I spent most of last Sunday in church with my family listening to the pastor’s sermon and to the choir sing beautiful songs of worship.
It was an awkward several hours for me because I don’t believe in God I have no trouble admitting that I am an atheist.
This all came about because several months ago, we were invited by some friends to a Gospelfest in town celebrating Juneteenth which commemorates the belated announcement in Texas of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although my husband and I are atheists, we feel that it is important to expose our daughter to African American history and culture, so we decided to go. The celebration was beautiful, inspiring and fun. In addition to the adult choir which sang beautifully, there was a children’s choir comprised of all black children. The kids were a hit! Their singing was full of joy and excitement and it was moving and exhilarating.
During the festivities, my daughter who was about to turn 5 taps me on the shoulder “mom, I want to sing with them”. After all the festivities, my daughter asked again, this time asking us if we could ask if she could join the choir. I was surprised and wasn’t sure how to approach it. She has a beautiful voice and has a great stage presence, but did I want her to sing in church? I also wondered if they would even let her sing since we were not members of the church and had no plans on joining.
I talked it over with my husband and we decided that we would ask.
We waited until the crowds thinned out a bit and approached the pastor. We explained to him that we are not religious but our daughter has asked if she could join the choir. The answer was a very sweet and welcoming YES! He directed us to his wife who was in charge of the children’s choir. We gave her our info and got the practice schedule and were informed that the kids sing at a Sunday service once a month.
The thought of going to church on a Sunday made me uncomfortable.
Of course I wanted to go and watch and support my daughter sing, but it felt hypocritical to sit in church as an atheist. But sometimes being a good parent means feeling uncomfortable for the sake of your child.
My daughter knows that I don’t believe in god and she also knows that it is OK for her to believe that there is a god. Even though I struggle with this and want to teach her my beliefs I do think it is important for her to come to a decision on what she believes on her own. If it feels better for her to believe in god, that is all right with me. My hope and sense is as she gets older and she learns more about science she will question her faith but I am also bracing myself for her not to give up on her faith.
We have a lot of conversations about serious subjects with my daughter and give her factual, honest answers as much as possible. Talking about faith, religion and god is no different. A few months ago, on a rainy day driving home from camp she asked me if I knew that rain was god’s tears. I explained that I don’t think that there is a god and went on to explain the science behind rain. She was not thrilled with my answer or explanation as I think her friends at camp gave her the idea that rain is god’s tears.
When the subject comes up usually asks me why I don’t believe in god.
Again, I answer honestly and tell her my beliefs. I explain that I believe in the power of self determination and self love and my morality comes from within me knowing that I need to be kind, generous and strong. I tell her that I don’t need religion to tell me to be gracious, honest and loving and I do my best everyday to be my best self. I also tell her that those are my expectations of her.
To be her best self every day to be kind, generous and honest.
As she gets older I can explain my history with religion to her. She knows that I was born in Iran and moved here when I was a young girl. What she is too young to understand is that I grew up in a country where men and women killed in the name of god. They oppressed, condoned intolerance and persecuted those who did not agree with their beliefs. She is too innocent to understand that every religion has motivated violence throughout history and that powerful politicians and governments have used religion to advance their agenda for hundreds of years.
I watched my family, friends and loved ones suffer in the name of god and decided at a young age that I did not want any part of religion and god.
This is how I came to be sitting at a church pew on Sunday afternoon waiting to hear my daughter sing with her new friends for the first time. Feeling anxious and awkward I sat there and tried to stay calm. My daughter was extremely excited and could not wait to have us watch her sing. She was waiting patiently, engaging in the prayer and listening to the sermon.
When it was their turn to sing, she stood proudly in the center and sang and clapped her heart out. I could not help but to sing along even though the words were so foreign to me.
I was beaming with pride momentarily forgetting that we were in church.
In the week that followed I have thought about my feelings and whether or not I would go back to church? I have decided that even though going to church occasionally makes me uncomfortable and uneasy and even though that for now, we don’t agree on religion and the existence of god, it’s part of my job as her mom to be there to love her and support her and even sing along.