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Truth or Consequences

March 14, 2010

I’m not a religious person.  I used to say I was “spiritual” but not religious but that has changed over the years and now, I think I’m pretty much agnostic.  I know that’s not a popular position to hold.  A recent study in blahblahblah showed that the thing parents fear most is their child marrying an atheist.

When we were growing up, my mother was attending night school, my father was working his way up the corporate ladder at a natural gas company in PA but was still at the ditch-digging phase and both money and time were tight.  We lived in tiny apartment until I was 11 and we were told my mother had terminal cancer with a very limited span of life left.  My father sold all our belongings more or less in order to pay for experimental treatments and we moved into a trailer park that was closer to where my maternal grandparents lived “just in case.”

Our neighbors were a mish-mash of strange people.  A mixed jewish-christian second marriage full of 3 first children (the father) and 2 combined were the closest to our age and became the most influential.

Their step-mother was big on church.  So big, in fact, that she convinced my sister and I that we were going to go to hell because we had not been baptized.  So we took ourselves off to church with her every Sunday for nearly a year in order to be baptized Methodist in one of the most embarrassing moments of my tweenage life – standing up there being baptized alongside infants and toddlers.  At night, we prayed and felt safe in the knowledge that we had secured our tickets for the afterlife by placing our hand on a bible and mumbling promises to believe in things that I at least did not really believe.

It sickens me to remember it now, but I can’t shake the feeling these days as I struggle to answer Skiddle’s questions about God and religion and I wonder how I can lie to her and go along with the status quo.  On one hand I feel that she should have the opportunity to learn about it all through the eyes of an innocent instead of my jaded and very cynical perspective.  And on the other I wonder why I should perpetuate the lies and convince her to abandon all reasonable thought in order to believe incredulous stories of a cruel, resentful, jealous and petty God; one who acts more like a petulant child than an all-knowing and loving parent.

The highest of the commandments, I want to point out, is, “Thou shalt not kill,” and yet, He does.  All the religious books share stories of God’s (in whatever form he takes) wrath and vengeance.  He kills innocents and beasts alike for trifling sins when you really look at them; He allows Lot’s daughters to get Lot drunk so they can repopulate the world through incest –  and don’t even get me started on Cain and Able.

I wonder if she perhaps deserves to have someone in her young life point out the obvious questions…things like, if God truly is all of our father, do you think he is a good one?  Is there really any justification for his sacrifice of children and innocents?  If he can blithely kill them, why can’t he meet out some good old-fashioned justice on serial killers and terrorists?  Would you, as a parent, have what it takes to stand back and not only watch your children die, but be the one to kill them?  Hand them over to a pedophile so he can exercise free will?  Give them over to cancer, war, starvation, abuse?

Could you?

I couldn’t.  And I wonder why it is we work so hard to gratify the existence of such a “father” who ever could.

Nevertheless, her mother has decided that Skiddle should be confirmed at a church near them – one they only attend when Mother can be bothered to drag herself out of bed early on a Sunday morning (rare, indeed) and one she (Mother) has not become a member of herself.  Still, this is important to her and she’s putting the pressure on Skiddle to conform because her sister did it.

The pressure to conform and constant comparisons to her sister are stories for another post but for now, let’s just say that I am biting my tongue to remain true to the Smumzie code of not berating the Mother even when she so clearly deserves to be called out.  If Skiddle doesn’t “feel like” going to the actual church service, Mother says she doesn’t have to.  It’s so early, the poor dear.  Though we’re still expected to take her to confirmation classes regardless.  She’s being taught that she has no choice but to take the classes for the sake of taking the classes; and that at the end of it she, too, will be expected to place her hand upon a bible and swear to believe in things that she does not believe in.

I worry at the boundaries of parenthood like the frayed edge of a favorite shawl in my hands.  Is it my responsibility to be a voice of reason for Skiddle (because her father has abandoned his childhood beliefs as well but has gone along with Mother for so long he seems unwilling to rock the boat on this issue)?  In the end, if I am to perpetuate this charade, don’t I have an obligation to point out to the Skiddle that if she’s going to do this, she should put 100% into it – and not just go to the classes to say she went to the classes – to insist that she also attend the service and apply what she is learning in the classes to the sermon, indeed, to life?  Isn’t that the true purpose of confirmation?

Throughout my mother’s illness, my sister and I diligently got ourselves up and dressed early every Sunday morning and begged rides with the neighbors so we could attend the classes required to be baptized.  It was a struggle, not just because as teenagers sleep was our primary luxury, but because our father sneered at us as we left that he WAS God in our little worlds and we shouldn’t ever forget it.

Still, we persevered, we learned and years later when I had been accepted into an Ivy-league university and had an opportunity to study anything I wanted, I took a few courses in Theology, Ethics and Faith.  I studied Judaism, Buddhism, the Qur’an and even had a chance to study the oldest Bible in existence (did you know that Jesus is not described as the son of God in that oldest of bibles by the way?  And that there is not a single mention of hell?  Enlightening read if you ever get the chance.)  And I walked away with an amalgam of a “faith” borne out of each of these religions, culled from the pieces I found most appealing.

While I’m still very tempted to share my views on each of these with Skiddle, I recognize that she is at the beginning of her own exploration of religion and deserves the right to do so without my skeptical input – for now.

She already had a taste of true skepticism during our last trip to Italy when we took an exhaustive day-long tour of the Vatican followed by many tours over the weeks of art museums, where the tour guides were delighted to point out the symbolism hidden by the great masters like DaVinci and Michelangelo within each piece of art… the more religious the painting, it seemed, the more sarcasm they interlaced.

She has questions, it seems, and for now, I’m answering them as truthfully as I can without condemning the thought process that allows us all to be led down this path.  She’s thoughtful enough that I believe she won’t merely accept the platitudes without considering all sides – eventually, in her own time…and I’ll be there to offer what I’ve learned over the years when the she asks again.

And though I know most of those around me would applaud this decision, honestly it feels like such a betrayal as a parent… I feel like I owe her more.

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One Comment
  1. I have decided I too am more agnostic and like you used to say “spiritual not religious” because for like forever haven’t bought into the man made dogma and hypocrisy (sp?) My fight with infertility made me even less spiritual as it seemed to let me down over and over again. My son is my miracle no doubt about it and I am so grateful for him, but this miracle was made with a 22 year old egg so it is also a pragmatic miracle.

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