Saturday, November 7, 2009

To My Mother, or 'why I choose to be a Christian'

I am asked, from time to time, by those who care for me, why I don’t take the time to call you. Not all those who ask that question care for me. If my siblings knew, they have forgotten. You keep sending letters to me, reminding me. I now feel compelled to share my position, which is not based on fear or loathing or anger as some have said. It is not based on compassion, either as if I were more compassionate I might behave differently. It is because you will not listen to me and so I cannot help you.
Sometimes when I am asked, I reply that you are ill and there is nothing I can do for you. I recognize that sounds strange to the uninitiated, but it has the strength of being true, and so I don’t have to try to remember it if I had told a simple lie. I feel powerless and more than a little frustrated, because I know how you can be helped, but I cannot do that. I don’t have any of those things you recognize as salve for your wounds.
I am forty two years old, and I became a Christian when I was eighteen. It was a profound change for me, and the change has continued throughout my life. Although I am a ridiculous figure, fat and cursed, there is little in me that folk desire, yet people comment on my great strength and determination, and in days gone by, on my sunny disposition. I don’t always feel blessed, but I know I am.
I was raised by you and father to be an atheist. To spot the ridiculous posturings of religion and despise them. I had thought it was your lone claim to reason, I watched and copied as you identified those things people embrace for love and support so that you might reject them.
I remember a friend of yours who tried to get me to smoke a cigarette once, when I was about five years old and we were in a lift, Pam, her and I. I don’t know why she was a friend of yours, you were very anti cigarettes. Maybe she was one of your Democrat friends who struggled to oppose Nixon as he moved to end the war in Vietnam, initiate equal rights legislation and fought poverty through wealth creation. Your friend offered Pam the cigarette, but Pam was too sensible to take it pointing out her medical issues, so I was offered. I thought it a disgusting thing, and hadn’t even considered what was required. Your friend told me that all I had to do was to put the cigarette between my lips and breathe. I realized I didn’t want to breathe in the smoke, so I exhaled and the cigarette burn went quickly to the filter. Your friend retrieved what was left of it, and suggested we try again some time, when I felt ready. But she never did. You said she had died, about six months later, from lung cancer. Maybe she did die, and maybe you chose to break contact with her because she had offered Pam the cigarette.
Pam was two years older than me and very sick. When she was very young you knew she had problems. You had thought they were learning difficulties, at first, but about the time I was born you knew of her kidney disease. John was four years older than me and Cathy, the eldest, was six years older. You had chosen to live separately to father so that he could work for us. But he got a break and we all lived in Princeton after you burned down our house in Leonia.
It was clear that you weren’t satisfied with child raising. Although you felt church was full of bigots, you used to take Pam and me to church for Sunday school. You would sit outside and write letters and Pam would argue with people who would try to interest her in craft activity coloring in Jesus. You stopped me from Karate class, saying I was becoming too violent, but you used to drop me off at YMCA to take a swimming class. You didn’t know that I had been too confused by different instructions from people who didn’t know me so I hid in the change rooms every week for most of a year. You sent me to a camp for soccer, and for singing .. but never found out, never asked, about what happened when I was abused there. One boy with Nazi sympathising parents came over to swim one time and asked me several times to suck his dick and you suggested he visit again. You postured about sexuality.
It was your ambition to be a successful woman. To have credential, like a science degree, and be known for your opinions. You could argue passionately about foolishness. Yet you drank excessively.
Pam asked for direction, she didn’t know what was in store for her, and you counselled her to embrace death. In your depression, you had found a new way to be the person who others noticed. Pam chose death, but made sure she forgave her father for beating her, and her siblings, and she told you she loved you.
You waited until we were in Australia before announcing you had chosen divorce. You blamed father for the divorce and for Pam’s death. You slept with Pam’s ashes and toys. You got a job and you got your independence.
I was confused with the arrangement you made when the family friend raped me. But you were purposeful immediately following and in the years to come. Sometimes your drinking was so bad you would sweat alcohol for weeks. But you were never rolling drunk, just tipsy.
It was bizarre the way you tried to involve yourself in my social life. You were only interested in sexual things, not friends for me. I didn’t question what you were doing until I left home, at age twenty, and lived in many odd addresses. You used to give my rapist my phone number to call me on my birthday. You used to say you didn’t know better, that he had been father’s friend.
