Monday, February 04, 2008
Several years ago my father had bypass surgery. They planned on bypassing three arteries, but ended up doing four. During the surgery he had a cluster of strokes that left him in a coma for a about a month. After he woke up it was a long road to recovery. He was in rehab for about two months, but continued to have difficulties after he was released.
The change in him was overwhelming for me. He had been the strong patriarch of the family, but his illness left him unable to do even the easiest of things. He's a proud man and it was very difficult for him to have his family take care of him. My mother told me later on that when he was in a coma he believed he was in hell. I'm sure my father's faith was tested before, but never in this way. He didn't know what he had done in his life to warrant such punishment. He was shaken.
I was shaken too. My father has always seemed extremely sure of his convictions. It's the central part of everything he does. I was torn between wanting to encourage him to question his faith and wanting him to help him past his doubts and be happy again. Thinking of my father as an unbeliever was difficult for me. As a daughter I wanted him to be happy and his experience had put him in a deep depression. As a non-believer (I wasn't yet an atheist) I wanted to encourage him to question what he believed despite the fact it might make him more unhappy.
But what held me back the most is that I didn't want to proselytize. I didn't feel comfortable wading in on his personal struggle and encouraging him to take one path or another. Perhaps that was silly, but I wanted him to make his own decision without outside influence. And it was silly because I'm sure his pastor, friends, and other family members encouraged him in his faith. I may have been the only dissenting influence and I held back. If he would have asked me, I think I would have been honest with him about my own thoughts. But he never did and I regret that the conversation never occurred.
I feel like I let an opportunity pass and that I should have tried to talk to him. But maybe that conversation could still happen. I'm still struggling with atheism and proselytizing. I find it distasteful, and yet, I have no problem talking about my internal thoughts with people on the internet. Maybe the difference is between sharing and persuading?
In my posts I'm sharing my thoughts, not trying to convince anyone to take my point of view. But in a conversation with a person, I think I'd be more likely to try to persuade and change a point of view.
Do you think atheists should proselytize and where do you think the line is between being honest about your beliefs and stepping over the line into preaching to other people?