Getting to Know You

By Bobbie Kirkhart

my university school days – at least on the student side of the desk – are two decades past now, but I daresay this story is still playing out today, in graduate schools and other places where thinking people with different experiences collide.

On the first night of class, we started with an icebreaker: paired off, we were to interview each other and then introduce our colleague to the class. I was partnered with a woman who, as soon as the professor said “begin,” narrated her life story. I knew everything about her in 10 minutes without having asked a single question.  She concluded her soliloquy with the statement, “I’m very active in my church.”

When she interviewed me, I concluded, “I’m an atheist activist.” I was almost expecting a negative response, but she simply commented, “that’s interesting.”

When we were called on, she introduced me, my school, my specialty, my hobbies, and then turned to me and asked, “Shall I tell them the secret?”

Not knowing what hidden vice this woman had learned about me in our 20-minute acquaintance, I decided the best option was to lie. “I have no secrets.” I was able to keep a straight face.

Then, in a stage whisper, she said, “you know… the atheist thing.”

I assured the class that I am an out-of-the-closet infidel, and we went on. When my daughter was mentioned, one of my classmates shouted out, “If we can’t sa-a-ave the mother, maybe we can sa-a-ave the daughter.”

During the break, a friend was waiting just outside the door. “Bobbie, we have to talk. I’ve always said that if I ever met an atheist I wouldn’t like them.” Another class mate came up and asked me if I was a member of Atheists United. I was. She was, too. “You mean,” my friend exclaimed, “there are TWO of you?”  I told her that there were at least three, a mutual friend was also an atheist.

My stunned friend recovered, but the man who wanted to “save” my daughter didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he is still praying for our souls to this day.

Bobbie Kirkhart is vice president of the Atheist Alliance of America and serves on the board of Camp Quest, Inc., a summer camp for children of freethinking families. She is a past president of the Atheist Alliance International as well as a frequent contributor to U.S. freethought publications.