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July 2003

July 17

Dear Kimmy:

I've just met a new guy, and I think he's wonderful. He's smart, handsome, funny and we like all the same movies. Best of all, he's gainfully employed and a mature adult, unlike my last boyfriend. But I don't want to go into that.

My question is, Mr. Wonderful doesn't know I'm an atheist. It's not like I've been hiding it. The question just hasn't come up. Partly because of that, and partly for other reasons, I don't think he's too heavily into religion. But I'm still a little afraid to tell him. What if he flips out? I'd hate to lose a great guy over something as dumb as religious differences. Should I just try to avoid the conversation or what?

Begging for help,

The Conversation Dodger

Dear Dodger:

This is always an awkward stage in any relationship. You don't know everything about each other yet, and there's a lot to discover. Some of it's good, and some not so great. I've been there. But this, as with any other delicate subject, will have to be handled eventually. Sooner or later he's going to invite you over for Christmas with his folks, or maybe even ask you to church on Easter Sunday. Better not to shock him at the last minute.

This doesn't mean you should call him on the phone immediately and say, "I'm an atheist, sweetie, deal with it!" If you're as nervous as you sound in your letter, you could start slowly by asking him about his childhood. He might mention where he went to church, if any. If he doesn't, you can when your sharing turn comes. Then you can talk about your deconversion (unless you were one of the luckies to be born into an atheistic family). Another good conversational gambit is: "I saw this really great site on the web today. It talks about what life is like for atheists, and a couple of the essays really spoke to me." If you've got any kind of an atheist library, you could tell him about one of the books you just finished reading (or re-reading).

Any one of those approaches could be helpful for broaching the topic in an easy manner. Just remember: if this guy thinks you're half as great as you think he is, then he'll probably respect you for your honesty. And if he really is half as great as you think he is, he wouldn't hold your religious nonbeliefs against you. If he does, he's probably not really that great and you don't want to spend your whole life hiding who you really are to please some guy. Remember, though, for the churched it can be startling to find out you're involved with an atheist. If he needs a little time to get used to the idea (or if he needs someone to explain to him what it means), let him have his space. Chances are he'll adjust and you can be on your way.

July 23

Dear Kimmy:

I've never been through this before. I'm an atheist and always have been. My Dad died a few days ago. He was religious, but he never put me down for not sharing his beliefs. He always told me how proud he was of me and the rest of my siblings. I've never had a bad experience with religion. I respect it, but it's just not for me. When I was younger, I used to enjoy going to church services with my grandmother. I just wanted to be near her. And with her being a Baptist, the choirs were always quite good. Religion can be a beautiful thing. But alas, not for me.

But, a lot of people are telling me that "he's in a better place" or "he's with his mother or grandmother (hell you name the dead relative) now." I know he's not suffering, but this is pain like I've never felt before. I loved my Dad so much, and enjoyed him so much. And I just don't know when I'll be able to stop crying. I'm in my mid 30s, and I just think I should have more control over myself right now.

I'm glad to see you're more positive than some of the other atheists' sites I've seen. It's like all those people were molested by priests when they were 5 or something and decided to be jerks the rest of their lives.

I'm rambling. Do you know any support services in Southern Calif. for folks like us who are grieving? I have only one parent left now, it would be nice to be prepared when it happens again. Thanks.

Grieving in Cali

Dear Grieving:

First, I'm very sorry for your loss. I haven't lost any parents, only my grandfather (as I talk about in my Grief and Loss essay, which might interest you), but I can imagine what you must be going through. It is indeed especially difficult for atheists to deal with loss, since we don't have the sweet myths of religion to fall back on. The best advice I can personally give you is to remember your father and how much you loved him. It is certain that other people loved him as well, and that he had a positive impact on who knows how many other lives. In that sense, he is still with you.

As far as support for atheists, the best thing would be (I think) to make contact with other atheists in your area. They will understand what you are going through and will give you a healthy support system to rely upon in the future. I'm not sure exactly where you are, but I've done a web search and come up with a few contact lists for California. There is Atheists United, The Atheist Coalition of Los Alamitos and numerous other groups listed on the Freethought Directory. If none of those are comfortably close, I did a search on Google that you could refine with your exact location. I hope that this is of some help to you.

Again, I'm very sorry for your loss. It takes time for pain like this to heal, but know that it will not be this awful forever. Much luck to you.

June 24

Dear Kimmy:

Hope I'm using the correct Email...could you help me to write or find a speech/toast for my friend's wedding reception...I'm the best man and it's a Catholic wedding...I'm going to be kinda uncomfortable as it is, and I have NO idea what to say...

...Hope you can help.


Friend of the Groom

Dear Friend:

This one actually has a fairly simple solution. First, ignore the Catholic parts. *grin* That's what I always do when attending the wedding (or funeral or whatever) of a religious friend. The important thing on this particular occasion is the happiness that your friend is looking for, and the method in which he announces it is a side-line. You don't have to pretend to pray or any of that stuff, just stand there and look vaguely solemn. Try to avoid making him laugh during a blessing, that's probably bad form. *huge grin*

As far as what you should say, just say what you feel. You're the best man, so you've probably been friends with this guy for a pretty long time, right? Or at least you've become fairly close. So when you talk, talk about your friendship with him. Talk about what a great guy he is, and throw in a few words about how happy he is with his bride. That will make her feel good, too. At my wedding the best man made me promise to take good care of his buddy, and that was very touching. If you're comfortable being funny in public, you might throw in a piece of joke advice or two (such as saying he can crash on your couch if he gets himself in trouble), but only if it seems appropriate. You know the people involved and the tone that this thing will have, so base your comments on that. Say what's in your heart on this very special day for your friend and you can't go wrong. You don't have to sound like a professional speaker; no one will expect that from you. Just be his friend and show him you care about him and his happiness.


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