Grandmother and Religion

My father kind of freaked out earlier when I told him I was an Atheist – he asked his whole church to pray for me (in another state), which irritated me because I won’t be able to talk to any of his friends without the whole community knowing everything.That church is probably where he came up with the ideas 1) it’s a rebellious phase, and your kid might grow out of it and still go to heaven 2) your kid must have big problems in his life to have turned away from God 3) just don’t talk about it and maybe it will go away.

Our conversations are shorter now (sometimes it sounds like he wants to hang up), and there are longer gaps between them. Since him, his new wife, and his church couldn’t deal with it, he immediately told his mother.

I could tell it was an open secret though, because she randomly talks to me about things like how, “I went to Costa Rica with some missionary friends, and I took a shower except it was wired wrong. It lit on fire and I could have been electrocuted by electricity running through the water, and that’s evidence God gave me a purpose.”

I got tired of her insisting that was proof of God and not an accident, admitted my disbelief in religions, and had a four hour argument with my grandma over the phone the other day until past midnight.  It wasn’t productive, and it almost broke down midway when she told me she had a Masters degree, and that she had taught World Religions. I told her that alone wasn’t evidence to believe anything she said, and then we started accusing each other of being arrogant for a couple minutes. (Earlier she had said, “I studied it too when I was your age, and decided that of all the religions Christianity required the less rituals/work, and it’s better to exist after you die.”)

She told me she believed people who didn’t hear about God would not go to hell. (Which I disagreed on.) Then she told me about missionaries are spreading the word so people could live better lives. I told her, it would be better if they didn’t spread the word, because anyone who hears the word on a street for five minutes, and still rejects it is liable to go to hell, unlike before.

She reminded me of how we both saw her mother dying, and how religion can give a lot of comfort when people are about to die, and I didn’t disagree. Then she says isn’t it better to follow an optimistic view rather than a cynical nihilistic one? I told her it’s a matter of truth, not what makes you feel good, and would you rather believe in Santa Clause? She laughed and said Santa was for kids while I held my tongue.

She says it’s better to believe in heaven, and there’s nothing worse than not existing. I simply remind her “There’s hell.”

To her credit, she explicitly said that she’ll always be my grandmother and we shouldn’t let this separate us. Obviously she knows it’s a wedge between me and my father. And she said not to hang up the phone, which makes me think she was in less control of emotions, and had considered doing that.

My final statement was that if there is a heaven, I won’t be there since I had rejected God. Maybe thinking about her stubborn grandchild burning will eventually make her realize how fucked up hell is.

I’m supposed to meet her tomorrow too, and I’m curious about whether or how religion will come up. I wasn’t the one that brought it up on the phone either. Although I have talked about it before with her, I don’t really care about deconverting an old woman since she will probably kick the bucket in the next 10-20 years. But if she’s going to say a lot of unsound stuff around me when she knows my views, I might as well correct some fallacies, and learn about how her generation thinks.

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3 thoughts on “Grandmother and Religion

  1. I’m curious–did anything happen the next day? It’s tough when older relatives find out about your lack of belief. I’ve found they have a harder time accepting it. I’m trying to avoid telling my grandparents, but especially my godmother because religion is such a huge part of her life and she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed so it would be very hard to reason with her.

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    1. No, unfortunately we haven’t talked about religion even though we’ve met twice since then, and I might have created a new taboo topic. I have no idea what is going through her mind, but I don’t want to bring up religion if she’s not ready to talk about it, since that could give the impression I’m trying to deconvert her. She might keep thinking that way though, or wonder if I’m trying to show off that I’ve read more about religion than her. It would be awkward if the years passed in silence, and then she tried to convert me on her deathbed. My other Grandmother asked me to promise to be nice to my mother ten minutes before she died, which is the ultimate guilt trip, and of course you’ll tell a dying person whatever lie they want to hear.

      Old age makes people sensitive when they find out the knowledge they pride themselves in is surpassed or forgotten. Even if she had read more about religion than me in her youth, I can tell when she confuses “the book of Job” with “the parable of the Rich fool” that old age has made her forget things, and by virtue of a younger mind I probably at least have a clearer grasp of the details. Nonetheless, she’s the type that would probably resent being corrected for a factual mistake, especially since I’m younger than her, and in her mind should definitely know less.

      If I have an interesting conversation, I’ll follow up with a Part 2, but I don’t plan on ruining Thanksgiving dinner over my lack of beliefs either. That is why I let her lead in prayer in her own house, as she thanks God for giving her the food she just spent 30 minutes procuring.

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