Lately, my Christian husband has been attempting to make amends for being incredibly insensitive about how he handled baptizing our daughter. Short version, I told him that when he baptized her I did not want to attend, he told me he just wouldn’t baptize her, he then went and made arrangements to do so behind my back and I found out when his family asked me a question about a baptism that was happening the following week, which I knew nothing about. I wasn’t happy about the her being baptized period, and being lied to and finding out while surrounded by his family and being pressured by his family to go through with the baptism was painful, and one year later, I still haven’t forgiven Andy for how he handled this and have been on the verge of leaving.
Last week, we went to a local Secular Humanist group so he could learn more about my viewpoint and so he could demonstrate that he is attempting to see my beliefs and feelings as worthy of respect (bear in mind, I went to Mass with him for 2 years before I decided I could not stand it, he has not done anything similar). One of his comments on the group was that he was amazed that so many people came up to greet us and say hi to him. He said at church people only acknowledge each other during the peace offering. I went on to explain that, living in the Bible Belt, when atheists come together to meet, it is because they feel overwhelmed, harassed and lonely and are wanting to meet new people and connect. A look of guilt flashed through his face and he asked when I wanted to go next.
Well, it took 16 years, but he is finally starting to understand that I am not overreacting when I describe how horribly atheists are treated by Christians in my neck of the wood.
There’s been a small movement to hold Atheist Solidarity Day today (6/21), and I think the above example illustrates why there is a need for this.
For one thing, Andy is not the first Christian who has lied to me, repeatedly, in an effort to either convert me or manipulate me so they can have their way on a religious matter. I was raised in a very honest family and spotting lies has been difficult for me because growing up I never had to learn this skill. Basically I am at the point where I have a very, very hard time trusting what Christians say anymore, or trusting that the truly want to be friends with me. I have learned, repeatedly, that if a Christian wants to be friends, it’s because they want to convert me. Even Andy did this to me. He swears he no longer wants me to convert, but I have a real hard time believing it. And part of this is because of how he handled the issue with Sissy’s baptism.
While Christian rail against telling lies, I have noticed that if a lie is told in the name of either getting someone to convert or to get their way on a religious matter, then the ends justify the means. When I first met Andy he lied and told me he didn’t want to baptize his kids because he thought I would convert. It’s been a downward spiral since. In high school I ran a newsletter for a teen atheists. A Christian lied to get my contact information, saying she wanted to subscribe to the newsletter. She then started proselytizing. And no, she never subscribed. A Christian radio show learned about me and told me they wanted to do a segment on my newsletter and did not tell me they were a Christian radio show. Instead of talking about my newsletter they attempted to convert me on the air. Didn’t work. They told me they planned to subscribe to my newsletter while on the air though. They never did. In college there was an atheist group, and our membership list and emails addresses got put online by a Christian claiming to be an atheist to encourage people to contact us to convert us. And so this goes on.
The lies are hard enough to deal with. The damage goes deeper, though. While some Christians have lied to get close to me and proselytize, others are honest about being Christian, but say they genuinely want to be my friend, only to later back me in a corner and start to witness to me. When they find I have good rebuttals to their talking points, they tend to lose interest in being my friend.
So one week someone is being kind, warm and friendly and the next, nothing. That person does not want anything to do with me.
Imagine what a confusing message that sends.
I can easily accept that a Muslim, Hindu or another atheist would want to be my friend. I’ve yet to have anyone from a non-Christian faith put me through the mind games that Christians do. Because of that, I can’t trust a Christian when they say they want to be my friend anymore. The bar of proof is a lot higher there. While I do have a few Christian friends who I believe are genuine, I don’t feel comfortable to go out and make more of them. Unfortunately, being in the Bible Belt, I am surrounded by Christians.
Here is what this means.
I’m in private practice and rent office space from another counselor. When she sent me a friends request on Facebook, I panicked. What would happen when she saw that I’m an atheist (on Facebook, I want to be open)? Would she refuse to continue letting me rent space in her office? Would she target me for conversion? Would our professional relationship change? Would she turn my clients against me?
Meanwhile, there’s a local support group for parents of autistic children. I know I need to get more involved, both because they have good activities for Buddy, support that Andy and I as parents need, and there are neurotypical children with an autistic sibling for Sissy to play with there. Yet I’m at the point where I feel it is useless to even try to make friends with people who are Christian. I have learned, repeatedly, that the friendship will end when they learn I’m an atheist. Either it will be immediately or it will be drawn out after a conversion attempt which includes lies and manipulation. The best case scenario really is that things will be kept cordial but distant. I’ll learn through the grapevine about parties and outings I wasn’t invited to.
And considering that before these people learned about my atheism they were friendly and nice to me, I have a real hard time seeing that it was some character defect on my part. Learning about my beliefs causes people to ostracize me. And that rejection hurts, and it hurts so much I am tired of putting myself through it.
It is incredibly isolating, and I feel like I can’t reach out to people in my area. Through the years I have learned to listen and not talk much around people. By now I’m good at figuring out who to get close to and who to stay away from, though it can take months to determine this. The person who thinks being tolerant and inclusive means welcoming other Christian faiths that embrace the Trinity? Stay away from her. The Christian who helps fight for LGBT rights? She may be OK to get a little bit friendlier with. Truly, I doubt people who know me in real life realize how intensively I screen people, and I doubt that they realize just how much me opening up to them is a sign that I trust them.
This is why atheists seek safe spaces and why we need days such as Atheist Solidarity Day. This is why, even if a Christian genuinely wants to be friends with an atheist, a lot of atheists are skeptical. Humans need to feel accepted, and having a strong social network is a good indicator of how mentally healthy one is and their emotional resilience. And when you live in an area where people berate atheists openly without realizing that the nice person sitting across from them is an atheist, as an atheist, it is really hard to find that solidarity otherwise.
As for me and Andy, I guess he’s trying to stop lying and to see my belief system as worthy of respect. Time will tell if it’s too little too late or not.