A Bit of Rambling On Faith and Family

One of the many differences between my husband’s family and my family is that Marcus’ folks are church people. SERIOUS church people. They attend church every Sunday (and possibly more frequently than that), pray before meals, listen to sermons in the car, have shelves of books in their house all about Jesus and being a good Christian couple, etc.

My parents believe in God, but except for a yearlong stint during my childhood, our family only attended church for Easter, Christmas, and funerals. I remember having to spend one Halloween weekend on a children’s Bible retreat (the timing was not coincidental, as the church we attended was one of the many who consider Halloween a time of evil) and I, being awkward and friendless, tried to do all I could to fit in. Which meant that once during a prayer, while all of the other kids were hollering and sobbing about Jesus, I sat and thought about my beloved dog Coco who had died a couple of years earlier until I was brought to tears as well (of course I pretended that it was about Jesus). It’s not that I didn’t believe in God (back then). I just didn’t believe in him so damn hard, especially not compared to those other kids.

Fast forward to the present. My parents don’t attend church ever, even for holidays, although they are still Christians. I’m an atheist, my brother is an agnostic, and my sister (who was raised in a different household from us) is a Christian but probably the Easter-Christmas type.

On the other hand, there’s my husband’s family. Marcus was raised in an evangelical household in which he was taught that Halloween is for devil worshipers and sadists, that homosexuality is a perversion, and that sex before marriage is an affront to God. You actually wouldn’t know just by speaking to his parents that they believe all these things; in fact, the only reason I know is because Marcus has told me about his childhood and, most recently, about the conversations that his father has with him when I’m not in the room.

While we were visiting the family last weekend, his mother and aunt were talking about a family friend who is apparently not a Christian or just not their kind of Christian (which, for them, there is little difference between the two). They were talking about how best to bring him around, and I couldn’t help but wonder as I sat there if they had ever had this discussion over me. They all know that I’m an atheist because (and this is gonna sound stupid, but it’s true) his mother saw it on my Facebook profile.

Eve is still very young, so the religious pressure has been very low. Right before she was born we received a story book about Abraham that went straight to Goodwill; when she was a few weeks old, the preacher who lives next door to my parents tried to convince us to attend his church, which we politely declined; and one of my coworkers asked me last week when Eve was going to have her Christening, to which I replied, “What’s a Christening?”

As she ages, though, I expect things to get stickier. Someday she’s going to ask why my parents lower their heads before every meal – something that I have no problem explaining to her, but I don’t know how well it’s gonna go over if she repeats my explanation to my folks. Someday she’s going to wonder if what someone told her was true: that we’re all going to hell because we don’t go to church or don’t believe in God. I won’t hesitate to tell her that there is no hell, but I’m afraid that my parents (or, more likely, my in-laws) are going to take her to the side when I’m not in the room and try to scare her into believing otherwise.

Most of the faith that I have ever had throughout my life was really just fear at its core. I was afraid to die, to go to hell, or to be the odd one out amongst a sea of believers. I wanted desperately to believe because there was something that I wanted to gain from believing. I don’t want that for Eve. If she ever chooses to believe some sort of faith system, so be it, but as long as I have anything to say about it, it’s not going to be because someone else frightened her into it.

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7 Responses to “A Bit of Rambling On Faith and Family”

  1. Nicole Says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize his parents were *that* Christian, and I never knew about your special Halloween retreat! Maybe those kids were really crying because they wanted to be dressed up in costumes playing with their friends.

    I’m going to throw in my two cents despite having no children and no firm evidence to back up this theory, but I think it works. Just be totally honest with Eve as she grows up. I think that if you tell her what you *believe*, rather than what’s *real*, and tell her that lots of people have lots of different ideas and that she has to make her own choices, she’s more likely to choose a gentle, reasonable path. Which, incidentally, Christianity usually isn’t. I’m always hesitant to talk about being pagan because Christians just can’t understand it, but I try to remember that an angry God sitting in the clouds and a little thieving devil sound just as unreasonable to me as my beliefs sound to them.

    It sounds like you also need to have a serious talk with the in-laws. I’d be afraid to leave my child with people who are anti-gay, anti-Hallowen, etc. God, if there is one, is about unconditional love, and Christians that promote hate in ANY way are just plain dangerous to the young mind of an innocent child. Those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure type Christians are also hypocrites. Eve will be fine with you two, but man, that’s a tough one.

    I have this argument with my boss a lot. He’s convinced of his truth, and I’m convinced of mine. But, when you start telling other people that YOUR truth is the RIGHT one, no matter if it’s about God or there being no hell, you’re being as pushy as a Bible-thumping Christian, which he hates. The door has to be left open to Eve, the way I see it, so she can decide her own truth. If that makes sense.

    I promise when she comes to stay on my farm I won’t indoctrinate her with my pagan hooplah. >:) But we will get to dance around a fire when we have our periods and sing songs and dress up. (If that’s ok. LOL!)

    • August Says:

      Yeah, you wouldn’t know that his folks were that Christian unless you talked to them about Christian stuff. They really are fun to hang out with, and that goes for his entire extended family – they’re VERY conservative Christian but also very warm people. She hardly gets to see them since they live six hours away, so they’ll have very few chances to ever be alone with her throughout the course of her life.

