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The Long and the Short of Not Coming Out

atheist closet

A guest post by Grammar Gramma

The long

Recently my husband and I attended his high school reunion. It was held at a ranch in central Texas and was a weekend-long event. My husband and I were raised in small west Texas towns which are heavily protestant and quite conservative.

There were some 30 attendees, about half of whom were the original classmates. We began to get the idea that we were in a strongly Christian home when we noted several bibles, many more Christian-oriented books, and numerous placards with biblical sayings. When it was time for dinner, the host called us all in to pray before dinner. I lingered out on the porch, hoping to sit it out, but beckoned me, repeating “come on in – we’re going to pray.” He read a bible verse from his mobile phone, then offered up a prayer. This occurred before every meal. For the other meals, I “disappeared” at prayer time.

Our hosts are Church of Christ, and probably some of the others are as well. Some, at least, are Baptist (probably Southern Baptist). Evangelical? I don’t know, but likely. I also do not know what affiliation the others are. One woman told my husband and me that her life is much better now that she has discovered there is no hell, but we were interrupted before we could get any further in that conversation. Later, I heard her professing something about being a Christian. I wanted to get back to her about how not believing in hell is the beginning of a slippery slope at the bottom of which is non-belief in a god, but the opportunity never arose again. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted it to.

During our discussions with several people, they talked mentioned how blessed they are, and I am under the impression we were the only non-believers there. We did not spill the beans, but just listened.

There was no alcohol served at the house – no beer, no wine, no hard liquor. There was no cursing. I suspect that some of the people live that way. There are others who, although they probably are Christians, engage in at least a bit of cursing. One of them is a Vietnam vet who has various ailments which he attributes to his service, but he cannot get the VA to agree with him. I imagine he knows how to cuss up a blue streak. Others probably live the way they did this weekend.

There was a huge amount of white privilege at the reunion, although I suspect at least some of them were not conscious of it. We didn’t comment on it. There was a bumper sticker on a side table which said “Guns Kill People like Spoons Made Rosie O’Donnell Fat.” It took me several readings of that to realize that is it NOT an anti-gun sentiment!

The last morning, the hostess and I were talking about Facebook and she tried to friend me, but on her little phone I couldn’t determine which icon was mine – I change my photo often and couldn’t find mine among the choices. So she told me her FB name and suggested I friend her – hers is unique. After we got home, I pondered long and hard about whether to let her see my FB page, which is full of pro-choice and atheist posts. I wasn’t sure I wanted to let her know that we (my husband is strongly skeptical about the existence of any gods) have “strayed from the fold.” I am quite sure that if these people knew of our lack of faith, they would have spent the entire weekend trying to save us. We left with our secret intact, unwilling to come out to those people with whom my husband had grown up.

The Short

Today, I decided not to come out to a young lady today, a lady whom I will never see again. A kid was standing alongside the road today in front of a church waving a sign that said “Free Car Wash.” I opted in. After I surrendered my car for a brief, exterior-only cleaning, I was approached by a college student. I started to give her some money, but she declined. She said they are washing cars for Jesus, and will not accept a tip or donation. She asked if I go to church around here and I told her “no” and left it at that. She did not probe further. We chit-chatted about her small home town in Arkansas, her mission trip here, and her college experience. Then my car was clean. We shook hands and I left.

I wonder why I was unwilling to even mention that I am an atheist, let alone challenge her lightly on her beliefs. After all, I will never see this woman again, nor she me. I wish now that I had risked asking her why her god doesn’t heal amputees. I’m trying, more and more, to come out as an atheist, but it is hard to do in person. I have been out on Facebook for seven or eight years, and to my family for longer than that. I don’t know why I find it so difficult to come out to strangers.


  1. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    “I wonder why I was unwilling to even mention that I am an atheist, let alone challenge her lightly on her beliefs. After all, I will never see this woman again, nor she me. I wish now that I had risked asking her why her god doesn’t heal amputees.”

    I don’t know. It kind of sounds like your instincts were telling you to avoid the conflict, and I’m inclined to think you should trust yourself on that. It’s easy — far too easy, at least for me — to slip from “This is why I don’t believe,” into “This is why you shouldn’t believe either,” and I don’t want to go there. I dislike having people try to proselytize me, and I have no desire to proselytize anyone else. Mind you, I don’t mind arguing against people who are actively trying to convince me of something I simply can’t agree with, but it sounds like this young lady had only organized a “Car Wash For Jesus”, and wasn’t trying to press you about your beliefs. When you said you didn’t go to church in the area, she took the hint and backed off. I wouldn’t have pressed her, either.

    In fact, I suspect that most Christian proselytizers have to be carefully trained to ignore that exact same instinct.

  2. Avatar

    Greetings Grammar Gramma, ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ would be my guess. How many bites have you had over the years? When one realizes the potential for Judgement, the harm that can be done with quasi-scriptural barking and the perfect recitation of the KJV (Steven Anderson) it is no surprise to me that you choose silence. I do this too in my family gatherings where Baptists outnumber and prevail. A family gathering can end up completely filled with Christian platitudes and code: God has been gracious to me these past months! The Lord led me to buy this particular model of Ford. Let us pray, let us prey…
    And I think you sound quite respectful of others. They clearly have a long involvement in belief and your choice has not been the same. No need to press the point unless some good reason presents itself.
    By the way, can you give me directions to the free car wash, hee-hee…. I remember sharing my backache with my mom years ago when I was reshingling my house alone. “Get back to church,” she encouraged, ” and people will come to help you!” It was one of the best reasons for attending I ever heard! (I didn’t bite though because I like to talk freely, not march in-step, even for roofing help…)

  3. Avatar
    Daniel Wilcox

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Grammar Gramma. Also, as a retired literature teacher and poet, I enjoyed sounding your Internet name.

    I do disagree with one of your points: “I wanted to get back to her about how not believing in hell is the beginning of a slippery slope at the bottom of which is non-belief…”

    While the slipandslide to atheism happens plenty often enough, especially for former fundamentalists, In the case of millions of us other theists, that hasn’t come true.

    On the contrary, I am probably as confident that existence has purpose and meaning, that ethics are real, that beyond matter and energy ultimate reality exists, which is the basis for consciousness, reason, logic, math, etc. as I was back when I was 14 and believed in Evangelical Christianity.

    Also, I never could figure out why so many mainly identify by what they aren’t–atheist.

    It’s true I am against a lot of stuff–creedal religions, intolerance, prejudice, Brussels sprouts;-)

    But I focus on what I do think is true, and identify by that.

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