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Okay, I’ll ‘fess up right now, the title borders on trolling, however there is a point to it right now. If you got your nose too out of joint before reading further, the eleventy-one should have been a big tip-off that it was tongue in cheek.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about whether or not atheists are oppressed and, while researching the question, I realized a great deal of what we categorize as oppression today centers around group identity. I spent a fair amount of time reading Cressida Heyes’ article on the subject on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website. It’s an interesting article and I highly recommend it.

When I read the statement, “Oppression… is the systematic limiting of opportunity”, I decided to do a bit more research to see if there was much information on the matter of discrimination against atheists. I tried searching using the terms “fired from job for being an atheist.” This led me to a post on Reddit, written by someone from Toronto. The writer worked as a waitress. A customer asked what church she went to and she answered that she didn’t go to church. When asked why, she said that she didn’t believe in God. Shortly afterward, she was fired.

That left a lasting impact on me. For many years I hid the fact I was atheist, not knowing exactly how people would react. It took me till my early 40’s until I was more comfortable admitting my views. It was a shame I let people effect me that way all those years.

What bothers me most is that now, when I get into discussions with theists, they don’t believe my story. They’re in denial about the discrimination atheists face. Does anyone else have a similar story of being fired or being discriminated against?

I continued reading the thread and in it was a link to an article in Scientific American, “In Atheists We Distrust,” that I’ve read before and I’ve seen quoted widely.

Atheists are one of the most disliked groups in America. Only 45 percent of Americans say they would vote for a qualified atheist presidential candidate, and atheists are rated as the least desirable group for a potential son-in-law or daughter-in-law to belong to. Will Gervais at the University of British Columbia recently published a set of studies looking at why atheists are so disliked. His conclusion: It comes down to trust.

Gervais and his colleagues presented participants with a story about a person who accidentally hits a parked car and then fails to leave behind valid insurance information for the other driver. Participants were asked to choose the probability that the person in question was a Christian, a Muslim, a rapist, or an atheist. They thought it equally probable the culprit was an atheist or a rapist, and unlikely the person was a Muslim or Christian.

Having seen this study referenced again and again, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and read the actual study by Gervai, Shariff and Norenzayan, “Do You Believe in Atheists.

Since this article was published, I’ve seen this statement many times, “Americans trust atheists less than rapists,” in comment threads. Although mainstream news sources reporting on this study have been slightly less distorted, the impression is definitely left that it was about the extent of discrimination against atheists in the U.S. population. In fact, the study was intended to not to survey the extent but to explore the psychology of anti-atheist prejudice. According to the authors:

Although prejudice has been a central topic of social psychology for decades, most of this research has been along racial, ethnic, and gender lines. Despite its prevalence and peculiarity, little is known about the social psychology of anti-atheist prejudice. The present article offers the first known systematic exploration of the social psychological processes underlying anti-atheist prejudice and contributes to the scientific understanding of both the psychology of prejudices and the cultural evolutionary landscape of religion.

It’s a shame that this study has been reduced to a click-bait headline because we can use exactly this sort of information. Regarding my own troll-like title, the study had six parts, five of which were done in Canada. In fact, the least interesting part of the study, which is significantly different from the others, is the first part, which was done in the U.S. So, technically, it’s Canadians that trust atheists less than rapists. 😉 Okay, maybe it’s a handful of Canadians.

Another thing that’s inaccurate in the Scientific American report is that the participants were not asked to choose if a person was a Muslim, Christian or Atheist. It utilized a concept known as “conjunction fallacy.” Since the probability that two things are true is less likely than that one thing is true, it is always less likely that the person under consideration is two things rather than one thing. In the study under discussion, they described to the participants someone who commits a variety of selfish and illegal acts. Then they asked if they thought

it more probable that the man was a teacher or a teacher and (a) a Christian, (b) a Muslim, (c) a rapist, and (d) an atheist.

What this demonstrates is a “representative heuristic.” Let’s remember that the researchers are not trying to find out the extent of anti-atheist prejudice but what might lie behind it. They note:

To understand a given form of prejudice, researchers must first understand the threat that the target of prejudice is seen to pose. Only then can they formulate precise hypotheses about the possible reactions that characterize any specific prejudice.

