I have been avoiding it. I have been debating the appropriateness of opening the topic here.
My 18 year old son is a member of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit currently assigned to the USS IWA JIMA, somewhere in the general vicinity of Iraq. A week and a half ago he was in the Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey. He called to say that he would not be able to contact anyone for quite some time. He was not permitted to give any reasons or details, only that he would not be making any calls for the foreseeable future.
Everywhere I turn, people are offering to pray for him, and for us.
I don't resent these comments because I understand that these people feel like they want to do something, and they just don't know what to do. To a Christian, saying that they are "praying for you" somehow placates their feelings of empathy.
My son is married and his first child was born two weeks after he was deployed. He hasn't even seen a picture of his son yet. His wife is nearby living with her mother, so all the grandparents are involved with their new grandson. This is my first grandchild.
Now I appreciate the emotion behind the comments made by those people who have offered to pray for us, but I have been more impressed with one person who did not offer to pray. This person, rather than offering pious platitudes, asked for my son's address. She took the initiative to involve a second grade class in writing to my son.
This person actually did something. She is trying to help my son's morale as he faces the challenges ahead. She did it without being asked.
Now I do not have the opinion that anyone is obligated to do anything for my son. He insisted on becoming a US Marine. He also insisted on marrying young and starting a family right away. My son is not a victim of circumstance, but dove in feet first culminating in his present life situation. However, I am sure things are not progressing as he initially envisioned.
That brings me to how this topic relates to being an Ex Christian.
As a Christian I would have participated, or even staged, prayer vigils. I would have agonized over the state of my son's soul. I would have been tempted to send tracts or religious platitudes. I would have felt obligated to spend long hours in prayer. I would have wondered if the Sovereign Will was to take my son "home." Far from being comforted, I would have been tortured by the belief that GOD was in control of everything, yet my son may come to serious harm or death, because it was HIS mysterious will.
Since I am no longer a Christian I understand that the chances of my son coming to harm are very slight. Although it is war, the number of soldiers in country, compared to the number of casualties so far, gives me confidence that the his odds are pretty good of getting through unscathed. As a disclaimer, I hope that trend continues. As a non-believer, I understand that we are all mortal and that any of our lives can end suddenly or unexpectedly. I realize that if the unthinkable were to happen and I were to lose my son, I have no fear that he may spend eternity in some demented deity's version of horrific painful torture.
I have seen some death in my time. I have been to the funerals of friends and relatives. I buried my own younger brother eleven years ago. I lost two good friends to cancer in the last few months. I have buried dozens of well loved pets. Death is a part of life, something we all face and will experience. The finality of separation can be overwhelming, but most of us eventually recover from the sadness.
The point I am trying to make with this rant is simple. Life offers difficult challenges, we all know that. The contention that faith in Christ, or any other GOD, somehow offers a satisfying hope is just not true. Religion offers nothing but obligation and guilt. "Did I pray enough? Did I witness enough? Did I give enough? What is God trying to teach me? Why won't God take my grief away? Why did God pick my son? Did I solicit enough prayers from others? Is all this the result of some hidden sin in my life?" Any one of us who has walked in the supposed "Light of Christ" has asked these kinds of questions and many others. As a Christian, we always wonder if GOD is chastening us when we have terrible things happen. Christianity does not comfort, it condemns.
As a man without a god, I have to accept the idea that "shit happens" and it is not a plan, or a purpose, or a chastisement, or the part of some eternal big picture. Life just happens. Oh, there are responsible parties for this war in Iraq, and depending on your perspective, the ultimate guilt for this passion play lies in the lap of one or more powerful men. No god is orchestrating the toll in human and material loss we are seeing 24/7 on the television. People start wars and people end them. Praying to our respective deities will do absolutely nothing to abrogate or aggravate the present legalized killing.
The conclusion of this, and every other clash of ideologies, will be settled only by people of action. There are things that can be effectively done on one's knees, but none of those things will change the world.