Dear Mom and Dad,
You may have heard through the grapevine that I’ve been posting on Facebook about being an atheist, and about my rejection and criticism of religion. As my parents, whom I love dearly, I felt it right that I tell you myself where I’m coming from. I’m using a letter instead of a phone call so I can express myself as clearly as possible since I’ve been composing it in my head and working on it for weeks now. Also because I think I might chicken out if I tried to do this over the phone. I am writing this admittedly long winded letter, on a subject many families find difficult to talk about, because you deserve to know why the child you raised in the faith has chosen to leave it. I hope you will receive it with a spirit of openness and love. I in no way want to hurt or offend you. Though I realize I will probably do both, it’s not my intent.
I’ve been agnostic for years and atheist for some time now, but only just recently did I publicly “come out of the closet” as an atheist. I know your first question will be why.
Let me assure you I am not angry at god, running away from god or hiding from god. I am also not rebelling against my upbringing or you in any way. In fact, I did not come to this conclusion based on any emotional reason or any event provoking a crisis of faith, but through long years of reflection and searching fervently and honestly for truth.
I left the church long ago. First it was just difficult to attend with babies, so we went to mass less and less frequently. But that distance of not having my faith constantly reinforced let me take a step back and actually ask the tough questions and examine the doubts my faith had for so long held at bay. When I was a true believer, there were things that bothered me and questions I couldn’t answer about my faith such as the horrific atrocities, the contradictions and the historical inaccuracies in the bible. I was troubled by the “problem of evil” as it is called in philosophy - if god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then why is there evil, suffering etc in the world? Free will and human action can only account for some small part of it. Much more suffering comes from nature; illness, natural disasters, famine, etc. How can we thank god for answering our prayers and giving us the things we have and reconcile that with the unanswered prayers of so many who go hungry, who suffer disease, pestilence and war? How can there be any one universal truth when there are literally tens of thousands of religions, each saying different and mutually exclusive things and the single most important factor that determines which “truth” you end up accepting is simply where and when you are born? How could god really expect any mere human to sort through that conflicting mass of messages and correctly identify his one true message? These and many, many other concerns were always there in the background. I accepted the answers I was given by the church and its apologists, but they didn’t sit well. It was easy to suppress these doubts when I was always having my faith reinforced at church, by Christian friends, by books, etc. But without that reinforcement, I started to re-examine my faith, and I realized I wasn’t being honest with myself by not really truly asking these hard questions. For a long time I was in limbo – wandering the desert, so to speak.
I spent years searching for a god I could believe in. I wanted to believe in god, in some eternal objective truth I could look to. I explored the other Abrahamic monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Islam, Ba’hai and their offshoots. I looked to the ancient monotheistic religions, reasoning that perhaps the real truth was revealed early on. So I explored Atenism, Zoroastrianism, etc. I even explored polytheistic and non-theistic religions. Then I searched for a religion based on reason instead of revelation. The closest answer would be deism, which is a useless religion. Nothing rang true.
What does feel true and right to me, and was the only conclusion that could stand up to reason, was a naturalistic worldview grounded in science. I marvel at the vast immensity of the universe and how small we are in it. The idea that out of all the billions of galaxies in the universe, and all the trillions of stars and who knows how many millions of planets – and the odds are high that many of these as yet unknown worlds may very well also have life on them – that our tiny insignificant planet, and our very brief time on it relative to its incredibly long natural history is not only the object of divine attention, but that our very thoughts would be important to one who created all this immensity seems incredibly ridiculous. The idea that a being we conceive of as all knowing and all seeing would choose to communicate with us only through archaic books he would surely have known could be twisted and misunderstood, misinterpreted, used as a pretext for every sort of war and conflict, and which were written by prophets whose visions would be classified as schizophrenic or drug induced hallucinations were they to occur today, seems even more ridiculous. The idea that we must choose between eternal damnation or belief in an improbable story of which we are only aware because of poorly written and conflicting accounts of a Jewish prophet which were then interpreted by Saul/Paul, seems to be grossly unfair and unworthy of the being we conceive of as god. The inescapable conclusion, to my thinking, is that all religion is man-made. If there is some force that created the universe, that we might call god, it is impersonal and beyond our knowing.
I have found freedom of thought; freedom to question everything, examine evidence and change my thinking based on that evidence. I am a skeptic and a humanist. I am still a good and moral person. I love and respect others because I choose to, rather than for any hope of heaven or fear of hell. I learned from your example to be loving, caring, honest and generous. For that I am so very grateful to you! I have met many people who have told me what their own parents were like, and I have realized just how lucky I am to have had you to raise me. You were, and still are, very good parents.
Niqi and I each followed our own journey separately and quietly. We rarely talked to each other about religion until recently, but we both ended up coming to the same conclusions on our own. We are teaching the girls our values. They do like to attend church occasionally because they like to sing, and that the old people admire them and compliment them. But they are not believers. They are free to explore as they wish and think freely, and we help them in their explorations to think critically and always search after truth and examine the available evidence.
I know this might upset you, and I am truly sorry for any hurt it causes you. I do not want to hurt you, or offend you in any way. But I must be honest with myself and seek always after the truth, no matter where it takes me. I also cannot, in good conscience, selfishly keep this knowledge to myself in the name of misguided tolerance or a fear of offending others. To me, knowing that we need not follow the edicts of an invisible master, but can be free to truly think and be ourselves, is good news that needs to be spread. To me, knowing that many of the values humanity holds most dear such as the abolition of slavery, equality of races, women’s rights, animal rights, freedom of expression, tolerance of different ideas and religions, pursuit of technological advancement and scientific research and many more come not from the bible or any other divine or supernatural revelation, but from the rational and intellectual maturity that civilization has gained and continues to gain since the enlightenment, is good news to be celebrated. I am, as I have always been, drawn to knowledge and to sharing it. When I was a Christian I stood up for what I believed in, even when it annoyed or offended others, because I believed I had the truth and that it was worth sharing. I cannot do any differently now as an atheist and humanist with a much more mature and knowledgeable worldview. It’s who I am.
I am happier and freer than I have ever been and my spirit is at peace. I am no longer burdened by doubt or guilt. Thank you for being such good parents and teaching me how to be a good and loving person. Thank you for encouraging in me my love of knowledge and of learning. I love you and respect you very much. But I cannot share your faith anymore. I ask that you would respect that. I am more than willing to discuss things, answer your questions, and I will not be offended if you pray for me. In fact, I would really love to sit with Mom and have a long talk like we used to when I was a teen. I miss that. We would really love if you two would come and visit us sometime. We don’t see you often enough and it’s hard for all four of us to get out to Manitoba, or Texas. We would like the girls to be able to spend more time getting to know you, and we want you to be able to experience the wonderful people they are. I hope very much that our rejection of religion will not push us away from you. We love you very much and we miss you.
Your loving son,