Today Shanan Winters is sharing her experience on what the Openly Secular movement means to her. Please feel free to join the conversation. What does this movement mean to you? How will it affect your life or your relationships? Can you even be “open”? Every week I hear from non-theists who are not “out.” Unfortunately, some folks don’t feel they have the choice to be openly secular.
As always, I appreciate the many voices and perspectives. Thank you for guest posting, Shanan!
What the Openly Secular Movement Means to Me
When I was little, we moved to the Key Peninsula outside Gig Harbor, WA. I played a game called “By the Power of Gray Cat” with some other kids in the neighborhood. We loved He-Man and I had a Russian Blue named Gray Cat… we’re so creative. My friends and I would chase the cat through the woods brandishing our stick-swords. We would climb trees, and there was a particularly crumbly stump in my backyard that served as our version of Castle Grayskull. We would stand upon the stump, which was a rather difficult climb, and shout, “By the power of Gray Cat, I have the power!” And then we’d make the death-defying leap, all four feet, to the ground.
Some of our local religious tribe decided we must be witches (you know, “power”… “cat”… only logical conclusion). My family was relentlessly hounded for weeks by these people, and their kids would jump behind bushes, make hex signs and literally HISS at me when I walked by! They would call us every night during dinner, and just spew bible verse over the phone. They pushed my younger friends around at the bus stop, and made all sorts of derogatory comments. They even suggested to my friend’s little sister, who was five or six at the time, that if the “cat” gives her so much “power”, why doesn’t she prove it by jumping in front of the bus? Fortunately, she was strong enough of character to tell them to leave her alone. The harassment only stopped when my mother threatened to turn them all into toads. And it didn’t really stop; they just became silent and accusatory in their glances, rather than outwardly aggressive.
I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I fully understand that their behavior is not “All Christians.” Fortunately for us, not all of the kids in the neighborhood were participants in their harassment, thus we did have friends besides each other. Most of our friends were, in fact, Christian, and some even attended the same church as our harassers. It was a handful of houses… but it was also half of the kids at our bus stop. For me, the Openly Secular movement is incredibly important work. The way I see my children, I have one who is very secular, and another who leans toward belief (not sure in what yet…) Regardless of where they land spiritually, I want them to have every right and opportunity that would be available to anyone who is “conventionally Christian.” The way our political spectrum is shifting, I see this as less and less of a plausible future for them. Hence my thinking that this Openly Secular movement is extremely important. We need to start dispelling fear, and we need to do it now!
My experience with the neighbors of my youth definitely made a bad impression, but it wasn’t life changing. I’ve never been one to accept a Christian belief structure. I’ve tried… I gave it my best shot at one point, just to “fit in” and “keep the peace” with certain people — who are no longer a part of my life. It’s not me, and it never will be. I harbor no resentment toward those who peacefully go about their lives and live by their faith. I just wish the lack of resentment was reciprocal more often than not. I think it goes beyond “judgment” or lack thereof, as well. I’ve known plenty of people who have said, “It’s not my place to judge, and I don’t… but let me tell you all about my life in Christ. Aren’t you interested?” And I’m like… Um… isn’t that being kind of judgmental in itself? At the very least, it’s extremely presumptuous.
The ability to live a life with or without religion should extend to every individual, without fear of harassment, bullying or attempted conversion. We don’t all have to believe the same thing to get along. Learn who a person is rather than what church he attends. Find out a person’s passions rather than judging her based upon her choice in belief, or lack thereof. And for the love of gods (or none), teach your children to be open and inclusive. Maybe we can still turn this ship around. Maybe if each and every one of us is “Openly Secular,” we will become less of an unknown, and thus less feared.