The ‘I’m Sorry’ response

The recent debate between Bill Nye ‘The Science Guy’ and the Creation Museum’s Ken Ham has once again brought into public discourse the subjects of science and religion, and with those subjects again in the public discourse, atheism is inevitably brought up.

But this post isn’t about the debate. It’s about people.

Last year, I was walking toward the entrance to a grocery store one evening when I was stopped by a young woman. There was a table in front of the entrance with some anti-bullying literature.

The woman informed me that they were asking for donations to continue a private, anti-bullying campaign in schools, led by a local singer. I asked if there was some literature I could take and read over so I could learn more about them and what they’re doing. As another lady went inside the store to make more copies of their fliers, we continued talking.

During the conversation, a question came up that will be no surprise to my fellow Alabamians. It might as well be the first thing after “Hello” in this state, or maybe the second thing since the first could possibly be “Alabama or Auburn?”

She asked, “What church do you go to?”

It’s not the first time I have been asked that. I’m sure it won’t be the last. And I gave an honest answer: “I don’t go to church.”

She politely asked why, and I answered simply, “I’m an atheist.” Without any hesitation, her immediate response was “I’m sorry.”

I don’t remember ever getting that kind of response before. I grew up in church, and yes, at one time I was a believer, so I understand her position based on her faith. I don’t think she intended to come across as condescending. But it wasn’t a response I had gotten, even here in the South.

Soon after that exchange, we parted ways. I entered the store to do a bit of shopping and she continued her fundraising. I kept thinking about the “I’m sorry” response.

It made me think back to something I had read a couple of years ago. In late 2011, a study was published that made headlines. Psychologists at the universities of British Columbia and Oregon released a study that they say shows a “moral distrust” of us non-believers. The headline from USA Today: “Study: Atheists distrusted as much as rapists.”

Did she think that way? Was that the reason for the “I’m sorry” response? In her mind, was I, because I don’t believe in her god (or the many others that people worshiped before), on the same level as a rapist?

I finished the little shopping that I needed to do, and I happened to have a couple of dollars left over (it was between pay days… you know how it goes.) So on the way out, I stopped by the table, handed them to her and said, “I know it’s not much, but I hope it helps. I’m against bullying, too. I care about people, and I hope you’ll think differently the next time you run across someone who doesn’t share your beliefs.”

She said, “I definitely will.” I hope so.


11 thoughts on “The ‘I’m Sorry’ response

  1. I enjoyed this short article, and, as a fellow Atheist, I esp. agree with this part: “I’m against bullying, too. I care about people~”. For me, it’s BECAUSE I don’t think there are any god/s that I care about people and am 100% against ANY bullying. Life is completely precious to me because I feel it is fleeting and not eternal.

    Thanks for posting!

    (I also I find it really sad, and offensive, that I could be distrusted on the same level as a rapist. Ugh!)

  2. When I was a kid, I was forced to go to church every Sunday. I had to do that until I was seventeen. In fact, the only reason I was allowed to stop going to church was because my mom and dad got a divorce and I chose to live with my Dad (who never went to church).

    Growing up, my mom beat the bible in me every Sunday. I hated church. It was fucking boring and all it ever really managed to do was make me feel uncomfortable. Service after service, I was looking at the clock waiting for it to be over. I’d get so fucking mad when the preacher would do his little closing and ask people to come down to the altar if they felt “his” presence and wanted to invite “him” into their heart.

    My Dad has never said one fucking word about religion. Not one fucking word. Never said anything bad, never said anything good. He just doesn’t say shit about it. I always assumed he didn’t because he thought that beliefs are just beliefs and shouldn’t be talked about because people get all offended by it. My Dad is the best man I have ever known. He’s kind to everyone and he’s fair to everyone.

    Still, with as much as I hated church, that indoctrination of going to church for seventeen-odd years managed for me to describe myself as a believer. Mostly out of fear of not wanting to go to hell. But as I have gotten older, I realize that fear shouldn’t motivate someone into being a good person. Sure, it helps in some light in upbringing… don’t eat that candy or I’m going to tell Mom and Dad sort of thing… but a logical fucking adult shouldn’t have to decide whether to lie to the boss based off a fear of going to hell. A logical, decent human being should just do the right thing. So that’s what I’ve kind of turned my life to… that’s part of what the Commandments of Morality were about to me. What’s really right, and what’s really wrong. Shit that matters. The hypothetical afterlife can wait. Be good. That’s the main thing. Be fucking good.

    I’ve decided to take the path my Dad took when it comes to my feelings in that regard. Especially when it comes to my mom. She asks me all the time about going to church. I just tell her that I’m just fine and that I’m a good person and that’s all she needs to worry about. When she goes off on one of her tangents about being saved is what matters. I just let her say her piece and then change the subject. I don’t ever interrupt. I don’t ever say, no. I just try to be good and keep the peace and maintain my position.

    I let her take my daughter to church every Sunday because that is her time with Sofia. Sofia has asked me before, why I don’t go to church. I just say, I don’t want to, that is your time with Nina. One day when Sofia is old enough, I’m sure she’ll ask again. Then I’ll tell her, your beliefs or lack there-of are exactly that… they are yours, don’t make them anyone elses. Just be a good person and you’ll make me happy.

    I love you Jeff. -Brandon

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