The Perils Faced by My Atheist Family in Our God-Obsessed Community
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
“Goddammit!” “God bless you!” “For God’s sake!” “God forbid!”
My children have heard me take “the Lord’s name in vain.” These expressions slip out as easily as expletives and are part of my vernacular, even though I don’t believe in God.
God is not exactly welcome in our home.
I’m not a hater (at least not anymore). I’m an atheist. My daughters know I’m the tooth fairy; they have no use for Santa Claus; and would consider the Bible a collection of boring, inaccessible stories (at worst) or fables on par with Greek and Roman mythology (at best).
I’m raising good kids. They are good without God. They will not go to hell … because there is no hell. Neither will they go to heaven … because there is no heaven. I have taught my girls that “heaven” and “hell” are what we humans create for ourselves and each other right here on earth.
Atheist. Say it over and over again and it sounds like a meaningless label. I prefer to call myself a humanist, which expresses what I embrace rather than what I reject. Humanism is my religion. I have faith in the higher power of people – our capacity, indeed our yearning, to do good. If you think sustaining faith in an invisible God or his sacrificial dead son is challenging, try being a spiritual humanist. People fuck up all the time: We disappoint, we hurt each other, we fail miserably. To err is human. But to forgive at least feels divine.
So I forgive all of the evangelicals who’ve come knocking on my door to share the “Good News” with my family and save our souls.
I forgive my former next-door neighbors – a Baptist minister and her husband – for having a “Veggie Tales” video marathon while baby-sitting for my non-Christian kids. I forgive my mom’s Orthodox Jewish friend for “gifting us” with a mezzuzah when my first daughter, Sophie, was born. A mezzuzah is a little box that houses a teeny-tiny scroll with a Hebrew prayer on it that many Jews hang on the doorposts of their homes as a sign of their faith. I would hang one if it could ward off Jesus’ traveling salesmen, but it doesn’t. And I forgive Kayla’s dad for suggesting that I solve a childcare crisis by sending my 11-year-old daughter Jessie to Bible camp with his children. Thanks, but I would rather her binge-watch reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Finally, I have to forgive myself for many years of ruthlessly judging those who believe in God as gullible, fearful children holding on to the security blanket of an imaginary friend.
Parenting has transformed my perspective on religion. I don’t want my children to face prejudice for their beliefs and I don’t want them to feel prejudice toward anyone else. On some fundamental level, I think world peace begins with me teaching my children respect for freedom and diversity. So how did a nice Jewish bat mitzvah girl become an outspoken believer that Dieu n’existe pas? Feminism made me do it. Sure, let’s blame feminism. Everybody does.
A women’s studies class at Penn introduced me to the religious origins of gender oppression. I concluded that God didn’t create man, rather men created God in their own image. Patriarchy strikes again! So, God was yet another male authority figure to reject.
I dabbled with the Goddess – Mother Earth – and found the concept of a female divinity empowering. But she didn’t stick.
Still, I had a spiritual awakening. It didn’t happen inside any houses of worship or appear to me in the shadowy curves of a bagel. It happened, actually, during political demonstrations, when I felt a soulful connection to a larger group as we joined together to promote a common vision of justice. And I experienced an epiphany again during pregnancy and after giving birth, when I felt my own power of creation plus a deep connection to all women, across cultures and throughout time, who have grown a human life inside them, pushed a baby out of their bodies, fed that child from their breasts, and felt love of divine proportions.