Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm a coward

Forgive me for being really vague at first here, but it's pretty important that I maintain a level of confidentiality.

I once had a student confide in me about how he was having a hard time with his family. The reason why is that he came out as an atheist, and needless to say, it wasn't being taken very well. I assume that he took the time to talk to me because he knew that I'm an atheist myself. Of course, he knows this because I frequently insult religion in my class, calling Jesus a homo and telling them that all religious people are stupid. No, I don't do that. I just let them know because we cover a lot of ground regarding religions, and I tell them where I stand up front. The reason I give for telling them is so they can take that into consideration if I ever do say anything that seems particularly slanted. (In all honesty though, I've had kids accuse me of trying so hard not to offend anybody that I almost go too far in THAT direction.)

The advice I gave him was that he basically should do his best to consider things from his family's point of view. After all, they were probably concerned that he was going to reject everything that came along with his religion. Also, they may very well have seen it as him rejecting them and who they were as well. I told him that I was sure that he wanted them to understand him more than anything right now, but that the only way they ever could would be if he took the time to understand them.

I tried to relate some of my own experiences. After all, I've gotten in a few verbal brawls with family members regarding religion. I have rejected the faith of my parents. Still, I can only carry the comparison so far. My parents never belonged to any sort of organized religion (although they seeemed to be getting close to the Jehovah's Witnesses, and praise be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that they didn't get any closer!) This kid though, his family was pretty entrenched in a very organized religious group. For him to turn his back on his faith requires a whole lot more than just saying, "Hey, I don't believe this stuff anymore."

Ultimately, that's all it was for me. While my parents don't agree with me, neither one ever came close to threatening to disown me or anything like that. Some people aren't so fortunate. Some friends of mine recently abandoned their faith, and I was really fascinated by their story. Unlike me, most of their friends were part of their faith group, and much of their lives revolved around their belief system. Abandoning their beliefs required a much bigger sacrifice.

Sometimes I feel a bit of pride in myself when I look at religious beliefs. I feel a slight sense of superiority when I think about how I was able to see it all for what it really is. Stuff like this wakes me up a little though. After all, I didn't really go down a path with a lot of resistance - at least, not external resistance, as my mind was wrestling with itself for several years, trying so hard to make sense of things that my mind could no longer accept. Still, once I conquered my own magical thinking, I didn't have a struggle with the people in my life.

I have to wonder - what if my parents really did get involved with the Witnesses? Would I be knocking on doors and passing out copies of The Watchtower? Would I really believe that the End Times were upon us? Would I be making excuses as to the fact that the Witnesses had repeatedly made precise predictions for the end of the world? Or would I have the guts to not only think my way out, but walk my way out.


Ingrid said...

Lance, I said I wasn't going to comment on that subject anymore, but I am doing it anyway. The reason you are such a free thinker is because you come from a long line of free thinkers. If your father and I would have become members of any religious organisation we wouldn't be who we are, and we would have been like the parents of the student you mentioned.
Some people need the community that a religion offers like others need a sports club, or a fraternity, sorority etc. Your father and I knew enough people like that and never wanted that for ourselves. My parents allowed us to make up our own minds. I am the only one of eight children who believes in the Christian God. My grandmother was very religious, some of her nine children became religious fanatics, others agnostic, others indifferent. Think for yourself, don't believe what we or others tell you without question, that is what we taught you and your sisters, and it worked. I am proud of you.

Matthew said...

The best advice I got on this topic was to let your family (or friends) lead the discussion. People will tell you how much they want to know. Most of them won't want to know much.

When you think about it, there's really only one reason to have that conversation with your parents. Your mom and dad are not interested an honest dialogue on ontology. They're more worried about you going to hell, and any attempt to broach the subject is really only gong to be self serving. Not many people actually expect to persuade a family member into atheism, but we all secretly hope that our family members say something like, "I love you just the way you are, Christian or not." But, the conversation is more than likely to fall flat on its face.

My advice to a young deconvert would be to take their new intellectual leap and be an adult about it. Realize that they've made a personal journey and to ask themselves what they hope to accomplish by proclaiming their stance as an atheist to their mother (time and time again). Remember to find the virtues in religious traditions and teachings. There's a reason whole cultures were built around these systems of belief. And of course, answer questions honestly but don't expect a miracle from your family. ;)