Arguing with Dad about religion
While people die in the name of God in the Middle East and countless other places unreported, I sit a half-planet away and wonder what possibly I could do to help. Frustrated, doubting the heart of mankind, I turn away and find distractions in the Big Bang Theory, the Royals chasing the pennant, or the dumb humor of the family dog—secretly glad our country is not so troubled, and more secretly, fearful that maybe it is. Personal guilt is not in vogue nowadays, like an eyelash on the pupil—if only I don’t blink, it won’t hurt me. For what can I do? An individual with a voice no louder than millions of other voices. Powerless. Helpless. I can’t change the world, so I’ll change the channel instead.
And then two nights ago my father and I began to discuss God—his religion and my spirituality. Quickly it became a debate, standing opposed, attempting to knock one another from our lofty viewpoints. The conversation ended with nothing gained, only dangling sentences left ragged by two people battling. I was left with the bitter taste of misunderstanding, distemper and aloneness. Never had I felt so far from my father.
Wars are fought in the name of God. No war was ever fought in God. God needs no defending. tweet
We were not defending God. We were defending our egos.
I was judgmental and closed-minded; so intent on arguing my opinion, not a word of his do I remember. A great opportunity to better understand my father, and perhaps strengthen my own faith through his wisdom, was lost. Instead we separated, pitted against one another, divided by self-righteousness and the delusion of our differences.
Spirituality’s highest offer is to bring people closer together. When this doesn’t happen, it stands to reason we are no longer being spiritual. We are practicing something else entirely, something more human and earthbound. We are acting out of an identity—You and Me, never Us.
A great opportunity to better understand my father, and perhaps strengthen my own faith through his wisdom, was lost. tweet
When confronted with the disagreeable, we often retreat into our own corners, bolstered by the thought that it would be unhealthy or unwise to associate with those whom we don’t agree. They are acting the wrong way, we say. So we push them away and create opposition. We forget wisdom is found by following the emotions laid down by our enemies and those we don’t yet understand. Isolated, we soon lose the ability to say: Maybe I don’t know, I’m sorry, Thank you. Our resentments drip down generational lines until we don’t even remember how the argument started. We act from pride—to concede or listen shows weakness. In the end we are puppets on different lengths of string, tugged by the terror that our beliefs might be false. For if they are false, who am I? We fight for a Cause, but it became an excuse a long time ago.
Wars are fought in the name of God. No war was ever fought in God. God needs no defending.
Today I approached my father, and with a calm and open heart, apologized, “I wasn’t listening, Dad. Was stuck in myself and I’m sorry. I don’t share some of your beliefs, it’s true, but it’s wrong of me to assume my ideas rule the world. I’m sure there’s a great many things I can learn from you.”
He began the discussion again, only now my approach was different. With presence I listened, and when sharing my own thoughts, my voice held no tension or threat. His demeanor changed, his argument softened and space came. Eventually he showed genuine interest in my own experiences. I smiled and told him we were quite possibly on the same path. Also, that even if I never did share his religion, he must not think he failed me or his faith. The good moral ground on which I stand, how I live my life, is because he raised me well, led by the strength of his own path.
I’m not naive. One good day does not change years. Likely my father will continue his attempts to sway me toward his views. And when he does, likely my defensiveness will rise again. But if I can practice mindfulness in that moment, there is the possibility to learn from one another. With time, if I can practice love, there is the possibility of a closer connection. Certainly situations exist when we must remove ourselves from confrontation—my dad is a nice fellow, not everyone is—but often we run too quickly. We might pause. We have a choice.
If I can practice mindfulness in that moment, there is the possibility to learn from one another. tweet
Our global relationships are complex, made more complicated by individual complexities. Wicked acts plague us, but the potential for change always exists. Maybe much time is needed, larger solutions than simply saying, We’re sorry, We’ll listen. But maybe not so much more. We need look no farther than ourselves for a possible cause, and solution.
A wiser man than me once said I have the power to change the legacy of my family. What he meant was I could change how we relate to one another. You have that power too. We might also just change the legacy of the world.