I just joined TA today after having been 'lurking' for months... so, "Hello!"

I am currently attending an intensive outpatient therapy group that meets every day. I'm dealing with some unresolved, and until very recently, unremembered incidents from my childhood. "Graduating" tomorrow, tyvm!

There are many different types of people in this group, dealing with some pretty serious issues. Even though I'm there as part of the group, folks usually gravitate to me for reassurance and just because I make them feel safe and understood. A woman who started on the same day as I did, came up to me today at break and thanked me profusely for helping her through some things. She thanked me for being so kind, caring, genuine, honest, etc., etc. It was really very humbling. I hugged her and told her that I was happy to have been able to help, blah, yadda...  She then said, "You are the most loving Christian I have ever met. Where do you go to church?"  I told her I am not a Christian and I do not go to church. She asked, "Well, what religion are you?"  I said, "I'm an atheist."  She recoiled as if I'd slapped her. Had a mortified look on her face and actually turned and almost ran away from me.

After the break, she sat as far away from me as she physically could and kept staring at me like she was expecting me to whip out a machete and kill everybody in the place. She was so bothered by this that she talked to one of the therapists. I'm assuming it was about me because she kept staring and looking very distressed while she was talking. I honestly think she saw me as dangerous...

I know I shouldn't let this bother me, but it does. Isn't it 'enough' that I am in that group for the same immense pain that everyone else is there for? Isn't it 'enough' that I have never been anything but genuine, kind, caring, compassionate, and loving toward everyone there? Isn't it enough that I have sat through, literally, hours worth of faith-based 'testimonies' about how their god helped them through this or that? Never asking the question, "Well, where was your god when all this crap was happening to you?!" ... and I wanted to. But I respect people and their beliefs - always have.

Am I not allowed to appreciate things without putting a "God dun it!" label on everything? During the break, I was outside because there was a brief lull in the rain we've been having here for the past few days. One of the bushes had dozens of teal and silver colored snails in it. I was fascinated! I respected the random "God is amazing to make this" type comments. Why isn't it enough that I enjoyed them for what they are?

Ugh. Yeah, I shouldn't be upset about what happened. But I am. :-(

Views: 617

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on March 16, 2012 at 4:57pm

Many Christians have the preconceived notion that we Atheists are evil or immoral and lack any capacity to care or have the ability to “love thy neighbour”. When they meet somebody with a good capacity for empathy they assume that they are Christian because Religion has taught that this ability is a gift from their god while we consider it to be an evolved trait that makes us human.

So what happened when she found out you are an Atheist was like, as you said, a slap in the face. Two views of the world have collided. It caused her to panic and confused her. She needed to create some space to get her head around the apparent contradiction she found in you. How could a person be so considerate and still be an Atheist?

It is possible too that she, like many Christians, is not very good at “doing Christianity” and is getting herself all pumped up on her “holier than thou” bigotry, but maybe that is too harsh of me.

However some good may come from this “slap”. She will now be compelled to consider the implications of what happened. This may create some doubts in her mind so she will have to THINK about it. So you could have set her off on the road to Atheism!!

I have been in similar situations in the past. My advice (imho) is to do as the “good book” says and “turn the other cheek”. This will cause more confusion and doubt and doubts are good because they must be challenged.

Comment by Melissa on March 16, 2012 at 5:22pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for 'listening' and replying. I'm really glad I decided to stop lurking, giggling at the cartoons and pictures, and yelling "AMEN!" at stuff I agreed with. (see what I did there?)  :-P

My last day of group was good and uneventful. My new friend stayed away from me and I conducted myself as usual. I also got a very good lead on a possible new job that will be something I can do physically. Imagine me, heathen that I am, working with Autistic children again! I'm so excited at the prospect... I love those kids!

Again, thank you for your words!

Comment by archaeopteryx on March 16, 2012 at 5:45pm

Reg - Perfectly put, my friend! Raising those Fronkies must be very therapeutic for you.

Melissa - that's great! I've worked with autistic children myself - it can be very rewarding if you're selfless, but frustrating if you're one who expects to be rewarded with hugs for your effort, as they sadly, are likely not to come. The shortest path to finding oneself lies in losing oneself in the service of others.

pax vobiscum,
archaeopteryx
www.in-His-own-image.com

Comment by archaeopteryx on March 16, 2012 at 5:47pm

And Melissa - just because you have another life now, doesn't mean you have to leave us!

Comment by Melissa on March 16, 2012 at 5:52pm

I'm not going anywhere. :) 

My current employment allows me to take groups of kids around and tell them about African animals and I love working with the Autistic kids. I used to substitute in Special Ed. classes and loved working with those kids. I know not to expect hugs but when you get one, or even a touch, it's the most amazing and rewarding feeling ever.

Comment by archaeopteryx on March 16, 2012 at 5:58pm

Been there --

Comment by Arcturus on March 16, 2012 at 9:08pm

Welcome Melissa!  I'm pretty new to the site, too--it's so nice to be able to be around other people who understand what we go through. You didn't say how long you've been an atheist--sounds like maybe not long or this wouldn't have been the first time something like this happened to you.  I agree that hopefully this has started that lady thinking about things.  I'm a relatively new atheist, raised fundy Christian.  I regularly go through a broad range of emotions when dealing with things like this--unbelievable frustration that people haven't THOUGHT about this stuff before--until I remember that once that was me, then compassion because the very thing that's KEEPING them from thinking about things like this (our wonderful animal brains), is what I have come to love and admire more than ever (our wonderful animal brains).  Maybe you could have gone up to her on that last day, acknowledged her seeming discomfort, and given her an opportunity to talk about it.  At least you were in a setting where you felt like you COULD say you were an atheist. 

 

Comment by Unseen on March 17, 2012 at 12:05am

You're right. It shouldn't bother you. That it does indicates you have some work to do. She has her problems and will someday realize that, or maybe she won't. You concentrate on yourself. You have no responsibility for her feelings or attitudes.

Comment by javier on March 17, 2012 at 12:49am

Some people just don't think for themselves. It's sad that these people harass and trample with their  half cooked ideas and yet still be able to be so confident that heaven is somehow their destination. 

Comment by Michael on March 17, 2012 at 9:27am

" But I respect people and their beliefs - always have."

I felt the same way for most of my life but lately I have been thinking that maybe I shouldn't. Not everyone's beliefs should be treated as equally valid and deserving of respect. Irrational beliefs should not be tiptoed around. Just look at the way she responded and behaved when she learned of your position.

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