The weekend before last was Easter, and all week I’ve been reflecting on my experience with my family on that day, how it relates to my expectations, and the current state of the skeptical movement. I’ll start with some background. As many of you know, I come from a very religious family. They had been devoutly Catholic throughout my childhood, but due to a confluence of several spiritual experiences by several different family members about 15 years ago, pretty much the entire extended family on my Mom’s side (which consists of her 7 siblings, their respective spouses, and their 30-some collective kids) coalesced into a very cohesive, charismatic Catholic enclave. As the second oldest member of my generation, and the first to openly leave the church, I’ve often felt very much an outsider with regard to my family for many years now.
This has been a frequent cause of sadness and anxiety for me, not just because they are my family, and I love them, but also because I think they are mostly really cool people that share many of my quirks and interests. Christian or atheist, we are all, in one way or another, geeks. Which I love.
The problem has been that for a very long time now, every time I would see them, the conversation would inevitably turn to matters of religion or politics, and certain family members would go on and on as though everyone in the room was on the same page (And how could anyone not be on the same page? They were right, after all.) which basically made me feel invisible, and put me in the position of deciding whether to stand up and argue the other side, alone, or just remain invisible. So I mostly stayed quiet, seething inwardly and venting later to understanding friends.
For all of these reasons, I was dreading Easter dinner with my family. I wondered if I should waste a precious day off from my current 70 hour/week schedule feeling like a pariah, and almost didn’t go. But, hopeful as always, I decided to brave it, if nothing else for the kick-ass food. I’m glad I went.
Apart from the obligatory mealtime prayer, I heard no mention of either religion or politics. I had pleasant and casual conversation with my Mom’s sisters about books, Tim3P0 and I geeked out with a cousin about the rocket sled on Mythbusters (which is still blowing my mind, btw), the food was indeed awesome, and we basically had a great time. I hope this isn’t a fluke.
Ever since, I’ve been thinking about what’s changed. I think it comes down to critical mass. As the members of my generation have begun to come of age and bring new significant others (I have to say, I was ecstatic to see two of my cousins accompanied by punk-rock-looking, pierced girlfriends) and spouses into the family, we’ve started to diversify a bit. I’m no longer the only non-Catholic, and I think we’ve reached a point where they can’t be sure who agrees with them and who doesn’t, so they tend to keep things light and relatively secular in this relatively new influx of mixed company. I hope the trend continues, because I think it’s important to be exposed to many different kinds of people. It expands our in-group, and I think it makes us better human beings. Plus, I really like hanging out with my family, and look forward to getting to know more about them in other ways than their religious views.
So what does all this self indulgent spouting have to do with the skeptical movement? Well, I’ve noticed some things lately that are making me think we’re approaching a similar critical mass in society at large. Maybe I’ve got my rose-colored glasses on, but it seems like we’re starting to get noticed, and I think we’re starting to make a difference. Due in large part, I think, to the visibility of the New Atheist movement, more and more nonbelievers are realizing that they aren’t alone, and they’re getting together and speaking out with a confidence few had known previously. Many of these people are also skeptics, who, prior to being exposed to the online atheist community, didn’t realize that there was also a community of skeptics. I am one of them. These are my biased perceptions, of course, and I may be completely off base, but I think it would be interesting to look at the numbers.
What does this mean, and why bring it up at all? Well, I think it’s good to see some progress for all our hard work; it keeps us going. There is still a hell of a lot of bullshit out there, and I don’t delude myself that it will ever be gone entirely, but we are an ever growing force in the battle for reason, and that makes me very hopeful.
So keep speaking up, and writing, and activism-ing, and thinking, and living, and building up to that critical mass which will make us impossible to ignore.