"Imagine there's no heaven...it's easy if you try...no hell below us...above us only sky" John Lennon
I have worked my way from Romanian Orthodox to agnostic to atheist throughout my lifetime. It is not that easy because being Romanian and many of the customs that I associate with my Romanian identity are sort of mixed up Orthodox rituals. I am not alone in this - there are many who struggle to pass along a heritage to their children but a part of them no longer believes in the religion that they were raised in.
We are a blended family. I of the Orthodox background and my husband of the Jewish and Protestant family. Neither of our families were particularly religious but in mine I know that it was a great ritual to do Easter. Christmas rocks.. let's face it there is something awesome in the air about it. I think Jesus was just a good guy and still worth celebrating a man who preached peace and kindness and (yes I read religious texts to get to my current state) who was not all that fond of organized religions. Easter though in our house, of people who had seen the church in their country be a place that used it's power against the people in the interest of retaining that power, was BIG. The ritual of going to midnight mass, and even the funeral procession on Good Friday, were powerful to me. They were things I shared with my friends, that made me different than my Catholic friends and the same as my Greek ones where we always found ourselves explaining why we don't celebrate the Easter they do (calendar vs time and events basically...theirs is wrong (chuckle)-- yeah I am pretty sure they think same of the Orthodox one). There is something so binding about being able to stay up so late on that Saturday night, then go to friend's houses after midnight for that meal that is supposed to help you forget that if you were among the faithful and had given up all things that fly, swim, walk and their by products for 40 days. I think I tried that once, lasted a week and began my why would I have to sacrifice anything to belong to a club thought process? After church we were not just breaking a fast but starting the feasting and celebrating. There is a humility in remembering a man who died representing the idea that he did not judge us for being who we are .. flawed humans. It was the Sunday of knocking eggs, my kids love this ritual, to break them and more time spent with friends.
None of this may be very religious but it is very spiritual. As I began to realize that I not only did not believe in religion but also do not believe in god (God ) these rituals still pulled me. I admit it they still do. I miss the Saturday night mass and want to introduce it to my sons ...but how ?? I cannot pretend that I agree with the dogma.
So here is the atheist dilemma - we celebrate holidays in our family (Jewish, Christian, non-denominational) and embrace the diversity of learning about them. Yet when my kids ask if I believe in God, heaven, hell etc... I have chosen not to lie and say no. I have told them that to me I do not need these things to understand that I should be good to people all around me, to treat others with respect and to not expect some payout in another life for it. I have explained that to me when you die that the earth recycles you and that you need to learn to savor every day you are alive. They are comfortable with this. Yet these are my choices and conclusions. It is not easy because adults seem to have a hard time letting me have my thoughts on this (my mother in particular wants to know why I need to admit that I do not believe - irony) -- in all due respect you do not want to engage me on this if you are not prepared for a long discourse, I can stand very easily by my choice and have some serious issues with religion and what it does. For my boys though they get asked about where they go to worship, why they don't do a communion (they wouldn't even if we practiced being Orthodox) or go to Hebrew school for bar mitzvah prep. They have come to say that we just don't need to but sometimes they ask me if they can believe in God.
I have told them they surely can - if it gives them the comfort I do not find in it - if they use it as a guide to move forward without blind devotion to doctrine made and sold by men. I encourage them to believe what they feel in their hearts and question it all, including me, with all that is in their wonderfully intelligent heads. After all I let them believe there are fairies, Santa and a host of other mythical creatures that just celebrate wonder, god is no different to me. I do not like religion but that does not preclude me from understanding why so many find comfort in it. I do not know how my boys will see this in the future - as always what I worry about is if I am helping them make the choices that reflect their needs....For now I celebrate the spring equinox, the wonder of leaving grey short days behind as we plan for summer. Enjoy Easters (whenever they may be) and Passovers and whatever else your family is choosing - not because some piece of paper tells us to but because love is the greatest legacy we can pass on as heritage for our children.