Recently, I went on an overnight trip to a bed and breakfast for a friend’s 40th birthday. I was hesitant to go, because I didn’t know most of the women attending, but a voice in my head said, “go. You might have fun,” so I did. In the past, I’ve “gotten through” situations like these – events where I didn’t know anyone. I’d make as much small-talk as I could stand, then hide in the bathroom until it was over, and I’d feel like I’d accomplished being social. It was more like checking a chore off the list than doing something fun. This time, though, I decided if I was going to make the effort to go, I was going to go mindfully. I was going to be open to the possibility of genuine connection with people, without developing unrealistic expectations to meet my new best friend at this out-of-town slumber party.
We had a blast. Everyone was so relieved to be away and with other women, despite the fact that many of us didn’t know each other, it was instantly comfortable. We talked about everything from recipes to fears we have for our children to vaginal rejuvenation, complete with photos (yes, of the vaginal rejuvenation.) We laughed a LOT, and we connected over the things we struggle with. In a move that shocked even us, some of us stayed up until 3am talking. None of it was small-talk; we even dabbled in politics. Then, we got to the big one: religion. I decided to go out on a limb, so I “came out” as an atheist.
People press all kinds of assumptions onto that word, but I am a literal atheist. Broken down, the word means, “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” I have a whole mess of “beliefs” (better defined as vague ideas or hypotheses loosely based on science) about universal energy, and I work towards living by Buddhist tenets, but I do not believe in a higher power. Because I am a 40-year-old while lady living in Texas, however, most people assume I’m some variety of Christian.
In the wee hours of the morning, after a fair amount of bonding and wine, I felt comfortable enough with these women to be upfront about my beliefs. The results were liberating. No one judged or argued; we had a discussion. I asked questions, they asked questions, and we shared our honest thoughts on religion. Everyone in the group truly sought to understand. It was a relief to be honest, and it felt something like a miracle not to be alienated, with my views so very different from the rest of the group. In fact, I felt more connected to them for having shared.
Here’s my conundrum: short of making myself a t-shirt that says, “kiss me, I’m atheist,” there’s no concise way to be “out” in my community. Every day, people speak to me about where God has placed them, how he has blessed them, and what his plans are for them. They say these things in casual conversation and underlying the comments, I can feel their assumption I share their beliefs. So, while I am not technically lying about what I believe, I am allowing them to assume something untrue about me – something fundamental and important. It feels like living a lie at times. I want people to feel free to express their thoughts on God to me; it’s part of how we connect – sharing our core beliefs. But, I want to somehow address that underlying assumption in a gentle, friendly, sharing way, without getting up on a soap box about it. So……suggestions?