How’s it feel to be just another face in the crowd?
Nathan Davis, Face in the Crowd
I am an atheist. Most people who know me are quite aware of this. It’s not exactly a secret.
However, I haven’t always been one. I spent many years imprisoned in religion, and I tend to think of my life as divided into two parts, Before and After. Before and after my deconversion, which occurred in about 1999. I remained pretty much closeted for a couple of years after that, though.
And we moved a few times, once to Alaska, and then away from Alaska, back east of the Mississippi. In between we traveled a lot in an RV. We met lots of people along the way.
With the advent of social media, I reconnected with one of them a couple of months ago. She sent me a message via Facebook, and we became FB friends. Nice.
Well, not exactly.
Now that I think about it, I didn’t hear anything more from her. She became my Facebook friend and that was that. I didn’t think anything about it until yesterday, when I got this:
I’d forgotten. She is a Before. She’s somebody who knew me Back Then.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. It occurred with one other person I knew Before. Same beef. She didn’t like what I post on my own Facebook wall.
What do you suppose my neighbor would think if I knocked on his door and told him that I didn’t like the shrubbery he’d chosen for his front yard? Or what if, during an election season, I objected to the signs he put in his yard? What if I told him that I didn’t like the car he drives?
This is no different.
There are ways to handle this sort of thing on social media. On Facebook, it’s easy. My former friend above chose one way. “Unfollow” the person. That will keep her sensitive eyes and brain from having to view anything that contradicts her preferred perception of the world.
What is not necessary is to send little messages to people when you’ve chosen to do this, telling them that you did so.
What she is doing is saying, “I don’t like what you posted. I want you to quit. The price of being a friend of mine is that you only post stuff that makes me happy.”
And this leads me to something sort of odd. This woman was one of the friends I had Before. She is the last of them, I think. I cannot think of another friend from Before who is still in contact with me now.
Obviously, we tend to gravitate toward people who share our views and values, so it would be a natural thing for the After me to have lots of atheist friends. But I also have a good many religious friends. In fact, the women I associate with most often via social media are all Christian. Why are they different? They are not necessarily progressive Christians, either. One is a creationist, for pity’s sake. Why don’t they send me little messages explaining how offensive I am?
I think it’s because they’ve never known me any other way. The After Sally is the one they know – and like enough to hang around from time to time.
And you’d think, from all this, that the Before Sally must have been a very different person from the After Sally. I must have undergone some shape-shifting.
But you’d be wrong. I’m hardly different at all. I swear now, I didn’t then (except mentally and quietly). I am politically liberal, where I used to be politically conservative. But my basic personality is the same. I live pretty much the same way, except that I don’t go to church, ever.
So what is it?
I suspect it has to do with being seen as a threat of some sort. If I could deconvert – change my mind – walk away, well then, couldn’t it happen to anyone? And maybe I have deconversion/atheist cooties that are catching or something. My mother couldn’t explain it. She finally resorted to declaring that I must be mentally ill.
While I have read accounts from people who’ve deconverted and were able to retain all, or many, of their previous relationships with religious people, I am not one of them.
And I’ve pretty much quit trying.