Pro Women’s Basketball Player Comes Out as an Atheist

 

I am often called a “Good Christian Woman.” Why does this bother me? I am not Christian.

 

(Kristin Turk (Des Moines, Iowa/Lincoln) has a professional contract to continue her basketball career with the Mark Basket squad in Kinna, Sweden. She plays in the Damligan League, Sweden’s top division, for head coach Frank Alm)

I am a former Division I Women’s basketball player and I have worked hard my entire life to become the best version of myself. I had a very successful career at Drake University as a basketball player and as a student. In my senior season, I led the conference in scoring and graduated cum laude with a degree in history. I have a personal relationship with the president of the university as well as the athletic director and several other university officials.

As a hometown girl and a known scorer, I gained quite a few fans at Drake. I work hard on the court and am often told that I play with a lot of energy. I am well spoken and have been told that I am a great role model for young women. I do not smoke or do drugs.  I am a very honest and open person. I love to smile and laugh and have fun.  I’ve never even had a sip of alcohol in my 22 years of life.

So why does it bother me that people call me a “Good Christian Woman?” People often make assumptions that I am Christian because I am a moral young woman that may serve as a role model as others. I have grown up in a society where good = Christian, and I am uncomfortable with that. On the other side, when I tell people that I am an atheist, they are usually extremely surprised. The assumption is that Atheism = bad.

But why is there this assumption about atheists? What have we really done to make people feel this way about us?

Let me give you a little background so that you can better understand me and my lack of religion.

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa with very little religion in my life. My mother and father are proclaimed Christians, but they never spoke of it much while my brother, sister and I were growing up. They truly allowed us to think freely for ourselves when it came to religion, even though both were at one time “born again Christians.” My brother, sister and I are now all atheists.

When I was younger, I believed in God like I believed in Santa Claus. I had blind faith that he was real because that is what I’ve been told and led to believe. In middle school, I really began to question if it was really possible that there could be a God. I went to church with my grandmother often because we were close, but I never really fully grasped the concept of religion.

My grandmother died when I was 13 and I stopped going to church after that. I had a hard sophomore year in high school with rumors and boy problems, not something that I am particularly proud of, but it happened. So I asked my mom to take me to church through my hard times. Why? Because people always seem to find God in hard times, right? Nothing registered with me. I didn’t believe it before and no matter how hard I tried to pray or have a relationship with God, I never felt like anyone was listening.

After that, I told people that I was Christian because I didn’t want to be seen as a bad person. I’ve always been a bit of a “goody-two-shoes” and I didn’t want anything ruining my reputation. As I got older, I found what I thought in high school was only confirmed by my life experiences and by study. I thought evolution was particularly interesting in high school. I knew that there were arguments against it because the Bible teaches creationism, but if you look at the scientific evidence, there is no doubt that evolution is real. I am not an extremely scientific person, but that has always been very apparent to me.

My lack of faith was constantly being strengthened by my world around me, although all my friends were Christians. I never believed in God, but I never for a second thought about telling anyone that. Atheists have always been looked down on in the world around me, and I come from a fairly liberal setting. I went to a public city school on the south side of Des Moines. There are, however, a lot of Catholics where I come from.

I graduated high school “in the closet” about my lack of religion. How could I tell anyone? I didn’t want people to judge me for not subscribing to a religion. I went on for two and a half more years, avoiding talks of religion altogether. When someone posed a question about Christianity, I would usually find a way to avoid it or hope for someone else to answer if I was in a group setting. I went to church a couple of times with friends just because I didn’t want to tell them why I didn’t want to go. I was a regular to team chapel before the basketball games and before leaving would often repeat after the chaplain “Give ‘em Heaven.”

The truth is: I often liked team chapel because the message was usually really inspiring, and not always completely Christian. Sometimes they would tell stories of real situations that happened in college sports or they would have a guest speaker come in and talk about their experiences. They were amazing to hear, and then at the end they would tie their stories to Christianity. I never made the connection. I just enjoyed the stories of the triumphs of good people.

