One of the many misconceptions about atheists is that they’re immoral people raised in a culture of childhood trauma and psychological knee-jerk hatred of religion. Their lives are empty and devoid of meaning.
I hardly need to point out the errors in this argument. Of course there are atheists who, after being sexually abused by a priest have come to feel physically sick at the mention of their previous religion. This is hardly surprising. Then there are religious people, who after being sexually abused by a priest will not or cannot find the chance to escape.
We can all portray each other in whatever ways we want, that game is endless. There are a couple of important points to draw, however, from past experiences.
Your heritage and knowledge is probably the most important thing that defines you as a person. ‘They’ can take away your home, your belongings, your life but if there is one thing ‘they’ cannot take away it’s who you are. And you heritage plays an important part in this.
For better or for worse, religion is for some an important part of their heritage. I, for example, cannot feel anything other than warm, family related memories and sensations whenever I think about the Serbian Orthodox Church. There’s a very small Greek Orthodox one here in Madrid, and it’s a very cute affair, with the immigrants from all over Eastern Europe gathering en masse to chat and mix. I only really go on Christmas (7th of December) just to hear the choir sing, to smell the incense and so on.
I celebrate St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) on the 19th of December as my slava, or patron saint (in a way). The particularity of the Orthodox tradition is that you inherit your parent’s slava. Since my father was not Orthodox, I could not inherit his, so I’ve taken on my grandfather’s (on my mother’s side) one. It’s something very small, but it’s a connection to him, a homage of his memory. The actual celebration involves fasting (no eating meat nor dairies) but the food is wonderful and the whole family gathers to have a nice time. St. Nicholas himself plays a very small part, if any, in making it feel nice and warm and fuzzy.
Your heritage is crucial. If I ever have kids, I have every intention of teaching them my useless language (Serbian is only spoken by ~18 million people worldwide and it’s a sadistically cruel language, taking the worst of Russian, German and Turkish into one linguistic package) and of teaching them the traditions of celebration of Orthodox fiestas. It’s what defines my family and it’s a part of me.
There is no way in hell, however, that my (alleged) kids will ever be indoctrinated in any way. I will not force them into memorising prayers, believing in the Trinity or in the deification of Jesus. My primary concern will be to teach them to question, to engage and to think. If by the age of 18 they were to choose to adhere strictly to the tenets of the Orthodox Church, I will be powerless to stop them – nor will I want to, since they will be legally adults. But at least it will be an informed decision. This is a luxury children in religious education institutions do not have.
I do not believe in God because of the statistical impossibility for his existence, given the total lack of evidence. I do not see why Allah should be the one true God and not Ganesh or the Holy Spirit (insert x god at the beginning), if any. I cannot believe in the tenets of the Serbian Orthodox Church because most, if not all of it revolves around superstition, like in any other religion.
But I will keep true to part of what makes me who I am. Perhaps it is, as I have said before, the feeling of heritage out of hardship the Serbians have been through. Much of my heritage anyway is secular, and dependent on the characteristics of the Serbian people rather than on their Church. Yet the Church celebrations play a part in it.
There’s no reason why a prosperous American who came out of a Baptist tradition cannot call on his family for Christmas. Indeed, not wanting to call celebrations Christmas and Easter is a ridiculous form of historic revisionism which belittles the ancestry of the culture in question. Besides, people shouldn’t be concerned about Christmas being a religious affair – in this day and age, consumerism has already done the commendable job of taking religion out of Christmas already.
Don’t, however, make the fatal mistake of confusing faith with respect for heritage. You do not have to engage in the process of non-thinking that is faith in order to keep true to your roots. Keep your heritage close, but your rationality even closer.