The other day at lunch, my mother was sitting with several other women with whom she works. My mother asked if anyone would be going to a musical concert that was being held at a nearby church. Although it was taking place in the church, it was not an explicitly religious event.
“Do you belong to that church?” one woman, known by my mother to be religious, asked.
“No,” my mother answered simply, hoping that a short answer would discourage further questions.
“What church do you belong to?” the woman persisted.
My mother said, a little bit concerned because she knew where this was going, “None.”
“Well, what religion are you?”
“No religion.” At this point my mother paused in her story explained why she didn’t just say that she was an atheist. If you haven’t had the experience of watching a roomful of people tighten their lips and exchange significantly glances, you might not understand why. I find myself also responding evasively sometimes, saying “I’m not religious.”
Another woman at the table, whom my mother described as a zealot, said, “That’s okay. It’s really about relationships.”
“Relationships?” my mother asked. “With whom.”
With that my mother decided to put an end to the conversation that was getting more and more uncomfortable. She said, “You don’t understand. I’m an atheist.”
My mother reported that jaws fell open and eyes bugged out and there was an uncomfortable silence until my mother said, “Excuse me. I need to get back to work.”
Later at home she told me, “I don’t think they’ll be inviting me to eat lunch with them again.”