I’ve been accused of “thinking too hard” before.
There’s something I want to do, and I’m on the fence. I have begun to consider volunteering to be a mentor for a kid. I tutored a little girl when I was in college, and I found it very rewarding. I was also a teacher in years past, so I know any organization would leap at my credentials.
The thing is, I’m afraid that I might get in trouble. See, as you know, I live in the South, and sometimes, right out of the blue, the religion beast rears its horny head for no particular reason whatsoever.
Like the other day, I was shopping for a present for my mom. The little-old-lady store owner asked me who I was shopping for so she could help me choose a gift. I briefly described my mother and some of her interests. The sweet southern belle immediately disappeared around the corner to retrieve her perfect recommendation for my mom. She brought me a gaudy oversized table decoration-a shiny, brass, bejeweled cross. A centerpiece for a dining table that looked like it belonged on the cardboard box alter at St. Bubba’s Trailer Park Chapel.
I guess the look on my face should have been a clue. But no.
After an excruciating silence, I glanced to my left for something to rescue me, and I spied a bottle of perfume with a seashell motif. I said, “Ooh, I bet she’d like this!” I smelled the tester and pretended to consider buying it, just for show.
Only then did I realize the entire right wall of the shop was plastered with angels, crosses, and other Christian gaudiness. She continued to suggest religiously-themed trinkets as my armpits started to sweat profusely and I began to plan my escape from this scented den of fantastic Jesus wares.
As I wandered, she showed me a wall plaque that said, “God is Love.” Finally, I nicely offered, “Thank you, but my family really doesn’t go to church.” I said gently, “My mom does like nice soaps and things like that,” as I headed back to the section with the perfumes and creams.
The pursing of the store-keep’s smoke-wrinkled lips and the fact that she completely ignored me the rest of the time in her store told me that I had said too much.
Even on a lighthearted trip to a cheesy boutique, the subject of religion had become an awkward issue, apparently.
I’m worried that one day I’ll be walking in the park with the child whose life it is my duty to enrich as a well-meaning mentor, and she’ll ask me something that is religiously-tinged. You know how kids pop off questions out of the blue?
“Today at school, Becky said she can’t come over to my house because her mom says she can only play with her church friends. It hurt my feelings. Why can’t she come to my birthday party? Does your church make you do stuff like that?”
I’d be at a moral crossroads. Lie? Brush over it? Avoid the subject altogether?
Or would I practice what I preach? Would I tell her the truth-that even at her age, I never believed what they taught me in church. I never needed it. And I am an atheist, so, no, I don’t have a church that “makes me do stuff.”
You know what would in all likelihood happen if I told the truth, right? Mom and/or Dad, statistically, would go ape-shit. I might get “fired” from my volunteer job.
Yes, I realize the right thing to do would be to turn it back to the child, and ask an open-ended question like, “Well, lots of people believe lots of different things. What do you think about it?” That would be the adult thing to do. The thing is, sometimes I have trouble acting like an adult.
But hey! Would I even land the volunteer position in the first place, if the parents interviewed me and asked about my “relationship with God?” It has happened before. Once even on a job interview when I was in my twenties.
I don’t like to lie.
So here I am. Either thinking too hard or understanding the occasional reality of being an atheist in the South--and the frequent need to just keep my mouth shut and continue walking toward the horizon. The oasis should be just over that next dune.