By Vishakha Mathur
Zachary Bos just wants to read poems, sit in the woods and remain quiet, but because of his beliefs, he is often in the public eye.
Bos started Boston Atheists with a group of people he met through an online mailing list in 2009 and is often asked to be a spokesman for atheists by media outlets.
He said at first he didn’t start out to create an organization of atheists but he later recognized that atheists too should have a “church” to go to so that the can interact with like-minded people. The organization now has about 400 members.
“There is a community organizing deficit and I am trying to help fill that,” Bos said.
While growing up in New Jersey, Bos attended church with his family during major Catholic holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, but the family did not go to church every Sunday. He said he enjoyed dressing up for these holidays in his boy suits and he enjoyed the sense of community that came along with it.
“We had a relatively disordered household. Anything that had a structured sense of meaning was very attractive to do,” he said.
Church rituals and ceremonies fascinated him but he did not believe in the theology behind it.
Questioning His Faith
Eventually, in 1999 at the age of 18, Bos realized he was an atheist. At the time he had recently moved to Boston to attend Boston University where he studied physics. He said the big university opened up a world of knowledge to him.
“I could ask questions. I could ask myself the questions I had to ask. So I was feeding it into those search engines, DogPile, and AltaVista. Very rudimentary. And the answers I got quickly steered me in the direction of skepticism,” he said.
Bos said he finally started making philosophical connections, something that didn’t happen for him with Catholicism. He was excited by the process of gaining this newfound knowledge. And with this came the realization that his involvement in the church was motivated by his desire to be a member of a community.
No Sense of Loss
For Bos, becoming an atheist didn’t feel “like a sense of loss. It was a gaining in self-understanding.” But it did make people around him put up their guard.
Bos remembers the first Christmas he went back home from school and overheard his mother’s stepfather talking about a famous atheist that was in the news. Bos said “Grandpa John,” said “Did you hear that? They caught that b****.”
Bos figured out through their conversation that his grandpa was talking about Madalyn Murray O’Hair, founder, and director of American Atheists.
O’Hair was known for her crusade on the separation of church and state. She was recognized for Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which put an end to reading the Bible in American public schools in 1963. She, along with her son, Jon, and granddaughter, Robin, disappeared from Texas in 1995. Their mutilated bodies were found in 2001.
Grandpa John was referring to this incident. That was the first time Bos felt alienated from his family.
Others have also made Bos feel uneasy about his atheism. In December he was interviewed over the phone on a radio program about a nativity scene at the State House in Boston. Quickly after Bos hung up, the radio interviewer started making fun of him for the next hour, according to Bos’s wife, Jenna.
US Cities With the Largest Percentages of Atheists
(Source: 2014 Religious Landscape Study, Pew Reseach Center; Infographic by Xiangqiong Liu)