When To Keep Your Atheism To Yourself

When To Keep Your Atheism To Yourself September 13, 2019

Sometimes I wake up at 6 am, squeeze into an unflattering sport swimsuit that tucks everything away in the right places, head over to the pool which is filled with my town’s large retiree population, and swim laps until I’m Jell-O.

When I do, I try to up my ante every day by adding a lap or adding time to how long I swim. I’ve pushed myself up to about 2km of freestyle because let’s face it, you don’t lose carb-caboose riding a noodle with Old Lady Ruth and The Shallow End Gang.

Usually, I reward myself with a soak in the hot tub afterwards. It tends to feel a little like immersing yourself in senior soup, which really I don’t mind. It’s better than teen soup, that’s for sure. I’ve always enjoyed the company of older people… their stories from way back then, their prideful boasts about grandkids, the way they curse new things they don’t understand. I chat a little, and after about five or ten minutes, I hit the showers and head home.

One day, just after I first moved to this town, I’d swam a little longer than usual, and I realized that all the regulars had gone home. I was the only one left in the pool. I pushed through some stretches and headed over to the hot tub. A new lady was sitting in there, getting pruny. She was skinny, fit, with curly silver hair and a bright smile. I said hello.

“Great day for a swim, isn’t it?” She asked me.

Elderly ladies are really, really good at small talk. Like goddamned pros.

“Sure is!” I responded.

“Do you come every day?”

“Yeah… well, weekdays I do.” I nodded.

We got to talking about how great swimming was, and how we miss getting in some laps when we’re busy, and how this was such an excellent facility for a small town. My tub companion told me she’d lived here all her life save for four years she spent in Alberta. I told her I’ve been here for just under a year, and I was fully and completely in love with the place.

Before I knew it, 15 minutes had passed. Sweat was pouring down my face. I told her I had to go before I cooked myself. I introduced myself as Courtney, and she told me her name was Mary.

The next day, I pushed myself even longer, finally hitting the 2 km mark, which took me about an hour and fifteen doing freestyle. Again, the pool was deserted, and there was Mary, stewing in the steaming waters. I greeted her with a grin, and she smiled back, and the pleasantries began. Mary kicked my ass at small-talk once again. Around then, a group of preschool-age kids poured into the pool area for a lesson. Mary and I properly cooed at their adorableness.

“My son comes here for lessons with his school,” I told her.

“Oh? How old is he?” She perked up.

“He’s six. He loves to swim, just like his mommy.”

I bragged about the way he did perfect little backflips into the water.

She clapped her hands together and smiled, “Oh, that’s so great for him, especially living near the lake!”

Just then, we heard the kids jump into the pool and were mesmerized watching these sweet little things keep their instructor on his toes. 

Every once in a while, we would let out a giggle at something funny a kid did, but other than that, we were relatively silent.

A few minutes into the silence, Mary finally broke it.

“I have a 16-year-old grandson. He lives in Alberta.”

“Oh? Do you get out to see him much?” I asked.

“Well, he just had an aneurysm burst in his head.”

I cringed. My heart sank. It’s hard to know what to say to stuff like that. I always stick to my tried and true method: ask questions, listen to the answers.

“When did that happen?”

She told me it had happened a few weeks before. He’d spent his birthday in the hospital. I asked her if he was okay. She told me the doctors said his recovery was coming along remarkably, but that he has to relearn a ton of things.

Mary also told me that her daughter had to move to the city closer to her son’s rehabilitation centre. She’d rented an apartment, and her other kids missed her.

“Wow. When do the doctors predict he will be able to be released?” I asked her.

“Well, his medical team are going to assess his situation in a week or two and see if he is fit to go home.”

“That’s wonderful.” I smiled.

“It really is. The hospital told us it’s a miracle he’s alive.”

There it is. She even emphasized the ‘miracle’. I bit my lip.

“You know on the computer, you can ask all kinds of people to pray for you. My daughter spread his story around, and lots of people prayed. It must have been all the prayers for him across the world that helped.”

Sometimes, I wonder if I have “Heathen” written on my forehead. I swallowed the words rising up in my throat: or it was the doctors? They tasted bitter, but I smiled anyway.

“He’s such a good boy. He always went to church and Sunday School and followed God’s rule. It just goes to prove that if you’re faithful and obedient, God will reward you.”

Wait, what? Did God reward your faithful and obedient grandson with an aneurysm? I wanted so badly to ask. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Sweat was doubling on my brow, and I found myself grateful for the fact that I was in a hot tub, and she couldn’t see me sweat my way through keeping my opinions to myself.

“He sounds very positive,” Is all I could muster, making sure to smile.

“Yes, I have no doubt God will fully heal him.”

Right. It will have nothing to do with his doctors, his therapists and his own determination. My grin must have looked forced by now.

“Well, I have to go now. You have a wonderful day!” She chirped.

Oh, thank God, no holy, I thought, exhaling ferociously. Apparently, I had been holding my breath. I said goodbye and told her I hope her grandson does really well. I wasn’t relieved because her story was making me uncomfortable. It wasn’t. I was relieved because I got out of that situation without accidentally blurting out something about God, bullshit and giving the doctors some credit.

