This past Friday marked another sad anniversary of 9/11, a day when Muslim terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings in multiple locations around the US, but most recognizably, the Twin Towers in New York. Continue reading
I received a call from an old friend today that was noticeably under immense stress. This stress, I soon realized, is the by product of living a double life: one half a believing and practicing Christian and the other as a closeted atheist.
It’s something he and I have talked about numerous times over drinks in the past, but I’ve never heard such exhaustion in his voice in all our years of friendship.
He’s absolutely torn, just as I once was, between keeping his current facade of belief and Christianity going or being true to himself. He’s done a very good job of keeping up appearances, but the cracks are showing and he’s feeling the stress of living a double life.
Regrettably, he confided in me that he’s most terrified of losing his relationship with his parents.
As someone who mutually finds identity and solace in my close relationships with my family, my heart breaks for the guy. Admittedly, the hardest two people to admit I was an atheist to were my parents. The talk, the explanation, the reassurance that it’s not a phase. That no, I’m not mad and no, I don’t think I’ll see Phil again and no, I won’t be going to heaven or hell.
To take the lights out of someone’s eyes like that is not an experience I wish to ever have again, but it’s one I’m glad I had.
Having tried to fake belief for a while myself, I told my friend about when I decided I wasn’t going to live a double life anymore. A non-believing friend of mine told me about an acquaintance of his that was, at that time, 66 years old. Turns out this man had been an atheist for over 30 years and nobody in his family knew. He’d lied his way through every prayer and conversation all in the name of not rocking the boat. Of not letting people down.
I knew immediately after that story that I’d not only be honest with everyone I loved, but also with myself. I didn’t want to live in a prison in my head. Afraid and ashamed to be me.
Most people I told took it in stride and a good many tried to convince me to just love Jesus! That I can choose to follow him! It took a good while for them to understand that you can’t force yourself to believe something your mind doesn’t. It literally gets to a point where it’s not a choice that can be made. You can’t shut off your brain.
So, for my old and dear friend that was patient, kind and loving to me as I poured out my heart, and a few tears, about my deceased sibling, I say, be yourself, brother. Be true to you and be honest with those you love and hope they have the sense to love you for the amazing man you’ve become and not for what god you associate with.
There’s far more peace and happiness to be found when we don’t reject who we are for the sake of those that are supposed to love us unconditionally. Rejoice in being you and be the man that others aspire to be.
Yesterday, an old friend sent me a message on facebook to a pretty extraordinary page on reddit. The page, which can be found here, is a Christian mother asking for help on how to react to and treat her son which just announced his atheism to her.
I applaud such a parent that reaches out for help in the way she did. She may also have sought out or is currently seeking help from a pastor or other church leaders, but she deliberately went to the atheism thread on reddit and asked for help. Wow. Way to go, mom! What better people to ask about how to deal with this than other atheists that have more than likely gone through very similar situations themselves?
There was one response which blew me away. So far, it’s one of the most articulate, non-threatening, loving and diplomatic responses to a question like this I’ve ever heard or read. It’s not only good reading for believing parents of non-believing kids, but anyone that better wants an idea of where the atheism mindset is.
I’m just going to copy and paste it here because it needs to be seen by as many people as possible. Explaining my conclusions to my family was and continues to be some of the more strenuous points of my life….and I’ve seen some shit.
First, off, though I am an atheist myself, I want to empathize a little: this must be difficult for you and your family. Your faith commitment is an important part of your life and it is bewildering to have your own child turn away from this. I don’t know exactly what you believe, but you might be worried about his soul in the next life, or his behaviour in this one. If you don’t believe in God, how do you know right from wrong? If you reject God, how will you be reunited with Him in the next Kingdom?
The most important thing to understand is that these kinds of concerns, while very vivid and real to you, only make sense within a belief system your son no longer accepts. There is no sense in making threats of Hell or damnation anymore: atheists do not believe such a place exists. We don’t believe such a place could exist. The thing that is important to remember is that while we no longer believe that there are places beyond the world, the world he lives in has now become all the more important. That’s all we have. That’s all we ever have. His world is family, and school, and friends: all these things structure his life and he will need them more than ever. He needs you. He’s still a kid, and he’s a kid dealing with Really Big Questions in the only way he can: honestly and critically.
