Morgan Matthew generously sent me a Learn to Think Atheist bracelet a while back and I have not worn it until recently. I am getting married August 8th and decided I would wear it during the ceremony. As a precursor, I wore it to the rehearsal dinner where my evangelical mother saw it. She kept asking what it was so I let her take a hold of it to read it. Once she comprehended the words she recoiled as if it were a venomous serpent, wiping her hands on her pants. As she got drunk, she spent a good portion of the night complaining about my atheism to my other family members. She assumed that the officiant from the Ethical Society of St. Louis
gave it to me and she routinely shows her disdain for this secular group by mislabeling them the Humane Society
This occasioned a conversation with my fiancée after my parents left which caused my friends to request to see the bracelet. My friend's wife was incredulous and kept asking if I was in fact an atheist. I assured her that I was but I couldn't help laughing about the fuss and she mistook my laughter to mean I was joking with her.
One of the bridesmaids tried to convince my atheistic fiancée that we were not really atheists, but rather agnostics. If I would have heard this, I would have let her know that we were both and that they are far from mutually exclusive labels. I'm not sure why she was trying to inform us of our personal beliefs. In fact, I am not sure why so many were so vocal in their disbelief in our unbelief. Most of my friends are not church going religious types. This indicates to me how steeped in religion our culture is that even people who are seemingly apathetic about religion can turn into religious advocates when provoked by ideas that challenge the norm.
But most importantly what I realized is that people don't know what atheism is. I didn't explain it to them at dinner because I was so surprised at their astonishment. Upon further reflection I knew I should have taken the opportunity to educate my friends. Atheism is not something I want to proselytize (science and critical thinking I do!) and most of my relationships are atheistic in the manner that religion is simply not discussed. I have close friends that I think are atheists but have never cared enough to claim the label and I have close friends that I have no idea of what their beliefs are.
I have not been very vocal in my own life out of concern of family, friends, and work. As my wedding approaches I know that many people will wonder why God was not invited. Some may not notice His absence but others will. I have a feeling that I will be having many conversations about my atheism in the near future and that the people who were not aware will soon become so. I didn't want to be known as "the atheist", but I will not shy away from who I am and what I don't believe.
My whole concept of how I balance my personal life with my atheism is being discarded and I'm venturing out into new territory all thanks to a small bracelet that Morgan Matthew sent me in the mail.