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The God Squad: Atheism not the end of spiritual journey

April 25, 2014|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: What can you say to a 16-year-old boy who's an atheist? My wife and I were both brought up as Catholics, and we raised our two sons that way. They had all the appropriate sacraments — baptism, first communion, confirmation, etc.

After the younger son, who's now declared himself an atheist, made his confirmation, we gave both boys some leeway in regard to attending Mass. While my wife was raised to think of herself as Catholic, in truth she does not practice and neither did her family. My family and upbringing was much more religious, but we were also allowed to go our own way after confirmation.

To be honest, my wife and I rarely attend Mass now or participate in any of the sacraments. I consider myself more "spiritual" than Catholic. I wouldn't mind if my 16-year-old had some belief in a higher power, but he has none and dismisses the idea as nonsense. He's very close to his biology teacher and believes strongly in Darwinism and evolution. He completely dismisses any concept of "intelligent design."

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My son is a bright child with a very logical mind and a good debater. I'm at a loss as to how to debate the issue with him, but I wish, for his own sake, that he was open to the idea of a higher power. — C., a concerned father, via cyberspace

A: Living with atheists is a good thing for religious people, just as living with religious people is a good thing for atheists. Our beliefs are sharpened and refined in the heat of dialogue (just so long as nobody throws things). This is all good.

If you were not talking about God and the meaning of human existence with your son, you'd probably be talking about who just got kicked off the island on some reality show. You're deep in the theological weeds with your son, but they are beautiful and important weeds.

In addition to being grateful rather than exasperated by your son's lack of piety, you're learning a valuable lesson in patience and forbearance. It's important for your son to feel that you respect his intellectual and spiritual journey, whether it corresponds to yours or not. Neither God nor life is through with your son or you. Hang in there.

Your predicament offers you an opportunity to reflect on why and how we change our beliefs. When I've changed my own beliefs, it hasn't been because someone has offered me a better argument, but rather because I've seen in them a better life.

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