Every so often, I see a screencap float around the intertubes of some douchebag atheist commenting on someone’s post thanking God for similar things. Sometimes, it’s making it another day with a terminal illness, or maybe it’s surviving a horrific car accident. Along comes some unhappy heathen to hijack a thread about something devastating and crushing, and turn it into a debate about whether or not God exists, and I gotta say, nothing could be any less cool.

Sometimes, it’s just inappropriate. Sometimes, you have to put your own opinions aside and consider, what is the most important thing in this moment? It’s hard not to respond to these absurd statements attributing human accomplishments to the big guy. You might chew through your fingernails or break into a sweat, but sometimes, you just have to know when to shut the bleep up and listen.

How do you handle situations like this? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Ellen Mottley Tannenbaum

    I won’t hijack the topic if it comes up in a personal way, like this lady’s grandson’s situation – unless directly asked. But if it is more generic, like hopes and prayers for the victims and survivors of the latest calamity, I will jump right in.

  • Maltnothops

    I lean more toward the d’bag end of things, but with more of a smile than a sneer. For example, I might ask, “Oh, which hospital?” and no matter which one it is, I’ll respond with something like “I hear the doctors there are great.”

    If it happens to be an online community where I’m known to be one of relatively few atheists, I might say, “Well. Thoughts and prayers.”

    Face to face I’ve said, “Religious faith can be very comforting.” Which is true, as far as it goes.

  • Thanks4AllTheFish

    I am a lap swimmer as well as being one of those septaugenarians you encounter.

    How I, as an atheist, would respond to those within my own age group probably would differ from how younger people do and it boils down to benefit analysis.

    Am I going to encounter and have personal conversations with this person in the future?

    If so, does it benefit either of us by me being disingenuous about who I am from the get-go?

    In any case, there is no need to be rude or snide but I might have responded to the computer comment and prayer with something like, Oh, well I’m not a spiritual or religious person but is there anything I could do and that you or they might need that would help out? Not only does this (hopefully) derail any further spiritual imagery, but it establishes whether the person you are conversing with has the open-mindedness to accept being around people with different ideologies without going postal. Either way, at least I can walk away with my head held high and not feeling like there is something wrong with me for being afraid to offend those following the shepherd.

  • Jim Jones

    I just smile and move on. You can’t help the delusional. Of course, if they try to ‘convert’ me, it gets to be fun really fast.

  • Die Anyway

    I would respond pretty much the same way, maybe say something about how scary it is that such things can happen randomly to any of us.
    I sometimes describe myself as a radical atheist but I try not to be an a-whole in my radicality.

  • westernwynde

    Sounds like he has wonderful doctors.

  • argyranthemum

    A work friend who is a Christian is going through her mother’s serious illness right now. She almost never complains, but I got a text the other day telling me (and others) that she is very stressed. For the first time in many years, I told her I’d pray for her and her mom, only because I knew that would give her the most comfort. I have never said anything else to her to indicate I’m a believer because I’m not, but in that one moment, it seemed like the right thing to do.

  • WallofSleep

    Pretty much the same here. I have no interest in “proselytizing” for atheism.

  • Carstonio

    If anyone asks me, I say that I’m not religious, but I rarely discuss religion outside my immediate family. The truly outrageous thing about the story? The behavior and personality that the woman attributes to her god is neither benevolent nor just, yet she still sees the god that way. A god that would either ‮llik‬ the kid outright, or let him die, unless enough people ask? At best, that’s like a lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

  • ephemerol

    Even if they do explicitly try to get me to give ’em all my thoughts on god, which is always an early step on the way to ‘conversion,’ I give ’em fair warning that it’s a conversation both of us probably do not want to have, and that if we did have it, they are not going to like or appreciate anything they’re going to hear. Most christians have no idea how ignorant of their own religion they really are, but most have enough social grace, supercilious christian variety though it may be, not to press further.

  • persephone

    If you point out all the personnel and equipment that went to saving him, they’ll just say that God was behind it. God led those doctors into medicine. God gifted the equipment designers with their ideas and skills. God made sure they were in the right place at the right time.

    It’s not a conversation you can ever make a point with. They will always twist it, because they MUST twist it to keep their faith.

  • Anthrotheist

    My tendency is to more or less ignore the spiritual platitudes, and focus my side of the conversation on the people involved. Something like, “You must feel very fortunate that it wasn’t worse than it was” or, “His parents must be thrilled that he is doing so well and may be able to come home soon.” Regardless of who they attribute the credit to, you can always sympathize with the very real, very human people who are affected.

  • Carstonio

    I’m not interested in converting them. I just want to shut them up if they claim that non-Christians who suffered had it coming to them.

  • Jim Jones

    Yes. Easy to tie them in knots.

  • persephone

    That kind of comment makes them fair game.

  • epeeist

    I largely agree with your position, but let’s invert the situation.

    Suppose someone, known to be non-religious, was in a similar situation. Would you expect the religious to extend you the same courtesy and not insert their god into the conversation?

