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By kmartdollie On 08/19/02  

I know there's quite a few ladies on the board who are either agnostic, atheist or who do believe in God but aren't taken with any particular organized religion. I am in the latter category--I was an atheist in my youth but I have come to believe that there is something greater out there than humanity. Call it a divine energy, call it a force, call it God, I don't know exactly what it is but I feel that it's out there.

Anyway, I feel constantly pressured by religious people to choose a religion or else. I feel like at first many of them gently suggest and act friendly, and then often times when I have been obviously down and hurting they have tersely indicated that perhaps it's my fault for "blocking the blessings" or not following a certain lifestyle or a set of rules that they advocate. As if God is punishing me for my resistance and blasphemy.

I have gotten this most from Christians--I have known some really wonderful Christians in my life who have lived their lives according to the principles of Christ--love thy neighbor as thyself, etc. But I've also gotten it from all kinds of people from all kinds of faith. People who are deeply into est. Even some Jewish people--I've always been curious about converting to Judaism, but upon further study of it, I am less sure than ever. I have even gotten this semi-religious treatment from practicioners of yoga and vegetarianism.

There, now I've offended most people on the board. But my question is--how do you deal with this politely? And the fact that most people do indeed follow SOMETHING, it's very difficult to make friends and have emotionally meaningful experiences with different kinds of people without encountering this problem.

It's not like I haven't tried religion. I was forced to go to church until I was a teenager. I was an atheist for many years. I was a member of a spiritual group for a long time. I even tried the Unitarian church for a time.

The trouble with most organized religions for me is that no matter how accepting they promote themselves as being, there is no room for questioning and thinking for yourself. If you don't agree with every single thing that's being done and said in that church, temple or organization, then you are usually treated like a pariah. Also, most religions ultimate authorities are still men. Men control not only Christianity, but Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc. There are many female pastors and rabbis in certain religions, but the ultimate authority still lies with men. That is just not cool to me.

And I'm so tired of the fear and the anger my non-affliation generates with some. Like if I'm not a Christian, and I don't like Christianity so much, then I must be Adolph Hitler incarnate. Or if I don't care for any religion in it's entire, I must be Adolph Hitler incarnate. People have really drawn parallels like that to me! It's not Christ or the teachings of Christ I have a problem with. It's the RELIGION of Christianity I don't care for. Even in it's most liberal incarnations.

How do you ladies reconcile this? Have you discovered a way to live a peaceful and loving life despite the degree of confrontation that can exist between non-religious people and the religious? What do you do?

I would love to hear from you.

By traveler On 08/19/02  

I certainly feel your pain, KMD. I never know what to do.

I was raised by a mother whose Catholocism is, well--she's pretty much *not* these days, and a father who was born Jewish but is utterly unreligious (as in, not even educated in Judaism). Very odd. In any case, I was sent to Catholic school. The parents didn't argue when I separated from the Church, but Mom does seem to have a hard time believing that I'm an athiest. In fact, *NOBODY* will believe I'm an athiest. "Surely you must believe in something"..."You mean agnostic, right?" No, I don't. I know the definition of the word athiest. Honest.

These days, I attend a Catholic university because they had the best education I could get. Jesuits (the order of priests at my school) are blessedly forgiving, and while we must take religion courses, they offer a variety of intellectual options for these. However.

I can't understand why folks can't just leave me alone about it. At home in sunny CA, it wasn't a big deal, but here in the South it's a little different. A lot of people will act like you're a freak if you don't go to church. Peoples' religious upbringings interfere with life (some landlords won't rent to unmarried couples, some employers will fire unmarried cohabitating employees). It's frustrating.

How do I deal? Well, er, I avoid overly religious people like the plague. (My apologies to the religious on this board--I don't mind your religion. I mind the people who try to tell me what mine ought to be.) I avoid the discussion of religion outside of strictly academic circumstances. I keep quiet about things like the pledge of allegiance, because really I just don't care that much about God to argue over it being in some legal documents. And when someone tries to help me out, convert me, whatever--I make a very fast regression and tell them no, thank you, I'm Jewish. In the South, that's often good enough. Sadly.

