This I Believe

Zachary - Norman, Oklahoma
Entered on February 7, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: atheism

May Contain Subject Matter Known to the State of California to Cause Cancer, Birth Defects, or Other Reproductive Harm

Left, right, Christian, agnostic, Black, Latino, gay, conservative, which classify you? Look no further than a dictionary for a whole host of labels fit to classify every man or woman.

Past experiences have taught me that labels can be a dangerous affair. I am an atheist. The word atheist has a certain ring; it leaves an unspoken impression on people. It seems that being an atheist files me under other subheadings such as communist, fascist, skinhead, or Satan worshipper for much of society. I feel that the impression is atheists are all a bunch of amoral animals focused solely on their on ends. For if I do not believe in an afterlife I do not need be concerned about wrong doings in my physical life, right? Well, I have to disagree.

I have learned to tread lightly when discussing my viewpoints on religion. I remember once, in the dawning of my college career, I was studying chemistry with a nice young woman I had met in my calculus class. As the night waned our minds tired, and studies took second priority to conversation. Sharing opinions of musicians turned into political banter, which ended up in the realm of life views. Then she asked the inevitable question, “What exactly are your religious beliefs?” Without realizing I dropped a bomb, “I’m an Atheist,” I proudly replied. Her face contorted a little into an expression of part worry, part disapproval, and she managed a response in the vein of “Err…Oh.” I felt as if I had said something terrible. I had to spend the next ten minutes explaining myself before she looked comfortable again.

In my experience the word Atheist carried negative connotations that were applied to me when I included myself in that group. If I must slap a sticker on my forehead describing myself in one word, I want it to say humanist. There, doesn’t that have a warmer and more charming appeal than atheist? No matter, the label I choose still rolls me into one lump sum of people, and it turns out that I am an individual. I may belong to a group, but my membership does not define me.

So much prejudice is based on labels. I try my best to overcome them. I save my judgments, and listen with an open mind. If a person I meet classifies himself as a conservative I want to know what that means to him. I want to hear his beliefs, his stances, and not the string of jargon newspapers tell me a conservative should be. I have found, as I look further past the labels I can unlock more and more about the true people behind them. If I can make the labels disappear so does my prejudice.