This morning, out of nowhere, my coworker asked me, "You're not, like, super religious, are you?"
I answered as any good, ex-Catholic atheist would. "Oh, god no!"
She exhaled deeply, as though relieved. "I didn't think so. Gabe thinks you are."
All day, I've been wondering why my 21 year old boss would make such an assumption. The best reasons I can muster are these: that he finds me "oddly" nice for a Yankee (he told me so), and that I don't wear makeup. There was a time and a place when such qualities made people think I was a "hippie" and I thought that was the most offensive assumption anyone could make about me.
Since moving to the south, I've had religion on the brain almost all the time. Certainly, part of it comes from arriving at the bible belt. Here, the question isn't "Are you Christian?" The question is "How Christian are you?" (I think the local "most Christian" award goes to the dude who keeps dropping bibles and religious tracts in Dan's public school lounge.) Also, our southward move coincides with the recent rise of anti-Muslim sentiment around the globe, though it seems especially concentrated here in the US. I haven't much to say on that subject that hasn't been stated more eloquently, but I'm going to offer my few cents anyway.
Again, I am an atheist. I think most religions are pretty bizarre to the same degree, though I admit to finding Mormonism especially weird (because I used to believe in god, and I figure that 2,000 years of groupthink can be pretty convincing; 150 years, are you kidding me?). Nevertheless, I respect the fact that others - including many of my favorite people - believe in god. I don't agree with them, but I don't think they're dumb for having their faith (and I know atheists who do). Mostly, I just try to mind my own business. I believe that this life is probably all I have. I'm not going to waste it with a lot of arguing and hurt feelings about the unknown.
Again, I don't think Islam is better or worse than any other religion - like I said, they're all pretty weird to me - but this spate of anti-Muslim rage and the accompanying indifference from the "Oh well, everyone's a victim, sometimes" crowd is making me really, really angry. That's because I have Muslim friends. More than that, I've known dozens of perfectly okay Muslims. Just about anyone from Dearborn can say that. It's really just that simple. If you have a friend who is Muslim, chances are that you are more likely to support the opening of an Islamic center two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center (according to this New York Times article, that's certainly true among New Yorkers, who are arguably most affected by this controversy).
My point is, I think it's a really good idea to live and work with people who don't share your same class, race, religious or sexual profile. One of the reasons I started to question Catholicism as a youngster was that I didn't think it was fair that my sister's gay friend should burn in hell, because he was always really kind to me. I'm not saying that exposure to people different from you has to be that much of a dealbreaker, but I think perspective is healthy for all. It may help you from misunderstanding an unusually polite northerner who simply chooses to not wear makeup.