  • A question, is post-abortion stress syndrome yet another Fundy bullcrap?

  • Pofarmer

    Pretty much, yeah.

  • Knowing that comes from a pastor who manages a pro-life organization with the usual BS (“more than one hundred thousand murders per year”, no mention at all what happens post-birth on her website, etc.), I wonder why I’ve brought a bit closer the heath death of the Universe.

  • gordon3186 .

    It’s the assumption that their beliefs are universally shared that gripes me. But then, if nobody ever challenges them why wouldn’t they assume that?

  • Jeanne

    No. Not 50 years ago and not now.

  • BerniB63

    I’m with you. There is definitely a time and place to express your opinion, but this is not it. This is a grieving gramma…you have to respect that…and u did.

  • MelindaF

    Hi Godless Mom,

    My issue is this. Christians will not hesitate to shove their religion in your face when an atheist loses a loved one. First hand experience.

    My husband passed away about 3 weeks ago, at his own hand, at the very end of fighting metastatic cancer for almost 2 years. He has been out and outspoken about his atheism. Posted on the Disqus Religion channel before it’s demise under his real name. Everyone who knows him knows he is an atheist. And I have recently dropped the final shards of my faith as well.

    He died from a horrific disease. The treatments were almost as bad – they made him very will for 3-4 days after each infusion. He suffered terribly. Yet – here come the Christian ‘friends’ with their Jesus flavored cliches telling me I will see him again. FFS…I am beyond disgusted.

    Yet I agree with the OP – better to just listen and be silent.

  • ɐbsoןnʇ ɔןɐnɔʎ

    Hi, I think your husband was Brad? I followed his comments on the Disqus Religion channel and I learned a lot from him. He seemed very courageous and shared his wisdom and experience generously. My deepest sympathies for your loss, and I admire your kindness toward tactless faith pushers at a time of such grief! I hope your memories of happy times together bring you comfort.

  • Lady Alexandra

    Do you wonder what might have been with that one? Well, yeah. Of course, you can look back and say, “What if I’d… gone to college B instead of college A? Not broken up with this person or that person? Gone into the military? Decided to follow my bliss and be a starving artist? It’s on that level for me.

    Childbirth, on the other hand. did me so wrong. I’m going to have to have at least one surgery and possibly another as I get older to help me deal with the consequences. I had bad dreams for years and years in which I woke up and realized I was pregnant again, but 20 years after my tubal ligation, I think my psyche finally figured it out.

  • Sassafras

    I moved down to the Bible Belt almost 6 months ago, and I’m a bit concerned about coworkers finding out that I’m an Atheist. In Connecticut no one really gave a $h!t, but here in NC it could make work hostile.

  • Jim Jones

    I prefer, “I’ll keep a good thought for you.” It’s non-committal and may be more genuine than the stated prayers.

  • argyranthemum

    Yes, that’s what I usually say in cases like this. I had and have mixed feelings about what I said, but it still seems to be the thing she would take the most comfort from. The issue’s not going to go away, so I’ll be continuing to think about the best thing to say.

  • epeeist

    Nope. I’m going to push back on this. Do you really want to behave as badly as a religious person?

    A story I have related a number of times and on different sites.

    My father was brought up Catholic but by the time he died (at the age of 46) he was an atheist. However we gave him a Catholic funeral because his mother, a devout Catholic, was still alive.

    At the funeral the priest took great delight in describing my father’s probable fate. It was all I could do to avoid decking him at the end of the funeral. He, rather pointedly, was not invited back to the wake.

    So yes, I am rather familiar with the poor behaviour of at least some of the religious in similar situations.

  • MelindaF

    Thank you. He was extraordinarily brave, kind and decent. He was a good man. And I have many, many wonderful memories!



  • scottpresnall

    I’m uncomfortable forcing my beliefs on anyone else. I didn’t enjoy it when I was a Christian (the first forty-nine years of my life), and I don’t as an atheist (the most recent fifteen years). For me, it sounds competitive, and my core doesn’t respond to that.

  • Allen T Coffey

    I usually express my unhappiness at their situation, wish them well and then say something about I’m glad for all the support so and so is receiving. Without affirming or denying gawd(s).

  • Allen T Coffey

    Great answer.

  • Allen T Coffey

    I’m a huge proponent of the Stoic ideal of doing the right thing no matter what the other person does.

  • gemini bowie

    Stop capitalizing “atheist.”

  • You certainly know god belief and religion makes people’s brains mush and separates them from the truth.

  • Ray Roth

    You tell her the truth. The doctors healed him, no one else. Why would a loving god give a human an aneurysm? AND, you tell her you aren’t a believer. Why is SHE allowed to be truthful about her beliefs while YOU are not? Ridiculous! I think we all need to grow up a bit.

  • Duncan R. Bryson

    I’ve never been in such a situation – as far as I can remember. I think what I’d do would be to just say something along the lines of well I’m not religious, in a polite and friendly manner, if the person banged on a bit. This just to clear the air in case they seemed to expect some religiosity in return. It could go various ways after that depending on the strength of the person’s beliefs but one has indicated their boundaries.

