When you first become an atheist, there’s hardly ever a dull moment when speaking to your religious family. There are the debates about god and science, the ad hominem attacks, and the awkward (mostly disrespectful) remarks during holiday get-togethers. This is aside from having to deal with the social stigma an atheist faces from a misinformed majority. In short, deciding to become an atheist is not easy.
Jeanine Fuentes is an entrepreneur from Los Angeles who knows the repercussion of proclaiming her atheism first-hand. Becoming an atheist has had the biggest effect on her mother. Her mother is a christian who Jeanine says “is extremely judgmental, immoral and dishonest”.
Jeanine recently posted a blog called “My Mom Thinks My Son Will Be Gay Because I’m An Atheist” where she described one of the many times her mom made negative remarks regarding her atheistic views. I sat down with Jeanine to learn more about how she’s dealing with her mom and what advice she can give to others atheist who can relate to her situation.
So you were a Christian all of your life, what helped you to become an Atheist?
“I was indeed a Christian most of my life, but I honestly never liked going to church much. I never quite understood or learned anything from going to church. I was asked not to question anything. My biggest guide towards Atheism was my boyfriend. I met him while I still considered myself a christian. We felt such a strong connection that it didn’t matter what either of us believed. I think I was more tolerable because I wasn't conservative at all and I was open to learning different ways of thinking about things. The worst fear I had was my family finding out that he was an atheist and them shaming me for it ( Which they eventually did ).
My boyfriend answered all of my questions and if he couldn't, he provided informational resources that taught me so much about life, it's origins, other religions, and the history of religions. We talked about our opposing beliefs and I came to the simple conclusion that, his reasoning made more sense than mine. It was supported by evidence and that's what really mattered to me. Once I learned the age of the earth was older than 6 thousand years, that was enough for me to debunk the entire bible. It was such a freeing experience for me but it made me angry that I was indoctrinated and grew up with the fear of demons at night, judgement towards gays, and guilt for doing things that seemed normal.”
How did your mom react when she found out you were an Atheist?
“It was bad. I had just moved to Los Angeles with my boyfriend when my mom found out. She already didn’t support my move. She thought I was crazy and wouldn't make it.
Upon finding out, my mother made me out to be a monster to my siblings. My two second oldest sisters (16 and 18 at the time ) called to confront me about my beliefs. I did my best to defend myself without offending them and even tried to inform them about what I had learned. If they had only known the age of the earth they would surely leave christianity too, I thought. But they didn’t budge. My mom brainwashed them into not trusting me anymore. My brother was the least judgemental toward me ( he's 14 ).
One day I was telling my brother about my experience at the Griffith Observatory and he seemed facinated but my mom snached the phone from him and told me to stop talking to him about science and screamed at him saying: "What, are you going to be an atheist now like her?" I cried that night. It was hard to listen to her make me out to be this bad person to my younger siblings who once looked up to me. She also thinks I am a bad mother since I won't be indoctrinating my son into religion.
Every success we've had since moving to Los Angeles, she credits the devil for. She associates success/wealth with evil. She thinks that the only reason we are doing good is because we don't believe and that we are being rewarded and misled by satan. It had nothing to do with our hard work or the sacrifices we've had to make. She thinks I've chosen money over family. Little does she know that everything I'm doing is for them. If I succeed, they benefit. But I still don't have her support for anything.”
What was the response you got from others when you posted that blog?
“I got support from fellow atheists who have gone through similar struggles with family. I was advised to stay away from her because the relationship won't do good to my son or myself. I didn’t get any comments that were against my point of view surprisingly, and I have a lot of friends and family who are religious. In fact, I had a few religious people like my post. (Hopefully they actually read it.)”
Has the way you lived your life changed at all since becoming an Atheist?
“Since becoming an atheist, I am the happiest I've ever been. I'm finally able to be my true self. I could laugh at different types of humor that would otherwise be easily offensive to others, I don’t feel bad about having sex before marriage, having a casual drink, getting tattoos, etc. It empowers me to know that I am the creator of my destiny, that I should thank myself for the good things that happen in my life instead of giving the credit to an invisible man that didn't have anything to do with it. It almost feels like being "born again". I look at life in a different light. I actually appreciate nature, the sky, the universe. It's all more beautiful to me than it ever was when I thought it was designed by a creator. I know now there's no limit to the knowledge I can attain. I respect people more. I know we're all just human beings, trying to figure shit out. I now appreciate the scientists and technologists who work everyday to help move humanity forward and uncover life's burning questions. I feel like a better mother, and a better person overall.”
There’s a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an atheist. What does atheism mean to you?
“Atheism is what Atheism is. The lack of a belief in the existence of a god or gods. That's it. We are kind because it is the right thing to do. We are honest because it's the right thing to do. We love and we care just like everyone else. We just don't blame god or satan for the good or bad things that happen in life because we don't believe in either of them. We ask questions, seek answers and accept what we learn to be true based on supporting evidence. Our curiosity isn't limited. To me it is independence - self responsibility. To me it's knowledge and freedom.”
What would you say to other atheists who are afraid to come out?
“To an atheist struggling to come out, it's ok to be afraid but once you come out, it is probably going to be one the most empowering feelings you’ll have. You will not be alone. There is a supporting community of atheists, agnostics and humanists that will happily help you through the family struggles you may face. You are choosing to open your mind to knowledge and accept reality for what it is. Don't ever be ashamed of that.”