Recently I read these two posts on TA and they hit home with me:
All of us who are thinking freely and have thrown off religion owe a debt to those who came before. I probably would not be an atheist if I hadn't read a Christopher Hitchens book, one which made me realize that it is possible (and moral) to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Before this, I had cognitive dissonance around science and religion, and yet I was almost completely unaware of this fact. For many people, such as me, it takes an outside voice to force the issue. For others, those who came before make it easier by not just showing the way, but by showing that it is possible. Robert Ingersoll is a particular hero of mine in this area. He was an orator in the late 1800s (sharing many similarities with Mark Twain), who spoke against religion in ways that I did not know were possible at that time. Hitchens prodded me, and Ingersoll inspired me.

There is a debt here to be repaid. I cannot let this stop with me. Christians have a song in Sunday school that has the line "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine". Well, that is how I feel about reason and logic, and shedding of the fear, and reclaiming my mind as my own. Others did me a favor by helping me get this far. I must pass it on.

(I believe that this feeling of debt, combined with the Internet as an enabler, is a core reason for the "New Atheist" movement.)

There are many ways to pass on the favor. Writing this blog and interacting on atheist forums are just some ways. But another part is to not hide. I now speak openly with my wife and her niece. I lend support (and receive it in return) to a Mormon-turned-atheist friend.

And yet with my mother I have been hiding, for fear of offending. This is intellectually dishonest, and it is very emotionally draining. But why keep hiding? After reading the blog posts above, I see I have a debt which must be repaid with openness and honesty. At the same time, I hope such honesty will lift a burden off me. Hopefully such conversations will go well, but the imagined result cannot guide me. It's time to grow up and be who I am.

A snippet of what I emailed to my mom:
I am an atheist. I realized about a year and a half ago that this is who I am and what I understand to be true, but as I look back I see that logic has been leading me towards this for over 15 years. 
If you have any questions about this or want to talk about anything, I would love to. But otherwise, I just needed to tell you this, so that perhaps I can talk to you in the future without feeling like I am not being true to myself.

I almost felt dread when I first sent that email.  It has now been over a week since I sent that email, and I have gotten no response.  Not even an acknowledgement.  My mother chit-chats with my wife over email about the boys and day-to-day things, but she does not want to address the big things.


But you know what?  I'm okay with that.  I have stated who I am, and that is one step in growth.


(The above is an updated version of the post I originally put on my blog at growingatheist.)

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Comment by Heather Spoonheim on April 22, 2011 at 2:05am
Wow, this really makes me feel something I can't quite describe. When I wrote my blog on the Atheist Debt I had hoped to maybe offer a little motivation to others, but you don't often get any real feedback on these things. Seeing you cite Gaytor's blog and my blog here in yours really kinda drives the point home of just how important it is for us to express our ideas and encourage each other. Thank you so much.
Comment by Chuck C on April 22, 2011 at 11:10am

Agreed, I don't want to make any big deal out of anything.  This is just who I am, and I'm at the point that I can say that with no shame, even to family.  How they respond is outside my sphere of influence.


And Heather, thank you back.  :-)  A life well lived is one that has continual learning and growth, and one that occasionally bumps others out of their comfort zone so that they may grow too.  So, ... thanks.


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