Growing up, I was taught about the kind of love God the Father has for his children; it was called "agape love." I understood it as the kind of love that allows a parent to forgive their children for wrongdoing, and the sort of love that allows God to forgive humankind for sin. It was something to take comfort in. The message that we had "fallen short" was pounded into my head, and God's love had to be extremely powerful to overlook how unclean and unworthy I was. Everyone cried and wailed around me, thanking God for forgiving them, feeling lucky and grateful their depravity was being overlooked by a loving Father.

Also, as a child, I dealt with a step-father who was abusive in many ways... although also constantly begging for forgiveness. This man had been abused himself, and dealt with many demons of his own. He constantly ebbed and flowed between a hair-trigger temper and a desperate contrition. He wasn't insincere when he pleaded, on literal bended knee with a tear-soaked face, for us to forgive him. And we did. Over and over, we forgave him. My mother forgave him. My brothers forgave him. I forgave him. 26 years into his marriage with my mother, he's finally matured into a fairly mellow human being.

When I was 23, I began building a relationship with my real father. He left before I was born, and left a trail of abandoned children behind him. He was a heart-breaker most of his life. When I decided I needed to know this man, he was reeling from being divorced by the one woman who had a grip on his heart. Because I hadn't known him my entire life, it was easier to forgive him than if he'd left while I was a child. He answered a lot of questions about myself just by being himself. Now, 30 years later, he has a lot of regrets. He's moving forward by building relationships with his children, but not all of them have found it within themselves to let it go. I have.

I've more than forgiven him, actually. I love him deeply, and there's not really anything he can do to shake my love... and I have been shaken. I see all that he's done to my mother, to other women, to my siblings... I still love him. I'll always love him. Maybe my step-father is unworthy; maybe my real father is unworthy... but I love them. I have agape love for my fathers.

The lesson I learned recently, while talking to my mother, is that it's actually up to children to forgive their parents. A parent is far more capable of sinning against their children than the other way around. We depend on them to be our safe place... to be our teachers, our kindest critics, our heroes, our mentors, our home. They're all just human, and they will inevitably fail us in some way or another. They will literally fall on their knees and beg us for forgiveness. Depending on the grievance, we might find it in our hearts to do so. Not everyone can forgive their parents; not everyone should. But a parent who's wronged their child should be grateful when their children are able to forgive them, and love them, despite their "sin".

This is one of the main things wrong with the idea of Christianity; with the idea that humans should ask their Heavenly Father for forgiveness. This god, who created the universe with so many flaws, and so many traps, and so many temptations; who created us with so many flaws, and so many weaknesses, and so little help... should be pleading for our forgiveness. He is the one, should he exist, who is unworthy of it. Christianity, or any religion, would make so much more sense if the Creator was the one assuming responsibility and repenting of his sin against all of creation.

I know what it's like to forgive a parent (or three). I know what it's like to love them in spite of all the hurt they caused, their character flaws, their imperfection... and it's most profound when that kind of agape loves flows from the child back to the parent. It's a given a parent loves and will forgive their children; they can't help it. It isn't a given for a child to forgive a parent.

Dear Christians: your message is wrong. God should be begging his creation for forgiveness for all the ways in which he's failed us. If only he existed.

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Tags: agape, children, father, forgive, forgiveness, love, parents, sin

Comment by Cara Coleen on July 1, 2013 at 4:17pm

@Belle - you bring up excellent points about the Church teaching us that we can never put ourselves first; we are always defined by our roles, and second to everyone. It was hard to balance the conflicting messages of "you're dirty and sinful" and "God loves you, and his love makes you worthy". Even if I was doing nothing wrong, I had to dig deep and basically make something up to be forgiven for. I had a horrible self-esteem... until I stopped believing there was a god.

I have grown out of Ayn Rand's "Objectivist" philosophy (and now find it pretty contemptible), but it did help yank me out of this mindset I could never be selfish or, rather, self-preserving. Hers was sort of the extreme view I swung to on my way out of my faith, but I've fortunately found a nice middle-ground between valuing myself, and valuing others.