      To a certain extent I plan on letting Eve know that there are some things that people believe, but I’ll definitely be drawing a line on other things. I absolutely will not let anyone frighten her with a story about hell; the way I see it, I wouldn’t tell her “Some people believe that there is a monster in your closet waiting to eat you alive, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not that’s true.” To do that would leave her vulnerable, scared, and insecure for no reason; the only compassionate and sensical thing to say would be “No, there is no monster in your closet waiting to eat you.” As far as I’m concerned, the concept of hell is in the same category. There is no fiery torture pit waiting to devour her, and to indicate to her that there is a possibility that there is wouldn’t benefit her emotionally OR mentally. I will not give an inch to scare tactics, which is what hell is.

      Same thing with Armageddon. I remember being TERRIFIED in fourth grade because our teacher told us that we better get right with God now because the world could END IN FIRE ANYMOMENTNOW OMG!!!111!! Every day for WEEKS I wondered if I was going to burn to death and if my little brother and parents were going to die and if I would go burn in hell because I wasn’t a good enough Christian. I spent whole days wondering, “Now? Am I going to die now? How about NOW?” Just thinking back on that makes me so angry because it was just so CRUEL and hateful to do that to children, and there is definitely no way that I’m going to let anyone else do the same to Evie.

      I am a firm supporter of Biblical literacy, if only because we are living in an overwhelmingly Christian nation (not to mention the sheer religiousity of the Black American population) and I think that it only makes sense for her to be familiar with the beliefs held by at least 80% of the people that she’s going to deal with everyday. I’m also a supporter of religious literacy in general and plan to teach her about many different belief systems across many different cultures; what she does with that knowledge is up to her, but I at least want her to be familiar with the histories and facts of each faith so that she can make as informed a decision as she possibly can.

      Period dancing and singing and dressing up sounds like a fun night for you two. :p

  2. Nicole Says:

    Yeah, that makes total sense. I remember how afraid I was of hell for my entire childhood, good point. I get the idea of karma, that doing shitty things to other people means that you’ll invite shitty things to happen to you, but blaming shitty things on ‘the devil’, or ‘the devil got to me’ is such horseshit. People get out of personal responsibility by blaming it on some evil being. I think most evil comes out of people when they’ve been deprived of something their whole lives, like affection, or a feeling of security – which hell takes away for sure. I had no idea you lived in such fear. That’s awful dude.

    The only thing I didn’t understand was that you’re a firm believer in Bible literacy – what did you mean by that?

    • August Says:

      Basically just that I want her to study the Bible and its history so that she can be familiar with what’s in there (and, more importantly, what’s not), so that when people DO talk attempt to evangelize to her (cuz let’s face it, it’s gonna happen), she’ll be armed with knowledge about it already.

      Also, whether I agree with it or believe it or not, the Bible is THE most influential text there is in our society. It wouldn’t behoove her to keep her ignorant of it (as some atheist parents choose to do).

  3. Nicole Says:

    Oh oh OOH, I get it now. I couldn’t agree more. Knowing some of the Bible gives me my best arguments against Christians, because most of them allow someone else to interpret the Bible FOR them, so they rarely have a leg to stand on. A lot of Christians also pick and choose from the Old and New Testaments, which enrages me. You can’t hate gays and then turn around and say you want to behave as Christ did, because Christ wouldn’t have hated gays, he would have hung out with us. I call them Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Christians, and they make me sick.

    Did you ever read Misquoting Jesus? If not, you should.

  4. choleandjo Says:

    I tend to think of spirituality / religion / etc. as something similar to what you posted about sex education. That there is a whole world of information and ideas that can be shared and discussed, particularly as a child gets older and is developmentally able to separate self from non-self (that is, being able to say “that information is / is not relevant to me” versus “I am the whole world and the whole world is me.”) Providing choices and information alongside my own values.

    I want my children to grow up in a faith community but I’m not sure which one… though I would like it to focus on more the here-and-now and thankfulness for this day (and less heaven / hell, good / evil, etc., which were generally concepts that I found laughable growing up). I had many positive experiences with faith communities as I grew up and very few “do X or you’re going to HELL” experiences. More “God is love!” and that kind of thing. And I enjoy the support the faith community can provide.

    I’m pretty certain the conversation about you has come up and I’m glad that it hasn’t gone much further than that so far. I’m also sure mention of beliefs will be made at various points in Eve’s life, just like people will talk about their beliefs about a ton of things. By being matter-of-fact with her, it takes away some of the emotion and makes it more like those other things that people will gladly share their opinions about.

    • August Says:

      I know a UU atheist. I don’t know how that works, but it’s something I’m willing to look into, because I do believe that there is certainly value in that sort of community. Attending a UU church regularly with people who do believe a variety of things would expose her to many belief systems and also hopefully illustrate for her that while she doesn’t have to believe those things or even like the things that other people believe, that it doesn’t make them bad or stupid or unworthy of friendship. Too many of the atheist parents I’ve spoken to are just so RAAAWR when it comes to believers and it’s a huge turnoff to me, probably because the vast majority of my friends/family are believers in one way or another.

      Another reason I don’t much care for the hardline atheist approach is because there is a LOT of religiosity (there goes that word again, I swear I didn’t make it up) within the American Black community (and, considering our history, I think it’s for good reason even if I don’t believe those things myself), and when I hear white atheists rail on and on about how all religous people [who make up 99% of the black folks I’ve ever known] are stupid or weak…well, it just doesn’t sit well with me. I’ve heard a lot of anti-theist sentiments that boil down to “We’re too advanced and intelligent for that, and believers are just so primitive and stupid,” which is of course the exact same thing that too many folks think of black people in general just for their skin color. Essentially, faith is an important identifier for a lot of black people and for some is a signifier of “blackness,” and vicious attacks on faith can all too often feel or sound like vicious attacks on black identity. I don’t know if that made any sense, but…yeah.

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