Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I am Heathen

The other night, my kids participated in a variety show put on by the school they attend. The show was great, the kids were all amazingly talented, cute and enthusiastic. I didn't stay for the entire show; after the kindergartners performed (i.e., the twins), it was already getting late in the evening, so I took Finn and the twins home, while Michael stayed with Lilah to watch the rest of the grades (i.e., Joey) perform. When Michael got home later, he told me that one little girl's solo performance had consisted of singing a very Christian song - I believe it was Here I Am to Worship (I could be wrong, but it was something with that or a very similar title). I was dumbfounded.

This is a public, secular school. At first I was highly irritated because I just don't think stuff like that belongs in a public school setting (even an after-school activity; if it's an activity or event sponsored, hosted, or otherwise the responsibility of the school, I don't believe that religion should play a part). I'm sure the little girl was talented, and I'm sure her performance moved many an audience member, but still. My knee-jerk reaction was "Keep it at church." However, I understand that, despite the constitutional separation of Church and State, there's also the constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and there's no way the school could have forbidden her from performing that song without committing religious descrimination.

Then I started looking at it from another angle: what if a kid had gotten up there on the stage and recited a poem about there not being any God?

I'll just take a stab in the dark and guess that people would have generally been outraged. The school may have even gone so far as to not permit it, or at least discourage it, because it's just way too inflammatory. I bet parents would have been aghast at the "programming" the poor child had obviously been the victim of; after all, there's no way a kid could have opinions like "there is no God" without some adult feeding that to him or her.

I'm just guessing here. And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe a performance like that would have been as welcomed as the Christian performance. But I'm betting not.

God and Christianity are socially acceptable, it's as simple as that. Atheism, and even Agnosticism, are not.

I have this underlying feeling of separateness, of disconnect, from a lot of my peers, because I am not on the same page as most of them when it comes to God. I don't believe in God. I'll spare the entire chronology, but there was a time when I did believe in God (mostly because that's what I was told to believe). But gradually over the course of my adulthood, my belief has been replaced with non-belief. And I am completely fine with that. Despite what some people might think, I am not an empty, lost soul.

It seems, in my mind, to be an issue that gets in the way of potential friendships. I can be happily conversing with someone, say, a fellow mom at school, while we wait for our children to be dismissed at the end of the school day. And then the God-bomb drops. References to church, and prayer for this or that, and gifts from God ensue. And then suddenly I deflate, knowing that we can never truly be friends, because God clearly plays such a big part in their life, and I assume (through experience) they would be horrified if I blurted out that I don't go to church, I don't pray, and I don't believe in God.

Here's what I want people to know about me:
  • I am a person of very high morals. I believe in honesty and loyalty and kindness to my fellow human beings. Not because I am concerned about where I may end up in the afterlife (I don't believe there is an afterlife), but because it just makes the world a better place to live in. This extends to my belief in equal rights and treatment of all people; everyone, no matter their skin color, sexual orientation, or intellectual ability, deserves dignity, respect, kindness, and the right to marry whom they choose, for crying out loud.
  • My rejection of religion and the notion of God was not precipitated by any negative experience I had. I just grew to view it as nonsense over a period of time. And nothing anyone can say or do is going to convince me that there is a God, so don't even try.
  • I am pro-choice AND I am pro-life. That is to say, I think it is a dangerous thing to take away a woman's reproductive rights, or power over her own body or destiny. However, I value human life, deeply. And I wish more people made better use of the choices they have.
  • I am not raising my children to be Atheist. I am, hopefully, raising them to think for themselves. They know that I don't believe in God. And they know that other people do. The only thing I have emphasized to them is this: "Don't believe anything just because somebody tells you that's what they believe."
I respect that people have their beliefs, that those beliefs may differ from mine, and that faith (or absence thereof) is a very personal matter. At this point in my life, I personally find religion and the notion of God to be ridiculous, and find myself becoming quite offended by some of the manifestations of God in certain people's lives (like crediting God for helping them afford braces for their kid, or for finding a way to get a much-needed new roof on their house, or for making sure little Jimmy got over that pneumonia, or even for being responsible for my husband beating cancer - all while Haiti gets leveled by a catastrophic earthquake and there is massive loss of life; really? Was the God they believe in just snoozing on the job, or does He play favorites?) Nonetheless, believe what you want to believe - whatever gets you through the day and all that. I just get tired of being inundated by it all the time. It's not my bag, baby.