They go on to note that the evolutionary psychologists have been puzzled by large-scale cooperation in human societies. Gervais, et al. cite Frans L. Roes and Michel Raymond. In their paper, “Belief in Moralizing Gods,” they state:

Moral rules imposed by humans invite the suspicion that some members of the group will profit more from these rules than others, but such concerns are alleviated if the rules are convincingly portrayed as having been imposed by impartial gods without material or reproductive interests. If obedience to a certain religious moral rule indeed serves the interests of certain people, they may be expected to deny selfishness and to maintain that the rule reflects the will of the moralizing god. Finally, gods are often considered immortal, so their rules may last for many generations. We therefore suggest that an effective way to impose moral rules on society members is to have these rules prescribed by gods. Belief in these gods signals acceptance of the rules and, for the reasons stated above, we expect more support for the rules (and thus more belief in moralizing gods) in larger societies.

Roes and Raymond did indeed find a “modest but highly significant” correlation between the size of a society and the belief in supernatural beings that can enforce morality.

The particular hypothesis Gervais, et al. set out to test is whether or not anti-atheist prejudice is based on distrust. The use of “rapist”, besides making great click bait, was intended as an example of someone who would not be trusted. They establish that distrust is a feature of anti-atheist prejudice.

There are very few studies about atheists. It’s even difficult to make seemingly simple statements about how many of us there are and what our demographics might be. If we want to combat anti-atheist prejudice, it would behoove us to take a look at the few studies we have a note what they actually say. To this end it would be worth taking a look at some of the conclusions of this article.

Different prejudices have different characteristics. Anti-gay prejudice is often characterized by feelings of disgust. In contrast, anti-atheist prejudice is characterized by feelings of distrust. It appears to have little to nothing to do with unpleasantness. Someone might like an atheist but not trust him or her. (So don’t bother about being a “nice” atheist, maybe?) People who are religiously unaffiliated also distrust atheists. However, people who reported a stronger belief in a god or gods are more likely to distrust atheists.

Supporting another key prediction derived from our framework, belief in God proved to be a potent predictor of atheist distrust (Studies 1, 3–6). Importantly, this relationship was fully mediated by the belief that people behave better if they feel that God monitors their behavior (Study 4).

The authors note that they chose a framework that would enable them to make generalizations about anti-atheist prejudice around the world, not simply in North America. Because strongly religious people were more distrustful of atheists, the researches expect that more religious regions will have more anti-atheist prejudice. They also note the context-sensitivity of anti-atheist prejudice. People who are in a mating market they perceive as competitive report increased religious belief.

The authors further note that religion helps to explain cooperative human behavior in the absence of large-scale institutions. Furthermore, “societal-level existential security (as guaranteed by many modern social institutions) is a persistent predictor of reduced religious belief.” That government institutions guaranteeing some security reduce anti-atheist prejudice is a possibility that our libertarian and anarchist friends might like to mull over.

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When that human being is a pregnant woman in a country with laws to protect the fetus.

I got so upset reading this (ht jaunte) I’m going to add very little and maybe take a hiatus from the internet for the rest of the day. It reminds me of one question I’ve always had for people who dislike abortions but make exceptions for rape. Who determines if it was rape and will that determination be made in a timely manner? Rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute. I do believe that a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and that means that occasional people who have committed crimes are let go. Generally, the society thinks acquitting the occasional criminal is far better than imprisoning the innocent. However, deciding if a woman should be permitted an abortion is not a criminal trial. What are the standards? The second time I got pregnant, it was technically a rape because I didn’t consent. I was asleep. However, it would have been impossible to prosecute. As it happens, I didn’t even call the police. It was in the context of a relationship that had gone sour and the situation was very complicated. Even in retrospect, I don’t believe that I should have gone to the police, nor do I think the man should have been prosecuted for rape. I don’t think he posed a threat to other women and a few years later he apologized, after the relationship was over, for some of the thing he had done to me. However, I was able to get an abortion and get out of an abusive relationship because we have laws that allow “abortion on demand” in the early stages of pregnancy. Had that not been the case, would I have had to go to the police and accuse my live-in boyfriend of rape, with consequences for his life that certainly would have been greater than I believe he deserved. He came to regret what he had done, he understood it was wrong, he lost a woman he wanted to marry and I have no reason to think he ever did it again. That is a just and reasonable outcome in my mind. Would exceptions for rape include situations like mine, ones that would be hard, if not impossible, to prosecute under criminal laws?

