I had a dream that I had to tell my host mom that I was an atheist last night. It’s weird, because I actually did tell her that in real life and it went pretty smoothly. In the dream, it was awful.
In real life, I spent six months sort of vaguely implying I was Christian, without saying anything explicit. I made a lot of ambiguous, agreeable noises when other people spoke of their faith. My host mom, like most Costa Ricans, is Catholic, but sort of lapsed, and I didn’t want to risk offending her, although I trusted she (unlike many other host families) wouldn’t try to convert me.
Then, one morning at breakfast, Andony mentioned something about the church service at school and how two of the other kids are atheist. I was curious about the role of religion in his school, but Dona Elisa interrupted and said, well, of course they believe in god. Gleefully contradictory, Andony was like, no, that is what ateo means, that you don’t believe in god. His grandmother was like, everybody believes in god, they just don’t go to church. Andony replied, but you don’t go to church. She said, I do sometimes! Anyway, I don’t need to anymore, I’m old. And I pray! If you want to go to church, I’ll take you.
I felt all the blood rush to my head and the gallo pinto turn to rock in my stomach, and I quietly said, “I’m an atheist.” Dona Elisa looked up at me sharply, and she said “but you believe in God.” I said, “no,” and she looked a little gobsmacked and didn’t reply. Afterwards, although I continued to feel a little nervous about having made that confession, she seemed to revert to an assumption of shared faith except for the times when she would avoid looking at me and deliver sermons (meant for me) to Andony or anyone else nearby, about how a person can not-believe, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t still there for that person.
I know why religion is important to her. I think she doesn’t think about it very much, it’s not an active, ever-present thing in her life, but she needs to know there’s something after death for the people she’s loved who have died. That’s why she assumes everybody believes the same, and that is part of why I didn’t want to admit to my atheism. I knew it would be a sort of confrontation, that I couldn’t bear to live in her house and tell her that I don’t think those people she loves are with god, because that’s not real.