Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Spiritual atheism – an introduction

Spiritual development in an atheist household.

OK, we are not exactly atheists. Both Greg and I grew up Catholic, although my parents would not immediately recognize his family’s liberal Catholicism with its outwardly gay brothers and guitars leading the choir. But still, the church hierarchy played its role, and doctrine and sacraments were central.

As my own self-imposed penance for the sins of my youth, I became a Catechism teacher for 2 years. My 8 years in Catholic school prepared me well for this task and I taught diligently out of the book provided. My students learned to pray the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary.” They learned the events that brought about the first Christmas and the first Easter, and how to best go about celebrating both today.

But, as I read more, and experienced more, I slowly began to look differently at most of what I had learned (and taught) in church and catechism classes. Two adults committing their lives in love was a good thing – even when both were of the same gender. Sometimes, a woman had to make the difficult decision not to carry a child to term and she should be allowed that without screams from opponents or fear of bombs and guns shot off by the faithful. Spiritual leaders should be allowed to outwardly live like human beings in loving relationships, not forced to hide sexual urges or to leave their vocation in order to share their lives. In other words, I spent my adult life questioning the teachings of my Catholic education, and rejecting most of what I once accepted unquestioningly.

So, when Greg and I decided to get married, we knew we did not want Church sanction of the union. Greg didn’t even want the word “God” included in the ceremony, although people tend to ignore such requests and there he was, intruding on our big day. When Theodora was born, we knew we did not want a baptism. We knew she did not suffer from original sin, but was glorious in her original blessing, and so not in danger of eternal damnation. We did not want to make her a child of the church we had both rejected. So, instead, we hosted a “Welcome to the World” celebration on her 6 month birthday and invited our family and friends to introduce her to their spiritual beliefs to give her a firm grounding in the beauty of the spiritual world.  When Anya joined the family nearly two years later, we did the same.

Some family members made early efforts to introduce the girls to their faiths. Most notably, Greg’s sister with whom I would always have a difficult relationship, took the girls to Sunday Mass with her family on occasion. The girls have listened to priests talk about salvation and Christian charity. They have fidgeted in boredom during the homily, attempted to sing along with the choir, gazed around in admiration at the stained glass and statues, and already have completely rejected the Catholic faith. (Sorry Auntie, you tried.)

Yes, of course, Greg and I have a big role to play in their rejection. We talk to them honestly about what the Church stands for and their rules for living – as honestly as we can, given our own biases.  When they asked why we were not Catholic like so many other members of our family, we explained that we disagreed with many of the churches teachings. We could easily talk about the more political side of things: we think that gay marriage is right, we think that women should hold equal authority with men, we think that it is wrong to spend so much money on gold when people are starving. But the spiritual aspect has been much harder and I think we have not done a very good job explaining our case – perhaps because we are still struggling to define to ourselves what we believe in.

I won’t go into what Greg believes or doesn’t, except to make some comparisons to my own beliefs, or to describe conversations. It will be hard enough to explain what I believe, and to examine how that has impacted my daughters’ spiritual development. This will be a new strain of thought in this blog, along with the “Artifacts of a life” strain. Each new entry will include “Spiritual Atheism” in the title. Your comments are welcome.


  1. Yes, please, more explorations of this theme! (Though there are lots and lots of "slicers" who are Christians with a capital C.) I think the more diverse the conversation about faith, spirituality and ethics in this country, the better! And I know my husband and I have a road ahead of us trying to figure out how to support our own kids to live well in this crazy world... I want to hear more about what "Spiritual Atheism" means to you. :)

  2. Thank you. I'm with you on the need for diversity. I think, in the big important places where it counts, I agree with capital C Christians - the Golden Rule and all that. And I hope I never sound disrespectful of anyone's belief's even while I question actions. It's a joinery for us; we're all striving to be good.
    My daughters have been surprising spiritual guides for me. I'm really looking forward to telling some stories - and to hearing from.
    Thank you for the encouragement.