence around the community, but their plan didn’t work out. The Christians saw the town and its occupants as godless freak shows and eventually convinced all of them to convert to Christianity, including Walser.
This story doesn’t sit well with me and is somewhat disturbing. I know that times have changed, but they haven’t changed that much for some people. Evangelicals have made outrageous claims about how atheists are horrible people. I recently found a Fox News op-ed by Anthony DeStefano, and I quote: ““today’s atheists are wretched creatures who in no way deserve the compassion, empathy, or understanding that Christians [like DeStefano] are so readily willing to offer.”
Does that seem like something a caring, Christian person is supposed to feel and say out loud? This is why we atheists keep to ourselves and generally keep quiet. You might be surprised how many people you know don’t believe in God. I mean… think about it. Even in 1880, there were enough atheists around here to form their own town.
Atheists are normal, regular people you see in line at the grocery store, and people don’t want to feel demonized for not believing in God. I feel like I can’t make it more than five blocks in this town without seeing some religious sign or church billboard stating that “God is the only way to salvation”, “You need to be saved”, “The only light is Jesus” or something along those lines.
I’m all about believing in what you want to believe, but you should also stop assuming that people who don’t believe in your exact religion or any religion at all are somehow needing to be saved. We can coexist and still be working toward the same goals. This is also not a cry for Christians to stop spreading their message but to accept that there are people out there who will reject that message, and there’s no reason to make them feel like less of a human being for doing so. What I need from Christians is for them to learn to accept that my beliefs are valid and stop trying to push your religion on me. I don’t need it and I don’t want it and I don’t mean that in a rude way. I just ask that my beliefs alone don’t dictate how you feel about me as a person. If they do, then please be aware that just because someone believes in God doesn’t mean that they are a good person. Religion does not equal morality. I have met my fair share of religious people who were not good people but seemed to think that they had the moral high ground just because they threw God’s name into their conversations.
In the word of Mark Solomon from the ex-Christian band Stavesacre: “I don’t think this is what God ever intended.”