So I'm not really sure why I suddenly want to write this, but I do, so... here it goes...
First, some background.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by two of the most tolerant and considerate parents I've ever met. My mom was raised Catholic in French Canada, and my dad became Jewish during college, when he met his first wife. When he met my mom, he already had two kids, 7 and 3, who had been raised so far to be Jewish. My parents agreed that they would continue raising their family Jewish (but my mom did demand a Christmas tree!). As I grew up with my half-brother and half-sister, there was definitely a bit of what I now realize was indoctrination, but never at the expense of critical thinking or learning about the world, understanding, questioning, and just plain thinking.
As we grew up, I slowly became aware of my own uncertainty about this whole "religion" thing, and eventually stopped wanting to go to religious events, then grew more uncomfortable with saying prayers over the dinner table, and eventually at any events period. Basically, by middle school I had gradually allowed myself to realize that I was atheist, which never really bothered me since from my perspective I was just analyzing the world and thinking rationally. I'd come to the conclusion that religion just couldn't be right, with how many different varieties and conflicts and contradictions there were. I was happy with my atheism. I was secure.
Flash forward to the end of my first year of college.
I meet my amazing girlfriend of, now, > 2.5 years, who is wonderfully tolerant, understanding, shares almost all of my ideas about the world, and also has a Catholic mother, like mine. Except... not like mine at all. Her mother is CATHOLIC. "Birth control is evil," "praise the Pope," "sin, sin, guilt, guilt, hell-fire," and, while more liberal than her numerous siblings, rather bigoted about "different" people. Did I mention they're Filipino? That might help to explain the uber-Catholicism a bit.
Unsurprisingly, the first time I met her aunts (who are all very close to her mother and visit regularly), my girlfriend mentioned that I could not, under any circumstances, even so much as think the word "atheist" around her family. Understanding that some people would seriously hyper-react to that word, I said I understood, covered up my innate unease at disguising what I felt was my "self," and went with the cleverly-worded, non-lie cover story "I was raised Jewish." (The actual question I was asked, in the second sentence I ever received from her aunt was, "Are you Catholic?")
The assumption that it was "Catholic" or "other," the tone she said it, the importance she seemed to levy on the answer to that question... I was really hurt, though I didn't let it show.
I was never really satisfied with any "defense" for why she asked me that (and I can still hear her asking me that in my head, clear as that first moment...), but I played my part, because I had been warned that if anyone got even a whiff of "atheist," not only would my girlfriend receive a severe scolding, but I would be banned from ever even seeing or talking to her again, and (here's the part that really pisses me off about this) she would be thrown out of her parents' house for dating me and knowing I was atheist. If they knew who I really was, they would treat me worse than pond scum. So I lie to them. I lie to their faces. I even told my girlfriend I was okay with joining them for Christmas midnight masses the first two winters, though this last year I was just too exhausted to go and finally told her how much it bothered me to go. (It was my being exhausted that got her to let me stay home, though, not my unease...)
I trust my girlfriend. I know that she's just got our mutual best interest at heart when she pushes me to join her family for religious events, or when I have to lie directly to her parents' faces about who I am so they feel like I'm a human being like them. But having to lie so regularly, so often, about something so trivial yet so integral to who I am, has just been weighing down on me over these years, and I'm just getting tired of it all.
I keep imagining what would happen if I did tell them. We'll go months without them doing anything bigoted or prejudicial, and I'll start to feel more (secretly) welcome around them, but just as I'm getting the feeling that I might be able to tell them, something will happen that will trigger her mom to say something so callous, so hurtful, and also so automatic and insistent, that I fall back to square one.
I don't want to lie to them for the rest of our lives together, just to ensure they still consider me "human" and "worthy" of being with their daughter. I hate being dishonest like this. My own mom is a bit of an innocent blabber-mouth, and because of that and the fact that I can confide my secrets in her, I've had to deny my girlfriend's mom's repeated, and increasingly forceful, "requests" to meet my parents. Yeah: I've hid myself and my entire family from her parents, because of how they would react if they learned anything about the real me.
I hate this, and I just don't know what to do about it anymore. I want to just sit down with them and talk, explain everything, and (at least try to) convince them that I'm still the same great guy that I was before I told them about my lack of belief in an invisible sky-man. I want to trust that their humanity will win out over their own indoctrinations and they will make an exception for me, since they know me (otherwise) so well by now. I want to believe (heh...) that they are accepting, tolerant people deep down, and telling them "I am an atheist" wouldn't drive them forever away from me (and worse, from their own daughter). But I cannot tell them, because they would not react the was I would hope. They would not accept me for who I am. They would suddenly snap and call me a devil-worshiper, or a god-hater, or a corrupter, or some other ridiculous nonsense stemmed purely from hearing a single, seven-letter word.
I just don't know what to do about this anymore. I don't want to keep on lying, but... I don't have the choice.