Monday, March 4, 2013

the post where I worry inordinately about offending my religious friends....

     I don't believe in God. 

     If I lived in  Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Sudan, Mauritania, or the Maldives speaking those words, writing those words, is a crime that comes with a death sentence. 

    I'm pretty sure that nobody is going to try to jail me and execute me for making my statement of non-belief here in the United States. At least not today.
     Despite the  “No Religious Test Clause” of the United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3, which states: " religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States"  as a self avowed Atheist, it is illegal for me to run for office in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

     Of course I don't live in any of those places, so, whatever, right? But if certain political groups were up in arms about the possibility that our Christian President might be a Muslim, imagine the controversy around a candidate who didn't believe in any God at all. 

    Proclaiming my Atheism here in the land of the free is still sort of a risk. For me it's a pretty small risk, but there are others for whom it could be a big frickin' deal. 

     By nature I want to be good, I have a deep need to be perceived as being good and I experience an uncomfortable level of emotional incongruity, balancing my deep belief that there is no God with the perception that those who honestly cannot believe in God are bad.

      I  respect the rights of others to believe. I envy people with religious convictions. Sometimes I wish I could live my life certain it has meaning, certain I have a purpose, secure in the knowledge that a divine being loves me. But  when I look at what we know about the world  I can't find a way to make the traditional God of the Bible make sense.
     I try not to mess with my kids by forcing my non-belief on them. I try to give my kids an opportunity to examine religion and to mull over the possibility of the existence of God without shame or fear. This is important stuff, and who knows, maybe I'm wrong. My kids need to look for God with an open mind. Maybe they will find what I can not.
     We are a chatty family. 

     We discuss religious books and the basic tenants of different religions. 

     We have conversations about mythology, history, and literature.

     We talk a lot about science, too. 
     Last night at dinner the kids and I started off talking about St. Patrick's day, and I asked if they knew the story of St. Patrick and how he drove the snakes from Ireland. 

     One child suggested that perhaps there had never been snakes in Ireland. I offered that perhaps instead of literal snakes, the snake was being used symbolically. 

    Symbolically representing what? asked the younger child who likes snakes quite a lot. 

     Perhaps the snake represents evil? I suggested.

     Why EVIL?! asked the child who really really likes snakes a lot. 

     And that is how last night over dinner with the kids, the conversation led us to the Garden of Eden.  I am sure that the snake has had strong symbolic meaning for people for a long long time, predating the Bible, without a doubt. But the story of Adam and Eve and that rascally serpent came to mind to explain the metaphor and illustrate my meaning. So, I dove in, head first, which is my way, for good or ill.

     Adam and Eve lived a perfect life without strife or pain. The only requirement for this Heaven on earth, complete obedience to God's word. And God said to Adam and Eve, Oh and by the way, see that tree over there? Don't eat the fruit from that tree. That one, right there. Don't eat the fruit from that tree. Do you understand? Hey, can you hear me? DON'T DO IT.

     So, when Eve was tempted by the wily snake to eat from the tree of knowledge she willingly disobeyed God's rules and she and Adam were punished then an there, were cast out into the harsh wilderness, and all humanity has suffered for Eve's sin of disobedience forever after. 

    So, what do you guys think of that? I asked. 

    My son sort of stared off into space, looking somewhat baffled.

    My fourteen year old daughter looked me straight in the eye and said with great sincerity and passion, "I'd rather live a hard life and think for myself than live an easy life never thinking."

    My son, roused by his sister's depth of feeling added, "But Mom, the whole thing feels like a set up! And, you know, snakes can't talk but it sure would be cool if they could." 
     Like my son, I hear this story and think, wait, why would a loving entity set anyone up like that and then mercilessly mete out punishment for eternity?   And like my daughter, I'd rather stumble in the imperfect world searching for meaning as I marvel at the vast and impartial Universe than live a life of comfortable obedience within the confines of a beautiful garden. Even if there are talking snakes there, symbolic or otherwise. 


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