16 June 2007


Going home is never easy.

Someone very close to me said earlier this week (forgive the paraphrase):

It's what I've grown up with, and it's really all I know -- and it works for me. There are some things that don't make sense, but I have to just not go there and I'll be ok.

I am reminded now, more than ever, that faith in religious modes are - with the exception of the hard-core Calvinists - tacitly held. Not held firmly and stubbornly in contradiction to fact - but by and large unchallenged in the narrow scope of practical life. We who concern ourselves daily with the ultimate truth or falsehoods of religious dogma would do well to remember that those who are caught in the crossfire - our friends and loved ones - may have neither the time nor the inclination (and, for some, the resources) to address these fundamental questions. NOMA works really well for these people because they are seldom if ever confronted with a case in which the 'magesteria' collide. They might be able to see it if they really thought about it - but between the job and the mortgage and the laundry, isn't it just easier to just spend the hour a week for some canned answers and pay attention to the parts of life that really demand attention?

I know what the answer is for me: I've opened that box and looked inside, and found that there is only one reasonable logical conclusion. But I had the good fortune of having the time, the resources, and the faculties to pry open that box in the first place. Can I necessarily blame someone for not wanting to do the same? Is it a pragmatic decision, or a timidity of will? Do I have respect for someone who knows his limits, or do I pity/scorn a person who refuses to face the contradictions of his worldview head-on?

Put another way: what is an atheist to do with faithful loved ones? Particularly ones who aren't in the prime of life? Who may have already buried parents, siblings, spouses, or children? For whom life's travails really have turned the idea of a pleasant afterlife into a sustaining force? For whom there might be nothing left, and in whom religious faith really does do no appreciable harm? What do you do? How do you agree to disagree without losing respect for your loved one or yourself? How can you love them and refuse to try to liberate their minds? How can you love them but deliberately cause them the pain of assaulting their faith? How do you respect yourself for causing them pain, and how can you respect yourself for allowing the people you care about to live a lie?

The best I've come up with so far is to put it out of my mind and try not to let it come up in conversation (I was raised French Canadian Roman Catholic - we invented taciturn) - but for a guy in the business of comparative religion (/professional Atheism), it's kind of a hard subject to avoid.

I have no answers.

If there is anyone out there reading this blog, and if any of you have had similar experiences with your families, maybe just leave a little note. I'm sure that there's a million folks out there struggling with these kinds of questions, and maybe it would be nice to just get our stories out there. Maybe we'll figure something out together.


Sara said...

My mum hasn't caught on yet (and honestly, I've done my best to keep this the case, because I know she'll be devastated). She has some idea, I think… She probably knows I don’t consider myself Catholic anymore. She knows I dabbled in Bahá’í and probably thinks I’ve settled there, disappointed that I’m not Catholic, but contented that I still believe in God and love Jesus (same goes for my Dad, though not being Catholic himself he couldn’t care less if I’m ‘Catholic’ or not). I just don’t have the heart to tell her otherwise. The only time I’m bothered by the lie is when she asks me to pray for her. All I can say is, “Of course.”

Blair said...

As a human (and an anthropologist of sorts) I often find that it takes a bit of hubris to have the attitude that someone is merely a lost follower. As a young child living and traveling among folks that believe in the worlds most common religion (animism) I realized that in the end what "religion" (all kinds) is about is ancestors... and it can be ok to be different as long as the ancestors were respected. Of course this is not sufficient enough room to truly discuss this but it is a small insight I think is relevant, but then I consider myself an agnostic of the truest form, so I am bringing in my very own biases.