You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Christianity’ tag.

DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

Nagasaki City Peace Hall viewed across the reflecting pool of the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial

My brother Ian and I agreed that Nagasaki was on our list of things to do. Friday I was free to spend the whole day out touring with Ian, so we made plans to take the train south along the western edge of Kyushu and see the famous city.

Rain crashes onto the train that will take us to Nagasaki

We were up early (Ian assisted by vestiges of jet lag), but we lagged in preparations because it was raining pretty hard outside. We went across the parking lot to the Harbor View Club for breakfast, but the rain continued. After some discussion, we agreed that rain or no, today was the best day to see Nagasaki.

Boy howdy, did it rain! We stopped first at the NEX (Navy Exchange) to buy umbrellas (I think I own six umbrellas now, since I kept getting caught without one). We slogged through the downpour to the train station. We bought tickets and climbed aboard absolutely soaked through.

Part of the Huis Ten Bosh European theme park

Japanese houses in the rain

Rice fields mature beside the tracks on our way to Nagasaki

The small train went slowly to Nagasaki. After an hour and a half we had arrived, and the weather had improved dramatically by the time we arrived. What a relief. Ian proved resourceful, and while I was still trying to think through how we should begin getting around, he found information on how to get an inexpensive day pass for the streetcars. We found maps of the city in English at the Information shop where we purchased the pass.

entrance of the train station

one of the streetcars that took us around the city

First stop was the atomic bomb museum. I was eager to compare this one to the one I had seen in Hiroshima. (Please see my blog post from my first visit to Hiroshima Peace Park.) Many people had told me they preferred the Nagasaki peace park/ museum complex. It is less polished than the one in Hiroshima, and for some that makes it more real.

twisted metal {click to enlarge}

from the church

I found myself less distraught at the complex in Nagasaki. Perhaps because I was with my brother and made an effort not to let myself get too emotional, whereas in Hiroshima I was with Tara, and we are comfortable crying together.

ruined bowl

What struck me the most in Nagasaki was seeing how much of their Christian community had been destroyed. Of course, Nagasaki was a wonderfully diverse city at that time, and contained worshippers of multiple faiths, but before this summer I would never have guessed how many Catholics were there. I wonder how many Americans knew about this after the bomb: we hadn’t vaporized alien beings, but Christians, and sacred Catholic churches and artifacts. This realization was consistent with the little bit of Japanese history I learned this summer when I read Shusaku Endo’s compelling book, Silence, about Jesuit priests that snuck into Japan in the 17th century to minister to the faithful who had to worship in secret under penalty of death if discovered.

melted rosary {click to enlarge}

Information board at the museum:

The Urakami district of Nagasaki was the site of Christian missionary work from the latter part of the 16th century. The people of Urakami suffered persecution constantly from 1587 when Christianity was outlawed until 1873 when the ban was finally lifted. Over the course of 20 years, these faithful people built a church, laying one brick upon another. Their labors were rewarded in 1914 with the completion of the grandest church in East Asia. The church’s twin 26 meter high spires were completed in 1925. But the explosion of the atomic bomb blew the spires down and reduced the church to a hollow shell of rubble.

inside the atomic bomb museum

Another very compelling sight was the famous image of the man and ladder “burned” into the side of a building at the instant of the deathly bright flash of the bomb burst, and also the image similarly captured by vines on a wall. These things make it very real: the tragedy, the instantaneous destruction, the power of the bomb.

“About 4.4 kilometers from the hypocenter. A lookout was exposed to the flash of the atomic bomb explosion after coming down from the roof of the Nagasaki Fortress Headquarters. The tar exposed directly to the flash burned and disappeared but that in the shadows remained.”

wood burned by flash of bomb, but protected where the vine grew

live vine

There are other things to see on location, so after the museum, we toured the Yataro Noguchi Art Museum. Works in the small museum were primarily by the named artist, but we found paintings by other artists that impressed us more than the impressionistic paintings of Noguchi.

mahjong

Then we walked through the Nagasaki Museum of History and Folklore.

Finally we found the entrance to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The hall is underground, and the entrance is through a water sculpture that creates a reflecting pond on the surface. Water only about an inch deep covers 70,000 tiny fiber optic lights representing the 73,884 deaths attributed to the atomic bomb and the nuclear fallout.

remembrance hall atrium

The underground peace memorial hall was cool, modern, peaceful. It is built for prayer and reflection and remembrance. Architect Akira Kuryu did an excellent job of creating the right kind of mood down there. In the main hall atrium, there are 12 lit green pillars that soar upwards to a skylight. At one end of the row of pillars is an equally tall column holding shelves with cards, each card containing the written name of a victim. There is a book for people to write in, on a table that also holds dedications. These often consisted of folded paper cranes for peace. The paper cranes are found all over the site here in Nagasaki, as well as in Hiroshima.

