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Nothing Wrong at Home

Once upon a time there was a family. It consisted of a mother, a father, and a son. Soon the family was overjoyed to add a daughter to the mix. The years passed, and a horrible thing happened. Due to some horrible oversight in the parenting skills of the mother and father, the girl made a terrible decision. Or perhaps it was the sibling rivalry from the brother that twisted her thinking. Whichever member of her family failed her, the girl one day announced that which would become the family's shame. She said, "I am an atheist!" And the family hung its collective head and was sentenced to twenty years of hard labor on the charge of failure to be a proper family.

Or so you would believe if you were to listen to some of the misguided people who are willing to blame the family members of atheists for the atheist's decisions. I have heard it all before.

"I'm afraid that your parents weren't really believers, and you've gotten the wrong idea about religion."

"I'll bet that your parents just sent you to church; they probably didn't really believe."

"Were your parents just not around when you were a kid? Did your older brother abuse you in some way to make you turn away from God?"

"Didn't your parents ever tell you about Jesus and God? Or did they just let you run rampant your whole life?"

These allegations are, of course, ridiculous. But what's worse is the thinking on which they are based. That I, as an atheist, am so completely amoral and wrong as a human being that it must have been some failure in my upbringing. That I, as an atheist, must be my family's failure, since it is a completely untenable and unacceptable choice. This thinking is in itself a mistake.They believe in each other, and they believe in me.

Atheists are people. Atheists can be good people, or they can be bad people. Just like anyone else. This is a philosophy choice that some of us make. It is a matter of belief. It is not impossible to understand. It is not in anyway comparable to criminal behavior, or a personal failing. After all, isn't that what they say when some kid dies in his room of a drug overdose? "Where were his parents?" Atheism is not in the same category, and should not be considered as such.

Now, am I an atheist just because my parents failed to teach me religion? That is not even close to the truth. While some atheists are raised that way by atheist parents, the grand majority of atheists are not. Neither was I. I was raised in a Baptist family. I attended Sunday School and sat with the congregation every Sunday morning (and many evenings) up until I was thirteen years old. I also attended Vacation Bible Study every June, and went on church youth outings. When I was very young, I have distinct memories of my mother reading to me from a book of illustrated Bible stories. On Wednesdays, I was part of the children's choir until the sixth grade, and then became part of the youth puppet choir.

When I ceased attending my parent's Baptist church on a regular basis, they still made sure I was in church somewhere. Throughout my search for spiritual meaning, I attended church after church. My parents supported my search as long as they believed I was searching for my path to God. It was not until I reached age sixteen that I abandoned that search, and asserted myself as an atheist. This was not made clear to my parents, in fact, until age eighteen. This is because I knew that their faith was so important to them, I was hesitant to tell them I did not share it.

But there are more important things that my parents did for me besides teaching me their religion. They also taught me to think. They taught me to believe in myself, to trust myself and in my thoughts. They taught me that I am a worthwhile human being, a person with a right to my own beliefs and my own destiny.

Even now, with our philosophical paths so widely divergent, my parents still show me the love and compassion they have always shown me. We do not agree on the subject of their god, and we probably never will. They are aware of my stance. They know that I do not believe in god, and they know some of the reasons why. I know that they still love me, respect me, and care about what happens to me.

Perhaps that is the most important lesson that my parents bestowed on me. It certainly stuck with me more than the religious lessons that I received during my childhood. That is the lesson of love. True love, which is not dependent on similarities in thought or belief. Love which is based on the bonds between us as family and as people. Ours is a love that will remain strong through the good times and the bad. The kind of love that builds the kind of family everyone dreams of having.

These are the lessons that my parents taught which I choose to carry with me. These are the lessons that allow me to be the strong and independent person that I am. These are the lessons that allow me to stand up strongly and say, "I am an atheist. I am worthwhile. I am my own person."

My family still consists of Baptists. They believe strongly in their religion and their god. They believe in heaven and hell, and in angels. They believe in each other, and they believe in me. We are a family, and no one and nothing will ever change that. Not the distance between our living quarters, or the distance between our philosophies. Because of this, we are a success.

Kim Shultz
November 17, 2000


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