An announcement — of sorts — amongst my family this week when word got out that apparently I'm an Atheist. Not certain that I've actually ever declared this to be a truth, and was more than slightly taken aback at this revelation. The sibling who announced this to another sibling (there are many of us) was, according to the story, quite upset.
I've been labeled, categorized, pigeon-holed and carted off to hell, even if in whose existence I do not believe. And will there be conversation, a rebuttal, an explanation, an understanding, in the the end? The sad answer to that question is most likely a resounding "NO." The door to that conversation was slammed shut many years ago, and I'll take responsibility for digging my heels in on the liberal, non-theistic side.
Having endured a Catholic upbringing, and having made a gallant effort to toss aside all lingering vestiges of said guilt, I do admit a distrust in anything labeled religion. How many wars have been fought in the name of the righteous? How many civilizations slaughtered? How long has hate prospered while proclaiming the Word of God?
My best guess on the origins of my atheist label comes from a conversation I had with a Christian Fundamentalist nephew last fall, when the subject of religion came up, and I think I said that I'm probably more Atheist than anything else. But it was only — at that time — a rumination, a fragment plucked from a much larger conversation. Context is so important!
And as themes have a habit of swirling up and becoming a greater part of any picture, this one took an incredibly moving turn today, when J., a co-worker, asked for feedback on an email. The back story: he'd made an offer to donate something (having to do with the arts) on Craigslist, and one of his responses came from Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, an organization which provides food, beds and other support to the homeless and mentally ill.
J., also raised Catholic, is an avowed Pagan, and, not being one to mince words, wrote this to the UGM representative:
While your program seems very worthy, I am having trouble justifying giving to Union Gospel Mission — would you be so kind as to explain how Pagans, Atheists,, other non-christians [lower case "c" intentional], as well as gay, lesbian, and trans individuals fit into your goal to "Create an environment where homeless men and women can safely create, access, and explore their narrative understanding of God, self and other"?
The response from UGM :
"That's a great question. I can see that your experience with people who call themselves Christians has been really hurtful and why you would be hesitant to donate to a mission who uses similar language. I don't know if I can do your question justice without understanding exactly what you're speaking to because I am as saddened at these realities as you are, which is one of the reasons why I started this [Arts] program.I don't know if I can necessarily make sense of some of the longstanding injustice, but I can tell you what we are about at this mission.....
I believe the true heart of why many Christians hold stances of hatred and oppression is because they have never looked what they judge in the face and heard their stories and seen their beauty. It is easy to judge from afar and much harder to judge a face. My job and the heart of this program is to advocate for men and women who have been dismissed because of their differences to those who would rather stand far off and make judgements. So here is my challenge: don't be what you hate, J., If you must judge, judge a face not a generalization. I think you may be surprised by what you see."
Having heard J.'s part of the story prior to the email, I did not expect this balanced and loving reply. How could I have heard a better lesson than this? There I was, fuming and ranting all week at my slap-dash Atheist label, when my negative reaction was no better than the act which precipitated it.
So whether or not I'm an Atheist really isn't important, from a larger stance. Whether or not my nephew and sibling are Christian Fundamentalists really shouldn't be important either. The challenge is to create a world/universe where gay, lesbian, trans, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Mormon etc. individuals "can safely create, access and explore their narrative understanding of God, self and other."
Shouldn't that be enough?
Is it enough to remind me to step down from my soapbox long enough to hear what my sibling has to say? To really listen, and not judge?
One thing is certain: life's lessons continue to enrich and expand my daily living. May I always be so fortunate to be reminded of the power of love when I'm least likely to be on the hunt for it.