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.