I just did, in an email from someone who read my commentary in the Times Union on Greece v. Galloway. He said I was brave.
It was sweet of him to say, but I disagree.
It takes no courage to write about being an atheist and raising my kids as atheists. No courage for me: I’m self-employed; I live in the Northeast; I have a supportive husband, more-or-less like-minded friends and family, and no intention of running for public office.
Type, type, type, alone at my desk. Easy peasy.
You know what’s hard? Telling people in person. Childhood friends who don’t know the grownup me. Distant relatives I see once every few years. Jewish elders I admire. A mom I just met with an infectious laugh and a cross around her neck. My good friend’s devoutly Christian girlfriend.
In person, I am rarely as brave as I want to be–as I should be. I hedge and I dodge, even seemingly innocuous questions: “What are you working on?” or “Is Noah getting ready for his bar mitzvah?” or “Have your boys thought about joining the Boy Scouts?” Duck. Duck. Chicken.
Still live in the Northeast, still can’t be fired, still not planning a political campaign. What makes being honest in person harder than being honest in the paper? What am I afraid of? Here it is in all its pettiness: I’m afraid that they won’t like me or think I don’t like them. I’m afraid they will judge me or think I’m judging them. I’m afraid–horrors–of having an awkward conversation.
So I stay quiet. Not always, but more often than I am happy to admit. More often than a brave person would. And so what? Does my silence really matter? Do people really need to know that I don’t believe in God? Isn’t it conceited to think that my religious beliefs are of interest to anyone beyond my family? How important do I think I am?
Not very, I promise you. But my insignificance is precisely why I should speak up—I, the nice, chatty mom who brought the killer cupcakes. If “atheist” is ever going to stop being a scary word, atheists have to be willing to say in casual conversation that . . . we’re atheists. All of us do. Not just the intellectual gadflies among us, the full-time activists, the celebrity comedians.
Fear of being disliked is no excuse.
Fear of being fired, ostracized, physically attacked, or financially ruined . . . those are excuses. Are you an atheist running for school board on the buckle of the Bible Belt? Then feel free to keep it quiet, and God bless (wink, wink). Just do your best to keep your sanity and those of us with less to lose will try to ease your way.
Did you ever get a compliment that inspired you to deserve it?