It was very hard for me to tell anyone that I was an atheist because my closest friends on the team were almost always devout Christians. I never wanted anyone to see our relationship as being lesser because it had no faith involved in it. My coaches, teammates, and most of our fans are Christian. I honestly felt like if I told anyone that I would somehow be letting the team down. So much of what they did was playing for Christ, and I respected their desire and faith.

 

When I finally came out about being an atheist, it was because I had stopped coming to chapel my junior year. My coaches asked me about it because I was seen as somewhat of a leader on the team. I think they wanted me to try and influence some of the other girls to come to it more often. My head coach asked me first and I explained everything to her. It was hard, but I am lucky enough to have a great relationship with my college coach. She was very understanding of my beliefs and it really meant the world to me. She was the only one I had told other than my former boyfriend.

 

Then one of the assistant coaches asked me about why I didn’t come to chapel. He was not as understanding. He tried as hard as he could to handle things delicately but he truly didn’t understand why I was an atheist. He is a very devout Christian and a great man whom I have a great relationship with, so it really hit him hard when I told him. He was not expecting it at all.

I understand that, as a Christian, he believes that I will not go to Heaven as an atheist. It really bothers him because I think he really likes me as a player and as a person. He asked several questions in a tone that offended me, but I never let him know it because I know deep down that wasn’t his intentions. He is far too good of a man.  He is now a head coach at Southern Baptist University and we still keep in touch. He recently sent me some books on faith for me to read to try and help me find faith in Christianity. I know he does it because he cares so much about me, and I hope he knows how much I appreciate it, although I don’t see myself ever converting to Christianity.

After that, I started telling my teammates one by one that I was an atheist. I had intimate conversations with all of them. Everyone took it much better than I thought and I had several conversations with many of them about atheism and my beliefs. I enjoyed those conversations so much, because they just wanted to understand my thoughts without judgment. I hope they know how important it was to me to have understanding friends/teammates like that.

The next hurdle was telling my mom. I remember telling her in the car as we were on our way to the mall. I know she was disappointed, though she tried not to show it. She thinks that somehow she raised me wrong and she didn’t want to think that her baby wasn’t going to Heaven. She is not an extremely religious person, but she does believe enough to believe that. I think it still makes her sad, because when I try to talk to her about feeling uneasy about how other people see me, she sometimes defends them. I think, that she allowed me to be open-minded and think freely throughout my lifetime without pushing her beliefs on me. I made my own decisions with very little influence.

My brother has also been a big part of my life with regards to coming out about my atheism. Having someone that completely understands my thoughts with regards to religion has been extremely important to me. He is a little different from me; not afraid of offending anyone and very outspoken. I am a little more delicate with the subject. But either way, it’s nice to have someone to speak very openly with about the subject.

Why was I so nervous about coming out? Because I am an ambitious woman. The reason I decided to write this article is because I am battling with the fact that I can’t find one head college coach that is an atheist. That’s what I want to do with my life when I finish my professional basketball career overseas. Maybe I could be an assistant, but I know how often sports and faith go hand in hand, especially at the college level. I think of recruiting and trying to tell parents that I will take care of their daughter while providing a family environment, but I don’t feel like many people would want to send their child to an atheist coach. I would have no recruiting power.

Another reason I am writing this is because I once dreamed of the possibility of a political career. I began reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” today and in the preface he mentions a Gallup Poll taken in 1999 which “asked Americans whether they would vote for an otherwise well-qualified person who was a:

Woman- 95% said yes

Roman catholic- 94% said yes

Jew- 92% said yes

Black- 92% said yes

Mormon- 79% said yes

Homosexual- 79% said yes

Atheist- 49% said yes

I am deeply saddened that religion and politics are so intertwined. I would love to bring my good moral values into politics and try to change some things, but the odds of me getting elected to any office, or hired as any coach would be hard as an open atheist.