At the risk of getting other feminists mad, I have to say that I don’t believe all rapes are the same. In the case of the woman in Ireland who is being force-fed after going on a hunger strike because she was denied an abortion, the rape is described as “traumatic.”

Shame on the Irish Independent for the way it was reported there. No mention of the rape. No mention of the rape. No mention that “preventing her from starving herself” was force feeding. No mention that she was an immigrant with limited English. No mention that she couldn’t leave the country due to her immigration status. I’m so upset, I don’t even think I can continue to look for more information. Normally, I make an attempt to at least get my facts straight before writing.

Does anyone understand the pain this woman must have been in? Does anyone care? Is she just a piece of meat for men to do with what they want? A piece of meat who mistakenly thinks of herself as a human being? Does anyone understand that this woman is in a living nightmare?

Oh, yeah, are they going to starve the child to death and throw its body in a former septic tank?

I don’t reblog often, but over lunch I was doing a little bit of blog reading and I came across the phrase “militant atheist” twice in about twenty minutes and I thought it might be worth highlighting a post I first read a few weeks ago.

I have to confess that the phrase “militant atheist” has never jumped out at me. Perhaps, because as someone who rarely tries to convince anyone to give up his or her belief, I don’t quite fall into that category. Perhaps it is because when I was younger I was frequently called a militant feminist. Perhaps it is because the word militant in French means something much milder than it does in English. My first language is English, but atheist activism, aka “New Atheism”, didn’t come into its own until I’d been called a “militante” of several different political currents.

Whatever the reason, “militant atheist” never caused me to raise an eyebrow. However, Irish Atheist has a very different, and I think important, view of the word.

Words are complicated things. If I look at blogs tagged with “atheism”, I can usually tell the orientation of the writer by the end of the second or third sentence, not by the content, but by the choice of words. Any propagandist will tell you that words matter. Our choice of words reveals things about ourselves that we don’t even always intend.

Irish Atheist’s post reminded me of why I grew up in a pluralistic environment. I have mentioned that both my parents were atheists. What I may not have mentioned is that my mother came from a Catholic family and my father came from a Protestant family. Except for the fact that his parents didn’t write him out of their wills, my father’s family essentially disowned him. For this reason, I barely knew my paternal grandparents, uncles or cousins. It was especially ridiculous since no one was particularly religious. It was just stupid tribalism. For me, however, it had a positive result, I grew up in an environment where individuals were not defined by their ethnicity or religion. My classmates came from families belonging to a wide variety of sects, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, other branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Reformed Church (my father’s family), Presbyterian, Congregationalist, United Church of Christ, Methodist, Baptist, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Radical Reform Judaism, Buddhists, Taoists, and, of course, none of the above. In fact, many of my friends had roots in multiple ethnicities. If the future is pluralist, then I’ve seen the future and the future is good. There was little conflict on ethnic or religious grounds. I would like to say there was none, but I recall an incident when a swastika was painted on the Reformed Temple, so I can’t honestly say that.

We must never forget the bloody history of the Wars of Religion in Europe which gave rise to modern notions of secularism. Some people seem to confuse secularism with atheism or non-belief. In fact, secularism is the concept that allows people of different religions to live side by side without killing one another. For this reason, I am more interested in promoting secularism than in promoting atheism. My town of my childhood was highly secular, but many people there were quite religious. I probably should have written a post about this when the holidays were still upon us.

The Irish Atheist obviously grew up in an environment almost the exact opposite of my own. (I didn’t use the WordPress reblogging tool because I had more to say than I could write in the little box they provide, but I encourage people to go over to this post.)

