This is sort of apropos my last post, which talked about women atheist bloggers. Of course, everything at this joint is sort of apropos every post, because it’s an atheist blog, f’cryinoutloud. It’s kind of late to point this out now if you haven’t already noticed it, but there’s a theme here.
OK, so I’m reading my way around the Atheosphere late last night. There are thirty, maybe forty, blogs that I check on regularly, but I frequently try to look at one or two with which I’m not familiar. There are lots of ways to find these new-to-me sites, but my favorite method is to click on the names of previously unheard-of commenters at other blogs I like.
One of these clicks takes me to a post on a politico-legal subject of interest to me, although I’m not going to reveal the precise details. You’ll see why in a minute. I assume the female author is an atheist, both from her comments at the blog on which I found her link, and from the subject she's discussing. And I'm right. I have pretty good A-dar.
Without introducing myself, I proceed to tell her exactly why her post is wrong. Obviously, I’ve never read How to Win Friends and Influence People. As I’ve mentioned here before, tact is not my strong suit.
Today, I get an email from this woman. I recognize the first name – which is the name she goes by on her blog – and open her note. I expect something along the lines of, “You’re a fucking moron,” although maybe a bit more creative.
Instead, I have a rather pleasant thank you for visiting her site, and an explanation of why I was wrong in thinking she was wrong. And I was wrong, because she hadn’t really said everything she wanted to in her post. The reason? It’s a family site, and she’s a recent de-convert. Nobody in her family, and that means nobody, knows. She just wanted to clue me in.
Because I'm not totally insensitive, I understand the message without her having to spell it out: Please don’t refer to her as a fellow atheist. And don’t be too harsh on religionists just yet, because she's not quite ready to jump into the fray. I write back and assure her that I would never “out” anyone. I also say that I think she should pass the word around to her loved ones, not defiantly, not confrontationally, and certainly not out-of-the-blue. But if religion comes up in the conversation, I think she should state her feelings about it.
That’s easy for me to say because I’ve never de-converted; I’ve always been an atheist. But I do have a family story which relates to this. Many, many, years ago, my younger sister decided to “out” herself as a lesbian, just to me and my wife. The problem was: we already knew. Her sexual orientation had been blatantly clear for years. Over a restaurant dinner one night, my poor sister stammered across the table that she’d “like to have a talk with us.” I asked, “What about?” She shrugged. I offered help: “What, like lifestyles?” “Yeah,” she said, “lifestyles.” I looked at my wife, my wife looked at me, and we both burst out laughing. “Listen,” I told my sister, “we don’t need a long, drawn-out, pained 'true confession' from you. We both know you’re gay. We don’t care who you fuck, OK? If there’s somebody you’re seeing regularly that you want to bring around, do it. We'd love to meet her. If you have friends you want to introduce us to, feel free.” My sister’s smile was as wide as the table, and she was sitting on the long side.
So we got to talking, and my sister revealed that she’d carried that “secret” around with her for four years, dreading the day when she’d have to “reveal” herself. I urged her to tell Nanny, our stepmother (our father was dead), our stepsister, and every old friend she had. Nobody gave a shit. She’d agonized about who-knows-how-many imagined shocked reactions for four long years, and all her fears were phantoms. Only one asshole friend, out of probably two hundred people she told over the course of the next few weeks, refused to see my sister because – and get this! – her boyfriend was uncomfortable.
The anticipated conversation my sister tortured herself most about was the one with Nanny. They got together at Nanny's house for lunch. My sister steeled herself over Campbell's chicken soup, a baloney sandwich, and ginger ale. Afterwards, she made her announcement. Nanny, who truly had no idea beforehand, thought for a few seconds about what she'd been told. Then, this is how the dialogue ended. You’ll see why I can still quote it verbatim more than thirty years later:
Nanny: To me, a man and a woman is like bread and butter. A woman and a woman is like bread and ... bread.
My sister: I guess I like bread.
Nanny: I guess you do. (Pause) You want some more Jell-O?
No heartache, no weeping and gnashing of teeth, no accusations, no nothin’. “I guess you do” and a second helping of a dessert for which there’s always room.
Anyway, getting back to our recent de-convert, I returned to her “family” blog and looked over some of the stuff she’d written. She was careful in her phraseology, but the negative attitude toward religion, I felt, was loud and clear, if somewhat obscured. Still, I think, somebody, somewhere in that group of relatives, already knows she’s left the flock.
But she’s terrified that she’ll shock the ones she loves. I know that this is a common fear. But, as I wrote to her: It's amazing how many de-converts don't discuss their new worldview with their loved ones because they're trying to avoid emotional blackmail. That avoidance, though, is also a form of emotional blackmail – and you're the one blackmailing yourself.
I told Ms. D-C that I was going to write a post about our email interchange. I invited her – actually strongly encouraged her – to comment here, and share her experiences with us. I know that quite a few of my friends in the Atheosphere have gone through de-conversions themselves, and I assured her that she’d find plenty of supportive pals, all kinds of advice, and lots of understanding, not only here at No More Hornets, but at any of their blogs, as well. She wasn’t sure she’d participate, but I hope she does.
I’ll say once again: I’ve never had to go through that experience. Everyone I’ve ever known, family, friends, casual acquaintances even, has been aware of my godlessness. But I can empathize and sympathize because my sister told me horror stories about the many nights when she couldn’t sleep, when she had the cold sweats, the midnight headaches, and the early-morning panic attacks.
I don’t think it’s worth putting yourself through that.