Your story is really beautiful, and so much like mine. We had to learn to accept our own faults before we could accept the faults of others. And I, too, stopped being a victim. It's so empowering to feel ownership over my own life, and a sense of responsibility for the outcome. Another disservice Christianity extended to me was this idea that God had a plan, and there was nothing I could do to ruin his plan. Looking back, I see how reckless I was... and how much worse things could've gone. Living as though there's a safety net is actually quite dangerous when there is no safety net.

Comment by Cara Coleen on July 1, 2013 at 4:18pm

LOL Strega, I love that poem :)

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 1, 2013 at 6:08pm

@Cara - I'm responding to your response straight off without reading the other people's replies. 

I fully take on board what you say.  I mean no disrespect at all when I say - all I see there is a nasty confused mess, and the fault isn't yours. 

I don't know that much about Christianity, I've never been a Christian, I'm coming to it fresh as an atheist to see what value I can extract from it, along with any and every other source of information I can find, including my own and other people's experiences and minds. 

Frankly - we need to chuck out that nasty confused mess and start again from scratch.  I'm sure there are people for whom it can work - I believe I know one or two.  But these are people with their own instinctive mystical knowledge and experience which guides their Christianity along the right path.  All too easily it can end up like Adolph Hitler's tea party. 

I'm in the process of developing a new religious philosophy based on science and reason, and unravelling and filling in the gaps of the best of the existing formal spirituality, taking a completely fundamentalist approach.  It's completely fucking hardcore. 

I really live this stuff, I don't shrink from any of it, and it really works beautifully the way we would hope a religion can work - if you want one that is.  It's exceeded my initial expectations by miles.  Not everyone does things that way.  I'm a techno-hippy, and that's the kind of thing we tend to be into.  It's really a religion of life, and is designed to be very simple and easy to understand and apply.  It doesn't really feel like a religion at all.  It's somewhat like Buddhism, but without the confusion and vagueness. 

So this gives me the incentive to press ahead and continue developing it into a fully-fledged philosophy just like stupid old Ayn Rand.  Even some of the things she said have value, although not everything.  I may have written down one thing she said. 

As for forgiveness - I've got my own experiences, I'm no novice there.  There is a plain process which can be followed.  Here is a fantastic programme from Al Jazeera (48 mins) -

Bitter Root
Two former Lord's Resistance Army commanders seek tribal justice in order to be granted atonement for their crimes.
... a traditional system of restorative justice involving perpetrators and victims, in order to be granted atonement for their actions and to enable them to start rebuilding their lives.

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2011/10/201110121520246...

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 1, 2013 at 6:21pm

@Belle & Cara -

"the balance of self-sacrificing love without destroying yourself."  

"a nice middle-ground between valuing myself, and valuing others.

There are two central principles to my philosophy, and this is no. 2.  There are various ways it can be expressed, depending on your preference or the situation.  These are two excellent ways. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 1, 2013 at 6:36pm

Again - "it's OK to love myself with the same agape love I've been taught to love everybody else."  i.e. you're as important as everyone else.  

This can be codified more precisely and completely.  

@Strega - I love your poem.  

Comment by Cara Coleen on July 2, 2013 at 8:16am

FFS my mother really knows how to test my feelings of love and forgiveness. Just when I was feeling better about our relationship... even going so far as to write THIS blog... she has to send me a novel-sized, handwritten letter practically begging me to believe again, and stop rebelling.

She keeps telling me I'm angry. She keeps telling me I've changed. She keeps telling me I'm being rebellious... and I really just want to tell her to go fuck herself.

I don't have a right to be angry? She liked me better as a shy, timid, and cowering girl? She liked me better when I was afraid of and hated men? She liked me better when I was beaten into submission? Fantastic. And I keep telling her... I don't NOT believe there's a god out of rebellion. Really, I don't. Despite the shit in my past, I stopped believing in the supernatural AFTER I'd worked through most of my issues.

But she keeps ripping the scabs off. And she keeps telling me how sad she is... as if I should give a fuck. As if she didn't give up her right to give advice 25 years ago when she decided to stay with a man who abused her children.

