The Dream of my Father
Exploring the consequences of "coming out" as an atheist in a religious family.
It’s funny. When you’re growing up, you never dream that one day you’ll break your father’s heart. You certainly don’t plan for it. Or even desire it.
But 2 months ago, that’s exactly what happened. 2 months ago, I officially “came out” and told my father I was an atheist.
Dad wasn’t born into a particularly religious family. But he chose God at an early age, became educated in theology, and he ultimately met my mother while getting his Master’s Degree at a Christian university.
My parents took their honeymoon in Jerusalem, walked the holy lands and embraced the teachings of scripture with all of their hearts. And they pledged to impart that same love for God to their children.
As a child, I inherited my parents’ belief system. But as an adult, I had more difficulty reconciling my upbringing with my own mind.
In the early 2000s, I began having “questions,” but even up to last year, my parents only knew that I was “struggling with some issues” and “seeking the truth.” (I kept these generic terms because they were conveniently accurate, and they kept stronger language from setting off any alarms within the family.)
Ultimately, two months ago, I felt compelled to come clean.
“Mom. Dad. I’m an atheist.”
To me, it was like the release of pressure from an over-expanded balloon. It was liberating, albeit difficult. It felt like I’d finally found my own skin.
For my parents, it was a betrayal of my entire upbringing. The bedtime prayers. The Sunday church. The salvation prayer. The baptism. The Christian education. Years working as a Christian broadcaster, serving churches. I had spit their own core values back in their faces and said, “Thanks, but I’ll have none.”
Mom’s tears. Dad’s anger. The raised voices. The letters. The calls. The warnings of Hell and threats of dire consequence. The family members and friends who brought books and quoted scripture, who implored me “not to give up on God, because He hasn’t given up on me.”
The eruption of emotion, pain, heartbreak, and ultimately…silence.
My father is 75 years old. He’s a true believer. And he comes from a generation that doesn’t know what to do with the word, “atheist.”
To him, the word signifies immoral, deviant, rudderless behavior and eternal damnation. If you’re an atheist, you’re cursed before you’re cursed. Dad cannot process the idea that a non-believer could be good, right, loyal, trustworthy, true or happy. An atheist is the lowest of the low.
An atheist…is his own son.
And I wonder what our lives will look like in another 2 months. 2 years.
Will we find common ground and joy, despite our differences? Or will my father will one day lie on his death bed, ignoring the love, affection, education, relationships, hopes and fulfilled dreams of his only son, and he’ll only see his failure to save me.
How big a price will I pay…will we all pay…for my decision to make a stand?