Q: My 13-year-old niece is interviewing family members about their religious beliefs for a school project. Niece wants to talk to me this weekend.
I am an atheist. Niece's mom is uncomfortable with this fact.
Is there anything in particular I should say to make clear that I respect the beliefs of others, while not shying away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of) beliefs?
A: "I respect the beliefs of others, but I don't shy away from openly and proudly proclaiming my own (lack of) beliefs." That is, if she asks you how you regard beliefs that differ from yours. If she doesn't ask that, then just stick to the point of the project, and answer truthfully whatever questions she asks about your beliefs.
Why do you need to spin your atheism to be palatable to the mother? It's not like you're sneaking your niece liquor or R-rated movies; you're just telling your truth.
Plus, the project isn't about orchestrating family harmony, it's about your niece's education. Plus, any discomfort her mom feels is the mom's problem, and if the niece wants to talk to Mom about it or vice versa, then nothing's stopping them. Plus, if her mother thinks atheism is so radioactive that her daughter's faith can't withstand mention of it, then she doesn't have much faith in her faith.