I was raised by atheists. They let my grandparents take us to church when we were very young, but it made no sense. I think my parents wanted, out of some sense of fairness, to expose us to religion to form our own opinions. I even attended Catholic mass with family friends a few times, but from my 7-year-old perspective it was just crazy, all that stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, and the mystery of the adults lined up to be fed by hand.
What hit home the strongest and earliest for me was when my father asked, “What kind of god would send you to hell forever just for not believing in him, no matter how good a person you are?” He and my born-again grandfather were forever arguing over religion, and my grandfather’s constant nagging about church pushed my parents away. It was probably my grandfather’s pushing as much as my parents’ atheism that influenced my views. I have never believed in a god.
In my teens, it was my turn to debate him. When I’d visit, he’d start witnessing, and so I’d tell him why I thought it was nonsense. It was lighthearted – he was a doting grandfather – but there was something sad about it. Why couldn’t he see how beautiful the universe is, having blossomed all by itself without some invisible prejudiced, jealous, capricious, demanding, tamtrum-throwing deity getting the credit? I tried to make him understand that all I asked was for him to respect my right to my own beliefs, as I respected his right to his. I suppose he thought of it as trying to save someone he loves, but how much can you love someone who you don’t respect?
Every time I saw him, the first thing he’d ask (as though he didn’t know the answer) was, “Did you go to church last Sunday?” One day in my 20s, just plain tired of it, I answered “Yes, and we sacrificed a goat and danced around the fire!” He never asked again. Last Christmas he griped about a gay marching band – predictably, he’s homophobic and blames his religion. I said, “If I were going to believe in a god, he or she wouldn’t hate anyone.” He said, incredulously,”IF you were going to believe in god?” “Yes, if I were going to believe in one, it wouldn’t hate anyone just for being who they are.” It amazes me that after all these years of making it explicitly clear, he still can’t wrap his head around the idea that I’m an atheist. It’s sad that our relationship suffered from his obsession. But on the positive side, I learned from it, and I haven’t imposed all that control and guilt and judgement on my own child.
So, I guess the moral of the story is: religion is also evil for elevating itself above everyone and everything else in your life – tainting and diluting and polluting what could otherwise be something joyful.