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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Comment by Dr. Bob on July 2, 2013 at 2:27pm

Very thoughtful prose, @Cara, and very wise. 

Be patient with your mom.  Most parents in loving their children and wanting the best for them also want them to follow in their footsteps.  Take over the family business, adopt their worldview, enjoy the same hobbies, live in the same town.   I suppose it is selfish in some ways, and it certainly feels that way to us as children.   At the same time, it's really just an expression of love, of wanting the best.  What our parents know is their life and choices.  Other careers, other worldviews are in some way unknown to them, and the unknown is always scary.  Parents don't want their kids to be somewhere that is scary to them.

So much as you did with your father, you might come to the same understanding with your mother.  She is who she is, you are who you are.  Recognize that she loves you and worries about you, and take that as just being her, rather than as a commentary on you.  It's really hard, because parents can push our buttons and we want their approval.  She also wants your approval, though.  You can model loving her for who she is, and in time she may come around and do the same.

For what it's worth from someone who is still a practicing Christian, you have the right of it.  The path you're on is the right one for you, at least as far as an old fellow at the end of a digital connection can discern.

Comment by Unseen on July 2, 2013 at 2:47pm

@Belle Rose  Are you saying that women value having a (for want of a better word) a "nest," that they are willing to endure a lot of abuse before giving one up?

Comment by CJoe on July 2, 2013 at 3:15pm

Thanks for all the advice and encouragement. I did already read the letter, so it's impossible to return it unread at this point haha. Also... there was no "grain of concession". Sure, it was saturated with concern, but also an utter dismissal of the message I've been trying to convey to her... that my lack of faith is not due to my childhood; that my lack of faith isn't driven by rebellion; that I can't just decide to believe all of it again.

Well... anyway... I did write a response to what she wrote, too. I am leaning towards sending it because it's more direct than I've really ever been; a lot more raw. I tried not to be rude, but I also didn't sugar-coating anything. Will it fall on deaf ears? Probably. But I shouldn't be the only one taking blows here. I've been really understanding of her vulnerability... and I feel like that's the last vestige of my mercy on her.

I see more people have responded, so I'll read on...

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 2, 2013 at 8:39pm

Neurotic people need to get under your skin, for them it's a way of achieving an emotional connection, one which can be tragically dysfunctional and damaging. 

I'm still reeling from just realizing that I'm really the offending party in my inexplicable dispute with my neighbour.  I go around with a massive Fuck You, sideways with a pineapple in glowing, flashing, taunting, insinuating, blackly threatening letters.  

No wonder he doesn't like me.  I've really got to change.  Every fibre of me wants to fuck up somebody like that.  It's why I'm a punk - it's a reaction to the industrial strength pain and despair, which I've left behind me.  

From Taurus this week:

Yet, if you’ve been seething inside while wearing a plastic smile on your face, you can’t exactly blame the offending party.

I feel that The Golden Rule is all about reward and punishment - if you behave well, I will reward you by cooperating and behaving well in return.  Forgiveness is all about rewarding the promise or practice of good behaviour.  Withholding forgiveness is a punishment for a refusal to cooperate. 

Comment by Unseen on July 2, 2013 at 10:48pm

OMG, Simon. On top of everything else, you're into astrology?!!!

PLUS, I don't get the pineapple reference.

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 3, 2013 at 3:48am

Astrotwins never lie. 

The pineapple?  Can you imagine?  Sideways? 

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 3, 2013 at 5:55am

Mothers do have the power to hurt you.  If they want to, they can play on the respect and goodwill which we naturally want to show towards them. 

What neurotic people enjoy most is to put you in an impossible position - if you let it, the cognitive dissonance can be unbearable. 

I agree with Belle - if you are to see her or have contact, which we all must naturally want to do with our mothers, then you have to protect yourself and although that means the contact and emotional intimacy must be limited, at least there is some, which is much better for both sides than nothing, if it is possible. 

It's your right to be an atheist, period.  If you were an embezzler or a lying cheating bully, which you're not, she would have some right to complain.  She has no right to complain about you being an atheist.  If you were my daughter, I would be immensely proud. 

Likewise, as we all know, if she wants to be a Christian, that's up to her, there's nothing inherently wrong in being a Christian.  It seems though that she has a very warped neurotic view of it, and uses it to further her own dysfunctional aims. 

So out of the two of you, she's a sad weak person and you're a strong healthy person, even if you do suffer blows.  So you're the one to be the adult, to manage the situation so that you can get what you want (which presumably includes trying to do right by her). 

Comment by Kamela Johnston on July 3, 2013 at 10:24am

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.--Holy crap. Mind blown.

I'm going to be thinking about this post for a long time. Thank you so much for your insights. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 4, 2013 at 9:56am

They also are experts at making everything look like your fault, and they're out to disturb you.  It's all just a desperate attempt for them to feel OK.  It's called an immature ego defense, caused by a lack of courage and self-knowledge.  These people cause most of the rubbish in the world. 

Comment by Simon Paynton on July 4, 2013 at 10:03am

Sorry to boil up, there.  What can you do? 


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