I need to take a break from the homesteading half of my blog and focus a bit on the atheist part. Well, perhaps not so much the atheist part, per se, but the emotional and psychological toll being a non-believer can take in a world filled to the brim with believers.
It’s not new news that I married into a family full of bible-thumping fundamentalist Christians. However, I’ve never written much on the subject because it is of a rather personal nature and I’ve shied away from involving too much of my personal life in what amounts to a very public arena. In an effort to surmise my current emotional state, I must first explain a few things about my past. While I won’t use names, I’m sure anyone who can put two and two together and who knows me will be able to figure out of whom I speak. I ask that if you respond, you accede to my wish to keep things anonymous.
So, where to begin? Back in 2001 I met this wonderful, free thinking guy who was every bit the inquisitive nerd I was. We fell in love. We met each others families. I liked his family. They were nice to me, invited me over for meals and important events, and made me feel very welcome. I hid things from them at first. When they prayed before meals, I went along with it, feeling anxious and a bit disoriented because I had never been made to participate in this sort of thing when I was growing up. We went to church meals and plays and events with them. In our earliest years together, we didn’t make a fuss over religion. I think we considered ourselves somehow outside of the realm of supernatural belief, assuming that if we respected their right to practice then they’d automatically respect our right NOT to practice.
How wrong I was.
The trouble started when our wedding was announced. We started a wedding webpage to let our more tech-savvy family and friends know the when’s and where’s of everything that was happening. We announced that our ceremony was to take place not in the family church, but in an old Opera house. Not only that, but the entire ceremony was to be not only non-denominational but almost completely lacking in religion. We wanted no prayers. We wanted no religious discourse in speeches or vows. We found a pastor who claimed to understand our plight, and he did a beautiful job! But before the big day even came, my husband’s family attacked.
One of the elders in his family left a very long, scathing diatribe about how my husband and I were going to hell. Not only were we going to hell, but we were facing eternal suffering of our souls and the souls of all of the family members we had let down. I feel to this day that I was made the scapegoat, that I was the one they meant to be held accountable for the conversion of their poor, helpless son and grandson. To make it worse, the letter was public. They WANTED everyone to see it. They wanted us to know that everyone had seen it. Why? To shame us? To make us backpeddle and include their lunacy in our very own, special ceremony? To this day I don’t know. I sent a copy of it to my husband and deleted it from our wedding webpage. I wanted to uninvite his entire family after that. I wanted nothing to do with any of them, not just because one of them wrote those hateful things, but because after talking with individual members of his family we found that they all agreed. Sure, one or two thought it was probably not the best idea to write that on our wedding webpage, and perhaps it was a bit over-the-top vehement, but there was never any sincere apology.
We didn’t uninvite anyone. And we even granted them a few minutes to pray together after my husband and I retreated down the aisle after the ceremony. I thought we were very gracious compared to how rude they were about respecting our wishes. I see now that what we did was tantamount to prostrating ourselves on the ground for them to walk all over. By allowing the hateful elders to join us, by letting them have their little victory in the short prayer, we set ourselves up for a future of walking on eggshells when it came to religious matters.
Slap in the face number two was the very same elders who wrote the tirade giving us a personalized bible as a wedding present. I kid you not. And then they wondered why we never called or visited. They missed us sooo much, after all! We continued attending church dinners for a while, but the novelty soon wore off when I realized I really had nothing in common with these people around me. Their entire lives were about their god. Every breath they took, every thought they had, every action… it all revolved around their belief system. I could understand it, but at the same time I felt wrong about supporting it. My husband had a good excuse for missing the dinners – he worked. I eventually had to come clean with his family about why I just didn’t feel right going.
Then more “gifts” showed up. Books and tapes of atheists who suddenly realized the errors of their ways and converted to Christianity. Children’s books with religious themes. Pamphlets. Invites to other church events. I stopped holding their hands during prayer at family meals. I began resenting the fact that their religious rights were more important than mine in their eyes. A few times I caught myself openly scoffing at the outrageous things they would say or do in front of me, like my nephew proudly displaying a picture he colored of a semi-nude man staked to a torture device. “The red means the blood of his sacrifice!” I remember him proudly saying.
