As some of you know, the topic of religion and the role of religion in the public sphere is very close to my heart. Here’s my opinion in a nutshell. I feel that we shouldn’t press our religious or spiritual beliefs onto others. I believe that we should respect one another. I feel that many “believers” don’t realize that my lack of “belief” is in fact a “belief”. What I most strongly believe is that my right to not believe is just as valid as their right to believe. Whew, that’s a lot of “believing” in one paragraph.
Living in a quite religious country, I have learned when to keep my mouth shut (well, most of the time, well some of the time, ok, I’m getting better at it). I don’t talk about religion with people who seem to be sensitive about the issue. Just recently a new student, an IT guy in his early 30s, asked me if I was Catholic. I replied that I am not. Long story short, he’s going to pray for my salvation from eternal damnation…as is his right. He is an example of why many agnostics and atheists just keep their mouths shut and sometimes “turn the other cheek”. Not everyone is so kind and promises to pray for you when they find out that you don’t believe.* Why should I be embarrassed to say that I’m a non-believer? Hence, the billboard above which reassures me that I am not alone. (Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.)
The next billboard states, “I don’t kill. I don’t steal. I don’t believe.” This message really hit me hard and here is why. My mother-in-law has disowned me. It happened about 6 months ago. We haven’t seen each other or spoken since, neither has my husband or my children. I’ve been debating if I should, could, would write something about it or not. The crux of it is that we are not going to christen our children and my mother-in-law finally asked why. Long story short, my mother-in-law said some horrible things to me and then I began defending myself and explaining what a good person I am – how I am a good wife and mother, how I help out at school and in the community. And then I realized what I was doing. I was trying to explain to someone that I am a good human being. What for? Even now, here, I feel the need to explain to you that I live a full life, that my family is part of the community, that my children know a lot about world religions, that we are good people. I will never, ever explain myself like that again to anybody…not even at the pearly gates.
*I also don’t like the phrases such as non-believer. I believe in something, just not what they believe in. The use of non-believer suggests that what the “believers” believe in is the one, true way and we “non-believers” are bereft of any of our beliefs or spirituality or even morality for that matter. But alas, I cannot find another way to phrase it, so I will stick with believers and non-believers.
Life in Poland
ZuzankaSeptember 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm
Welcome to the club. I'm not a believer either. I believe I can be a good but not a religious person.
Marek CyzioSeptember 23, 2012 at 9:26 pm
I love the \”non-believer\” phrase as I do not believe in gods, dwarfs, unicorns, creationism and other b*s that people invented to cover their lack of knowledge.
ChrisSeptember 24, 2012 at 8:31 am
So it is true…I am not alone.Thanks for chiming in 🙂
aga poznańSeptember 24, 2012 at 9:16 am
Also welcome to my world 🙂 I like the phrase ! thanks
AlexSeptember 24, 2012 at 11:59 am
I'm a Catholic, regularly going to mass, etc, but I don't think it gives me a moral authority to tell others how should they behave. I feel that everyone have the right to choose what they believe in. I'm not going to pray for your soul (sorry if I disappoint you here 🙂 as I genuinely think there is absolutely no relation between being a good person and being a religious of any denomination – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or buddhist. Unfortunately I'm affraid I'm a minority.Living in Ireland for the last 6 years I'm somehow more aware how actions of the Catholic church damaged the society (you may or not be familiar with the whole child abuse scandal). Still I believe in God, I pray and go to mass. I think Church is people, and if people are bad, being part of a certain organisation doesn't make them any better.Just wanted to make my point, sorry if it's boring. It's the first time I comment something on your blog, but I really enjoy it, keep it up Chris!
