This morning, while I was over at Atheist Exposed reading about Shirley's conversations with her coworkers about her coming out as an atheist, I realized that the out of all the posts that I read on atheist blogs, I enjoy the accounts of religious discussions the most of all. In that spirit, I'd like to tell you about a phone conversation I had with my mother on Wednesday.
She called me in the middle of the week to discuss my plans for the weekend and also about my plans for moving out to California next week. We talked about that a little bit and then she began talking about how she might start to read the Harry Potter books. While I definitely haven't read them, I told her that people of all ages seem to enjoy them and if that's what she wants to do, then she should. Her tone of voice then drastically changed to a much more soft, I guess comforting tone, and she said "have you read the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven?". I thought to myself "oh shit, not again". I've talked to her about my atheism before, and without attacking her beliefs directly, just told her that I can't believe in something that doesn't have evidence for it. I didn't feel the need to crush her religiousness. In fact, in many respects I don't want to. She's not a fundamentalist, my parents don't go to church and throw their money away, and they voted Democrat in the last election. They aren't part of the Christian Right mob. In addition, my mom lost her mother when she was in her early 20s and from what she's told me, it means a lot for her to be able to see her mom in heaven again. Even if it would be better for her in the long run, it would hurt me too much to effectively "kill" her mother in her mind all over again. But on the other side of the argument, I can't support religion when it has really put mankind's future in jeopardy. Back to Wednesday. I hoped to simply dismiss this conversation by simply saying "oh no, I think that'd be a bit too much for me", hoping she'd understand and we could just move on to something else. But I think she wanted to talk about it, so she continued:
Mom: What do you mean, too much?
Me: Just too religious. Would you read a book called The Five People You Meet on the River of Styx?
Mom: *slight laughter* So you're a complete atheist?
Me: Well yeah mom, I don't know how I could only partly one.
Mom: Well I think, someday, when you get older perhaps, you'll change your mind.
Me: No no, I really don't think so. When I lose someone that I love very closely, it's going to hurt like hell, but I really don't think I could ever fall back to religion again.
Mom: It's not just loss that could prompt it, sometimes we just need to believe in something greater than ourselves.
Now I kind of lost it here. That saying is probably the thing that makes me the most mad when I hear Christians talk, as if atheists are purely egotistical, self-centered maniacs. What's more egotistical than believing that the creator of the entire universe cares about your petty, personal problems, loves you, and wants to talk to you personally. I guess I was a little too rattled to say this, so I just started talking steam of consciousness like.
Me: Oh my god, I hate when people say that. Atheists are such more likely to care about other human beings and their happiness in life because we realize that we only have one life, and we want everyone to be able to enjoy that life. Christians often say that you can't be moral if you don't believe in God. But I think if you do what's "right" because you want to receive eternal pleasures and avoid eternal punishment, you are being bribed and are not truly being a good person. Tom (as I'll call him, a young, extremely spoiled cousin of mine) gets video games if he listens to his mom and takes his daily shower. Do we think that he's a "good boy" because of this, or do we realize that he's only doing what his mother says because he's acting in his own self-interest. It's the same with religion.
Mom: *again a little laughter* (I knew she would like my reference to my cousin). Well yeah, but people do what's right because they know that it's right, not because of religious reasons I think.
Me: (satisfied with this answer, I tried to give her an "out" in the conversation so it could end, or the best "out" I could muster, which wasn't very good) I'm glad you realize that. I guess if you don't let religion affect your life too much and don't get too crazy with it, it doesn't hurt you much.
She then started talking about some other religious thing, and clearly it wasn't too memorable. She then started talking about what God "wanted", and how "He felt". Now, it might be due to a lack of maturity on my part, maybe it's just I have so much despise for religion built up in me, or maybe it's because I'm discussing it with family and not simply with friends, but I wasn't able to let this simply go without saying something.
Me: Please mom, don't talk to me about that kind of stuff. It's so strange for me when I don't even believe a god exists for someone to tell me that they know he exists, how he feels about things, which mortals he's slept with, who his son, etc. Furthermore, (she used a lot of references to "He") I don't see why god would be masculine. What purpose does it serve him to be a male? Are there female gods that he needs to attract? (some laughter here) If not, wouldn't he be completely confused about his anatomy which apparently serves no purpose? Gender seems to only play a role in reproduction, so unless he reproduces, I don't think it makes sense for him to be a male. Except for that fact that he was created by a male-dominant society.
Anyway, she then seemed to be a little desperate and was grabbing at stuff, saying things like "well we know a lot about him when he lived here on the earth". I was dumbfounded, and made some sort of comment about how there's just as much proof for that as there is for unicorns.
Now during this whole conversation, I noticed that my voice was kind of shaky. I felt that I was torn between attacking something that I hate and protecting my mother. I wanted to explain why I was an atheist, and make her understand that I had good reasons to be one. But after every comment I was afraid that I would make her very sad, and I really didn't want to do that. So I was incredibly happy to end the conversation with her saying "well, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree". I said "yep" and we changed the subject. The rest of the conversation went on normal as always, with really no indication that we had just had a deep argument. I was happy that it ended seemingly well, but later that night I felt bad for losing my cool. I'm pretty good at discussing religion with people that I'm not especially close to, but when I'm talking to someone whose feelings I care about and I'm worried about hurting them, I'm clearly not as good. I hope that, if I do have to talk to her about it again, I act with a little bit better composure.