O Faithless Daughter, I Believe in You
“Mama, I think I’m an atheist,” my 14-year-old daughter said.
“What is your definition of an atheist?” I asked.
“Someone who does not believe in God,” she said.
“Well, are you familiar with the term agnostic?” I began, wanting to clarify whether she felt more atheist-y or agnostic-y. Then I paused, realizing that I wasn’t convinced that fundamental differences exist between an atheist and agnostic. I’m not convinced either are all that different from a “believer” either. Who doesn’t hope for a better world?
I had cycled through all categories of belief and unbelief many times in my life. That loop has been on frantic repeat during particularly challenging seasons. I have also existed within “all of the above” at the same time.
To steal a partial quote from the Doctor of Doctor Who, the brainy part of faith is “like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.” The more we try to rationalize or prove it, the more confusing it becomes.
Perhaps I had failed to fuel my daughter’s imagination with my current view of God -- the one who walked the earth, ate meals with those outside the religious cliques, dared to touch the untouchables and warmly welcomed those bold enough to approach him and humbly say “I need . . .”
I had failed to spark this God of Love into a bright flame that burned away the God of Law and Judgment our local church so kindly and gently teaches. I had believed that our way of living was enough to overcome the teachings of our more conservative church.
“I am sorry,” I told her. “I should have moved us from our old church much sooner.”
Perhaps I had failed. But perhaps not.
My daughter doesn’t believe that God lovingly chooses to save some people and sends others to an eternal burning torment?
My daughter does not understand why God would destroy all life on earth?
My daughter is not willing to be comfortable with a God who doesn’t seem to mind when his people violently kill to take what they want or a God who appears to command the slaughter of innocents?
My daughter thinks this apparently-critical-to-one’s-salvation Westminster Confession is hard to read, more difficult to understand and suspects the great reverence shown for it is mumbo-jumbo hooey?
I couldn’t agree more.
My daughter is not interested in forcing people to be like her, but she helps her little sister with chores, even when she suspects that girl is evading her Mama-given duties.
My daughter refuses to pray aloud in the prescribed fashion at church, but she sits with the irritating kid in dance class because she intuits the girl is lonely and needs a friend.
My daughter doesn’t read her Bible every day, but she does want to serve at the soup kitchen.
The church failed to indoctrinate my girl. Her “atheism” is a rejection of the brand of God the church sells, the one that shouts People must believe as we do, think as we do, live as we do or they are not worthy of love or a helping hand. It is a rejection of the politics of exclusion and hate. She recognizes anti-Jesus sentiment, even when it is couched in “reason” and pretty phrases.
My daughter may not have the brainy part of faith figured out (who does, anyway?), but she quietly reflects Jesus.
Many Christians profess creeds and proclaim God with their lips while stepping past the hungry, guarding their borders against imagined criminals, hoarding resources, giving only what they want to those who somehow prove to be “deserving.”
So when my girl says “I’m not sure God exists” or “I don’t believe in God,” and yet, with her words, her attention, her actions, she walks in the Way of Jesus, I applaud her.
Faith, Unfaith, Doubt are not mutually exclusive, static states. We move through them or they move through us and can exist within us at the same time. Perhaps always existing in us at the same time, just in different degrees.
To my daughter, I say . . .
If your faith was the exact same brand, shape and color as mine, it would be dangerous for my ego. I am 48 years old. It has taken years of struggle and searching and setbacks for me to arrive at this place. I cannot expect you to jump over all the winding bends in your road. You have different sights to see, different experiences to live, different pains and joys. At times, our faith paths may intersect (I hope so!). Sometimes, I will be in the valley while you are on the mountaintop. Other times, I will walk in the sun while you are in the dark wood of the soul.
Keep listening to the Spirit of Jesus that is already moving you in word and deed. I believe that what you call atheism, my dear, is the Holy Spirit whispering “Run” and “Turn away” from the church or person who promises they will show you the way to salvation.
You have already been wise enough to do that.
I believe in you, Daughter.