Connor Moriarty, Photography Editor
Almost 14 billion years ago, all mass and energy that constitute the observable universe expanded from a state of tremendously high density, marking the beginning of time. But how did that energy exist in the first place? What was before the beginning? It is a question that has been asked for centuries, and scientists just don’t know.
And that excites the heck out of me.
Mysteries, confusion, questioning, doubt, discovery — all words that label scientists. Living life at the drawing board, the unknown, feeling discontent with finality, hoping to be proved wrong because of a new discovery or theory.
Here is where I find my tranquility, my excitement, my happiness and my spirituality. I am a secular atheist, but I feel uncomfortable admitting it in today’s religious culture.
I was raised Catholic, I went to Sunday school and I attended a Catholic high school. It was there where I learned more about the religion that had been forced upon me since I was young. And it was then when I finally took a step back to actually think about the idea of a superhuman agency. I understood I could never again believe.
I find contentment in proof: theories that lead to undeniable evidence based on research. I believe in what I see, and to do otherwise makes me uncomfortable. The day I stop asking, “Why?” is the day I do not want to participate in society.
I am not writing this to debate the existence of a god, as I respect other’s beliefs and expect the same in return. I, similar to others who put faith in a god, am happy, and whose right is it to take that away from me?
I do believe, though, that there is an uncomfortable stigma that comes along with being atheist in our culture — a confusion that is easier to ignore than address. Like the pronoun fogginess relating to transgender lifestyle or the police brutality against African Americans, there are gaps in the discussion.
Last week, New Mexico courts took Holly Salzman’s children away from her after she skipped court-mandated Christian counseling sessions, even though she complained to the court that the separation of church and state was being violated.
Last December, pastor Tim Saffeels of Oregon entered a school property, sat down at a table of eighth graders and insisted they talk religion. After two girls stated they identify as atheist, Saffeels insulted their beliefs and intelligence, calling them “stupid” and “evil.”
Last week, senior economics student Sara Sheppard from Katy, Texas felt uncomfortable when her professor lectured about how, “it is human nature to have a spiritual and religious component, therefore making atheists unnatural and against human nature.” In response, Sheppard recorded the professor’s lectures, sent the recordings to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and started a movement striving to separate church from the classroom.
Cases like these are popping up often lately. They aren’t necessarily crimes, but they represent judgment, mistreatment, confusion and uncomfortable feelings toward people who do not follow a religion.
A Buzzfeed article was published last week telling the stories of many people from around the world who are atheists living in a religious society. Kacem El Ghazzali from Morocco, Mubarak Bala from Nigeria and Kelly Freeman from South Carolina are the names of just a few that have trouble living their lives because of religious diversity. They live oppressed in society every day.
“It made me so uncomfortable to be surrounded by such heavy Christian influence that I told people in high school I was Jewish so I’d be left alone,” Freeman said. “Once I joined the Secular Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina, things were a lot easier. It’s amazing how much easier it can be to navigate hostile environments when you have a community of like-minded people.”
Last week men from Gideon International, a Christian group dedicated to spreading the word of their god, stood on every Miami University campus corner passing out Bibles, discussing Christianity to passersby. And I cannot help but feel like there would be a minor uproar if I were to do the same thing with atheism.
Religious action and commentary is the norm in society — it is written into our Constitution. My friends thank God for their blessings and publicly discuss their anxiousness to be accepted into heaven. Centuries of religious culture has engraved these themes to the point of normality, yet heads turn when I exclaim my disbelief of gods. Should I be afraid to offend people with my lifestyle when theirs are imposed on me every day?
According to the most recent Pew Research Study on religious identifications in the United States, the number of religious people is declining. Between 2007 and 2014 there was an 8 percent drop in people who identify as Christian. Millennials especially are identifying more and more as atheist or unidentified, proven by a recent Harvard survey that shows more atheist or agnostic students attend the university than Roman Catholic or Protestant. But then why is the Christian mindset still so dominant in our society?
We live in a time when religious-identifying people are shrinking and atheist numbers are growing. This is neither good nor bad, but our culture needs to learn to acclimate to this changing society. Like the post-civil rights movement era or the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, this is happening and adaptation is crucial.
This change is also not insignificant. Anthropologist Judith Becker popularized the term “habitus,” a way to describe human behavior and the cultural ideologies that inform behavior. We may not realize it, but our social behaviors, emotions and communications are more of a result of our cultural and religious influences than we think. Religious identification of our culture is an undertone to a lot of what we do, making it an important issue and therefore wrong to ignore.
It may make me uncomfortable to admit to being a secular atheist because of cultural stigmas, but I am proud of it nonetheless. Like Christians, Muslims or any other religious person who finds comfort in their beliefs, I find my happiness and security in science. When I am in astronomy class, I am not much different from a Catholic in church.
Together we need to find tranquility in accepting diversity. In this sense I am a minority, like many others, but we are not different. Discussion needs to spark, normalizing this previously taboo topic. People should not be silenced out of fear to offend or be judged.
Whether you end up in heaven or I end up drifting as dust through the cosmos, today we are coexisting and need to address unnecessary inequality.