Her Atheism Just Wasn’t An Issue October 18, 2010

Her Atheism Just Wasn’t An Issue

Here’s a quick, wonderful story from a reader, Sydney:

I had an experience today that was memorable for just how ordinary it was.

I was in a Gender class and we were partnered and asked to pick apart what a stay-at-home mother does… After putting down the obvious, my partner said, “How about religious center? I don’t know what your religion is, but my mom’s our religious center” to which I replied, without thinking, “Oh, we’re atheists.”

I immediately regretted putting this out in the open because in the past when someone found out, I got conversion attempts, uncomfortable questions, and a changed relationship with the person.

My partner, a girl whose name I didn’t even know, said, “Oh, okay. Moral center then?”

I almost thanked her for being so cool about it, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to make it weird. It was just a non-issue. She treated me exactly the same after. She never brought it up again, and not because it was she was trying to avoid it. We were genuinely done with the topic and she felt no need to go further.

Sydney said she was an atheist and the other person barely flinched. That is awesome.

And who’s to thank for that?

All of who who are out of the closet and willing to tell others you’re an atheist.

Sydney, whose family is culturally Jewish, adds:

I hadn’t realized just how guarded I had been because of past experiences. Maybe now I’ll open up more to people if it comes up instead of saying, ‘Jewish’

More power to her.

See? It doesn’t always have to be a difficult thing to come out 🙂

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Lgirl

    My DD is a 12yo in late French immersion, she’s generally a square peg. They are going back to the basics at the beginning of the school year to learn the language before getting into the main curriculum. They were given a list of things to write in French and were told to write an example of one next to it. Church was on the list.
    My DD raised her hand for two other answers to avoid getting the church question and much to chagrin she got asked the church question as well. She floundered and said she didn’t know an example. The teacher rolled her eyes and huffed. A boy (Who in the past hasn’t treated her too kindly, remember she doesn’t quite fit in) sitting beside her leaned over and said “don’t woirry about it, I’m an Atheist and I can’t answer it either”. She was very relieved and surprised to have him out himself to her! So much so she came home and shared the story.

  • I think stories like this are all that atheists really want when you get down to it. Everything else can be decided with secular debate.

  • phira

    This is a nice story, although I still don’t think “moral center” is a great suggestion. But that comes more from a feminist viewpoint than an atheist one.

    Just a little reminder that it’s not a contradiction to be an atheist Jew. I especially like pointing out to people that I’m Jewish because it’s more effective when combating the lousy, “Oh, but EVERYONE celebrates Christmas!” thing.

  • Danielle

    Sigh, I wish most people were like this. People thought I was Mormon because I never cussed and was over-all a really good kid in class. When they asked if I was Mormon, I said that I was an atheist and then they all looked at me as if I sprouted devil horns and a tail.

    Cue debate for the rest of the class period.

  • While I think understand where phira is coming from in not liking “moral center,” I was actually thrilled to see that response, because it recognizes that morals exist outside of religion.

  • maddogdelta

    I think I can guess that this wasn’t Texas, and Sydney isn’t getting a paycheck from anywhere that a “concerned citizen” can get him fired.

  • Beauzeaux

    I’ve been out for a very long time. I’m a hospice volunteer and though I’m fine with a client who’s a believer, I’m best suited for the dying atheist who doesn’t have to worry that I’ll want to pray for him/her.

  • Jason

    All my friends at school know I’m atheist. The only people in my family that know is my brother (who is also atheist) and my sister who isn’t atheist but doesn’t care about what I believe.

  • captsam

    I also like moral center, but I have no idea where phira is coming from.

  • I never get big reactions. A few of my friends have gone “really?” but most people don’t give it a second thought (junior & senior years of HS).

  • Richard Wade

    I’m always glad to see signs of ordinariness on the subject of “I’m an atheist,” but I think where this story took place would make a big difference in its significance.

    Two questions: What is a Gender class, and what is a DD?

  • Moral Center seems to be at least a tacit acknowledgement that morality is not exclusively within the religious sphere. I always like to hear that. 🙂

  • heironymous

    DD is Dear Daughter.

    Gender Class – I’m not too sure.

