Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reflections on my Mothers' Passing

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable (I Corinthians 15:19).

As many readers may already know, I lost my mother to cancer ten days ago. I was present with her when she took her last breath. It was a meaningful moment for me, and one that she would have been happy with had she observed it for herself. Her son and daughter, her last living family, were both present as she was escorted into final unconsciousness.

My mother was a woman of faith, and she was esteemed as an example of the Christian life by her peers. It was hard for her to keep her mouth shut about Jesus. Everywhere she went, she told neighbors, her doctors, nurses, friends, and foes about what Jesus meant to her. Her bluntness about matters of faith is one of the attributes for which she will be remembered. However sincere she may have been, her evangelical zeal was one of the most this-world reinforced behaviors by her community. She often received spotlight attention in Bible study groups or church services for her “no-holds-barred” approach to “taking back territory from Satan.” She won the respect and positive attention of many for this aspect of her faith.

Paul in I Corinthians asserts that if the “hope of Christ” applies only to this life, then “we are of all men most miserable.” I disagree with Paul’s statement. My mother lived a full life in her short fifty-eight years. Most of those years were spent in “service to Christ” and so involved in church and para-church communities. Despite the fictive foundations to her faith, she was happy. She reaped the material and psychological benefit of “hope in Christ” in the here and now. I don’t know why Paul felt such a need to polarize the life conditions of the present with the presumed life to come.

How am I dealing with my mother’s passing? I have now lost both my mother and my father. If there is any one unconscious, psychological impetus behind my atheism, it is the loss of both of my parents. They both were the first of their peer groups to die of natural causes. With my father’s death in 2003, I made the attempt to invest his passing with faith meaning. I even preached a fire-and-brimstone eulogy at his memorial service. Since that time, I have found my belief system and the Bible to be human through and through. I found that there is no YHWH in Zion, no numen EL in Bethel, and no ascended Jesus on the crystal sea of a fictive firmament.

The nails in God’s coffin were gradual. I was devout, and I knew my Bible. Like my mother, my faith communities lauded me for my evangelical and charismatic zeal. I reaped the psycho-social benefits of faith, and even when these benefits waned and terminated, I remained a believer. The nails in God’s coffin were the findings of my inquisitive mind: Bible contradictions, Bible inaccuracies, Bible-science incongruence, etc. But, it is unlikely that any of my intellectual findings had as much a contribution as the death of my father. With his passing I realized that all is vulnerable—nothing hides for the sun will “rise on the evil and on the good” and the rain will fall “on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).


  1. To my beloved friend,

    Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints (Psalm 116). I believe that your mother, your father .....and Keith Green..... are now ministering spirits, among a cloud of witnesses, joyfully engaged in assisting in your ultimate salvation and purpose in God’s plan for your life.

    Be still and know....(see my webpage)

    Love is of God (1 John 4:7)

    Kol tuv,


  2. I think seeing the sociological "benefits" of religion is absolutely a polarizing experience. Both your reaction and paul's make sense to me.

    Every religion, including the one I ascribe to, is at least 98% sociological. I remember walking through Moody, observing the dress and language rules, both written and unwritten, the ways of speaking and the complex sociological ladder that was carefully constructed to bring a Christian from one level to another. At first, it made we want to vomit. Later, with some distance, I could see that there was nothing inherently wrong with what they were doing. It just had almost nothing to do with what they thought it had to do with.

    My mother was also a woman of faith, and her passing has been formative in my intellectual and emotional passages as well.

    Peace be with you.


  3. Hello Samm,

    Yes, I have observed similar scaffoldings to faith systems. Though there may be many prescribed, many such behaviors are unconscious, yet violation of them is often reacted to as seriously as denying, in an Evangelical context, the deity of Christ. The sociological dimension to religion is enormous. Philosobot is working on a post that will develop an insightful trajectory on this theme---but I must refrain from saying much more.

    I am sorry to hear about your mother. Though I ascribe intellectual justification and objective reasoning to all of my ideas, I would be foolish to deny the influence of personal experience and my purely subjective responses.

  4. I look forward to that post. I can understand why Zee would be compelled to find a descriptor other than "Christian." I don't claim to have some pure, unadulterated faith; quite the opposite, I think I do a shoddy job of living out the ethics I ascribe to, let alone the inverted economics I pretend to believe in.

    That said, I continue to call myself a Christian precisely because it is the teachings of Christ that keep me coming back. Certainly, a sociological study of religion is fascinating, and personal psychoanalysis is necessary, but I would be cautious about being too reductive in that conversation. I believe that motivations are incredibly complex, and it can be easy to oversimplify them. I often find fault in atheist friends for essentially "proof texting": finding one facet of the truth and ignoring the other complicating factors.

    Therefore, any discussion of the sociological motivations for religion should be coupled with a discussion about personal experience, enlightened by Kierkegaardian epistemology and Plantinga's "reasonable belief" philosophies. Though I don't claim to be an expert on those topics, I think further research and deliberation in that direction would provide a necessary balance.