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I stopped being a practicing Catholic more than 20 years ago. My mom assured me that being Catholic was
like being Jewish—it was cultural as well as religious, so, technically, I
would always be Catholic.
As I grew into
adulthood, I realized how spot on her words were. With Pope Francis' recent U.S. visit,
I feel that pull of cultural Catholicism strongly. It is a comfort, a familiar identity.
In my early thirties I married an atheist. This troubled my father who, I believe, sincerely worried for him. What I
provided as reassurance was the certain knowledge that the man I was marrying
was a generous, compassionate, fair-minded, sensitive, moral person. Simply put, the best human being I had ever
My husband grew up outside religion, yet employed values and
standards that were missing in so many other folks who practiced their religion
faithfully. Atheists, for me, were
almost as exotic as Jews, having grown up in a working class suburb full of
Irish, Polish, German and Italian families. Atheist, like cancer, was a word
that was whispered, for fear it was contagious or would tempt the fates.
Even my dear Catholic father, worried his granddaughter might die, honored our beliefs.
When my husband and I got around to having children,
religion never entered into our discussions. It was simply understood that any children we had would be raised
outside religion. We would talk,
sometimes, in our oldest's infancy, about how to provide that community
experience that comes so easily when practicing a religion. That sense of having a common bond and
sharing something with others was an important foundation I remember from my religious
Then that oldest child got cancer. There is a familiar saying, "There are no
atheists in a foxhole." Well, I can
imagine no greater foxhole than a mother facing the reality of losing her child
to cancer, but still, I was without religion. I didn't pray during her months of treatment. Instead, I beseeched the anonymous "Universe,"
I called it to save her. It didn't
Most people accepted and respected our lack of faith during
such a difficult time. Even my dear Catholic
father, worried his granddaughter might die, honored our beliefs. He was concerned what would happen if she did
die without being baptized. In the end,
he baptized her himself at our kitchen sink, satisfied with the assurances he
got from his priests that his good intentions and tap water were enough to save
a dying child from an eternity in Limbo.
That is some heavy stuff to worry about for an old man.
If I do nothing else in this life but raise good humans, I will have been enormously successful.
Religion is full of worrisome things. We see it played out every day in our modern
world. People killing and dying in the
name of their God. Religion used as a
divisive tool to separate and justify mistreatment of those who are
different. Politics and religion now co-mingling
in a slippery slope, despite the original intent behind the separation of church
My task as a parent is to raise children who will not harm
others, children who will grow into productive adults that practice compassion
and empathy with everyone they meet, and provide for those around them. I take that role very seriously. If I do nothing else in this life but raise
good humans, I will have been enormously successful. I do not need religion to do that. A growing
body of research supports my belief.
In 2012, the Pew Research Center reported that the number of
"nones"—Americans without religion—is on the rise,
from 4 percent in the 1950s to now over 23 percent. Sociologist Phil Zuckerman has studied what this lack of religion means
for families and discussed his findings in a Los Angeles Times op
ed piece earlier this year, "How Secular Family Values Stack Up."
I have faith in people. I have faith in you and in me and in our ability to treat each other the way we all deserve to be treated.
Turns out, we heathens are raising some
pretty fine, upstanding citizens.
Just as my Dad needed reassurance about his religiously
based fears and his beliefs, I'll provide some here myself for those of you who
are religious and raising your children in a chosen faith. I salute you. The secular values in me make that possible. I have seen and felt the benefit a religious
upbringing can have. It's not for me,
but I respect that it is important to you.
See how that works?
Teaching my children about morals and empathy and compassion
does not require a faith in God or Jesus or Allah or any other entity huge
swaths of people choose to believe in. Because
I lack religion does not mean that I lack faith. Raising children without religion just means
I cut out the middle man, the God, in that formula.
I have faith in people. I have faith in you and in me and in our ability to treat each other the
way we all deserve to be treated. I have
faith that my moral center alone is enough to raise good kids who will turn into good
adults. I have faith, despite not having