  • I understand Phira’s point about “moral center” being a gender issue. Many people expect the woman of any het couple to be the driving force behind churchgoing and whatnot. I once dated a Mormon who expected me to convert to Mormonism so I could be the good Mormon wife who dragged him to church. He didn’t just ask me if I was interested; he fully expected me to be on board with that whole plan. I hear hints of the stereotype from other people, too, who unquestioningly assume that I, or any given woman, is naturally the one who makes the spiritual decisions in her family. Men not wanting to go to church without their wives, for instance, because of what people might think.

    (What would they think? Something bad, I guess. They assume that if they believe in the stereotype, everyone else must, too.)

    Women are not immune, either. If a woman is trying to feel out my family’s beliefs, she nearly always addresses me.

    I keep my husband on his toes by saying something different each time I’m asked. Hahaha. Now he’ll never know what we believe. 🙂

  • noen

    That’s all very nice, too bad atheists can’t do the same in return.

    “Sydney said she was an Christian and the other person [who was an atheist] barely flinched.”

    Atheists expect everyone else to tolerate them all while they refuse to tolerate others.

    How’s that working out for ya?

  • noen

    Richard Wade Says:
    “What is a Gender class?”

    Where questions with regard to feminist and GLBT issues are taught.

  • Pseudonym

    Anyone who thinks that accommodationism is wrong should read this story. And then read it again.

  • Andrzej

    I don’t envy you. Here, in Poland, I’ve been “coming out” countless times, and I don’t recall a single event, when it was received with malevolent attitude. I even attended some Catholic religions classes in school out of boredom, as an open atheist, which was also accepted by default. Being an atheist here is just normal, one of options, world is full of atheists and why should anyone care?

    Sometimes you’re only asked a question like “But do you celebrate Christmas?”, and the real problem of understanding appears only after the answer is “No”. “How come, everyone does?! It’s just for your family”. This, however, is more a cultural barrier than religious.

    Here, in Poland, we have another problem that seems nonexistent in US: if you admit to being religious, but non-Catholic, you can get in real trouble fast (Jehova’s Witnesses, Mormons, protestants in general). The only widely accepted religious minorities in society are Orthodox Christians and Jews (as their population in Poland has been well established for centuries).

    That’s funny how our worlds are different. 🙂

  • Zac

    Almost without fail, whenever I tell people I’m atheist they will say something along the lines of “Do you mean agnostic?”. So now I’ve taken to saying Pastafarian, to which they will say “Do you mean Rastafarian?”.

  • Silent Service


    What are you babbling about? We put up with you constantly.

  • Great, non-reaction.

    However, I immediately thought the same thing phira did: why is the woman in charge of the family morals? In fact, while both parents (if there are two though single parents don’t get to be stay-at-home unless they win the lotto or have a trust-fund), should do their best to instill morals into the children, each family members morals are, in the end, up to them. I brought my daughter up to think about what the result of her actions would be before acting.

    Also, why the assumption that the stay-at-home parent is the mother and not the father?

    When I was married, it was the father who had anything at all to do with church. Mainly because I thought it only fair, I did allow him to talk me into attending the family’s Baptist church Christmas Eve service when my daughter was a toddler (turning two a couple of weeks after Christmas). That was disasterous even though I was used to sitting still for church services and was prepared to do so. My usually mild-mannered daughter acted rather like Damien in the atmosphere, fussing and crying. She wanted out! And made it be known for which we were both trying to hush her. Her idiot father clapped his big man hand over her little mouth and I had to say in an undertone to him, get your hand off her mouth, you idiot, you’re covering her nose too and she can’t breathe.

    Then — and I still think this is insane — they lit candles for the parishioners to hold, including kids as young as my daughter. If they could sit up and take a candle, they were given one. I looked around a the wooden pews holding hymnals consisting of very flimsy paper pages that would probably burn pretty easily, wooden floor, wooden walls, wooden everything and said to my husband, I’m just going to take her outside. He started to object but I hissed, I ain’t fucking sitting in here with babies holding lit candles and neither is my daughter. We went outside to a full moon and lots of new snow for my daughter to play in and had a blast playing in the moonlight. She went from screaming and crying to laughing.

    Fortunately, the church did not burn down. Also, fortunately, the family did not say anything about it though they were rather tight-lipped. I suspect they knew me better than that by then. Of course, the marriage was already doomed. I threw him out for good (I had already done so a couple of times and taken him back) that April. I still refer to it as the night I put the trash out.

