Still Alive

No, I didn’t just start a blog and then abandon it. I just didn’t have a free moment in the last couple weeks, but school and work are a little less all-consuming now. Enough to get in a quick post, at any rate.

Soon I will get back to telling my story and commenting on various things from around the interwebs. But for now, since I’m here anyway, I will use this opportunity to get something off my chest.

Part of the reason I started this blog is that my unbelief is still relatively new to me, and I needed a space where I could process all of these new, previously forbidden thoughts. I desperately want to “come out” to family and friends, even if it means losing some of them. I haven’t been lying to anyone, or even actively hiding my unbelief. So far, it just hasn’t really come up in conversation. Even that, though, feels dishonest to me. I don’t want to encourage mistaken assumptions about what I believe. I want to get it over with. I want to know who will accept me and who won’t; who will still love me as I am and who will no longer be willing to be a part of my life. I certainly hope I’m underestimating people’s capacity for tolerance and respect, but until I speak I just can’t know.

So why don’t I? Am I afraid? Well, yeah. Knowing what my parents and some of my old friends believe, it’s a gut-wrenching proposition. Of course I’m terrified. But I know they’ll find eventually, so why not now?

Because I’m getting married in two months. In hindsight, I put things off too long. We’re close enough to the wedding now that I’m afraid they just wouldn’t have time to process it. I’m terrified that my mother, in particular, wouldn’t be able to let this go and enjoy the wedding, or allow me to fully enjoy it. Either she’d refuse to attend, or she’d pitch a fit, or she’d try to guilt trip me into feigning belief for her sake (because, make no mistake, it would somehow be all about her). My fiancé and I agreed that it’s probably better if we don’t say anything until afterward.

That struck me as a reasonable way to handle things, and until a couple of nights ago, I was perfectly content. Then the panic set in.

It seems laughable in retrospect, but with all the time and effort we’d spent choosing the flowers, music, cake, etc., we’d spent very little time discussing the actual ceremony. We met with our officiant shortly after getting engaged, told him we wanted a quick, no-frills ceremony with basic vows (because, let’s face it, people are sitting through this just waiting for it to be over so we can start the party), and didn’t think much about it after that. After all, it was taken care of.

Remember when I said this whole atheism thing was rather new to me? Let me put that in perspective for you: I realized I didn’t believe any gods sometime last summer, probably around July or August. We got engaged last March, and met with the officiant in April.

At the time, we decided to have the minister at the church he grew up in officiate. Makes sense; I’m not from around here, so I didn’t really have anyone in mind. When the minister asked, I told him I had grown up in the Church of Christ. I don’t remember if he asked whether I was still a Christian, but at the time I would have said yes. And I would have been telling the truth.

So the night before last, I was lying in bed when it suddenly dawned on me: people will probably expect to hear something about God in the ceremony. The wedding isn’t even taking place in a church, so they probably aren’t expecting it to be saturated in religiosity, but they’re bound to notice a complete absence of god talk. They may ask questions. I do not intend to lie. And, well, there’s that metaphor about excrement coming into contact with cooling devices…

The next day, I talked it over with my fiancé, who hadn’t given the matter any more thought than I had. He left Christianity not too long after I did, but became a deist instead.* He agreed the people are likely to ask questions if there isn’t some bare minimum level of religiosity present (the fact that it is none of their business is unlikely to be a deterrent, particularly when it comes to parents). So we have to figure out something.

He asked me if I minded opening with a prayer. I said that I would prefer not to, but was not adamantly opposed. Given that he still believes in a god and likes the idea of it, he said he’d like to have one, so that’s fine. I just can’t have God in the actual vows, though. I’m fine with acknowledging other people’s belief, but I’m not about to stand up there and make promises to an entity I don’t even believe exists. I’m about to make a promise I take very seriously, and it’s important to me that I mean every word of it. Invoking the supernatural is fine if you believe it’s a real thing, but for me to personally talk about God would cheapen the whole ceremony for me. No, I know it wouldn’t ruin the marriage or anything dramatic like that, but if the symbolism means nothing to you, then what’s the point of doing it in the first place?

The officiant has already said that when it comes to vows, we can do whatever we want. We hadn’t initially planned to write our own vows, but it’s an option if we end up deciding to. I think an opening prayer before secular vows will be enough. I hope it’s enough. I also hope the minister is still willing to perform the ceremony; after all, I like him, and I see no reason to fire him just because I changed my mind about something. We’re planning to talk to him about the ceremony details soon, so I guess we’ll see.

But I’m scared. I keep envisioning these awful worst-case scenarios that are, admittedly, more likely a reflection of my vivid imagination than any realistic possibility. It’s not just the wedding, either. I see my family so rarely as it is, and I really do love them. I want their visit to be pleasant. I want to enjoy their company. What I don’t want is to spend the entire weekend explaining to them that I haven’t rejected them, that I’m still a good person, and that I haven’t done anything wrong. I just looked at a story and said, “No, I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that.” That’s not a moral failing. It’s nothing more than a personal assessment of plausibility.

In all honesty, I think my parents will be too concerned with other things to notice these little details. I don’t think I need to spend the whole day worrying about them finding out about my lack of religiosity (they’ll find out soon enough, but now is not the time). I think the handful of people who know about this situation are right when they say that telling my parents now would put far too much strain on all of us. I just wish all of these rational thoughts would make the nightmares go away. One of the most liberating things about giving up religion was that I no longer needed to live in fear. But, while I’d much rather be afraid of family drama than eternal torment after death, it turns out that religion-related fear never completely goes away, and that sucks.

Sorry to be such a downer. Given the title of the post (and the brief mention of cake), it seems entirely appropriate to leave you with this as a palate cleanser. Enjoy.

*For those of you who are worried about our different beliefs affecting our marriage and child-rearing, rest assured that we have talked about this in great detail. We are aware of the potential pitfalls, and we have discussed them at length. I may talk about them later here, but they are not the subject of this particular post.

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