“I notice you don’t pray with us in the morning.”

A wonderful guest post at Pearl Osibu’s blog about no longer sharing your family’s religion and how painful it can be to try to negotiate that, by T I Ajibade.

Tears continued to stream down my mum’s face as she asked god why this had to happen to her.

I had to recant. My mum is hypertensive. I was afraid for her health. I had an ugly vision of waking up the next morning to find she’d died of a heart attack.

So I took my words back.

And burned with a thrumming sadness.

Burned that she thought I might be up to some suspicious activity simply because I wanted to leave religion; that she wouldn’t listen when I asked her to consider that there was just as much chance I’d have been born Moslem as I was born Christian; that she pegged my unbelief down to exposure to dangerous books; that she said she was glad I made known my stand now, so she would know how to give me some space henceforth; that whatever good name I had as a person faded for her and Aunt Jola simply because I did not have religion; that she wept as if I had done something that brought shame on her – Don’t let your father hear this.

And then another aunt…

In January this year, while I was dressing up for work, Aunt Lydia said there was something she’d been meaning to ask me about.

“I notice you don’t pray with us in the morning.” She was respectful, careful.

Tendrils of irritation curled up my stomach to my throat. Again? This prayer thing again? Is it so unimaginable to live under the same roof with an irreligious person, albeit a closeted one? Did it matter this much?

I gave her my usual excuse: Work preparations coinciding with morning prayers.

“What kind of preparations?” she scoffed. “Are you a woman?”

It was meant to be a mild rebuke, a reminder that what I thought was so important wasn’t quite so if I would open my eyes. Although I wasn’t going to lash out, I was officially angry. That she would dismiss my own priorities just to set her own religious agenda; that she would stereotype my gender on top of it all; that she would arbitrarily declare to me that “it is good to pray” without telling me why or how so. It seemed all that mattered was that I conform, regardless of my feelings and personal choices. What good am I at morning devotion if the entire exercise is lost on me? What use is it dragging myself to church on Sundays to avoid incident when all it does is bore me and make me feel imprisoned? In times like this, do Aunts Lydia and Jola and my mother remember that at the core of belief or unbelief is conviction? (Strangely, Aunt Jola uses that word a lot when talking faith.) If I am not convinced, how am I supposed to believe?

That’s a good question. I think the idea is that you’re supposed to obey first of all, and that conviction is a necessary result of obedience. It’s a very peculiar idea.


  1. says

    Religion wants faith, but it can’t really enforce it. There’s simply no way to make sure that people really believe, deep down. As a result, there’s always the nagging doubt that other people don’t believe. A doubt that echos your own doubts; those little voices of criticism that you try so hard to ignore because they spell eternal damnation.

    As a result, you require constant expressions of faith. It’s not enough to simply have faith, you need to show it through positive action and you need other people to show it too. You institute communal prayers, recite statements of faith, do practical acts of worship. Whether it’s saying the Lord’s prayer before each meal, praying five times a day towards Mecca, wearing stripes of clay on your forehead or standing up before the congregation and saying that you really believe… no, know that Joseph Smith was a profet – the function is the same.

    You need other people to reinforce the dogma so that you’re never tempted to stray. That’s why the faithful keep constant watch over each other. Once one person is allowed to step out of bounds with no consequence, the whole house of cards starts shaking.

  2. Lee1 says

    My (very Catholic) mom was in tears when she finally accepted that I was “leaving the flock” when I was 17 (I think). She tried to console herself by saying she would keep praying for me. That interaction made me sad, but the one between my dad and me made me very mad – he asked me if an older sibling “put me up to it,” like it was some silly lark, like I hadn’t read the Bible cover to cover (which I’m quite confident he’d never done, and still hasn’t to this day) and put a ton of thought into it, including while going through confirmation classes.

  3. AsqJames says

    I think the idea is that you’re supposed to obey first of all, and that conviction is a necessary result of obedience. It’s a very peculiar idea.

    A very old one though (and thus respectable in many eyes):
    “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” — John Wesley (17??)

    Or, more recently, as Aaron Sorkin put it in the West Wing: “Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Or in other words, fake it ’til you make it.”

  4. otrame says

    I feel sorry for atheist kids of very religious parents. They don’t want to hurt and scare their parents half to death, and possibly even be cast out of the family, but it is either that or live a lie. Tough decision.

    I was lucky. When I was 16, I read the Bible, thought about it a while and then decided it, as Mark Twain said, “is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies”. So I told my Mom I didn’t believe anymore and she shrugged and said, “That’s okay. You’ll figure it out.”

    Instead she figured it out. She is an atheist today. Like I said, I was lucky.

  5. says

    On the flipside, my family was always irreligious. When I went through my religious period, their only concern was that I wasn’t getting drawn into some kind of cult. Once they were assured on that point, they pretty much left me alone to do as I wished.

    Yes, it’s actually possible to handle a disagreement with your children in such a relaxed manner. You wouldn’t know it from listening to the fundies.

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