My son, the atheist

My son says God doesn’t exist. This statement came about suddenly, with no warning, at the end of our nightly reading session. My baby is suddenly a person, quite separate from me and with opinions very different from my own. I am torn between great pride and great shock. I probe more, and I discover that he doesn’t just think that God doesn’t exist; he thinks that my belief in God is a sign of my great fear and intellectual laziness. He says that it is perhaps because I am terrified that something horrible will happen that I feel the need to fall back on this mythical entity.

I am on the defensive now, and feel forced to *prove* that God does exist, an impossible task and particularly unsuited to someone as doubt-filled and uncertain as me. He is so much surer of his stance: for every Mother Teresa and Martin Luther, religion has produced thousands of ruthless zealots; religion does not make people kinder, it makes them more certain in their illogic; religion is used primarily to force others to conform and Christianity is especially suspect since it comes backed by richer and mightier groups; if there was one true God, then why is it that holy men-women across the ages have come up with such differing ideas of who this God is, each claiming their theory is fully correct?

I turn my head to look at this child sharing my pillow – who is this new person? This is not the same one, the one who, not-so-long-ago, would cry piteously if I didn’t sit next to his potty chair while he did his business. I am torn between pride at how well-thought out and critical his arguments are, and consternation at this insight into my child’s opinion of my faith, and concern that perhaps he will not discover a life-giving faith of his own.

Pride wins out.

And as I listen to him falling asleep, I pray that God will work his wonders and reach my son too.

What would you give up?

There is a striking parallel in the lives of saints across religions, whether it be the Hindu rishis or the Buddhist monks or the Catholic nuns. They let go of worldly tangles and exchange it for joy. That seems like a pretty fair deal. Would I be able to do the same?

Celibacy and silence: I believe the two are linked together since the absence of the former makes time for the latter. And I want the latter. The long hours of silence and prayer speaks to a deep thirst inside me, but is it possible to delink silence from celibacy? Why not structure my life to match the nuns’ schedule without giving up husband-sex-children? They wake up at 5.00, prayer-mass-bible-silence until breakfast at 9.00, then off to work, pray again for an hour at lunch, then work again, and then 5.30-7.30 community time, and then silence-prayer-bible-mass until bed. I could have the same schedule, simply replacing community time with family time. It would take discipline, but it is not impossible.

Giving up ipad, ipod, personal laptop, computer, and the vow of poverty: The nuns claim that giving these up was a big relief, and I can understand their view – how wonderful it would be to cease striving; to do one’s best every day but to unclench and let go of the death-grip on goals – career goals, goals for the kids, retirement-savings goals; what a relief it would be to let go. These certainly give me no joy, and stuff, in any case, happens, no matter how I try to bend reality to my will.

Religion and Feminism

I remember a roundtable in a conference for feminists in academia, and there was this woman whose whole research agenda was to “prove” that religion is evil (racist-misogynist-homophobic-violent-evil). And she had all sorts of measures and stories and facts about different religions, and how all of them seemed to exist for the sole purpose of oppressing women. I could see where she was coming from – the trappings of religion are clearly patriarchal. There is just no arguing with that. I’m Christian, and Christianity often inspires in me a feeling of helpless rage at the blind hate that is encoded in its rules and rituals. And the problem is not just structural – more often than I would like, I’ve come across individual practitioners, perfectly nice men and women of the Church, who think nothing of making sexist, racist, homophobic remarks with no provocation out-of-the-blue, like other people might casually talk about the weather.

And yet, I’m Christian. I usually do not mention this to my feminist friends, since to most feminists this is like admitting to kicking dogs in private for fun. But I have received so much from my faith – in fact, all the good things that I have received in the past decade – trust, freedom from constant anxiety, thankfulness, peace, joy – are the gifts of my faith. And it seems wrong and ungrateful to hide what-is-best-in-my-life, and compartmentalize so that my feminist world and my faith-world are two entirely disconnected areas of my life, one ashamed of the other.

And this hiding is mostly one-way: I make no particular attempts to hide my feminism from my faith-community, since I honestly think that feminism can make religious life a lot better. But until recently (actually until today with this post), I’ve never much spoken about my faith in my feminist community. But it bugs-saddens me that this faith that I love, that has transformed my life, has been abandoned to the patriarchs to-do-what-they-want-with, because those on the other side couldn’t be bothered to rescue it. And it seems to me that, even from a purely strategic instrumental perspective, it is unwise for feminists to dismiss religion; if it is all about getting converts (and yes, feminists – let us just admit this – we are as much into proselytizing as any evangelical), then demonizing all religion makes no sense given that many human-people need some kind of faith to get them through the day. And this dismissal of religion is not just unwise, it is also harmful – It forces feminists in most countries of the world to have to fight multiple battles simultaneously; rather than marshaling all resources just fighting patriarchy, they find themselves suddenly pitted not just against patriarchy, but also against Islam/Hinduism/Christianity, challenging not just people’s choices regarding their daughter’s education, but also challenging their faith (an almost unwinnable battle). Religion has been coopted by patriarchy, perverted and abused to justify all sorts of crap. And feminists have allowed this to happen, washing their hands off religion (“fine you can have faith, as long as we get to keep tofu”), and the reasons, to me, seem born out of a very different understanding from mine about what religion really is about.

So next up: I’d like to explain my religion, as I understand it and value it. And my hope is that I can show my fellow feminists what I see in religion so that I can convince some to join me in rescuing religion, or at least refrain from demonizing religion.