My dad is one of the major reasons I’m an atheist. Ever since I was little, he instilled a healthy skepticism of religion in me. For one, he thought it was very important not to indoctrinate me in any particular faith. We never went to church and I was never taught about Christianity, unlike him or my half brothers (whose mom won out on that argument). I was left to my own devices. And when you’re gobbling up Greek mythology and fantasy novels, modern religions just didn’t seem too different in my head.
He also had his nuggets of wisdom. “No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God,” was a frequent saying of his. And when a younger me asked why we didn’t go to church, he responded “You don’t have to go to church to be a good person. Plenty of people who go to church and are praying the loudest have also done the worst things.”
Despite this, I never heard him call himself an atheist. I’m not sure if he even knew it was an appropriate label for himself until I started the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue. I had noticed that now that I was more vocal about my atheism, he was also becoming more vocal in his criticisms of religion. Not long ago he saw I had a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and I mentioned it was a really good read. Armed with a Kindle, he read it and loved it. The criticism of religion has definitely increased even more (Dawkins has that effect on people).
I just saw him, and he said I would be proud of him. He was grocery shopping and a man in a suit came up to him. He said he recognized him from when he coached high school basketball, so my dad stopped to talk. He then asked if he could have a minute of his time and tried to give him a pamphlet about Christianity.
Dad: Sorry, but you’ll just be wasting your time on me.
Guy: Why’s that?
Dad: Because I’m an atheist.
The guy was flustered and wanted to debate, but my dad just went along with his grocery shopping.
This is the first time I’ve heard him used the dreaded “a” word, and to practically a stranger no less. One way to increase acceptance of the non-religious in our society is to let people know that every day, good people are atheists. We’re fathers, we’re basketball coaches, and we do our grocery shopping at the same place as you. It may have taken him 64 years to do it (yesterday was his birthday!), but it’s never too late.
And yes, I am very proud of him.