  • Jim Ruwaldt

    My girlfriend’s aunt likes to post about thanking God, etc. I used to react with a laugh, because some of them are pretty over the top. However, I decided that was rude, and now I just ignore them. There are, however, times when she gets on a kick about getting God or religion back in the schools. I can’t let that stand. Unfortunately, she won’t be clear on what she exactly means by that, probably because she knows it’s unconstitutional, even though she insists that isn’t what she means.

  • ralphmeyer

    I agree with what you did biting your tongue…People suffering and imagining their gods (which according to all attempts at proof, don’t exist) are doing things, are using their god(s) as the rug psychologically to find hope in a tough situation…All I ever do in such cases is comment that I hope the person with the problem has good medical staff and help and that I hope too that the doctors and nurses are thanked for their efforts, and then let it go at that. No sense pulling the rug from under a suffering person as that isn’t atheistically humane. Under other circumstances than these, when a person shoves that ‘miracle’ supernatural bit at me, I generally respond that there are no such things as there is no supernatural that has ever been proven to exist, and that ‘miracles’ are natural events of which we do not as yet understand the causes, and are thus subjects for study and further examination.

  • Marlene Geisler-Unterberger

    Ray Roth: I agree with you 100%. Why would god give a human an aneurysm? My husband died of an aneurysm. He was a terrific man. I never mentioned god. Why would a loving god permit 6,000,000,000 Jews be exterminated? Why would god create such monsters that this planet is on the way out? People are so confused with beliefs and science; it’s pathetic. Ask any religious person to give you some proof that god exists. There is zero. Ask for proof that there is no such animal as god and you can quote scientific evidence. I guess I just am one of those people who could never understand how people actually believe in god.

  • dcinDC

    Christians are supposed to “witness”. I’m feeling more and more comfortable witnessing my own non-belief – even here in religious, republican, small-town Indiana. You never know when you might be an inspiration to someone :o)

  • Marlene Geisler-Unterberger

    Exactly and they don’t mix — just like oil and water.

  • Marlene Geisler-Unterberger

    Time to move again

  • Sassafras

    I wish. I am making plans to move to the Raleigh area after my 2 years is up at my current job (relocation package). I am NOT staying in Nash County forever!

  • MirandaB

    When it is just a passing encounter I usually let it go. But recently I was in a situation where it seemed more prudent NOT to keep silent because it involved uber-Christian neighbors commenting on the little gift their god (if he exists as they claim) gave my wife — namely, the BRCA1 gene and resulting metastatic ovarian cancer.

    My wife and I were both raised nominally Christian (she: Catholic, me: Lutheran). After decades of simply uncritically accepting the religious clap-trap foisted on us throughout our lives, we realized that we had zero basis to accept such beliefs. We are both atheists, and much better off for it. When we want to engage with other progressive thinkers in a spirit of community involvement and action, we attend a Unitarian Universalist church — where there is NO doctrine that one is required to ascribe to and follow. Nor is there any requirement that one believe in a particular god or other supernatural entity.

    My wife has been battling recurrent stage-3 ovarian cancer for 8 years. During that time the cancer has recurred 4 times, including metastasizing to her brain. She is currently in the midst of her 4th relapse. We’ll know more in a few days.

    We have known our neighbors across the street (let’s call them the Smiths) ever since we bought our home a little more than 12 years ago. From the beginning it was obvious to anyone with a brain that we are a same-sex couple. In our first encounters with the Smiths they engaged in god-talk pretty freely. However, we have always been a live-and-let-live kind of couple, so we never felt the need to push back against their hopey-dopey religious rhetoric.

    The Smiths once invited us to their Baptist church for a “renewal” service that was long on repetitive chants and/or verses done to long, sustained chord progressions while the words were projected on an overhead screen in a cross between Lawrence Welk’s old “follow the bouncing ball” technology and modern-day karaoke. We also attended the wedding of their daughter in the same church a couple of years ago. Everyone at their “the-Bible-is-the inerrant-inspired-word-of-God” church was very nice to us, and we enjoyed our times there for the most part. We stood respectfully with the rest of their congregation during group prayer (although we neither prayed not pretended to pray) and did our level best to blend in without compromising our own integrity.
    Over time they have gradually come to understand that we are definitely NOT religious, but they still continue occasionally with the god-talk — which I usually ignore.

    Actually, I don’t know what the Smiths expected might come of our visits to their church to hear the “word” as their denomination interprets it. Perhaps they held on to the completely unreasonable notion that their god might somehow touch our hearts, infuse us with self-loathing as the abominations Leviticus says we are, and convince us to dissolve our marriage and live proper, gender-stereotype-conforming heterosexual lives. I seriously doubt that, even if we DID believe in their god and their cherry-picked scripturally-based beliefs, we could ever join their church and be regarded as regular members on an equal basis while still remaining married. Joining would, of course, require an alter call, statements of belief, recitations of creeds and prayers, some Bible study (NOT to study the Bible critically, but merely to accept the interpretations derived by their own denominational scholars), and — ultimately — a rejection of all sin, INCLUDING the sin of our ongoing same-sex marriage.

