a difference of opinion

Last night we had several very good friends over for dinner, all of whom are devoted and conscientious participants in various forms of Christianity. During the course of a wonderful evening of food and conversation, I was talking with a woman who’s the mom of two sons: one in college, one in high school. Speaking of her older son, she mentioned that with regard to his relationships, she was pleased that in each case he’d chosen a “good, intelligent, Christian girl.”

I was, of course, happy that she was happy. At the same time, I found myself uncomfortable with articulating my immediate thoughts regarding my happiness with my daughter’s current boyfriend: I’m extremely pleased that she’s chosen a good, intelligent, atheist boy.

https://i1.wp.com/www.benettontalk.com/American-Atheist-Sample-Sma.jpgIn the last couple of years I’ve overcome my hesitation about voicing my lack of religious faith; I’m ready and willing to reveal my atheism and discuss it with anyone if the topic arises. But for some reason, in this context, with this particular friend, I was overcome by my old unwillingness to state something that I knew she’d find shocking and, perhaps, incomprehensible.

Today I wish I’d spoken up, not to shock my friend, but in the interest of promoting awareness. Yup, I’m an atheist, and so is my daughter, and so is her boyfriend — and so are a lot of other people. With Huckabee and Romney leading the Republican pack, I need to be part of spreading the word that America is not a Christian Nation.

15 responses to “a difference of opinion

  1. I think the stigma against being atheist/agnostic/etc. is starting to fade. I hope you get another chance to express your pride in your choice :-).

  2. I think parents desire, as one of our mutual friends pointed out years ago, for “our children to be exposed to a culturally diverse environment, but ultimately have the same biases we have.” It sounds to me like you’re both most comfortable with your children being in relationships with people of similar feelings about religion. (And not coincidentally, the feelings of the child, in each case, mirror those of the parent.)

    Given how intensely most people feel about religion, I’m not sure if this is good or bad. At the very least, it sounds like a recipe for less conflict between them. Why should either statement (“good, atheist boy” or “good, Christian girl”) be an issue for either of you?

  3. Honestly, I see it as not coming down to her level.

  4. Halfawake, I agree that the stigma is a little less heavy than in the past. But there are still plenty of major religious figures using airtime to promote the idea that atheists are evil; and the other day on NPR I heard a discussion of the fact that although an atheist could run for national office in Europe and no one would raise an eyebrow, here in in the U.S. that person wouldn’t have a chance in, umm, hell.

    Tim, I don’t say that the statements would be an issue for either of us. We wouldn’t get into a fight about who is “right.” But I think the Christian mom would have trouble comprehending my happiness and even relief that my daughter is dating a fellow nonbeliever (and I think the mom would be unhappy if her son brought home an atheist girlfriend), just as I have difficulty comprehending religious belief in general (and would be uncomfortable if my daughter brought home an evangelizing religious boyfriend — a notion which, when we were talking about this, caused her to crack up laughing).

    Dragon, I know what you mean. But I’m trying so hard to be better about tolerance, especially with my friends…

  5. I’m puzzled why Dragon is suggesting that by making a comment like that, your friend was automatically at some theoretical “lower level.” I’m confused what this has to do with tolerance.

    What if your friend had said “a good, Jewish girl”? Would that have been stooping to a lower level? I would hear that and presume that the mother wanted her son dating someone with a similar belief system. It wouldn’t occur to me that the non-Jewish girls are automatically “bad.”

    One of my oldest son’s best friends is a non-theist. They went bowling a few nights ago (into the wee hours of the morning), continuing a friendship that has spanned Middle School, High School, and now years of college. I have no problem with this.

    I would presume, if my son were to start dating a “good girl” who happened to be an atheist, that I would have concerns about problems that could arise from such a deep-seated difference. I might, like you suggested about your friend, be unhappy about it.

    Perhaps your friend, the Christian mom, would be puzzled by your happiness as you are puzzled by hers. I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad reaction for either of you to have. It seems perfectly normal to me.

    How would you respond if your friend’s son found the idea of dating an atheist girl a cause to crack up laughing?

  6. As an aside, I find it very cool that you would host a get-together like this with friends who clearly aren’t in lock-step with your beliefs. I’m not sure if it says a lot about “tolerance,” or about your interest in true diversity. Either way, it sounds pretty healthy. – Tim

  7. This does not seem to be such an overt issue in Australia – the balance between believers and non-believers seems pretty even (amongst the people I know) and does not attract automatic derision (although Australians have always had a natural and deep distaste for “bible bashers” of any persuasion). Perhaps it’s just not considered good taste to speak about such things when shopping and home improvements are so much easier…

  8. I understand the impulse not to start an argument; I’ve missed opportunities to “educate” about paganism more than once just because I didn’t have the energy at the moment opportunity presented itself.

  9. Tim, it’s possible to read my original entry and hear my friend’s statement as smug and holier-than-thou. That isn’t how it was, but I can’t post a recording of the conversation, and it could be read that way. I think that’s the attitude Dragon was responding to; and knowing Dragon as I do, that’s what I answered. The part about tolerance was tongue in cheek.