By Sugarshoc On 08/19/02  

I feel you. I'm a Christian, a Baptist. I don't agree with everything in my religion at all. You're on the right track in that "religion" is the problem. Paul talks about it in Corinthians that we shouldn't be against each other in denominations. The bottom line is about your relationship with God. No one else has a say in it no matter how much they want to condemn you. I especially have problems with the role of women in Christianity. Those type of things I just talk to God about it. I figure God will guide in me in how to handle the situations that arise with the sexism and racism and stuff. People will always put their spin on things. Just this weekend, my boyfriend's mother, who is a fundamentalist Christian, told me very plain words of how my clothes were un-Christian. I was hurt at first but then I realized it's not my problem but her's. It's only clothes and God is not sending me to hell because my back is exposed and I'm not covered in 94 degree weather. I had to pray to God to deal with that. The bottom line is YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

By mystril On 08/19/02  

I don't agree with some of the things in my religion, but I agree with it more than I do any other religion.

I just say that my religion is between me and God and none of their business. (At first, politely, then less politely) I get very bitchy about it (due to some very insensitive proselytizers I encountered in high school) because it isn't any of their business. And the people that try to do convert me tend to not be interested in me because I'm me, they're interested in me because I would be another pew warmer (and tithe contributor) in their church. (Or at least that has been my experience.)


By robotgirl On 08/19/02  

i am not religious at all, but neither is my immediate family, so luckily i don't feel any family pressure. i also think it helps that i live in the northwest, which is notoriously unchurchy. my grandparents would like me to turn into a nice catholic girl and get married and have 800 babies, but i am not very close to them so i don't put a lot of stock in what they say.

it took me a while to get to this place, but i am finally comfortable saying that i have no interest in spirituality or religion. for a long time i felt like i had to be 'something.' so i tried going to church, reading about different religions etc, but nothing felf like me. when it finally hit me that i didn't, i felt so relieved!

usually when people give me a hard time about it, i stop being friends with them. i'm not interested in hanging out with someone who can't respect my point of view. i understand it's much more difficult to that with family though...i do think finally reaching a point where i was comfortable in my lack of spirituality helps me a lot. because now that i feel confidant in my belief i don't really care what other people think about it

i *do* get really upset when people say bad things about catholics. even though i don't go to church, my extended family on both sides are big time catholic, so it hurts my feelings for some reason.

By honeybunny On 08/19/02  

yes mystril! people not being interested in you because you're you...but to enlarge their congregation (offerings), or b/c they think God will like them more, or whatever. ulterior motives when they feign interest in me = my hurt feelings, every time.
and the thing is, i am christian! but b/c i question the Bible and flat out do not agree w/ some of it (women not speak in church? come now, paul) other christians *keep* trying to convert me. to fundamentalism, i guess.
i'm so glad you started this thread kmartdollie! now i can rant! last night, i met one of my friends from high school for coffee, and asked him how he and his girlfriend were doing up at school. he said he broke off the relationship w/ her b/c he was not the spiritual leader in it, and "the male should always be the spiritual leader in a christian relationship." WHAT. i said, "why can't you both learn from/lead each other?" his response - "b/c the christian relationship is supposed to resemble jesus and the church, blah blah blah typical bible study response. this is what pisses me off the most - when i ask christians a question and they spit out verses. i've heard it before people. now speak to me in your own words.
anyways. i guess my point is, i am a strong believer in ascribing to a faith and *simultaneously* allowing yourself to critically analyze it at the same time. for me, this involves asking questions about...everything.
i think you are doing a beautiful thing, kmartdollie, just by getting people to talk about this stuff. yay for thinking for yourself and disaggreeing with people, thank you very much. :)


By vintage lilac On 08/19/02  

I've been holding back on posting to this thread because once I get started I know it will turn into a rant. So I'll just say this....

When people try to "convince" me into finding a religion or going to their church, I calmly tell them that a person's spiritualism is a very private matter and I like to keep it that way.

if they can't respect that then they aren't representing their religion very well.

By danielepea On 08/19/02  

Luckily, the environment in which I grew up didn't put too much of an emphasis on religion. My parents are pretty apathetic when it comes to religion. My mom is some sort of Protestant by up-bringing, but is pretty non-religious. My dad was raised in an Italian Catholic home, but hasn't been to mass since I made my first communion. I dropped out of catechism classes when I was 9.

