Saying Goodbye Instead of See You Later

We, as social animals, do not typically enjoy saying goodbye. I have never met anyone who was excited to say goodbye to someone they love. What makes this inevitable event more bearable is the fact that we will be able to see them again. What happens though, when this promise of reunion is taken away? A religious person never truly experiences the feeling of losing someone with no hope of ever seeing them again, but for an atheist, losing someone to death is a very final thing.

 

Since embracing my atheism, letting go of the delusion that my deceased loved ones are: “watching over me” or are “up in heaven talking to Jesus” has been the biggest struggle. It is a reality, however, that I was ok to accept in theory. Recently though, my willingness to accept a harsh reality over a kinder lie has been put to the test.

 

On May 13th, 2015, my dad died due to lung cancer. He had only been diagnosed about 3 months earlier, so it happened pretty quickly. My relationship with my father was not your typical father-daughter relationship, I was raised by my grandparents and did not even know who my father was until I was 13. At that time, we began writing letters. I still have every letter that he ever sent me. When we were able, we spent quite a bit of time together. Being around him when he was sober, was a very enjoyable experience. For a while though, I did not see him, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol and I refused to bear witness to him stumbling all over himself. After he was diagnosed, I had a choice to make. I could have stayed away and then losing him would have been much easier. It still would have hurt, but not near as severely as it does now. I decided that I wanted to reestablish our relationship. I wanted to use the time that was left to get a better understanding of who exactly my father was underneath the drugs and addiction. Some (including myself) may think that is was a stupid thing to do. In a way, it was setting myself up for a fall. I felt that it was the right thing for me to do though.
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For the Sake of Your Children…

I begin this entry with a metaphor that I recognize as clumsy but that seems to be the best I can muster: sometimes when I’m thinking about my 30-year-old son Jim, my mind does something that I could almost describe as throwing up two projection screens side-by-side before its own gaze. On one of those screens I view vignettes from the years that Jim and I have known each other and spent together. On the other I view snippets of my own childhood and the role my father played in it. Those two sets of vignettes always present themselves in such a way as to suggest complementarity and invite comparison. It’s invariably a cathartic experience, as deeply honest moments almost always are. I never fail to emerge from such experiences sobered by the resulting insights and wrung-out from the effort that the attaining of them cost me.

 

The relationship that Jim and I enjoy is thoroughly good. We have the deepest respect and admiration for each other. We understand each other on a level that I think might be far rarer among parents and their children than one might wish, and our conversations are accordingly deep and meaningful. Despite his having avoided some of my mistakes and charted a more reasonable and promising course in life than I ever did, we’re very much alike in many ways: we’re both possessed of a native curiosity that drives us to distraction and gives us no peace; we’re both musically talented and we both love language (these two traits are often bound up together); we both derive great joy from writing and from reading what others have written; we’re both pretty well aware of the way the big game is played and have equal (although not always openly-expressed) contempt for the “playas” and we both recognize how hopeless the human condition is; we both have a well-developed sense of irony, which is another name for a sense of humor; we’re both adept at sarcasm, but we tend to be restrained in its use by our humane instincts – which we also share. We both have a finely-calibrated ethical sense. We’re both atheists, but he wears his atheism much more lightly and comfortably than I do mine, probably because unlike me, he didn’t have to fight his way to it. And when I look at him I see the man I might have become had my relationship with my father been like Jim’s with me.
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Personal Journey Series: My Atheist Testimony

I get a lot of messages, most of which are asking about my deconversion from christianity. People want to know why I left, what it meant to me when I was a christian, and why I don’t see any reason to return. For anyone who has asked, and anyone else who is curious, here is my testimony.

 

I started life as an atheist. My parents, who were both raised as catholics, never felt the need to force religion or god upon me. I have never seen my mother or father as being faithful. As an adult I have come to know my dad is an atheist and my mother is (basically) a pantheist. My mum and dad were both followers of a man called Prem Rawat (Maharaji), an Indian guru with millions of followers world-wide who preaches peace and love. Many consider him to be a new messiah (he does not claim this himself). My parents often encouraged me to embrace the messages / teachings of Maharaji throughout my childhood and teenage years, but I never connected.

 

What I did connect with, though, was christianity. At age 6 my mum enrolled me into two christian institutions; the nearby lutheran church Sunday school and the local Girls Brigade company (pic below). Her only motivation for doing this was free childcare. She and my dad had divorced when I was 5 and my mum was working full time – the church offered what was ultimately cheap babysitting. For me though, it would start me on a path that would consume my existence for the next 15 years.
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