Being around open-minded young people has caused me to forget just how jarring it must be for some older folks to meet a self-assured, public atheist. This happened at choir practice:
* * *
While waiting for warm-ups to begin, an older woman and I gathered our music from a table. Generic small talk ensued.
“What company do you work for?” she inquired, sitting down at the music table and smiling up at me as I stood across from her.
With trepidation I said, “[Company Name Here].” I hate answering this question… When you work for a Christian business, people tend to assume you’re Christian. It’s totally understandable, but a bit of a headache for me.
Her eyebrows climbed up her face in interest, and I knew what was coming next. “So, you’re a good Christian girl, eh? That’s nice. I used to sing at mass every Sunday. Love the Latin …. ” She trailed off a bit at the end, nodding her approval.
Looking her full in the face, I smiled back and declared, “No, actually I’m an atheist.”
Her jaw nearly clattered to the table in visible shock. “Don’t say that. Say that you’re not sure or that you’re figuring things out. You’re not an atheist.” She crossed her hands and clutched her music folder tightly.
“Oh, but I am an atheist. I do not believe in God.” I returned, still smiling. “And I was a Christian my whole life.”
“Well …” She searched for something to say for a moment. She finally settled on, “You’re young.” And with that comeback she looked away as if begging for someone else to make her feel more comfortable.
Lamely, I murmured, “I just wait for the evidence.” Not the smartest retort, I admitted. But our small exchange had ended. Swiftly, I took three steps back from her and made my exit.
* * *
I’m not used to shocking people with that news. I am so used to being atheist now and having it be normal and unremarkable. These types of encounters tend to make other people feel discomfort, and I admit I enjoy the confidence and feeling of, “Yeah, that’s right! I’m a scary atheist. And your problem is…?”
Apparently my certainty was the most horrifying trait. If I’d been an agnostic, she probably would have thought God was still working in my life or that I was just a Catholic-in-the-making. But no, being an atheist just about tipped her canoe.
I wonder how much longer it will be before saying one is an atheist in the United States will not send someone into a tizzy.