It wasn’t until I finally stopped talking to you altogether that you tried to explain yourself.
You told me I looked like my father. You told me that your father had raped you. You told me you were trying to get me to make a scene in front of my father. You told me that you had bought dogs to replace me. You told me the dogs had died under strange circumstances, strangled by their own leashes inside the house. You told me you bought two new dogs, and a decade later you told me that they had to be killed because they were both dying from cancer. You told me you were drunk. You said you were never drunk. You said you had given up drink. You never once said you had made a mistake. Once, I made the observation you had never apologized for what you had done. You wrote saying you were sorry that I had mistreated you by not talking to you.
You manipulated others easily, unrepentantly. Even last Christmas, when Cathy had come to Australia, you wrote to me to assure me that she would not have the time to see me because I would not speak to you.
=== ===
When I was growing up, you missed me. You didn’t see how I’d learned from your atheist message, or how it transformed.
I was eighteen, still living at home. Working at a restaurant in the city and going to university. Everything was disconnected for me. It took me two hours to get from home to University. It took me two hours to get from work to home. It took me two hours to get from home to my friend’s place. We didn’t live in an exclusive neighbourhood, but public transport is that bad in Sydney. I met this girl on campus on my first day of lectures and she seemed perfect to me, everything in one place. She was smart, she had friends and she seemed to like strays. She told me she was a Christian and it confused me, because I didn’t see how a person could be an idiot (as I assumed Christians were) and yet be so blessed. I knew why I wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t know why she was.
Ignoring the claims of Christianity, for a moment, I considered the philosophical issue of a creator for the universe and I knew it to be absurd. The impossible question “Can god build a ditch so wide he couldn’t build a bridge to cross it?” One of those two problems had to be the case and so god could not exist. The girl told me of the four steps to knowing God personally, sidestepping the logical fallacy issues and addressing a different issue. She invited me to a talk on Christianity by the author John John (or as he preferred to be known, J John). I found myself face to face with a smart person who knew of the logical fallacies, but addressed the issue of a ‘relational god.” He pointed out that the logical fallacy did not prove nor disprove god. He also pointed out that the Christian God never made those claims that were part of those logical fallacies.
Twenty four years later, I still recall the four steps, but I don’t think of them in separate terms.
• God is god, the creator from whom mankind is in his image.
• God is the father of Jesus (cf Trinity)
• Jesus died for us
• Jesus rose from the dead.
• People are not god like, but sinful.
• People can be forgiven their sin by prayer.
I don’t actually remember them as four steps. I found myself resistant to the ideas at each step, but also seeing ways I could evaluate their value and truthfulness without resorting to the logical fallacies that didn’t apply.
Other questions came up, like the one about pain. “If God exists, why is there pain?”
What I had discovered is that the very questions which underpin those who question the value of Christianity, support those who are Christian.
Instead of thinking of heaven and hell as places people go to, instead, a Christian tends to relate them in terms of proximity to God.
I began to see how foolish and irrelevant the questions were that denied God. How argumentative. I didn’t need to embrace creationism or some fad faux science to be a Christian, I could accept the universe as it was and as it unfolded.
When I began to read the bible in terms of it being an inspired document to do with man’s relationship with God, and not as a recipe for making rockets and stars, then I found I could make my universe a happy one. I am no longer subject to all of the stresses and strains of which I’m not responsible. Instead, I find I can act responsibly and feel satisfied I have done my best.
But now I remember you cannot. You are trapped. A victim to circumstance you do not control. You can, as Cyrano De Bergerac, rail against unreason and embrace romance and gloriously lose. It seems strange to me that people who deny god are always captured by demons. Your depression has focused you, so that you have rushed to where you are old, and have no where to go except death.
Maybe you wish it to be so. Your children did not have children, so some day, no one will be around to remember you felt so strongly in support of Vietnam’s communists you marched for them in London and took your oldest daughter in among the tear gas.
I long ago forgave you, but I cannot do anything for you, except to let you know the following. You can accept your forgiveness. You can have the fruit of some of your blessings. You can spend eternity with that daughter who loved you.
You have not been someone I could turn to for help. I am sorry. There is much we might have shared. Regardless of your choices, I forgive you.

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