Dear Mom and Dad,
I thought I’d put my last post to you guys behind me. Well, one more. I’m sorry. I ended up saying a lot of things that didn’t need to be said. Their is a fine line between being honest and being an ass. I, quite obviously, crossed it, and I’m sorry.
When I told you I was an atheist, what I expected was that you would call. You would seek out what this meant, but thats not what you did. It got me thinking about specific times that I’ve wanted you to really take an interest in specific parts of my life, and for whatever reason you didn’t or couldn’t. And the more I thought about it the more it ached, and lashed out at you on my blog.
I’d wanted to show you and world that I valid reasons for de-converting, some based in my emotional experience, some based in reason. The purpose of those posts was show my pain, that I had been hurt by Christianity. But I was so mad when I wrote them, I whipped you for all hurt I ever received from every Christian that I could not sit down with and say “I’m a person, and you didn’t have a right to treat my like that.” I think you guys were just really insecure, and it came out in a lot of ways, some big, some little.
Above all, I wanted say I’m sorry for saying that you were no better than foster parents. You really did love me, I know that. I was a wreck when I wrote that, screaming at you you out of 16 years of repressed rage at the church. It’s probably the cruelest thing a child could possibly say to a parent. I should have never said that. I can’t take it back, but I’m incredibly sorry.
This is going to be a deeply personal post, sort of a public “Dear diary”, so if that’s not your thing, please don’t read it. All others, I post this publicly to receive a public review of my thoughts and keep a record of the process. Feel free to comment.
I have recently told my parents I am an atheist. Now, I know that this is very painful for them, but I’m finding the post closet experience particularly frustrating (and ultimately painful) for several reasons.
They don’t really know what an atheist is, so they alternately (a.) don’t think I am really an atheist or (b.) ascribe to me the beliefs that they think an atheist has. They (c.) don’t really understand why I became an atheist, and as such (d.) think it is because they were bad parents.
(a.) They see that I am still spiritual, ethical, and looking for truth and they assume that it is a vestige of Christianity. Number one, wouldn’t that mean any moral person was some sort of a partial Christan? “Christian” is not, last time I checked, a substitute for “moral”. Ideally, yes, all Christians would be bastions of morality. Some are, many aren’t. Further, ideally, all Muslims, Buddhists, and Pagans would be intensely ethical people. Some are, many aren’t. Number two, it says “All those years that you were moral? Yeah, that doesn’t count, because that wasn’t the authentic you, the authentic you is incapable of morality without Christ.” And as a logical extension of that belief, then all the emotions I had were inauthentic as well. Morality isn’t free. Sometimes we want to do immoral things, and there is a cost to being moral instead. Moral means desires differed, sometimes forever, and to have the work I put into being moral just written off kinda sucks. To be told either the “Christian me” or the “atheist me” is less than the authentic me is very insulting.
(b.)To a Christian, atheist means one who wishes to reject God. So they ascribe to me the beliefs of one who, in their heart, believes in God, but desires not to. It’s not that I wish to reject the God hypothesis; it’s that evidence compels me to reject God. Working from the assumption that I wish to reject God they think I believe things that I don’t. They make assumptions about why I became an atheist and what atheist means. Which goes right to (c.) I publicly profess atheism because it is the cry of my heart and mind. I can no more just wake up a Christian that I could just wake up gay. This is what I am. To public state otherwise is to live a lie. I expected a lot more “Good job, son.” It takes a huge amount of courage to challenge everything you were ever told and disagree with 96% of the population. I thought the attitude would be a lot more, “Well, we disagree with you of course, but we understand why you believe what you believe, and we’re proud of you for having the cojones to admit it.” I am proud of having this courage, and I feel like someone who really knows me and loves me would feel the same way.