Ugh. It's amazing, isn't it? The gall of parents can really be quite astounding. I'm trying so very hard to move past all this, but she makes it impossible. I was feeling really good about things, and then she sends this letter so full of bullshit and emotional manipulation. Blah...

Comment by Strega on July 2, 2013 at 9:36am

Cara, I really feel for you. The trouble is, you won't change your mother, and usually mothers know all the right places to poke at you to get maximum reaction.  You aren't going to manage the guilt she throws at you until you don't care any more, and that's not in your power to choose either.

What you can do, however, is put her letter back in an envelope, with no comment whatsoever, and just mail it back to her.  If she sends another, don't even open it - just send it back.  If she calls and tries to talk about it, just say "gotta go" and hang up.  If she tries to talk about it in person when you meet, just walk out.

Your words are not going to reach her, so you'd be wasting thought trying to get her to hear you.  The only way you can effectively deal with her is to shield yourself from this stuff.  That, you can control.  Eventually, she will realise she can't get through to you without your permission.  Or not.  Her issues are not in your box.  Refuse to give her the satisfaction of a 'receipt' for her messages.  You can move past it all, because you are a strong woman, who is just getting the hang of believing in herself.  Nobody can take that away from you without your permission.

It could very well be that she stayed with the abusive guy by convincing herself it was what God wanted.  Now that you are threatening the existence of this God through your disbelief, she may feel it is threatening all the things she clung to for so many years through that partnership - and she cannot deal with that.  It's still not in your box.  You aren't responsible for her internal conflicts. 

You are responsible for yourself, however.  Keep her 'input' out of your life, by refusing to listen, read, hear or in any other way acknowledge anything that has the potential to upset you.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on July 2, 2013 at 10:12am

Hi Cara - I think Strega hit the nub of the issue above. She needs to keep her belief in God intact. It has supported her throughout her life insofar as it has allowed her to justify what happen to her and her family. So it is not that you don’t believe in God that is the problem but what it would imply if you are correct.  

You don’t need to use the word Atheist. That is because once you tell someone you have known a long time that you do not believe what they belief you compel them to consider why you don’t. This creates doubt (Doubt) in their mind and the monsters of reality start to come to the foreground. This is scary for most people especially those that have invested so much into their faith. So maybe your mother is trying to get you to “return to the fold” so that it will give meaning to her own faith.

If you don’t confirm the bias for her beliefs then she can sense the pillars of her reality, those coping structures she has built up over the years, start to crumble. That means she will be left to face the stark realities of her life. She will have to come to terms with all of the stuff you have already sorted out for and by yourself.

So you could ask her to stop with the bullying tactics as with the letter writing. If she does have her own crisis of faith then maybe you will be the one that can help her make sense of it. You can show her how better her life could be without religion and help her to map out her path to becoming an empowered woman like you are. That might be the only way for you both to have a meaningful relationship. If not you will have to be assertive and  insist that if she will not try to see your point of view and respect your wishes then you are not prepared to continue with the current status quo.

Comment by Emperor Milos on July 2, 2013 at 10:39am

@Cara Coleen,

In reply to your post about your mother.

don't have a right to be angry? She liked me better as a shy, timid, and cowering girl? She liked me better when I was afraid of and hated men? She liked me better when I was beaten into submission? Fantastic. And I keep telling her... I don't NOT believe there's a god out of rebellion. Really, I don't. Despite the shit in my past, I stopped believing in the supernatural AFTER I'd worked through most of my issues.

But she keeps ripping the scabs off. And she keeps telling me how sad she is... as if I should give a fuck. As if she didn't give up her right to give advice 25 years ago when she decided to stay with a man who abused her children.

I haven't read all of your blogs or posts on TA, so I most likely don't know the whole story, but have you told her these things?

From my experience with people that sound like your mom, there is a point at which the best option is a "fuck you". When a relationship is abusive, emotionally or physically, it is best to remove oneself from the harmful situation. Tell her you will not read or reply to anything she has to say to you unless the next words from her are "I'm sorry, I won't mention X, Y, Z ever again."

Comment by archaeopteryx on July 2, 2013 at 11:32am

Sounds like it's all about control, Cara - the "shy, timid, and cowering girl" was controllable.

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