It's a touchy topic. I figure it is right up there with asking a woman's weight. (Don't even try it, buddy!) It is often one that is intensely personal and highly emotional. I know it is a very difficult topic for me . . . I'm an atheist and very comfortable there (I didn't come to the decision quickly or lightly). I still have a conscience, I still have morals and I'm even a darn GOOD person. For the most part, I have kept my personal decision relatively to myself, rarely discussing it out loud with anyone other than my family or a fellow atheist. Sadly, I've not been treated the same in return. My family and I left Indiana 10 years ago for MANY reasons, but one of them was religion. To name JUST a few stories . . . . my daughter and I were thrown out of a house we had been invited to for lunch because, when asked what church we attended, we said we did not currently attend one. We didn't say we ran naked in the woods, swinging chickens and chanting (sounds like fun though). We just politely said we didn't currently go to one. We were told to leave. We had to sit on the curb for 30 minutes waiting for our ride. My 5 year old daughter was taken to an Evangelical school and shown a crucifixion movie with no permission of any kind. She came home sobbing about the man with the blood running down him. That same daughter was locked in the bathroom of a friend's house for an hour while she was told she would eventually burn in hell because of how her parents were raising her.
I could go on, but I won't. Suffice to say, we were ostracized, criticized and ignored by people for a belief we never even spoke of out loud. We were generous, compassionate, friendly, polite and loving to our family and friends--but that wasn't enough. It meant nothing if we didn't accept a god for which we have seen no evidence of. Ever. At all.
There were exceptions, of course. I have a friend in Indiana that I have been friends with for 20 years. She is a Christian in the very best way. You want to see a good woman? She is one. I respect her deeply and am humbled by how she lives her life. We have had a friendship based on that mutual respect and love and put the issue of religious differences aside. I know that has not been easy for her either and for that, I respect her even more.
So, why bring this up? Knew you were wondering.
This week, I got a big package on my front doorstep. It was from an old friend from high school. We were friends from 12, when we met, all the way though adulthood. She was my maid of honor when I got married. In recent months, we had reconnected. A few weeks ago, we even had a 2 hour phone call which was great fun, full of memories and laughter. I don't understand her way of life--she choose to never get married, dedicating her life first to her father and, when he died, completely to god. I didn't get it, but it wasn't MY BUSINESS. It was HER life, not mine. She was the one who had to face coming home to an empty house every day, not me. I couldn't imagine it, but . . . .. again, HER life, not mine.
Inside the package were five DVDs, one book, a magazine and a catalog. Oh yea, and an eight page typed letter. Can you guess the topic? Have I accepted Christ into my life? The letter outlined all the terrible things that were coming and what would happen to me and my children if we were not "saved". I was in shock. Then I was stymied. How do I respond to this? Admittedly, my first reaction was anger. She refused to marry--should I have been free to send her movies and books on how important marriage and children are? I think not. That would have been rude.
But then, I stepped back and I reconsidered. I forced myself to look past the action to the intention. She did this because she seriously was concerned about my life. She wanted to share with me something that meant EVERYTHING to her. I tried to accept that. It didn't erase the anger, but it mitigated it. So, I sat down and wrote a letter back to her. I said, THANK YOU for caring about me. I recognize that you are reaching out in love. However, I am not interested and never will be. I am happy with my life as it is and do not plan to change my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) at this point.
Then, I offered to either mail the materials back or pass them on to someone else. And then I left her with this challenge. "I hope that we can continue to correspond and keep a long friendship going, but, if you are like many of the Christians I have known before, this will be the end of our conversations. While I can accept your religious choice, I am not so sure you can accept mine. If I'm wrong (and I hope I am!), drop me a note and I will send you a long letter . . . .However, if I'm right, and you'd prefer to stop communication now, drop me a note and let me know if you want the materials returned or passed on."
Any guesses what will happen? I'm certainly not sure.
I have only a few special, close friends in my life. After 51 years, I can count them on one hand. I have dozens and dozens of light friends, of course. But the friends that you can call in the middle of the night, the ones you run to when something really good or bad happens, the ones you know have got your back no matter what, I only have a couple of those (and you know who you are ladies). I cherish them. One is an atheist. One is a Christian. And guess what? WHO CARES? They're funny, kind, intelligent, incredible people who bless my life by being in it. What else would I need?