“I kept my secret blog absolutely separate from my real life. It was like I was two people. I was a Christian at home and at college, but I was an atheist online and at heart.”
This is a quote that I said in my now-private post I’m Coming Out to You in May of 2019. The context was my attempt to reconcile my online persona, The Closet Atheist, with my “real-life” self, Rebekah. That post marked the change of my blog name from The Closet Atheist to The Curious Atheist, and the first time when I shared my name and photo on this blog.
This worked, to an extent. I became more comfortable being openly atheist in real life; while I no longer felt the need to announce that I was an atheist (or “come out”) to people I met, I still didn’t feel comfortable talking about it a lot. And that’s because the problem wasn’t about people knowing I’m an atheist or not, it was about an entire side of my identity that only existed because of this blog.
See, I don’t pretend to be religious in real life anymore. I haven’t in probably three years. So both my online self and my real-life self were atheists, even though I don’t like drawing attention to it in real life, just because I don’t like reminding my Christian friends and family of how different I am from them. I had started allowing these people to choose which side of me they saw: the Rebekah that’s an atheist or the Rebekah that they’ve known in real life. As if there were two of me.
Social media makes this incredibly easy. Like, so easy that you can switch your identity as easily as tapping which Instagram profile you’re using. Let me explain.
I started my own personal Instagram account, as one does, probably in 2013. Sure, I didn’t believe in God, but this was long before this blog, or my identity as The Closet Atheist was a thing. Fast forward: in March of 2017, four months after starting this blog, I started my Closet Atheist Twitter account. I was still a closeted atheist, so I wanted to be able to interact with other nonbelievers on social media, which I wasn’t about to do from my personal account. I wasn’t stupid.
My Twitter thrived for a while, and I really enjoyed it. But in November of 2019 I got the random urge, out of boredom, to start an Instagram to supplement this blog as well. I loved it more than I ever did Twitter, because I could show off my books, fun pictures from my adventures at museums, and even incorporate some graphic design skills. I met people on there who shared experiences like mine and who read and enjoyed this blog.
I started to get carried away with this new Instagram account. This was primarily because the Curious Atheist account felt like the “real me” and my personal account, made only for friends and family, almost felt like a front that I used to maintain that I’m not too much of an atheist. Or maybe that I’m not always an atheist. Only my other identity is. Not this one.
So these two Instagram accounts began to be the symbols of my two identities. It became such a salient part of my mindset that whatever I was doing, I could ask myself, “Is this The Curious Atheist doing this, or is this Rebekah doing this?” If I was working, watching TV, or talking to my mom on the phone, I was Rebekah. If I was designing merch, writing a blog post, or reading a paleoanthropology book, I was The Curious Atheist. When I was at a family get-together, I was strictly Rebekah, even though my family knows I’m an atheist, they read this blog, and they watched my Instagram stories. It was absurd.
Instagram caused me more problems than just that, and these are probably the ones that more people can relate to. My account was growing, and if I was judging it on its own, I would have thought it was doing great. I went from zero to 500 followers in the eight months that I had it. However, it did not go unnoticed that others started only a little later than I did and had already passed 3,000.
You act like you don’t notice these things, but you do. And you start to feel shallow. So I discovered that if I wanted to really grow my following, it was best to focus on only one topic. This was a problem because I had been trying to share pictures of books (which is its own whole community), talk about atheism (a separate community), and explore paleoanthropology (which almost no one else on Instagram wants to do, which is a shame). If I wanted to grow, I had to pick a lane, and stay there. For an account with “atheist” in the title, it was expected that that lane was atheism.
But I’m more than just an atheist, and I didn’t want to strip down who I am just to appease people that I don’t know, and who don’t know me. I was stressing about Instagram themes, I was saying “link in bio” way too much, and I downloaded the VSCO app. I planned out a schedule that would have me posting once every day with thirty hashtags per post to get maximum exposure. Then I realized that on top of all these other reasons, that’s just not who I am. So I logged off last week, and I’m already feeling better.
Furthermore, I am just so far past talking about only atheism. I’ve said it a lot lately, but I started blogging about atheism because I was at a Christian college and I needed an outlet. This blog was a counterweight to the pressure that Grove City’s toxic environment was putting on me. But there is nothing anymore to counter. So I feel less like I need “atheist decorations” to counter the bible verses on the wall of my childhood home or to read atheist books because everyone else in the Grove City cafeteria was reading the bible.
I once said, “The real opposite of having a coffee cup with a bible verse on it is just having a coffee cup without a bible verse on it, not necessarily an atheist quote. The opposite of having to sign a statement of faith isn’t a statement of atheism, but rather no required statement at all. And the best alternative to attending church is getting so caught up in the life you’re living right now that you forgot church was even going on.”
To be sure, this blog is not going anywhere. It’s not even changing—at least not abruptly, although it has been constantly evolving since it started back in 2016. What’s changing is me. 2020 has been tragic for a lot of us, myself included, and I decided that it is time to stop hiding things that I am proud of, and stop working towards things that don’t make me happy or bring me value.
I love being an atheist. Beyond just reveling in the fact that I don’t believe in god, though, I want to continue exploring the things that my nonbelief was the catalyst for: reading, writing, science, design, paleoanthropology. Curiosity.
What started off as just hiding that I’m an atheist has turned into hiding that I am all of those things. Now, instead of compartmentalizing, I’m opening up my own social media feeds and lines of communication with people who I already know so that they can really know me—all of me! (Basically, this means that I put my blog link in my personal Instagram and Facebook bios, which makes me nervous but feels necessary.)
Most of all, I’m taking all that I’ve grown to love about myself as The Curious Atheist, and giving that back to myself, to Rebekah. I’m acknowledging that I’m not two people, I am one. A blogger and a marimba player. An atheist and a cat lover. A Grove City College alumna who loved being a part of the school’s marching band but hated attending chapel. A paleoanthropology lover, a sister, and an aunt. A collector and reader of books about evolution and about cats who fight each other for territory ad nauseam. A wife and an intersectional feminist.
Hi, I’m Rebekah. I’m a lot of things, and I’m one whole person.