This is the second part to “The Road to Athiesm…” Read that first.
I stopped taking communion at church. I was still obligated to attend whenever my mother deemed it a “family event” and I’d grit my teeth throughout the services, becoming more annoyed with every “Praise God!” Near the end of each mass, the congregation would approach the priest and either receive the body of Christ or a blessing; I wanted neither. Each pew filed out into an orderly line and only the elderly remained behind in their seats. I would follow my family to the end of the pew until it was emptied and I would return to my seat, often next to my nonna. For the next few minutes, I would sit stiff and uncomfortable, aware of how noticeable my defiance was. Nonna would sniff in disdain and I would clench my fist but still help her when she knelt down to pray.
Communion was awkward but it never posed a real problem. After a few years, I developed a system that involved a discrete exit or sitting in the back row. My brother’s wedding changed that. My brother and his fiance decided they would have a full mass on their wedding day. Modern weddings have been shortened to half-hour services that often skip over the ceremonies like communion, but my brother had deigned for a full hour-long, lessons-from-the-bible hurrah. As a bridesmaid, I would be sitting front row in a packed church of my very catholic extended family (many of whom my parents had chosen not to tell about my atheism); there would be no discreetly standing to the side. I was told to take the communion.
For the first time in years, my atheism was a point of contention between me and my family again. Before then we had come to some sort of stalemate, where they would throw jokes and try to get me to say Grace at dinners but it would otherwise stay unmentioned.
“Do it for your brother, and if not for him, then do it because I’m asking you to.” My mother had implored.
“What’s the big deal? Just make everyone happy.” My dad had reasoned.
“It’ll look stupid if you don’t go up. You agreed to be a bridesmaid, this is part of that.” My brother had insisted, his fiancé staying quiet but obviously in agreeance. It felt like giving in, eating that disgusting piece of cracker, but if I didn’t I would be seen as a stubborn bitch who couldn’t eat a cracker to make her family happy.
“You can take the blessing,” Father Sam had said when I asked him what to do at the rehearsal. I had stuttered out my question, a deep knot in my belly, but he had just smiled benignly at me and gave me an out, “and don’t you worry, some of the greatest saints had doubts.” I could only smile back at him and swallow past the lump in my throat.
I took the blessing at my brother’s wedding. I coached the members of the bridal party on how to either accept the cracker or ask for a blessing; many of them were my brother’s friends and hadn’t taken part in catholic ceremonies before. I filed out of the pew, the second last in the row, and when it was my turn, Father Sam gave me a wink before endowing me with God’s favour. Only two family members chastised me that day and I considered it a win.
My parents held an after-party the next day and my house was once again filled to the brim with family. Near the end of the party, my brother’s godsister sat next to me on the deck’s steps and informed me that “they” were talking about me inside the house. “They” being the women who were clustered around my dining room table ranging from my mother to my aunts to my cousin visiting from Italy. My brother’s godsister explained that they had been discussing my religious views and I almost stood up to rage inside.
“Your mom defended you though,” my brother’s godsister had told me, “she told them that you’re respectful and allowed to make your own decisions. Some thought maybe you’re just doing it to rebel, but I think everyone is starting to realise you’re serious.” I didn’t end up going inside that day and I didn’t bring it up until days later, after the family staying with us had departed and my house had returned to normal.
“I don’t appreciate you guys sitting in here and talking about me.” I didn’t give my mother much context but she put the pieces together herself.
“Does it matter? Will their opinions change how you feel?” she retorted.
“No.” And I realised it didn’t.
“Then don’t worry about it. Let them talk.”
“I heard you defended me. Thank you.”
I still watch atheist videos but when I talk about it, it is with the excitement of new knowledge and not the arrogance of it. I call my myself an atheist without reservations but when I don’t know a person well, or if I’m not sure how they’ll react, I’ll say my family is catholic. I’ve learned that I don’t need to start conflict unnecessarily by pronouncing someone’s beliefs to be false; it didn’t validate my beliefs, or lack thereof, and only made me into the stereotype that fuels so many anti-atheist sentiments. I’m sure there will be times in the future where I’ll be judged for being an atheist, but it’ll never be from the people that matter.