In Love and War

As I lie in bed unable to stop my brain from whirring at all the possible outcomes from my surgery later this morning, I am struck thinking about the tragedies far beyond my reach. The escalation of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings is frightening. What kind of world have I brought my children into? It’s hard to imagine there is one right answer. Which is part of what is so heartbreaking.

All over social media, there seems to be a clear division: There are the “do not let refugees in” folks, and there are the “bleeding hearts”, let them come folks.

To me, this underlies a much more serious issue. It’s an “us vs. them” mentality. It has to be one way or the other. We must turn away these people who will undoubtedly have an impact on our economy and resources, or not. We must believe everyone is secretly a bad guy, or not. We must protect our “Christian” country and values, or not. Which from my vantage point, is what these want. If we are against one another, we’ve made their mission that much easier.

As a country, in a matter of hours, we managed to go from “Je Suis Paris” to “Get off my lawn”. It’s fascinating and infuriating. And every time I see one of these “we need to take care of our homeless and vets” posts, I want to shout at the top of my lungs at that entitled white person. But I don’t. Because I know it is pointless. I cannot change your mind and you cannot change mine. We have to agree to disagree.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? It’s not like that anymore. We don’t agree to disagree and then move forward toward compromise. We pick sides and glower at those opposite us. Us/Them. Either/Or. As blogger Glennon Doyle Melton writes, why can’t it be And/Both? We outnumber these guys (and gals – I know there are women terrorists) a million to one. Yet we allow our differences to divide us and turn our backs on those in need.

I watched a compelling video yesterday about how helping the poor through immigration is a futile act. There are too many of them, unfortunately, and our little country can’t truly help without foresaking our population here already. He strongly encouraged that we need to help the poverty stricken countries themselves, where they live, so they can thrive and flourish in their own environment. I agree with this man. To a point. The refugee situation is a little different, in my opinion. These people are running for their lives. Their country is so far gone, they would rather risk death in the cold winter than stay for the potential horrors that await them. Rape and pillage; it seems like a barbaric practice of the past that doesn’t apply today. But it does. It is what is happening in these war-torn countries. That is the reality these human beings are trying to escape.

But we have to protect our Christian country, right? We can’t let all these Muslims in? I have some news for you; you’re probably not going to like it. They’re already here. Have been for a long time. But here’s a twist you may not have expected from me: I am an enemy of your Christian country, too. I’m worse than them, according to many Christians.

I am an atheist. 

Yes, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but it also guarantees – first, actually – freedom from religion. This gives us all the right to believe whatever the heck we want without fear of persecution. Let me repeat that: Without fear of persecution. 

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for almost two decades. I have respect for religion at its most basic level. I think the Ten Commandments are a pretty good standard of how to not be a giant jerk face. I think there are good lessons to be found in all books of faith. And I profoundly respect your right to practice your religion and its ability to bring you peace.

But I, like Bill Burr, sort of just let the church go about 15 years ago. If I’m honest, my heart was never in it. I never had those moments where “the spirit came through me”. I constantly questioned the catechism, and I didn’t feel like I belonged. There are more specific reasons, of course, but that explains why it wasn’t some heartbreaking, life-altering change for me. I just stopped going and kept asking questions.

Because I am an atheist, I don’t have a book of rules to tell me how to be a good person. I don’t think that you’re all going to hell for not believing what I believe. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. When I meet someone new, I am curious about them as a person and treat everyone with kindness. There is no “us and them” for me because we are all the same. We are all human beings fighting for survival. Looking for connection.

I bring this up because not only am I considered Christian enemy number one and have certainly felt the judgmental, fearful look from another, but also because I want to show that atheists aren’t people who believe in nothing. In no deity, yes, but we believe in you. We believe in us. We believe in kindness, in respect for all, in our inate humanity. Now yes, there are some loud, anti-religion atheists trying to change minds (I admit I have done that in the past), but there are those folks in every sector. They are the teenage Mormons knocking on your door; the protestors outside a Planned Parenthood; the “Jesus Saves” guy outside Mile High Stadium every home game. Proselytizing goes hand-in-hand with believing so profoundly in something, you can’t wait to share it with anyone who will listen.  But you don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. Freedom from religion.

I am a lowly, lower middle-class, Hispanic working mom and wife in the whitest, most conservative suburb in (probably) all of Colorado. There isn’t much I personally can do here other than continue to volunteer; continue to give to the homeless when I see them; continue my meager donations to causes that are truly trying to change the system for our veterans. These are the smallest of gestures, but if I can make one person’s day better, I try. If I live in fear, I live in worry and doubt. If I try to be kind first, I am almost always rewarded with a smile. It doesn’t always work, and some days I suck at it. Some days, I’m in a terrible mental space as I still grieve the loss of my mother and the many others who have died. But I never regret being kind. I always regret being cruel or indifferent.

If we can find a way to make these refugees’ lives better, get them to safety, and help them eradicate the evil that is taking over their home, maybe we can give them a home to go back to. I would hope that someone would do the same for me. Even if I don’t believe in the same god as they do.

And in case my worst case scenario comes true and my weak, irregular heart gives out on me today, know that I have love in my heart for all of you. Especially the ones who disagree with me.

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