Rule #2: Know when to pretend you’re a Christian
Christians may say it’s hard to be a Christian in modern society, but they’ve never tried being an atheist. As a general rule, there are a lot of situations when you should pretend to be a Christian:
- Meeting your girlfriend’s Christian parents for the first time. Seriously, I’ve heard many stories (and experienced similar) in which massive conflict erupted the instant a girlfriend’s parents discovered that a guy was an atheist. You can’t keep it a secret forever, but you should avoid making it part of your first impression. Give them a chance to get to know you before you drop the A-bomb on them.
- Business networking. While Christians may say “love thy neighbour”, there seems to be a silent addendum: “but feel free to discriminate on the basis of religion”. Like it or not, Christians reserve a much higher degree of trust for fellow Christians. You can choose to exploit this or be injured by it. For example, if your line of work requires business networking, it’s a good idea to become a member of a local church, because Christians preferentially give business to other Christians. The choice really is yours, because one of the nice things about atheism is that there is no deity to get offended by your apparent disloyalty.
- Christian funerals. At the funeral of a Christian, you can guarantee that other Christians will be there and will talk about God quite a bit. They might say things which annoy you or even offend you. However, it doesn’t last very long, so just shut up and go along with it. Don’t be a dick.
- Arguing with a Christian about social welfare. For some reason, the Christian majority in North America seems to have taken a collective stance against social welfare, even though Jesus preached in favour of it (and don’t let them pull that “leave that to individuals and not the state” crap; they have absolutely no problem using the state to enforce other teachings of their religion, like “prostitution is immoral”). However, since atheism = “no morality” in the eyes of many Christians, you’re in for a whole lot of extra (and unnecessary and irrelevant) arguments defending atheism if you self-declare as an atheist. Better to pretend you’re Christian long enough to guilt-trip him about what Jesus would think of his selfishness. Turn the tables so that you get to be the sanctimonious Jesus freak for once. It can be a fun change of pace.
- When your host says grace. If you’re a guest in someone’s house and they’re saying a prayer of thanks to their god, just go along with it. You don’t have to say anything; just shut up for a minute. It’s not really much of an imposition. You’re a guest in someone else’s house; it’s common courtesy. Once again, don’t be a dick.
- If you want to volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America. Volunteering to help raise the next generation can be very rewarding, regardless of whether you believe in a god or not. Unfortunately, the BSA does not see it that way: if you’re an atheist, they will kick you out (The Boy Scouts of Canada are more open, and they will accept any kind of spiritual belief, including atheistic ones). You could try to fight that sort of thing in court, but I wouldn’t count on winning, and after a bitter legal battle, I doubt any of the other parents would want you around anyway. Just go along with it. Yes, I know, it means letting the bigots win. Sometimes, life is like that.
- Politics. Most of us will never run for political office. However, if you do, especially for a high office, you had best pretend to be Christian. No openly atheistic person will ever be elected President of America in our lifetimes. A lot of the confusing religious behaviour of early American leaders (eg- making public speeches extolling Biblical virtues while privately writing heretical things to friends) make perfect sense if they were following this rule.
- Texas. Seriously, why take the risk? They’re super-reactionary, they’re armed, and they think they prove their patriotism by abusing outsiders. Don’t pick a fight with a psycho.