There I stood, butt-naked, chatting casually with my spray tan technician about my recent trials and tribulations in trying to get pregnant. We’d been trying for months I shared. We’d pro-actively gone to the fertility doctor to get informed and discuss potential options, continued to try on our own, moved forward with fertility testing, tried some more, then finally had our sit down with the doctor to learn that we’d have roughly a 6% chance of conceiving naturally. Based on all the information the doctor had gathered about us, he believed medically we were an ideal case for IVF. I shared this news with her optimistically. Enthusiastically even.

If you’re wondering who on earth shares this much and this kind of personal information with their spray tan tech. in a 15-minute appointment – while naked – the answer is that we’d become friends. Friends who’d spent real time together and shared many meaningful conversations prior to this. And as my friend, before I’d realized I was an atheist, I’d shared with her frustrations I’d had with my church (and the bible generally) and my desire to believe despite those growing frustrations.

I’d also shared that my husband didn’t really buy into the ‘whole God thing.’

“You need to be careful,” she started, “A friend of mine got deathly sick from all of those hormones,” she said breezily. She was talking hormones, sickness, and concern for my well being, but something in her expression made me feel her overwhelming disapproval, and my gut said it had nothing to do with the hormones. She continued telling me how severe her friend’s symptoms were while working the sprayer over my body like a pro. I watched her face as she spoke. Every time she paused for a breath, I’d see it again. Contempt? She paused, and there it was.  Yep, definitely contempt. But I couldn’t immediately figure out why.

I quickly decided I needed to wrap up the conversation sensing that for whatever reason she had negative feelings about our decision to move forward with fertility treatment. And I didn’t want my excitement for our weird science baby even temporarily derailed.

“Yeah, I guess I can’t know the reactions to the drugs I might have until the time comes, but I’ll be sure to look at all the best resources beforehand,” I hurriedly said in an effort to politely end that portion of our conversation and move to something lighter.

“Okay, face forward, hold for the first 8,” she said. Perfect, I thought. She was just about to spray my face, the finishing touch to the sun-kissed glow I’d come for.

I closed my eyes and as I began to inhale, I heard, “it’s too bad Will doesn’t believe in God, huh?”

There it was. That was what her face had been saying. That was the contempt I’d seen seconds before. I wasn’t leaving the fate of my fertility in the hands of her god, and she found that more than bothersome.

I was stunned by the callousness of her words, and more stunned by her unawareness of their callousness. I popped my eyes open in shock despite the sprayer being aimed at my face. She had a smug look on her face that told me she wholeheartedly believed that her god had the answers to our fertility issue.

I shut my eyes and suffered a rapid fire 8 seconds of thoughts as I tried to process her words.

She has no idea I’m now an atheist. Should I tell her? No, now’s not the time.

But I really want to tell her. No, MK, not now, you’re too emotional.

Huh. I am emotional. Why? Why am I so emotional over this? It was a throw away comment, right?

Just tell her you’re an atheist. That will show her. Show her what? What did I want to show her?

Tell her. Just blurt it out before you overthink this like you do everything else. Tell her right now.

“… And EIGHT, okay, all done round one.”

I open my eyes, exhale, and stammer, “yeah,” with an uncomfortable laugh.

You fucking coward, I screamed at myself. Why didn’t you tell her? I realized I was sweating and my hands were doing that awful nervous shake they do. I was both surprised and confused by my body’s physical reaction to her words.

“Okay, ready for another 8 seconds,” she asked. I nodded, inhaled and closed my eyes again thankful for more time I wasn’t expected to make conversation.

Again, I got lost in another 8-second eternity of my own thoughts. This time though, they were a bit more pointed.

It’s too bad that he doesn’t believe in God. What does that even mean?

Which god? Your god? Your god who made our heat and light source give us skin cancer, hence your thriving business? Hmmm, I don’t think she’ll find that as funny as I do. Keep that one to yourself, MK.

And what if he prayed to a different god than you? What then? Who’s right? Who’s praying to the all powerful prayer answerer in the sky, and who’s just praying to the sky?

Why “too bad?” Are those words of sympathy for me because you determined your shitty god is punishing me for my husband’s non-belief?

Or, are those words of sympathy for him? Too bad he doesn’t have a god to pray to so he could ask god to give us a baby? I thought he had a plan for me, for us – so he either plans for us to have a child, or he doesn’t. And he knows when and if it’s supposed to happen, right? So why is all this begging required? I thought he knew what the fuck he was doing up there. Is this a courtroom situation? Is he going to take my request under advisement? Weigh the evidence? Determine if I’m worthy of a baby?

Sounds totally legitimate.

I felt equal parts sardonic and mocking toward her as I did bitter, angry, and hurt.