When people ask me what religion I am, I say that I was raised catholic. This usually leads people to the question "So you aren't anymore?". To which I respond with a matter-of-fact "No". I am in the fairly liberal and diverse Northeast, so just about all of the time this answer is good enough. In fact, the only person that I can really remember actively trying to convert me to her religion is my uber-fundamental sister-in-law. When I was 16, she told me that I was going to go to hell. This is not an effective marketing strategy.

Sometimes I get into philosophical discussions about religion with my friends. I know that I can tell them my opinions and they will respect me and not judge me, just as I do for them. In that capacity, I kind of enjoy discussing matters of spirituality because it broadens my understanding of different faiths.

By RetroDame On 08/19/02  


I have almost exactly the same background! Catholic mother, non-practicing Jewish father! Except, my mother is still very, *very* Catholic. She's accepted that I do not believe in the church, tho, and although I am pretty sure she thinks I am going to hell, she doesn't bug me about it.

KMD- It drives me crazy when people make assumptions about my religion. My fiance's mother is always saying how "sad it is" that I "don't believe." I do believe, just not in what she does.

It's the condescension that bothers me... like they they think they know some truth that I just haven't realized.

I don't really have much worthwhile advice on dealing with this. Occasionally, I will try sparring with members of the various Christian sects that come knocking on my door. (Hint: if you want really alarm a Jehovah's Witness, offer him a Tom Robbins novel.)

All in all, I think the best thing you can do is assume that maddening serene countenance that religious nuts do whenever they are challenged. At the very least, you'll know you're pissing them off.


By lulabelle On 08/20/02  

Here, here, vintage lilac! Your religion is between you and your higher power (or not) and is nobody else's (insert intensifying adjective here) business.

My own religious background is so convoluted I don't even bother explaining it anymore. It's nobody else's (insert adjective of choice) business anyway.

(Can you all tell I'm trying to cut down on the cussing? :)


By Sugarshoc On 08/20/02  

Honeybunny that is so true. We need to be able to critically analyze the religion we choose. That's why God gave us free will. Also, I found an answer to the women in church thing that makes sense. Those who take what Paul said literally haven't finished their Bible study. Paul was speaking to a specific church about a specific problem in that church. Women were told to be quiet in the context of that situation. It was not meant to be enforced as a rule like churches do now. Those churches are wrong. I can elaborate on it a little more if you want. We need to learn how to put the Bible in it's proper contexts.

By lindastar On 08/19/02  

um.. i just don't care. i am not a fan of organized religion at all, i say 'i have my own connection with god' or whatever. and yeah, don't care.

i think religion is great socially, a crock spiritually for most people. lets all go to this place, pretend we believe in the same thing so people think we have standards, and then we'll get along cause we all have the same fake standards.

i know not every church is like this, and don't mean to offend. i had a very good time as a youth at my church until something happened to my sister there. i realized it was all social anyway, when kids at school (that went to my church) started shunning me. i didn't think that was very 'christian' of them. so i stopped going.

tried to commence in college, but found the same old cliques. i guess you just have to grow hard and be really strong in your own beliefs, and that's all i can tell you.

if someone really wants to argue, just say you'll agree to disagree.


By brdgt On 08/19/02  

My parents were brought up strict Irish Catholics and thus decided to raise me an atheist, openly and honestly (like when I was 6 and asked my mom why I wasn't babtized, she told that I would thank her when I was older and it was something she didn't believe in). THUS - my form of "rebelling" was exploring religion, but after educating myself in many faiths I returned to atheism, on my own.

When people ask me things like "what are you doing for Easter" I tell them I don't celebrate that holiday. My sister won't accept it - when I told her that IF I had children I would not celebrate xmas with them because it is a religous holiday and she said that she would insist on giving them gifts and "educating" them in catholicism. Experiences like this only make me more angry when the christian right lobbies for more religion in public - I have rarely had my beliefs concerning religion respected, especially by evangelical christians!

Another pet peeve - when people say that the "founding fathers" would be shocked by things like removing "under god" from the pledge of allegiance. First of all the phrase was inserted in the 1950s to define ourselves against "the godless communists" and second of all the "founding fathers" were members of the enlightenment, therefore most of them were nominally religious, deist at best. The pervasive religiousity in american society has been inhereted from the Victorians and the Cold War.

