As an atheist from Colorado living as a permanent guest in Germany, I feel it is my duty to prevent the worst actions of my fellow Americans. When I see a foreigner on the bus and yell, “Go back where you came from! We don’t want you here!” it is because I know a Mormon missionary when I see one, and they can fuck right off back to Utah. Come to MY house to steal the souls of MY children? Fuck you. The fact that you’re a young man sent away from your own community at prime date-raping age does not endear you to me. Keep your wild oats in your own damn town. If what you’ve got going for you is enthusiastic naiveté I will fix that for you right now. Any defensiveness I have about my parenting choices really comes to a head as soon as I see two 20-year-olds wearing short-sleeved white button-ups with black name tags. This might out me as someone not great with criticism, and maybe I’m just jealous that they have eight healthy (if pale) siblings and my daughter has none, but man do I hate a prosthelytizer.
Is my reaction divisive? Yes. Did they fucking start it? Also yes. The right thing to do would probably be to gently let them see the error of their ways, to guide them into a better understanding of themselves and their God, and to offer them a path to righteousness and hope, which they can read more about in a leaflet about Betsyism. Nah. Although here’s a photo of Frida that’s a pretty good start for the leaflet.
Am I religious? Hell, no. Am I spiritual? Spiritual people are annoyingly self-centered and they smell like patchouli, so no. Funny, then, that the books on my nightstand are all about religion, and that my kids go to church more often than once per week. I blame it on choir.
Frida is seven, and asks great questions: why do the adults tell those stories in church with a straight face, even though the stories are ridiculous? A talking snake, come on!
God is not a man, right? Why do people say he is?
Why were people so mad about Jesus?
Max is six, and also asks great questions: where was I when you met Papa?
Did it hurt you when they cut me out of you?
(about our bodies going into the ground, or being burned, when we die) Is the person who puts the bodies into the ground kind of a magic person? Do they get dead, too, when they do that?
They’re ready to get meta: to talk about why people make up stories to explain the things that we don’t understand. They have consistent ideas about some topics:
- there is something special about the changing of the seasons
- there is a feeling of wonder, and of love, that is useful to refer to when you think about what God might be, and that feeling is in a pretty specific place in your upper chest (I can’t remember which one said it, but they said, “Oh, yeah. That’s the place where crying starts.”)
- they don’t really believe that they were never here
- they easily understand that when something/someone dies, they are just not living anymore. The mystery of where we are before we are us is much more moving to them than the mystery of where we are after we die
- outer space is a disturbing, wonderful concept that is easily forgotten.
I am enjoying Neal MacGregor’s “Living With the Gods”, about the relationship between faith and society, and the kids like listening to it at bedtime. It’s hard to come away from that book, which looks at so many different ways that we approach religion and myth, without some skepticism when anyone explains the one true religion. It’s also impossible to come away without a feeling of wonder, and respect for the spirit of our fellow humans. Cool stuff.
Religion is stupid in lots of ways, but if you told me that you wanted to invite me to be in a group where we gather to think carefully about how a society should serve its membership, how to describe a standard of behavior for humanity and how to collectively teach our children to make moral choices, I’d say that Sunday mornings are a convenient time for a meeting. Sign me up.