This weekend I've been visiting my family as I've been house hunting in Virginia. We have found a house we really like, and I'm going to be making an offer tomorrow! The interesting fact? This house used to belong to a Church of the Brethren pastor. They used to hold some of their services and events in the basement. There is an old pew in the basement! How weird! It's a for-sale-by-owner, being sold by the daughter of said pastor (since deceased), and she had specifically kept it off of the listing services so that she could be picky about who buys the house. (we found out by word of mouth) Needless to say, I kept very quiet over being an atheist. This was one of those political closet doors that I didn't mind keeping shut. She sounded like she really wanted to sell us the house, so I would say it was worth it.
Yet, happily, I have really been able to talk about atheism on this trip! My sister, who used to claim agnosticism, turns out to have transitioned into full atheism over the last few years. I'm not certain about her husband, but I suspect he is too. My dad is agnostic, and my mom is pantheistic. We actually had a nice dinner conversation on the problems with religion, and took turns telling and laughing about awful bible stories (Lot's daughters, Jephthah, etc.). I was open to my Mom about writing a blog about atheism, the first person I've talked with about it.
When I was young, I caught an errant tennis ball in my eye. It scratched my cornea a bit and my doctor prescribed three days without opening my eyes to encourage the healing process. So I wore a tight blindfold, and listened to a few books on tape. After three days I ripped off the blindfold, bursting with newfound respect for blind people. I had taken vision for granted for most of my life, but was now truly appreciating it.
That is as close as I can describe the feelings I had while talking about atheism really openly, and in person for the first time since college. It was also the first time I had talked about atheism since striving to become a more educated atheist (familiar with statistics, familiar with more of the bible, familiar with more world religions, etc.). It was refreshing. It just felt great.
I had mentioned before about maybe looking for other atheist groups in the area. Greg and vjack had some good advice, but it is a very conservative area of Virginia so I'm not sure easy it would be to locate atheists. But ... if I did find some people, I would be very tempted to hold some of the groups meetings/events. In the basement. The very same basement that had at one time held church services. Wouldn't that be hilarious?