by nikki meredith
When I was in elementary school, I had a secret: my parents didn’t believe in god. This was a source of anxiety for me because in the 1950’s everyone went to church. Everyone except my parents and their heathen friends. I wasn’t totally left out of the religious experience, however. Though they didn’t believe in god, they wanted me exposed to all sides of all issues, so they enrolled me in an after school bible class. That made things worse. The teacher illustrated stories from the bible on a felt board. The image that made the biggest impression on me was a tableau of a kindly Jesus Christ administering to lepers. My parents didn’t administer to lepers so I concluded that people who believed in Christ and hence in God were kinder, gentler, in short, of better character. Consequently, I kept my parents’ atheism securely in the closet.
At some point along the way I noticed that my parents, in spite of their godlessness, seemed to be guided by compassion and integrity in their work and in their personal lives. They didn’t nurse lepers, I don’t think they even knew any, but they were committed to social and economic justice. I have no doubt that my father’s Jesuit education contributed to these beliefs just as my maternal grandmother’s activism – she was a feminist, an anarchist and a protégé of Emma Goldman’s — informed my mother’s world view. At a later point, I also realized that a lot of religious people were capable of doing very bad things to other human beings. Read the rest of this entry »