This is my first blog post, and probably the only one I'll make in for a long time, but this a little story, a scene that happened in my insignificant portion of Humanity's history that I call life.

I'm Portuguese, and it's often said that about 90% of our population is Catholic. The fact that there are so many festivities, religious monuments and "saints" or catholic figures (usually by the name of "Our Lady of -something-") is kind of proof of this. In fact, religion is so ingrained in Portuguese society it's almost sickening. Even our "praxe", an academic tradition, has practices that are rooted in religion.

Now, naive as I am, I assumed when I went to college I would see and meet less religious people and more atheists, people of science and reason. I was half right: most of my professors are atheists (and very often give subtle hints of that). Yet, and here was my disappointment, most of my colleagues were practicing catholics or at least believed in God without even thinking about why. Worst, when I casually state my atheism (I don't shove it down their throats, though i might include my atheism in a joke or comparison), they stare admired (not in a good way), ask me all sort of questions (little gems like "you HAVE to believe in something!") or just ignore me completely after that.
I get dumbfounded by the sheer illogical situation this is. It's an engineering university, and I'm in mechanical engineering, where we learn a lot of advanced theoretic and applied physics. My colleagues laugh when someone states common misconceptions of physics or evolution (most of us have studied biology at some point), yet here they are, believing in this fairy tale without even questioning it. I try not to offend them, so when I slip and say something that could be considered "heretic", i just change subjects. But I didn't do it in this particular Friday:

Regular morning: got up, breakfast, commute, classes. Boring old routine. But then came lunch. The cantine was serving both chicken and codfish dishes. I'm not a big fan of codfish, so chicken it was. When it came my turn, I noticed almost nobody was picking chicken, but I didn't care. MORE CHICKEN FOR ME!
It was when I sat down with my colleagues that I noticed how "heretic" my choice was. It's lent right now (check it on Wikipedia if you don't know what it is), and it's tradition here not to eat any meat on Friday's on lent. Words couldn't describe their faces frozen in awe and shock as I started eating my chicken with curry slowly and with pleasure. But that wasn't what bothered me. This particular girl was. I kind of liked her, so again my naive me though she was different... You know where this is going... She started all "How can you be eating that, don't you know it's lent?". I just shrugged and said "I'm not bond by laws of the immortal one, only by the laws of my sweet sensitive taste buds. Besides, you guys don't even know the reasons for this tradition". And yes, she hasn't spoken with me ever since.

This was very upsetting. I haven't met any atheists in the almost 7 months I've been here (never mind the fact that I only know 4 other atheists), and the fact that I'm being alienated for things I LOVE doing, like eating, is just... *sigh*

After the afternoon classes, I picked the bus to go home. Luckily, I was with my best friend who is also an atheist. I discussed this particular incident with him, when this lady, who was "overhearing" (aka, eavesdropping, privacy is underrated here) said: "I feel sorry for you two. How can you ever know what happiness and joy is without Jesus? Your life has no meaning without Him!".

yup... I know what you're thinking. Regular old religious lady. But that one hit a nerve. Very hard. I have to face constant hardships and pressure to stay in college and have good grades, as my family doesn't have many resources and I want a better life for me and my family. It's hard by itself, add the fact people label me with such bad connotations due to a trait of my personality I'm so proud of. So this lady saying that I couldn't find joy and meaning without being deluded? You might call my response divine inspiration, as I'll never say something like this again:

"I find joy in people, I feel happiness in success, I discover the meaning of my life every time I get home and hug and kiss my little sister. I live to better myself and those I love. I feel accomplished every time I get out of a class knowing I now understand the world and it's inhabitants a little better. I don't need God. Life is my guide, my savior and my confident. I have meet this guy 15 years ago. We got separated for 6 years when we were kids, yet we still knew each other perfectly when we got together again. Jesus never played football with me, never was there when I was acting stupid and he never shared a drink with me. This guy has. You need God to feel well? Good for you. But know that whenever we overcome an obstacle that was put in front of us, I knew me a little better, I know him a little better, and I fell alive!".

Hope you found this little story at least interesting and worth your time. Be free to add any similar stories you may have to share.

Views: 5315

Comment by Edward Regis Condon on April 9, 2012 at 10:35pm
Thanks for the post, you are not alone. Forget the girl, you dodged a bullet to the heart :-)
Comment by C Elaine Clark on April 10, 2012 at 10:09am

Thanks for sharing your story. things will get better for you as you go through your life, never stop reading, learning and listening. be kind to yourself. things get easier as you get older. just stay strong and steady in your own beliefs ... I somtimes feel that weaker people need to have some sort od god like belief, and followers people who can't think for themselves, people who need to be told what to do. be proud of your self that you are strong . :)

Comment by Kairan Nierde on April 10, 2012 at 3:22pm

It must be very difficult living in Portugal.  Perhaps you are at the beginning of the beginning.  In time there will be more people in your life who are also atheists or who respect you despite your atheism.  Seek them out or just keep on in your pursuits and they will find you.  Try to ignore those who hate and gather like minded people around you.  This is a great opportunity, being in engineering school, even if you're not seeing as many people as you would like who think as you do.  There are more people concentrated there and it's easier to meet people in college, so don't lose heart.

Forget about the woman.  She might have gained a bit of doubt from dealing with such a frank atheist, but if not, it's her loss.  You are her loss--she's not yours.  There will be other women who will respect you and those are the ones to care about. 

Thanks for sharing your little come back on the bus.  It was pretty awsome!  I could never come up with something like that at the drop of a hat.  Good for you.

Comment by James Dugan on April 2, 2013 at 9:36pm

I know this is an old post, and this comment may not be read by many people, but reading this post really struck a cord with me so I decided to make an account on comment. I too am in college, studying mechanical engineering. Though I don't live in Portugal, I do live in the Southern US, which as you may know is also deeply rooted in Christianity. My situation isn't nearly as severe as yours, but I too naively thought that once I got to college I would meet at least a few more people like me. I haven't met another atheist yet. Granted the people I have met are mostly very nice and generally understanding of my atheism, I do sometimes feel alienated. Thank you for sharing your story. It definitely made me feel better and more confident about myself, if that makes any sense. Good luck with all your endeavors. 


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