Oh, Lord! We’re Talking About Religion

Monday, August 13, 2012

We were on the subway pulling into Brooklyn when he sad it.

“I don’t really believe in God.”

He, my then boyfriend, and I were on our way to his best friend’s apartment for Passover Seder dinner. If ever there was a time to lean on that powder keg and talk about faith and following, it was then, right?

That’s what I thought, at first.

Our relationship was still quite new, all sweet and tender like garden-fresh fruit. I remember not wanting to pierce that cotton candy cloud and spoil things with a hefty topic like religion. But we were also unmistakably in love, each sure in our head and hearts that this was the person. Our person. So tackling the thorny stuff was important.

“I don’t really believe in God.”

My heart fluttered. A vision of my grandmother — long passed on — in her church hat flashed through my mind. (Really.) I didn’t say a word for the next two subway stops, even thought I could see the worry seeping from My Person’s pores.

I really should have said something to the poor guy, but I was too busy trying to process how I felt about what he said, about what he believed — or didn’t. The thing is, I was raised a church-goer in a family of believers. We weren’t knocking on doors, Bibles in hand, asking others if they had accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, but the Blades kids were baptized and went to Sunday School. Two of us even attended a Catholic high school (but that was about the education, not the religion).

Of course, I had friends with various beliefs and religious ideas. So the notion of atheism wasn’t new or shocking to me. But this person was going to be my husband. How did I feel about having this fundamental difference between us? I got nervous. And then I got even quieter, because now I was looking at something far more frightening in the face: What did I believe? Not my family. Me.

Finally, when we got off the train, I said something. I told my guy that, yes, I was a little taken aback by his response. I told him that, yes, we were OK, but I just needed to figure out why his being agnostic had me so flustered.

What I came up with is this: Although I believe in God, I’ve drifted away from religion. I haven’t truly been part of any organized worship or church family in a decade. And when it came down to making the call on how to raise our kids, I didn’t want it all resting on me, on what I believe. I wanted it to be a collective choice. We would answer those weighty questions — Is heaven real? Where do people go when they die? Why does God let bad things happen? — together.

We haven’t hit those prickly parts yet. The last time we talked about religion, in earnest, was around the decision to have our son baptized. We did it. I led the cause, but my husband went along with the choice without pause or objection.

Being honest, a large part of why I went ahead with a christening was to please my parents (and, yes, my grandmother in her church hat). But I also did it for more selfish reasons. I wanted to open the door for my son, so that he can follow my path and share my beliefs. I wanted to introduce him to the world in which I was raised, where God is real and faith is strength and the Bible is a book of lessons and you happily say prayers at night as well as grace before dinner. I knew I was foisting my childhood on this 4-month-old’s shoulders, but the larger context — allowing my child to come to his own commitments — felt too daunting to me. And still does, specifically around religion.

We haven’t finished figuring out exactly where we stand on this, clearly. Focusing on things like new teeth and words and skills is our excuse. So the religion thing is going to continue floating around, much like ether, until we hit another wall that needs to be pushed. But as my son keeps growing up, growing into his own interesting person, I suspect I’ll feel less unsure and uneasy about all of this and more rooted in the confidence and trust that comes with realizing that your kid’s got a good head on his shoulders. Until then, I’ll just have faith.

  • 1
    Erin H says:

    I’m in a similar situation where I don’t have strong religious beliefs, but I don’t necessarily consider myself an atheist like my husband. But answering those questions is going to be pretty difficult b/c the passion I lack for religion, my husband is tenfold in atheism.

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks for the comment, Erin. It really is one of those things that folks don’t talk about…but should! It’s always helpful to hear how someone else is tackling something that is a challenge. Not that it will directly inform your choice, but at the very least you don’t feel so alone in the struggle to find middle ground.

  • 2
    Gloria says:

    My daughter has been coming home from school and asking me if God is real. I’m not sure if I answer her in the right way or not but I tell her that for some people he is real and for others he is not and that with time she will know how she feels about God.

    I also tell her that all religions are founded on the same principles: love, compassion, respect and charity.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Gloria, this comment — and what you told your daughter — is lovely. What a gracious way of explaining things to a young thinker. Thank you.