Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Faith

I've always considered myself to be quite empathetic and therefore non-judgmental of other people's choices. That's not to say I won't make fun of you for watching The Bachelor or for wearing crocs, but I'm just kidding around. As long as what you're doing involves consenting adults and doesn't spread violence or hate, we're all good.

So it came as a surprise as I was wandering around Pinterest this weekend to realize a slow, steady pulse of fury was building through my veins. Over and over I saw pins with the same, earnest refrain: God's answers are wiser than our prayers. What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.  Faith in God includes faith in his timing. God is in control.

For the first time since my conversion to atheism, I felt angry with Christians rather than their beliefs. When exactly is the right time for your child to be gunned down? When does that dead baby become a blessing? It disgusted me that people would respond to a tragedy with words that seemed at best insensitive, and at worst cruel in their passivity. Where believers saw faith, I saw blind resignation and an insulting attempt to minimize someone else's life-shattering tragedy.

After closing my Pinterest screen, I didn't want to see or read anything more about Newtown, but as the weekend wore on I found I couldn't stop thinking about it. I wanted so badly to find a way to support the grieving families, but what could anyone say or do that would ease their pain? It felt disrespectful to pretend it hadn't happened, and I realized I wanted to know the names of the victims and their stories, because the least we could do for their families was listen to them speak about their lost little one.

As I cried through the articles and videos, I came across a statement by Robbie Parker, whose six-year-old daughter Emilie died in the shooting. In the midst of his emotional description of his daughter's talents and bright smile were these words: “I don’t know how to get through something like this...We find strength in our religion and in our faith and in our family.”

With that, I stopped judging. God may not exist for me, but in this moment I am so thankful he does for one grieving father.

56 comments:

  1. I think the most important thing that we can do in the wake of this tragedy is to let those 26 families grieve in the way that works for them. Grief is its own animal, and is definitely not a one size fits all proposition. I, too, am thankful that God exists for Robbie Parker, and I am thankful for whatever, or whoever, is helping the rest of the families pick up the pieces of their shattered hearts.

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    1. So true that grief is not one size fits all, and maybe that's part of what bothered me...the tone that God or a positive attitude could cover the whole range of grief experienced by these parents.

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  2. Really moving post Azara. I would not be turning to God during type of tragedy. I'd turn farther away, like you. But I am glad that others find comfort. I just can't make sense of God in this context. I see no explanation for such horror. I also love that you point out it's the least we can do to read about these beautiful children. Initially I looked away, but you are right - it honors them more to hear their stories.

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    1. I see no explanation either, but if a family's faith brings them comfort right now, I'm glad for that.

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  3. I think a lot of the faith stuff is to do with having the knowledge that God has ultimate authority. There is NEVER a good time to have children gunned down - it's common sense, but to have faith in a God who is big enough, strong enough and ultimately who can sort out the mess people make of others' lives by their terrible decisions and behaviour whilst still allowing free will for all, is one I think is worth believing in. Not to mention a God who demands justice, whose nature is justice, but who operates with compassion and love. It's a big concept but not trite. You're right about the insensitivity though - it's a shame when it happens.

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    1. I don't think people mean to be insensitive. But imagine if you replaced the word "God" in the italicized statements with "The Great Kazoo" and you see how it comes across to someone who doesn't believe in God or have a strong faith.

      My whole conversion to atheism started when I realized I didn't believe free will was worth the price being paid by innocents. It said something about the nature of God that I had a big problem with, and in the end I didn't believe he even existed. Sometimes I think I believe that because it's less frightening than believing he does exist, but allows these things to happen just so we can make a free choice to worship him.

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  4. I do not believe that these children being gunned down was part of God's plan. God may have plans in a large sence, I do not believe God is in charge of every event that takes place in our lives...God is a macro-planner, not a micro planner...in the large scale of his plan all evils will be reconciled...at least that is how I would interpret those words.

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    1. I wish I could believe there was this level of justice in the world.

