Our father who ain’t in heaven

We live in an overwhelmingly religious area. It’s not buckle-on-the-Bible-belt religious — there’s a lot more tolerance than that. But there’s a certain assumption that everybody’s generally with the god-and-church program. That program is a general monotheism in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and anybody in the ballpark gets a pass. The only time I’ve ever seen things turn nasty was when an oddball cult drifted down this way after being pushed out of Sedona by real estate prices. The 49-foot plastic statue of “mother earth” they erected was forcibly torn down after the local mouth-breathers gave enough testimony to fuel a flotilla of First Amendment lawsuits, had the group been so inclined (the cult has its own reasons for staying out of court).

Being (lukewarm) Jewish, my wife gets a pass. But as an atheist, I’m not in the ballpark. Our diverse household makes it a little more interesting not just in social interactions, but also in terms of Tony’s religious upbringing. It’s not that we dwell on religion — quite the contrary — but religious issues pop up in weird ways.

When Tony lost his beloved pink bunny, Mom quickly assured the tyke that the toy was now in heaven with God. Besides being an interesting theological innovation, this left me in a bit of a tight spot. I first conducted an impromptu funeral for the departed plush toy before later, oh-so-gently, and in unrelated circumstances letting Tony know that I don’t believe in gods or an afterlife. He doesn’t seem troubled by the revelation, and I see no reason to make a big issue out of matter.

Not making a big issue of it is important to me. For one thing, religion just doesn’t matter to me in general. I’m not going to have anybody’s zealotry jammed down my throat, but neither am I interested in belittling the sincere beliefs of perfectly nice people who just happen to hold views at odds with my own about humanity’s role in the universe. I was a bit troubled to see the tack taken by one of my wife’s medical school classmates, who is raising her sons in an area as rural as ours, but more rigidly religious. Rather than treat the enthusiastic deism of their neighbors as harmless beliefs that she just doesn’t share, she’s taken to mocking those views, and the intelligence of the people who hold them. I mean, it’s one thing to be proud and open about your beliefs; it’s a bit different to set your kids up for a religious war with everybody else.

For no good reason.

And there usually isn’t a good reason because, unless people plan to turn their views into legislation or jihad, it doesn’t need to matter to me a bit what they believe. As Thomas Jefferson said, “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” If I start looking for unnecessary confrontations with people over religious views they have no interest in foisting on me, then it’s clear that I’m the one who’s a fanatic, or else I’m just a jerk.

So I’ll raise my kid to be a religious skeptic, but respectful of other people’s beliefs. And he’ll eventually come to his own conclusions after hearing from mom, dad and his friends.

On that note, here’s Penn Jillette discussing the same topic:

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