The Atheist Closet

I have religious family members. Actually, that's not true. My husband Alex has religious family members. It's one thing to tell your own Aunt Tilly that you're an atheist. It's a whole different story when it's your spouse's aunt.

My own extended family isn't close. I hardly know my cousins. Meanwhile, Alex's family seriously reminds me of the Apple Family. Alex is close to his enormous extended family. I know his aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, cousins in Europe... On both sides of his family, they are a close knit bunch.

It's a loving family to be added into. I enjoy spending holidays with Alex's family. We went to his cousin Lori's house every Thanksgiving for years. We enjoyed great food and laughs. I love being with my husband's family.

Only... Only, I'm in the atheist closet with them, especially with Alex's favorite aunt and uncle. Aunt Ellie is 81 and Uncle George is 85. They are devoted Christians. That's putting it mildly. Let me try that again. They are card carrying members of the religious right. They watch Fox News. They read John Hagee and love Billy Graham. This is who they are. Like the mechanism inside a watch, this is what makes them tick.

That being said, I think Aunt Ellie and Uncle George may be the kindest people I've ever met. They are giving, loving, and fun to be with. They make me laugh, and smile. They make me feel loved. We visit their lake house several times every summer. Being with them makes me happy.

Aunt Ellie and Uncle George have a son, Tim. Tim strayed from the church. This broke their hearts. I can see it in their eyes, and hear their pain when they talk about him. They believe that Tim is on a path that leads to destruction. Before meals, Ellie and George pray for Tim. They pray for him to return to the faith before it is too late.

Obviously, Tim is somewhat estranged from his parents because of this. I don't know what Tim believes or doesn't believe. He's never told me if he's an atheist. I just know that Aunt Ellie and Uncle George are heartbroken because he's not a right-wing republican Christian like they raised him to be.

After watching how they responded to their son, I knew telling them I'm an atheist would be a disaster. I would become their project. They would want to fix me and help me find the Lord. Everything about how we interact would change. I couldn't deal with that. It's easier for them to believe what they want about me and be a chameleon.

From Christian Graphics and ironic as all hell
While they bow their heads in prayer, I don't join in. I tune it out. While everyone says, "Amen," I keep silent. I used to mumble, "Ramen." But, I don't do that anymore. Their prayer time belongs to them and it has nothing to do with me. Religion and the Bible makes sense for them. They are in their 80's. Nothing I say will change their minds about their beliefs. What I say could forever change their relationship with me and I don't want that to happen.

I definitely don't want to drive a wedge between Alex and Aunt Ellie and Uncle George. They helped raise Alex when he was little. These two people are more important to him than his own parents. Telling them I'm an atheist would just hurt them. I can't do that.

I'm in the atheist closet with them, but it's by my choice. Not everyone has to know I'm an atheist. Do I feel like I can be myself around them? Yes. Even though I don't share their religion or political views, I share their love for nature and the beauty of the woods. Maybe if they were pushy and quoting the Bible every few minutes it would be different. All I deal with are prayers before meals, and brief morning devotions over breakfast at the lake, and that's it. No Bible quotes. No pushy invites to church. Nothing else. Just a few minutes of religion a day is no big deal. I can live with that. Their religion works for them. The atheist closet works for me.

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