Look at that picture. Are we not an obnoxiously photogenic family? It was 1989 and I could rock pink corduroy overalls like none other. I’m quite proud of the elegant specimens for parents I have— attractive, smart, successful and charismatic, they gave me an idyllic atmosphere to grow up in. If we lived in a world where adults had to apply to have a child and pass a rigorous selection process with the most stringent of criteria, my parents would still have been the poster couple. Additionally, a strict Roman Catholic upbringing was imposed upon my siblings and I, and for the first 13 years of my life I never asked why. However, it was not meant to last. I was a headstrong and stubborn adolescent, and religious faith was no match for my voracious skepticism of all that could not be reasonably explained. Much to my parents chagrin, after over a decade of struggling, they learned I was an atheist. What followed was a painful falling-out, from which our collective filial relationship has never recovered.
It was originally not my plan to talk much about my personal life on this blog. My esteemed readers have better things to do than listen to cyber bellyaching. That said, I would be very interested in the feedback of intelligent, affluent atheists on the subject of the disconnect which all-too-frequetly exists between our lack of a belief in a god and our relationships with theist family members.
For me, the crux has been my desire to accept each other exactly as we are, and choose to agree to disagree, which my parents seem completely unwilling to do. For them, the Faith is paramount; and it is their greatest failure that I should not share their value for it. But, even if I should quiet the cognitive dissonance religion inspires in my mind, I would be a hypocrite if I tried to espouse beliefs which I could not justify outwardly. I don’t think I could tell someone with a straight face that I truly believe a human being can walk on water, or snakes can talk, or dead men can rise again. I don’t think I could proclaim premarital sex is inherently sinful, yet secretly enjoy its freedom with every part of my being. This is not an acceptable answer for my parents, because Faith should be accepted unquestioningly, on the grounds that God teaches truths which our human minds may not be able to fully grasp.
In an ideal world, we could discuss our differences without emotional blackmail or wounded egos. We could respect each other as adults who may not agree, but whose relationships with each other are worth more than questionable yet familiar Bronze-aged myths. All we have is the here and now, and once we’re gone there are no more chances for making memories together. As much as I am direct and hate avoiding the pink elephants in a room, I could refrain from discussing religion and politics if it meant a peaceful rapport with the wonderful people who raised me and were so invested in my life for so many years.
The isolation from my family has been difficult, and as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, I am saddened to think I may be celebrating it alone while my friends spend time with their kin.
How have you folks dealt with this rift? Is the parent-child bond ever able to overcome the revulsion towards atheism? It’s really hard to imagine it getting better, but they say time heals all wounds.