• Alyse

The Atheist in Utah Valley

I'm actually a little bit afraid of what you will all perceive with a title like that, so before I even begin I want to clarify that this isn't actually about religion. I'm NOT here to attack anyone's belief or lack of belief. I'm here to talk about community.

Unfortunately the only way I can see to express these thoughts are to use my own Atheism to showcase what I mean. So please, bare with me.

I've tried in the past to write posts like this, and I wouldn't say I've failed, but by being the angry person I used to be I'm positive I came across with the wrong message.

Let's emphasize a new word:


Community is SO important to me. Having a community is so crucial in one's ability to heal or cope with the stress of daily life, or the things that tragically happen beyond our daily routine. For instance, an opioid overdose death.

I am going to chose my words carefully here, because for a very long time I was quite resentful of my surroundings because what I didn't have when trying to cope with any part of growing up in an environment that ultimately caused such deaths, was a community.

I try very hard not to harbor that resentment, but occasionally it still comes out, because what I blame for this lack of community is the fact that I'm Atheist when no one else around me seems to be. I know that I'm not actually alone in this, but the joke I like to make is: It's not like Atheists have anywhere to congregate. ;)

We certainly don't, not until social media came around and online atheist groups were born. So, perhaps I have a stronger online community but that doesn't mean that I have what I need in terms of being able to feel comforted by my surroundings when I run into friends or neighbors who just can't understand what it feels like to be the black sheep of the entire state that you live in.

People outside of my situation, which is nearly everyone, have no idea why this is a big deal to me. Why on earth advertise my atheism? Why introduce myself that way? Why make it a point?

Because it comes up. A lot. Never maliciously, but this difference that I have, living in the area that I do, is stark and sometimes unbearable.

An example of this happened just two days ago. I ran into a neighbor, who, as we were shooting the breeze about spiders (surprisingly relevant) he said this to me: "I know you're not Mormon, but..." as he proceeded to tell me about one of his neighbors who breeds spiders. Gross. I properly shuddered and we laughed over it. What I didn't understand was, why even begin by stating that I'm not Mormon? How was that relevant to what we were talking about? We could have easily had the same conversation without acknowledging that, but it lingered, as it always does because here's what I've found:

Being LDS, or Mormon, or any variety of church goer in this area, is the center of who everyone is. It is what life revolves around. It was relevant to him to preface his story that way because he had been at church when his neighbor had uncovered the truth of his hobby.

This is a constant in my life. I very rarely have a conversation where it doesn't come up and I don't hear "I know you're not Mormon but... " and I believe people preface it like this for me because they don't want to accidentally offend me over their talk of God or church.

We live in such a world where we are trying very hard to be careful with each other. In some respects I appreciate the acknowledgement, but what I would really love is a community where who I am doesn't have to be prefaced in order to tell me a story.

Except of course that I myself preface it so as not to hear "Why don't I see you at church?" or "What ward are you in?". The assumption is that everyone is Mormon, and when people don't recognize my face, they become curious about it when they also realize I live right down the street.

That's a hard balance of "please accept me for who I am, but you don't need to constantly remind me of it."

Getting back to community, I've also watched as my neighbors become good friends with one another and I'm not included in that because I'm not part of the relief society. I had high hopes that as I moved into this new, and hopefully more diverse, neighborhood that it wouldn't constantly be something I had to stare at, but here we are and I find myself still feeling inadequate because I don't fit in with all of the popular girls who go to church together and do activities together.

"Alyse, you just need to move to a different county."

"But my job is literally two minutes away from my home, and my kids have roots and friends here."

If I actually listened to that advice, a lot of things would be harder on my family.

So, as I've grown, and this has been a constant for me throughout my entire life here in Utah Valley, I've learned to cope with it and realize that it's not going to change anytime soon. And that's OK. I actually have a community, but not one that resides in my own backyard like I kept hoping for.

And this takes me to my next point. The world is different, not just for me, but even for my Mormon neighbors and friends. More and more we are relying on our online communities. If there is a group that exists in the real world, there is a group for it online somewhere so that even from the comfort of your own home you can be part of the group without actually having to leave the house and drop off a plate of cookies in order to have a conversation.

This struggle is quite real for everyone.

So here's where I'm at in talking about my atheism and community:

What I've expressed with my atheism is the very real discomfort of knowing that you're different and don't quite fit in with the people around you. There's quite a lot of emotion that tags a long with that knowledge.

Now suppose that wasn't just a religious difference. Suppose your family had secrets and you didn't know who to turn to or where to seek answers to questions you don't know how to ask properly? Let's pile some more intense and confusing emotion on top of that. Now let's say you're also trying to find your own personal identity in this crazy mixed up world... Some things start to feel impossible.

That is where I fit.

And I have a crazy big smile on my face by finally understanding where I fit because by knowing my place in this world, I can start making a difference.

It doesn't matter who you are in this beautiful state of Utah. You have secrets, and pain, and sometimes feel incredibly alone in this world.

My goal is to find a way to bring us all together. To create the community I've never had.

I hope that's a positive end to this blog post. The one thing I am constantly reassured by is that change only happens through pain. Physical or emotional, the only way to create change is to feel that pain and embrace it.

See a need, fill a need.

I can see great need in something and I aim to change it.

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