To tell the truth, "vacation” isn’t the natural word for the time, as it consisted mostly of traveling and visiting we would not ordinarily choose to do, and eating out almost constantly. Somehow, the stressfulness of it all turned out positively. I will relate only those events pertinent to this site.
Cover of VacationFirst of all, it actually started when I sent a note to my wife’s sister, Sue, two weeks before we left for the trip, asking if she still believed in a kind and loving heavenly father after what she had witnessed in the hospital room as her nephew Tony died while spitting blood all over the place. (That whole story, "Tony Gable," is here: http://new.exchristian.net/2011/10/tony-gable.html.) I was certain of her response but wanted confirmation from her own lips. I asked for a simple yes or no answer. More on this later.
We arrived on Oct. 7th, around 4:30 p.m. There was no answer at my wife's sister Mary's house, although she expected us. Long story short, the EMT's came over and found her. Mary is a "brittle" diabetic, had fallen down, and had been without food or insulin since 7 a.m. Serious. The EMTs left but had to be called back the next morning. It was during the night before that I had an experience in moving Mary, who was dead-weight beyond her control. While lifting and edging her along, I felt a sudden sense of sacredness about the human body, a gentleness that would do no harm to her. We spent several hours together in the days afterward, while she was in the hospital, and that strange feeling was never far from my consciousness.
Throughout our vacation, as much as possible, I wore my "Out of the closet ATHEIST" cap. I only got 2 reactions worth reporting. At an oft-frequented restaurant, I got a reaction of barely hidden distaste from a waitress wearing a cross almost as big as the abbot’s from my monastic days. Then there was the man in his 50's, who commented in front of a young boy (don't the believers know that children hear them?), something about me being, "Not forgiven." Maybe the dancing "Snoopy" on the cap's brim confused them. A HAPPY atheist? Could it be?
Two or three days after we arrived, we, and about 15 other relatives, were invited to Sue's house for a gala celebration of her, my wife's, and others', birthdays. I found myself in the midst of a combined Catholic/religious-right environment, extended family style. A few of us were in the kitchen, with Sue at the stove, about 20 feet from me. I sat at the dining table talking to another sister-in-law, Joyce, with my back to Sue. Joyce asked me something, mentioning "God," and I told her I'm an atheist. She was surprised, so I said a few more words to explain, and got up. As I turned, there was Sue, in my face, telling me that yes, she still believed in her god, and I said, "Thanks, that's all I wanted to know."
That was not enough for Sue, however, and the fact that I suggested there is no god set her off. She went into Bible-babble, rattling off, "I am the way, the truth and the life,” . . . blah, blah, during which I stopped her several times, because those things had nothing to do with the subject, which was the existence of her god. (When I reflected on this scene later, it seemed like her whole spiel came from the priest’s mouth in "The Exorcist."). If you know me, then you know I just HAD to mention that, according to her Bible, her god had drowned children. There was a teenage girl in the room, and I hoped she would later consider this, along with the other facts I mentioned.
In the midst of all this, Sue’s son, Tim, came up next to me to ask, "And where do you get YOUR morals from?" I said, "From my conscience." He sneered at this. "God gives you your conscience," he said.
Note to Tim: Since you haven't noticed, your Bible-god DOES NOT HAVE a conscience; so how can he give what he doesn't have? And pointing out in that atmosphere that apes also have a "conscience" would have been a waste of words.
Things grew quiet, as Sue had to tell everyone present about the morning Tony died and about how a four year old girl related a dream of "meeting Tony in heaven." What a comforting "testimony!" (Of course children don't tell adults what they want to hear, right?) Then, I mentioned a question I put on a Christian website that got everyone’s interest. It went like this: I told how a co-worker, 44 years old, died of a heart attack. His wife told me she was concerned because he was not a church-goer, so was he in Hell? (I know, I know . . . it's all B.S. to us, but these people take it seriously.) So I asked the website: What if someone dies who doesn’t accept - cannot accept - your savior, and then, after he dies, Jesus reveals himself, showing all that is said about him is in fact true, and the skeptic says, "Sure I can accept you." Then, said I, he must go into heavenly bliss; it’s only fair and merciful. THEIR answer was that after death was too late . . . and THEY ought to know, right? Hardly breaking for a breath, I added the fact that two weeks after I first posed this question, a minister proposed that such a thing could be possible, and quoted Bible verses to support his contention. My question wasn't worth much, but when a "man of God" asked it, suddenly it has validity?
