Atheism and Tolerance

By Ellis Keipper

I went to a secular private school most of my life. Due to the geography of the school and the demographics of students that attended it, many of the values of the students and teachers that went to the school did not reflect that secularity. I was and still am someone who is a part of a family that never particularly followed or enforced any kind of faith. From what I know, my dad’s mom was a Catholic when he was a kid, and he often attended church to make her happy despite not believing in the faith himself. My mom told me that she was never raised alongside religion at all. When I was younger, I never really understood faith nor religion. It wasn’t really until middle school when I figured out I was an atheist. It wasn’t something I had to realize or discover, I just didn’t know what to call it.  

At the time, I still didn’t really understand that that was something other people might’ve looked down on me for. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I remember a time in seventh grade when some of my classmates were asking me and one of my best friends at the time why we didn’t believe in God. They asked us what we believed happened when we died, and I told them I thought nothing happened. The one specific phrase that has stuck with me from that conversation was one of their responses to that which was, “Don’t you think that’s sad?”. I can’t remember much else from that conversation, but I do remember the teacher — who I later found out was a devoted Christian — telling the kids to stop because it was making me and my friend feel bad. And it did feel bad. 

That was the first experience I’d ever had with anyone that made me feel bad for not following the same faith as them. I would later have more similar experiences through middle school and high school where people would treat me differently because of this. Just while writing this, I’ve experienced it again. I’m not trying to make a statement about how atheists are oppressed, but I do want to point out how some followers of certain faiths tend to extend their values onto others in very disrespectful ways. 

At the very least, I ask people to respect each other’s faith. I find it predatory and harmful that some religions encourage followers to join out of fear that they may not find salvation. That’s often what people tell me. They say that because I don’t believe in God, I’m going to hell. That’s something I’m sure many people do not want to hear. A lot of the time, people try to encroach on each other’s faith and religion under the veil of saviorism when in reality it is incredibly offensive and inconsiderate. 

All of this is to summarize my thoughts and experience as an atheist among people of other faiths. 

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