Conversing With The Other Side
This weekend I had an interesting experience that was a bit unnerving. Driving back from a debate tournament, my teammates and I got into a discussion of religion and the existence of God. Normally I’m pretty forthcoming about my atheism and able to say that I definitively believe God is less likely to exist than to exist. I’m able to defend my skepticism through logic and reason, and I don’t feel ashamed or close minded about what I’m saying. For some reason in this particular incident, I could do none of these things. I felt ashamed about what I believed and I said slightly different things from what I truly believed in order to feel more comfortable with the people I was around, as well as to keep them from thinking I was a radical or hated them for their beliefs or was uncompromising and angry.
Looking at it now, I think I handled this situation badly. I think I could have used it as an opportunity to display what a mature, intelligent and kind atheist is. A discussion that’s been going around my campus atheist/agnostic group is about the difference between accommodation and diplomacy. In this case, I truly believe that I compromised my moral beliefs by capitulating to the peer pressure to conform. As we’ve been told for years now, peer pressure is bad. But religion is a sticky issue and you can offend people easily. That’s why diplomacy is something all atheists need to practice (and I know it’s something I need to work on). It IS possible to disagree on a fundamental level with someone and still respect them. It IS possible to truly believe something without being close minded.
Especially in a context like school or around potential friends it can be even more difficult not to belie your beliefs. However I can promise you all that it feels considerably worse afterwards knowing that you misrepresented yourself out of fear than it would have if I had lost potential friends because they judge me for my true feelings and thoughts.