Growing up there was a picture of JFK in my mother’s living room, just under Pope John Paul II. The rest of the room was festooned in statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus with arms spread wide. It was a working class Irish-American Catholic household. And in the days before the internet, widespread atheism and demise of papal infallibility regarding matters of female reproduction, families like mine swelled with ranks of unwanted progeny. I’m one of eight children.
My father couldn’t pull out of a driveway.
The church had a pretty sweet arrangement. It empowered the men to keep the women in check, the men kept the pubs thriving and the parishes kept up the illusion that church attendance is vital to salvation. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the collection basket.
Feed it. Good. Repeat.
In families like mine, holidays are usually an occasion for everyone to get together and have a good old fashioned drunken guffaw. We razz each other over our shortcomings. We toast to our dead. We lambast our exes and rail against the establishment. Politicians are vetted in the parlor. And where other families might make no allowances for the dismissive tonality of impassioned arguments and the derision it breeds, ours takes it in stride.
Nothing is sacred.
Sure, people have genuine differences of opinion. For instance, my Aunt Mary is a real teetotaler. She’s a curt Secular Franciscan who hasn’t touched a drop of booze in eons and has never smoked pot – or at least inhaled the shit. My Marxist cousin Joe on the other hand, well, has smoked enough weed to put a meaningful dent in the ozone.
Oh, he feels the Bern alright.
But in the grand scheme of things, the fact that Joe voted for Sanders in the primary because he feels there’s a better chance of national legalization of marijuana under a President Sanders isn’t going to cause a family schism. Sure, he smokes so much weed that when he exhales it looks like there’s a new pope, but Auntie Mary still loves him.
Home from Galway this past Christmas, another cousin and I had a civil, two hour religious discussion about the improbability of Iron Age desert tribesmen producing mankind’s super-truths in a handy dandy book. And taking the clichéd atheistic stance, I told her that I think all religions are evil because their main goal is to subjugate people and appropriate their ability to think for themselves.
Not that people would think for themselves if religion ceased to exist. They’d just follow something or someone else.
My cousin disagreed with my self-avowed atheism and took exception to my sarcasm, but it was a more or less respectful conversation. And not realizing the futility of cosmic intervention, she’ll probably pray for me.
But I feel for her. She’s neither stupid nor crazy. She’s just hedging her bets against the possibility of eternal damnation by forcing herself to operate within the prefabricated confines of something that appears to be a total farce. I don’t even think it matters to her if she really believes in a supreme being or thinks it’s all hooey, so long as she puts in some effort. So we agree to disagree.
I don’t believe in an afterlife, but my lack of belief isn’t a driving force in my life. When I brush my teeth in the morning, I don’t look in the mirror and tell myself, “Mwahaha, what another lovely godless day this will be!”
Of course, it will be, and I’ll have more fun than someone who strictly adheres to a religion, but I don’t feel compelled to remind myself of what a carefree life I lead.
I’m not that insecure.