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  5. This is a really great and meaningful post. As a Christian, there are a few things I want to say:
    -I think your last sentence is very profound.
    -I hope that you and everyone else never really takes too much from what another regular human being says, Christian or not. Christians are just as flawed as anyone else and for someone who does want to be a Christian and have a relationship with God, really the only thing you can trust in is scripture- not some imperfect human. :)
    -Robbie Parker is an amazingly strong person. I really look up to him, as he is able to find encouragement in this horrific situation.
    -I think when Christians say these "comforting" things, they sometimes don't think about what they are REALLY saying, but just repeating things they've heard before. So I can see how it comes off in a different way. At the same time, I don't think (and I hope) that anyone really means that this will turn into a "blessing" really, but just a reminder that God is there through the good and bad and there will be brighter days.

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    1. It's true - I believe people mean to be comforting but their perception is so filtered by faith in God that they don't realize how it sounds to someone who doesn't have this faith.

      I take your point about not relying too much on the interpretations of others. For me, reading scripture only heightened my concerns and doubts rather than lessening them. But certainly that's where you should look to determine what you believe.

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  6. Oh, and a couple more things that came to mind (not that I am trying to make a point, just thoughtful things I've heard):
    -On one of my favorite tv shows (off the air now), the characters were having a discussion about God and man. They were paramedics and one said "you drive this ambulance every day and see all this crap we see, and all these horrors... How can you still believe in God?" and the other character replies, "I think the question is, how can you believe in man?" I thought that was also very profound.
    -A couple years ago I heard something that I didn't realize until that point but is so true: God never promised to make the problems "go away," or to totally take away strife in our lives; what He promised was to HELP and CARRY us through them, or in other words provide a way for us to deal.
    Just thought I'd share :)

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Holly. That is a great quote and I would say I believe in neither God nor man. It's a pretty depressing state of affairs.

      My fundamental issue with the second point has always been that I can't reconcile the concept of a pure and holy being tolerating the kind of atrocities that happen in the world. There is no justification adequate to me to excuse these things happening, which leads me to believe that either God is not pure and holy, or that he doesn't exist at all.

      I took great comfort growing up in the thought that there was a Jesus who loved me. It saddens me not to have that now. I would love to believe that those children are in heaven. Thinking about them just being gone forever is almost unbearable.

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  7. I love how you chart your shift from one perspective to the next. I've struggled with these questions too- thanks for voicing this so clearly.

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    1. Those sayings still bother me, but for the most part are intended to be comforting, and it seems they are for some families. So while I could go off on a big philosophical debate about the concepts behind each saying, right now I'm just glad they bring someone comfort.

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  8. I think you're right. It isn't so much Christians' beliefs that anger me as these pat sayings you mentioned.

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    1. These kinds of sayings in response to tragedy made me mad even when I was a Christian. Not surprising they bother me even more now.

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  9. Great post, Azara. I was having similar feelings about my Facebook news feed after the shooting.

    I don't need religion, but I understand why other people do. It's their whole "God has a plan" argument that I don't want to hear. Everything does not happen for a reason.

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    1. Ugh, Facebook. I'm on the verge of deleting a few people due to their aggravating posts. I'm all for having an honest and respectful debate of beliefs but Facebook really does not lend itself to that. Like Larks said, it tends to turn into a Jerry Springer-like online brawl.

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  10. Totally agree with this. I don't find comfort in religion, but I'm glad it's there for people as a way to find comfort for themselves. It's when people say things like Change the Topic's FB friend (another yeahwrite post) that I get laser-eyes and wish I could find the energy to remind people of all the atrocities made in gods' names. Just about all of them.

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    1. Yes! I was so glad to read Change the Topic's post and discover I wasn't the only one who took exception to these things. A good friend of mine is a Christian and persists in posting fairly extreme views on Facebook in the form of bumper stickers and the like. She actually posted that exact saying that Change the Topic was referring to right after I wrote my post yesterday. I was not impressed.