    When we first met the Smiths 12 years ago, we were initially friendly with them in a cordial kind of way. Over time our friendship developed into something more trusting. At one point we moved away for 3-plus years while we started a company in another state. We asked our neighbors if their kids would be willing to keep our empty house’s lawn mowed and our driveway shoveled (during winter snows) while we were away — and we left money with the parents to pay the kids as they did the work. The kids did a great job, and their parents ensured they did the job properly before paying them from the funds we left on deposit.

    When we sold our interest in the out-of-state company and moved back into our home, we made a sizable donation to each of their two children’s education fund. This was despite that fact that each was entering a so-called Christian college, and we strongly disfavor any institution of higher learning that tries to combine the teaching of secular, science-based knowledge with cherry-picked religious beliefs. We liked their kids, who have always been the kind of kids just about any parent would want, and we wanted to help them out regardless of the institution they chose to attend.

    We look out for one another’s interests, too. We have keys to each other’s homes so we can take care of pets when the other is away, collect one-another’s mail, maintain the security of one-another’s homes, water each other’s houseplants, etc.

    Still, being observant, enthusiastic evangelicals, they continue to push the religious angle with nonsensical platitudes and Christianese on a somewhat regular basis. At least, they did so until a few months ago.

    Several months back we were talking about something one day when they asked how my wife is doing vis-a-vis her cancer treatment. I don’t recall what I said, but it prompted Ms. Smith to say that she would pray for my wife. Now, I have always considered Christian offers of “I’ll pray for you” to be — at best — Christian social currency meant chiefly to communicate empathy (boosting the speaker’s piety bona fides) and — at worst — a form of judgmental condemnation, a way to say “gee, you are SUCH an errant sinner, but I will ask God to turn your heart to righteousness (and score some moral superiority points in the process). I took Ms. Smith’s comments to be of the former variety, but I didn’t want my silence to be taken as an assent to her implied message that prayer would somehow be a good thing, or that I somehow agreed through my silence that SHE deserved empathy points for making the offer.

    Accepting for the sake of argument that her god actually exists AND gives a crap about any particular human, I asked her why she would bother praying, since her god had ALREADY rendered his verdict when he damned my wife with this genetic death sentence from the moment he created her. I said, really, if your god is both the original AND ultimate referee in this game of life, and HE has some master plan that is written in the stars, WHY would he change all of that just because someone prays and asks the ref to call my wife SAFE! instead of OUT! Referees NEVER alter their calls, and your god has already decided that my wife dies early and badly.

    I said that IF her god exists and is as omnipotent and omniscient as Christians claim, then he ALREADY knows of my wife’s suffering. He ALREADY knows what he did to her. Praying won’t change that. I said that He ALREADY knows that I think he/she/it sucks as a metaphorical cosmic parent, and that IF he/she/it exists — AND I find myself in his/her/its presence on some judgment day — I won’t back down from expressing my disgust and critical opinions of my cosmic failure of a parent .

    Here’s the kicker in all of this: Ms. Smith ALSO has the BRCA1 gene mutation, and has had breast cancer that was treated with both surgery AND chemotherapy. I asked her how she can reconcile her god’s supposed love for his children in light of the fact that he gave HER the same potential death sentence. She didn’t answer me directly. In fact, I doubt she is able to do so, because a direct answer would require thoughts just too existentially dangerous for her evangelical mind.Instead she pivoted so some scene where she imagines herself at the foot of her magical savior deity, weeping with gratitude that he has saved her from his own brutal condemnation and assignment of her original sin.

    We remain neighborly friends with the Smiths, and we continue to look out for one another. But the god-talk has thankfully pretty much stopped completely. When dealing with the god-talk of others, I deal with it on a case-by-case basis. Generally speaking, if the other party’s god-talk is relative to that person’s life and experience and NOT ours, I just let it roll off our backs like water off a duck. If their god-talk is aimed in our direction, as though is should somehow refer to or otherwise impact our lives, I push back respectfully — usually in the form of logical questions.

  • If someone invites me to a wedding, a funeral, or another church-involved event, I go, and keep myself to myself. I won’t pray, but i keep my head down. Both figuratively and actually. This is a very small town, and we don’t bring religion up to the front porch, as it were, but it’s not up to me to raise a fuss at someone’s wedding, or christening, just because.

    But if someone asks, I’ll tell ’em.

  • nicely put. They wouldn’t listen anyway.

  • WallofSleep

    And honestly, I can’t be bothered. If they keep their religion to themselves and don’t try to shove it or its rules on me or anyone else, then more power to ’em; it’s no skin off my nose.

  • I agree with your basic premise, but I think there’s a time and place for such discussions, and let’s face it, deathbed scenes, weddings and such are not that time or place. But if someone comes at me privately, or pushes, I will indeed push back.

  • Jim Jones

    “That’s not my belief system.”

    “We’re not allowed to talk about it.”

  • Jim Jones

    > At the funeral the priest took great delight in describing my father’s probable fate. It was all I could do to avoid decking him at the end of the funeral.

    I wouldn’t have let him finish.

