Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Familial Pressure: How loyalty to the family is tested through church attendance or lack thereof

I thought I was clear enough to my family(grandmother and great grandmother) about my views on religion and church attendance. I was wrong. My grandmother and I had heated discussion about family business and individual treatment of each other. She said she didn't think I loved her and the statement hurt me enough to reduce me to tears. I now know it was a heat of the moment response but the utterance of those words hurt me very deeply. Considering the fact I was the person who was by her side during her battle with cancer, I could not understand why she would think that. We cleared up the problems and each of us calmed down but I was still very weak. I don't like to fight with the people I care about. My grandmother came to me and asked me to attend church with her and my great-grandmother on any Sunday I choose. In my weakened and emotional state I agreed.

My great-grandmother was my primary care-taker for the first 15 years of my life. Going to church each and every Sunday was a tradition. Suits, ties, dress shoes, singing and listening to the pastor "preach the word of God", was what I knew I'd be doing at least 3 times a week. She attributes her life being demonstrably better because she gave her life to God and to this day she holds steadfastly to that claim, despite the poverty stricken conditions, drugs and death we saw on a weekly basis in our community. In her eyes, at least God was there to shield us. The church was a safe haven. It's where we gained validation as people and a connection to a higher power. The church made her happy and she smiled each time she spoke about it and enjoyed attending each service. She loved the atmosphere and the people. Those things were carried with her when she moved at Atlanta, from Charlotte North Carolina early last year. She lamented about not having a "church home". When she found one she was grateful and happy. Her and my grandmother began to attend regularly and still do. My grandmother attributes her triumphant victory against cancer to God's love and care.   She wasn't a church goer as much as she is now until her mother moved here. Until today there was not a push to get me to join in. Both knew, but only my grandmother really understood what an 'atheist' is and why I didn't go to church.

I talked to my girlfriend soon after the heated discussion between my grandmother and I and told her I was going to church. She wanted to know what the fuck was wrong with me. Deciding to go was totally out of character and inconsistent with the man I have shown myself to be. She alerted me to the traditional aspect of my own family and how I can be manipulated by others even if done unconsciously on their part. I understand the place my grandmother and great grandmother are coming from. They see the church as a benefit and something good and they wish for me to partake in it. I figured I had some talking to do so I ended the phone call with my girlfriend.

First I talked to my great-grandmother and asked her why she wanted me to go. She said she wanted me to hear what the preacher had to say. She wanted to 'show me off'. In some churches steeped in old traditions, when a family member is spoken of, it's discourteous and even disrespectful to the parishioners of that church  for that family member to never be seen. You have an obligation to show up to prove you are not a ghost. Very silly but that's where that comes from. When I was first asked to attend my grandmother said "it'll really make her happy if you go", but when she heard me speaking to her mother the 'her' turned into a 'we'. She said "it will make us happy if you go and you should do anything to make us happy". That statement is simply not the case and is a form of guilt. Their happiness need not depend on me going to their church. I don't love them any less or treat them badly because of not attending. It's not something I find healthy for myself or even for them. I have never asked them to not attend church but if they never went again I would be happier. I asked them both "If I asked you not to attend any church again and not give your money to them, would you do it, even if that made me happy"? Both with a strong tone said "no". From there I articulated why I thought their request was a guilt trip. The initial deal was a one time only thing. In further discussion the 'one time' evolved to 'sometimes'. I was able to articulate my view and my reasons for rescinding the offer in a way I had not done before. They will continue to be happy even though disagree with my decision. I was angry even though they could not tell. My loyalty to each of them was under the microscope. All of my past deeds and good action were contingent on attending or not. I fought against that view and gained a better understanding of myself, my positions, theirs, and I came away stronger. I am happy with my approach to them. I hugged each of them and told them "I cannot do this because it will not make me happy".

Their happiness is important to me. I love them both very dearly but I cannot and will not go to church again unless it's for a wedding or a funeral service. I know going is not an admission of faith, but I view the church, religion and a lot of it's gatekeepers as mental road blockers and they conjure up talk which makes reality scary which results in a lot of people not dealing with their lives. Instead they 'give it all to God'. They(churchgoers) are not encouraged to take full responsibility for the things they say or do. It's not a place I want to be and it's a place I will not go. You may think I have a phobia or I have had a collection of bad experiences but you are mistaken. Majority of my experiences were good or okay. It's not a place that I am willing to put my name and my being behind. It's not a place which fosters an account of reality in such a way to empower you to deal with your own life and it's many circumstances. No love or loyalty to a family member or anyone else is enough for me to disavow the person I am and forego my own happiness, even for a short time to appease them. Each of them has to learn no matter our generational differences, I will not attend church. We can still love, laugh, cry, yell, scream and hug without me attending their church. They now know that and I am happy they do.

1 comment:

  1. This is a sad story.

    And yes My heart sang when she said you didn't love her. Wow.

    Like your girlfriend, I agree that you should have not said that you were going to church but not because it was out of character for you or because you don't go to church. I felt it was unfair that your grandmother would throw something in your face especially after her bout with cancer.

    In the end, I don't think it was about going to church but the fact that they were trying to sway you into doing something they wanted you to do instead of respecting you for who you are.

    I see this happen often. I know family members who are the worst but are given a pass when they attend church because it is seen as some sort of "progress" yet some of us are seen as heathens even though we are law abiding citizens who have functional families.

    I see this as disrespectful to who I am as a person. My mother is a deacon and she respects where i am. While she always points out that she would love for me to attend her church, she doesn't force it on me. Her folks are a different story.