    >>How would you respond if your friend’s son found the idea of dating an atheist girl a cause to crack up laughing?>>

    Sigh. I so did not mean this entry to be offensive; it was meant to be a commentary on my own varying level of comfort in expressing my lack of faith in a world where Christians can spreak freely and I can’t. I’m not sure you can understand how it feels to have a huge percentage of the country think that anyone like you is satanic, evil, crazy, and generally unacceptable. My daughter dated a guy for a while whose mom, not knowing our family’s atheist / humanist / UU stance, once ranted at us for about 15 minutes about how she would never let her son spend time with the kind of twisted people who don’t believe in God. That’s the kind of person I would never, ever feel OK talking to about my atheism. My defense mechanism to this is partly humor — things like, for example, joking that my daughter had better not bring home some born-again Christian kid, to mirror the conversations we imagine right-wing evangelicals having about the horror of their kids bringing home a nonbeliever. When we had the conversation, and had laughed, I made sure she knew I was joking, and I was explicit in saying that she can date anyone she wants; we talked about how difficult certain combinations might be in a relationship, but that people do work them out sometimes.

    Oscarandre, I’ve read and heard many positive things about Australia, and now you’ve added another. I definitely want to get over there to visit one of these days.

    And now, a moment of UU evangelizing… 🙂
    Thud, we have a large contingent of pagans at our Louisville UU church, and there’s a national organization called CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist PaganS — http://www.cuups.org/). I can’t remember where you’re living now, but you might consider looking for a UU church; we’re creedless, open to all, and very pagan friendly. (There are 25 congregations in Virginia: http://uua.org/aboutus/findcongregation/results.php?state=VA)

  10. Ahhhh… OK. That makes more sense, both in terms of what Dragon was saying, but also your daughter’s laughter at the proposed situation.

    You’re most likely right about my lack of understanding of what it feels like to have a “minority view” in terms of religion. The funny part is, seeing how people twist religion around in the way that they live it out, I tend to feel that people with my faith experience are already a substantial minority.

    For example, this morning, the percentage of people involved in some kind of church experience are outnumbered (in my county) by those who aren’t. If you presume that there are theists who aren’t in church, but also quite a few people in church who most certainly believe what their church promotes, the numbers may be an accurate reflection of what people actually believe.

    I apologize for misreading what you’d written before, and to Dragon as well. I clearly read meaning into the words that wasn’t there, which was exactly what I’d been (without any foundation) concerned that you had done. – Tim

  11. Thank you for your post, Tiffany. I just finished reading the book “American Fascists,” which I highly recommend. I am Christian, but I find the motivations of the extreme Christian Right known as Dominionists scary and incomprehensible.

    As a long-time member of a mega church in Louisville, Kentucky (Southeast Christian Church), I was intimately involved with very conservative Christians. Chris Hedges’ book outlined some of the belief systems of Americans like those attending Southeast. However, the Dominionist Christians he refers to have taken their beliefs several steps further than the message that the Southeast leadership purports to preach.

    For example, a lot of extreme Right Christians feel that mental illness is the result of satanic possession and that if you’d simply call on the name of Jesus, you would be healed. Southeast does not mean to impart such a message, and, in fact, it employs psychiatrists on its staff to assist members who are afflicted with depression, bi-polar disorder, and other mental illnesses.

    Unfortunately, because extreme Christianity tends to give the message that the bible is the absolute, literal Truth (with a capital T), a lot of conservative Christians have relinquished their responsibility to think for themselves and, instead, rely exclusively on biblical passages to determine how they will live/behave.

    I have friends who will not permit their children to date non-Christians. I believe they would do that because they are taught that it is a sin to marry a non-Christian if you are a Christian. Practically speaking, it makes sense to me because of what Tim said about the difficulty in working out such a major difference. However, I don’t regard it as a sin.

    This book I told you about has caused me to think twice about some of things I’ve previously said to my daughter about what’s right and wrong, from a Christian perspective. I hope my Christian brothers and sisters will pick up the book and take a chance on thinking about its message.

  12. Hi again, Tiffany – I hope I didn’t give a too generous view of Australian attitudes to religion/beliefs/spirituality (I didn’t mean to ). While there is a traditional and healthy antipathy and skepticism towards the promotion of religious beliefs in public or as part of public policy debates, there is also a high degree of empty materialism in this country. Maybe it would be a good idea for us to discuss what it is that we exactly do believe in and how that gives life meaning. And the recent succesful visit by the Dalai Lama showed that a significant amount of people are now looking for somethig beyond DIY home improvements for meaning. I might also add that the latest Australian federal election is the first in which I remember both prime ministerial candidates openly using their Christian beliefs as a measure of their virtue. That is a dangerous dangerous development if you believe, as I do, that church and state should remain completely removed from each other. But you should visit anyway, Tiffany!

  13. I am one Atheist from Europa. (Germany) And
    I am 20 Years Atheist, why? Becouse I hate a
    War and Violence. I am Pacifist to, same als
    John Lennon. Or same als Friedrich Nietzsche.
    He is writting about Old Testament, special
    about War and Genocide. About Heroism in
    Old Testament. Ironie! Who bring me to
    Atheism? The Bible. Rassism, Antisemitism,
    Vandalism, Kannibalism, Hate, Genocide…
    Yes: Who bring me to Atheism? The Bible.
    Deut.7:1. Deut.12:29.Deut.19:1. Psalm144.
    “Military Bible”
    “Soldiers Bible”
    “Hitlers Bible” (centralpark-ny.us)

    Thank You

  14. Hi! Just stumbled across your blog, Tiffany, and I was wondering if you would be able to explain the Unitarian Universalism church. I’m interested in learning more about other religions, and I’d love any information you could give. Thanks!

  15. The Bible and Hitler! Deuteronomium+Holo-c.
    Genocide in the Bible+ Rassism in the Bible+
    Vandalism in the Bible+Slavery in the Bible+
    Kannibalism in the Bible, War in the Bible!

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