Out of the closet: More Amer­i­cans iden­ti­fy­ing as athe­ist, ag­nos­tic

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By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN “You don’t end up with a lot of athe­ists or ag­nos­tics who say you’re go­ing to hell be­cause you’re LGBT. … There isn’t a whole lot of sec­u­lar rea­son or ra­tio­nale for not giv­ing LGBTs the same rights.”

One-fourth of Amer­i­cans aren’t re­li­gious — mak­ing them mem­bers of the nation’s largest “re­li­gious group,” ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute.

New­nan res­i­dent Kay Fur­long is a mem­ber of that “re­li­gious group.” As an athe­ist les­bian transwoman, she also makes up the 56 per­cent of LGBT in­di­vid­u­als who are re­li­giously un­af­fil­i­ated, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Gallup poll.

Fur­long was raised Catholic, be­ing bap­tized, con­firmed and mar­ried in the Catholic church.

“Based on the doc­trine, the pre­vi­ous pope … he was very anti-LGBT. I got a sour taste then and that was about the time I went through a divorce with my first wife. She had said mul­ti­ple times that she couldn’t be with a trans­gen­der fe­male,” Fur­long said. “At that time I sort of lost any faith I had, be­cause what kind of god would make a per­son like me? That’s when I sort of started ques­tion­ing.”

Fur­long isn’t alone in her rea­sons for leav­ing or­ga­nized re­li­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute, many non-re­li­gious Amer­i­cans were raised in re­li­gious house­holds and drifted away from re­li­gion as adults. Nearly 30 per­cent of this de­mo­graphic — and most of this 30 per­cent women — said they chose to leave or­ga­nized re­li­gion be­cause of “their ex­pe­ri­ence of neg­a­tive re­li­gious teach­ings about or treat­ment of gay and les­bian peo­ple.” Young adults also cited this as a rea­son for leav­ing.

“You don’t end up with a lot of athe­ists or ag­nos­tics who say you’re go­ing to hell be­cause you’re LGBT. It’s be­cause of their re­li­gious view,” she said. “There isn’t a whole lot of sec­u­lar rea­son or ra­tio­nale for not giv­ing LGBTs the same rights.”

To be­lieve or not to be­lieve: That is the ques­tion

Amer­i­can Athe­ists, the non­profit borne from a 1959 Supreme Court case that chal-

Jan­uary 20, 2017

lenged prayer in pub­lic schools, de­fines athe­ism “as the men­tal at­ti­tude which un­re­servedly ac­cepts the supremacy of rea­son and aims at es­tab­lish­ing a life­style and eth­i­cal out­look ver­i­fi­able by ex­pe­ri­ence and sci­en­tific method, in­de­pen­dent of all ar­bi­trary as­sump­tions of au­thor­ity and creeds.” Ag­nos­tics, on the other hand, gen­er­ally be­lieve that it’s im­pos­si­ble to know whether or not a higher power ex­ists, or they are non­com­mit­tal on whether they be­lieve in a de­ity or not.

Eryn Vis­carra, a so­ci­ol­ogy lec­turer and doc­toral stu­dent at Ge­or­gia Col­lege and State Univer­sity in Milledgeville, spe­cial­izes in gen­der and sex­u­al­ity. She said many LGBT in­di­vid­u­als feel re­jected by or­ga­nized re­li­gion, es­pe­cially cer­tain de­nom­i­na­tions of Chris­tian­ity, lead­ing them to athe­ism or ag­nos­ti­cism.

“Es­pe­cially in the South. They be­lieve it’s a choice; that you can change it,” Vis­carra said. “I think they feel re­ally re­jected. Also, par­ents are re­li­gious and peo­ple who come out to their par­ents, be­ing gay con­flicts with their re­li­gion and a lot of time peo­ple will get up­set, and not have a re­la­tion­ship with their kids.”

When Fur­long first started dis­tanc­ing from or­ga­nized re­li­gion, she be­gan call­ing her­self ag­nos­tic.

“I said, ‘Well, maybe there is a god and I don’t be­lieve in for­mal­ized re­li­gion. I don’t know if Je­sus was the one or Muham­mad,’” she said. “You’ve got 2,000 reli­gions out there. They can’t all be right. I’m very much into sci­ence, the Big Bang and how the uni­verse formed … I’m think­ing, is there re­ally a like­li­hood of an all-pow­er­ful be­ing sit­ting up in the sky caus­ing earth­quakes; caus­ing chil­dren to be killed by their par­ents? If there is an ul­ti­mate be­ing, why would he be do­ing all this hor­ri­ble stuff to peo­ple he said he loved?”

A lit­tle more than half of the re­li­giously un­af­fil­i­ated do be­lieve in a higher power, ac­cord­ing to the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute. Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 92 per­cent of athe­ists say they do not be­lieve in God, and 82 per­cent say re­li­gion is not at all im­por­tant to them. Most sel­dom pray, and fre­quently won­der about the uni­verse. 94 per­cent of athe­ists be­lieve ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity should be ac­cepted; 92 per­cent fa­vor same-sex mar­riage.

Be­com­ing a ‘none’

Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, most of the non-re­li­giously af­fil­i­ated, or “nones” — a moniker given to those who mark “none” on sur­vey ques­tions about re­li­gion — are un­der 30 years old, and less than 30 per­cent are over age 50. Most athe­ists are white men, and those with higher in­comes are more likely to iden­tify as athe­ist.

Though athe­ists do not par­tic­i­pate in or- ga­nized non-re­li­gious ser­vices, per se, they can be­come po­lit­i­cally ac­tive with groups like Amer­i­can Athe­ists. Its main fo­cuses in­clude pro­mot­ing free­dom of thought, ad­vo­cat­ing for the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, ad­vo­cat­ing for a sec­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and pro­mot­ing the study of arts and sciences.

“For peo­ple who are ques­tion­ing [re­li­gion], I would not stay in a church that is anti-LGBT,” Fur­long said. “But there are churches out there, ei­ther in the same de­nom­i­na­tion that they’re in, or they can switch to one like Epis­co­palian that tends to be pro-LGBT.”

And for those con­sid­er­ing leav­ing re­li­gion be­hind, Fur­long ad­vised look­ing for groups of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als on so­cial me­dia. There are athe­ist and ag­nos­tic groups, and also groups that aren’t anti-re­li­gion but more “anti-big­otry us­ing re­li­gion as a shield.”

“A lot of peo­ple in those groups are re­li­gious, but they don’t be­lieve in those tenets of the re­li­gion,” she said.

De­spite her non-re­li­gion, Fur­long joins with her fam­ily for a va­ri­ety of hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions. Her daugh­ters from her pre­vi­ous mar­riage still at­tend Sun­day school and they cel­e­brated Christ­mas to­gether, and with her wife, a Bud­dhist, Fur­long cel­e­brated Sol­stice.

“We do a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing,” she said.

Photo by Dal­las Anne Dun­can

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