I grew up in a religious community that fanatically converted neighbors, friends, and relatives. A Sunday wouldn’t go by without a reminder to pick up extra copies of The Book of Mormon and hand them out when God so moved us.
But the world grows thick with difference, and to cull the diversity through conversion is to attempt to remake the world in one’s own image.
It was a project I could never really get onboard with.
At ages twelve and fourteen and sixteen, I lay awake at night wondering if something was wrong with my faith. I never felt moved to gift my own scriptures to my friends—Hindus, Greek Orthodox Christians, Buddhists. My Mormon leaders told me that in the afterlife, my friends would be heartbroken. Why had I not given them the key to salvation? They would ask me. Why had I not shared with them the Lord’s truth?
Seventeen years later, I am an ex-Mormon who avoids church, is agnostic, and has taken the creed of Voltaire: “Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is absurd.”
So, understandably, I was anxious about meeting my boyfriend’s family for the first time. They are devoutly, passionately, and unapologetically Christian. They pursue charity and social justice, founding churches and nonprofits. They work in and for their communities. And their compassion and ethics are deeply rooted in their Christian faith.
I worried they would be concerned about my morals.
I worried they would make a project of my salvation.
I worried that I would be interrogated about my loss of faith. Perhaps knotted to a kitchen chair, slid under a heat lamp and cornered into giving a defense of exactly why it is that I believe in so little.
But as soon as I glimpsed the smiles of his mother and father at the airport, my fears evaporated like heatwaves off tarmac. Just a mirage.
There are so many ways to carry one’s beliefs. And I like the way this family carries their faith.
And I like to think that the mutual respect and openness I’ve experienced this weekend is a model for how believers and non-believers should enter into dialogue. No one is hostile or aggressive toward anyone’s beliefs or lack of belief. But no one avoids it. They sing hymns. I don’t join in. It’s apparent that we are not all standing on the same ground.
But this is not used against anyone. Different approaches to faith and meaning are not launched as weapons or accusations. And Voltaire’s philosophy, I’ve learned, is not exclusive to faith. True faith has room for questions and doubt. It isn’t threatened by difference. Certainty may be absurd, but faith isn’t about certainty. It’s about hope. Belief. Love. Striving.
There are plenty of people who would disagree with me. But I’m okay with that. It’s not my place to judge your approach to the mysteries of life—nor yours to judge mine. Yet there is still so much understanding and dialogue that can bloom between us, if we open to it.
If I set sail with the hope of understanding and not of changing differences, then connection becomes not only possible—but rich with potential for growth and empathy.
2 thoughts on “Navigating Religious Differences: An Agnostic Visits Christian Family”
It’s great to hear stories of people transcending differences to experience the joys of relationships.
Thanks, Jack! Such joys are at the heart of life.