The following is a letter that I just sent. I share it as a post because it says what I would say if I wrote a post. I feel badly that I can't keep the people's identities a secret from those who know them, but it's clear, I hope, that what I wrote is my impression rather than their reality. Once I share my blog address, I know that, forever afterwards, the person I shared it with might actually read it even if he or she never brings it up. Furthermore, I can never be sure but what that person shared it with still other people whom I might write about. I know all this, but I can't let it alter how I write because the point of my writing is to write openly about what's important to me.
Brent, when I started going to Resurrection last summer, I never intended to keep my atheism a secret, but I didn’t know how or when to broach the subject. I shared it with you, of course, and a month or so later, I shared it with ___ through my blog. I thought he would be likely to understand my position because he too lives with a fact about himself that many, if not most, people at Resurrection reject him for, however subtly. My father was himself a transsexual, and this gave me another tie to ___. When I gave him my blog address, I asked if he would be willing to get together and talk sometime, my interest being in how he made the decision about when and how to tell people of his transsexuality. He said he would, but when I next saw him, I realized that he must have read my blog, because he seemed nervous and intent on avoiding me, a situation that continues. I was disappointed in him about this since he plans to be a priest, but I told myself that he was only one person.
As the months passed, I came to feel badly that I was flying, as it were, under false colors by letting people assume I was a theist, but I didn’t know what to do. Then, ___ started attending the book group, and he seemed like an open and sensitive person. Also I had spent most of my life feeling as shy as he, so that too gave me a bond with him. One night while we were walking to our cars together, I told him about my blog, and asked if he would like to read it. He enthusiastically said he would. The next time I saw him, he said that he had “tried” to read my blog, and offered that it must be strange for me to be in the book group. Nothing more was said, and I got the idea that he preferred to keep his distance.
A few weeks later, I got an email from the lady who was hosting the dinner for new people. Peggy wasn’t interested in going, and I couldn’t go. I let ___ know these things, and she wrote back that her husband felt as Peggy did about church, and she asked if Peggy and I would like to have dinner with them some other time. I wrote that we would, and, after my signature, I impulsively put my blog address. I haven’t heard anything more from her, so I assume the dinner is off, along with the “loving reception” that the original email promised.
I find it considerably harder to tell myself that it’s only three people than I did when it was only one person. Maybe I didn’t share my atheism in the best way. On the other hand, polls show that Americans hold atheists in the same esteem as rapists, so it seems likely that I would have been rejected no matter how I had broached the subject. You anticipated a better reception, and I wanted to believe you, but my experience with Christians has long been extremely discouraging (when I became an atheist, I was shut out of the lives of people whom had always been my friends). Having shared what appears to be regarded as my shameful secret with three people other than yourself, and having been seemingly rejected by all three, I don’t see the point in continuing. I’m far from needing everyone’s approval, but neither do I wish to go where I am treated like a pariah. Nothing is written in stone here, but for now all the joy of attending church is gone for me. I plan to come to class on Saturday because I have to come out and return some books anyway, but I rather doubt that I will continue beyond that. I know that this is a busy time of year for you, and I don’t want you to feel any obligation to meet with me again even when you have more time, yet if you have any ideas that I haven’t thought of, that would be another matter. Emails are good too. In fact, I prefer them in some ways.
I understand that your vision of a church is that it be a place where people are cemented by values rather than beliefs, and where people can safely come together to share the news of their spiritual journey no matter where that journey has taken them. I, too, would love for church to be such a place, but I think that your goodness might sometimes make it hard for you to anticipate the failings of others. Without meaning to elevate myself to what I regard, in some ways, as your level of virtue, I think this is also true of myself, because, otherwise, why would I have ever walked in the door at Resurrection?
Whatever my faults, if the Christian talk of loving one’s neighbor is to mean anything, I have as much claim to that love as anyone. At the same time, I recognize that tribalism is a strong need within our species, and that church is one of its strongholds. I’ve even noticed that those outsiders whom your own church goes to such pains to help can be counted upon to remain outsiders, thereby allowing the church to see itself as helping its neighbors while at the same time trusting that those neighbors are unlikely to draw uncomfortably close. I don’t mean this as cynically as it must sound, because I know that there are other factors at work here. Yet, would you not say that the people who appear to have turned their backs on me are among those who take their religion the most seriously, and who therefore might have been considered the mostly likely to embrace me? You might ask what I would have liked from them. The answer is acknowledgement followed by normalcy. I wasn’t seeking conversion; I wasn’t seeking to convert; and I wasn’t looking for heartfelt conversations about God or atheism. I instead wanted to be accepted as I am, which is how you have accepted me. If, beyond that, someone had shown an interest in my experiences and views, that would have been wonderful, but I didn’t expect it. Truth be known, I got what I did expect, what experience has taught me to expect.