“I Can’t Believe You’re an Atheist.”

“I can’t believe you’re an atheist.”

I imagine this is something nearly every openly godless person hears at least once. It is probably preceded by a line of questioning along the lines of “what is your religion or what are your religious views?”

In the absence of that line of questioning, I doubt many atheists tend to bring up the subject.

In my life, bringing up atheism is pretty low on my list. Conversationally, I’d probably mention that I hate mushrooms long before I tell someone I don’t believe in god – especially with an acquaintance. It just isn’t something that is all that important to me.

That said, when I’m asked, I’m not going to lie or skirt the issue.

I’m reminded of a dinner we had a couple years ago in Annapolis. One of my wife’s former co-workers was in town with her family and she graciously invited us along to spend the evening with her parents and brother. I happened to be seated next to her brother who chatted the whole evening about his experiences in seminary and his excitement about serving his god. I certainly didn’t wish to spoil the evening for anyone, especially since we were guests! So I was on guard for the inevitable question – which thankfully never came! Her brother spent the entire time talking about himself, he never bothered to ask about my religious views – so I never volunteered them.

But, this isn’t the norm. The norm is usually a conversation that invariably brings in religion/church, followed by the “what church do you attend?” Or worse, “have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior?”

Why people feel empowered to ask such personal questions is beyond me. However, when asked, I simply respond with: “I don’t believe in god.” Or if I’m in a humorous mood, I might say “I gave up religion for Lent years ago and never went back.”

The look of confusion on the questioners face is sometime priceless. You can tell right away how homogenous some people are and if they are meeting for the first time someone that doesn’t believe in a god. Depending on the situation, and the conversation, the “I can’t believe you’re an atheist” comes out – often followed by “you’re so nice!”

It’s as though the two notions are non-symbiotic. You’re an atheist, but you’re nice – I’m having problems processing this.

But like I said, I rarely volunteer this tidbit of information. “Hi, I’m Sean. I’m an atheist.” Probably is something I’d never say in casual conversation. In fact, I can think of about 1,000 other descriptors that would apply before my lack of belief in a deity came up.

I know it isn’t meant to sound like it, but I’ve begun to think the whole “I can’t believe you’re an atheist” is really a backhanded compliment. Probably not the intent of the person saying it, but how else is it meant to be processed?

So I’ll throw these questions out to the godless people that read this blog – how often do you hear the “I can’t believe you’re an atheist?” and how does it make you feel?

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