I’ve been living In Tennessee for a little over two years and up until now have been without religious encounters of the extreme kind. I moved here for grad school, so being surrounded by a bunch of college kids, I guess you could say I led the sheltered life. My experience has been far from what one would imagine when picturing an atheist living in the south.


Now that I’m out of school, I’m beginning to experience more of the local flavor and have to say that I’m starting to realize how religious this  community is.


My first real “Southern experience” happened about a month ago. I’d been looking for some summer activities to keep myself active and came across a posting for a men’s softball team. This was perfect. It was just what I was looking for.  There are few things I love more than playing softball. I get to the first practice and the team looks great, everyone is personable, relaxed and out to have a good time. About two and a half hours later we finished practice and met briefly to talk about the season. This is when they dropped the bomb. They say “oh, by the way… this is a christian-based team (a continuation from their church league) and we pray before and after every game.” Aw, fuck! I knew it was too good to be true!


Ok, I’m a bigger man than this… I can get past it. I’m there to play softball. Shouldn’t be a problem. I mean, what harm does it do if they pray and I just hang out? Besides, if they’re really praying, no one will notice that I’m not participating. Great! So, I just decided to enjoy the game and that would be that.

Well, we had our first game the other week, it was a great game, a lot of fun… everyone had a good time. We didn’t pray before the game, so I figured they had forgotten. Nope, I was wrong. Both teams gathered on the pitchers mound after the game and offered their thanks to baby jesus. I decided to look around and see if I could find some wandering eyes… perhaps there was someone else who thought the whole thing was as laughable as I did. Couldn’t find a single person.


As I’m walking to my car, I’m talking with one of the other guys on the team. We’re talking about the game and such…and then out of nowhere, he blindsides me. There’s a brief pause in the conversation and he asks “So, do you go to church around here?” Damn it! I knew it was inevitable! So I responded by saying “Nahhhhhhhhh!” I causally shifted the conversation back to the game then we parted ways. No big deal really.


I got a text out of the blue today from the team’s coach inviting me to go to church with him and another member of the team. I call it “The Southern handshake.” That’s where they say “Nice to meet you… come to church with us.” I was trying to come up with a benign response… one that says “I’m not interested” in a non-threatening way.  So, I simply replied “I appreciate the offer, but I’ll have to pass.” Fortunately, he didn’t press the issue. He replied with “No problem, the offer is always open. We’d love to have ya.”


Now the question lingers: will they leave well enough alone, or will they be as persistent as the Borg and try to assimilate me? I have a nagging feeling that there will be some sort of confrontation before the season is over. 


To be clear, I have no problem telling anyone I’m an atheist when confronted, I just choose not to offer the information up-front because I think ones beliefs are irrelevant when it comes to every-day social interactions. All they need to know is whether or not I’m fun to hang with and if I can hold my own on the field. Anything else they want to know, all they need to do is ask.


Now to be fair, they’re not being overbearing by any means, this just appears to be a part of the normal religious community here, with church being the social thing to do with your buddies. And, truth be told, they’re all great guys. I can imagine that any confrontation would be mild and that most of, if not all of the members would not feel threatened by having an atheist on the team. I also realize that there is always potential for things to go south, but I remain optimistic. It’ll be interesting to see how things progress, if they do at all.


This post is mostly for myself, but if anyone would like to comment or wants to share their experience behind enemy lines, then I welcome whatever you have to say.

Views: 132

Comment by Zombie Atheist on August 19, 2011 at 7:08pm

I think you seem to be handling it rather well. I tend to get 'confrontational'. Also have volunteered to go to churches of Christian friends of mine and have yet to find one who will actually take me (I think their scared). SO seems we have the opposite problem haha. If you ever decide to go to a church, you should turn it into some kind of social experiment. Observe them and take notes. XD

Comment by Rick on August 19, 2011 at 8:16pm

I have no problem going to church. It’s not like I’d participate, it would just be a waste of time. I would consider it for grins, but it would send the wrong message (implying that I share their beliefs) or it would suggest that my will can be broken and I can be “saved.” I’m not looking to discuss religion with these guys, just play softball.  

Comment by Dustin on August 19, 2011 at 11:01pm

I am the pianist for a Lutheran Church and one of them members there jokes with me about being on the 'darks side'.  The Pastor has never approached me and tried to convert me and nobody else has ever crossed any boundary.  This is in Maryland though.  I've been the pianist for over a year and no problems so far.  They are very friendly to me!  So I wish you luck down in the south!

Comment by Kairan Nierde on August 19, 2011 at 11:45pm

The "Southern handshake" is a bit startling to us Yanks.  Just a hop, skip and a jump up to Northern Kentucky and you won't get that type of greeting.  It always turns my head when we vacation down South that people question your religious affiliation as they meet you.  Good luck on the team.  Hopefully they'll realize what a great teammate and person you are and not forget that when they realize you don't worship. 

Comment by Rick on August 20, 2011 at 1:45am

@Kairan: Ha, I'm a Yank myself. I grew up in Cali, lived on the East coast for several years and found myself in the south for grad school. It's a bit of a culture shock for sure.

I imagine these guys will probably just give me a hard time about it like the church member Dustin mentions. We shall see.

I appreciateall of the comments


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