Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Nonreligious Experience

Photo 07 22 2014 17 31 52
Happy child of atheist parents.
It’s a sunny July afternoon. Unusually cool and pleasant for July, as the mild breeze drifting casually in through the propped -open door attests. I’m standing near the circulation desk at our small-town library, waiting for two of my older children to finish checking out their books. One of my younger children is near me, her nose in a picture book, and my three year old is playing peek-a-boo around the corner of the desk with a sixty-something year old lady at a table near the resource room. She is smiling at my boy and chuckling when he shyly ducks away where he can’t be seen, only to peek at her again a moment later.

The woman rises, approaches us, and my youngest scoots behind me.

“He’s so cute!” she says. “He was making faces at me over there. How old is he? About three?”

I answer in the affirmative, smiling and patting my shy little one on the head. The woman glances at my other three children, with their stacks of books, their summer glow and happy countenances.

“Are these all yours? They’re such happy, beautiful children!” she says.

“Thank you. Yes, they are. I have three more at home.” True enough, my oldest and two middles are at home. I used to take all seven out with me, but these days they take turns running errands with me in our small car; our 1-ton Chevy van that seats our nine member family, our “homeschool bus,” is neither inexpensive nor environmentally friendly to run so we save it for family trips.

This woman before me looks surprised, but pleasantly so, it seems. Not many people meet our vivacious family with frowns.
“Do you go to church anywhere?” she asks.

Ah well, it’s inevitable in rural Missouri.

“Nope,” I answer truthfully, but not feeling the need to elaborate.

Is she disappointed? Put off? Of course not! This is her opportunity to invite me to her church. I am silent while she works around to it, telling me where she attends, what time their services are and what kind of programs they offer for children. I wonder how many of these conversations I will have in my life. I wonder if I will always be as patient and friendly as I feel today. It’s almost become a game, seeing how long into the conversation I can go before being put on the spot.

“So, will you come?” she arrives at the point.

I love this part.

“No, thank you,” I smile, my sweet children beaming next to me.  “We’re atheists, actually.”

Judging by the combination of confusion and surprise on her face I’d say that we were her first. And that she didn’t expect atheists to smile and have happy children.

Sometimes I have too much fun being an unbeliever in the Bible belt. But I feel I deserve to enjoy it occasionally, as much grief as it brings our family other times.

The woman regained her composure and apologized. She did what? Yep, apologized. That was a first.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”

“Of course. How could you possibly know?” I am still exuding genuine friendliness which now seems to slightly alarm her. She takes a couple steps backward toward the door. “There aren’t a lot of us here in Fredericktown,” I whisper conspiratorially. She looks the children over, as though she’s still trying to get it straight in her head. She fumbles around for an appropriate goodbye, apologizing again so that I almost, ALMOST, feel bad for her. I say goodbye. She turns and walks out the door.

True story.


  1. nice story ... goes well with the recent conversation I had with a pastor ... who was determined to convince me that I was "sad and tormented". We were discussing Nietzsche of all things ...

    1. Conversations with pastors are some of the best. We were rather unconventional believers once, leaning more on the bible than on what man said, and got into a discussion with the pastor of a mainstream church about the church's christmas program (that began in July!). We talked about the origins of the holiday and explained why we didn't celebrate it. The pastor looked sheepish and said, "I know it's pagan, but..." Hehe.

      On a more serious note, I have confused a lot of christian friends in my area by being so much happier now. (And possibly by not eating babies.) They have mostly pulled away; it just makes them too uncomfortable.

  2. Your story made me laugh out loud. Yes, it's difficult for some religious people to accept that atheists are normal people. It's taken several years of gentle coming-out to my husband's family (mine are gone) for my parents-in-law to accept that their son and his wife are still essentially the same people we were when we were Christians. We don't eat babies, we don't wish evil on all religious people, and we still have what they consider good morals about most issues. So they've accepted who we are, a good thing. It did take time.


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