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.