My Daughter Is An Atheist And I’m Terrified For Her
A few weeks ago, my oldest daughter (who is 10 going on 25) came to me with a serious expression on her face. She sat me down and said to me “Mama, I need to talk to you about something” in that tone that makes your heart drop to the pit of your stomach. Of course, every terrified thought you can imagine went through my head: Is someone hurting her? Am I going to have to buy a shot gun? Did she some how figure out how to rob a bank? Thankfully the next words out her mouth weren’t an admission of pre-teen armed robbery but something I’ve been expecting for a while now: “Mama, I’m an Atheist.” I was both relieved and terrified…
But not because she is a non-believer. My husband and I have exposed our kids to as many belief systems as we could over the years. We have Jewish and Christian heritage, we live in the cultural melting pot that is NYC, and the kids currently attend a Parochial school. However, I have identified as a non-believer for most of my life, and the same can be said for her dad (my ex-husband) and her step-dad (my husband). What I’m worried about is how Atheists are treated in the U.S., and how this may affect her life down the road.
When I first came”out” as an Atheist, half of my family completely cut me off. My mother and her side of my family are very open-minded, but my dad’s side leans towards fundamentalist Christianity, and could never understand why I chose to break away from “salvation,” therefore “condemning my soul to hell.” I was raised by my dad around these folks, so having them turn their backs on me for my beliefs was a tough pill to swallow, especially as a pregnant 19-year-old kid. My dad loves me unconditionally, but he’s never fully accepted that I no longer believe. Thankfully my children will never have to worry about us turning them away, but the rest of the world is a different story.
Atheist discrimination is rampant in America. There are still six states with laws on the books that would bar myself or my daughter, as Atheists, from running for office (even though that’s against the constitution). A 2012 survey found that roughly half of all Americans find Atheism “threatening,” while a University of Oregon study concluded that people distrust Atheists like myself and my kind, generous, loving daughter more than rapists. Seriously. Apparently, according to some folks, not believing in a deity is worse than forcing yourself on someone sexually.
Of course, this is all stuff my daughter will have to face as an adult. But discrimination doesn’t wait until adulthood to rear its ugly head. A perfect example are The Boy and Girl Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts didn’t allow Atheists become scouts until 1993. The Boy Scouts still prohibit non-believers. Yes, still. The Boy Scouts also require scouts to pledge to “do my duty to God and my country,” and the organization has resisted any calls to remove the ban or this portion of their oath. And lest you think this is an ancient rule that isn’t enforced, in 2009 Eagle Scout and Aquatics Director Neil Polzin was fired from his position after his beliefs were called into question. So what reassurance do I have that they aren’t discriminating against kids, too? My daughter won’t have to deal with this, but my son very well might.
So yes, I’m terrified for my Atheist daughter. But I’m also proud. Not that she’s decided to follow “my path.” I would be just as proud of her had she had chosen to follow Christianity, or Judaism, or some other belief system not my own. No, I’m proud because she took the time to understand what was out there, take in the facts and make a decision on what she believes, all on her own. All I’ve ever wanted for my kids is for them to be independent and self-reliant. From what I see, she’s well on her way.