Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.
I am a mother of two preschoolers. I am an Atheist. Those two things often isolate me on their own, but together, I often feel completely alone. To make my isolation worse, we recently moved to a new place, with no friends or family nearby.
I have found that in my community, the only active ‘Mommy and Me’ group meets at a local church, is sponsored by that church and is full of Christian mothers. They sometimes mention blessings, prayer and god, though they never pray in the group. I have mostly ignored it.
I enjoy the group, I get to hear other mothers talk about their children and I don’t feel so alone. But sometimes I feel like I am deceiving them. That if they knew I was an Atheist, I wouldn’t be welcomed within the group. That they wouldn’t want their children playing with my two little freethinkers. When I was religious, I wouldn’t have wanted an Atheist at our meetings.
I often point out the hypocritical ways of Christians, but lately I feel like I am abusing their fellowship. My husband told me that my personal beliefs are none of their business and it’s a mother’s group, not a Christian group. But I can’t shake the feeling of being a hypocrite. I mock them for their silly beliefs, but I hang out with them, in a church, to find a sense of community. Sometimes I feel like it’s the equivalent of a African American woman sitting in a KKK meeting, hoping they won’t notice…
Am I a hypocrite? Should I go back? Should I continue to treat my Atheism as a non-issue? Am I over thinking this? Or am I right in leaving?
Yes, I think you’re over thinking this. I admire your desire to be genuine and conscientious, and to avoid being a hypocrite, but from your letter it appears that the sponsoring church has not specifically described the group as a “Christian” Mommy and Me group, nor do I hear a strongly implied expectation that members should be Christians.
So just assume that the church has sponsored the group to fulfill the needs of mothers in the community, and if they expected something specific from you, they’d say so. I think that you are ascribing unnecessary significance to the fact that it meets in the church. If this were a group of women who met at a local park to watch their kids play, and they all happened to be Christians, I don’t think you’d be having the same conflict about you being an intruder or imposter or a hypocrite. They meet in the church because the church lets them. That’s nice, but apparently no religious requirement is stated or implied.
So I agree with your husband; your personal beliefs are immaterial. You are not “abusing” their fellowship, you’re contributing to it. As a human, as a woman, and as a mother you bring your own gifts of caring and wisdom to offer, and the group is richer for it.
Sadly, I think it is likely that despite your positive contributions, all or most of the Christian mothers would reject you and your children just as you described if they knew that you’re an atheist. One or two might not really mind, but they won’t oppose the others for fear of being ostracized too.
Now someone might say that you should give those Christian women a fair chance and tell them about yourself, but the snubbing, excluding and shunning of you and your kids could be severe, and we have seen this happen so many, many times. In the minds of too many people, the “a” word completely cancels and invalidates a person’s qualities such as loving, kind, helpful, generous, and so forth. You acknowledge that when you were religious, you would not have wanted to have an atheist in your meetings. This is how people protect their fragile faith. They drive away anyone who merely has doubts, and they huddle together in their little belief bivouac.
Now imagine if you were in a Mommy and Me group that just randomly happened to be comprised of all atheist mothers, and it was not organized specifically for that criteria. Would you want to exclude a lonely mother from that group just because she was a Christian? If your answer is no of course not, then you have become a more fair, more accepting, more generous person now than when you were religious. So don’t judge yourself so harshly as “hypocrite” for simply protecting yourself from bigotry.
You’re isolated, you’re lonely, you want a sense of community, you want companionship and closeness, and you want that for your little ones too. You’ll have some of that, but it won’t be perfect and it won’t be completely open because of the widespread irrational prejudice that so many Christians have against non-believers. Your atheism is only one small part of all that you are, and until you find a more accepting set of friends, you’ll have to keep that one small part private.
Enjoy what you can and contribute what you can to the group while your privacy lasts, because they may eventually find out. Then we will see how well those Christians have learned from their prophet. I think that a very telling measure of Christian virtue is how warmly and openly they welcome and accept non-believers into their company.
But atheists tend to be realists, and being warmly and openly accepted is a very rare experience. So although we might hope, I don’t suggest holding your breath.
In the meantime, you should also look for other friends in places not attached to a church, for people who are less likely to be narrowly conditional about including you. Don’t depend entirely on one group. Look for a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, and start your own Mommy and Me group there, if they don’t already have one. There are probably other ways to become an involved and participating member of your community. Hopefully some of the readers here will have some suggestions.
Alana, I wish you and your family well as you find ways to make yourselves belonging members of your new community. You deserve to be welcomed and included.