The ‘M’ Word: The importance of using the exact right word

I’ve been called a lot of names over the years. Some are more inventive than others.

My personal favourite is “Gypo whore.” Racism, misogyny, and lies all packed into two syllables. Another one is ‘moss-wipe’. Don’t ask.

I think most atheists have had the same experience on one level or another. The name-calling comes mainly from Christians and Muslims and other religious groups who regard atheists as a dangerous faction of anti-morality activists. Devil-worshipper, amoral, Satanist, the list goes on. And I’ll establish right here that many atheists are just as guilty. Let’s not shy away from it. Go on Twitter and see how many atheists there are calling Christians retarded, delusional, idiotic or brain-dead.

read more…

The other day, Greta Christina, over on her blog, asked for atheists’ “coming out” stories. “Coming out” is, I assume, terminology borrowed from the old Gay Liberation movement and refers to coming out of the closet. Of course, this presumes that there was a closet in the first place. Although my parents never discussed their lack of belief, I was vaguely aware that they didn’t follow a religion. My mother likes to laugh about the time when I was three or four and I asked her if we were “Hanukkah or Christmas.” If we had lived in a village, my grandfather, grumpy and cantankerous, would probably have been the village atheist.

However, Greta Christina says she’s looking for not only the dramatic coming-out-to-the-folks story, but stories about coming out to fellow students and others. I do have one of those.

I was the new kid in school. In my previous school I was being bullied and it had turned physical. Bullying was not the cause it is today. Not only did the school administrators do nothing about it, but during a conference with my parents the principal looked at me and directly asked what I was doing to bring it on. To this day, I don’t know. I think the girl was looking for a convenient target and I happened to fit the bill. In any case, this reaction on the part of the school alarmed my parents. Now that I’m an adult, I think they made the right decision. They pulled me out of school. As it happened, both my parents worked in public schools in different towns. My father worked in a large city with a big bureaucracy, but my mother worked in a small town. She talked to the relevant people and a day or two later I found myself listening to the song “Tell Me Why You Don’t Like Mondays” as we drove to the high school. She dropped me off before heading to the middle school where she worked and I sat on the lawn in front of the school for about an hour or so every morning waiting for school to start.

There were some demographic differences between the town where my former school was located and the new one. There was a distinct class difference. In terms of money, the difference was not huge, but the parents in my first town mostly had college degrees while in the second town most of the parents had learned trades. It was a prosperous blue-collar town of union members with steady jobs. In retrospect, it was a world that seems almost anachronistic today. Where the students in the first town were ethnically and religiously diverse, the new town was split almost evenly between people of Irish descent and those of Italian descent. They had one thing in common, however, the town was solidly, although not exclusively, Catholic. However, it was Catholic enough that, the first week there, someone helpfully pointed out to me in the lunch room the one Jewish student and attempted to identify the handful of Protestants. There was no hostility in this that I could detect. The Jewish girl was head of the cheerleading squad and one of the most popular girls by far. My guide seemed to think it was something of a novelty. Coming from a town that was about a third Jewish, this seemed frankly weird, but I don’t recall that I said anything.

Around this time, I had a minor injury which kept me out of gym class for an extended time. The gym teacher thought it was silly for me to sit on the sidelines watching the other kids several times a week, so it was arranged that I would go to the library where I would help the librarian shelve books. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and this was generally a pleasant time for me. I would try to make myself useful, but there wasn’t always much to do. After putting away the cart full of books, I would take a novel and sit at one of the big library tables. One day, while I was reading, if my memory serves me well, Jane Eyre, several senior boys walked in. Although it was a small school, as a freshman I had never talked to any of them, but I recognized them because they were tall, handsome, buff and popular. They sat down at my table and started chatting with the confidence that popular students have that their presence is welcome, smiling as if we’d been friends for ages. They asked my name and what I was reading. They pretended to be fascinated by the romantic problems of Jane and Mr. Rochester with a seriousness that could only mean that they were flirting. They asked where I had gone to school before. They asked if I was Irish or Italian.

