an atheist in church (awkward)

I am an atheist. It is just the way I was raised, and it makes sense to me. I try to be tolerant of all religions, though, because I was also raised to be kind. As long as you don’t hurt anyone, I’ll let you believe whatever you like in peace (try to do the same, please?).

The problem is… church.

485px-Cargese_Greek_Church_Three_HierarchsMy husband is Greek Orthodox, and when we got engaged the church threatened to ex-communicate him if he married me unless I got baptized. So I did it. I stood in church and lied and let them pour water and oil over me so I could marry him. It meant nothing to me  (atheist, remember?) and it was mostly in Greek so I really just stood there all wet and greasy and nodded.

But now we have kids. And I agreed to let them be baptized, so sometimes we have to go to church. I was there this past weekend, because my daughter had a poem in Greek she’d memorized and she was going to stand up and read it with the other Greek school kids. And the whole time I’ve got this panicky inner dialogue going: What is she saying? What are they teaching her? Am I scarring her for life? Will she believe in ‘God’ now?

See, as tolerant as I am…. I kind of want her to be an atheist, like me.  Because I consider my lack of religion a gift from my mother. I don’t need to be told what is right, I know what is right. I don’t need to go to a building and pay dues to be righteous or forgiven, I live beyond the concept of ‘sin’. I don’t ask some higher power to help me or to save me, I take responsibility for my own life and actions. And I want my children to know these freedoms as well.

But rejecting the church would mean rejecting so much, for my kids. It’s not just religion- it’s culture, language, family, community. My kids love to dance in their ethnic costumes during the Greek festival, to hang out with other kids who don’t think there’s anything wrong with finding a lamb & tzatziki sandwich in your lunchbox, to learn Greek words and eat blood-red easter eggs.  So for now, we treat church as a cultural experience and not a religious one. They don’t go to sunday-school, and we rarely go to services. My husband’s family seems satisfied with that, and it hasn’t been so bad. Mostly. But I still have my reservations about the whole thing.

This weekend, sitting in church (in the midst of my oh-no-is-she-really-buying-this? panic), I recalled a conversation I overheard between my daughter and her non-Greek friend (whose family is pretty religious) one day this winter, and it made me feel so much better:

her friend (asking out of the clear blue, by the way): hey, you love jesus, right?

my kid: cheez-its? yeah I LOVE cheez-its!

her friend: no! (laughing) not cheez-its, JEE-ZUS.

my kid: uum…uh… yeah… I guess, sure.. but you love cheez-its, too, right?

her friend: yeah! cheez-its are awesome!

So maybe I have nothing to worry about, after all.

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