But I could go on! The short of it is that Atheists get no respect in this country - ever try to buy beer in Massachusetts on Sunday? arg

By grayseed On 08/20/02  

i've experienced a lot of the things you all have talked about.
my father was raised catholic, but converted to protestantism before he married my mother. my mother and her family are all very conservative christians. (i have 8 family members on her side who are missionaries.)
so in a way that makes me the black sheep... i was forced to go to church all through school, and even when i go home now, it's expected that i go with them to church. but when i was going through confirmation in 8th grade, i realized i was just going through the motions. i went to church because my parents wanted me to, not because i actually felt a belief in god. the way i see it, if you are "religious", it should come from your heart, and not just be something that you do half-assed or do to please someone else.
in high school i finally started calling myself an atheist, and got a lot of the shit that non-religious people do in a small town. (like the kid in my art class who asked me if i went to an Atheist Church.) i told my mother just last year (i'm 20 now) that i dont consider myself religious. she doesnt really like it, and always writes that she's praying for me at the end of her letters, but she was glad i was honest with her.
and that is one thing that i would like to tell the world about people who dont consider themselves religious - just because we dont believe the ten commandments are holy doesnt mean we're immoral, lying bastards. i think the whole "do unto others as you'd have them do to you" concept is really universal and doesnt need a religious connection.


By kmartdollie On 08/20/02  

Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts. I started the thread because I've been having a genuinely hard time with this issue and I appreciate all of your advice and shared experiences.

By bonnell99 On 08/20/02  

I reconcile my issues with organized religion by being Quaker. Quakers don't deal with the structure of the church, there are no pastors, rabbis, or people who are deemed worthy of that kind of power. There are the elders of the community--women and men. There are no heirarchys, no one preaching at you, and everyone is free to do and say and beleive what they want, with no judging.

If I weren't a member of the Society of Friends, I would have nothing to do with so-called orgainized religion. I'm way too independent to let other people tell me what to do or think in terms of relgion, and meeting is one of the only places I'm ok with the idea of me interacting with religion.


By UnsafeBuilding On 08/20/02  

Yeah, i know, i'm a Christian, but i wanted to see what y'all had to say.

I have totally seen (and felt) what y'all talk about. Particuarly a church that makes you feel like a heretic for not buying everything the CHURCH says. Now, i'm all for believing the Bible, but if the pastor tries teaching things that aren't in any way supported by the Bible and in context, i'm not gonna believe it.

As far as the verse about women in the church--
That was actually in reference to a church where the women had taken over and were teaching things that weren't Biblical at all. Paul was reminding the recipient (i don't remember who it was--it's early) that he shouldn't let them teach if they weren't teaching things that were Biblical. Rephrased: Don't let them teach when they don't know what they're talking about. That's one of the reasons i'm not with the church i was, along with the ideology that any pursuit of Christ or wanting growth in my faith at all was legalism. (Excuse me?) Women do have brains, and some of us actually use them.

Yeah...I have no problem believing Christ, i sometimes have a problem believing doctrine people have developed though.

By Sugarshoc On 08/20/02  

Claymore I feel you!!!

By monkeyrocker On 08/20/02  

Okay, I hope this makes sense and doesn't offend:

When I went to college, I found the same symptoms of intolerance in ATHEISTS. At one point, a friend asked and seemed genuinely interested in my parents' beliefs (they're hippie Sufis, not Evangelical Christians; I mean, the "rules" of their order are very very very lax); as I started telling her about it, she attacked me for a (wavering, agnostic) belief in God (yep, I was a big uneducated dummy for even considering that there might possibly be some power governing the universe). Now, I pointed out that the Big Bang is just another creation myth (can anyone who's not well versed in the language of science explain all of the scientific principles and stats involved? I can't--I have faith in science, but mostly that means I have to take at face value the things scientists say...isn't that sort of like taking at face value the things priests say?), with no more validity to the layman than creationism--I mean, it's all a matter of faith, right? Anyway, it really bothered me, because this person came to ME asking questions, got in my face and essentially tried to convert me to her way of thinking! In fact, she began making assumptions without even listening to what I was saying!

