It Helps To Have a Supporter

You’re going to love this story from Dale McGowan.

This is the beginning of what his eighth-grade daughter Erin told him the other day:

“I was at the table in the cafeteria with these three other kids, and two of them asked the other girl where she went to church. She said ‘We don’t go to church,’ and their eyes got big, and the one guy leaned forward and said, ‘But you believe in God, right?’”

Ooooh, here we go. I shifted in my seat.

“So the girl says, ‘Not really, no.’ And their eyes got all [!!!] and they said, ‘Well what DO you believe in then??’

[Pause for effect.]

“And she said,‘I believe in the universe.’ And they said, ‘So you’re like an atheist?‘ And she said ‘Yes, I guess I am.’”

I looked around for popcorn and a five-dollar Coke. Nothing. “Then what??”

You can read Erin’s wonderful response here.

What can we learn from this?

8th graders can be pretty damn courageous.

When someone says she’s an atheist, it makes it a little easier for the next person to say the same thing.

When a second person says she’s also an atheist, the first person becomes a little more confident.

When two people say they’re atheists in front of a hostile audience, they’ve just made an incredibly powerful statement.

Dale offers one more important lesson for the hostile audience:

The other two kids also won a parting gift. They learned that the assumed default doesn’t always hold, and that the world still spins despite the presence of difference. They’re also likely to be less afraid and less astonished the next time they learn that someone doesn’t believe as they do, which can also translate into greater tolerance of all kinds of difference.

And all this because a couple girls weren’t afraid to say they didn’t believe in a god.

It brings to mind this short-but-powerful TED Talk from Derek Sivers:


When someone finally joins you, amazing things can happen.

(via The Meming of Life)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sourblaze David

    I saw a comment on Twitter yesterday, it said this:

    “Being shy about being an #atheist is like the class genius purposely flunking a test in order to fit in. #atheism”

    Thanks to Twitter user @Monicks for that.

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    Awww… She sounds like a really sweet girl.

  • Annie

    It’s exciting to see kids that feel the environment is safe enough to be truthful.  My daughter is very vocal and has many friends at school who identify as atheists as well.  Times, they are a changin. ;-)

  • Emma

    I’m also an eigth grader, so I guess Erin’s setting the bar pretty high ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    Quite brave of both girls.  

  • Reidmarykaren

    When my daughter was in junior high, she came home spitting mad one day from a friend’s place. Apparently, when friend’s dad asked her about her religious belief, she told him she was an atheist. He condescendingly told her that she was “too young” to decide to be an athiest. I pointed out to her that he probably not tell her she was too young if she wanted to join HIS church.

  • Drew M.

    That was inspiring. I never would have had the gumption to stand up to my peers in 8th grade.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I wonder what I would have done at that age. Nobody ever asked me about my religious views when I was a kid. and I didn’t really form strong religious opinions until I was around 18. I grew up in a secular household, never held a belief in god, but I have no idea what I would have actually said had anyone asked me about it.

  • Heidi

    Nicely handled, Erin & friend. Also, I find it encouraging that in a group of four students, half of them were atheists.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t get the sense that there was a hostile audience, just a (mildly?) shocked one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      But there should not have been a presumption that “everyone is christian” so hopefully those girls did learn something – not everyone has a church.

      • Anonymous

        Definitely a good lesson for them (a boy and girl, I believe) to learn. I just didn’t think the characterisation of this particular audience as “hostile” was appropriate.

        • Anonymous

          I dunno, my 


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