The In-Law Chapter

(Via Emily)

When I first met the man that would later be my husband, I sat him down and told him that if he really wanted to be with me then he needed to understand something. I am an atheist. I have thought long and hard about this and this is not something that I can change about myself. I have brown hair and hazel eyes. I was born in New Mexico. I am an atheist.

I suppose that since I was so frank with him, he thought that he could be equally frank with his family about who I am. I can see that from his perspective, that would seem like the right thing to do.

Ah, but he was wrong.

You see, people don’t like atheists. We are strange and perhaps frightening to them. I got kicked out of an apartment I was living in once because I am an atheist. I don’t really know why people don’t like us. We don’t live our lives any differently than anyone else. We get up and eat frosted mini-wheat’s and feed the dog, just like the neighbors. But they do.

It all started when I met my future brother-in-law for the fist time. This guy clearly did not like me. I was less of a conversation than an interrogation. He actually asked me what kind of gas mileage my beater Subaru gets. It all finished up with a challenge about why I do not believe in god. He clearly saw me coming. I thought I politely ended to conversation enough. We were at a family dinner, there were children present and I told him that we should end the discussion.

Ah, but I was wrong.

Flash forward about 6 months. My future brother-in-law met someone that he believed was better suited for his baby brother. Her major advantage over me was that she is Christian and goes to bible study regularly.

Ah, but big brother was wrong.

Baby brother did not take the bait and married me instead. So his family had to accept the fact that he married an atheist. At first it was confusion. My sister-in-law had told everyone that I had disrespected her family at that fist meeting. My father-in-law believed that was “going through a phase.” My mother-in-law didn’t participate in the planning of the wedding. My mother was petrified that the wedding would turn into chaos because I refused to have prayers said. My dad just opened a bottle of wine. Things died down and I thought, maybe we could all get along.

Ah, but I was wrong.

My mother-in-law started sending me e-mails with religious overtones. Pray to Jesus, Jesus pray for the troops, send and angel to a friend, friends of angels, friends of Jesus, Jesus is friends with the troops who are angels. You get the idea.

Years ago an old friend of mine from college “found Jesus” as she puts it. Eventually, she started sending me religious e-mail. I told her to stop because I just was not interested. She responded by saying that she knew I am an atheist and sent those messages because she wanted to save me from hell, and that she was praying for my soul, blah, blah, blah. Well, that was the end of that friendship. So with that story in my mind, I wrote my mother-in-law, explained to her my past experiences with these things and asked her to stop. I didn’t believe that I had been disrespectful. I hoped that I was just being honest. I am an atheist. You don’t serve steak to a vegetarian. You don’t sent prayer chains to an atheist.

Ah, but I was wrong.

I received no response to the letter. Ever. This is what I did receive. At my mother-in-law’s birthday dinner, my brother-in-law put his arm around his mother before dinner and stated that since it was Mom’s birthday that we would need to pray. All the while looking at me.

There was a news program recently that discussed faith. One of the stories was about a teenage atheist in the rural west. She played basketball for her high school team. They all said prayer before the game. She refused. And instead of just standing in the group quietly, she chose to walk away. The video of the game opening shows the team in a tight huddle praying with the young atheist standing far away to the side. In those 15 seconds that my brother-in-law said a prayer and I watched my chile rellenos get cold, I understood what that girl felt like. I understood for the first time why it hurts to be an atheist. It is lonely.

We are the outsiders in this very Christian country. We are the misunderstood. I was at a “family” dinner and it was made very clear to me that I was not “family.” When I first came out as an atheist I was not worried about it so much. My parents are atheists, my brother is an atheist, and I have friends who are atheists. If someone did not get it, I blew them off. I never imagined being in this position. That I would have a family and I would have a “family.” That I would have people who understand me and people who will never understand me.


Anonymous said...

I don't quite get the hostility toward family prayers. But then I grew up in a family that prays over dinner. Now I would just consider it a barbaric superstitious ritual and smile to myself.

Lukas Mariman said...

You have my sympathy! Luckily, in Europe (I'm Belgian) people generally are much more open-minded about this. People just don't care. I was raised as a Roman Catholic myself, but turned my back on religion years ago. I just didn't see the point of it.

It worries me whenever I read stories like this; isn't religion supposed to make the believers better people? So why are they so closed-minded and hateful?

I'm going to stop now; I feel the urge to hit something... :-)

Ian Adams said...

I've been fortunate to have not had to deal with anything like that in my own family, despite my family being "believers". My brother and his wife are sometimes snide about comments towards me, but it's not anything that really gets in the way of our relationship.

My sincerest condolences for the hassle you have to deal with.

Snarky said...

He asked you about your gas mileage??? The HORROR!!!!!