It leads me to believe that my parents aren’t responding to who I am, but rather to who they think I am. Which is terrifying because it leads me to ask the question, “Did they ever…?” Did my parents ever really understand who I am? I think, sadly, but reasonably, no. It wasn’t even their fault exactly. Even I didn’t believe the evidence of who I was. I was suicidal in high school. My usual day consisted of waking up, putting a loaded gun to my head and trying to find the courage to kill myself. Accepting my total failure of inner strength, I could then find a reason to eat breakfast and shower: maybe I would get laid that day, and then I would either go crazy with lust and die in a whore house in a few years (suicide on the installment plan) or I would be so disappointed for pointlessly giving my virginity away that I could pull the trigger and, of course, I would have gotten laid. This is not the thoughtscape of a Christian.
Several thoughts prevented me. Putting a hollow point in your brain is an ungodly mess. It didn’t seem fair to have my parents come home to find my head inside out, running on the wall. I didn’t want to make them suffer, I just wanted to not hurt inside anymore. It didn’t seem right to kill myself in some odd way that hid the body either, because I heard from people whose kids were never found, that the not knowing is horrible. I was a little concerned about hell, because no “real Christian” would want to kill themselves for years on end, but I predominately worried about two things. One, that I would give myself a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and make myself a quadriplegic. Two, that there was no sex in heaven. I was worried about TBI for two reasons: one, I’d never get another chance to kill myself because no one would kill me just because I asked, and two, I wouldn’t be able to feel my penis anymore, again preventing sex forever. For probably 3 years or so, I couldn’t make myself get out of bed without holding a 9mm and saying something like, ” I can get up today, because no matter how much this day hurts, I am in control. I can always end it”…and they never noticed.
Which leads me neatly to (d.) They think I am an atheist because they were bad parents…
Ok, in several ways my folks were not bad parents. I was never sexually abused. I was never physically abused (though I did see some in our home). I was never verbally abused. They made sure I knew the Bible. That’s a fantastic start. The world needs more parents who don’t rape, hit, or ridicule their kids. I no longer believe the Bible is inspired, but they did, and I understand and respect their motivation, if not their application. The thing is….um….that was sort of… it. When I was 8 years old, I told my mom that I was planning on killing my sister because she was sadistic bitch. My mom told I loved my sister and I didn’t mean that and made no effort to put away any of the loaded guns littering the house. I mean, I’m not a perfect dad, but I’m pretty sure if my daughter said she was going to kill someone, I might, oh, I don’t know, put away the guns (if I had any).
Number of times my dad played catch with me? Asked me what I was doing in piano? Asked me who my hero was? What I wanted to be when I grew up? Asked me what I learning in school? Yeah…never. Number of times my Mom taught me to cook? She didn’t. I taught myself (much to her surprise). She never asked me why I wanted to play piano (because I wanted to play jazz). Neither parent ever asked me what I planned on after high-school, where I wanted to go to school, what I wanted to do with my life. They made sure I was fed, clean, and educated. They made sure that certain tests (my ACT) were done, and paid for my health care. They were the best foster parents the state could have appointed. Except, they weren’t foster parents. They are my blood parents who brought me into this world at least partially on purpose. And as far as what makes me, well me, they never gave a damn. Some of this is explainable by the fact that my dad was pretty invested into drugs and my mom into codependency in my early life. Fair enough. But why, my senior year did they not say “Hey, where do you want to go to college?” They never asked. They never asked where I wanted to go, what my major might be, never asked a whole lot of things. Nothing that would really mark me as me, my dreams, my hopes, was ever talked about. They had no interest in knowing me at all.
For years, I’ve struggled with these memories of my first girlfriend. Which, honestly, makes me feel like a doofus. 28 year old men do not pine away for the 18 year old they dated 10 years ago, at least healthy ones don’t. She and I were both very lonely, very sexual people, but because we were Christians, we never slept together. A lot of the obsession went away when I called her a few years ago. We talked about the breakup and the relationship and how we had both hurt each other. We parted not-quite-as-hurt anymore and accepting that we had other lives now that couldn’t reasonablely include each other. But, I still think wistfully about making love to her more than I am comfortable with, and I’ve never understood why.
