Catherine Dunphy, executive director of the Clergy Project, tells an all-too-familiar story at Hemant’s blog. The story is about being shunned by her deeply religious mother over her atheism and it’s pretty heartbreaking to read, especially for those who have endured similar situations (I have not, for the record).
My transformation from theist to atheist took many years and incarnations, but a constant threat to my personal development and intellectual growth was the interpretation and criticism of my mother.
Despite all of this, I confronted the fear honestly and told her that I was no longer a believer before I completed my Masters. Given the limited discussion over the years, I thought her silence was the expression of her commitment to our relationship. Sadly, I now think that she just misunderstood and was waiting for the right time to confront me.
The day before my birthday, my mother took me to dinner, just the two of us. I expected an easy-going conversation about getting older, life changes, etc. But that wasn’t what happened.
Almost immediately after we ordered, she jumped to the conversation of morality. I attempted to distract her and downplay her adversarial tone, but that failed as she sternly focused on my liberal transgressions and my rejection of Catholic orthodoxy. It quickly became apparent that she was very angry and that she had discussed my apostasy with someone else — most likely a priest. In her opinion, I didn’t receive the “right kind of theological training” and my loss of faith was the fault of my educators. I attempted to dissuade her from this conversation, to make light of it and move on, but she couldn’t let it go. My ideas and values were contrary to Catholicism, so the critique continued. According to her, my family and I were immoral, decrepit, and godless. (She was one for three.) The worse transgression, in her opinion, was that my actions were an affront to her status, and I owed her the decency of coming back to the faith. I attempted to appease her without compromising my integrity but unfortunately she interpreted this as a continuation of my “abhorrent and disrespectful behavior.” I tried again and again to negotiate common ground, but after being confronted by continually escalating histrionics, in which she characterized me as “the devil” and declared my husband and I to be “immoral,” I recognized the cold fact that her faith was more important to her than our relationship.
So many of my friends have had this happen to them, disowned by their parents over their religious views, their sexual orientation and even, in the case of FTB’s Ashley Miller, because she’s dating someone of another race. It always just leaves me grasping for words and feelings. I can’t imagine what I would ever do to get shunned by my family. My stepmother is Pentecostal and I’m sure she prays every day for me to return to Christianity. I’m sure she is disappointed by my atheism and my activism. But it’s inconceivable to me, and to her as well I’m certain, that she would ever treat me any differently because of it. She loves me, period. If only more parents were like that.