1. Inappropriate gifts
It’s a holiday when gifts are presented or a birthday, and you get books extolling the religion you’ve rejected. Or you get religious paraphernalia. The prayer mat you can use to line the cat bed; the statue of the Virgin Mary you can claim is really Madonna on her “Virgin” tour; the Buddhist incense can be used to hide the smell of pot when your mom comes to visit, and the Hindu lingam can be, well, a lingam….. if you need one.
2. Marriage proposals
Your family has given up using religious logic and the fear of hell to get you back, so they try sex. Isn’t Judy sexy? And she and all her cleavage is Russian Orthodox too…. Hasan is such a good looking guy, from a rich family, and so pious…. and just look at that bulge in his pants. Rika is so elegant, such nice legs, so lovely in a kimono, and such a good Buddhist. And of course, don’t forget Amitabh who is from the right caste, has a good IT job, prospects for an American visa, and all he (and his parents) want is a good Hindu girl… It’s around that time that you mention you are intending a life of celibacy, at least as far as your family is concerned. You might also try telling them that you’re dating a cucumber, and they just wouldn’t understand….
3. The “look”
It’s great to have iPhones now, so you can capture these moments for posterity. It’s “the look” you get when people find out that you’re an atheist. For some people, it’s the open mouthed gulping guppy fish look, as you image them saying “but, but, but….” For others, it’s the “I just smelled something vile” look, and you just hope that they do indeed barf on their suit. Some others give you the “I will ignore this” look, but then when you offer to shake their hand they hesitate in case whatever you have may be contagious, and forget about sharing any common food bowl with these guys, as they will suddenly have no appetite or be allergic to something. But my all-time favorite is the smile and the response “that’s nice” – because they have no idea what an atheist is.
4. Hell, but nicely
Yes, they are your friends and family; many have known you all your life. But they want to kindly remind you that you’re going to hell, but in a nice way. “I am really going to miss you, Jenny, while I am playing harps in heaven and you’re burning eternally in hell.” “We can still be together in the next life, where I will be a Brahmin and you will be a dung beetle.” “When I am lounging beside the river of wine, I will be thinking of you in hell.” The odd thing is that they are always smiling when they tell you this, like it’s supposed to be helpful advice, the same as “tie your shoes or you may trip.” Alternatively, they might like the idea of viewing the torments of hell, which may indeed be an anticipated perk of their imagined “heaven” – the torment of the damned must be better entertainment than zombies on TV, right?
5. You’re sick/have accident/lost the job because….
After you’ve come out as an atheist, ANYTHING, and I mean absolutely anything, that goes wrong in your life, will be blamed on your lack of religion. Didn’t win the lottery? Because you rejected God(s)! Parking ticket? God’s revenge. Farted in the Jacuzzi? Gas from Ganesha (elephant farts rock). Lost your boyfriend? YHWH hardened their heart towards you (he got a lot of practice doing that with some Pharaoh, who was so important that the Hebrews didn’t bother to learn his actual name). And so on and so forth. Everything. I am sure on your deathbed, they will be saying “he could have lived another 2 years if it wasn’t for the atheism.”
6. No more family
Being ostracized from the family can be a blessing, depending on what your family is like. But most people prefer to keep theirs (family is very useful when you need to post bail, for example). But some or all may just decide that your DNA is actually different, and you are no longer “family” due to your lack of obsequious devotion to some god or another. Question: “Is that your sister?” Answer: “That was my sister, now it’s just someone with similar DNA and a questionable taste in clothing.” Also, it’s a conversation piece when there are two empty chairs at the Satyr dinner.
7. Truth or silence? (when someone talks about atheists, not knowing you are one)
So, you’re at a party, or a high school reunion, or a business dinner, and someone starts slamming atheists and blaming them for global warming, teen suicides, pimples, ingrown nostril hair, and smelly feet 1. What do you do? Jump into the fire? Keep quiet? Laugh quietly? Ask questions that you think exposes their idiocy but which they think supports their case? What do I do? I fart silently. Works every time.
8. Questions, about everything
Atheists are not alone in this. People always have a natural curiosity about the unknown, and for many people atheists are about as well known as the Loch Ness monster, the deep sea octopus “dumbo,” good tasting TV dinners, and realistic toupees. Questions like “aren’t you afraid of hell?” “Who do you pray to?” “What do you do for Christmas/Eid al-Fitr/Dewali?” “Are you possessed?” “Do you worship Satan?” “Why do you hate god?” “Does this mean you don’t do the “missionary” position? 2” “Are you on medication for the atheism?”