Most of us have come to this point honestly. This must be emphasized. We’re not angry at God, we’re not trying to get attention or going through some cultural phase. We looked at the arguments on both sides and came to the best conclusion we could. We only have 70 odd years on this planet. We make mistakes, too; we are fallible creatures prone to error and haste. We do our best. And sometimes our best is ‘well, I don’t think any of this is right.’ I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t rightly know where the universe came from, or how life began at first. But I don’t need all the answers to know that some answers are the wrong ones. I don’t know, and I don’t think Christians, or Muslims, or Taoists know either. They claim to know; I claim to not know.
Suppose I’m wrong. Suppose your son is wrong. I’m standing outside the pearly gates and St. Peter, or God Himself, gives me one chance to explain myself. What would I say except “I’m sorry–I got it wrong. I really tried. But I got it wrong. I saw all the different religions, each saying different things, all changing over time. It seemed just a part of human culture, not ultimate truth. I saw unnecessary suffering and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, if you were good and all-powerful. It didn’t make sense to me to posit something existing to explain existence: that gets it backwards. I’m sorry, God, that I didn’t believe in you, but it wasn’t malicious–I just–I just screwed up.”
What would Jesus say to that? Would he send me to suffer forever? Do I deserve to be tortured eternally because I read Lucretius as a young man–the 2,000 year old Roman poet who professed his atheism before Christ ever walked desert sand? Because I looked at the ontological argument and found it wanting?
Or would he press me to Him and forgive me? And wouldn’t I desire that forgiveness—?
If there is a God that would send me to Hell for making this mistake, I don’t want it in my life. Nothing justifies torture. Nothing at all. And He would not be worthy of worship–or even respect. If He is merciful, then I will apologize. If I am right–and he doesn’t exist–then I live my life as a free man.
And that is how atheists live: under actual freedom. The German philosopher Nietzsche wrote that ‘freedom is responsibility’–genuine freedom. I am responsible for the consequences of my actions. So: how do I live? What do I do? Do I want to live in a society where everyone does what they can get away with? What standards do I hold myself up to? This is the essence of the atheist’s morality: his freedom, his rationality.
Before even Lucretius wrote his atheistic treatise De Rerum Natura, there was another man, Socrates, who asked a simple and startling question: Does God say something is Good because it is good, or is something good because God says it is? We must be careful here. If what is good is whatever God says is good, then we have no morality at all, but caprice. If God says: kill your son! it is good to kill your son. If God says: from henceforth, children shall be murdered–then it is good, by definition, that children be murdered. But that’s not morality. That’s authoritarianism. And if you say: “But God would never do that,” I ask: why? Because if there is a reason, then goodness is independent from God after all. It is grounded elsewhere. In what? Well: maybe in reason itself? Or maybe morality is just part of the universe–a different kind of part, not like your sofa or TV or the moon is part of the universe, but the way numbers, or relations (like ‘equal to’)–an abstract object, none less the real.
There is a very, very long tradition of ethical thinking that is, in fact, older than Christianity itself. In philosophy classes we teach wisdom that was recorded a millennium before Christ. If it is impossible to be good without God, there wouldn’t be one virtuous atheist. Yet there are millions of us non-religious men and women on the planet, and we live our lives, as best we can. Atheists don’t fill the newspapers with tales of carnage or debauchery–clearly we can figure it out on our own.
Well. Not quite on our own. We have each other. No one else–just each other. And that’s enough. So be there for your son.”
Every few weeks I’ll run across a heart breaking story like this 2 year old boy with only weeks to live.
The family, in order to celebrate his life, is moving their wedding date forward so that Logan can be the best man.
Is there anything more emotionally devastating than seeing terminally ill children dying or afflicted like this? Not to me.
A staggering 9 million children die every year before the age of 5. How can anyone reasonably argue that there’s a god that cares for them with suffering of this magnitude?
Even when I believed I was still struck with the impotence of god in these matters. People would always tell me about the Age of Accountability. That these kids would go to heaven because they died too young to realize what god did for them and to accept him in their hearts. Unfortunately, the bible isn’t very clear on this matter. All we have is conjecture not unlike most of how people interpret the bible.
What a sad way to make ourselves feel better at the suffering visiting these families and children. A way for us to be okay with a god that seems to have no regard for what should be the most precious of his creation.
Makes me sick to my stomach.