Last time, the topic of discussion was my dad. Today I want to continue that train of thought, but move on to how my understanding of family has changed my faith over the years.
Let it be noted at the onset that I don’t consider myself an especially religious person. I grew up in Catholic schools. My parents didn’t actively practice anything, but they were vaguely christian and we were in the bible belt, so I was marinated in judeo-christian values. In school, we had a daily religion class, where we learned all about God and the bible and things outlined in the catechism. We saw the priest twice a week in mass and once a month during the religion class. The priest and teachers always referred to God the same way: God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.
Because of that language, my understanding of God was tied to my relationship with my dad. When things were okay, then God must be okay. When life was stressful, or mom and dad were fighting a lot, I didn’t feel like God was very nice. Every time dad threatened to move out and started packing his clothes into bags, it felt like the world was going to be flooded or the city would be destroyed with fire. It wasn’t that I imagined my dad was God, of course. God had a beard and lived in the sky, everyone knows that. More that my dad was doing what God would do, because they were both my father.
As a teenager, I didn’t get along with my parents very well. Shocking. But as a result of that, and finding new friends in high school who also questioned the faith, I was starting to have some pretty serious doubts about God. Being the awkward, non-catholic nerd in a catholic elementary school full of future college athletes didn’t hurt matters, either. I still went to youth groups, especially if whichever girl I was chasing also went, and performed in both youth and liturgical choirs, but there wasn’t really any faith there. I was an atheist keeping up appearances for social reasons, and not really doing a very good job of it.
I went to college, continued associating with atheists, dated a number of people who were practitioners of various religious to varying degrees, and then met my wife. She’s what I’ve come to think of as a new-school Catholic, the people who are more into forgiveness and kindness than reminding people they’re sinners who are damned to hell if they smell bacon on a Friday. It’s quite a change from the atmosphere I knew in school, when God’s followers handed out demerits for tardiness, untucked shirts, forgotten belts, and long hair.
There are two major differences I’ve observed that I think correlate with whether or not people can be Christian. The first is the nature of their family. People who come from small or angry families seem to struggle more with Christian belief than people from larger or happier families. It might be a cause-and-effect relationship, or they both might be expressions of something else, but it seems like there is a correlation of some sort. The second difference is how happy they are with their lives. Again, I can’t speak to causation, but the people I know who identify as Christian seem to be generally happy with their lots. I mention both of those causes because there does seem to be a causal relationship between happy family and happy adulthood, which leads me to believe the nature of family is very strongly related with faith.
Agree with my observations, or disagree. None of those correlations are one-to-one, but I have observed them. For the record, my understanding of God is no longer affected by my relationship with my father, but it seems like my relationship with my father is affected by my faith. Given the stress and loss I’ve lived through in the last year, I don’t believe in Don Miller’s vending machine god anymore. I don’t see a bearded man in the sky who smells like cigarettes. I imagine a being filled with hope that all of his creatures will live in harmony, and learn how to enjoy the time they have on this earth. I imagine that hopefulness is there even in spite of the intense sadness that comes from our constant and continued failings, because there’s almost always a second chance. I don’t think God is interested in whether or not we wear belts or cover bra straps, and I can’t imagine there’s any anger when we have a burger on Fridays or a bagel before Mass.