The most stressful part of me becoming an atheist has been my experience hiding my unbelief from my mother, subsequently coming out to her, and having to deal with her reaction. For the most part, she has become defensive and resorted to stubborn remarks and insults that have helped no one.
If you haven’t read my coming out story to my mother up to this point, I would recommend it in order to understand this post.
If you’re familiar with the second in that sequence, I’d like to update you on my wedding plans which set into motion this entire coming out frenzy. This post will tell you more about why we ended up needing to have a secular non-church ceremony and why that forced me to come out to my two older sisters and their husbands. In short, my fiance and I have set a wedding date this fall, and for now, as far as my family knows, I will be living at my mother’s house from my college graduation in May until then.
Whether I will actually do that and not end up moving into my fiance’s apartment before the big day is highly questionable. Just as I had to explain to my mother that without religion, I had no moral opposition to premarital sex, my fiance and I will have to explain that we also have no reason not to premaritally cohabit. “Because your religion says it is bad” is not a valid reason for two grown atheists to not do something that is entirely their business.
The fun doesn’t end there, of course. The premarital cohabitation conversation is only one that I’ll be having with my mother in the near future. I’m afraid I will also have to explain to her that my atheism is out of her control–or mine, for that matter.
I know that one can control their being an atheist more than they could control being gay, for example. We don’t have any control over our sexual orientation. But the control that we have over what we believe is more complex than “none at all”. In my opinion, I can control what I read and what information and arguments I choose to expose myself to. I can deliberate on what makes the most sense, or if I see some sense in both sides of an argument, I will usually choose to dig deeper on the topic until I find a more concrete answer. What I can’t control is what conclusion I come to.
Take, for example, the kalam argument. Christian apologists love this classic argument from a first mover: “Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe had a beginning, so it has a cause. That cause is God. God never had a beginning, so he doesn’t need a cause.” I suppose it’s my choice to take that progression of presupposed facts as they are and agree that an uncaused God must be the prime mover of the big bang. But I can’t help but not be satisfied in this deft wordplay that keeps this assumedly eternal god exempt from scrutiny. I automatically ask, “How do you know that God doesn’t have a beginning or need a cause? How do you know that he’s the end to the infinite regress of events any more than the big bang is?”
The most common response that I’ve seen to this is, “Well, he’s an eternal being. Infinite, uncaused existence and unlimited power are intrinsic parts of his nature.” Well, apologist, skepticism is an intrinsic part of my nature, and I can’t force myself to find your answer satisfactory. And until I get a better answer, or demonstrable evidence that a god, specifically the Christian god, more specifically the god of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, is actually eternal, uncaused, and omnipotent, I can’t not be an atheist. And I have so many other questions that religion has never answered for me, and not only this one, but all of them, would have to be completely answered before I could ever convert. I can’t just google “How to believe in God” and follow the WikiHow instructions. So I hope that my mom isn’t holding her breath for me to change.
The problem I’m having is that my mom is, in fact, waiting for me to convert back to Christianity. Aside from trying to convince me that answered prayers and miracles and signs from God prove that he is real, we haven’t really gotten in any logical debates. She hasn’t otherwise tried to sway me with what she sees as evidence. That is because she is really convinced that if I return to God, it will be because I choose to. She has said to me:
“You are looking at this the wrong way with your reading books and taking classes on whether there is evidence for God. You’re not going to find answers by doing that. What you need is read the bible and devotionals, and pray to God asking him to reveal himself to you.”
“God is real. Whether you believe in him or not. You know that, right?” (No, Mom, I don’t think you quite get how not believing in God works.)
“You are missing out on the best part of life.”
“You are dumb and wrong.”
“You never gave God a chance.”
“You don’t believe because you are stubborn and you think you are smarter than the creator of the universe.”
“You decided to become an atheist for an excuse to be antisocial and hate everyone at your school.”
“Hang this up in your dorm room. I want you to honestly contemplate what it means every time you look at it. Also, you can’t take it down. This is in exchange for me paying your college tuition. Isn’t it a coincidence that this is the verse you were assigned at your church confirmation!?”
After expressing that it means a lot to her if I come with her to church even as an atheist, she forces me to participate once I’m there (for example, I have to sing along to hymns and I can’t go on my phone). I used to have great fun taking sermon and bible study notes about the insane things that were preached at me, but now that she knows that it was in mockery, she made sure that I know I’m only to take genuine notes. Obviously I can’t do that, because I can’t force myself to agree with the pastor, so I’ve abandoned the practice. Now when I do go to church it’s extremely boring.
My mom (as well as my sister and her pastor-husband) have made it clear to me that communion at our church is only for confessing, believing Lutherans. I’m not really that upset that I no longer have the holy privilege of eating the literal flesh and drinking the literal blood of Our Lord the Jewish Zombie Jesus Christ, but not participating is definitely a frowned-upon heathenly act. But what really bothers me is that each time my fiance or I attend church with her, she asks if we’ll be attending communion. I say, “Well, no, I’m not supposed to, because only believing Christians are allowed to take the sacrament.” To this, the reply is always, “Well, I don’t know what’s in your heart.”
Yes… you do. I’m an atheist. I told you that. I promise that if I convert back, I will tell you.
What my mom doesn’t understand is that she shouldn’t hold her breath on my converting back. If there’s anything that this post has shown, it is that she hasn’t accepted my atheism yet, which is to be expected. But she can’t expect me to wake up one day and decide that I’m going to be a Christian. Or that this is only a phase that will last for a year or two. Or that I can pray to a god that I don’t believe in or try to read the bible “with a heart that is open and ready to accept God.” I physically can’t force myself to believe through my heart before it passes the inspection of logic and reason in my head. This is the cold, hard truth that I will soon have to break with my barely coping mother.