Then this week I got it. I did a lot of the things I did to impress my parents. I read Brave New World as a nine year old so I could impress my parents with how smart I was. In fact, reading was about the only thing I ever got positive feedback for, and read like crazy. I read to find something smart to say, so I could get some parental approval. I aced algebra because my mom said her kids weren’t good at math. I graduated with a 4.0. I went to bible college instead of a engineering school because I wanted my parents to be proud of decisions, and nothing else I wanted to do would have pleased them as much. So what happened when I brought the woman I wanted to marry home from Bible college, the woman that I loved sacrificially as Christ loved the church (I wanted to marry her to redeem her reputation)? They called my beloved a slut, said she dressed like prostitute (she wore silk pajama pants and a camisole to bed), and refused to leave us alone together so we wouldn’t have sex. When I went to stay with her in her hotel (She was fairly offended and left) they commanded me to come back home. I could have disobeyed, but I did not, because my father was appointed over me by god. To disobey him was to disobey God himself, and he told me so when he commanded me to come back home. They called my beloved a whore and told me it would be best if I broke off my engagement. So I did. 10 years later, it still hurts because I showed them the one thing in the world it was most important to me for them to be proud of and they said….nah, she’s a whore. It’s the rejection by the people I loved most in the world that made the wound so deep.
So, am I an atheist because my parents were bad parents? Absolutely not. Had my parents been really great supportive people instead of emotionally distant and judgemental people I probably would have realized I was an atheist by the time I started high school. I can’t and do not blame them for any of the really stupid decisions I made after I was 18. But up to 18, they were my life, and I do blame them for a lot of the guilt I felt and the stupid things believed. They asked me recently to forgive them for “any harm we caused”. Which, I can’t really do. A bit because an open ended request for forgiveness is worthless: “I’m sorry that vague things I don’t care to understand and refuse to accept responsibility for hurt you for some odd reason.” Ahhhhh, no.
But mostly, because a request for forgiveness is saying to someone “Teach me to treat you better”. I really should carefully and lovingly delineate to them how they messed up and how this doesn’t relate to atheism, the opposite really, but I don’t believe them yet. They didn’t care about my core identity for 28 years. Now they respond to me the way they think an atheist feels instead of the way they think a Christian feels, but they still seem to have no real interest in understanding what makes up my core, my true self. They ask me no questions about why I believe, or even the specifics of what I believe. Instead of talking to me about what I believe, they would rather to talk to to others about what they think I might believe. They knew I was blogging, and that my blogs were asking hard questions, yet were completely surprised by my confessions of non-faith. Why? Because my blogs made them uncomfortable they stopped reading them.
There is a chance that they will read this, and feel they must ask me questions about myself. Then they will most likely be offended when I don’t want to answer. A date you have to tell to compliment you isn’t much of a date, is it? The time to care about what made me me was a good quarter a century ago. I’m very selective about my friends, and they don’t make the cut. I will continue to be kind and friendly, and call at appropriate holidays, but I no longer care about their approval one way or the other, and I could care less about really trying to have relationship with them. Perhaps most tragically of all, since they never knew what a constitutes a real relationship to me they will probably never notice the difference. Continue reading
Our scene begins early in the night, after the adorable child has fallen asleep. It’s been a long day, and the parents were enjoying some adult conversation, and bit of tea. Atheism, theism, the perils and pleasures of a Christian upbringing, common marriage, characteristics common to various cults through out the ages, new friends, old friends, and the differences and similarities between the sexes. The conversation has ceased finally, Wife attending to her knitting, and Husband to email correspondence. Both are tired, but restless. He closes down the computer…
Husband: Hey, cutie. Wanna have sex and play video games?
Wife: I’d love to play video games!
So, I have some kind of a cold. My brain is fuzzy and eyes ache, so no posts for my adoring fans. Sorry. I am putting a large amount of concentration into breathing and sitting up at the moment.
And I am a little blue. This happens, it is no longer the earth shattering thing to me that it once was. I just feel a little sad and want to surround myself with my friends. Except, because I have high standards for my friends, I don’t have any in this craphole. So I drink a lot of herbal tea and try to talk to my friends online, and call the ones who aren’t at work.
At the moment most are at work….
And I am also trying to write an autobiography. Eventually this autobiography will be edited and polished into a really great story: How I overcame the false paradigm I grew up, my search for one that worked, and what that paradigm ended up being.
But right now, it is just the early stuff, the story of the brokenness that gives meaning to the putting myself back together. Its not a fun spot to ponder.
Many things that happened over the years, I told myself that I did not remember clearly. That surely, these events did not happen the way I remember. So, calls to my family and friends, questions asked, and lo and behold, it was the way I remember, and sometimes worse.
At the same time, old devils don’t seem quite as evil anymore. When everything is written out, when you remember in the context of what was happening, instead of remembering int he context of the emotions you felt, the hurtful actions of others make so much more sense.
Just one example will suffice…
My father was a drug addict. He got high the first time when he was 9 years old on prescription medicine. From that point forward, getting his next high was an increasingly dominating obsession. Returning from Vietnam, where heroin was cheaper than Budweiser, he thought he might want to quit, but didn’t think it was that serious yet. Of course, by the time he realized how serious his problem was, he found he couldn’t stop alone. And thats was a problem. He had never told his wife he had a drug problem. When, at 40 years old, he realized he needed support to quite, the one person in the world who could have supported him had been lied to for 17 years. Every long hour at work, or missed check for 17 years, every odd story or bit of personal weirdness had been but one of infinite number of lies to cover his addiction.
So when he told mom, she freaked out. Hardest of all for her to believe was that he had lied to her only about the drugs. How, was it, she wondered, that he had been so desperate for drugs as to use dirty needles, but claimed he had never touched another woman? How could she trust a man who lied great and small about everything for nearly two decades?
The conflict came to a head when my father became increasingly active in AA and NA. My mother was not convinced that a bunch of lairs, manipulators, and drug addicts, all getting together to share a cup of coffee every night was an ideal situation for personal recovery. She, in essence, gave my father an ultimatum between the Program and her. She, by the way, was recovering from cancer at the time, and was so exhausted from chemo and radiation that she had trouble walking the 100ft from the car to house at night.
My father had felt enormous guilt over his addictive behavior, often suicidal. To have his wife attempt to take away from him the one thing that could heal him, was to him, like having her try to cut off his legs.
So who was right? Dad left a broken woman to go play recovery. Or did mom kick out a broken man desperate for recovery. Who’s the good guy. Who’s the bad guy. The answer is pretty simple to say, though hard to accept. Everybody did their best. Mom’s fears and reaction were reasonable. So were Dad’s. Did it suck? Absolutely. Was there a better way? Not really.
Dad left. For 6 weeks we had no father at home. When he got back, I wish I could say that everything was dandy, but it wasn’t. Working through 17 years worth of abused trust takes some time, and for my parents, a lot of yelling, and occasionally throwing things.
In a perfect world, mom would have wanted dad to recover so bad that she wouldn’t care who he hung out with at meetings. But in a perfect world he wouldn’t lied to her for 17 years. In a perfect world he would had stayed with her no matter what. But in perfect world, he wouldn’t have been a drug addict for 31 years. In a perfect world, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH. We don’t live in a perfect world. We don’t make choices with perfect insight. We all just sort of muddle through things as best we can.
Sometimes, choices are black and white, but often we must chose which shade of gray is the lightest.
I don’t like it, but I keep finding more of them: Places were I got hurt, and when the layers are peeled back the person who hurt me did it didn’t hurt me on purpose. They had their own shades of grey to deal with, and their own bagage to carry while they did it.