  • Wordwizard

    Any time a Believer brings up their Beliefs is the time and place. If they can speak up about their nonsense, I can speak up about what should be the obvious, which has been obscured to them by others’ failing to speak up.

    Deathbed scenes are most pertinent. If you don’t seize the day, it will obviously be too late to go into the matter with the deceased later. Plus in some Muslim countries, a widow who cries out at the funeral that a loving god would not have permitted this to happen will shortly join her husband.

  • towercam

    Regarding such things, I’m mainly a bull in the china shop.

    I think this old world has had quite enough crippling religious delusion and I’ll step on it when and where I can.

    No, I won’t go jumping on mourners…unless they’re attempting a full on sermon, using the sorrow of their loss to polish their ‘I’m religion-crippled’ button.

    Religion comforts…and cripples.
    History is clear about this.

    Real men and women seek the truth.

  • Bill Goodwin

    Personally I have no problem replying to anyone in this type of situation with something like: “Well while I don’t share your faith in God or miracles, I do feel terrible for you and I really hope that he fully recovers and that you and your family are able to find the peace and comfort you need during his treatment.” And if they try to engage me on the theology, I simply say “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you and I’d like that to continue so I’m not going to take the occasion of your grandson’s tragic circumstance to engage you in a theological debate. I think that would be tacky. I thought it would be awkward to leave all your religious comments hanging without acknowledgement of some kind, and since I can’t echo them I thought I’d try to find our common ground. Maybe on some other day, when we know each other better we can have a friendly talk about god and religion.”

    Of course I’d like to say “Well now I’m confused. I have a nephew who was a good Christian boy, active in church and really faithful to God in so many ways. He fell out of a van and suffered massive injuries. He struggled in a coma for a few years and ultimately passed away. Do I need to conclude that he was not actually a good Christian, that he was sinful and therefore deserved the terrible tragedy that ultimately killed him and foreclosed on any chance he might have had to repent and has now passed on to live eternity in torment? Or is God just not really faithful to everyone?” I’d save that for when we knew each other better.

  • Bill Goodwin

    I appreciate your stoicism in the situation, but I really do think we can reply reasonably without being dickish. Something like –“Thank you for your condolences and well meaning comments. While I don’t share your faith in God and neither did he, I do have precious memories and am so grateful for the life we shared together. As much as I wish he were still here and well, I am glad that his pain and suffering have ended and I’m sure he would appreciate your thoughts and prayers.” –doesn’t seem combative to me but does remind them that they should not assume that everyone shares their faith. Anyway, it sounds like he was a great human being. Hope you find the peace and comfort you need after the loss. I feel like we can only aspire and try to live our lives in such a way to be loved and missed as much.

  • Paul Morsey

    I’ve had to deal with new religion promo lately. A checkout clerk at Kroger, of all places, ends the checkout process with, “Have a blessed day.” So far I’ve just ignored it as I don’t want to be snarky. If a clerk says, “Have a nice day,” I say “You, too.” But I don’t have an answer for “Have a blessed day.” So I don’t say anything. Any ideas?

  • Doug1943

    I think you did exactly right. It’s part of the social contract not to needlessly upset others. And I agree about the douchebag atheists who try to wreck other peoples discussions with comments like ‘No, your child is not in the arms of Jesus, she’s just a decaying heap of organic molecules, ha ha ha ha!” There is a special place in hell for such people.

    Here is a story for your book: during the Vietnam War I was drafted and assigned, after Basic, to train as a light-weapons infantryman. I was strongly against the war, and used the opportunity to propagandize my fellow trainees, none of whom wanted to be there. I was making special progress with the Blacks, who had an extra reason not to want to fight the Vietnamese.

    One evening, in the barracks, I happened to get into an argument with a Believer — I forget whether he was white or Black, probably white. I thought I was clever, and I skewered him with this old chestnut:

    “You say God can do anything. Well can He make a rock that’s so big, that I can’t lift it?” “”Course He can!”
    “Well, can He make a rock that’s so big, that all of here in Company C cannot lift it?” “Sure He can! God can do anything!”
    “Well, can He make a rock that’s so big, that the whole world cannot lift it?” “Of course He can! God can do anything!”
    “Well, can He make a rock that’s so big, that He can’t lift it?” [ stunned silence ]

    So clever I was!!! And … that was the end of my influence with the Blacks. “You don’t believe in God?” … Nothing I could say could change their
    belief that I must be fundamentally immoral. They hadn’t read Dostoevsky, but they absolutely believed that “Without God, all things are permitted.”

    I later read Lenin to the effect that this is exactly the sort of thing the good Bolshevik agitator doesn’t do. But the Owl of Minerva, dusk, etc.

  • Kaia Rose

    I’ve heard some people say things like “love and light” and “sending good vibes.” It seems kinda New Agey and might not be your thing, but I thought I’d toss it out there.

  • disqus_nmxxHaRrH8

    Same here… how about: and may reason prevail.

  • Sandra

    Wow. I am so sorry that your wife (and you) are struggling with cancer. Thank you for sharing your story. You sound like you are great neighbors. I wish you guys lived near me.

