Being an Atheist can be difficult anywhere. But being an Atheist in a predominantly Christian area can be isolating and discouraging. My husband and I, from all outward appearances, seem to be typical middle class Midwesterners (read – well off, white Christians) with two beautiful, mostly well-behaved children. Two and a half years ago, we moved to a rural flyover state that I affectionately call the Bible muffin top.
It seems like any conversation – whether it be with an employer, physician, gas station attendant or grocery store clerk – leads to church: What church do you attend? Are you related to the L’s who go to my church?, Would you like to come to our church dinner?, etc. And it is assumed that you are Christian. Or at the very least Catholic, which is not as good as being Christian and you are probably going to Hell, but at least you believe in Jesus.
We were delighted to find a great secular day care center for our kids, from limited options and asked many questions about the curriculum before enrollment. I was very surprised yesterday when K (4.5) presented me with a bible verse coloring sheet, saying, “Look mommy, they put a baby in a manger?!”
Under different circumstances, I may have come up with a great, well-thought-out response about different people’s beliefs and left it at that, but it wasn’t just a manger scene. It had questions: which character did this, where did they put the baby, etc. and then instructed the kids to read a Bible verse from Luke to learn the answers and more about our savior.
To say I was livid is putting it mildly, but I calmly walked into the Director’s office and a conversation ensued:
Me: Hi, K just gave me her art from today, and I am REALLY uncomfortable with Bible study or religious lessons. We chose this school because it is secular. We are not Christian and this is NOT okay with me.Director: We have lessons about both Santa and Christmas this time of year, but I can have the teacher give K a plain piece of paper when we do Bible sheets.Me: I need some time to think and discuss this with my husband. I am NOT comfortable with any Bible instruction, especially for young children who are receiving it along side ABCs and colors and won’t be able to distinguish between belief and fact.
I walked out thinking that we would have to find a new daycare. To be fair, the Director is new and just started a few months ago, so she probably wasn’t aware of the grilling we gave the previous Director. I got home and received a call from the Director. I was surprised that she called and her response was COMPLETELY unexpected.
I need to apologize, it never occurred to me that anyone at the school would NOT be Christian (a little shock and emphasis here, but honestly that’s to be expected).That is MY fault, not yours. Prior to coming here, I taught at a religious elementary school. It honestly seemed natural to me to have Christian materials. However, I want this to be an inclusive place for people of all backgrounds. I really want you to stay and feel comfortable.Moving forward, I will review planned activities to make sure they are inclusive and not religious in nature. Please let me know if anything else happens to make you feel uncomfortable. Oh and by the way, what are your thoughts about Santa…
Other than making me feel really weird to be the first real live Atheist she’d ever met, this encounter restored my faith in humanity. As a parent, I often think about how to reduce the number of challenges my kids face. The answer is – I can’t. And for every person who wants to be “inclusive”, there probably will be one who will point out their differences or not be willing to adjust their worldview. For now, I am happy that I don’t have to find a new day care and that ours respects diversity.
Atheist parenting win!
Now, I just need to prepare some thoughts about baby Jesus for when THAT comes up again.
Featured Graphic: Waiting For the Word
Beautiful kid: from Steph, all rights reserved