Someone asked me a while back whether my goal is for my siblings to become atheists. I was completely taken aback because I had never even thought about it like that. The answer is no, that’s not my goal, and it never has been. But the question made me think. What is my goal for my siblings? Why don’t I feel a driving desire to deconvert them into atheism?
There is something similar involved when I think of my children. I’ve had conservative Christians tell me “just wait until one of your kids to decide to be a Christian, and then you’ll know how your parents felt and you’ll almost certainly react similarly.” The thing is, this isn’t true. My goal isn’t for my children to be atheists. I plan to let them form their own beliefs. Rather, my goal is that they be caring, compassionate, accepting, confident, independent thinkers who believe in equality and the value of humanity and are conscious of the importance of social justice.
I have good friends who are Christians and I don’t feel the need to deconvert them either, because they are already all of the things I listed above. I disagree with a few of them on some things – universal health care, for example – and those are the things I argue with them about. Similarly, if I found a friend didn’t believe in LGBTQ rights, or thought abortion should be banned, or was in favor of the death penalty, those are all things I would feel the need to argue about, and those are the moments when I would try to change a friend’s mind.
I’ve been trying to think of the reasons for this. For one thing, there are both caring, loving, and accepting people and hateful, bigoted people in every religious tradition and outside of religion. My desire, then, is not for people to hold or not hold specific beliefs about the supernatural but rather for them to be caring, loving, and accepting people regardless of what they believe. For another thing, I’m tired of proselytizing. I spent too many years believing it was my role in life to make others believe what I did. I feel no need to repeat that. I think in some sense I became so jaded by my parents and religious community trying to impress their religious beliefs on me no matter what it took that I want to stay as far away from repeating that as possible.
I don’t want to be the friend who is always trying to prove you wrong or lecture you about the inadequacy of your beliefs; I want to be the friend you can count on for love, acceptance, support, and a shoulder to cry on.
Now of course, none of this means that I am afraid to state what I do and don’t believe or why. If religion does come up in a conversation, with a Christian or Jewish friend for instance, I make it clear where I stand and why. I plan to do the same with my children, and with my siblings if they ask. I am not shy about stating my own beliefs and I don’t adhere to the idea that all beliefs are somehow all equally true. But there’s a difference between being willing to call it like I see it and feeling that I won’t be satisfied unless those around me, whether siblings, children, or friends, are atheists as well, or that it is my job to make them so.
Several of my adult siblings know that I am an atheist and have been amazingly cool with it. I’ll never forget the moment when I came out to the first of them.
Me: I don’t believe in God anymore.
Sibling: Then what do you believe in?
Me: I believe in love.
Sibling: Then I guess we believe in the same thing.
That – that - is my goal for my siblings.