Friday, April 7, 2023

F ³: Losing My Religion


My father was a skeptic. When it came to organized religion he enjoyed pointing out its flaws and foibles. He was the sort of person who delighted in mocking things that others had reverence for. I distinctly recall a conversation from my childhood where he held forth on how religion was responsible for most wars and the resulting death and destruction. 

We were on the way to pick up pizza. Go figure.

My mother’s views on religion were similar, although she had different ways of expressing them. Of the Old Testament: 

God stacked the deck against Adam and Eve. He put that snake in that garden.

Of the New Testament:

Don’t finish that story. It doesn’t end well.

As a child I wanted to believe in something bigger than myself. My family didn’t go to church. I saw others going to church and I was sure there was something there that I was missing. All those years I fought against my father’s smug assertions that religion was destructive and hurtful, and that Christianity was by far the worst.

Some children rebel against their parent’s church-going. In my family, the children did the opposite. My parents raised us to be good people, to love beauty in the arts and in nature, to read and think, to choose what is fair and just. And somehow they created children who longed for God.

This was not their intent. They were greatly disappointed.

I thought about my parents a lot - - especially my father - - when the report on sexual abuse of children in the Baltimore Archdiocese was released. (I have not read it fully; I’ve only glimpsed excerpts. As a life-long teacher of young children I just…cannot.) The documentation of horrific acts evil and its systematic coverup is just the kind of thing that made my father reject religion and all its works. 

If religion is what people use to protect and justify their own personal evils then it is everything my father said it was. Oh, how his needling tone infuriated me. I knew he was the kind of person who loved to play Devil’s Advocate and that somehow made it worse. I didn’t feel like he was trying to educate me. I felt like he was having fun at my expense - - poking holes in my longing to believe.

In many ways I developed my own worldview in reaction to that. I was not going to be the person who assumed that evil was around every corner hiding behind faces meant to be trustworthy and good. I wore my idealism proudly. Believing in something was better than standing for nothing, I thought.

Now I am heartsick with every story that shows me that he knew what I did not know. I wonder whether he became who he was as a response to hurt. Perhaps he meant to spare me harm: if you don’t believe in anything your trust cannot be betrayed. 

I’m on to you, his attitude said to religion. You can’t scam me. 

Perhaps he was once the idealist I want so much to be.

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