Sunday, 12 December 2010

A Year's Update

It's been a year and a half since my last post. There's so much to tell about what has happened to me since I started telling people I was an atheist. The past year or so has seen many ups, thankfully less downs and has just generally been terriffic.

I never knew that not being religious came with so many pleasures (sure, I was vaguely aware of it) so many simple things, like being able to eat a hot-dog from a street vendor after watching fireworks. Going to see a movie on a friday night with friends. Going to bars, socialising, reading "forbidden" blogs generally enjoying the better moments of television, stand-up comedy, live music when you're not supposed to listen to it, music in general (I was very frum) and the like.

Stating that I'm an atheist, though, has always been tougher. Declaring yourself an atheist is such a definitive thing to do, that I tend not to do it in social situations. Yes, I'm an atheist, absolutely. But I don't want to talk about whether or not the Man in the Sky frowns upon me for drinking the most delicious tasting non-kosher wine at £5 ($9) a glass. I want to relax.

But I had better start at the beginning, or rather, from where I left off.

The last post had me confused as to how to live out my life now I had decided to be an atheist. I was compartmentalising everything, non Jewish friends on one side, frum friends on the other, then less frum friends, then frum or less frum friends who knew and didn't know I was an atheist. And of course, my girlfriend and her family. I was in a spot of bother because I faced the possibility of some of these very different groups of people about to come together for my graduation, namely my non-Jewish girlfriend and my frum family.

I wanted my girlfriend to be able to attend the graduation, and had bought her a ticket. However, she felt sufficiently uncomfrotable to be alone with my parents for the first time, whom she knew had ideological problems with her, which meant she decided to pass up her ticket and watch the graduation on campus in a dedicated room via videolink (set up by the university to deal with surplus guests who couldn't watch it live).

We then all went together to the university organised after-party (strawberries and champagne, anyone?). This was the first time my parents, grandfather (dad's father) and grandmother (mum's mother), and my sister met my girlfriend for an extended period of time. We all went out to have dinner at a really nice kosher restaurant together. The whole episode was a bit awkward, yes, but I ignored it and pulled through. Everyone was civil to each other, which was good, and my girlfriend bonded with my (less religious, but still a believer) grandad, and that part was great.

Since then, my parents have ignored the whole bit about me being an atheist, and have pretty much accepted I don't share much of their way of life anymore. I don't go to shul (ever), I don't keep shabbat and they know it (though I've never actually told them), I don't believe in the Torah.

I do still live at home, and out of respect for that I don't flaunt the fact that I no longer keep kosher or shabbat. If I break shabbat, I do it when there's no one around, or when I'm out with non-religious friends. I respect meat-milk laws at home and keep kashrut completely when at home. At home, there are little to no conflicts about how I live my life now.

My aunts and uncles tend not to be on the same page as my parents, however. Maybe it's because they're not as used to seeing me without a skull-cap, or not go to synagogue when it's time to. Who knows? But I get a lot of stick for being an atheist from them. Every so often they even try to set me up with Jewish girls despite knowing I'm dating someone. I find this hugely disrespectful to myself, my girlfriend and my chosen way of life and I largely make this fact known. The fact is, they're in denial about the fact that I've chosen not to be with a Jewish girl. But also, they're afraid.

They're afraid if I continue a long term relationship with her, or marry her, I'll set a dangerous precedent for their own children, some of whom look up to me as a kind of "cooler," older cousin. I know this because as much has been said to me directly. The uncle who told me this acknowledged, without a word from me at all, that this may be selfish of them, but hey, self preservation comes first.

As for my part, I believe it is selfish of them to attempt to make me break up with someone I'm happy with. But I can't help but think maybe I'm being a tad selfish too, relentlessly pursuing courses of action that I know makes them unhappy. But I think this is the rub in life. You can't make everyone happy, and neither should you try. There are bound to be people who disagree with my choices, but then, there always will be.

As you can see, coming out of the atheist closet has its ups and downs. There are lots of good points to it. There are also many bad points to it. But we only live once (no, this is not a rehersal) so why not try to be happy? At the end of the day, what you believe in won't save you from your mortality, and the fact that you will no longer be walking upon this earth once you die. So after you've established your definite disbelief, why live in the closet when you can actually enjoy the life you want to lead?


Anonymous said...

I'm kind of in a similar situation, and not sure if you blogged about this before. How did your parents find out that you had a non-Jewish girlfriend and what was their reaction?

By the way, kudos to you for coming out of the closet. It takes guts to do it but in the end I agree that we have to be happy and not live our lives pleasing others.

Jewish Sceptic said...

I let my parents know that I was dating someone who wasn't Jewish. I partly HAD to do this as I was going over to her place quite a lot (an hour's plane ride away) and therefore lots of trips to the airport. Of course, I could have just lied and made something up to cover, but I thought if they asked me, it's best to just tell the truth.

"Is she Jewish?" - "no." It's just a single word, difficult to say, but I still said it and I think it worked out pretty well.

I wanted to keep it hush hush from the rest of the family, but my mother also decided to be truthful to whoever asked her and so admitted the reason I was away frequently was to see my non-Jewish girlfriend. This is what caused me some trouble, as I was basically told to date someone else at every family event and still pretty much am.

But before I told my parents, I had no idea how they'd react. When I told them, I think it was a bit surreal for them, and they tried to reason with me, got me to see a rabbi to try and get me back on the tracks, came out with the usual pro-religion argument. After they saw this got nowhere, they tried saying I should just be traiditonal. They also tried to make me feel guilty over my choice, with things like, don't split the family, don't give us a bad name, don't break your parent's hearts etc.

This was what I considered a lucky break because I fully expected to be chucked out my house. But I guess you never really know how people will react until they're put in that situation.

Anonymous said...

wow sounds like it went over relatively well. I still haven't told anyone except one not religious friend. I expect the same guilt trip from my parents, but see it going over a lot worse. Its true you never know the reaction until you do it.

My dad would NEVER volunteer telling anyone once he knew, since the biggest thing for him is being shamed by family and the community.

FrumGeek said...

what's up with you now? it's been years. Any chance of an update?

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