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Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

My Father, 2018, Oaxaca, Mexico

I took a stand recently and closed my Facebook account. Motivated mostly out a sense that Facebook was becoming, or is, a black hole of mindlessness. I get my news from my twitter feed, I get pictures of friends and family on Instagram, so Facebook to me seemed redundant and divisive (it’s a great forum for us to post and repost loosely held, and often un-researched opinions which seem frequently rated to race, creed, faith, nationalism, sexism and on and on). It caused me angst, so in removing Facebook from a daily connection, I’ve removed some of the angst. But not all.You see I just left Facebook. No grand announcements like “Dear friends and family, I am leaving Facebook……” No I didn’t want to be so trite, or predicable. But I guess some folks did feel a connection to me. Because a few have followed up with me, but for having had nearly 500 “friends” on Facebook, only a handful have actually noticed my absence, which further supports my theory that Facebook (and other social media sites) is a narcissist’s mirror. We look and engage there because it fits our world view, not because it permits us a glimpse into someone else’s.

I’ve kept some of my social media presence because I suffer the same fate as most of humanity, a desire to connect, to be part of the tribe, to exist in a community. Whether or not that community is virtual or physically accessible seems less relevant in our age. But most of what I engage in on social media is related to personal interests, this blog and my short story, The Faith of Mars (link brought to you by shameless self promotion). I do believe though that my departure from Facebook, the leading favorite of social media, caused some folks to read more carefully my blog, A Hopeful Hero’s View. And then to respond. So far it’s been my family responding, though the posts here are re-posted from a blog I wrote about two years prior.

My mother responded to me a few weeks ago in a nice email where she believed I was angry at the Church, at god. I am not. I was not. My post in response is here, “Angry Much.” Though I do know that I can sound bitter as the tone of some of my writings are reflective of my upbringing as a Catholic, a bit self defeatist and sounding thoroughly guilt ridden. Then recently my father wrote to me, and if you continue to read below, you’ll find my response.

He shared a very powerful story of his own conversion to the Catholic Church, to his discovery of faith. I’ll share some of the text here, edited for privacy and clarity, but the gist is the same.

Dear Thomas,

I understand most of what you are writing (I think) and there is rarely a case where my views are so different. We all learn as we get older , and, hopefully we grow into the person we want to be. I do have a different perception on the beliefs of the catholic church. In order to illustrate, I would like to share my own experience:

When a young man, I often visited various churches (mostly protestant). I always was curious as to what the belief encompassed as to people who where not christian, or had never heard of Jesus or God. In almost a uniform chorus, I was told they were destined to go to Hell. My thought was always, “what kind of god is this” who would be so cruel. I never joined any church until I met your mother and was introduced to a catholic priest (Msgr Baccidono). He and I had many conversations over a glass of wine or dinner, so of course I asked him the same question. His answer (which I paraphrase here} was ” why, we are all children of God, and all have the same right to heaven”. I embraced this church because of its openness, so I was baptized ……… I still believe this is one of the biggest, most important aspects of any religious outlook. I recognize that there are many positives about other beliefs and I certainly don’t know as much as you about the various religions, but this is where I am. It saddens me that the catholic church is so slow to acknowledge how to include its people who are not in “perfect” communion with what the hierarchy teaches, but I am reconciled by the belief that the last say on this is not in their hands.

Anyway, these are some of my thoughts. I also believe that no matter if you believe in God or not, he loves you like I do, as a son, and he like me, embraces you for what you are and where you are. My hope is that all people will one day learn to accept our differences as an asset as opposed to a liability.

Of course I responded. In a fashion very different than how I did to my mother as reference prior; my mother’s faith was always part of her life, it wasn’t something she found, it was something she was born into. My father on the other hand, is a very intelligent man, who discovered faith as a young man. Hi is so powerful (he reminds me of Captain Kirk in so many ways). I wanted him to better understand my basis of atheism that comes from my own learning, observing, much as he has and does. I would love for him to discover that my journey to non-belief in some fashion mirrors his own into belief. However, I am afraid that my response was too harsh, and certainly that it was too much about me; it was selfish. Talk about a narcissist. All the same, I thought I’d share it with you.

"Dear Dad,

I’m glad that your experience of faith has brought you better understanding of the meaning of life, of joy and of compassion. That said, of course it remains your subjective experience of faith. (Note – I really regret these words, more for tone than for content, but talk about sounding like Richard Dawkins…). There is no evidence of an objective deity, creator, etc. who interacts with humanity on a personalized level, and every testament of faith is personal. Even the scriptures, both Judeo-Christian and Islamic, are subjectively interpreted, re-written (for many, many centuries), edited based on current leaders of the particular faiths, and are in and of themselves no longer “original”. I read recently “If man could know god, then there is no need for belief or faith because the knowing would be universally experienced.”

I have no desire that you should leave your faith. In this world, where control, the ability to manage and experience love and life, are so fleeting, if your experience of faith gives you hope, respite and joy, then I would have you experience and practice that faith as often as you can.

My experience of faith did not give me those things, not even as a young man. Remember Dad, I am not a young man, I’m nearing the later half of my own life, with another 30-40 years to live if I should be so lucky. So my entry into atheism was not a path I happened upon, and did not happen because my faith experience was poor or bad, it happened because as I discovered thinking independently of my upbringing, independently of my white, American culture. Atheism is for me not the answer to question, but the question itself.

Ask 10 to describe their knowledge and experience of god and you’ll have 10 answers. Ask 1,000 scientists to explain the theory of relativity and you’ll have one.

