One of the neighborhood kids caught up to me today as I was walking Scooter to school. I had no problem with him keeping us company. He's quite the talker, so I mostly just listened and made appropriate noises from time to time.
Then he asked, "What church do you go to?"
Several different answers flashed through my mind, but I decided to go with the one that answered the question directly without supplying extra information: "We don't go to any church."
He then told me about the one his family attends and mentioned another one in town, all with a friendly and helpful demeanor.
A bit later, as we approached the school, he mentioned a word he had seen but didn't know. I explained what it meant in Greek, which both jogged his memory ("Oh, I guess I did know it!") and elicited questions about me knowing Greek. "Well, Ancient Greek," I specified. I then explained what "Classics" is and that I spend a lot of time reading Latin and Greek. Which brought him back to matters as religion, as I confirmed to him that, yes, I can in fact read the Bible, or at least the parts in Greek (my Hebrew has shrunk from years of disuse and my Aramaic is non-existent--though I didn't get into that with him).
"But," I clarified, "I mostly read Latin poetry." I tried to explain "epic" and he had heard of Homer, but we ended up back on the Bible again, as his point of reference.
This is primarily a company town, one that employs a lot of people in science and research positions. Pretty much every household around us has at least one very science-oriented person. And yet, religion predominates more than I would have expected. As small as our town is, you can find a wide range of Christian denominations and several of the congregations seem quite large.
In many ways, I feel like being a lesbian is easier than being an atheist here. For one thing, we haven't really had the option to hide the fact that we are two women raising a child we both call "son." (It's not impossible to hide, but involves such a web of lies and paranoia that we never even considered it.) But the atheist angle is not as obvious. As new as we still are to town, it might be easy for them to figure we haven't had a chance to check out the different churches in town. Or maybe we're just not as observant. Or maybe we're going to the same church as Trillian's in-laws in Capital City (which, we kind of are, as in none).
What probably hasn't crossed their minds is that we don't believe. That we are part of a family group in Big City which gathers a couple times a month to present lessons on different cultures' historical beliefs and then perform science experiments. That we are quite consciously raising our son without religion--not to define him as an atheist right now, but to equip him with all sorts of knowledge before he makes a decision. That, as someone raised in a similar environment, I know what I hope he decides.
I know that I didn't explain any of this to our neighbor this morning, in part because this didn't seem like a conversation to have with an 8-year-old. His parents, yes, when the topic comes up, not that I'm looking forward to that conversation either, but I definitely didn't want to come off as trying to push my non-belief on their impressionable child. In a funny way, it's a bit like the fears that can come up with introducing children to the concept of "gay." And again, it's a concept that can be a total non-starter for many people.
(At least Scooter didn't respond to the neighbor's query with his usual disdain for churches. I swear that this doesn't come from us, but one time as we were driving by one of the churches--and we had never told him it was a church and we just don't talk about church at all--he started in on "church toys" and how he didn't need "church toys," all with a sneer in his voice. We suspect this may have come from a conversation at preschool, but never figured out its origin.)