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.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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