Friday, August 5, 2011

Why do you want to hurt your family?

Dear Brother Sam,
I know that no matter what greeting I use, you’ll change it to “Dear Brother Sam,” so I’m sticking it here in the middle where it’s harder for you to change. Dear Sam, I refuse to address or refer to you as “Brother,” as we are biologically cousins, not siblings, and you are not my brother in the Lord, either. So I won’t say it. Here’s my question. Why do you want to hurt your family and the ones who have always loved you? I am leaving off the closing, too, as I know how you’ll just tack “Love, Brother Palmer Singleton" on anyway. Like an idiot.  
Brother Palmer Singleton

Dear Brother Palmer,
I realize that your question is personal, but it bears on something I’ve heard from a number of atheists, as well as on my own experience, how estrangement, or more accurately, osctracization from family has been a consequence of outspoken atheism. Like me, they tell of coming from a close family. They describe how for years they tolerated the relentless unfairness of being expected to accept without comment all manner of religious talk, of knowing that they were not equally at liberty to express their own ideas and values and convictions. They talk of sucking it up in the interest of harmony, in the interest of maintaining relations with those they love, notwithstanding matters of belief. It’s a familiar story, all right. Finally, they speak out, but not directly to their family. They speak publicly. By and by their family gets wind of it. And ties are severed. The atheist has said nothing derogatory to or about anybody in the family. There has been no falling out, no exchange of harsh words. The affront is to the believing family members’ fantasy life, to their purely selfish interest in their own riches after death. They love that nonsense more than they love their own kin. Goddamn that stinks.
Brother Sam