I’ve already spoken about this on Facebook right after it happened. For those of you who didn’t get to read it here’s the story:
I’d just gotten done working with the homeless and was still wearing my Atheist Alliance Helping the Homeless shirt that has “Atheist Alliance Helping the Homeless Chattanooga” on the front and “Atheist Alliance of America” on the back. Pretty obvious indication I’m an atheist. I didn’t think anything about it as I went about my day cleaning around the house and making preparations for next week. I realize I need to go to the store so I pop by the nearest Walmart. About halfway there I realize that I still have the shirt on. I shrug to myself and think “Well, this may not go well but I’m not turning around to change shirts”.
I grab a cart and head in to shop, wondering how long until someone stops me. I get halfway through the grocery isle and sure enough someone stops me. It’s some guy in his early 20s. He looks at me and says “You look like a dad. A friend put a pizza on my table and now it’s got a white scorch mark on it. What do you think would be best for removing it?” The first thought that crosses my mind is “I guess either he didn’t read the shirt or he doesn’t care”. We spend the next 10 minutes talking over the damage to his table and me making uneducated guesses about the best solution for his damaged furniture.
Two aisles later I’m watching a lady struggle to get some chips off the top row. She’s not able to reach them and the lady in the row with her isn’t much taller. I head down there and I’m barely able to grab the two bags of chips she needs. She thanks me and I’m on my way again. Again, no mention of the shirt. I’m beginning to wonder what’s going on. I fully expected someone to say something or at least to get a dirty look by now. I’m now wondering what alternate-world Walmart I’ve walked into.
Finally, in the checkout someone notices the shirt: I’m next up in line and a lady walks up to me and says “I saw your shirt”. Uh-oh, here it comes. She then follows up with “I’d like to thank you guys for everything you do. We moved here and it’s good to see people standing up for us. Keep up the good work”. At this point I’m both pleased and thoroughly confused. This whole time I was expecting to catch flak for wearing a shirt like this in Chattanooga but the opposite happened: this was by far the most pleasant trip to Walmart I’ve ever had.
I would like to think that in some small way over the years people are starting to realize that atheists are just like everyone else. Maybe it has become safer to come out as an atheist and be public about who we are. I would like to hope that more people can come out and publicly be nonbelievers without repercussions.
This whole experience has emboldened me personally to want to wear atheist shirts more often, not to provoke a reaction, but rather to show that we’re normal people out in the world who are just like everyone else. My next experience may not go nearly as well but only time will tell. In the meantime I’m planning on putting together several positively worded atheist and Humanist shirts to wear in public.
If you’re an atheist or Humanist would you wear a positively worded shirt in public? Would you do it by yourself or would you rather be in a group if you did?
Something to think about…