Northern.SkySeptember 24, 2012 at 1:55 pm
Could not agree with you more. Maybe you are just a bit braver than I was.Pozdrawiam,Northern.Skyps. Saddest thing is that a grandmother chooses not to see her grandkids over some religious argument. Quite depressing actually. They grow up so quickly. She will regret one day.
onnaSeptember 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm
AnonymousSeptember 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm
Sad situation, and I hope she comes around, at least for your children's sake. We're also a family of nonbelievers, children weren't baptized or given any religious instruction. For the American side of the family, that's a non-issue. For the Polish one – that's met with silent disapproval, but at least it's silent. You're not alone. Which doesn't make your specific situation any easier. Best, Dorota in Colorado
AgathaSeptember 24, 2012 at 9:27 pm
I think many young Polish couples get married in church and christen their children because they are afraid of the family's reaction if they didn't. Stating your point of view is sometimes an act of courage, and you have to fight for your right to believe in what you want. I know some people who wanted to be honest and told their families that they think differently, but, really, as in your case, it's not easy. Sometimes it is easier to be conformist, especially when you think that your chidren may 'loose' grandparents because of 'stubborn parents'.
MalgosiaSeptember 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm
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MalgosiaSeptember 24, 2012 at 9:39 pm
Hallelujah! I was born and raised in Poland until I was 22, not religious person at all. Moved to the US and converted to Judaism. Many personal reasons but I’m still not a religious person at all. Can’t imagine living in Poland as a Jewish person. I do \”believe\”… in me, in my husband, in my family and in many other things but not in something that doesn't make any sense to me. I'm sorry about your mother-in-law. You won't change the religious fanaticism of Polish people. It will take generations to change it, if at all.
Tomek CejnerSeptember 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm
Good for you that decision is made early. Nothing worse than realizing too late that you really you do feel you belong to Church. Despite things are changing, there is still pressure (spoken or silent) to participate in Church (marriage, baptizing, first communion) to not to be excluded.
ChrisSeptember 25, 2012 at 6:37 am
aga poznan -Welcome right back at you. I really thought I would get a lot of comments trying to persuade me otherwise. I am pleasantly surprised.Alex – Thanks for commenting. I hope your first comment isn't your last :)I'm glad to know that there are tolerant religious people out there who are willing to say out-loud that they respect and tolerate others. You keep it up 😉 Northern Sky – You know, for awhile I was sad about it, but now I am over it. We are not trying to punish my m-i-l and we are not keeping the kids from her. In fact, we are trying to make her more comfortable. When we are present in the same place as she is, her discomfort is visible, so we have just withdrawn from that part of family life. She is an adult, a wife, a mother, just like me and I will allow her to make her own mistakes. We explained it a little to the kids but Rosie still thinks that they died :(onna – dittoDorota – I also thought that we'd carry on with silent disapproval from the Polish side. My m-i-l occasionally commented that we are not actually married (no church wedding) but it was rare. She thought that we were going to baptize the kids while in the US. That's where all the hubbub came from.Agatha – You hit the nail on the head. One of my students said all the church stuff is just a formality like getting your ID or passport or something. I think that people like that and conformists and other hypocrites are not supporting the church with their numbers but in fact ridiculing those who sincerely believe.Malgosia – I agree with you that I cannot (and maybe shouldn't) change my m-i-l. That why I have chosen to retreat. It is less stressful for all of us. And about being Jewish in Poland…A lot of people would be very interested to talk to you about your journey from one religion to another. Unfortunately, those wouldn't be the people who actually talk to you. You'd probably just come in contact with people who make stupid Jew jokes. I hear a least one a week, usually one of the same ones, but still.Tomek C. – Your point is the same one that my brother-in-law often repeats – now even more often as my nephew has refused to attend to Religia at school. His argument is that we cannot exist in Poland without the church, that the church \”gets you\” at every corner. You want to get married? They get you. You want to have a baby? They get you. You die? They get you. First of all, people who see the church as out to \”get you\” should not be members of that organization. Secondly, I got married without the church. I had children without the church. And I am pretty sure that, church or no church, I will die. But even I feel the pressure to conform 🙁
Zofia MkSeptember 25, 2012 at 8:22 am
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Zofia MkSeptember 25, 2012 at 9:32 am