  • Sandra

    I like it!

  • Pam Kunz

    What would be the point of announcing you are atheist? I wasn’t goaded into being an atheist by some youngster. I arrived at this on my own through critical thinking and research. I was born in USA to catholic parents. Had I been born in India, I would probably be Hindu. When you see how your birth circumstances determine your belief systems, you also can see that nothing one can say will alter their perception of the world. ( certainly not someone younger than them). It was a struggle for me to give up those beliefs and I do what I can to speak up in the hopes that Christian privilege does not become a required government theocracy. Religions are power and money. They will never give that up! They will force belief through any manor of cruelty to keep this scam going. They will commit atrocities to keep that hold over the human race. Heresy is alive and well. That mother believed God saved her child through prayers. She will never see that modern medicine intervened. If prayer worked as she said, why not just pray? The god folks can’t be rationalized into disbelief. Ever. Amen.

  • deb

    I had lunch with a new friend the other day. I had o idea she was so religious–she spent the entire lunchtime talking about god. She had developed a tumor, had prayed the night before that her god wouldn’t leave her, then says her bible pages flipped open to a page with a verse that said “I will not leave you”. It just confirmed for her that she was right to believe in this god, because, really, those pages opening up to that verse HAD TO be there just as an answer to her prayer, RIGHT? I just kept quiet–what else was I going to do? Start a debate in the middle of the restaurant? No, sometimes you do just have to keep silent, because it’s just not the time and place to reveal that you happen to feel that the medical community were the ones who would either take care of her problem or she would die. No supernatural ghost was going to have anything to do with curing her–she would have refused to hear it. Then where would I be? Sometimes, just let the believers keep talking–they’ll hang themselves eventually.

  • MirandaB

    Thank you, Sandra. You are very kind — and I am guessing you didn’t need anyone’s religion to be that way

  • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

    Agreed with your last.

    That’s a situation calling for playing Tim Minchin’s “The Pope Song” over the church’s sound system:


  • argyranthemum

    Thanks so much!

    My path out of religion took a lengthy detour into the New Age world which I have now also left, so I do hesitate to say things like that. I have considered using the Quaker, “I’ll hold you in the light,” which also has a New Age flavor, but it just didn’t feel right at that moment.

  • Pennybird

    After our father died many years ago, my sister said to me that the only thing we can do now is say a prayer. I let it go because it was not the time to argue, but I took it that she was saying now something bad has happened we need to be serious about our beliefs; no time for silliness. I felt entirely dismissed by her and have not forgotten it.

  • Pennybird

    In the end, don’t they all mean the same things? But in a moment of personal grief, it’s best to choose our words carefully. It sounds like you did the right thing under the circumstances.

  • Pennybird

    When we call out the grieving we are making it about ourselves, not the grief. That’s pretty bad manners if nothing else. There will be other opportunities that aren’t so awful or dramatic when we can make a case.

  • Yoyoma

    I disagree with you on this one. I don’t care how nice or old a person is…if they bring up God and miracles and prayer, I’m going to hear them, but respectfully disagree…and try to engage in a deeper conversation about death and dying, etc. This can easily be done without putting down their thoughts or beliefs. I think ignoring superstition is doing the believer and the country a disservice. By ignoring, you only let the delusions grow.

  • canucanoe2

    Hmmmm… Why show such deference to one who believes that you, as an atheist, deserves to suffer for an eternity because you don’t believe in the invisible man in the sky?

  • canucanoe2
  • Richard B

    Choose what it the most merciful. Do that.

  • Pofarmer

    I think you are exactly right.

  • Pofarmer

    And now you’re just another pawn in the game. It’s time to start bringing it up. We are in trouble as a country, largely because people don’t push back against nonsense.

  • Thanks4AllTheFish


    I think Christians are too programmed to think that just because they are a majority religion, especially in the US, that everyone else should just make allowances for them to say and do anything their religion deems appropriate and they do it regardless of the beliefs and feelings of others not of their tribe.

    This is partially our fault because at some point we decided that we were willing to put aside our sincere beliefs in deference to those whom we apparently feel deserve more of a platform than we do. Why do we do that? Are we ashamed of who we are and what we believe?

  • Esther Lyman Clarke

    Ohhhhh. What an evil man, that priest.

  • Pofarmer

    I’m kind of dealing with that a little bit now. There’s an “independent” Church not to far from me that’s pretty much getting a cult vibe. It’s one of the larger mega church’s or whatever you want to call it. They’ve got a school now, and send the kids on Church camps, etc, etc. They recently did a deal where they bought medical debt for a penny on the dollar and of course the members think they deserve all kinds of praise for that. So, there, in my mind, should be a little push back. This kind of thing pretty much never ends well.

  • Sharon Horton

    The lack of a religion just isn’t as large a part of my life as someone else’s religion is to them. Kind of like my lack of pets doesn’t give me a load of cute pics to trade with my dog/cat people friends when they pull out their phones. They’re trading in a currency I don’t have.

  • Sharon Horton

    I can find no fault with the buying up of medical debt; that can be a huge good to the people whose debt has been cleaned up by this. I’d still keep an eye on what kind of culture they’re building, just on general principles.

