The local Society of Non-Theists got an article in the Exponent today. The article was written by the group’s founder, Jennifer McCreight, who you can find over at Blag Hag. In the article she describes her experiences being an atheist and some of the things she has had to deal with when other people found this out.
She talks about how she grew up in a town in Indiana that was very tolerant of differing beliefs. Upon arriving at Purdue she began to have people express surprise and disbelief upon learning she was an atheist. She even quotes a person who upon learning about her atheism asked her, “But how will you ever find a husband?”.
After feeling like she was the only atheist around, along with seeing the innumerable number of religious student groups including the one or two preachers we get each year who stand on the mall and yell everyone is going to hell, she started the Society of Non-Theists back in 2007. She explains that many of the club members are afraid to “come out” as atheists and many share stories about being stereotyped or shunned from their families.
As I was reading this I was surprised at how similar these experiences from being an atheist were to my own experiences being a Mormon. I lived in Utah till I was 15. The majority of the population (~65%) is Mormon. All my friends were Mormon. Most (not all) of my family are Mormon. Because nearly everyone shared the same belief system religion was never really a topic that came up outside of Church in any serious manner. Also, no one really treated those who were not Mormon any differently (at least not that I witnessed). So I mainly grew up thinking that while religion is important in your private life, it really never comes up in public. And then the summer before my freshmen year I moved to Tennessee.
Tennessee was definitely a culture shock in the beginning. I had to grow accustomed many new things such as being instantly soaked in sweat when I step outside in summer (I hate humidity with a passion), learning to decipher southern accents, realizing rain truly can fall in sheets, and going from being in the majority (Mormon in Utah) to being in the extreme minority (Mormon in the Bible Belt).
When I lived in Utah most of the kids in school where Mormon. In Tennessee I could count the number of LDS students on one hand, two of them being myself and my sister, out of a student population of about 2000. And with Utah’s reputation of being “Mormon country” whenever someone learned where I was from the conversation would usually go something like this:
Person: “Where are you from?”
Person: “Are you Mormon?”
Person: (In disbelief and with a serious tone) “Are you going to have 10 wives when you get older?”
And the multiple wives question was usually just the tip of the ice berg. I could not believe how many strange outlandish questions I got asked about being LDS. It got to the point where I almost dreaded telling someone else I was LDS because of the various stereotypes and nonsense people would then assume about me. This was also when I began to meet LDS members who have had their families and friends shut them out of their lives because they became Mormon. I also met a girl here at Purdue who told us of her conversion and how her parents had cut off all contact with her because of her decision to become LDS.
So after reading Jennifer's article I began to relate to what she was talking about. I could even relate to the preachers who stand out on the mall preaching hellfire and damnation on all those they disagree with because, surprise, they think Mormons are going to hell as well. Whenever you see one of the street preachers holding a sign with a list of “damned” groups of people, look at the names and you will see Mormons listed along with atheists, pedophiles, democrats, and homosexuals.