On Tuesday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer interviewed a young mother who survived the deadly Oklahoma tornado. "You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord?," he asked.
The young woman briefly hesitated. "I'm actually an atheist," she said, and laughed off Blitzer's awkward, foot-in-mouth moment.
Having just returned from Charlotte, N.C., where a Starbucks barista said "God bless you" after a transaction and a shuttle driver freely expressed his belief in God to me and other strangers, Wolf Blitzer's question makes me bristle.
Perhaps I'm old school. But I firmly believe religion is a deeply private matter. It's not something you bring up with strangers, unless you happen to meet those strangers at a like-minded religious gathering. I even believe you should be careful mentioning religion with friends and family members. But judging from the religious postings I see frequently on Facebook, I'm in the minority here.
Religion, politics, money, sex. They're all vitally important topics, but in my view, they're usually not something to be casually brought up. The fact is, there are plenty of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and others in the world whose spiritual beliefs don't align with yours. When you express your religious beliefs to them, you make them uncomfortable at best, combative at worst.
Admittedly, my 'God is great' antenna are always out, probably because as a gay kid growing up in the South, God was often used against me. (I'm gay, therefore I'll burn in hell is the general theory.) Luckily, my parents didn't participate in this charade. My father strongly disliked it when someone would bring up their religious beliefs. This was because his mother was a Bible-thumping Baptist who forced religion on him and his brother. Not surprisingly, her actions had nearly the opposite effect.
My father decided that he wanted to expose my sisters and I to the Christian church and for us to be confirmed in the church. We attended a nearby United Church of Christ, but not all that often. In fact, I visited Sunday school so infrequently as a child, the teacher assumed I was chronically ill. Mischievous kid that I was, I didn't discourage her assumption. After we were confirmed, my sisters and I were free to participate--or not--in the church.
As tempting as it might be, I'm not going to share my spiritual beliefs in this post, because I feel so strongly about how personal those beliefs are. However, I'll add that if you have strong religious beliefs, I'm happy for you. Seriously. Life can be extremely challenging, and we all need something to get us through the difficult as well as the joyful parts. We must all find meaning to our lives, to understand humility and gratitude, and religion can be a powerful means to those ends.
But if you're a rental car company shuttle bus driver, or a Starbucks barista, or Wolf Blitzer, or a Facebook friend, don't assume I share your religious views. Or that your beliefs are better than mine. Or that you need to lay your beliefs on me like a choir robe. We're all believers in something, and we often don't believe in the same things, and to that I say: Amen.