Resisting being jerked around

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You thought I was done with Christopher Bigelow's post, but I was only taking a little breather. After declaring that it's probably too late for him to change his ways anyway, even if he wanted a new lifestyle, he makes this judgment:

And it sounds like Bill's dad was a real jerk, so he's got more of an excuse than I do to reject his parents' lifestyle....  [full post]
I have a lot of complicated responses to this. First is regret at the realization that I probably haven't done a good enough job in public at pointing out that my father was not only a jerk while I was growing up. He was sometimes kind, loving, and supportive. He was independent and often questioned authority. He was smart, though he tended to downplay that and fall back on received wisdom and kneejerk responses, and he was unfailingly discliplined, hard-working, and generous. He was also argumentative to a fault, controlling, and psychologically abusive, and his temper was severe. He correction could be violent, but physically it was only ever targeted at our scrawny behinds. He tended to spank first and never ask questions later (though he had pretty much stopped corporal punishment entirely by the time my youngest sisters were growing up). Admitting when he was wrong was not a strength. He did, however, teach me many invaluable lessons, the one I've taken most to heart being one he probably didn't intend—how to think for myself and make up my own mind about what I believe.

He's a complicated man, and he set a lot of contradictory examples for me. Most of all, he was a distinctive individual in sea of conformity. It would have been impossible for me not to have rejected his lifestyle in some way; in fact, rejection was exactly what we were taught. We were encouraged to become whatever we wanted to be (though doctor and lawyer were pushed harder than any other profession), so long as we didn't become teachers like he was. (Inevitably, at least one sibling did exactly that.)

We could argue all day about whether or not my rejection of Mormonism was a direct rejection of my father (and I would say that was only a small component of it), but it remains a fact that I lived a more rigorous Mormon lifestyle, by conscious choice, than practically anyone else I knew right up through the age of about 20. I tried to live like I believed the tenets, even while I fought private doubts that extended all the way back to age four or five (well before I could have made sense of the idea of rebelling against my parents). And still, it wasn't until nearly the age of 28 that I finally made the decision that much of my misery derived from clinging to a set of spiritual beliefs that contradicted what I had come to know about the world intellectually.

If that was a rejection of my parents' lifestyle, then it was also a rejection of the lifestyles of practically everyone I knew. I had no lack of good, kind, loving, generous teachers and friends growing up. I sacrificed many of those connections when I left the church, and it hurt. We have our differences today, but I remain on good terms with my parents. They may wish I'd return to the church, my father probably more tenaciously than my mother, but they haven't rejected me, and I haven't rejected them. They could not be more warm or welcoming to my lapsed Catholic and unlapsed Christian wife. We had our hard years after I left the church, but through love, work, and forgiveness we still manage to act like family.

I hope none of this sounds like an attack on Chris, who is one of the more tolerant and open-minded Mormons I know (a statement that could certainly be read as damning with faint praise). I also know this discussion is not explicitly about religion versus atheism, but it leads me directly to thoughts about the assumptions, both explicit and implicit, that religious people tend to bring to their mental portraits of atheists. That discussion, however, will have to wait a few days, until I have time to take on Ben Stein.

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This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on November 7, 2007 11:29 AM.

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