You're not alone… This will be a long one.My partner and I have been together for almost six years now. We've never considered getting married in Church, because our last contact with this institution took place ages ago, really. And I wouldn't say that the contact was conscious,if you know what I mean. My partner comes from a let's say religious family(regular church-goers but nothing of the virtues in behaviour), me actually too. My mum needed to believe in God, as her mother did, and nobody objected. As kids,we were going to the Church with her. One of us (my bro) still does, with his family. The rest somehow slipped. I was christianed when I was almost 3 yrs old, and I know my parents didn't want to do this,but they gave up due to grandma's talking. Blah blah blah. And I wish they didn't, because I'm signing out from the organisation called Catholic church that I actually didn't join. Waste of time and money on both sides.We've got kids, a lovely 2-yrs-old girl and one on the way. We've never even considered baptising them. What would that make of us? We don't attend masses, we have no crosses at home… etc. To baptise kids, and then to pretend that I'm going to raise them in a Catholic faith, but in fact do something contrary… Gee, I cannot be such a big liar. No way.And the point is, every time we come to visit my partner's parents, his father asks about why we do not baptise kids, and for birthdays and namedays of our daughter he wishes HER(!!) that she would have married parents (because kids will laugh at her when she goes to school). They even tried to bribe us with money so that we would get married… I kindly explain to them every time that tempus fugit and some things are fortunately changing, and that if they want to rule other people's lives, that's the wrong address. Last time we've seen them they said that on the radio was a programme about 'such people' as we are, and that maybe I'm right that there are more and more couples living the way we do.After every visit I'm stopping myself from telling them that we're happy, good, moral, kind of intelligent, we've got jobs, passions, etc etc, and that somehow we don't need their faith to fullfill that. But fortunately I stop. Like you said, we don't have to convince anybody that we're good human beeings. After all, if all Poles are Catholic, and if every Pole is a thief… well, let's see who's bad ;)Cheers to you, take care!
MartaSeptember 25, 2012 at 9:37 am
I find it very, very sad that your mother in law disowned you for not baptising your children. She obviously did a completely wrong thing.However, I also understand why it's such a big deal for her and that she probably thinks you're a bad mother. Probably for her not baptising your child is like child abuse. I'm not trying to make the mil look better, just offering another point of view… I wouldn't disown my children for that, but I would be definitely upset.
ChrisSeptember 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm
Zofia – I like long comments. Our situations are so similar. Thank you for sharing your story. Take care!Marta – I understand that it is a big deal for her and I understand that she could be upset. That's why I have tolerated all the biting comments in the past. Now it is her turn to understand what a big deal it is for us and accept that our children are ours. The fact that I don't want to be a hypocrite shows that I respect her religion. I wish she could see it like that.
Lois BSeptember 26, 2012 at 4:01 am
As a \”believer,\” I'm glad to see that you take the sacraments more seriously than many who participate. In my Protestant tradition, baptism of a child is the parents promising to raise the child in the faith, and the congregation promising to support them in that endeavor. I wonder why someone would do that if it's not their intention, but it happens all the time. Allow me to pray for your MIL, that God might soften her heart.
ChrisSeptember 26, 2012 at 10:53 am
Thanks Lois. You know, I am godmother for my sister's children. One child is 11 and the other is 2. It was a hard decision. I think my sister sees it as a formality and I don't feel that I need to believe in order to help my sister and her husband raise their children Catholic. However, I declined to answer when asked if I reject Satan and accept Christ. The priest didn't make a big deal out of it, so here we are.
AnonymousSeptember 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm
I must say that by living in USA I realized that Poland is not a religous country at all. USA is. A big way. I am not beliver and I am more afraid of saying this here then in Poland. \”God bless America!\” omg (lol) what is wrong with politicians. \”In God we trust\”. What else? Amercians judge you. You have to believe in something. Dr OZ, Oprah, whoever- you must believe. Grrr…sometimes I miss Poland and its fake religion. loliwona
Tomek CejnerSeptember 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm
One may sincerely believe in God, and one may come to mass every Sunday. Both do not necessarily come together – perhaps that is the difference.
ChrisSeptember 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm
Lois BOctober 2, 2012 at 6:52 pm
Excellent point, Tomek!
KasiaOctober 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm
I am a Catholic as well, but I consider myself a very tolerant person – religion, orientation etc. do not matter to me. Some of my \”beliefs\” don't exactly \”align\” with my church's teachings – oh well. I do admire you for sticking to your rules, and not doing what your mil wanted you to do.