My name is Erin Shine, and I am atheist. Except, my name isn’t Erin Shine. It’s something else. I haven’t told you what that something else is because when I first started this blog I was a scared teenager who who didn’t want to be reprimanded by those who are used to seeing my face. For me, it wasn’t my family, or my close friends whose opinions I feared. It was Mrs. Sharp, my elementary school secretary and nurse who watched me grow up. She doesn’t really “know” me, but she’s known me since before I could read, and I know she’ll be disappointed, and maybe even a little heartsick. It was my grandparents, who live thousands of miles away and don’t have internet, but who eventually hear everything through the family grapevine. I don’t know what my parents have told them about me. It was my academy principle, and the office manager at my church, and my American history professor. I chose the name Erin for myself so that I could express myself freely on the internet, and I’ve used it ever since. I used pseudonyms to protect my friends and family members, and altered small details of people’s lives so that who I was talking about would only be be obvious to those already close to the situation.
There are also many practical reasons to keep my internet persona and my personal identity separate, not the least of which is a modicum of privacy and safety from the prying eyes of future employers. Not to mention, I’ve maintained this identity for so long that even if I own up to it in my “real life,” I plan to maintain it here for purely for continuity. Here I am still Erin, but I’m no longer afraid of what people think the way I once was. While I’ve been pretty blunt here, out in the physical world I’ve come out of the closet much like a turtle emerges from its shell: slowly and skiddishly. My immediate family knows, my inlaws know, my closest friends know, and those in my local Secular Society know.
I’ve come to a turning point, however. At this point, while it might cause conflict and pain, I think it’s more important for me to be open about my non-belief so that I can help support the reality that most nonbelievers are normal, kind, thoughtful people. I’ve been mulling the idea of coming out more publicly for a long time. Recently this video reminded me of the positive impact coming out can have. Although I’m not a huge fan of Richard Dawkins (I find him pretentious, condescending, and utterly unable to check his privilege) he makes a good point, namely, that the more atheists come out of the closet, whatever ideological brand, the less stigma will be attached to the word, the more we will be taken seriously as a valuable political demographic, and the more easily we will be able to mobilize to support worthy causes in our society. So I’m coming out more firmly, and across my social spheres. Of course, this internet identity will still remain separate from my personal identity, but both will be openly and proudly atheist.
People all over the world are proud to be Christians, proud to be Muslims, proud to be Hindu, even proud to be Pagan. It’s not because they necessarily think they are superior to everyone else. There were times when I was truly proud to be Adventist. I was proud because I believed that Adventism had made positive contributions to the world, and represented a beautiful, logical, and ultimately benevolent worldview. I feel the same way about my Secular Humanism, my Ignosticism, and yes, my atheism. I am proud of my atheism much the way I’m proud of my family, my home state, or my university: because it’s mine.
As part of this process of embracing my worldview and my journey in getting there I’ll be submitting my own story to Transitions as Erin. (Not that I’ve “arrived” anywhere. I hope to continue seeking truth wherever I find it. If that search leads me away from my current positions, so be it.) I may be submitting one later as myself. Finally, I’m going to be honest on my social media profiles and with those whom I’ve been hiding, politely accepting prayers without comment, nodding along, and otherwise dodging the reality of how I—and thus our relationship—has changed. If I truly care about these people, and I value our relationship, and I believe meaningful relationships are predicated upon honesty, then it’s time to come out to them as well. I need to be fully myself with Mrs. Sharp, my teachers, my mentors, my old acquaintances, everyone. Wish me luck. ♦