April 18, 2016

Three Things I [An Atheist] Wish My [Christian] Family Knew

Yesterday, my older son came trotting in following a visit to my parents' home with a book of bible stories under his arm. This in and of itself wasn't alarming or anything; indeed, he's already got two books of bible stories on his bookshelf, so at worst, it was redundant.

The conversation with my mom was stilted though. She mentioned him reading it in the car, and telling his younger brother that his name was in the Bible. You could tell from our stilted tone that the conversation was uncomfortable for both of us.

I've recently been probing why this discomfort persists. I'm coming up on two full years since I re-launched this blog as a place to openly discuss my atheism, and in that time, I've mentioned multiple times the struggles that I've had talking to my family about my atheism. (Pretty telling: Most of the time, I have no trouble typing atheism, but even in just thinking about this subject and my family, I started to type "secularism" there instead.)

The bulk of the issue is that we don't talk about it. Ever. My mom and I had one painful conversation in 2014, and that's been the extent of it. I know from conversations with other family members that she talks to them about it--but never to me. And I am far from blameless here. I could bring it up myself and force the discussion, but my aversion to confrontation continues to interfere. That's not an excuse, either; it's an accusation. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with myself over this issue.

I've been doing some thinking on what I wished my family would understand.


My children do have a choice.


This is one of the conversations that has trickled back to me--how upset my family is that my children don't have a choice.

And I'm not going to dissemble: my first reaction was anger. I wondered where my choice was, when I was going to church at least three times a week, when I was spending Saturday afternoons cleaning the church, when I was being carted to every youth group meeting imaginable. Where was my choice?

But what I'd really like them to understand is simple: I don't care if my children are atheists. 

My goal is not, and will not be, to raise atheist children. My goal is to raise functional adults who contribute to society in meaningful ways, who think about and care about the beings around them. My goal is for them to be able to consider things and make their own decisions. That's it. That's all. I'm not sitting here assigning them the God Delusion or the Portable Atheist, seriously.

Leaving our faith was not easy for me.


It wasn't. It was a long, difficult process. It was the culmination of many small moments, over many years. It included reading the Bible and being struck by the truth that the god it described was not a god who deserved my worship at all. It included the uncomfortable realization that if a man demanded that I love him or he would hurt me, it's abuse, and no comfortable justification for why it was then okay for God to demand I love him or burn in Hell.

It was painful. It was disorienting. It took serious time to adjust.

It's not an indictment of our family.


I love my family. They are wonderful. They are amazing. They are my biggest source of support and some of my dearest friends.

My atheism is not an indictment of my family. It's my own worldview. I don't expect them to share it. I don't even expect them to approve. I do expect them not to take it personally, because it is not about them at all.

*****


This is one of the trickiest territories that I have to navigate as an atheist. I don't have to worry about employers currently, although that will come in time. I don't have to worry about my friends, who have been really supportive. Just my family.

No one can make you more frustrated than family. The people that love you most best know how to get your goat.

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