I’ve been reading The God Delusion. In between the preaching to the choir-ness of this exercise and my desire to get out a red pen and edit the fuck out of the book, I’ve been presented with the odd idea that’s made me think. Look, it’s not like this is going to change my views on gods* or on religion (see above under ‘preaching’ ‘choir’ ‘to’) but such things do have a way of holding mirrors up to our own lives. In particular, the second to last chapter deals with childhood and childhood religion/adult atheism - the act, so to speak, of coming out. And I am suddenly grateful to my parents.
Much as I malign them, and I do – to their faces, behind their backs, always with the ‘look how you fucked me up’,** I would never be afraid to come out to them or share any part of myself with them. (Quick digression, possibly the worst thing I ever did to them, and this is an interesting lesson on morality and what matters most to people, is quit university. It was fairly inevitable that I would do so given that I was too young and too stupid and too undereducated to have gone straight from school but I did and I did and I thought my father would explode. Scary. Never shatter your parents’ dreams for you or of what they would have liked for themselves.) I have quite an open relationship with my parents (I see other parental figures behind their backs – j/k) and my sister and, theoretically, can tell them anything. That I don’t tell them anything and everything has more to do with my personality and with my irritation at having my mother worry over every little thing than of any major problems in our relationship. I cannot imagine ever having them stop loving me or of them even suggesting such a thing over anything I might have done or been or become. I am quite used to unconditional love.***
Therefore, it is things such as the non-acceptance of children by their parents over decisions they make as, presumably, logical adults that totally floor me. I have quite a lot of conversations, very mild ones, about this sort of thing with the rather endearingly young, naïve, massively prejudiced, kids I work with. I either work in a place that attracts the very young and overly religiously and ethnically prejudiced or I’ve grown up massively outside of a mainstream that I didn’t know, existed. I prefer the former option but I suspect that there is a lot to be said for the latter. There are two, or perhaps three if you include the drug clause, things that really separate my upbringing from those kids, and in many ways the two are intertwined – the attitudes of my parents to religion and homosexuality. For those kids, the avowal of homosexuality or, horrors, agnosticism or, double horrors, atheism would be enough for their parents to shun them. This may not be entirely true but it is what they believe and, as we all know, belief is all. They are, really, very little, very personal things; things that ought not to matter quite so much. My parents are fairly tolerant (I say, sweeping aside the god-awful generalisations and prejudices of their generation that they have not eradicated and my dad’s slight racism problem and my mother’s slight thoughtless-silly-prejudice problem) and, when push comes to shove, both are intelligent enough to judge people on who they are rather than what they are. They are very tolerant of sexual preference (half the family’s queer, you get over it after a while) and are not religious. What’s more, my parents did not raise my sister and me in a religion (they should have been hippies but were clearly too damn lazy). They had, I think, half-arsed notions that we would decide for ourselves once we were old enough and they’ve been quite lucky (one of my cousins had a thing for the tambourines of the Salvation Army when she was quite little – her parents had much the same ideas but I think mine got off more lightly) – neither of us has joined a cult/bizarre religious sect despite the entreaties of (yet another) cousin to do so. (Culty has been trying since I was a teenager – she just doesn’t know when to give up.) They’ve ended up with an easy going atheist (moi) and a lazy/slightly fearful non-atheist. My sister prefers to accept the status quo on most ideas of this nature. I cannot imagine my parents disowning either of us for our views. I’m actually pretty sure that my dad was the original atheist-in-the-foxhole - by which I mean I think he’s essentially an atheist but has, literally, been in a fox-hole situation and would very much like for there to be a greater purpose with someone in charge.
The point, oh yes, the point is that I have never had that moment where I suddenly realised that I didn’t believe in a god and have, funnily enough, never had the experience of shattering other people’s expectations by sharing the after effects of such an epiphany with them. (The only epiphany I’ve ever had was realising that I was in love with somebody and that absolutely nothing would ever come of it – I chased that epiphany with gulps from a bottle of vodka, thousands upon thousands of my best words, and phoning a friend – none of which actually worked.) I have never had my parents vow to disown me on such flimsy grounds and would suspect them of having been looking for an excuse to be rid of me if they had done so. The point, oh yes the point, is that I cannot understand a mentality that would allow a person to disown their own child (fair enough if it proves to be both ugly and stupid as well) over something that is really so very slight. In short, or shorter still, I just don’t ‘get’ religion and hope never to.
Also, solidarity, Dawkins, and please, for the love of all that’s cool, froody, and evolutionary get a better editor!
* Shock! Unexpected conversion to goddite-ness by NPB! I think not.
** I really must get over this, they’re quite sweet and not that bad at all really. And I’m really not that fucked up – just selfish and quite lazy.
*** Sounds weird, no? I am the youngest child of youngest children and have always been loved and protected by my family – including members of my extended family – for no other reason than simply existing. I have never had to work or fight for a place in my family or to compete for notice. This is actually a whole other post that I probably won’t write because, quite frankly, you don’t need to know that much about my psychology and I don’t want you to know.