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Monday, August 16, 2010

Then and now, now and then...

Virtually all of my relatives are (or were, as most of them are gone, now) Christian. All of them. I can't think of a single one who wasn't, though there may have been (it wasn't like any of them wore their religion on their sleeve or like a chip on their shoulder). Family get-togethers just didn't include having your Christian credentials verified. Many of my family were inclined to be pretty conservative, though I didn't notice that until I (and they) got older.

My mother and father were both Christians too, though my father was Catholic, and my mother Protestant. They never quite saw eye-to-eye on a religious upbringing for me. At one point after some period of indecision, perhaps when I was about 4 or 5, they compromised and we all started going to an Episcopalian church, and I was baptized. But I don't think their heart was in that church, and I was a typical precocious kid who would rather be out playing than sitting in a Sunday school class where they nagged me with a bunch of strange and vaguely threatening ideas. And once I found the truth out about Santa Claus, it all seemed to make about the same sort of sense to me, inventions designed to make kids behave. Before long, my parents tired of it and we didn't go to church anymore.

So ultimately, I'm not, and pretty much never have been, religious. I feel that belief is not something you just decide. It would be like saying, "today, I think I'll believe the moon is made of green cheese." I think you either find something to be believeable, or you don't. And I think by now, I've heard all the arguments.

It never occurred to me that any of my relatives would hold it against me or think any less of me because of it. And none of them ever did, that I know of. Perhaps that was because they were somewhat soft spoken about their beliefs, I don't know. Perhaps, it was because I was family and they HAD to accept me, but it never seemed like that was the case. I was never even made to feel that I was in the minority, though I guess in actuality, I certainly was.

My grandparents on my mother's side were extraordinarily generous, forgiving, loving, and accepting people, which always struck me as a model for what Christians are or should be. When we were at their house we always said grace at the table, and there were pictures of Jesus and embroidered Bible verses on the walls. But there never were any discussions about religion that I can remember-- they simply lived their lives that way, and felt no compulsion to argue it.

I think that was it-- that was what I took away from all of that, they were simply, nice people. I guess I was lucky. And what I ultimately got out of that, is that it doesn't really matter to me what someone believes, as long as they're nice people. You can believe that the moon is made of green cheese if you want, and I'm fine with that, as long as you treat others with respect and care. And I try to do the same, as best I can, though I'm sure I don't always succeed. There are Christians, and Buddhists, and Muslims, and Pagans, and Agnostics, and Atheists, and any of them can be either jerks or nice people. I prefer to hang out with the nice ones, and have no particular interest in narrowing my scope any further than that.

Since my youth, I have encountered a lot of Christians that I'm not related to, who like my family members, tended also to be pretty conservative. Many of those individuals seemed to be compelled to argue with me, if they discovered I was nonreligious. I did get the feeling that they were holding the fact that I wasn't a believer against me. At first, I tended to find them offensive, or at the very least, condescending. And based on my family experience, rather non-Christian Christians, but I've since mellowed quite a bit I think, and am much more inclined to ignore such treatment now and remember my grandparents and just try to set a better example. But now and then, on all too rare occasion unfortunately, I've met Christians I'm not related to who remind me of what my family was like. So there out there, or at least a few of them are. It seems strange to me now though, that there was so many of them then, but there seem to be so few, now.