      She needs a blog where she has space to flesh out her thoughts and have a discussion, or just rant where people can choose not to listen. Facebook statements tend to start an undignified fight rather than a real conversation, and I'm tired of getting pissed off every time I see my news feed.

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  11. I'm so happy with the ending of this post. Tolerance and patience with each other, despite our differences of opinions (and there are MANY flying around!) is what we all need. There was a shooting in a nearby town yesterday that stemmed from an argument over the CT shooting. Emotions are high with everyone, and even when we don't agree with each other, we need to be respectful. You've achieved that beautifully here. Thank you. :)

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    1. Exactly. It's hard not to sink into personal attacks when we feel so passionately about such important topics. But underneath it most people want the same things - peace, safety, love - and recognizing that has been one positive from my Christian upbringing. The idea of "hate the sin, love the sinner" is one that doesn't come naturally to me, so it's good I've had a long time to practice. Even though my definition of sins and sinners has made quite a change.

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  12. As a Christian I would agree with just about everything you said. There isn't a right time for your baby to be shot. Dead children aren't blessings. God did not cause what happened yesterday. Satan did. He is just as real today as he was when he took away all Job had. Satan took away all of jobs wealth, killed his entire family, and covered his body in sores. Satan is always working against God's plan and he can because God gave us free will. Bad things happen in this world, but don't blame God or lose faith. As a Christian, I believe that God can take every evil thing Satan does and turn it around for His good. It may take a long long time. Israel was in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. God is still bigger than this tragedy. God is still all powerful. God still loves each one of us. However, as a Christian I also believe that I should NEVER force my views on others. Tell about them, sure, but never forcefully. Never belittling someone. I hate that so many "Christians" have acted in ways that were completely against God and given the rest of us a bad name.

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    1. Your last few sentences address something that always bothered me when I was a Christian. Sometimes I was embarrassed to even say I was a Christian, not because I was ashamed of my beliefs but because I was so appalled by the behaviour of people who claimed to share them. No one likes to be stereotyped.

      It's so interesting that you reference Job. Even the first time I heard that story as a child growing up in the church, something didn't seem right to me. So God let evil be unleashed on one of his most devout followers just so he could win a pissing contest with Satan? Well, he ended up richer and with a whole new family, so that makes it OK, other Christians would say to me. Never mind the dead first family.

      This idea that God is so jealous/insecure that he'll test faith in incredibly cruel ways (e.g. Abraham) and yet he's still a pure, just and loving being is at the very root of my problem with the whole thing. If a person behaved like this, we would call him a psychopath. I hold a deity to at least the same standard.

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  13. everyone processes tragedy differently, trying to make sense of it, or just put it in a place in themselves that allow them to move forward. While I completely agree with your contempt and the lack of sensitivity over those statements, i think, or i'd like to believe, that those people didn't mean it in any hurtful way, but were just trying to find some justification and comfort for themselves, and the way they do it is through religion.

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    1. When I calmed down and thought about the people behind the words, I agreed with what you said here. However, I hope no one says any such thing to me when I am grieving a loss. I'm not sure I could restrain myself from making some uncalled-for remarks.

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  14. I simply loved the last line of this. LOVED. This tragedy has been so difficult to respond to. As an individual who also has a great deal of empathy, I haven't known what to do or what to say. And, although I am a proud Christian, I have been angered by people using religion hastily in reaction to this, making comments as though God allowed this to happen. I can't believe that, but I can get on board with you and believe that faith matters if it helps us heal, and I believe it will.

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    1. I find it so hard to know how to respond to grief, because as an introvert my reaction is to curl up in a ball and withdraw from the world. But I know more extroverted people need human contact desperately in sad times, and similarly faith is a huge source of strength for some. I'm glad for that, but I also think we need to be careful how we present our own coping mechanisms, being mindful of the fact they don't apply to everyone.

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  15. Great ending. I was surprised and I loved it.

