DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

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