I related to Sue and company how a Japanese child, after the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, asked the pope how God could have allowed such a thing to happen. When I asked Sue what she thought the pope responded, she said, "I don't know.” And I replied, "That's right, that's exactly what he said, and every pope, priest, rabbi and minister ought to have tattooed on his forehead, "I DON'T KNOW."
Me, speaking out against the arrogant proclamations, the unmitigated chutzpah of her god's spokespersons? To go from being a pacific introvert to social commentator, to human rights advocate, calling a spade a spade? Honestly, the burden of truth-finding is scary, taking me into an unfamiliar neighborhood of sensitivity-to-truth and honesty.
As for the impenetrable faith of Sue, her arguments have had quite the opposite effect she intended, for she has given me even more reasons why I must reject her god. These experiences have left me considering that my denial of their god's existence has less to do with me than with them. This stems from a suspicion that behind one's "letting go of God", there is, in them, a very real fear, maybe even a frightening one, that THEY might fall into becoming helplessly wicked and totally under the control of their "immoral" and "tempting impulses;" they fear what they might become, as well as what my non-belief represents. Yes, this makes sense. It is the very same fear that drove their hero, the conflicted, soul-at-war-with-body St. Paul; it is the fear that cults use to control their faithful.
My beloved wife thinks I baited Sue, and maybe I did. I'm tired of the religious righteous pushing our government and civil rights up against the wall. They need to be challenged in their aggressiveness. She thinks I just enjoy being "different," a rebel. (Was Rosa Parks a rebel, MLK Jr., anyone who stands up for human rights?) In discussing this with my wife, something dawned on me. I asked her, "If I told them I was gay, wouldn't they have treated me with the same fight? Yes, I'll bet they would react the same. I know they would have."
The following Saturday, in the same restaurant, a different waitress told my wife and I that she was recently baptized and would send her two small girls "to St. John Vianney school." We found out she only worked weekends. The following Saturday, I spoke to her alone at the register. I told her I had lain awake for two hours that night, thinking about her daughters. I told her to beware of pedophile priests, as I feared for her children’s welfare, having been a young victim of a pedophile myself. I added that I had asked my wife, "If you, raised as a Catholic were still so, would you remain Catholic?" My wife had answered that she would flee that church over their cover-ups. I gave the waitress the news printout about the charges to bring the pope and Vatican to the world court for crimes against humanity. She thanked me. We do what we can. Take it from the religion toxic-cleanup man.
The next day, my sister-in-law, Mary, now back from the hospital, watched a live broadcast of the Pope saying mass on TV. She said, "I don't like this pope. I think he's sneaky." I told her she's right, and how as a cardinal he dictated the cover-up pedophile policy, to the extent of calling the victims liars and threatening the clergy with excommunication if they revealed what was happening. (There's so much IGNORANCE out there!)
A couple of days before our departure, I visited with my last surviving brother again, alone. We sat talking over breakfast, and I told him about my accident in the monastery. Three of us were walking in a barn under construction, and suddenly I found myself in the arms of a brother, outside the building. It was explained that a scaffold had broken loose, fell, and hit me in the head, and if something solid had been behind I me, I would have been dead at age 15. I had no recollection or consciousness of the time I was out. It was the same as coming out of anesthesia after a surgery, with no awareness of the time I was "out." What if that time had been days, years, or eternity? I would no longer be aware, because there would be no "Me" to be aware of. (And I have seen those who were almost there. As Sue said when Tony lay dying, "Tony isn't Tony anymore.")
So, we're back home and I'm thinking about what to write to Sue, and others. Any suggestions? Or should I just not bother?
As a postscript, I am thankful to Sue for the opportunity to exercise free speech in her home. I also appreciated her occasional willingness to listen to a different viewpoint on religion.