Specifically, he said “Remember when you came out to me as an atheist? We were driving home from work? I thought to myself ‘Oh thank goodness, he’s not crazy’.” Background – I often went to work with him on the weekends to help out and make some spending cash. I don’t remember the exact day, but I was around 15 yrs old when this happened.
Apparently he’s been atheist-ish for over two decades. He did he whole “Going to church and putting on a religious facade” thing in order to provide me & my siblings with religious/moral grounding and for the community benefits of having a tight-knit high-trust in-group ready made when arriving in a new country full of strangers that spoke a different language. (From my observations, the first objective failed spectacularly, and the second one succeeded equally spectacularly. And since me & brothers developed a good moral grounding anyway, a definite net win)
This has thrown me for a MASSIVE loop, though, because it means everything I thought I knew is a lie. Slight hyperbole, but it’s hard to overstate just how big an influence my relationship to religion has been on my life. I still hold to this day that if the claims of religion are true, the Spanish Inquisition is not only morally good, but a moral requirement.
I took the religion thing seriously. The first time I committed a sin (masturbation) I was in shock for nearly two days. When god didn’t strike me dead I had a severe crisis of faith, and it was one of the cracks that helped to eventually bring down my belief. When my belief crumbled, so did everything I knew about the world, because if god wasn’t real, what was left that I could trust? I had to re-examine everything. It caused me to jettison everything my parents and society at large had ever told me and do my best to start over. It led to an overhaul of my moral system, my epistemology (rah empiricism!), and my ability to trust any sort of authority. It’s basically my Rationalist Origin Story. If it wasn’t for my rejection of religion, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Not only that, it also helped to iron out some of my character. My religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses) is extremely insular. Any contact with the outside world is discouraged. Most of my life all my friends and my entire social circle consisted of other believers. And the Witnesses have a strong Shunning norm. Anyone who leaves the faith is to be cast out entirely. Often in church we heard great stories lauding people who cut off all ties with family members that strayed from the faith. In particular I recall the praise heaped upon a mother who would not speak with, look at, or in any way acknowledge her daughter after she left the religion. For years. Even when the daughter came crying and begging outside the mother’s window. Eventually the daughter returned to the faith, huge success!
I didn’t think my parents would really go that far. But I knew it was a risk. I didn’t come out to them until I (in my teenage hubris) figured I could survive being kicked out of the house and having my entire social net stripped away. I have a lot of mental issues that led me to have a very isolated and lonely childhood, but this preparation to be alone forever was certainly one of them.
And once I did come out, the courage of my conviction helped me to learn how to stand up for myself. To read deeply about the issue I cared about, and be ready to defend it. To accept being the weird one that didn’t fit because I was right goddammit, and you can’t take that away from me!
It led to me feeling like I don’t have a family. It led to me struggling all my adult life to find a surrogate family to fit in with.
It’s one of the reasons I don’t want children of my own. I look at my parents, and I ask “What did they get out of having children?” We have abandoned their religion, one of the most important things to them. We have abandoned their morality. We are memetic strangers. We drained their resources for 20+ years, and in return they got strangers who have left and don’t have anything in common with them. I’ve always felt like we’re intense disappointments to them. Why would I want that for myself? I can have far more memetic influence on the future by writing (both blogs and fiction, mehopes) than by having children. Not much influence, but maybe more than the zero I would get from kids. And I value memetic contribution to the future far more than genetic contribution.
Speaking of memetics… while everything I do is influenced by this past, a lot of my writing directly addresses my conflicted religious past. Both “Of All Possible Worlds” and “Host” are directly religious, and my bios for those stories include “He was raised in an apocalyptic sect of Christianity, which has heavily influenced his writings,” and “Eneasz was raised in a fundamentalist Christian sect dedicated to saving every soul possible. At the time, he couldn’t figure out why far more direct action wasn’t being taken,” respectively.
And now I find out all that time, I was rebelling against… nothing?
I could have had a parent that I could talk with about these things, and relate to about it, all this time?
Do I have a family now? Suddenly, magically, I feel like I can relate so much more with my father. Although in actual reality, nothing has changed. Only my perception. What the fuck does all this mean?
My entire life up to now has been a lie. If everything was different and nothing was the same, who would be sitting in this chair right now? Would it be someone happier and better adjusted? I’ve always been a bit envious of my secularly-raised friends, who had parents as allies in a crazy and hostile world, working as a unit rather than out there alone.
Why did my dad choose to be alone all these years?