“Atheist” is a word that I have a hard time wrapping my head around. I don’t know any other way to honestly describe myself, however.
Poor Sister Mario, would be rolling over in her grave to hear it. She was my seventh and eight grade teacher at a local Catholic school, part of my long and damaging progression through Catholic education. Abandoning Catholicism was really the beginning. It started with soccer.
My wife and I were frazzled with juggling work along with two active children and their activities. Monday through Friday it was work. Saturday was soccer all day. Somehow giving up Sunday to dragging the kids to church seemed too much. We just stopped. It had lost its meaning for us and never had been meaningful to the kids.
But I still FELT Catholic. We still went on Christmas and Easter. Then came the abuse scandals and most especially the evidence of the cover-ups. That made me feel alienated, but was not unlike anything else I had seen from any large bureaucracy. That was followed by their increasing political involvement in politics that, because of abortion, lead them to embrace the Republican party and most especially George W. Bush. The fact that some bishops encourage priests to deny communion to any supporter of John Kerry in the 2004 election, when evidence was piling up that President Bush had begun a war on false pretenses, had sanctioned torture, rendition, and other acts considered as war crimes by the United Nations and most of the civilized world suddenly made it easy to detach myself from the church.
The final straw was their strident condemnation of the LGBT community. With so many friends, family members, colleagues, and former students who are gay, I could no longer reconcile myself in any way with their teachings.
So what to do about God and religion. I find it amusing to hear people say that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. I hear bits and pieces of spiritual thought that appeals to me, but feel no need or impulse to study them or commit to a doctrine. I believe that when I die, I will die, cease to exist, eventually be forgotten. It’s OK. I’ve 60+ years of a good life. I’ll probably get another 10 or 15 more with any luck.
What gives meaning to me is the stories and the lives of my family and my students. Their courage through incredible neglect, their resilience, and the love that they share is more than enough. And then I do what retirees do to fill up the long days. I read the paper. I do yoga and walk. I garden and play guitar. Sometimes, I just sit in the sun to read. I enjoy a good beer as often as I can (and more than I should).
I know that I will live on in the memories of my children and that makes me happy. I know that I have touched the lives of hundreds of students, some of them profoundly, or so they tell me. I will live on in them. I think, or I hope, they will remember me as someone who loved them unconditionally, who strove to give them a joyful experience in the classroom, who listened when they needed to talk or to cry, who welcomed them growing into adulthood. I keep hoping one of them will name a child after me, but no one gets named “Tom” anymore. That is maybe a reach.
But it gives me more than Catholicism ever did. It is enough.