Never stop pursuing the truth of your faith as you know it. I do not ask nor expect this of you or anyone. What I ask, and why I blog about my atheism, my de-evangelicalism, is that one asks the question why. Then asks the question why again. Then asks the question why again. Then asks the question…………forever.

For me I have no beef with the Catholic Church except in that she teaches her faithful that some people are “less than”. It is an endemic illness and fundamental flaw of this hierarchal and antiquated way of thinking that does not allow me to accept her basic tenants of how to think or believe. Any organization that claims to have a handle on “objective truth” simply is not one I will support or trust.

As an atheist I do not believe in god, that’s it. That is the definition of being an atheist. I also don’t believe in ghosts, elves, fairies, Santa Claus or that the moon is made of cheese. As an atheist this does not mean I have any sort of “religion”. I do not. My other opinions, those of science, maths, evolutionary studies, astrophysics, astronomy, quantum mechanics, theories of relativity, of space-time, well those are things I am learning, that I support as they are reviewed by educators, scientists of those fields. But all of these things are subject to change, of being proven through scientific theory or de-bunked based on new learning’s and evidence. They are none of them, not a single 1, absolute. They are as true as they are based on observation, measurement, testing, repetition and peer review and evaluation. Why it wasn’t until 1905 that Einstein’s famous theory of relativity helped to explain the relationship of energy, mass and light. This new formula allowed us for the first time to create ways to observe space-time, measure the effects of gravity, predict the movement of light in the universe, and create and formulate the theories of the origins of the universe in a way that was more than speculation, but could be measured through understanding of the distance of stars relative to each other, relative to us. Just think, that was only 110 years ago. In this time for the first time we are able to explore in an actual and real way our own solar system, better know our planet and her history, and predict how and where we originated. The exciting thing, Einstein’s theory of relativity doesn’t hold up in the universe of extremely small things, and hence we’ve entered into the new age of discovery called quantum physics.

Sorry for the diatribe there, I get excited when I think about just how incredibly amazing and complex the universe is, how awesome, inspiring, and all those things. And now, nearly 25 years as an atheist, I have no fear, no doubt that my lack of belief in deities or supernatural things has caused me harm, but instead has brought me only learning, wonder, joy and fulfilment.

Sadly though here’s the rub – people of great faith, strongly indoctrinated believers, have a very hard time interacting with people such as myself, atheists who have no, that is absolute zero belief in the supernatural. The frame of reference breaks down, the ability to relate, to grow, to love seems handicapped. On some level those who have faith have fear and regret that those of us who do not will not experience the “rapture” of immortality based on the particular belief system (though for any faiths there is no after life, for instance the Jews, Buddhists on some level (one would argue that true Buddhism is more a philosophy than religion), even on some levels Hindus and many others). The faithful have a sense of loss when encountering an atheist. There is a sense of distrust – “If you don’t follow the rules and regulations of a divine life, where then do your morals come from?” Rather than expound upon this I would refer you to Franz De Waal, a primatologist (and an atheist) who is an expert on societal behaviors amongst primates – He is a renowned and respected expert in this field, particularly in his observations of Bonobos – a species of great apes closely related to Chimpanzees, and by default, humans.

For me if the context of a person’s life and ability to dialogue is driven solely in faith, god, theology, then we shall have indeed little to speak on past that point. I have studied the theology of the catholic church, but have chosen to expand my research and learning’s far beyond that expertise. I still read the teachings of the Church not from a place of wanting to know, but from curiosity born of my own education as a seminarian. But I read these theologies much as a person would read the stores of Aesop, Homer, Dante’s tale of the inferno, of all myths and legends. You must remember me as a boy, immersed as I was in fantasy – science fiction, super heroes, etc. This fascination has not declined with my age, but rather has expanded. But now included in my love of all things fantastical I lump in theology. There these things are the same to me as superman, King Arthur and Excalibur, Beowulf.

I appreciate that you would pray for me, because it gives me great joy to know that you think of me. I would not ask that you not pray for me because I would not want to think you’d stop thinking of me. What I would ask that you try to understand, reconcile even, that I have no loss in being an atheist. None. My life is full, rich, joyful, exciting. Do I fear the future, that is the end of my life? No I do not. No more so than I have fear or regret of life before I was born. For me my death is the same as the world was before I was born – and so there, for me, is no loss, only acceptance that this universe, in all her marvelous wonder shall continue to be as she is, and my time, my awareness for this better part of a century is simply, and utterly mine for the moments I am here. The context is, I get to share those moments, this nearly a century with others who also, for a moment, are aware and wandering. To quote Mark Twain, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” My friends and lovers here with me add to the rich and wonderful fabric of life.

……….it occurred to me that there was simply too much sorrow, regret, anger maybe, from folks (family mostly) about my life as an atheist and my ever increasing vocalization of atheism and why it is the truth, for me. I do know, that for a fact, atheism is a growing reality in the world. Many nations are nearly atheist (the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, to name a few – and coincidently are the most educated and considered the happiest nations on earth). If my explanation of atheism and my experience of de-evangelicalism can help another find peace and resolve, I then I must share my story. Not so as to convert a person to atheism, but to expound upon my atheism as one who was at one time a fully indoctrinated theological scholar. Based on our families reaction to my vocalization of atheism I have distanced myself. If the context of my relationship with my family is faith, then that context for me does not exist. My relationship is not a mutually beneficial one. I do not wish to de-convert family but nor do I wish to be subject to theological barbs or postulations………..

You and mom are the greatest sources of inspiration for me. Your own struggles in life to be a good father, to be a great man, to understand your faith, your life, your role in this world are remarkable and worthy of admiration. Do not for a moment believe that I hold you in less regard because you are a Christian, in fact the opposite is true…………



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