Thursday, August 28, 2008

I'm so not good at the whole "not discussing religion" thing

As promised, I wanted to write some more on the thoughts that have come up in the process of writing my latest religion post and then reading the comments. My attention is splintered between this and the Obama speech, so I don't know where this may wander. Some of this will tread on my earlier writings on the topic, but it's easier to put a little more in here tonight than track down the old posts and expect you to follow links.


I was raised an atheist. Not that my father actively molded us into atheists, but more that he started with a rational, scientific view of the world, and by the time I started to learn about religion, especially Christianity, I just couldn't believe it on a literal level. Religion interests me in something of an anthropological way; I am a fascinated, but outside, observer. And I like it that way--being in the midst of overt religion makes me quite uncomfortable.

Nonetheless, I consider myself spiritual. Not that I believe in one or many deities, but that I find great wonder in the world around me and frequently experience moments of awe. I find these in art, music, science, philosophy, a myriad of little things I encounter in my daily life.

Trillian was raised in a fairly liberal denomination, as a minority in a town practically run by a very conservative denomination. She frequently heard that anybody not agreeing with that church, i.e. her and her family, were going to hell. She heard judgments passed on all sorts of things. She didn't come out until after we were together, and even then limited who she told, because of the horrific pronouncements made on gays and lesbians. Even now, she has to deal with family members who truly cannot reconcile what their religion says and the fact that a relative is gay.

Religion angers Trillian. She bristles at the presence of religion and greatly distrusts it. Can't say I blame her.

With Scooter, it is our intention to raise him more in the spirit of my experiences, but even more conscious of our decision than my father was. It helps to have sites like Dale McGowan's Meming of Life. And as a result of hearing him speak, we now have a group of like-minded parents we meet with twice a month. It's pretty informal right now, but we generally talk about a myth and then do a science activity. With the myths, we plan on working through world mythology in a fairly chronological order, starting with Egyptian and moving forward, reaching Judeo-Christian stories in due time. With the science, we want our children to discover some of the ordering principles of the world while also promoting the sense of wonder such discovery can bring.

Our general approach in dealing with questions of religion that come up (not too many so far, since Scooter is so literal-minded) is to say that "Some people think/believe/do x, but some people don't." And so that is how we tried to handle his "church toys" disdain.


As for the neighbor-kid. He is a sweet kid, similar in many ways to Scooter. Trillian and I actually laugh at how often his mother will remark that her son used to do or still does something that we consider to be a potential indication of Asperger's or PDD-NOS. She says it to soothe us, as proof that Scooter is perfectly normal; we see it as a reminder that there are a lot of boys around here who probably would be considered odd anywhere else. Anyway, this family belongs to the local church of the same denomination that Trillian had to deal with in her hometown. Generally speaking, they are not tolerant and are very literal. From conversations with his mother and another mother in our neighborhood (whose family attends the same church), the children's religious education involves a lot of memorization of scripture. So while I do see some of the helpful, social aspect of the neighbor's question, I also suspect that finding out we don't go to church bothers him because he likes us and doesn't want us to go to hell.


I don't think we're the only neighborhood family, in the cul-de-sac even, that doesn't attend church. As far as I can tell, one set of direct neighbors don't go to church on Sundays; I suspect that even if the wife does on occasion, the husband does not. He's another scientist-type, very no-nonsense, someone who looks at objects and can easily visualize how they work. So we're not the only ones.

On the other hand, I know that I'm a bit skittish because of the lesbian thing. Or, more precisely, because of the combination of the lesbian and atheist (and liberal) thing.

When I was younger, I could usually get people to back off when pushing Christianity by appealing to my Jewishness. For whatever reason, that worked as a sort of pass. Now, I find that the gay label has almost the opposite effect. Most people hear that I'm gay and don't attend a church and immediately assume that there is a cause-and-effect relationship. And so I've heard from many a friend and relative about how accepting their church is or how many gay couples they've met there. Sometimes, I can get away with thanking them for the information and leaving it at that. On some occasions, however, they become quite insistent and I have to explain, usually several times, usually increasing in intensity, that I just don't believe, that I never have, that I would still be an atheist were I straight.

I need to work on how I react to those conversations, both for myself and as an example to Scooter (in case he ever witnesses these), but the people who push don't seem capable of taking the polite response and letting the topic be.


One of Dale McGowan's suggestions in his talk for the religious-literacy education of older children is to allow trusted friends and relatives--who do believe--to take them to their house of worship. He emphasizes that this should be someone who is both religious and open, i.e. not judgmental about raising the child without religion, able to provide the child this experience without pushing indoctrination.

I know that for the next few years at least, I will not let Scooter accept any of those invitations he is sure to get. I remember receiving them as a kid and not understanding why my father wouldn't let me go. (It always sounded like so much fun!) So I do expect to have conversations about this with Scooter. Possibly, down the line, if we're still in Springfield and know people much better, I might consider allowing him to accept the occasional invitation to a church. But only when I feel that his Humanist foundation is solid.


Not comment-related, but somehow appropriate to the topics at hand.

I was searching on Facebook in the high school class a year ahead of me, looking to see if a specific person was on. And came across my first high school boyfriend. That guy, if you catch my drift. Not entirely a surprise, as he was in that year. But I hadn't thought about him in years, hadn't tried to find anything out about him since reading his wedding announcement many years ago in my hometown paper.

But there he was, right in front of me. So I clicked through to see his friends (all I could do since I haven't friended him). No friends in common, not even any names I recognized. But a whole lot of people who listed a particular seminary as one of their networks. So I ran a search and discovered that he also is a student at this seminary, along with his wife.

I suppose there's no reason for this to be a big surprise, yet there was something about it entirely incongruous for me.

OK, so it's been years. (Right around 20! Which doesn't make me feel old at all.) Not that I ever knew him well enough to be able to define his religious beliefs. But even if I had known him as a non-believer, that's plenty of time for him to change his mind or renew an old faith or have an epiphany. Heck, maybe it was great remorse over how shitty he was to me.


cinnamon gurl said...

I was quite devout when I was a kid and I remember worrying that my brother would go to hell for swearing. Then my grandmother died (it's a longer story than that - I had never met her until she was dying) and I got very angry at the G-man and became quite atheist for many years. Since then, I've softened to agnostic but I've remained extremely suspicious of and uncomfortable with organized religion. My husband's pretty atheist, although fascinated with many religions in a more academic way. We haven't quite figured out how we'll deal with religion with Swee'pea. I definitely like the "some people believe some people don't" approach.

Lisa b said...

I don't want you to go to hell either. Good thing you're a good humanist. Is that the group Kurt Vonnegut was head of? I know the Canadian head because I taught his son, he spoke at Sick Kids a couple of months ago as he is a doctor and a hilarious speaker. Surely going to hell though.
I am pretty comfortable in my lapsed catholicism. I think it works the way you mention brining up Judiasm gets people off your back. I know it isn't good for your son to see you using that excuse but really learning that some people cannot accept your right to be an atheist and so they must be lied to is also important.
The ignorance of it, thinking you don't have beliefs so they can entice you with yours. You do have beliefs, they just don't involve supreme beings.

Aliki2006 said...

Like c.g. I was very devout when I was little--but in a totally superstitious way. I felt like I would be struck down dead if I didn't say my prayers, and I lived in perpetual fear that something would happen to my family.