  • noen, you’re just plain on crack or something? Do you even read?

  • Jeff B.

    Noen is channeling his/her/its inner Sarah Palin. FYI, “folksy banter = I’m a douche bag”

  • Jon Peterson

    @muggle: I think the “moral center” was just her way of thinking about her own experience (mother as “religious center”) in her closest approximation with secular phrasing. I don’t think it was (even subconsciously) a swipe at the father role.

    Also, it’s a fair assumption that the mother will be the stay-at-home parent, as that’s still the case in the vast majority of families. When the ratio reaches 3:1 mother:father, I think it’ll make less sense to assume the mother fills that role… but for now it’s valid. That’s merely my opinion, of course.

  • Gender class, I suppose, comes from a taught course in Gender Theory, or Gender Studies.

    “Gender studies is a field of interdisciplinary study which analyzes the phenomenon of gender. Gender studies is sometimes related to studies of class, race, ethnicity, sexuality and location.

    “In gender studies, the term ‘gender’ is used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and femininities, not to the state of being male or female in its entirety.[3] The field emerged from a number of different areas: the sociology of the 1950s and later (see Sociology of gender); the theories of the psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan; and the work of feminists such as Judith Butler.”

    Taken from Wikipedia.

    As it involves gender roles instead of plain fe/male sexuality, you can say it is about feminism and GLBT, among many other things.

  • Non-Litigious Atheist

    However, I immediately thought the same thing phira did: why is the woman in charge of the family morals?

    muggle: Because traditionally, at least, women are the more compassionate, nurturing ones of the species, by and large. Men are more disconnected and pragmatic: do what you have to do to get the job done. It’s hard to do both at the same time, and sometimes the one conflicts with the other (unless you know of any nurturing disciplinarians).

    I believe this might well be true independently of cultural conditioning. It might be true biologically. I know that’s feminist heresy, but truth doesn’t always align with advocacy. In other species like wolves, species that don’t have “culture,” males have one predominant role, and females have another. Why should human beings be any different?

    Case in point: On average, men are much, much more aggressive than women. That doesn’t mean there aren’t aggressive women, of course. But it is why armies are largely composed of men and nursing is largely composed of women.

  • Greg


    Anyone who thinks that accommodationism is wrong should read this story. And then read it again.

    Care to elucidate? That looks like an absolute non-sequitur to me.

  • Sydney

    To clarify the class assignment.
    We were told to quantify what an average house wife would earn if they were given salary based on the jobs they perform. After she said ‘moral center’ I told her that that wasn’t really something that could be quantified easily so we moved on.

  • Dan W

    I became an atheist before I started high school, but nobody ever bothered to ask me what my religious views were. I would have told them I was an atheist if they had asked me. I’m not sure if it’s just the way things are in my part of Iowa that people don’t ask about others’ religious views or something else. I wonder how much of an issue my atheism would have been if the other kids at my high school had known.

    Now I’m in college, most of my friends know I’m an atheist, and they don’t have a problem with that. Then again, we’re all pretty liberal and I’m not the only atheist in my group of friends.

  • Sydney, your gender class sounds biases to me still. Why housewife instead of stay at home parent?

    Yeah, I heard all of you go on about tradition. Are you the same people who hate being assumed Christian because traditionally that’s what the majority of Americans are?

  • Good Middle-of-the-Road-Deity, this is 20-freaking-10 going on ’11. Do we really still have Gender classes that pick apart from a stay-at-home mother does? And how would they know?

    Is that what atheism has been reduced to? Getting all excited over a few minor individuals not reacting negatively to that atheist’s atheism?

  • Sydney

    Honestly, the assignment isn’t relevant to the point, and it hardly seems fair to say that it was biased or out of touch without the context of the class. And housewife has different implications than stay at home parent. In context of what is being learned, it fit in and makes sense.

  • beautdogs

    My manager at work attends Bible Study classes on site… though the CEO of the company is clearly committed to a secular persona–we have a Winter Party in January and not a Xmas party. I think she knows I am not a believer from some conversations we’ve had but if I get overt about it, I fear that–whether consciously or subconsiously–she will judge me and that will affect my position, promotions, and in my present situation: even if I will have a job. She is a VERY NICE PERSON but in the end, Xtians do think that people without god are morally bankrupt…

error: Content is protected !!