A couple of days ago, my mom asked me to accompany her to a Wednesday night Lenten church service, even though she knows I don’t believe in God. When she had me alone in the car with her for the twenty-minute drive, she seized the opportunity to either try to convert me, or try to make me feel guilty for not believing, or both.
It seems that whenever I simply say to someone “I don’t believe in the deity of your religion,” I have deeply offended them. Hearing me utter such blasphemy makes people suddenly feel defensive, and my nonbelief gives them the need to recall all of their own reasons for belief and relay those undeniable facts back to me. If I have no immediate response, then I am wrong and their beliefs are safe. Luckily for my mom, all of her arguments are completely based off of personal experiences and her feelings, which can’t be empirically refuted, so when she rattles off all of her personal examples of God’s presence, I have no words for her. . . and she thinks she’s won.
So during this car ride, she offered as examples multiple times in her life when she saw a lucky or emotionally influential coincidence as a sign from God, and of course she didn’t forget things like answered prayers and God’s wonderful and amazing influence in her life. But there is one thing that she continues to bring up in these conversations that bothers me to no end. And she’s not even the only person to have said this to me.
My mom has had a hard life. She has had a pretty terrible marriage and has been separated from my dad for years, and in the last two years she has lost both of her parents (you can read more about that here). For her, religion is her coping mechanism. God is a real person to her, and his perceived presence acts as an anchor in her life. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that one of her mantras for me is “If it weren’t for God, I would have turned to alcohol a long time ago. Or I would have been suicidal.” Or this, or that, or on and on and on.
In a different place and with different people and on a completely unrelated topic, a friend of mine echoed her words: “If I hadn’t been a Christian when I was in high school, with what I was going through with depression, I would have killed myself. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here.” Of course, it’s somewhat of a spin off of the classic saying “There are no atheists in foxholes,” but I can’t help but take offense to it.
A simple rearrangement of their words would sound this way: “If I’d been an atheist–like you are–at ___ point in time, I would have killed myself!” How am I supposed to respond to that? Thank you? I’m sorry? I’ll try to not be an atheist when I’m feeling down? I’m so proud of you for relying on a religious security blanket for keeping your sanity (somewhat) intact?
My mother usually likes to follow this announcement with the warning that when my life gets tough, and I have no one to turn to, I will find [her] god. What she, and my friend, don’t know, is that there are atheists in foxholes. I don’t think my life so far has been quite as tragic as hers has, but as you know even from just reading this blog, it’s not easy either. I’ve had my bouts of depression for one reason or another, and in the more recent ones I’ve been very conscious that in order to get through it I was relying on myself and not on God. Intellectual honesty can be intimidating, especially when it means that without religion, life’s security blanket is suddenly gone. But I would rather know the truth, face life’s hardships, and get myself through it than rely on and beg a trans-dimensional deity for comfort–not to mention that an all-powerful god would have been the one to put me in the foxhole in the first place.