The Atheist Community Through My Eyes
This post is part of a series on the Atheist Community. We want to hear and share your story, too. Tell us what the atheist community means to you and we'll post it on our blog. Submit your story here. Here is KC Gleason's story:
What does the atheist community mean to me?
Well...that is a loaded question with a complicated answer.
Short Answer: I love it and it means the world to me. It also drives me bananas.
The atheist community is a place I happened upon about a decade ago on Facebook. I was raised Catholic but had not been practicing for a few years, and I had never really had strongly held beliefs even when I was. But I had not yet realized where I fell on the belief spectrum. I’d recently moved to Alabama and was feeling a bit like a fish out of water. Everyone you meet here invites you to church and pretty much all community events revolve around church activities. These are obviously not things I was interested in doing, but given how automatic religious belief is down here, it made me feel as if something was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? What was I doing wrong that religion just didn’t come naturally to me? Was I a bad person?
I don’t even remember how, but I stumbled upon the Godless Engineer facebook community and after sorting through memes, and reading blogs and comments, it hit me. I’m an atheist. I’d never considered that before. Everyone I knew was religious. The idea of just not believing in God had never occurred to me. That’s what had always been wrong with me...when I was growing up and asking “inappropriate” questions in bible study and in theology classes at school...I didn’t believe then either. I just didn’t realize it. And to be honest, this realization was a huge weight off my shoulders. I knew why I wasn’t like everyone else. But then came another wave of worry...I wasn’t like everyone else. In the South, not being religious is kind of unheard of and I began to wonder how I’d ever fit in.
The bad news is, I don’t. Still. And I’m never going to fit in here. I’m a liberal atheist in Alabama and I don’t hide it. The good news is, there is a vast online community of atheists and it is in this community that I found a home. It started slowly...I made a friend here and there and we’d interact occasionally in atheist groups online. Those friendships grew and we eventually bonded over more than memes and religious conversation. When real life shit hit the fan, we were there for each other. In one of the hardest times of my life, when I felt incredibly alone and broken, they’d message or call me every day to check on me. My own family (aside from my mom) didn’t do that. It was then I realized that I had a new family and it was the atheist community.
I’ve spent several years building relationships with other atheists and atheist-friendly people online and working to build a more robust, more diverse, and more philanthropic community among atheists online, and it has grown significantly since I stepped into it. There are so many wonderful people who, when they step away from religion, need open arms to walk into and the atheist community provides that. Is the community without flaw? Hell no. There are all kinds of people in the overarching atheist community that I choose not to interact with for one reason or another. And that’s fine. We don’t all have to agree, or like each other, or ever interact at all if we don’t want to.
We are certainly not without our problems or drama. Leaving religion doesn’t automatically mean you leave all of the baggage or harmful beliefs behind. And there are people in the atheist community from all across the spectrum of socio-political beliefs, which has caused schisms within the overall community. A lot of them. And sometimes, I’ll be honest, some things go down that make me want to throw in the towel. But I know that people with harmful beliefs, whether they are religious or not, can change. I’ve seen it happen. People can learn and grow and become more accepting, open, and liberated, if they are given the time and understanding to allow for that growth. I think many of us have had similar experiences. And that’s why, despite the problems, I choose to stay. I choose to nurture the atheist community and help it grow. And it does the same for me.
The family I have found in the atheist (and atheist-friendly) community (including my now husband), has been able to come together and do some amazing things. We’ve started a conference for YouTubers and had meet ups to help bring people in the community together, in person. We’ve done charity drives for all sorts of wonderful causes and raised money for multiple sclerosis, medical bills, Planned Parenthood, humane societies, and to help send an LGBTQ student to college. We’ve sent orphans to school in the Congo, fed orphans in Haiti, fed low income families in Canada and in several U.S. states. We’ve bought Christmas presents and clothes for foster children in north Alabama and helped individual atheists in our community with emergency needs, when they had nowhere else to turn.
We have our differences...some of them are petty and some of them are foundational. But we’ve proven time and time again that if we can come together, we can make a difference. With all of us pitching in, even a little, we can make great things happen. And we don’t need gods to do it. We just need each other.
This post is part of a series on the Atheist Community. We want to hear and share your story, too. Tell us what the atheist community means to you and we'll post it on our blog. Submit your story here.