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  16. I loved your ending. I think so much about religion and speaking about religion has to do with intent. I know it's impossible to truly know someone else's intention but I feel like sometimes people invoke religious rhetoric genuinely and sometimes they do it as a straw-man. Like, "Here's a line out of Leviticus that says God hates gay people therefore all those things I just said require no further thought on my part and if you disagree with me then that means you disagree with God." Or, "God is in control so therefore I bear no responsibility for my actions and can keep doing this really damaging thing and if you tell me to shape up I'll silence you by implying you're not trusting in God."

    Lines of scripture and trust in God can be really powerful and affirming but just like pretty much anything else you can twist into something it's not meant to be. It makes me especially angry when people do or say hurtful things in God's name as if invoking Him gets them off the hook for their dick-ish-ness because for me faith is a really powerful, comforting thing. I don't like to see it weaponized.

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    1. Exactly!! You've articulated so clearly some of my pet peeves both when I was a Christian and now. I know many smart, thoughtful Christians who have really worked through their beliefs and ended up in a different place than me, and I respect that. And then there are people (as you said) who appear to have turned their brains off completely at some point and are just spouting mindless quotes.

      It always made me furious as a Christian when someone would try to end a debate over some church issue with: "Well, God has put on my heart that this is what we should do, so you must be wrong. Maybe you need to pray on this and really try to surrender to God." Argh! Just make your point without always dragging God into it. If he exists I'm sure he doesn't care whether the church basement has blue or green carpet.

      I loved your ending here too: "I don't like to see (faith) weaponized." Perfect.

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  17. It makes me insane when people try to tell me what God thinks about most things. I don't have a problem with religion other than when people think that they are supposed to tell others how to think and what to believe.

    I have my beliefs and am quite comfortable with them and they frequently are different from others and I see nothing wrong with that.

    We all have our ways to deal with things and as long as your way isn't force fed to others it is probably going to be ok.

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    1. The problem is that a lot of religions have pretty nasty penalties for not believing. So if you really, truly believe in the terms of that religion and care about the rest of the world, it would be hard to fight the impulse to try to convert everyone you met. I get that. I don't like being subjected to it and think that impulse needs to be curbed. But I do understand where it's coming from.

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  18. I'm a struggling Catholic and I can't really deal with the kinds of quotes like you posted above. For me, they're just...gah. They're non-answers, you know? I believe in seeking comfort in your faith. But I can't stand these nonsensical platitudes (I think all platitudes are ridiculous, especially lines like, "Everything happens for a reason." Better to note that "Everything happens," and try move on from there.)
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. Yeah, I picked on religious quotes here, but I don't like most platitudes. The only time I dip into them is when I'm trying to stay motivated to diet. I just don't have that pollyanna-ish personality and I generally find it irritating in others.

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  19. I agree about the ending. I struggled with the insensitivity of others in the name of religion. Your post brought me back to respecting others' beliefs. Thank you for the perspective.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed. Hearing Robbie Parker's words was a good reminder to me to keep that respectful attitude. It's hard and I often slip into ranting, but it's so important to keep trying.

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  20. I was so angry with the crap going around stating that this happened because we keep God out of schools. I don't know why anyone would want to believe in the type of deity that would abandon children because of the decisions of others, regardless of the purpose and necessity of those reasons. It makes me sick. Thank you for reminding me of the positives! Happy ICLW!

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    1. It's your second sentence that sums it all up for me. So sad. Thanks for stopping by and happy ICLW to you too.

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  21. Hi from ICLW. Religion is so subjective for many of us. No two worship identical if even to the same god. Hoping all is well with you.

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    1. Great perspective: "No two worship identical if even to the same god." Thanks for sharing this.

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  22. Oh my god. I was holding it together until I got to your last sentence. I like you even more now. Except for the part where you're making me feel feelings. That part sucks.

