In many of my encounters with black Africans (and somehow less so with the white ones, with whom I am more forthright), I regularly neglect to inform them of my atheism.
When they greet me with such things as “God Bless” somehow I know the feeling behind what they are saying ought to be: “The universe is smiling on you.” I have thought of explaining the ideological nature of my position with a little note: “By the way, I’m not religious. I’m an atheist.” But I recoil from that for reasons that I cannot quite explain. I’ll certainly try to, though, since I’m a sucker for punishment of the more intellectual sort.
So here it is. When I was a young horsey girl in Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, a British couple lived just down the road from us. They had a rather old, fly-bitten retired racehorse, which I used to groom, to help them out. One time the male of the couple was over in the field with us, as I was making busy pulling ticks from underneath the tail of his horse. I started to explain the procedure to the hapless fellow. “This is what you need to do……and if you can manage to tell this to your wife as well, then perhaps she can also help you if you don’t have the time…”
Well, this young English man told me at that point that the woman in his life was not his wife. He looked at me directly as if expecting a reaction — as if what he had just told me ought to hold some significance, somehow, generally, in the world. But I — for my part — couldn’t be sure of what he was trying to tell me. It just seemed odd. If the woman wasn’t his wife, and yet this wasn’t going to change anything, why was the strange man bothering to tell me something?
And so, it is with this kind of an experience in mind, the recollection of being African myself, and having Westerners make their peculiar ideological pronouncements at me, that I do not tell the one I’m writing to that I am atheistic in my leanings. (Nor do I mention the socialistic aspect to my thoughts, which could only serve to make things awkward, ideological-sounding and emotionally complicated.)
Am I right or am I wrong? I just feel awkward making sudden pronouncements about myself.