This shook me up a bit because I had been brought up to believe that there were certain questions that should never be asked and they were about occupation, ethnicity and religion. I can’t say I was offended, but I was taken aback, but the boys continued to be friendly and flirtatious as I answered, “Neither,” and gave a list of eight if they really wanted to know. They didn’t seem to care.

Then they asked, “What is your religion.” I said I was an atheist.

One of them said, “What’s that?” Another asked if I worshiped Satan with less apparent interest than he had shown in the plot of Jane Eyre.

I said, “No, that would be Satanists.”

So what did I worship, he wanted to know. Nothing, was my answer.

“Do you have a nickname?”

No, I regretted to tell them, I did not.

“You should have a nickname,” they all agreed with confidence. They mulled it over a bit. I was wearing a dark purple pullover. One of them decided that I looked like an eggplant. This seemed to tickle their collective funny bone and it was quickly decided that my nickname would be “Eggplant.”

The bell rang and the boys got up to go. One of them punched me on the shoulder and said, “See you around, Eggplant.”

This story could be entitled “How I got the world’s stupidest nickname.” Unless, of course, there’s someone called Artichoke.

Of course, this is a terrible story because, as we know, a good story contains drama and conflict. In a way, it’s packed with assumptions about ethnicity, identity, class and religion, but in the end it’s all rather anti-climatic, and that’s a good thing in real life if not in stories. Yet I think it’s a good story to tell because there is no need for these things to create conflict. We live in a pluralistic world that’s becoming more pluralistic by the day. I think the boring stories need to be told, too, because they’re part of a bigger picture.

A young man holding a piece of paper which reads: I am proud to be an atheis.

From Maryam Nazmazie:

Since 22 year old Imad Iddine Habib founded the Council of Ex-Muslims of Morocco (the first public atheist organisation in a country with Islam as the state religion), he has received numerous threats.

Morocco’s High Council of Ulemas (the highest government religious institution headed by the King) issued a fatwa decreeing the death penalty for Moroccans who leave Islam. Currently, under Morocco’s penal code, those who “impede or prevent worship” face imprisonment and fines.

The threats continue to escalate. Recently, Imad’s father has been interrogated by the secret service. He was told to tell Imad to stop his activities and that this would be the “last warning before they react”. Imad’s registered address has also been raided by security forces.

There is also a page in support of Imad at the website of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain where you can add your name in support. There will be a day of solidarity with Imad on May 15th.

As I announced about a week or so ago, I’ve been doing some reading and research in hopes of writing something not entirely incoherent about the subject of free speech as it relates to the internet. So I decided to start by reading some background on the freedom of speech and I started with the books I already have lying around. (It’s nice being a blogger rather than an academic.)

A squirrel sitting on a stump in a Rhoddodendron bush.

Without God, how does this Sciurus carolinensis know that it’s a squirrel?

It’s often crossed my mind that the effect of the Reformation and the wars of religion on the Enlightenment is often underestimated. That a philosophical project to ground society’s institutions on something unrelated to religion should follow on the heels of a century of devastating wars caused by doctrinal differences hints to me at a close connection between the two.

So, when I came across a book a couple of months ago entitled The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society, I bought it on impulse. The writer, Brad S. Gregory, it turns out, is motivated by more than simple intellectual curiosity. He is prodded to write by a disgust for the modern world. The object of his disgust appears to be the word “whatever.” This word, according to him, is brought forth from people’s lips by a condition known as “advanced secularization.” The book is enjoyable to read as long as he remains in the past, but when he tries to deal with the present one gets the painful image of a man trapped in a nightmarish hall of mirrors screaming to get out. Is our modern world really that bad? And even more bizarrely, is it really that bad because of our insistence on respecting human rights?

What horrific things are happening in the modern world? Is it a woman, miscarrying, screaming in pain for hours, perhaps days, because a Catholic hospital won’t administer certain treatments? (I’m actually thinking about a friend of mine, not Savita Halappanavar.) Is it a transperson being beaten up because someone thinks he or she is unnatural? (I’ve encountered this in my own life as well.) No, it’s opposing those things without being able to explain why you oppose them in a manner satisfactory to Brad S. Gregory.

