I have been an atheist for the last several years, ever since losing my (Christian) faith following a close friend's untimely death. Recently, my boss's mother told me about a serious and risky surgery that her other child would soon have. After I said to her, "I'll keep him in my thoughts," she responded, "Oh, would you please pray for him?" I said yes, and she began talking about her belief in the power of prayer, a belief I once would have shared. At the time, I wanted to comfort her in any way that I could, so I agreed with what she said. Also, it hardly would have been appropriate to launch into a "Why I'm an Atheist" speech. Later, though, I felt very uncomfortable with the fact that I'd lied and acted as if I shared her beliefs. Is this kind of thing a no-win situation? -Not a Believer
Emily Yoffe gives pretty much the only answer possible to N.A.B.: in such circumstances (and with an interlocutor who is your boss's mother), you shouldn't feel bad about momentarily opting not to play the asshole village atheist. What's interesting here is the play of incentives. People like "Not a Believer" get backed into corners like this a great deal less often if they do, in fact, signal their atheism aggressively in everyday life. (HEY GUYS CHECK OUT MY NEW DARWIN FISH) The more ostensively superfluous signaling you do, the less likely you are to have to face some painful choice, at an awkward, emotionally high-leverage moment, between lying and offending somebody. This suggests two things that most of us (believers or not) may not have considered: (1) Village-atheist types potentially have good personal reasons beyond mere bolshiness for acting that way, and (2) their frantic signalling can actually be considered a benefit to Christians, who, by it, gain useful foreknowledge that they should not trust/confide in/impose upon a particular acquaintance.