God at the Bank

By Bobbie Kirkhart

We were the only two wait­ing in the New Accounts sec­tion in the bank. For us gre­gar­i­ous Amer­i­cans, this is a slight­ly awk­ward sit­u­a­tion. In most wait­ing rooms, we would start a con­ver­sa­tion. We start con­ver­sa­tions with total strangers in doc­tors’ wait­ing rooms, in the halls of court hous­es, dur­ing inter­mis­sion at the the­ater, and in any slow-mov­ing line.

Banks present a spe­cial sit­u­a­tion. They are qui­et, but peo­ple are work­ing all around, often in the same room. The stan­dard open­ing ques­tion, “What brings you here?” may be embar­rass­ing. Strange­ly, this doesn’t both­er us in the doc­tors’ office. We’d rather tell a stranger that we have a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted dis­ease than that we need to refi­nance a loan.

Bob­bie wear­ing the ‘cor­pus delic­ti’ — pho­to cred­it: Bob­bie Kirkhart

In the bank we need a book to pre­tend to read. We had nei­ther, and unlike doc­tors’ offices, they don’t pro­vide mag­a­zines. From time to time, I looked down at my cell phone, as if some­thing were hap­pen­ing. She appar­ent­ly didn’t have a phone. We smiled awk­ward­ly. Final­ly, she saw a life­line. She point­ed to my t‑shirt. It read “Friend­ly Neigh­bor­hood Atheist.”

“I don’t know what that means. What’s an athe­ist?” I was sur­prised by the ques­tion and won­dered if it was sin­cere. While many Amer­i­cans don’t under­stand the word, almost all think they do. Mis­de­f­i­n­i­tions vary from “Dev­il Wor­ship­per” to “Evil.” (A few years back, I had to argue with the local news­pa­per about that one.)

“It means,” I said, “I don’t believe in any god.” She looked quizzi­cal, so I con­tin­ued. “I don’t believe in Zeus, or Allah, or Yah­weh, or Odin. … I don’t believe in any god.”

“Oh,” she said, sat­is­fied with my answer. Just as they announced my name, a wor­ri­some thought occurred to her. “But,” she called to my back, “you do believe in the ulti­mate god, don’t you?”

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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.