I will never forget my first experience "coming out" about my beliefs. My mother's tears were enough to send me running back into the closet, slamming the door and hanging a "Shhhh Prayer in Progress" sign on the door knob. My friends no longer wanted to be my friends, teachers no longer took me seriously and next thing I knew I was an outcast in my own hometown where I had once been the popular, good student from a respected family. Nobody trusted me even though I had done nothing to lose their trust, when something bad happened all fingers pointed at me and even my parents seemed to not be able to look me straight in the face for a long time.
I remember working extremely hard on my science fair project that year in high school. The teachers set it up so that we got graded in english and science class for the one project since it encompassed exercises in both subjects. I carefully followed the research guidelines and criteria given to me by my english teacher, my notes and outlines were perfect and always turned in on time. I got an A plus in English for my research and writing skills. In science class I followed the scientific method just as we were suppose to and my biology research was solid and very applicable to my project. I spent hours pouring over science books determined to find the proper evidence for my report, which I did. I got an A plus in science class for my science fair research too. The kicker came when it was judging time. The judges were comprised of members of the community, teachers, coaches and a few professors from the local college. From all of the judges that knew me personally and knew of my coming out of the closet and saying I was atheist, they gave the lowest score possible. Apparently my "Are We Alone In Our Universe" science fair research that explored the possibility of life on other planets, offended their religious beliefs about creationism. Most of these judges admitted to not even reading my report paper because they knew I was the author and they no longer took me serious. The few judges that did not know about my lack of religion, gave my project high scores and several nice compliments. Overall however, the judges scores were combined and average for a total score which left me places near the last of all entries. Projects were arranged by place and scores in the gym for the final evening of display for everyone to see. My project with his scientific based evidence, mounds of research, flashy and well thought display, well thought out research paper and hours and hours of hard work put in to it, was placed with the projects of kids that barely made an effort. I remember on my left was a crappy volcano that had a mere paragraph posing as the students research paper. On my other side a project that was not even complete, all that was on the display was the titles of the scientific method and few notes scribbled in pencil below each one. To say I was pissed would be an understatement. I confronted the judges and they admitted they simply couldn't take me seriously due to my lack of faith and therefor simply didn't even look at my work. I took the issue to my science teacher who was also outraged by the outcome, he felt for sure I would win the science fair and like myself was shocked at my low scores. Unfortunately he could do nothing about it and even worse the teachers were to take the final score handed down by the judges and average it with scores given my the individual teachers to comprise a final grade in those subjects. I lost my A honor roll in english and science class because of my being open about my atheistism.
I would say heart broken was a good way to describe how I felt but that term infers only one part of myself being broken and in truth I felt my entire being was shattered, not just my heart. Within a few weeks I retracted my announcement of being an atheist and like magic my world went back to how it once was. I had my friends back, my teachers once again took me seriously, the pride in my parents eyes returned and my community accepted me. Deep inside I knew I was not being honest but I reasoned keeping the secret was better than having to go through all that again. This was my first attempt at being truthful about my beliefs or lack of, and it failed.
I will write a separate post about my second attempt of coming out of the closet as an atheist so stay tuned.
You can read about my 2nd coming out attempt here