A Morality Tale

My mother preferred the term agnostic.  “You just can’t know for sure,” was her line. But  my father had no doubt. He was a proud atheist.  “Make them prove it to you, Lucy. You’ll see. They can’t!” That was the end of the subject.

This is the crowd I yearned for….

The “them,” of course, was a large chunk of the country and most of our neighborhood in Seattle, and it was painful for me at a certain age not to be one of “them.”  When I was twelve many of my friends were getting ready for confirmation at the local Episcopal Church. I had no idea what that meant, and I’m not sure they knew either, but they had new white dresses and were anticipating receiving a bible, I imagined with gold-edged pages. Every Monday after school they went to the church to prepare for this exciting event. Their parents picked them up and they bounced into the car and drove off, leaving me in a wake of not belonging.

I fretted about this for awhile, screwed up my courage, and asked my parents, “Why can’t I be confirmed, too? Everyone is doing it. I feel left out.”

“That’s for people who belong to that church…” my mother began. “And for people who believe in God,” my father finished. I knew that we did not fit in either category.

“But can’t we just join that church, just for this year, so I can get confirmed, too?

Epiphany Episcopal Church in Seattle

And then we could stop going after that?” I built my case, but to no avail. This was the day I learned a new word, hypocrisy.  They couldn’t pretend about something so important, my parents explained. But if I really wanted to be a member of that church and get confirmed, they would drive me, drop me off and pick me up every Sunday and take me to the practice sessions, too.

“But I want us all to go. I want to be a family that goes to church.” I knew it was futile – another word I learned that day. They wouldn’t budge. I was angry. It would be so easy to go through the motions.

So why didn’t I take them up on their offer? I could have joined the church, been dropped off and picked up, and earned my white dress and bible. Or, maybe my friend Dotty’s parents could have adopted me just for a few months of Sundays and I could have hopped in the backseat with her and belonged, just temporarily.

I remember struggling with the dilemma, a battle between my desire to belong and my budding sense of morality. In the end I saw that pursuing the confirmation would be pretending I was someone I wasn’t, and that once I took that step it could be a very slippery slope of dishonesty with myself and others.

I also remember taking solace in the fact that in just four years I would be sixteen and could drive myself to any church I wanted, maybe lots of them, and see what I thought. In the meantime, I was learning how to make honest and moral decisions from my parents, and that was much more valuable than a white dress and bible with gold edges.

And, lo and behold, my grandmother, who was a wonderful Christian lady, gave me a bible with gold edges for my next birthday!

18 thoughts on “A Morality Tale”

  1. Lucy, you nailed this one, for me personally!! One day you and I can talk about this subject but I will say I went through the ritual of confirmation…..not understanding fully and what for? Love you, Lucy.

    1. Oooh, I’m jealous. Did you get a white dress? I would love to talk more with you, Ella. Wherever you got your morality was a great source! Let’s make a date.

  2. Imagine being one of those little girls joining a church ( in my case Methodist) supported and encouraged by parents who insisted on attending church every Sunday…and thinking it was all a bunch of nonsense. I didn’t feel left out, I felt included in something I didn’t want to be a part of….

  3. Lucy, your story must be reflective of quite a few of us. My mom wouldn’t let me go to catechism like the popular kids. I had a girlfriend who attended a Catholic school and was so devout she became the president of her class. So I took a class on how to be a Catholic, and it was there I learned to reject pretense and be comfortable as an atheist. I solidified my own moral standards by selecting from several religions whatever felt right, in essence, the Golden Rule. I realized that though this rule exists within religions, it is independent of them. Apparently, selecting my own standards loosened some of the chains that bind without leading to hell or prison. I’ll have to wait for the last chapter, though, to know for sure.

    1. Love your story, Richard. And yes, I have come to realize that the Golden Rule about says it all. I sometimes fantasize what a joke it would be on me (and you) if indeed there was some kind of heaven and hell. I would hope that our “morality” would get us into heaven, but if not, I’ll be happy to have your company in hell!

  4. You can be and are the most righteous person in a group of “pretend” “Christians”. I think your parents were right to give you the option. So many take the words as “infallible”, As one of the Brothers at the CSF said to me once, “It is all speculation. No one really knows anything. You needn’t get worked up as to some of these statements.” The one I was asking about was “you must go thro Jesus to get to God”. I said, well what about all those Hindus, and Muslims, and all those that lived before Jesus was ever born? Are they doomed? Just because they didnt hear the words of the Bible, they can still find God. What prejudice the “Christians” put out.

    1. Thanks so much. You were a smart and courageous young one to challenge that authority, which can be pretty overpowering. I am really offended by the kind of righteousness you describe — surely there are infinite ways to get to a moral life, with or without religion. But, I am really glad that I had my grandmother as an example of how to live within the church (Congregational, in her case) and be a good citizen, fighter for the underdog, upholder of justice, a kind and loving person in her daily life.

  5. Lucy, Thanks so much for relating your innocent desire to have a Bible and a white dress! Next time I see you I’ll tell you the story of my mother actually dropping me off for Sunday School at the Episcopal Church in the little Bible Belt town where I grew up and, thankfully, left.

    1. It is indeed. And just to update my readers, late in life I decided that my education had been lacking in the religious realm. I got out that bible my grandma gave me and joined a wonderful group of Jews and Christians (and me) to study the Torah/Old Testament and find lessons and revelations and relevance to our world today. I have loved it! It is fascinating to read those stories (many of which are bizarre to say the least), ponder the meaning, think about our own lives, make connections between then and now, discover truths — both inspiring and depressing — about humankind. My grandma would be proud. She was a thinking, feeling person, with high moral standards and a drive to make a difference.

  6. Good thought-provoking piece. I thought I was an atheist but a friend just informed me I was an agnostic because atheism was “just an ideology”!

  7. I know I got the Bible with the golden pages, and I also go little confirmation cards lined in gold, with the virgin and the baby, the annunciation and all. I don’t recall the white dress. But I grew up in the Church of England, the Anglican Church, which was quite akin to the Catholic Church back then. Services in Latin, and lots of incense.
    At boarding school in England, we would go to church twice a day and three times on Sunday. I don’t recall paying a lot of attention except to the artwork and the music. I never was much of a believer. I thought a lot of it was what I thought ‘wishful thinking’. I did, though, like you Lucy, love the Old Testament stories. In church, we used to have these round candies called aniseed balls that we would roll down the isle towards the alter. They would make quite a racket!
    Now that I live in northern New Hampshire, I have discovered that it’s better to suggest to people that you might be a serial killer rather than that you are an atheist. Which, like your Dad, I am! Good blog Lucy. I’m hoping for the Happy Hunting Grounds one day!

  8. My experience was the opposite. There was no question: of course I was going to get confirmed. It was “what one did” if one were Episcopalian in Connecticut. And so I dutifully went to the classes and did the reading (I think there was reading) while beginning to think, I’m not sure I want to do this. I loved the church’s music and rituals and liturgy, but how could people be so sure about what was essentially a mystery? If I was going to sign on, I needed to do so whole-heartedly. I went to my father and told him so. His response was, you’re getting confirmed. And so I did, realizing the whole process was as much about convention and fitting in and appearances as it was about true belief.

    I was not much of a churchgoer after that. Now I’m Buddhist, a discipline which is all about uncertainty and not knowing, Agnostic, really.

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