At my first job after college graduation, I worked with two guys about my age. One was my boss. The other was a guy named Spenser. One day as we walked to the car, Spencer asked me, “Are you a Christian?” I thought it an odd question, but Spencer was an odd man. I said yes. He then asked if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I tried to explain that Catholics don’t use that phrase or see baptism in quite the same way many protestant denominations did.
Then Spenser informed me that unless I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was not a Christian. I had been baptized at eight days of age, had the sacraments of first confession and First Holy Communion, believed that the consecrated wafer was the actual body and blood of Christ, and I took my middle name during the Sacrament of Confirmation in honor of Saint John the Evangelist. I had prayed my ass off for over 20 years to Jesus, to his mum, and (mainly) to his biological father, as well as to other long-forgotten saints. Spenser’s got saved point of view seemed shallow simple to me. However, here in the Bible Belt, it remains the trope de rigueur.
Yet this smugly self-righteous graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and ordained Southern Baptist minister, refuted my claim based on how he and his denomination defined members of the world’s largest religion (Christianity). The differences were how Spenser and I defined a Christian based upon our diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Despite our hairsplitting points of view, when someone identifies as Christian, Muslim, Jew, or as members of most religions, we generally form a somewhat accurate idea of that religious claim.
For religious purposes, I am forced to classify myself as a none. Apostate Catholic is not an option, even if true. My rejection of all religion is not the same as no preference, but I don’t make the lists. I am ok with Atheist, but it is not a religion, even though some numbskulls claim it is. Since athesit identifies me for what I’m not, I wish there was a better word. There’s not.
Thus, I identify as atheist. I also use skeptic, nonbeliever, freethinker, heathen, or whatever synonym fits the situation. Today, Spenser would be correct. I am not Christian. Some believers who came to know me before discovering my unbelief said I am was one of the good (or nice) atheists. Sometimes that aspect of me can be called cooperative. But I hold a dim view of religion, which would make me neither good nor nice in their view
I avoid the less-offensive terms like agnostic, humanist, or non-religious, even though a case can be made for each applying to me. I eschew the term spiritual because it is confusing (even among atheists) and has its own baggage. The stigma associated with embracing atheism (or any form of religious doubt) troubles me because even as a believer I never shared that negative view most others held of atheists.
I openly identify as atheist so that I can help others understand atheists and atheism. I would like to demonstrate that I am no better and no worse a person because I believe in no gods. I would also like to think that by being open and out I can encourage others to step forward and claim their truth.