I just read the speech that Nathan Phelps gave the American Athiest convention in 2009 (http://atheistnexus.org/page/nate-phelps-2009-aa-speech) and I am stunned. It addresses a few things that I hadn't realized were present in my own life, such as the discomfort that Christians feel around a person once they know that they are not speaking with a fellow Christian, the terrible crushing feeling that he describes his own children having when they realize they don't want to go to hell, the questioning of why goodness can't just be a part of who we choose to be. The biggest one was letting go of the security of faith. That touches a lot of what I have faced in my life.
Often I have told my friends that I wish I could have faith because then I wouldn't worry. Why worry when you have a free ticket to the afterlife? What could be more reassuring that no matter how craptactular your life becomes, you will be in Heaven forever once you shuffle off this mortal coil? What is 80 or so years compared to forever?
I know this isn't as coherent as it should be, but the other thing that it touched on is my own unwillingness to associate with my own conflicts. I think the reason I can be an advocate for equality and free speech is because those concepts don't hit as close to home. The defense of athiesm promotes a strong reaction in me, probably because of the old guilt and shame associated with "turning away from God." Rationally, I'm at peace with it - if God exists, then he made me and understands. Viscerally, I'm not. Athiesm means owning your sins. There is no forgiveness, no blessings. Bad things happen to good people, and the best way to avoid most of them is not to single yourself out of the herd, not to become a target, yet that's what an advocate does is stand up for something that is not widely accepted. Even now, as I write this, I wonder how it will come to haunt me...if I run for a judicial position, will my agnostic beliefs ruin my chances? Will the fact of who I am keep me from who I want to be?
I don't think that other people should have to hide who they are. Perhaps its time I trust in that belief for myself.