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Oklahoma tornado survivor put in awkward position by CNN, but chooses to reveal atheism

May 23, 2013

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/blitzer-asks-lord-question-okla-atheist-survivor-article-1.1352643?localLinksEnabled=false&google_editors_picks=true

I find it difficult being an “out” atheist.  On the internet it’s safe, we’re a loud minority here.  But out there it’s still a WASP’s country, and being public about one’s atheism is hard.

I’ll speak for myself, since others may have different experiences, but I find it hard in at least 2 ways: in the first place, it’s hard because there aren’t a lot of little ways in which I can sneak my atheism into conversations the way religious people do with their beliefs.  “Thank God,” they say, or “I’m praying for” something.  These are basically meaningless expressions for a lot of people, idioms really, and it would be perfectly possible for an atheist to use them without ascribing anything truly supernatural to them.  But I don’t like to use them because I don’t like to co-opt the language of religion to express basic feelings of relief, sympathy, etc that are common to all people regardless of religious orientation.  But there aren’t equivalent expressions that reveal the atheism of the speaker, so in public my atheism ofof an absence of certain idioms.

Another way in which it is difficult being an “out” atheist is that it weirds people out!  It’s not an answer most people expect when they ask what my religion is or whether I go to church.  If I post something atheism-related on my Facebook once in a while, as I did with this article, it could (as has happened with me in the past) prompt messages of disapproval and concern from extended, religious family members.

I don’t know what I would do if I was asked something as awkward as what Wolf Blitzer asked an Oklahoma tornado survivor.  “Do you thank the Lord?”  At this point I guess I would have : 1) say yes just to get out of it without drawing unwanted attention to my atheism, 2) come up with some sort of neutral comment or joke to avoid the question (I’ve done this a number of times in real life in response to similar questions or comments), or 3) be brave and do what this woman in Oklahoma did, even though it creates an awkward situation and outs her on global television and could put her and her family at risk of harassment by their friends, family, neighbors, and complete strangers watching the broadcast.  The second option is hard for people like me who can’t always think quickly on their feet, but the third option is still harder.

I’ll keep this woman’s courage and conviction in mind if I’m ever confronted with such a situation.

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