Tag Archives: atheist in America

A is for Atheist

3 Oct

In the list of parental daydreams, wondering if your child will become president is probably right up there with imagining eight consecutive uninterrupted hours of sleep. Among those who’ve adopted internationally, there is even some discussion of whether our children can even run for president.

I will admit that I did, on at least one occasion, wonder if my son could be President of The United States. He’d be a fine President, I thought, based on the good judgment he showed in being born to my husband and me. As he grew and matured, it became clear that our son was much more interested in making music than in making laws. It’s a good thing, too, because research indicates that more than half of all Americans wouldn’t even consider voting for someone like our son.

You see, our son is an atheist. When he first said that he was an atheist, I thought he was being provocative.  I wondered if he even knew what an atheist didn’t believe. At this point, though, it’s pretty clear that he knows what he’s saying when he declares his graceless state.

You might think that our son doesn’t believe in god, with a big or little “g,” because he didn’t go to church. My husband and I don’t really come off as get-up-and-go-to-church folk. Frankly, my husband isn’t even a get-up-and-go-before-10 a.m. kind of guy. But at least until our son was about ten, we were regular churchgoers. I sang in the choir; I served on committees. We went to potlucks. We hosted potlucks, for crying out loud.

Now, before I get grief from those in the know, I will admit that the church we attended was a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear you: UUs will let you believe anything. There is something to that; dogma isn’t really on the offering plate at a UU church. But the idea of questioning and questing for spiritual truth was what drew me to the congregation. I am what initially drew my husband and two-year-old son. We stayed because we found that church thing that can be so elusive: a community of like-minded individuals who also seemed to like us.

Our son started his religious education in the nursery, playing “I love the earth and everyone in it” kinds of games and having his diapers changed by tolerant, loving people. He moved through the RE program without a hitch. He played his roles in the annual Christmas pageant with more or less enthusiasm, depending on his role. Cow in the manger? Not so hot. Shepherd complete with fake fur tunic and Bedouin head covering? All over that one. He was dedicated in front of the entire congregation by a minister he still considers “bad ass.” He grew up with a number of other children who were known and loved by the congregation.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I don’t recall thinking any of the parish priests from my childhood were the equivalent of “bad ass.” I’m not real sure “bad,” “ass” and “Catholic priest” should even be in the same sentence, but I wrote it, so I’ll have to live with it. I don’t have any recollection of any of the priests even knowing I existed. My strongest recollection of being raised Catholic was the terrible revelation, at a fairly young age, that my dream of being a priest was just that. After years of saying mass to my stuffed animals and little brother, I felt betrayed in a way that still stings. Eventually, I found Buddhism and I practice it today. My kids will tell you I need the practice. I say they are the reason why.

I’m going to lay credit for our son’s godlessness at my husband’s feet. He is a Jew. This is something quite different from being raised religiously Jewish. He didn’t go to temple; he didn’t study Torah, he wasn’t bar mitzvah’d (apologies to my Jewish friends for any awkward use of Hebrew). He is culturally Jewish. This means, for him, that he values education, debate, political inquiry and really good lox. We have tried to build a Jewish identity for our children that is both meaningful and fun. My husband is less interested in the fun; he’d rather our Seder were more sedate. The kids, though, still get a kick out of flinging mini-marshmallows and plastic farm animals, among other things representing the ten plagues.

I would worry about my son’s immortal soul if I were more sure about my own immortal soul. The thing that truly frightens me about my son’s atheism is that it could get the crap beaten out of him.

Atheists in America are more reviled than Jews or Muslims. I suspect that there is more tolerance of gays than there is of atheists. Americans would vote for a candidate of any religion before one without a religion. I know there is a gay and lesbian support group at his high school. I haven’t seen anything of its kind for atheist youth. I regularly see postings on Facebook about how hard it is to be Christian in America. Really?, I think. Try being an atheist.

Now the thing that really compounds my worry for my son, is the fact that he has no problem saying he is an atheist. To anyone. He regularly gets grief from Christian friends about his unbelieving. He never tells them they are wrong to hold their beliefs. Recently, though, he posted on his Facebook wall that he only asks for the same respect for his beliefs that he gives others for theirs. It was a brave statement; it got lots of likes.

I’m deeply proud to be raising a young man who is confident in what he believes and willing to stand up for himself, despite considerable pressure from both his friends and his society. He is tolerant, kind, generous, funny, intelligent and outspoken. He’s all the things I’d like to see in the President of my country. It’s so sad that half of my country wouldn’t even give him a chance.

© Copyright 2011 by Janice M. Lindegard. All rights reserved.

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