Our wanderings led us up and out of the complex after that, and we wandered back into the city to look for more sights to see and hopefully some food, as well. Sadly, we did not realize that the bomb hypocenter was very close to us, though hidden behind trees. Thus we did not make our way to that final sobering memorial.

I don’t, apparently, do relationships like others. Or like I’m supposed to. The feedback I agonize over comes mainly from my family. My mother may be gone, but her voice is still clear in my head, “Sissy, a woman’s role is to support her husband.” Or, any number of other countless admonishments I received from her for my entire life. My father says he doesn’t want to meet my current love because it’s too painful for him to open up to another man, and then have that person leave my life, and thus his. He doesn’t have the emotional constitution to deal with “another future ex-boyfriend or future ex-husband” as he puts it. My Grandma Trulove, bless her heart, I love her to death, said once, “Now what’s his name again? There are so many I can’t keep track.”

Ugh. It makes me feel wretched.

Why do I feel wretched? Because my society (and many societies around the world) teaches that a woman needs to pick one partner and stick to that person. Forever. Period. Deal with it! If you have loved more than one man, you are a bad woman. What governing power usually directs societal pressure? Religion.

I began life pretty dumb about relationships, and I have spent decades learning how to put healthy people into my life. Maybe *you* found an excellent, caring, respectful person to fall in love with, the very first time you tried. But I did not. Maybe you had some reliable relationship skills when you were 19, and knew just how to respect your partner and make that person feel valued and cherished. I did not have these skills. I had to learn by trial and error. I blew it. I got damaged and I caused damage. Often.

I was swimming out at sea in religion the whole time I was growing up, and that was getting in the way of my learning. Religious rules are often about absolutes: “Do this because it’s right,” but those rules don’t accommodate my questions. I had no foundation to stand on from which to launch my life; just criticism and reminders from those around me that I was probably sinning in some way. I don’t recall solid modeling of good relationship behavior, or helpful tricks and tools. Mom reminded me that (very soon) I needed find a cute guy, get married, start popping out babies, and stay married to that person for the rest of our lives no matter what. Because that is what good Christians do. There is all that accountability in Heaven. There is St. Peter to reckon with at the gates, there are all my ancestors who will certainly judge me and every decision I ever made on Earth, and there will be the community of other judgmental Christians while I live. Talk about pressure!

Skipping all the details, at about age 30 I came to terms with being an atheist. I really have tried (trust me) to believe. It would simply make everything easier. I have tried since my youth group leader, Hoby, assigned me to the debate to team to argue the truth of God’s existence. I tried when my father decided to live his life true to his faith, and that faith turned out to be startlingly conservative. I tried when my mother had me at church four times a week trying to beat religion into me. I tried when my Grandfather, Capn. John, actually took my hands and bawled his eyes out, begging me to give my life to my Father. Sorry everyone. I can’t do it. I can’t lie.

Ok. So, atheism established, it changes my perspective on things. WHY on Earth would anyone want to stay in a bad relationship if there is no such thing as Heaven? If when I die, I’m dead?

If I was a stupid 19 year old, and dated a jerk, why would I stay with that person? If I was a stupid 22 year old, and married a selfish spoiled arrogant man, why would I stay with that person? If I unexpectedly got myself in waaay too deep at age 25 and discovered the next man I had married was using methamphetamines, why would I stay with that person? If I am 37 and have a daughter, watching me, trying to figure out how to grow up, why wouldn’t I try to teach her empowerment?

I believe that my life ends the day I stop breathing, and thus what I do with my brief life becomes desperately, excruciatingly important. What society or religion thinks of me becomes pathetically unimportant. I must do this right, even if that means to stop what I started, and to try again. An atheist can be motivated by time, rather than by guilt, which is a much more positive form of energy. And if she is naïve, and lacks skills, then she is obviously going to make poor choices. And I did. And I learned. I am 42 now and I don’t know it all, but I am learning every day, and always getting better.

Maybe my Arno is my future ex-husband. It could happen. I am no longer naïve. But no matter how things end up between us, he is the best man I’ve ever loved. My skills to put healthy people in my life have improved with time. I do relationships my way, and that doesn’t look like the way everyone else does it. In the whole scheme of things, what I am responsible for boils down to me and my short life, which, when all is said and done, is done.

{On an unrelated topic, the photo at the top was taken by my daughter, of random people at Mt. Tabor, in Portland. I like the shot.}

One of my many guises

Recently I posted…

Other people like these posts

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 531 other followers

Follow Conscious Engagement on WordPress.com

I already said…

Flickr Photos