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Posts Tagged ‘coming out’

From altar boy to atheist: a coming out story

Posted by Andy Welfle on September 13, 2008

The Author

The Author

Hello, my name is Andy Welfle, and I’m an atheist.

This is my “coming out” story — how I transformed from a good Catholic boy who had dreams of becoming a priest, to the skeptical, cautious person I am today. Sit back, because, well, I can be loquacious at times, and I have a lot to say about this.

Like so many freethinkers in my generation, I went through a full decade in Catholic school — 12 years if you include pre-school and kindergarten. I credit that for my current worldview. I wound up going to Catholic school for a number of reasons. Primarily, though my mother taught at a different Catholic school, and although I can’t speak for her, I think she was caught up in the parochial agitprop that they were the last good, safe schools. Public schools are evil, rough badlands that make kids click up and join a gang to survive. Private, secular schools were too expensive for a good Catholic family, so the diocesan schools were about it.

(Since then, my mother has left the Catholic school system, and my sisters are happy in Fort Wayne Community Schools. They’ve never been mugged, raped, or otherwise maimed.)

Most of my elementary school life was spent in oblivious, pious bliss. I announced in third grade that I wanted to be a priest, and the pastor of the church thought it was great. I was a server (altar boy), and like everyone else in my class, I went to mass twice during the week, and then with my family on Sunday. It’s a wonder we ever learned anything.

Pedophile priest jokes aside, I remember the pastor (head priest) fondly. He was an intelligent, well-spoken guy, and except for the fact he took the vows and became a priest, he’s a respectable guy — he would never do anything like those priests you hear about in Boston.

I never had a problem in school, until eighth grade, when we had a letter sent home from our teachers saying that next week, we were going to have a special 2 hour session about sexual education. The letter said if parents didn’t want their kids to participate, please sign and return. My parents, being the liberal and educated people they are, didn’t have a problem with that.

So next Tuesday, the boys in the grade went to one classroom, and the girls went to another. I don’t know who led the discussion for the girls, but our pastor talked to us boys. That’s when I realized, “What could this dude, someone who pledged in front of God and everybody never to have sex, what could he possibly teach us about our sexuality?”

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Now What? (A Response to Andy’s Personal Question)

Posted by mikebftw on June 13, 2008

(This is my response to Andy’s post from a few days ago.)

I’m a little envious of Andy’s brother for being able to handle a mixed-belief relationship so neatly, honestly, and openly. Surely it has to do with the character of the people involved, but there’s also a situational element that we shouldn’t overlook. That is to say, both participants came into the relationship with (I presume, from Andy’s description) existing, articulated worldviews. From this standpoint, as long as they were honest with each other, they couldn’t fail.

However, what happens when the order of events is reversed: first comes the relationship, then the worldviews? This best describes my relationship with my wife. We were both raised in Catholicism, but we weren’t exactly regular churchgoers at the time of our wedding. Being Catholic was simply a portion of our individual identities, and provided a base set of beliefs that we took for granted (i.e. there is a God, the basic Christian narrative is true, etc.), but to which we didn’t really commit much thought or effort. Originally, I was the one who suggested we get married in a church, but I was motivated more by the idea of “doing the right thing” than a particular closeness to the church or its doctrine. (We ended up getting married on a beach in a civil ceremony.) As most engaged couples hopefully do, we had several conversations regarding what kind of lifestyle we wanted together, how we would raise our children, and so forth. While we never committed to a stringently religious lifestyle, we did agree on raising our children as we were raised, in the Catholic church.

We had been married for about a year when I really started engaging in and scrutinizing my belief system. I have to admit that when you come to the realization of your naturalistic worldview, there’s nothing scarier than anticipating how your loved ones will react. So many questions came to mind – Am I a fraud for this? Am I still the same person she wanted to marry? What about our kids – can we find a compromise, or will one of us have to watch our children raised in a way that we completely disagree with? Again, we were never the most religious couple, but I still felt this kind of anxiety – I can’t imagine what a more devout couple would have to go through.

So, how does one deal with a mid-relationship change in beliefs? My personal experience is a work in progress. The first step is to appeal to the qualities necessary to make any relationship work: honesty, compromise, and a sense of humor. Honesty can be difficult, especially given the negative attitude toward atheism that dominates American culture. It’s just plain scary to face how the most important person in your life will react – it feels like you have more to lose in that moment than you know how to deal with. However, if your relationship is built on trust, you owe it to yourself and your partner to be completely honest. If you’re in the middle of a relationship, hopefully you’ve mastered the art of compromise by this point, so applying it to your beliefs is a logical transition. For my relationship, a sense of humor has always been most important. My wife and I have a knack for knocking each other down a peg if one of us is taking ourself too seriously. Presently, she likes to refer to our freethinker group as FWAC, as in “Fort Wayne Atheist Club,” pronounced “fwhack,” despite my insistence on calling it FreeThought Fort Wayne. She also (rightfully) makes fun of my sometimes nerd-a-rific interest in all things scientific. Meanwhile, I have found ways to tactfully poke fun at the sillier aspects of her beliefs, not in a mean-spirited way, but in a “funny ’cause it’s true” kind of way – like Dane Cook did.

Posted in FreeThought, Philosophy, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »