Saturday, November 12, 2011

My father is an atheist: What that means to me.

I've only been "out" as an atheist for a little over a year. The process of dumping religious or spiritual content, thoughts, motivations etc took more than 5 years to completely shed. I grew up going to church every Sunday with my great-grandmother back in North Carolina. I was required to read the Bible and recite scripture every week(I did poorly at both tasks. I'll leave it up to you to determine why I sucked at it.). I did not grow up with my father or mother as central figures in my life. I can attribute a lot of my foundational  beliefs and attitudes to my great-grandmother. Most of the family I knew was very religious even though they only practiced in the presence of others. When I reached high school, I left North Carolina for my current city, Atlanta. The church going continued with me going with my dad's mom(my grandmother). 

In this city is where I began to learn the mitigating circumstances around my parents not being around and it's where I found the answers I wanted for a long time (some of the answers were good and others were not). I was able to establish relationships, sometimes very fractious and challenging with both of my parents. My father is a very eloquent writer and very persuasive. He'd write me a 2 page letter and leave me with more than 25 things to think about (I may post one so you can judge for yourself). He's the one that introduced me to philosophy, which I later studied in college. When we did speak any comments about religion would be made by me and me only. He never wrote to me explaining any religious beliefs he may have had and I don't recall asking him. His mother told me he was a Muslim and I was okay with that and went on believing it, until this past week. A few months ago he wrote me a 3 page letter alerting me of the similarities I have with my mother, which infuriated me to some degree (my girlfriend can attest to that) but he made some profound points. I wrote back, expressing that he was right and that I hate when he is but I also told him that I am an atheist. 

I didn't receive a reply by mail. I thought he had written off my letter and I was frustrated until he called. I asked him about the letter and he said he had received it but he wanted to know something. The looming question of course is ARE YOU AN ATHEIST? I said YES and he and I both felt a sense of relief. We both felt that we were not alone in the family (his mom knows I am an atheist but doesn't know about him). My father was relieved and shocked but not shocked all at the same time. Relieved because it's not just him, shocked that I am so bold about it, and not shocked because he expected it at some point. He told me he thought that I would eventually become an atheist due to my intelligence and educational accomplishments. He said he didn't want to influence me in any way because he did not want his mother to think my becoming an atheist is HIS fault. I told him I make my own decisions and it took a while for me declare it proudly, boldly, and to deal with any fall out. 

Now what does that mean to me? I greatly appreciate him encouraging me to investigate ALL of my beliefs. How did he do that? Simply by engaging me and asking good questions. I also had a thirst for knowledge and wanted good reasons to support what rattles around in my head and comes out of my mouth, which cannot be taught per se, but it can be encouraged. I still employ the model today and it helps me weed out bull shit. I know I'm not alone in the family, but that's an added bonus. If you follow me on Twitter, you may think I've been an atheist for about 10+ years. I'm very passionate about it and I want to share it. If I choose to have kids, I plan to employ the same method my father did with me. Encourage them to figure things out. Introduce them to philosophy and encourage them to read. I'm going to make sure they are scientifically literate and have great bull shit detectors. This is a new "tradition" in the family and one that I want to preserve and continue. Where an ugly cycle was ended, a better one has begun and I'm happy to be a part of that. 

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