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Meditation 33
"Something is Better Than Nothing"

by Jeff

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Some brief background on me is probably in order before I launch into the story that forms the heart of this message: I'm (at the time of this writing) in my mid-20's, a graduate student in the natural sciences, from a non-fundamentalist Protestant family that has at least one branch in the American southeast. My younger sister, who also winds up playing a central role in this story, graduated last summer from a private college in that part of the country.

I grew up doing many of the things you'd expect combining the background above with a family inclination toward the performing arts: regularly attending church services and Sunday school, singing in the children's and youth choirs, and church-sponsored youth groups. My first steps in the direction of agnosticism came as a result of being dissatisfied with the judgmentalism I saw in the "great Middle Eastern religions."[1]I am at this point a confirmed agnostic, though (like the author of Talk Back #16) am not quite apathetic on the point yet - one of the things that often goes with the possibility of having children in the foreseeable future.

Two other quick points worth noting: my sister-in-law is an open lesbian, which makes my wife and me somewhat sensitive to the homophobic thread in most contemporary Christianity. Also, when visiting my parents, I continue to attend church services with them when appropriate in order to avoid any serious family discord.

I spent this last Christmas visiting my parents, and went to the Sunday church service. Afterward, my younger sister asked us what we thought of the new interim pastor. My wife commented on what she perceived as a very condemnatory attitude toward the heterodox in the sermon that morning. This sparked off a debate that my sister and I continued with after my wife had left the room.

Perhaps thinking that she could convince me to start attending church regularly, my sister at one point snapped "Name me one religion that doesn't condemn people to Hell."

As I wanted to make a point and not to shock her, I censored my first thought - neo-Paganism. My retort was, "Buddhism, for one."

To which she replied, "Then why don't you and [your wife] start going to a Buddhist temple, because something's better than nothing!"

On reflection, I don't think I handled the argument very well at all. I should have left the room when my wife did. Had I not left, I still should have not censored my first thought and rattled off a whole list of non-deistic religions. One thing that I think was a contributing factor to the end of the discussion is a likely confusion on my sister's part between agnosticism and "weak atheism."

Personal lesson: avoid a fight about religion with your family. In general, it's not worth it.

Lesson for the UCTAA: make a point of educating people about what agnosticism really is.


  1. Judaism, Christianity (all sects), Islam