And I wish I felt the same freedom to openly express my views on God and prayer and church and religion - and still be accepted as a good, decent, moral, upstanding person. My close friends know where I stand, and I do tend to cut loose with this stuff in my book club when our discussions center around religion. But out in the world at large? Thrown into conversation with people I've just met or have only a casual acquaintance with? Imagine if I put in my FB status something about my true views about God. Hmmm, maybe I should try that as an experiment.


Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested in this campaign that happened last year here in the UK.

The Marquez Family said...

I relate so deeply to everything you said. It can be very lonely not to have a god or gods--and by that, I do NOT mean spiritually lonely or wistful or anything else that a christian would jump on as an opportunity to convert me. Just that, atheists are so few and far between that I always feel a bit isolated, too.

Carla said...

I feel you, girl. I have let some things just roll right off when it comes to religion and public school, especially the ultra religious connotations at the annual Christmas pageant. I mean, yeah, I know the "reason" for the season, but come on, the kids are singing about a Christmas tree falling on top of them, among other things.

I have always stuck with the mind set that you have your beleifs, I have mine, never the two shall meet.

But then, I got a call from the school counselor who told me that my 12 yr old son was pulled out of class because another parent complained about an invitation their son had received to join "The Devil's Club" biker gang. As in, bicycle gang. As in, kids who ride their bikes around town and want a cool moniker because, well, it's cool.
The counselor "just wanted to make" me aware, that he wasn't being penalized or anything. As if being pulled out of class and sequestered in the counselor's office wasn't penalization enough. I honestly did not know how to react. I think I actually laughed at first because it seemed incredibly ridiculous. But then I got a little mad. You're telling him it's okay to believe however he wants in the same breath you're questioning him about his beliefs.

Ugh! Sorry, ran off on a rant there. Just saying, I know where you're coming from. :op

Talley Images said...

Lisa, you know me and Im a Christian and have no problems with what you write on your blog... actually I relate to most of what you say, so even though Im a Christian and you arent, I think if we lived closer, we would probably be good friends b/c our personalities are so much alike.

Honestly, I (personally) wouldnt have a problem with anyone doing a poem about there not being a God in school/after-school.

I may be a Christian, but I do not believe in forcing my beliefs on anyone... just like I dont think anyone else should be forcing their beliefs on me... its all about respect.

And even as a Christian - and a youth leader in church... one of our rules at home (with our own kids) and at church (with our youth group) is to never take our word about anything... look it up and decide for yourself. You have to know where you stand and what you believe - not what someone else believes....

Anyway... just wanted to say that not all of us are bad and overly pushy... :)

Cheryl said...

Haven't commented on your blog in a long time...just thought I would offer this: the way I figure it, there is, or there isn't. If there isn't, nothing matters because we cease to exist. If there is, we do the best we can with what we did and let our lives live on their own merit.

Sally Smith said...

Loved your article but one comment: I think that there are some misconceptions toward Christians you may have. I say this because you list your beliefs so I gathered you don't think Christians are pro-choice. We are! (loved your thoughts on people making better choices) We are also pro-gay marriage. Christ said nothing about homosexuality. Can you imagine what all the big hub-bub is about? Me neither.

What I call the "Christian Assholes" are the extremists, those who misread scripture and yet always make it on the internet or in the media. Real Seasoned Christians are taught to emulate Christ- that is love, love, love.

Maybe the reason the kid sang their song of choice was because it was a variety show and that was simply the song they most enjoyed? I like a balance too, to bad the Jewish community wasn't represented at the show or the Muslims but hey- they could have been, I hope?

I live in a big city. My agnostic friends don't get hassled at all. No one feels the need to defend their faith or their lack of it, I am sorry you may feel you do.

Anyway - keep writing, I love your writing style and invite you to read my blog.

It's just me :) said...

I can relate so much to everything you posted. Especially the part about making friends. I always though it was just me. Any time I started chatting with someone I thought I might actually develop a friendship with, as soon as the "God" bomb dropped I immediatly felt defeated. Like I just lost a possible friendship.

It's so hard these days to find someone with similar views to you (ie: Atheist/Agnostic) who won't make you feel judged or damned for not believing.

Great post!