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Looking back…and it’s about time (2 of 2)

Guest column by Becca McGowan

[Back to Part 1]

I don’t think there is a God; but I wish there was one.

There it is. I said it.

I had never actually said this to anyone until my seven-year-old daughter asked me point-blank, “Mom, do you believe in God?” It had been easy to avoid a concrete answer up to that point because virtually all religious conversations in our home were between Dale and the kids. I was content to listen during family discussions and participate only in the easy parts: Everybody believes different things…the bible is filled with stories that teach people…we should learn about other people’s beliefs…we should keep asking questions so we can decide what we think…those were the easy parts. I told myself that I was still thinking about it.

The problem is that deep down, I had already decided. And I had decided that God was not real. God was created from the human desire to explain what we didn’t understand. God was an always-supportive father figure, able to get us through difficult times when human fathers were insufficient. I now believed what I had only toyed with in Mr. Tresize’s high school mythology class: A thousand years from now, people will look back on our times and say, “Look, back then the Christian myth held that there was one God and that his son became man…”

But wait a minute! This can’t be! Did I actually say this out loud to my daughter?! I am a GOOD person. I am a KIND person. I help OTHERS. As I left for school each day as a little girl, my mother always said, “Remember, you are a Christian young lady.” That’s who I AM!

Now, here I was, a mother, encouraging my children to keep asking questions, keep reading, keep talking with others. I want my children to think and learn. Then, I tell them, decide for yourself.

But had I ever asked questions about religion? Had I ever read about religion or talked with others? Had I actually decided for myself? No. I became a church-attending Christian as a way to rebel against my stepfather. I hadn’t thought about it for a day in my life.

Flash back eight years, driving home from church in our minivan, when Dale said to me, “I just can’t go to church anymore.” I was devastated.

I continued to attend church on my own for a couple of years. I also began reading Karen Armstrong’s In the Beginning. And I began to think about why I believed. The more I read and talked and debated, the more I realized that my belief was based on my label as a “Christian young lady.” My belief was based on uniting with my mother against my stepfather.

I now consider myself a secular humanist, someone who believes that there is no supernatural power and that as humans, we have to rely on one another for support, encouragement and love. Looking at religious ideas and asking questions, thinking and talking and then finally coming to the realization that I was a secular humanist—that was not the difficult part. Breaking away from the expectations and dysfunctions of my family of origin has proven to be the real and ongoing challenge.

BECCA McGOWAN is a first grade teacher. She holds a BA in Psychology from UC Berkeley and a graduate teaching certificate from UCLA. She lives with her husband Dale and three children in Atlanta, Georgia.



This was written on Thursday, 14. August 2008 at 08:21 and was filed under belief and believers, My kids, myths, nonbelief and nonbelievers, Parenting, values. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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Comments »

  1. For Betsy and myself as well, breaking away from the expectations of family is by far the hardest part. Thank you for sharing.


    Comment: jcornelius – 14. August 2008 @ 10:30 am

  2. […] a mother, encouraging my children to keep asking questions, keep reading, keep talking with others. I want my children to think and learn. Then, I tell them, decide for yourself. But had I ever asked … . . .Had I actually decided for myself? […]

    Pingback: One Thinking Mom: Beyond Belief, About Belief « Cocking A Snook! – 14. August 2008 @ 10:53 am

  3. Thank you for sharing, Becca!! It has been great hearing from you. Hope you have time to do more in the future!

    That moment when we ask ourselves why we believe something is such a difficult one. It’s startling to realize we’re going through the motions because something besides belief prompted them in the first place and we just never stopped to question why we should be motioning in the first place. For me, realizing that it hadn’t really been my choice in the beginning allowed me the freedom to ask the questions. I’m not sure I would have been able to do that if I wasn’t at a physical distance from religious family and friends, though.

    I wonder if you felt a bit like I did when my husband first said, “What if the Bible isn’t true?” Quite the freeze-frame moment!!

    Comment: ondfly123 – 14. August 2008 @ 11:02 am

  4. It’s always interesting for me to hear “deconversion” stories, as so many are so similar to my husband’s. The line about whether you had actually decided for yourself is key.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your family with us!

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 14. August 2008 @ 9:47 pm

  5. My wife has very similar beliefs as you do. She is an atheist, but hopeful. For awhile she was spiritual, but not religious, and then mostly agnostic. I asked her what she believed in that made her agnostic vs an atheist, not for me, but for herself. Maybe a week later she came up to me and said, very shakily, “I’m an atheist”. She then let out a big sigh of relief, and told me that she still hoped very much that there was a happy loving god somewhere, she just didn’t see the evidence for him anywhere. Thanks for sharing. Do you have a blog of your own?

    Comment: boonxeven – 17. August 2008 @ 6:52 am

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  7. Loved your post. My wife is somewhere in the middle of her journey from faith to reason – not quite willing to let go of her long-held convictions.
    When I decided to stop going to church, it was one of the toughest things for her.


    Comment: ATL-Apostate – 19. August 2008 @ 11:07 am

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  9. Loved your post! I am raising a 6 year old girl in Atlanta surrounded by devoted Christians. My mother was Catholic and did her best to raise us in the Catholic church. I always considered myself very lucky to have a skeptic father in the background saying things like “Doesn’t evolution make much more sense?”. I started calling myself agnostic during college when studying about the Spanish Inquisition. A little bit of Pascal’s Wager on my part, I think.

    But when my daughter was 5 she wouldn’t let the conversation end with a “Well, no one really knows honey!” She demanded to know the meaning of life. This was compounded when a (well meaning) neighbor kid warned her about the dangers of hellfire and damnation if you didn’t pray. I realized that I had neglected her education and needed to teach her about all world religions and what to expect from the Christian community.

    Off I went on an odyssey of discovery with Dawkins, Hitchens, and (thankfully) McGowen! Now I don’t have any qualms telling my daughter that God is pretend but that she must respect other’s beliefs and demand respect from them. I love having this blog to help sort through the secular parenting pitfalls!

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