I Am the First Atheist in My Family

child playing with bubbles

I was not the first person in my family to graduate from college. Far from it. I was not even the first to earn a graduate degree. Both of my parents and at least one aunt beat me to that. I was not the first person in my family to move across the country, leaving the town where I grew up for the unknown. My mother did it, one of my uncles did it, and even my paternal grandparents did it back when that sort of thing was much less common than it is today. I was not the first person in my family to decide not to bring children into the world. An uncle did that before me, although I suppose the fact that he died so young may have been a factor.

I do have at least one distinction worth mentioning though: I am the first atheist in my family, immediate or extended. At least, I am the first to admit to anyone else that I am an atheist. If there were any atheists in the family before me, they kept it extremely well-hidden.

There are many instances where being the first is a welcome distinction and even something that others might celebrate; this certainly wasn't such an instance. No, this was a case where being the first meant some rough going. If at least one of my parents had been an atheist, I suspect I would have it much easier in many ways. If nothing else, the reactions I faced at home probably would have been less negative than they were. If I had an older sibling to pave the way, disclosing his or her atheism before me, I would have at least had a working model. I wouldn't have felt so much shame and confusion. And even if there had been a member of my extended family out there somewhere who had previously disclosed his or her atheism, I bet that it wouldn't have seemed quite so objectionable when I did so.

When I think about my younger cousins, one of whom is now pregnant, I suspect that at least one of them might be an atheist. In any case, I am fairly certain that religion is far less important to a couple of them than it is to their parents. Perhaps they will eventually let it go. Maybe my pregnant cousin will even decide to raise her child without religious indoctrination. That would make her the first in the family to do so.

We have seen poll after poll pointing to a decline in religiosity, especially among younger cohorts. This is encouraging because it suggests that we may soon see fewer parents indoctrinating their children into primitive religions. This would likely accelerate the decline dramatically. Assuming these trends continue, all we really have to do is successfully keep the religious extremists away from political power, and watch the gradual demise of religion. Easier said than done I suppose, but still, I find it less difficult than I once did to imagine a world with a bit less religious belief in it. That seems like cause for some optimism.