The creation of modern, liberal states as the institutional guarantors of individual rights might have avoided the subjectivization of morality if modern moral philosophy had succeeded in its principal objective: to discover or create a convincing secular foundation for ethics and thus for a a shared moral community independent of inherited Christian or other religious beliefs. But that did not happen, whether with respect to the good, human priorities, or right and wrong.

And if one of the warring Christian sects had succeeded in establishing, to the satisfaction of everyone in sixteenth or seventeenth century Europe, the truth of their religious tenets, there would have been no need for modern moral philosophy in the first place. Modern moral philosophy exists because Christianity failed. Furthermore, even if modern moral philosophy has failed, it doesn’t follow that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water and flew up to the sky.

Regarding Jonathan Israel’s claim that the naturalism of some Enlightenment thinkers “secured a foundation for modern, liberal human rights, Gregory says,

The antireligious, metaphysical naturalism of radical Enlightenment thinkers neither did nor could do anything of he sort that Israel alleges given what empirical investigation by the natural sciences has disclosed since the eighteenth century. Assertions such as Israel’s ignore the lack of any connection whatsoever between normative moral claims, whatever they are, and the empirical investigation of natural regularities based on the assumptions of the natural sciences. As Christian Smith rightly puts it, “Matter and energy are not a moral source. They just exist and do what they do.” that includes the matter and energy that happen to be doing what they are doing, regardless of what they are doing in bodies of members of the species Homo sapiens that happen to exist today. If we restrict ourselves to the findings of the natural sciences, then feeding the poor, buying one’s fifth Lamborghini, and selling girls into sexual slavery are morally equivalent. By design and necessarily, the natural sciences per se are definitionally amoral and disclose no values, whether secular or religious – they are nihilistic in the etymological sense. Their practitioners discover no “dignity” or “goodness,” just as they discover no rights to “equality” or “liberty” or “autonomy” or anything else. Nor does anyone else who understands the demands of knowledge as dictated in the academy by the metaphysical naturalism and epistemological empiricism of the natural sciences. In their modern, secular forms in the Western world, all such rights are derived and adapted from Christianity and Judaism, religions in which it makes sense to say that rights are real because it is believed that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.

Another nice thing about being a blogger is that I don’t have to write in an academic style. 🙂

The basic thrust of Gregory’s argument is that, despite denials to the contrary, modern morality is derived from Christianity because there is no place else it could have come from. If contemporary non-believers don’t sell girls into sexual slavery, it’s because we have Christians in our collective past. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was living with a boyfriend whose parents were atheists of Chinese descent. I would have never been able to sleep at night. I guess I should presume no one offered him the right price. Lucky me.

A page later, after a delerious paragraph in which Gregory bizarrely asserts that without any god we have “no basis for regarding individual members of the species Homo sapiens as persons,” Gregory continues:

Nietzsche rightly saw that the belief in natural rights that sustained modern rationalist ethics was dependent on Christianity (and on the Judaism he likewise hated); hence atheism entailed nihilism, which cleared the way for Dionysian instinct. To which in recent decades especially, many Westerners have in effect added the expansive coda – “or whatever” – that has become increasingly apparent in the prevailing ethos.

I’m used to this sort of histrionic hand-wringing, in which the writer appears to believe that we live in the worst of all possible worlds, from people who appear to have little sense of history. To hear this from an actual historian is a surprise. Gregory, who is so bothered by the ethos of whatever, is perfectly aware of the corrupt behavior of Christians in the years preceding the Reformation. Does he really believe that none of these king and princes, after public displays of piety, didn’t quietly roll their eyes and think to themselves, “Whatever.”

There are days when I think that we atheists perform an invaluable function for believers. If ever they succeeded in fully suppressing us, they’d turn on each other.

Gregory could have written a much better book had he stuck to the field in which he was trained. Instead, he wrote an incoherent mess in which he tries to take on everyone from Kwame Anthony Appiah to Ray Kurzweil, with swipes at Sam Harris, Pat Benatar, and some guy on a dating site called evileddie in between. When you find yourself arguing with evileddie, it’s time to take a break – which I’ll do now.

A church in Paris with a Greek temple front.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 Him.”

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.”