I think intolerance is a human frailty--a weapon we use to protect ourselves against things we don't understand. It occurs in people of all faiths and in the non-religious. I think sometimes (I may be wrong here) people who are deeply religious don't understand that atheist people live by a set of ethics that is similar to theirs; they might think that Godlessness is equivelent to Unethical. I mean, the propaganda regarding non-Judeo-Christians depicts us as having no moral code and I think a lot of people believe that that's true. Unfortunately, if you are outside of the Judeo-Christian circle, you're stuck with the burden of proving to those around you that you're a decent person. (Kind of sucks, but that's the way it is.)

Okay, I'll shut up now.

By jtsang On 08/20/02  

raised non-religious and proud to not be. Don't get me wrong, I love going inside churches to see what enormous faith can build. I ask friends to pray to st. francis for other people's pets, I just don't participate myself. I think faith can be extremely powerful if you believe in it, but I was not raised that way. That does not make me any better or less of a person that anyone else. I like that I sleep in on sundays, or that I can use electricty on a Saturday. I like that no one tells me what to believe but I come up with my own conclusions. I like that I don't have any restrictions on what I eat, what gender I sit with, I don't have to cover my face, I don't have to pretend to believe in something just so I can get into heaven. I mean this is kind of sarcastic, but what if there is one right religion, and everyone else who believed was screwed? I'd hate to have wasted all that time believing and still end up in 'hell'. Anyway I am religion free, have not had some crisis of faith and live a happy, well adjusted life. I accept friends of all faiths and demoninations, I don't care if you believe or you don't, just that you're a good friend.
I hope that helps

By traveler On 08/20/02  

Oh, Monkeyrocker, you're right. Stupid athiests can be just as awful as stupid religious people. Very annoying. Unfortunately, I've seen that sort of thing in lots of minority groups (some gay groups, some feminists...) that if you're not "enough" like them, then you're bad. Tsk, tsk.

Retrodame--word on having people pray for you. I just don't get it...nice thought, but if I don't believe in your god, why should it matter that you're praying for me?? Oh, well, it's nice that your mom hasn't let your religious differences hurt your relationship.

I agree with others that despite my athiesm, I really dig the more spiritual parts of many religions. I think churches, temples, etc. are often beautiful, and I like to sit in them. I read lots of books on religion, and in school I've studied lots about different kinds of faith. I'm interested in literature, and knowledge, and people, and faith. Just not in a god. :)

By SublimeStitcher On 08/20/02  

As a rule, I don't discuss my religious convictions with people. Why? Because the depth and quality of my relationship with God, the universe, my guru...whatever you want to call it, does not depend on someone else evaluating or understanding it. But here goes:

I was raised in a very small, extremely conservative, rural Episcopalian Church. I served at the altar for 8 years. Pouring wine, washing the priest's hands, carrying the cross, lighting candles, ringing the bells. Ashes on the forehead. Ointment for firs communion. I even gave the reading one Sunday. Our congregation was made up of about 11 octogenarians. Catholicism without the cool iconography.

Anyhow...I very much ascribe to the idea that is found in a lot of middle-eastern religions, but is considered totally whacko by contemporary western Christians. It's the idea that your relationship with God is like that of a lover, not in sexual terms, but in private, devoted and personal terms. It's just between the two of you. The pleasure you get from the relationship is secret, kept all to yourself and doesn't have to be shared with anyone. Which isn't to say, it can't be demonstrated through your actions, you just don't have to talk about it. Think about all the preachers who boast of their love of God, but embezzle millions from their congregation. You can walk the walk without talking the talk, so to speak.

My favorite 'religious' books that I read over and over:

Tao de Ching
Miracle of Love (stories of Neem Karoli Baba)
Autobiography of a Yogi *and* Man's Eternal Quest by Paramahansa Yogananda
The Imitation of Christ

What do you think of that?

By ladyjane On 08/20/02  

Maaaan...I can relate to a bunch of things being said on this thread!

I was raised "nothing." As in "you can be what you want to be when you grow up," according to my mom. And "people who believe in God are idiots!" according to my dad.