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    1. Yeah, sorry about that. My inner philosopher and inner smart-ass duke it out every post and you can see who won this round. Thanks for the love. :)

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  23. Thanks for having the boldness to write this, I am also an atheist and feel more of us need to 'come out!' ICLW#58

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    1. You know what's so odd? When I was a Christian, I often felt like some kind of freak and that I was alone in my faith. Now that I'm an atheist, I feel the same way in reverse! How is that possible?

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  24. I think people say those things, because it's their only way of protecting themselves. They just don't think about how it might make people that suffered the tragedy feel. At the hospice I work for, sadly, we have a pediatric hospice program. One of the dumbest things people can say to a parent whose child has died is that their child is in a better place with God. They mean well, but any parent will tell you that there is no better place than their own arms.

    I don't care what people say or think to comfort themselves, but they do need to be more aware of the comfort they are taking away from someone else by saying stuff like this.

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    1. Working in a hospice must be so difficult, especially the pediatric side. It's hard to know what to say to someone who's grieving, but it's better to say, "I don't know what to say," than to blurt out some simplistic saying that tries to minimize their grief.

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  25. Despite being raised Catholic, having attended parochial school for seven years, and being an altar boy for four of those years, I'm not terribly religious. I will admit that logically I think there HAS to be something after this life, although not of the clouds and harps variety. It just seems inconceivable that, once we're gone, that's it forever. Of course, that may just be human hubris. If I'm wrong, the answer is oblivion. In that case, I won't know the difference. But, as far as the Newtown massacre...I hope that Hell is a real place.
    Thirst for vengeance? Maybe. Human? Definitely.

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    1. I think a thirst for vengeance is underrated. Guess you wouldn't be surprised to hear I strongly believe in capital punishment. Not applied casually, but there's more than one airtight case I can think of where the offender has forfeited all right to live on the same planet as the rest of the human race.

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  26. Hi from ICLW. A great post. I'm glad I read it.

    I didn't make the connection between those comments on Pinterest and the shootings but you are so right. Nothing makes me cringe more than reading those. Well, something does I suppose - it's that I used to think like that, before anything really bad happened to me in my life. Before my sister had a devasating stroke at age 28. Before infertility.

    From what I can see there are is a major difference in Christians - those who believe God is in charge of everything and those who believe that we are individuals living in an imperfect world created by God. I believe the second.

    The book "Why Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold Kushner was a major reason I changed my viewpoint.

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    1. Interesting. I haven't heard the second viewpoint very often. What I've heard has been more of a hybrid where we're living in an imperfect world created by God, but he's still in charge of it, but chooses not to act to preserve free will.

      I might not have made the link between those sayings and the shootings if there hadn't been such a noticeable increase in them right after it happened (and some people directly referenced). I sometimes tell myself positive sayings to try to counteract my natural cynicism. It's occasionally effective, but I certainly wouldn't inflict them on someone who'd just suffered a tragedy.

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  27. I hardly know how to respond, as I know I don't have the right words. All I do know is that one thing seemed clear. In the face of this tragedy, there were a lot of people in Newtown that came together to seek comfort in the churches. I can't say I understand why or how something like this could happen. All I know is that it seems much more hopefull and comforting to think about all those children in the arms of God right now than....just thinking of them dead. I can't even comprehend what those families must be feeling right now, but I do hope that more than just this one dad finds comfort in something, whether it be in God or something else.

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    1. I so agree with the middle of your comment where you talked about thinking about the children in the arms of God. I really try not to think about the implications of my beliefs on those deaths because it feels intolerable. No wonder people who've personally experienced such things look to a higher power for support.

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  28. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Certainly glad I found yours as you are quite the writer and personality for that matter. I didn't see the father speaking about his daughter but I can only imagine that water works if I had. I'm glad he has God and I'm glad I do too. But I totally respect everyone's different opinions. ICLW #11

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    1. It was so hard to watch. But as I said, the least we can do for the families is listen to them speak about their loved one. Our pain in listening is nothing compared to theirs.

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Lend me some sugar!