  • Pofarmer

    I don’t disagree, it’s just the reporting on it rubbed me the wrong way. Ooooh, we bought up 43 million dollars of medical debt. No, no you didn’t. You raised 431,000 dollard and bought medical debt basically designated as never getting paid for a penny on the dollar. Sure, that helps the person who had the debt, who wasn’t going to pay it anyway. And a collection agency made a tidy sum. But the hospitals and doctors got nothing and the treadmill continues.

  • Thanks4AllTheFish

    I hear what you’re saying and I agree with you. I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve and I grew up in a home and in an environment where religion and religious platforming wasn’t part of my experience.

    Today’s climate seems to have changed where it seems I see elements of Christian influence literally everywhere – billboards, public transit, bumper stickers, lawn signs, t-shirts, jewelry, media ads, etc. Christian adherents pepper their conversations with blessings and prayers and Jesus this and Jesus that with little regard for whom they are talking to and even less self-awareness about how they are perceived in society, especially by non-believers.

    All I’m saying is that secular society tends to tolerate the Christian’s current intrusive attempts to implement their Great Commission one way or another and yet those of us who merely want to live our lives in peace, seem to be too timid or polite to say anything when confronted by these people. This seems like a good way for us to be marginalized in the near future, should they obtain the power they so appear to desire.

  • Brian Curtis

    “Boy, I’m glad God changed his mind after giving your grandson that aneurysm in the first place. He sounds like a swell guy.”

  • “How do you handle situations like this?”

    It depends on your goals and intentions with respect to the relationship. If you want to sustain a “small talk” relationship, it is best to steer clear of religious topics, as Courtney did here. If you you want to test the waters for a more significant relationship, it might be best to engage in a kind of Socratic dialogue.

  • Force beliefs? How is that done?

  • What do you mean by doing what is most merciful in a situation like this?

  • Or they will just learn that you are not interested in discussing religion and will gradually focus on other topics.

    I have a good friend who is moderately religious. We talk about sports, politics, and family, but not about religion.

  • “you also can see that nothing one can say will alter their perception of the world.”

    I doubt that. Nothing? For no religious persons? Under no circumstances?

    I was a Christian, and several persons said things which influenced me to change.

  • persephone

    Having lost my first husband suddenly, I can say that pushing back on thoughts and prayers was the last thing on my mind. I don’t need to impart that I don’t believe. I’m trying to get through the day. I’m sleeping with his pillow because it smelled like him. I’m trudging through getting death certificates and arranging cremation. I’m dealing with his ex and son and daughter with all their different demands. I’m struggling with money. I’m struggling with his employer. I’m struggling just to get out of bed and shower and eat something.

    Please, please, please, don’t give suggestions like this to someone who has just lost someone and it’s ripping apart their life.

  • persephone

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my first husband nearly 30 years ago, but I still tear up sometimes. Don’t let anyone push you and tell you how you should feel or react or how long it should take you to deal with things. There’s no magic get over it date.

    I did find that it took about a year to get through the worst. It took another couple of years to be able to remember him without automatically crying.

    Please, take care of yourself. Ignore anyone that isn’t helping you, no matter how well-meaning they may be. Do what you need to do.

  • Bill Goodwin

    Sorry Persephone, I really didn’t mean that “you should have” or anything like that. Many people here think that we come of like jerks when we say anything other than sucking it up and saying “thank you”. I just intended to offer an option that wasn’t combative. Deepest apologies. I didn’t mean to add to your pain.

  • MelindaF

    Thank you. It is still a raw, open wound right now. And it will take me some time to move past this. We had over 30 wonderful years together.


  • It’s really hard not to say something when my wife is talking like that. Sometimes I do. Like, yesterday I did.

    It’s exactly the same — something bad has been going on, and it seems like there’s no end. But of course there’s an end, and the god gets the credit. “I must have found this dentist because I’d been praying about it so much!” Really, then why did you find the dentist that wanted to give you an unnecessary root canal first?

  • Yeah, that would drive me nuts.

  • Sharon Horton

    I think it’s in our own self-interest to get out there and vote this time–all of us. And make it clear what the issues are, and why. The theocrats must not get any further than they have; we’re already too close to more than one tipping point and no one seems to realize how life-and-death the issues really are.

  • Sharon Horton

    I freely admit that this is a holding action; it would be much better to build a health care payment system that resembled those of other developed countries.

  • Pofarmer

    I’d call it more window dressing. Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Etc. Etc.

  • Sharon Horton

    Unfortunately, we haven’t assembled anything that’s better than window dressing yet. And the Titanic isn’t healing itself…

  • ‘Society is tolerant of Christianity, when they they should speak up and confront Christians’?

    You don’t seem to live on the same planet everyone else does. I don’t even believe you reside in the Milky Way galaxy, your comments surely arriving from a transmission site outside the Milky Way galaxy. On second thought, an alien, from a distant galaxy deep in space, would have a better understanding of what is really going on after only spending one day on Earth.

  • Thanks4AllTheFish

    Thank you for your comment.