Over the past year, I’ve given a speech around the country called, “The Ultimate Question.” At the close of that speech, I read a letter to the audience…a letter of encouragement. So many people have responded to it that I’ve posted it below. Enjoy it. Forward it. Change or customize it for those in your own circle who might benefit. And ultimately, be encouraged by it. – Seth
A Letter of Encouragement
You learn a lot about people when you declare that you are not going to live your life by their rules. And many in this room know well the consequences of doing something so shocking as to be an individual: a singular voice, an often inquisitive voice, with its own tenor, its own style, its own song, its own message.
We live in a world where conformity is comfort, and we all know well how comfortable people can become. So many voices are merely an echo…a hand-me-down from a previous generation, and the generation before, and the generation before. Breaking the cycle is unthinkable, and why would they ever consider it, as the cloak they inherited feels so warm and safe.
Everyone around them looks like them, walks like them, talks like them. Everyone…except for you.
They nod in agreement. You raise an eyebrow of doubt. They just know the answer. You just know that the answer raises many more questions. They take security in staying on the path. You feel compelled to break out and carve a path of your own.
But this is not what was expected of you. They laid out the guidelines for a proper person to live, and they would make sure that you turned out right, no matter what. So what the hell happened?
At this very moment, mothers and fathers carry embarrassment and shame that they failed as a parent, because you left the straight and narrow, because you were co-opted and corrupted, because you re-wrote the playbook in a language that they consider to be foreign…confusing…ugly.
You had two choices. You could keep the peace and line up with the others. Or you could walk at your own pace in your own direction for your own reasons and accept the consequences and rewards that come with being your own person.
The fallout has been significant. These days, when they look at you, they only see what they think you should have been, what you could have been, if only you had done it their way. They speak the words of love, but just barely, and by lacing “love” with distance and disdain, they cheapen the word. In fact, every time they look at you and say “I love you,” you get a bitter taste, like you’ve just been schmoozed by a politician whose only real concern is changing your vote.
Yes, they love you. But the full package, the 100 percent, the unfiltered love is kept on reserve until you straighten up, fit in, conform and stop making waves. Not until you start acting…normal.
For just a moment, let’s take a look at normal.
Normal is a husband and wife, married per the bible, in a church and under God, condemning non-heterosexuals for ignoring and even desecrating the lawful and ordained marital union that they now enjoy…after two divorces.
It’s a mother telling a daughter that sex is dirty. That her body is dirty. That sexual desire is harmful lust. And that she is cursed by the fall of Eve in the garden, a by-product of sin, designed to gain her worth from a future husband who, according to the book of Genesis and the design of God, will rule over her.
It’s a teacher frightening a 6-year-old child with torture in a fiery Hell and a devil lurking in the dark with designs on its very soul.
It’s refusing to purchase a new car without first test-driving 15 vehicles from six different car lots, checking the vehicle history, payments, insurance, safety record, resale value and consumer ratings…but accepting the bible as fact without even knowing who wrote the book of Genesis.
It’s a church communion ritual where the men, women and children symbolically eat flesh and drink blood.
It’s thanking God for food grown and prepared by human hands. It’s giving God the glory for providing the new house that came with a 30 year mortgage. It’s praying for safety after buckling your seatbelt, locking your doors and loading your handgun. It’s praying for healing…after you call 911. It’s Sunday school songs, a bible on the nightstand, a check in the offering plate, an evangelist on the television, a Jesus fish on your car and a t-shirt that reads, “Seven days without Jesus makes one weak.”
It’s a prison disguised to look like a mansion. And you’re not going to live like that.
You’ve read the books and seen the history and learned the science and realized that the world is much, much grander that most people ever imagine. You finally found your own voice, and you’re going to speak in it. You’ve had the epiphany that you don’t owe it to the rest of the world to keep them happy. You owe it to you to create happiness for yourself. And even though, wherever and whenever you can, you say the words and take the actions that build bridges and soften the sharp edges and demonstrate a love for people and a desire for a better world, you aren’t a sheep to be led, an echo to be repeated, a cautionary tale, a bad example, a freak, a pervert…shameful…broken…ugly.
You’re not ugly. You’re beautiful.
You figured out what so many billions of others have missed. That this life is too precious to spend in someone else’s shadow. That when others judge everyone and everything that is different, they only indict your own shallow heart and cheat themselves out of amazing depth, breadth, color, culture and humanity out there that’s so much more wonderful than the tiny rooms people lock themselves into, and the narrow tunnels they walk. That believing in things without evidence isn’t a virtue, but something to be pitied. That sexuality isn’t shameful, but something to be celebrated. That the condemnation of what is wrong, even when it’s called sacred, is the obligation of any moral creature. That your hopes, dreams, desires, loves, pursuits and passions belong to you and you alone. That you have stepped out of the crowd. To stand forward. To stand out. To stand your ground.
To know that, even though you occupy a tiny speck upon a tiny speck inside this vast universe, and even though you don’t believe your father is a divine king and your mission is written in a magic book and you have an eternal mansion in the heavens, your life is wonderful and amazing and precious and so much more satisfying.
Is that kind of life easy? Nah. Is it popular? Maybe not. But be encouraged, my friends, because inside this 13.7 billion year old universe, there has never been anyone exactly like you, and there never will again. You’re simply living a life that honestly reflects that fact. And while others laugh at you because you’re different, you can laugh at them…because they’re all the same.
Author: Seth Andrews is an author, activist and host of the popular podcast, The Thinking Atheist. He has published two books: Deconverted: A Journey from Religion to Reason and, Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition around the World.
This essay was originally published at: http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/blog/86/A-Letter-of-Encouragement#sthash.SEcth64V.dpuf