Often times, when Christians leave their faith they’ll find themselves swapping realities with their loved ones. There seems to be a common phenomena of spouses and parents becoming hyper-religious as their family members become non-believers. This leads to a great deal of difficulty in conversing between the two parties.
I turned 31 two weeks ago, a fairly uneventful age with little fanfare and celebration. I didn’t actually do anything that I wanted to (I went with my wife to a thing she wanted to do…a thing that turned out to be not fun). The day after I received a card in the mail from my mother, who – during her last visit, became very upset about the fairly recent opening up of my marriage (A topic I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time, but just don’t know where to start).
The card looked normal from the outside, your standard birthday greeting from mother to son. My mom has always been prone to writing little notes in cards she sends , underlining words in the text for emphasis. This was the largest note she’s ever written.
The content of the note was not particularly offensive as pleading for one’s soul can go, but she was pleading for my soul. I hate that.
I do empathize with her fear for my eternity. I believed the same thing about her that she now believes about me, so it’s not as if I can go around pretending like I don’t know that it’s incredibly difficult for her to consider the idea that I may be destined for the fires of Hell.
My mother was a nominal Christian, at best, during my youth. I won’t bother going into all the details of her own hedonism, but it disturbed me when I was growing up as a person of great faith to bear witness to all of the things that confirmed to me that she was going to suffer at the end of her life. It was torturous for me to consider that, and she often reminds me of the fact that I so frequently prayed for her or poured out a bottle of vodka after she came home from a night of partying. On one hand, I was a judgmental prick – on the other, I was scared shitless for her. I often dreamed that she had died in a car accident on her way home from a bar some Friday night and didn’t have the opportunity to “make things right” with her creator.
My mother and I swapped realities. It seems as if the moment I left my faith behind, she decided that it was time for her to pick it up. No amount of my own pleading made any difference to her, but my apostasy seems to have forced her to face all of the fears I was trying to divorce myself from. Suddenly my soul was in jeopardy, which seems to have brought her face to face with the status of own.
I know that she blames her own hedonism on my departure from the fold, and I know that she also blames her mistakes in raising me – which don’t seem to be any more numerous than many parents. There’s always a reason to be found for why someone would turn away, except for the truth: I don’t, I can’t believe the gospel. That reason is avoided like the plague and has been since our first conversation on the subject.
It makes me miserable that my mother feels presumably the same fear that I did for her. I don’t think anyone should have to endure that and I mark this fear as one of the major failings of the Christian faith. If I must fear for the souls of everyone around me, then the cruelty of this faith’s god is doled out in double proportions as all of those souls will be tortured for eternity while believers must be tortured during this lifetime as they labor over the fate of those they love.
She would say, of course, that she isn’t worried – she knows by some invisible comfort that I’ll make a triumphant return to the fold. This is the most common statement made about me, prophesied by many as if they’ve been given access to a newsletter that I forgot to renew my subscription to. Statements like, “he’ll do powerful things for the gospel one day,” or “when he comes back, he’ll change the world.” What they fail to acknowledge is that I’m far more tolerable by Christians today as an atheist than I would be or ever was as a Christian.
I believe that there is something inherently radical about the gospel and the story of Jesus – even if I find that the story itself is a narrative I simply cannot believe, it’s a powerful one that the church has long failed to grasp. The church is not a vehicle for radicalism today, but is instead an angry child that feels left out at the playground due to Western societies’ tendency toward tolerance – a rally that should have been led by the church via radical and piercing grace and love toward those which our society has long rejected.
I’m not sure I know how to fix the way my mother views me, or how any other people in my community may view me. To be honest, most people take the time to hear my positions and recognize that I’m where I am theologically outside of my own will. Additionally, I’m fairly certain that it’s not my job to try and fix this – instead it seems like I’ve done all I can to explain my positions and ensure that I present myself in a way that makes me approachable.
Ultimately I don’t really care about being understood. I don’t care if people “get it”, but I do care that other people are harmed emotionally by what I do or don’t believe. It’s a vile thing that any faith might cause a mother to lose sleep over the fate of her son.