I've been gently hinting to my parents that I am an atheist for years, but I don't think they ever really listened or took me seriously. I honestly can't remember a time when I ever believed in god anyway, although I didn't find out about atheism until sometime in high school. Recently, I have decided to become more vocal about my criticisms of religion. Because my parents are very important to me, I wanted to share my views and have what I hoped would be productive and intelligent discussions about it. Wishful thinking?
My mother in particular is quite an interesting character. I have nothing but love for her and I have respected her choices for as long as I've lived under her roof. Still, she is about as close to being a typical Jewish mother as is humanly possible (coming by it honestly from my typical Jewish grandmother) and our recent conversations about what she calls my "life choices" have left me nothing short of distressed.
The following is an abridged compilation of some the finer moments I've had to experience in breaking the news to my parents that I am serious about being an atheist. Please enjoy.
MOM: Who will we invite to your wedding?
(I currently have no plans to get married. I'm not even engaged. But I'm 24 and therefore need to get going!)
ME: I have no idea. I'm not even engaged.
MOM: Do you think it will be at our shul or at your boyfriend's shul.
ME: I definitely won't be getting married in a shul because I'm an atheist, remember? No shul, no chuppah, and no rabbi.
MOM: No RABBI?????? What kind of Jewish girl gets married with no rabbi?
ME: Mom, I'm an atheist. Why would stand there and have a rabbi tell me that my marriage is blessed by god when I don't believe in god. I don't want to feel like a hypocrite on my own wedding day.
DAD: You know that if you don't get married by a rabbi, we will not be paying for your wedding. You'll just have to figure it out on your own.
ME: What? I feel like I just told you I'm a lesbian and you said you'll only pay for me to have a straight wedding.
MOM: No, honey. I'd have no problem accepting you if you were a lesbian because that's not something you choose, it's just part of who you are.
ME: Did you choose not to believe in the tooth fairy? I can't choose to turn off my rational brain. Atheism is not a choice for me, it is part of who I am. I've read a lot about this and I know ---
MOM: Aha! So you think just because you've read some books you know what's what?
ME: Umm... your entire belief system is based on a book. At least I know who wrote the books that I've been reading. Plus, I don't know why you're so shocked by all this. I've been telling you I'm an atheist for as long as I can remember.
DAD: You didn't seem to mind when we were throwing you a big bat mitzvah.
ME: I was thirteen! All my friends were having them! I would take it back now if I could just to avoid this argument!
MOM: I just can't believe this. A Jewish girl that doesn't want to be married by a rabbi. I've just never seen it before. How will you raise your kids? You know once you have kids you'll change your mind. You just haven't experienced life yet so you don't know what you really believe. Things change when life changes. There are no atheists in foxholes. You'll see.
ME: I hate that expression. You're saying that faith is just an involuntary reaction to extreme fear. So is peeing in your pants. Both are uncomfortable and completely undignified. And no, I won't change my mind. Please don't patronize me by acting like I'm just going through a phase. This is not an act of rebellion. Why is this even such a big deal?! I just don't believe in god. You already know this about me.
(Dad has already walked away by this point)
MOM: Honey, I love you. But you can't just throw this kind of news at me and expect me to be thrilled about it. Not married by a rabbi? Not bringing up your kids Jewish? How did we raise you? I've just never heard of such a thing. It's hard for us to accept.
ME: I just can't talk to you about this. You don't understand. Forget it.
(By now I am in tears and a state of extreme frustration)
So there you have it. Trying to tell my parents that I am serious about atheism has not turned out the way I'd hoped. What I've learned is that it's going to be a slow process that may never come to any sort of agreeable conclusion. Because we live in a fairly secular household, I know that so much of their concern comes from fear of change and breaking with tradition rather than lamenting my lack of faith in god. I'm sure they're worried what people might think if their daughter isn't married by rabbi in a synagogue. But my parents' desire never to rock the boat is not enough to change the fact that my religious ship sailed long ago. Atheists can't make compromises just so religious people will feel more comfortable. Religion doesn't deserve that kind of special treatment.