My rejection of Christianity began when I was 19 or 20 while posted to an Air Force base in Germany. To my knowledge, my family-of-origin had never experienced one of their own abandoning the faith. Theirs, I should note, was a faith of such a narrow construction that my becoming a Baptist or Lutheran, much less an agnostic, would have been met with horror. Now, more than a half century later, I know of only one other member of my extended family other than my daughters and granddaughters who are atheists.
For the first few years my father and sisters made an unsuccessful effort to convince me that losing faith was a bad idea, jeopardizing my soul and those of my daughters. (Frankly, I did not “lose” my faith; I jettisoned it.) My having so carefully thought through the competing arguments left them nothing to add that I hadn’t already considered in detail. For the five intervening decades, I’ve been part of a predominately Christian extended family.
Over the years, however, despite the vast philosophical gap, I’ve never experienced a rift in familial affection and respect. I’m certain my Christian relations sincerely and deeply would like for me to embrace some version of Christianity, but there is never any evangelical intrusion in the slightest. That goes both ways, of course. My readiness to discuss religious topics at any time does not extend to drawing them into arguments.
While I have no respect for religion, I have a great deal of respect for persons who are religious. Though unspoken, Christian members of my family who don’t respect atheism still accord me just as much respect as I am obligated (and pleased) to show them. I am fortunate. It is not uncommon for religious families to have appalling attitudes and exhibit hurtful treatment toward their nonreligious members. There were times, not so distant, that an unbeliever in the family would meet a fate similar to the shunning of pregnant unwed daughters and homosexual sons. My family has always been accepting of me, if not of my beliefs.
This blog post, then, is a public “thank you” to each and every one of my Christian family, ones who love me despite what to them must be a despicable position. I can assure them of just as much respect in return.
And, of course, that’s the important feature: respect as persons, no matter how intellectually offensive we find each other’s beliefs. How else can the world work?
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