The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series which appears on their blog is almost always unsatisfying. They give the participants about two or three paragraphs too discuss a presumably controversial issue. This format does no service to anyone’s ideas. This past week’s subject was “With Children, When Does Religion Go Too Far.”
One of the participants, Kimball Allen, found the limits of Mormonism when he came out to his family as gay. However, what interested me was not the main line of his argument, but a small description of his family that betrays the subconscious assumptions people make, not only about Mormons, but about religiously observant families in general.
Grounded by our religion, life was structured, disciplined and loving. Weekly church services and activities were the norm; family game night was a weekly highlight in the Allen household, and early morning family scripture study was my wake-up call. We were the poster Mormon family.
Which one of these things doesn’t fit?
- weekly church services
- family game night
- scripture study
Lately, we’ve been made aware of the fact that atheists are the most disliked minority in the United States, still we rarely discuss some of the more subtle attitudes. Why is it that wholesome families are seen as naturally religious? I’m sure Kimball Allen doesn’t mean to imply that non-Mormon families, and even families that believe in no religion at all, do not have family game nights.
Neither of my parents were believers. My mother seems to be occasionally subject to superstitions and would make any hardline skeptic cringe. However, when push comes to shove, she winds up believing in nothing. My father on other hand, believed any sort of spiritual, psychic or non-materialist explanation was hooey and openly called himself an atheist. What do you think our family was like?
“Boring” is probably not entirely fair to my parents. My mother has a great sense of humor. However, we grew up in suburbia in a modest brick house that didn’t have a picket fence, though it did have a small gate painted white in between a gap in the short boxwood hedge. My family was “intact.” My parents had married when my mother was nineteen and my father was twenty-four and they remained married until my father’s death nearly fifty years later. My mother was fond of card games and belonged to the local bridge club. My father preferred word games like scrabble. My sister cheats at Monopoly.
My mother was of a generation that was caught between the fifties and the sixties. She could tell an off-color joke, but she’d have a fit if we left fingerprints on the fridge. The house was spotless and carefully decorated.
Both of my parents were teachers and nothing was as serious in our house as homework. I remember night after night as a child, after dinner, which we always ate together as a family, was over and the dishes had been cleared, we’d get out our notebooks and textbooks and would sit at the table until everything was done, either my mother of father remaining on hand to keep us company and potentially be of help.
Why would it seem odd to say that we were the “typical atheist family?”
Totally off topic:
If you haven’t seen the images of the giant squid take a look!