I met Claire at my first ugly sweater Christmas party. She noticed I was sitting on the outskirts of the crowd, in true introvert fashion, and sat down in the chair next to me to introduce herself. She is a classic beauty with kind eyes, a commanding, confident presence, and a soft demeanor. I was instantly curious about her; I wanted to tell her things right there in that moment, things you don't normally discuss the first time you meet someone.
"I've read your blog before. You're a great writer."
Claire is a friend of a close friend's friend; a close friend who has shared my posts many times on Facebook. I thanked her and admitted my writing has been shifting as I do some intense stretching outside of the Christian box I've been hunched over in.
"I'm an atheist."
The party was filling up and it wasn't the best time to launch a deep discussion, but I smiled and said we should get together separately to talk. Months passed; I launched the My Discovery Process series and as submissions rolled in, I kept waiting for one with an atheist's perspective. I remembered Claire and reached out to her. She took some time to consider it, and when she agreed to let me feature her I was thrilled.
While I've never entertained disbelief in God, I respect Claire for being honest about her process - especially on a spiritually-focused blog. I used to think I needed to defend God and be "right" when in conversations with those who identify as atheist, but I've learned there is no reason to be offended when someone is thoughtful and forthcoming with their own truth. I'm simply grateful for being invited into it.
I admire Claire because she is secure in her beliefs. She visits churches with her religious friends, takes her grandma to mass, donates to charities, and generally strives to do good. And she's of the childfree variety which, you know, makes me feel less alone.
Responses by Claire Barrett
What do you believe, and why?
I don’t believe in any religion. I’ve been an atheist for as long as I can remember. I love science and logic and reason. I’m a very honest person; right and wrong mean something to me, but not through a lens of any religion. It just seems so obvious that you should do the right thing; even when no one is watching, even when you won't be praised - because it’s the right thing to do. I’m not worried about banking enough points to get to heaven, or feeling fraudulently soothed because I did something horrible but then confessed so yay! Highway to Jesus! I don’t believe that the world, or a higher power, works that way. And if it did – if a religious framework was so easy and surface-level – why would I want to believe in such a flawed and feeble system?
I don’t shove my non-belief down people’s throats because that would be just as annoying as that religious person banging on your door promising you salvation and God-approved yard work. If someone wants to ask me my opinion on religion, I can carry on an intelligent conversation. I went to both art school and Catholic school; I know all about Norse mythology, Celtic Druids, Roman Catholicism, and pagan May Day celebrations. Amusingly, I think my middle school church attendance prepared me for a life of good manners and appropriate behavior, although those things can be acquired without religion. I’m comfortable attending any church service, regardless of denomination, and I go with my religious friends because it means something to them. I take my grandma to Catholic mass often.
The things I love to read or think about that fill me with joy - things that thrill me and make me yell, “Yes!” - is how I imagine religious people are with the Bible, Torah, and Quran. Unlike a religious text, though, my joy is found in The Lord of The Rings, the Star Wars movies (original trilogy obviously), and the writings of Carl Sagan, Bernard Russell, and my main man Christopher Hitchens. Their way of describing the universe and humankind’s fundamental objectives and treasures are just... better, to me; more real, more worthy of respect. They write so eloquently about how it’s much more noble to be a good person in this life because it’s the only one we have, and it comes from our innate moral fiber, rather than being a “good” person because you will be rewarded when you die.
It’s a universal truth in my experience that the most outwardly religious people are actually the worst people - the most selfish, hateful, intolerant, superficial, and hypocritical - and the least religious people are the best people. And by this, I mean the people who trumpet their religion loudly and brashly, doing it for show: the Joel Osteens of the world.
How did you discover your beliefs?
I was a total heathen from birth (unsurprising). I never believed in anything religious or spiritual, and I never felt the urge or struggle to believe. I always felt serene in my non-belief. It felt comfortable and natural; obvious. It never made sense to me that there would be a man living in the sky who assigned good fortune or misery to people. Luckily for me, my family was relaxed about this.
My dad had a huge influence on my ability to think critically, to examine the world, to be a good person without the promise of a special pass straight to Jesus, and helped shape my love of science. I came to my (lack of) beliefs on my own, although he was a fantastic support and sounding board. We read a lot starting when I was little and explored the world through literature, music, and history. We went to Bollywood movies, listened to Mozart, walked through art museums, and really looked at the world - looked at all the different cultures, historical periods, and different ideas, including ancient times when people needed religion to explain natural phenomena and terrible events. He raised me to think, to inquire, to ask why, to wonder, to do good things because the world needs good things done, to listen to other people, to respect other people. He loved Russell and Hitchens too, and we would trade books and quotes from other atheist writers constantly.
I also lucked out with my Catholic school. I told them in seventh grade that I didn’t believe and I wasn’t going to believe. They were cool with it - they told me just to treat the religious schoolwork like it was a history class. My mom and stepdad were very involved in the church so my sister and I had to attend youth group in high school, but the youth group was also relaxed and didn’t pressure us. In junior year, everyone else but me got confirmed. I wasn’t interested in doing that, even though I had a confirmation sponsor, and she told me she respected my individuality and wouldn’t force me.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
Since I don’t have any, I don’t “interact” in any fashion. I like to not know, to question, to ponder the infinite. I would even say I like to struggle. I don’t like to suffer, but I like to learn and observe things, even when they don’t go well. I’m fascinated by anything relating to psychology, so that’s actually the fundamental system I always return to: Why do people do the things they do? Why do I do the things I do? What can I learn from life and how can I improve? How can I help other people and how can I be a good person? I’m unusually self-aware and introspective. I try to do a good job at life because I don’t know when mine will end, and I don’t want to regret anything.
It’s important to me, to be honest, and ethical, so this might be the most “interaction” in terms of what you’re asking. I try, consciously, to be a good person. It means a lot to me that people trust me and know I’ll do what I promise. I like to volunteer and I like to donate to charity. It’s important to me to further the causes of animals, the environment, science, and human rights, so I focus on doing those things. I also think the world is overpopulated; there are so many children already here who need help so I’ve deliberately decided not to have children. That’s a belief I feel strongly about, and the majority of atheists I know don’t want kids either.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
I don’t feel the need to ask a higher power if I’m doing the right thing, or pray for anything. It seems selfish and frankly just unrealistic. If I’m feeling sad or unsure about life, I grasp onto the temporal things I have: my two best friends, my favorite aunt, my tight-knit tribe of girlfriends. If I need guidance, or a sounding board, or a celebratory party, they are my solace and my happiness.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.