Since I deconverted I’ve gotten my social support almost entirely online. I’ve made some great friends online, many of whom I hope to meet IRL someday, and at the same time I realize I probably do need a community IRL in my local area. Shortly after I deconverted I found the closest thing to an atheist group: a freethinker and humanist group. For years I’ve been lurking around their Facebook and Meetup sites.
At least once a month for the past four years I’ve thought about going to one of their events and yet I haven’t because I feel scared. I had stopped going to church on a regular basis 5 years before I stopped believing. Why?
It’s really hard to unpack, must less explain. Maybe it’s the tension between my self-hate and my non-conformist personality that the church brings about. Whether it’s my childhood or my mood disorder, or both, it’s historically been easy to feel like I need saving. And my self-hate made it easy for me to give my dysfunctional self to a god. But not so easy to submit myself to the community.
Only because I had no place in it unless I became a different person that I’m not. I don’t miss church because it was never mine. My curiosity, a core part of my identity, displays itself by asking many questions and no matter how much questions are allegedly encouraged in church, they really aren’t. I attended a dozen churches of all different denominations and the questioning was always frowned upon. Always.
So I stopped attending church because I didn’t fit in. Since church was where I’ve found friends since the age of 15 I didn’t know how to make friends unless I was in church. So nearly a decade I’ve not had close IRL friends.
Why? I’m afraid. Of being seen and rejected. Or ignored. Or manipulated. Or coerced to change the core of who I am. Because all those things happened.
This fear is a sickness that I must let go of in order to live a life that is meaningful to me, which involves being connected to others.
This isn’t normally my type of music, but I’m obsessed with Tool’s song Fear Inoculum. It resonates with me on a primal level and I feel like all the fear and sickness I’ve carried with me into, and through my religion, can be exhaled.
Forfeit all control
You poison, you spectacle
Exorcise the spectacle
Exorcise the malady
Exorcise the disparate
Poison for eternity
Purge me and evacuate
The venom and the fear that binds me
You can find the full lyrics here: https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/tool/fearinoculum.html
How do I overcome this fear? Exposure. I need to expose myself to the things that scare me.
And one of those things was going to the freethinker/humanist group.
I’ve been lurking around the local freethinker/humanist group on Facebook or Meetup for years. When I was visiting my parents a couple weeks ago I realized I needed to come up with a plan and part of that plan was reaching out, and getting to know, others.
So when I saw that they were having a meeting/class I decided to sign up and last night I attended.
I traveled downtown to the main library where the class was being held. I was nervous about parking because the library parking deck said two hours for free and I was a little worried if I went over that time I could get a ticket or possibly be towed. I got out of my car and went into the library but it wasn’t until 5 minutes before hand that I rode up the elevator to the 3rd floor. I was nervous.
I got into the room and immediately noticed all the attendees were my parents’ age or older. I immediately went to the least intimidating and most friendly looking person and looked at her name tag. It was “Peg.” Peg told me to sign in and get a name tag and then continued to chat up with another nice looking lady named Anne.
So I signed in and got the name sticker but it wasn’t a normal easy-to-peel one. Embarrassed, I went to Peg and asked her how to unpeel the sticker and both she and Anne laughed about how Peg must have an advanced degree in name tags because she couldn’t figure it out either.
They seemed really nice and so I stood there with them and made small talk. Fortunately there wasn’t enough time to talk about myself (phew!) other than I learned Peg was from a city that I myself lived in for a couple years, which she found quite remarkable (I didn’t – I’ve lived in a lot of cities so this happens to me all the time). I learned that both Peg and Anne are both unbelievers. Anne thought she’d met me before, but she realized she’d just seen my picture on the Meetup group. I learned Anne is one of the organizers of many of the meetings for the group.
It was time to sit down and I told Anne and Peg that I’d be sticking with them and sat down next to them. We joked about our vision issues. I have now dubbed Anne and Peg my adopted Aunties. (I didn’t tell them this – I didn’t want them to think I’m creepy).
The meeting was more of a class, taught by a former president of the American Humanist Association, Michael Werner. The class was to answer the question “What is humanism?” I could tell by his manner of speaking that he likely had an interesting past and was impressed how he laid out all the movements and great thinkers that led to the humanism movement.
He focused on what you can believe when you don’t believe in a god. He believes that thing is humanism. After hearing about it, I realize I agree with the principles but I’m not sure I’d call myself a humanist, though I’d have to think about that why before I am able to explain why. This is a bit hypocritical, considering that on my Facebook page I publicly listed under religious beliefs “secular humanist.” I’m more of an agnostic atheist who is also a skeptic more than anything else. I think I may be comfortable not defining myself, I’m just not comfortable when confronted with the question, So what do you believe? I guess I am also uncomfortable with my own apathy and self-centeredness.
Back to the event: a woman with the most vibrant colored purple hair I’ve ever seen (she looks like a lot of fun) made several jokes that went above the speaker’s head while me, Anne, Peg and a couple others laughed.
The speaker spoke for a very long time and I started looking at my watch because I was nervous what would come next (I’d have to socialize again). Peg got up because her parking meter was going to expire and I became fixated on wanting to escape, plus I was worried about getting a ticket. So after a few more minutes I told Anne it was nice meeting her and I had to leave. I was able to escape the awkward socializing at the end of a meeting and head home.
I have to admit. it threw me off quite a bit to see the age of the group. It’s a relief to see older folks as I’m often surrounded by younger folks who make me feel really old, but at the same time, the speaker was making references I was not getting and I couldn’t relate because most of the other people were in a different stage of life than me.
But I plan on going back next week, and bringing a notepad so I can take notes. And maybe reaching out just slightly more.
I went. And I’m giving myself a pat on the back for it. Good first start.
Just a quick edit to add: WP recommends you read this post I wrote 3 1/2 years ago called Loss of Faith and Personality Shift. I highly recommend it as it relates to this post.