I'm a longtime Athens-area resident, and look to remain here for (most likely) the rest of my life. My family is all here, and in general my career is steady and reasonably fulfilling. One problem that I've had for a long time and is exacerbated by my social anxiety is that, while I was raised and known as a Christian, I am actually pagan and have been since I was about 16 years old. My family is aware of this for the most part, but all of my friends have no idea (I think), and I purposefully keep my religious/spiritual leanings out of all conversations. At most, my friends suspect I'm agnostic, which is apparently more acceptable to most of them than the idea of paganism.
My problem is that I am assuming they will all abandon me if they find out that I'm actually pagan. I have tested the waters a bit, and I obviously don't go to church on Sundays, and this has been met with somewhat reasonable respect and only the occasional nudge, like nicely giving me Christian picture books for my children or inviting me to Sunday services. These are rather harmless and left to me to control, which I appreciate. I've tried telling myself that these people aren't really my friends if they ditch me for my personal beliefs—I have never ditched them for theirs, after all—but I know that's not exactly true. It bothers me a lot that I don't feel comfortable talking about my beliefs in even the simplest ways, though, so I don't know how sustainable this is, even though I'm in my mid-30s now.
Also, I worry that my personal beliefs will affect my career prospects, as well as my family. Being pagan is a major turn-off around here, even if employers legally can't discriminate (at least for now). I worry that this will negatively affect my children in school, and I don't want that more than anything else. I guess I am just very lonely, anxious and feeling the pressure to at least appear to conform. Sometimes I wonder if pagans “convert” to Christianity just for the sake of community, but I cannot do that. It's bad enough that I hide a part of myself, but it's worse to think that I would further disrespect myself and others by actively pretending.
I guess I just need some advice about how to navigate this, and how less introverted/anxious people handle situations like this. I know it's not that uncommon, but I'm one of those introverts who have a hard time even writing anonymously on the internet. I know I'm not alone in this internal conflict, as many deal with making their differences known with potentially greater risks in our society, but I still don't know how to deal and would appreciate any advice/guidance you can provide. Thank you!
Normal By Omission
Relax! It's 2017—no one's drawing up inquisitions for pagans these days. I realized I was not Christian around the age of 16, too, and I came out about that pretty soon afterwards. (As you all know, I'm not an introvert in any way.) A few people stopped talking to me, sure, but who cares? They weren't the type of people I'd be friends with today.
I know lots of pagan, agnostic and atheist families in this area, and their lives seem to be full of love and friends, though these are people who are plugged into the “scene” here and have a community to support them. I recommend you come out quietly—not with a social media post, but just start answering the question honestly when asked, wearing your religious adornments, etc.—and let people know that your mind is made up about it.
Athens is pretty tolerant, even if your friends aren't, and you'll develop a tribe for you and your kids who will love and appreciate your truths. Reach out to Athens Area Pagans and make some friends, and I'd also recommend checking out School of the Greenwood, a local re-wilding school run by pretty cool people with a deep spiritual love of the earth, for amazing activities, classes and social events for your whole family.