I do not want to hide my beliefs. Why is it when someone is reading the Bible, they are thought of as a good Christian, but when I open up my atheist readings, I get sideways glances. I will not hide who I am, but who I am and what I believe could prevent me from achieving my dreams. I am not saying that I will give up, but I am saying it is unfair how atheists are looked at in the United States.

Many people think of an atheist as a sad or lost person. Many people think that I feel like I have been wronged by God or that I am a Devil worshipper. They do not understand that I simply do not believe in God. Like most people do not believe in Santa Claus. I have lived a very happy and fulfilling life. I do not think God wronged me and therefore I have kicked him out of my life. I simply never believed that God existed.

Even if people do not agree with my beliefs, why can they not understand or respect them? I sat in a classroom one day in college as the professor spoke about Louis Farrakhan and his belief in space ships within his Muslim faith. The entire class was giggling and was quick to poke fun at something so ridiculous. All I could think of was: isn’t it just as ridiculous to believe that someone turned water into wine, or walked on water. And then boom: the professor said it. She said in regards to being careful what you talk about because it could seem just as silly to them that someone created everything we know in just 7 days. I have no recollection what that lesson was about. It was in a public speaking class. But it was a beautiful moment for me. Especially after I had been in a class my freshman year where someone took criticism for a similar argument until she had tears welling up in her eyes.

This argument is not to say that I do not respect the Christian religion. It is merely an argument asking for Christians to understand why I wouldn’t believe in Christianity. I have a great respect for people, which is why I always try very hard to have respect for their faith as well. I am now just asking the same respect from everyone else.

I recently read an article on USA Today online by Kimberly Winston that claims that atheists are distrusted as much as rapists. I was hoping that it was going to be an article by The Onion, because I really don’t understand what my beliefs with regards to religion has anything to do with someone’s ability to trust me.

Yes, some atheists are bad people, but so are some Christians. Just because I have faith in myself over some higher being does not mean that I am a bad person. With my atheism, I truly believe that I have one chance at this life. Once chance to live it right and become the best human being I can be. I am trying to do that every single day and I’m hoping that

So what is the point of this article? I am not asking you to become an atheist. I am just asking that you accept that I am one, and let me try to live out my dreams.

  • NoriMori

    Wow! Very well written!

    Just one question:

    “I am trying to do that every single day and I’m hoping that”

    Hoping that…what?

  • Alex

    Very well written and very impressive. I dreamed of a life in politics until high school. That’s when I realized, well, yeah.

  • Dustin

    As a Drake fan, I can say she is a phenomenal basketball player and fun to watch as a Bulldog. Great article, best wishes Kristin!

  • Dude

    It’s funny because here in Quebec, most people are at least agnostic, it’s not a big deal to be an athesist. Even a politician will say something about God in the english version of his speach, but leave it out for the French version.

  • BilboBaggins

    Good points. But I disagree that this was a well written article. If it were written by an eighth grader I would say it is a well written essay but coming from someone with such amazing credentials I would expect more. Half of the paragraphs begin with I and are composed of flat statements. For a college graduate you could do better, I am just assuming you have been out of practice lately.

    • http://clintonblackburn.net Clinton

      The article is a personal statement, not a research paper. When the author describes herself she is allowed to use “I” or “me”.

  • Kristin

    Haha, I’m not sure why I didn’t finish that thought… I assume I meant to delete that because I was going to say something redundant.
    I didn’t mean for it to be a “well written” article, just sat down one day and wrote, wanting to share my story. I understand rules for writing an article, but this was more of a story… Yes, I can do better, and have as I often composed Well-written papers in college… But I wasn’t really worried about being graded on this one. :)
    As for the “flat statements,” that is because I truly believe that people shouldn’t shoot their mouth off about things they are uninformed about. Although I have known I am an atheist for awhile, I just now started going in depth with readings and the science of the matter. When I become more informed, I will elaborate more. Right now I just wanted to share my story and how I feel about the matter.
    And thank you Dustin! Good to know there’s Drake fans on here! Go Bulldogs!
    And “dude”: since living in Sweden, I have found that they are much more accepting of everyone, religious or not. It’s been wonderful to be around.