“… Seven and eight, okay, all done.” Knowing the routine, I stood there for several minutes to dry. I was relieved when her next appointment arrived and I could be left alone in my thoughts. Minutes later, I paid, and was on my way home.

Before I was half a block away, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Gone were sardonic and mocking. I was all bitterness, anger, and hurt. Why did I care this much about her trivial comment?

But it wasn’t trivial, and I knew it. It was a verbal assault. And it hurt to my core.

In the hours, days, and weeks that followed, I was consumed by her words. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I was determined to make sense of their meaning and understand my own visceral reaction to them. And, soon thereafter, I did.

First, this whole atheism thing was relatively new to me. Prior to her comment, I had realized my heathen ways only one year earlier. And although I’d shared my news with certain friends and family, I’d been met with little hostility. Of course, this was because I’d deliberately shared only with people I knew would be supportive, or at least non-confrontational.

Maybe this was cowardly, but I had been working my way up to tell those people I’d anticipated push-back from until I had a little more confidence under my belt. Not confidence in my newly held viewpoint, but confidence in myself to articulate my new viewpoint under less than desirable circumstances. Those circumstances being my loved ones attacking me for my non-belief.

That being said, this was truly my first encounter with someone I cared about judging me (or my husband rather) specifically for his (and as far as I was concerned our) non-belief.

I had expected retorts in the form of vague assertions of their biblical wisdom or broad attacks on what they perceived as my lack there of, and projections of their “fear” for my eternal well-being. You know the routine rhetoric.

What I didn’t expect were assertions about my fertility, health, or family. That felt like a personal attack.

If I’m being honest, it didn’t feel like a personal attack, it was one. Her words implied I somehow deserved this hardship.

And I knew then that was what was eating at me all those weeks – the accusatory nature of the words. I soon realized that I should have anticipated exactly those kinds of assertions, and exactly those insensitive words.

After all, people who believe in magic and make-believe have to believe their god is up there doing something. And that something falls into two categories: (1) something really great just happened – praise god, or (2) something really terrible happened, god must have some long term mysterious plan that hasn’t been revealed yet – and therefore, praise god.

But the reality is, they have absolutely no idea what their god is doing up there. And more significantly, they don’t care. Their need to believe is greater than their need to understand.

And because of this, they constantly word vomit all over people and situations when they can’t or don’t want to understand the very real underlying human, economic, or scientific issues.

Case in point, my dear friend felt certain my fertility issue was exactly the kind of something her god handled. And therefore, she felt comfortable, even obligated it seemed, to throw some of her unsolicited godly word vomit my way.

You see, when unfortunate or inexplicable things happen, the religious are a barrage of meaningless non-sense designed to make sure all of their conflicting brain boxes stay in tact and untangled.

“God has a reason even if we can’t understand it.”

“Be patient and wait for Him to reveal His plan to you.”

“God must need another angel, but you’ll meet again in paradise.”

“It’s just too bad you don’t believe in God because he could fix this problem with just a little bit of prayer.”

The absurdity of the claims they’re making is of no consequence to them. They’ve heard these statements countless times, and have repeated them countless more. They’ve been trained to find comfort in blind faith.

This is fine and well except for one thing: They need you to buy into their non-sense too.

They can’t have you casually waltz in with all of your questions – or worse, your answer seeking. They don’t want to hear reasoned arguments. And most of all, they don’t want scientific solutions.

If science can solve the problem, what is their God doing up there? It’s the forbidden question. The one that starts the jumbling of those neatly compartmentalized brain boxes.

So just buy in they plead. Just buy into their magic man in the sky. Just buy in so you can stop thinking so much. Buy in so you can sit and wait patiently for His grand plan to be revealed to you. But what they mean is buy in so WE don’t have to think so much. Buy in so WE aren’t confronted with unanswerable questions. Buy in so WE can blindly believe because we’re too scared to stop.

And that’s when I realized that her words came from a place of fear. Sure, they were well disguised with arrogance and a smug look, but fear is the only thing that prevents you from asking questions and seeking answers. Fear is the only thing that impedes your willingness to look for scientific solutions to solvable problems.

I knew this because I once had that same fear. And the day I finally let go of that fear and admitted what I knew to be true – that there is no god – that day was the most liberating day of my life.

Not long after I’d come to these realizations I was on the phone with another dear friend relaying to her the same details of our fertility struggles and how we were in the midst of our first IVF cycle.

“Have you tried praying,” she asked concerned. I chuckled, “Nah, we’re just going with science on this one,” I shared confidently. I was a coward no more. I knew science was greater than god. And I stopped being ashamed in proclaiming it.

In case you’re wondering if I ever went back for another spray tan, I did. When I was seven months pregnant with our weird science baby.