We had our boys, one after another. They loved spending time with my in-laws, and I really wanted them to be a part of the boys’ lives. I tried hard not to rock the boat. Things were still fairly smooth despite the occasional rocky patch. Our solution to most religious differences was to either point them out then shut up and hope things blew over or to ignore them and hope that someday they would see the rift they were causing in our relationship with all of their evangelism. Hope is a fickle thing.
My husband went to Iraq. We had a rough patch due to the long distance separation, and it only made my temper flare all the more when his family pulled their little shenanigans. It was amplified by the fact that his sisters (“good” Christians, all) were going through men like bras, having babies they couldn’t take care of on their own, and in a constant state of living off of one relative or another in addition to government assistance. My mother-in-law had her grandkids who were taken from their mother by CPS because they were being abused and neglected. Four at first, then another that was taken from her in the hospital. Didn’t leave them much time to spend with me or my kids, having custody of five young kids with psychological problems from all the chaos. We had occasionally turned to family for help, but we tried to repay them as soon as possible and worked hard to live our lives on our own terms instead of knuckling under to the government for aide. We tried not to take advantage. We tried to be grateful. Obviously, frustrations run amok when living with a relative, but we tried hard not to overstay our welcome.
So my husband is gone, my family is 8 hours away. I am at odds with my in-laws over religion AND personal, moral matters that are impeding on our time together. I’m living less than an hour away and rarely get to see any of them, all living within five miles of each other. I finally let loose. I felt at the time that I and my boys didn’t rate high on my in-laws radar, and I let them know it. Maybe it was because I had held it in for so long, maybe it was because I wasn’t very good at sugar coating my honesty… whatever the case, I became the leper. His family not only stopped inviting me to family get-togethers and important occasions like Thanksgiving, but when he came home for a two week vacation around Christmas time his mom told him that he could bring the boys to visit her but I wasn’t allowed.
Heart break. Indignation. Loneliness. It wasn’t pretty, all the things I felt during that time. I was on an emotional roller coaster, and felt like the downward spiral would never end. I went on depression medication to help.
That was a little over a year ago. Thankfully, I wasn’t on the meds for long. They did their job. My in-laws also did their job. I no longer feel that I am loved or cherished as a member of their family. I no longer trust any of them with my feelings or my children. I had resumed phone conversations with my mother-in-law on the premise that she avoids certain topics (like religion and his idiot sisters), but lately the old ways are coming back to the surface. Today my son brought me my ringing cell phone and I saw her name. I hit ignore. She called again immediately after, and my finger paused over the answer button. What if it was an emergency? Then I set the phone down. I don’t even care. I had taken her and most of the rest of his family off of my facebook simply because there was too much tension and I couldn’t deal with it on a constant basis. Now I think I will have to stop phone conversations too.
So why did I title this post “Humility and Pride” if it was all about my in-laws forcing their insane religious beliefs on me and my family? Because I can’t be humble anymore. I matter, too. My kids matter. What they believe might be of the utmost importance to their personal lives, but I don’t have to accept it in mine. I have tried the humble route – all it got me was walked on. I was told constantly that humility was their god’s way of teaching peace. Screw that noise. I will no longer lay down and be preached at about humility by zealously pious people who claim to love me. I will no longer feel guilty for my lack of ability to believe in their religion, nor will I pretend to tolerate it.
I’m done. It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’m finally at the point where I can stand up and say that I’m proud to be free of religion. I’m proud that I came into this rational way of thinking by exhausting every other possible route first. I’m proud of being able to look at all of the world’s religion and mythology with open eyes. Maybe I’m a bit brash about my lack of belief at times, and yes, maybe I am starting to be a bit in-your-face about it. I’m due for it. I’ve sat meekly by, defending my own right to disbelieve as well as their right to believe… and where did that get me? Nowhere. The gloves are off. I know it won’t make me popular by any means, but I guess that’s just the price I have to pay. I’ll still fight for the freedom of belief, but I’ll do it with my chin held high and expose all the hypocrisy I can.
So, that’s that. Geesh. I meant this to be a short post, and here I think I just set a record length. Kudos if you made it through. Double points if you still talk to me after you realize I’m now one of those asshole atheists who might just call you out on your idiotic, two-faced belief system. Triple points to my husband for sticking by me through all this drama. I love you to the moon and back, honey!