I am an atheist. I do not believe in a god, or any gods. I do not believe in life after death or heaven or hell. I definitely do not believe in organised religion and the power it possesses in our world.
I was raised a catholic. I use the term “raised” lightly here – I attended catholic schools and we went to mass once a week and at Christmas and Easter but I certainly wouldn’t have put our nuclear family in the hardcore basket. I always had my doubts about the whole thing (cemented by being chastised by a teacher when I was about eight for asking our Bishop during a school visit why girls couldn’t be alter people!). After I left school and moved away to go to uni the catholic phase petered out for me and I treated the whole issue with benign neglect. That was until I started to work with victims of abuse by the catholic church in my professional role as a social worker and mental health clinician. My attitude turned from “couldn’t care less” to one of loathing and anger. My partner and I hold very similar strong views and we have recently made a decision to completely boycott all catholic institutions. We feel strongly that our young daughter will have no involvement with organised religion of any kind – until a time comes when she may make a decision for herself that is different to our own. This is a strong principle and belief for me that was recently challenged in a big way.
My partner’s 89 year old grandmother died two weeks ago after a very short illness. Her health had been deteriorating for quite a while now, especially since the death of her beloved husband almost 3 years ago, but I don’t believe any of us ever thought that long and hard about her death. In many ways she seemed indestructible. Grandma’s two passions in life were her family and the catholic church. Neither were fallible in her belief. Her funeral was held in her local church – the church she had attended all of her married life and the church where her own husband’s funeral had been held not all that long ago.
And so I had a decision to make – stick by my principles and boycott the funeral of a woman who I held in strong regard, or pay my respects and feel like I was letting my own belief system down. Those people close to me will know what a difficult decision this was. But in the end it was the photo at the start of this post that made up my mind for me. The photo is of Grandma with my little Sweet Pea on her first Christmas. Grandma loved my daughter, and her other grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with delight and joy. They brought so much happiness and comfort to her, she constantly asked after them and wanted them to be brought to her for visits. This photo is, for me, just one example of how much love this woman had for my daughter – I feel that I owed her for that. Even if it meant going inside a catholic church.