August 15, 2011
On summer vacation
It is somewhat early in the morning, I am sitting on the porch of our small summer house in northern Evia, able to gaze at the sea from a distance. Our guests are all still asleep and so is my wife. Only my two boys Odysseas and Iasonas are already up and playing nearby, as I am having my first morning coffee and reading the final chapter of “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens.
I pause my reading to take a glance at the boys, at which point “Ody” who is almost seven, turns to me with a somewhat troubled face and comments reluctantly like asking:
“Dad we are the only people that don't believe in god... I mean that what god says is not true...”.
For a moment it seems like a very strong coincidence to me. My book is in English, and although Odysseas had some English lessons last year, it is impossible for him to know what I am reading. Then again it is the 15th of August, a highly religious epoch for Greece, so it is very likely he has recently been engaged in, or witnessed a relative conversation.
I keep my calm, and try to answer in a soft, steady, almost smiling voice, so that he doesn't think he said or did something wrong. It is not as easy as it sounds for me. Every time I find out that my child's mind has been tampered with by the state supported “theocratic majority” of our social environment, I consider it equal to him having been molested, so keeping my calm doesn't come easy.
Whether it is mandatory prayer at the public school he is attending (an act where children are given the lead performance, as a bonus for good behavior or exceptional performance in school lessons – what an oxymoron to reward learning with obscurantism), or it is the religious content of the school material he has an obligation to learn (even though the official lesson of “religion studies” is mandated in Greek Schools later on, a first-grader, while learning to read and write, may be subjected to material concerning how the virgin Mary gave birth to little Jesus, or how he was later resurrected, given the opportunity of the corresponding holidays of Christmas or Easter etc.) Other situations may involve him feeling being left out, when all the other children go to church as a school excursion (something my wife and I allowed him to do after he complained the first time), or all the religious comments and practices he is subjected to by his wider family environment of grandparents, aunts, and uncles, or even the innumerable “oh my gods” and “oh my virgin Marys” he hears every time someone reads something interesting, or breaks a glass, or sees a cockroach or tastes something good, or, or, or...
I am only mildly comforted by the examples of myself and other people I meet and read about, that have been freed from religion, although they were brought up in highly religious environments. Something that gives me hope, but is not always enough to calm my fear and fury, especially when I hear him say:
“We are the only people that don't believe god is true”.
So I call him near to give him the “lecture”, trying not to make it sound like one.
“First of all if I or mom believe something, it doesn't mean that you have to believe it also. We think that as you grow up you should be able to make your own decisions about god or religion, after you are able to study the matter. This is a difference between us and other people that believe in god, because most people that do, expect from their children to believe the same things as them. What do you think? Is it better to let you decide yourself, or make you believe what we do?”
“It's better to let me decide myself.”
“Good. Now, the reason that I don't believe in god, is that no one ever produced any evidence that he exists. Most of the people that we know, believe in god because as they grew up they were being told that god exists, so they believed it and keep believing it ever since, even though no one ever gave them real evidence. What I would like for you is to decide on your own, but always after examining the evidence that you have. Science for example can never claim anything without having to prove it first, and if someone proves otherwise, science stops claiming that.”
At that point I realize that of-course I am starting to lose the attention of my seven year old. “Lectures” at this age should probably not exceed the astronomical number of fifty words, especially when they are interrupting a game.
“Nevertheless, I want you to know that we definitely are not the only people that don't believe in god. There are many many others that don't, you just haven't met them.”
“So there are other people that don't believe in god?”
“Yes there are.”
...He said and went on with his playing.
It's time now for my second cup of coffee, my book's final chapter awaits, and as I finally reach the last page I read: “The voice of reason is soft, but it is very persistent.”