  • Tim

    Kristin, your post has been an insightful read into someone going through similar situations right now. I too happen to be an atheist that doesn’t drink/smoke/or do drugs, have volunteered as a youth coach for over six years in my community while attending college. Currently I wouldn’t dream of coming out as an atheist because of the likelihood that I don’t subscribe to the local flavor of religion that is dominant in my community. Politics are sadly out of the window right now as well. I believe that with the power of the Internet and information as a whole, we can work positively to make changes that will ultimately allow people to see us in a good light. Unfortunately, it is due to people like you, having to masquerade as a Christian, until you decide to come out that will most likely gain us acceptance. Wouldn’t it be great to just be able to be who we are from the get go?

  • Andrew

    freaking awesome! great article! very inspiring!
    telling your teammates, coaches, and parents took a huge amount of courage and conviction. i think your article could really help inspire others that are having difficulties being open about their beliefs. telling others you’re an atheist is a difficult task by itself, but i think the pressure you faced was really extraordinary (i can’t even imagine).
    i think you’re a perfect example of the fact that being religious has nothing to do AT ALL with being a great person. and as you pointed out, it’s an extremely sad state of affairs in the US right now, where people not only believe that good people can only be christian, but also that atheists can only be immoral and depraved. i hope things improve here by the time you start coaching, but if not, i’m sure you’re up to task of becoming the first atheist head coach!
    thanks for writing this, congratulations on your success, and good luck in the pros!

    GO RAILS!

  • http://www.marriedupwithwine.com Mandy

    Thank you for writing this! I’m inspired by the fact that you had the courage to stand up for what you believe, even though it’s in the minority where you are from. The fact that your assistant coach sent you reading material on finding god astounds me. I would have taken deep offense to it after asking him to respect my beliefs, but I admire that you let it slide.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to be loud and proud about my atheism. There are so many people who are cruel and so convinced that they are right. I don’t want to debate my beliefs, I just want to live the way I wish to without being told how bad of a person I am.

    You sound like a wonderful person, and I wish you all the success in the world.

  • josh from america

    It is inspiring that individuals like yourself have the intelligence and cognitive development to reject controlling superstitions and fantasies.

    Humanity can survive as a species if everyone gains the reasoning skills and courage to resist blind peer influence, and become the architect of their own destiny.

  • joms

    kudos!

  • He Qiu

    This is an excellent article. More than fair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Brad.Feaker Brad Feaker

    Well done Kristin. But remember, while you should respect the person, you do not have to respect their faith. You should only respect their right to practice said faith.

    Cheers…

  • Oscar

    I enjoyed reading your story. Do not go into politics. Be a political advisor where the real power is. I am an atheist too, born and living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The tide is turning in the USA, which explains why the culture of religion is attempting to repress atheists and people who basically believe in freedom outside religious dogma. The world needs more people like you.

  • Darron

    Someone once said to me, “I know you’re an atheist, but you’re the most Christian person I know.” I knew immediately what she meant as understanding my morality, my generosity, kindness and friendship could only be called this in her vocabulary, as there was no other way of putting it. Just goes to show that most people think morality and kindness is a christian ethic, not an atheist one. I’m proud to be an atheist and I wish we could label our behaviour as something other than christian.

  • Kball#3

    The world needs people like you. By just speaking out about your feelings on this makes you an inspiration to many. Don’t worry about the people who judge as they know not what they do. My favorite quote from Gandhi is: I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

    I am an atheist. I like to tell people I just believe in one less god than they do.

  • James

    Kristin who cares you are a atheist. I don’t even though I beleive in the bible. My god say in Matthew 7 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what
    measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

    3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but
    considerest not the beam that is in thine
    own eye?

    so fot that reason i can’t judge you