I lost my connection to organized religion the day after my Bar Mitzvah 30 years ago. Since then, I have lived life as an atheist. A comment by Richard McGirr, creator of the Happy Atheists group on Gather.com, got me thinking. Richard said "Parenting as an atheist is a real challenge". I had often thought about this over the years. This brief article will examine my path as an atheist and hopefully spur a discussion of this interesting topic.
At the urging of Cyndi, my wife who passed away just over a year ago, we had attempted to reconnect with religion a couple of times. Her objectives were more social then anything else. You see, as people without a religion we were missing the social aspects that come with belonging to an organized religion or place or worship. We didn't know how or where to meet interesting people both for our daughter and for ourselves. Our friends were limited to ex-coworkers or people we met through support groups for Cyndi's illness or neighbors. We were suffering from the lack of venues for meeting new people.
Cyndi was not raised in any specific religion. When we first met she considered herself generic Christian although I never heard her use the term Jesus Christ. She did sometimes speak of God. I was always fond of openly questioning religion, God, and related issues. In fact, I could be a bit of an ass about it prompting argument purposefully. But the birth of our daughter in 1990 caused us to put our arguments aside and consider the best interests of the baby. I still argued that the best interests of the baby were to stay away from the hypocrisy of organized religion, but eventually I relaxed my objections.
I was raised Jewish. My parents were not particularly religious, but they wanted to offer me the choice. They also had to deal with the hopes and desires of their parents, who were more religious. The most religious person in the family was my dad's dad. Interestingly, he was born Catholic and converted when he fell in love with a Polish Jewish woman. He took his newfound Jewish-ness seriously and went to semi-orthodox services in Queens where he lived. I went with him sometimes as a young boy. I am always interested in new human experiences, even when I was young, so I enjoyed accompanying him, but decidedly did not like the "rules" he was forced to follow.
My new wife began studying Judaism after we got together. Not studying in a formal sense, but she began reading and researching and talking to my mother. My mom and dad treated Judaism as more of a cultural or social aspect then a religion. Cyndi eventually asked me to join a liberal temple and attend Hebrew lessons with her. I was able to read and say Hebrew back from my pre-Bar Mitzvah training, so it came easy to me. We did enjoy the social aspects. We began attending services occasionally. This is where my problem with religion resurfaced.
Every time I heard the term "the chosen people" in Jewish prayer I would cringe. I do not believe any group is better then any other, or that any group has been chosen. This was important to me. I did not want to teach this kind of separatism. I found many liberal Jews had similar concerns about the wording. I began fighting the participation in religion vigorously again. When the temple in San Jose, CA we had recently sent our daughter to Sunday school was vandalized with hate messages, I became concerned for safety and withdrew completely. That was cowardice and given my anti-separatist beliefs should have caused me to renew my commitment to this temple. In hindsight I am sad about that, but this temple was not particularly liberal and did not have the right message in my mind.
Many years later we attended a Universal Unitarian service. I liked this a lot. I am not sure why this didn't stick with us. I guess it was still a little God focused, although their God was not a separatist and I had so much in common with the people attending. I guess I never put religion high on my priority list. To this day that brief experience is one of my only positive religious experiences.
I know many people use their religion for much more then a social club. They seek moral guidance. Personally, I have never had any need for someone to teach me morals. My parents raised me to think for myself, and I feel I have led a good life. I have made mistakes no doubt. But I also have tremendous pride for the things that I have done that are good. Likewise, my daughter, now 16, seems to have a solid moral compass. I really believe active parenting is more important then organized religion in teaching a child to understand right and wrong.
I have not had a chance to study the beliefs of other religions around the world that I find interesting. From the little I know there are some belief systems that seem to offer some hope of improving your life. Eastern religions come to mind. At this point in my life I am not searching for salvation or anything like that, I only wish to improve myself, grow, and share positive energy with people. Love is the only religion that I am faithful to.
So this little tale gives you a quick view of my deviation from the religion of my birth. The topic I would like to discuss is how others have ended up where they are. I am interested in how other parents have dealt with the issues of not having a church to "belong to". I invite not only other atheists, but members of any religion to join in this discussion. I am truly after enlightenment in whatever form it takes.