I am going to get a little personal here today and as I begin this post even I have no real concept of where it will end up. I guess we'll have to see when we get there.
I posted a link on my Facebook page this past Sunday to a very short video of an Easter basket which I gave to my partner a couple of years ago. (I posted the same link on Sunday's post on this blog if you wish to check it out.) The basket is a lamb which says "Happy Easter! Baaaa... Baaaa..." when you press on its front hoof. As a salutation with that video, I posted...well, I posted exactly what the "lamb" says in the video. Well, my goodness - you'd think I had completely tarnished the entire 2000-year history of Christianity to read the comments from one of my family members.
There was a little back-and-forth (I've removed the comments in case you go there looking for them) and ultimately this family member told me he "pitied" me for being a non-believer. I still don't really know what I did wrong; perhaps it was in wishing everyone a "Happy Easter" without then going on to talk about the tale behind this particular Christian holiday. Perhaps I was a little too gleeful about my visit from the Easter Bunny. Who can tell? All I know is this attack came right out of left field as I had no idea that this particular family member had become so theistic - and, apparently, militantly so - over time.
So I wrote to him and asked him what, exactly, had prompted this sudden impulse to attempt to embarrass me for my free thinking in front of my Facebook friends and extended family. In this email I laid out all of the beliefs and tenets that are fundamental to my philosophy of life and I think I nailed it pretty well. I told him I thought it was quite rude and unacceptable to try to "shame" me on a public thread on my personal FB timeline. I asked why he had chosen that particular thread to become involved in rather than my myriad other posts on sports, animals, interesting news or even this blog's existence. What I received as an answer shocked me.
"...if you don't want ridicule, PLEASE stop referring to Easter or Christmas since you don't believe in them."
And I thought, now hang on a second: is this a popular opinion? After 2 millennia of having Christian holidays shoved down our throats whether we like it or not is it really appropriate or even fair to now be told to stop talking about them if you're not Christian? That seems quite wrong to me.
For the record, I don't even know if it's quite accurate to say I don't believe in "Christmas", per se. To paraphrase - ok, outright rip off - Voltaire: "If Christmas did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it". I am an atheist; however, I still consider myself to be a very spiritual person and what I enjoy most about the Christmas season is the chance to have one time a year set aside to be with family and loved ones; to tell them how much they mean to me; to celebrate a common bond and spirit; to relax and get away from all other worldly pursuits if only for a day or two. I think the Winter Solstice in North America is as good a time as any for this celebration and I embrace the "spirit of the season" as much as anyone. The fact that I don't take it any farther than that should not preclude me from enjoying the warm wishes of those who are devout Christians. If an "International Drop Everything, Close all the Stores and Spend Three Days with your Family" festival took place every year in March instead, well then I would observe that time with the same fervour.
Now, before anyone reading this stops following me forever, let me say this: I do not wish to cast aspersions here on the beliefs of others. That was not the point of this post. My beliefs should in no way interfere with your beliefs...but also vice versa. I just want to be sure we're all cool with this. Ok? Good. Moving on...
The real point here, for me, is the fact that a close family member first told me he "pitied" me for being an atheist, then told me the only away to avoid being "ridiculed" by him was to stop talking about Easter or Christmas from a non-Christian point of view.
And that, to me, is so fundamentally wrong that I almost couldn't believe I had read it.
I have, through necessity for myriad reasons I do not wish to share here, cut off all ties with my mother. I am not proud of this; but neither am I dismayed by it. It simply is what it is. I have had many "surrogate" mothers over the years, including the moms of my closest friends and those of both my ex-wife and my current partner. All of them were wonderful women who filled the gap very nicely over the years. But over time I have had to come up with my own definition of "family" because the example set for me was so uninspiring.
I believe "family" to be those people who love and respect you unconditionally regardless of your personal philosophy, your station in life or your past mistakes. Because this is what I believe, incidentally, my family is quite broad and most of it is not flesh-and-blood - quite the opposite of that cartoon at the top of this post. I am lucky in that way, but it wasn't easy getting to that point of awareness.
One thing I am very, very certain of, though: the role of family is never, ever to "ridicule" you publicly (or even threaten to do so) for not sharing their belief system - or, truly, for any reason whatsoever. I have made - and will continued to make - many errors in the raising of my two children; however, I do not feel at any point in our lives that they thought they couldn't come to me with a problem for fear of me turning my back on them or shaming them. Am I saying this boastfully? No. I feel that it is the bare minimum that any child should be able to expect from his or her parents. Unconditional parental love. It should be the only universal certainty. Have they disappointed me? Yes, but I have done the same to them - it's a two-way street. But nothing should ever change what "family" and "home" mean to them.
If you are completely opposed to my belief system or are equally horrified to discover I "celebrate" Easter (how can you avoid it in Canada?) without believing in God: that's fine, you are entitled to your opinion. I don't wish to debate it here. But if you have a different opinion on the true meaning of "family" then by all means share it with me in the comments.
Phew. Ok, that wasn't as bad as I thought it might turn out. It had to be written, though, because the tension of the past two days has kept me from having even one creative impulse and it was necessary for me to exorcize those demons here. Thanks for listening. Here is your reward:
Addie: part of my "true" family!