I rarely went to church as a kid...I thought God was like Zeus in the old "Shazam" Saturday-morning TV show, and if he found unbaptized me going into church, he'd strike me dead with lightning bolts...zzzzzaaap! (I spent an entire Mother's Day Potluck at my great-aunt's church convinced I would be dead before the day was over, but told no-one.)

I also didn't like that most people didn't think God was a woman. (Which is why I loved Helen Reddy.) I also didn't like the capitalization of "God" ...I mean, how arrogant! I just didn't like being told what to do.

I have a very hard time with The Bible. I believe that it was written by several people, and kind of cobbled together via different manuscripts. And the whole blaming Eve for everything shit is hard to swallow.

I joined the Unitarian Universalists in 1998, and, honestly, there's no other religion I could join, because I will always be "questioning" in my faith. (Do I believe in a god, a goddess, or sone sort of nebulous universal mind-soul?, for example...) There's so many good things various religions can teach us...even though the built-in mysogyny pisses me off! (Grrr...)

BTW: In the early days of Christianity, when it was still a religion practiced in the home, there were most likely women priests. Really. There's books about this.

Anyway, I will confess to being on BOTH sides of prejudice, here. I was the recipient of a lot of prejudice (as in "You don't believe in God, you must be a Devil Worshipper!!!), but I also was overly prejudiced against religious people (as in me calling people "Bible Bangers" to their face).

I think the trick is knowing where your faith ends, and the other person's faith begins. Really, I think kindness and balance are equivalent goals for many religions...folks just go about it differently.

Oh...and if I ever get too "preachy" about my experiences as a Unitarian Universalist...somebody let me know, OK?!? I hated being preached at when I was "nothing," and I try to be sensitive about that...but sometimes I get so excited that there's a church that accepted Misfit Me...

By DolceVita1 On 08/20/02  

This is such an interesting thread. I consider myself an atheist, in that I do not believe there is a god or greater power, but I would never say that I was positive, because I don't believe anybody can be sure. How could you? I like to base my beliefs on evidence - things that I see in the world around me, and if I ever saw evidence of a greater power I would certainly take that into account. I also think it's interesting how we (meaning people in general) like to think that we know so much about our world, the universe, etc., when we really know so little and are learning more all the time. So, when people ask me "what I am" I first say "I'm a person!" And when they don't laugh, I say "I'm a secular humanist." Which I then get to explain; it's great fun. I basically believe that the human condition is a result of human action and belief, not any god. And I base my actions on the best knowledge we have at this time (that's what is so cool about science and the scientific process - that it's based on evidence and when new evidence emerges we change how we talk about and view the world - it remains flexible). That being said, I will admit that I am biased against religion, but I would never tell someone s/he was lame for believing in it. I think that by looking at the culture history of our society, any region of the world really, I can try to understand why these religions exist the way the do.

As for dealing with this on a daily basis, I am absolutely not ashamed or bothered that others think I'm some sort of heathen. My mother-in-law is Catholic and has basically admitted to the rest of the family (but never to my face of course) that she can never like me. That hurts my feelings, yes, but I can live with it, because I know I am good person, I am kind and friendly and helpful and if she doesn't like me then it's her loss. I have some friends who are religious and it really isn't an issue for us, except when "hot button" topics come up in conversation, but when they do I just state my opinion without degrading theirs and we work it out just fine. I don't think I really have any advice for others going through this same thing except to say that people can be really difficult and if we can we have to rise above that and just be true to ourselves.

By Pink Skeleton On 08/20/02  

I am constantly approached my christians, pushing their propaghanda in my face. I guess it's because I wear all black, or maybe the church has enforced harrassment quotas, but for whatever reason they do it, I hate it.

Like RetroDame said, "It's the condescension that bothers me... like they they think they know some truth that I just haven't realized."

I used to be a theology major- I've studied most religions at one point or another. I pretty much know everything they could tell me. A lot of them remain eerily uneducated, even in regards to their chosen religion. This seems stupid to me- I can't call myself anything without fully understanding what that means.

I do not need to be "saved," and I have a hard time being polite to these people. Sometimes, a simple "I'm Jewish" will make them go away. Sometimes they think that'll make it easier to convert me... it's just insulting. I went to Lutheran church twice a week for twelve years, and I've had my fill of christianity, thanks.

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