An advice column by Molleen Matsumura, "Sweet Reason" deals with life-concerns and problems involving humanism, secularism and the nonreligious individual.
Dec. 7, 2005
Dear Sweet Reason,
I am in the Bible Belt also. I believe that beliefs are personal, but I hear a constant discussion about what church people are attending, and suggestions that being recently divorced I might find a good person at church, to spend the remainder of my life with.
Also it is very difficult not to let others know that I am a freethinker. It is kind of apparent but I usually don't come right out and say that I think freely. I have tried to let go of my past as it was based on Christian beliefs, and I try not to push my beliefs on others but I know very few who are not religious. How can I continue to exist when others don't feel or respect my feelings of keeping my personal beliefs in the closet? It comes to be the topic of conversation a lot of the time, or a fishing for ideas I might have. I feel that my feelings are used as a way of presenting the differences I have with others and are at times twisted or made to seem twisted. How can I get along with those who believe so differently than I do?
I have some suggestions for getting along with the people who are troubling you, since some of them may be people you can't easily avoid -- like relatives, co-workers, or neighbors. But, first I should point out that when you can't get along with someone, sometimes it's best to find different people to get along with.
You can at least bring into your life some people with whom you are more comfortable. These could be fellow freethinkers, or people who have other interests in common with you, and have something to talk about besides their church activities.
I've added a letter from another reader describing the advantages of finding like-minded friends, and then a list of Internet links that could help you do the same. Again, in addition to finding fellow freethinkers, you could find people who share other interests of yours. Let your imagination go! Think of such activities as ushering at musical events and plays, caring for animals at the animal shelter, "great books" or "science fiction" discussion groups, chess or bridge clubs; then find what you like through resources like the Internet or your newspaper's "community" and "events" listings. Even the church-goers in such groups will have something else to discuss, and since their relationship with you is based on a common interest, their casual mentions of what they heard or did at church need not be taken as pressure on you. Some people won't even mention religion. Also, if there is a civil liberties group nearby that you would be interested in joining (such as an ACLU chapter), you will find many people committed to respecting differences of belief.
Now let's talk about the people who are in your life: It might very well help to separate the reasons
people suggest you go to church, from the idea of going to church. For example, many people understand (or will if they have to think about it) that going through a divorce is a lot like bereavement; a divorcee should not be rushed into looking for a new relationship any more than a widow/widower should be. Divorce can make a person emotionally vulnerable, and I encourage you to demand the considerate treatment you have every right to expect. You need only say, "I'm not trying to meet someone so soon after my divorce, let's talk about something else," and then change the subject. If you're talking with a person of the relevant sex, consider adding, "I have too much respect for women/men to act like I'm looking for a replacement, or to ask somebody to get involved with me before I'm truly ready for a relationship"; they ought to appreciate that! If you think someone really needs to be brought up short, tell them, "I'm not looking in church any more than I'm looking in singles' bars. I'm just not looking."
There are some conversations that "you have to be there" to understand or comment upon, and that's true of conversations that leave someone feeling as though their words have been "twisted". I can only suggest in a general way that you change the subject when people bring up a topic you'd rather not discuss. Whether or not you choose to point out that you have been misunderstood, you can say something like, "Oh, let's talk about [something that is important to both of you]." If you really would like to spend time with someone who's invited you to church, maybe you can suggest another way to get together. When you say something like, "I really want to get more time with you. Let's play golf next Saturday," it moves the conversation away from whether or why you do or don't go to church, to other ways of spending time together.
Treating other people with courtesy and respect will show them how you would like to be treated, and give you the right to expect good treatment. Using the links below may help you find such friends. Good luck!
LETTER: REWARDS OF JOINING FREETHOUGHT GROUPS
Dear Sweet Reason,
I found my life became much more rewarding and joyous when my atheist husband and I discovered two atheist groups in neighboring Atlanta. I found the groups by doing an Internet search. Becoming members and making new friends with people that had a lot of things in common with us helped us feel less isolated despite living in the midst of the Bible Belt. Most atheists are very interesting people and we also enjoy the diversity of our groups as much as what we have in common.
We also made friends through the Secular Web by participating in some social activities arranged by those of us in the greater Atlanta metro area. We have even found some very intelligent and friendly atheists living in very rural communities in Georgia. There is hope for those that feel isolated.
I've even made some new friends by having secular symbols on my car. People that shared my beliefs noticed and began asking questions. It's a bit like looking for a mate. It takes time and patience to find people with compatible worldviews but once you find them, your life is much more satisfying and you don't know how you survived without them.
LOCAL CHAPTERS OF NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
The Internet Infidels list local chapters of numerous national organizations by geographical location.
The following national organizations present geographic listings of their local affiliates at these links. They are listed in alphabetical order; if you visit more than one group, you may find that the personalities of the individuals you meet are more important to you than the official positions of their national affiliates.
SOME ONLINE DISCUSSION FORUMS
(readers are welcome to send additional suggestions to be listed at the Sweet Reason Web site, coming soon!)
©2005, Molleen Matsumura.
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