9. Dismissal from the tribe
Sometimes its dismissal, as in “you can’t be a good Italian if you’re not Catholic.” Other times, it’s the opposite sort of trying to “twist the knife in your back/belly”, as in “even if you’re an atheist, you’ll always be a Rajput/Navaho/Japanese.” But, of course, unless you’re in the right religion, it’s all futile, and you are a traitor. You are betraying your ethnicity, your tribe, your nation, your “race” (for those misguided people who think there are different races of humans – I wish they would try to breed with chimps to see what a different race is really like). You are causing orphans to be, well, orphaned; poor people to starve; Americans to bomb your community; locusts to eat your community’s crops; etc. You are letting the team down, you are not a true Irishman, Russian, Thai, Malay, or Bohemian – wait, most of those are already atheist….3 Ignore it all, as you’re a human and that is responsibility enough, and if you feel the need for some ethnic trapping I suggest being a clown, as they are funny, wear big shoes and get to wear wigs and heavy make-up. Red noses are optional.
10. The one to go to
As an atheist you become the certified “black sheep” of the family, the evil one, the family member who is spoken of in hushed terms after making the sign to ward off the evil eye. But you also become the one to go to, to talk to, for everyone with a secret confession. The Uncle who committed war crimes, and who wants to know if he was wrong. The niece who got pregnant and had an abortion and never told her mom. The brother who really wants to date men. The cousin who maxes out his credit card on African Midget Princess porn sites. The daughter who secretly eats ham when Mom is not around, and so on. Everyone who considers themselves to be a “sinner” sees in you a kindred soul, and no matter what they are doing, it’s nowhere nearly as bad as what you’re doing.
11. Oh, you want to come do you?
Holidays are for family and communities. No matter what holiday (except one, which I find particularly odious 4), it’s always nice to be involved. For many people raised in religious homes, the holidays are special times to be with friends and family, and be surrounded with familiar things, special meals and foods, and events or activities that are linked to the tradition (although how an Easter egg hunt is related to the resurrection of Jesus, I’ve never figured out). But since you’re now an “atheist” (be sure you’re saying that with loads of bile and venom) you are now not supposed to be interested in the religious holidays. So either you’re not included, or people go out of their way to question why you’re there. “I’m here for the free food and drinks” is usually a pretty good reason.
12. Which box to tick?
In many countries, and in many situations, atheists get asked to designate their religion on some form or another. In some countries, it’s actually illegal to be an atheist, and in others only some sanctioned religions are recognized. I remember some college applications back in the late 70s that wanted to know your religion, and many times there was never a “none” or “atheist”, just “other.” Never risk your life or safety to make a “stand” on this issue. It’s not worth it, unless there happens to be about a million of you together, all at the same place doing the same thing. Martyrs are never remembered for very long, or by many people. Be safe, lie if you have to, and just tick the box that will benefit you the most. After all, it’s not like you’re going to hell for lying, is it?
1. I had this happen once, but not about atheism. I was at a business conference, and we were in the cocktail session and I was part of a circle where a Belgian Diplomat was talking about Europeans living in Asia. He asked me if I was married before I came to Hong Kong (where I was living at the time) and I said that I was. He then went on to criticize Westerners who came to Asia and went “native” and married Asians and diluted their uniqueness, world conquering abilities, etc., etc. You get the idea. I didn’t say anything, as I was a junior member of the conversation, but I was trying to formulate a cutting response, despite the agreement his comments were receiving from the others, when my wife walked up and asked me when dinner would start. She is Thai. The look on everyone’s faces was awesome, and I am sure I smiled like a Cheshire Cat high on catnip. We had gotten married before we moved to Hong Kong, as we’d lived in Thailand and Indonesia before moving there.
2. I always wondered where that phrase came from, but it most likely arose from popular culture in the 1960s as that was the first time it appeared in English language dictionaries.
3. http://www.salon.com/2012/08/29/eight_of_the_best_countries_to_be_an_ath... And yes, I am an ethnic Bohemian. This name ain’t Dutch, although it used to be spelled Von Dracek, but then they think you’re German, so you can’t win.
4. http://www.atheistrepublic.com/blog/deandrasek/worst-religious-holiday The holiday that celebrates the murder of innocent people, perpetrated by god, of course.