I never knew if my Father believed in God. Throughout the years it was never a subject that came up between us. I knew he had been raised in a strict Christian family, but in my memory, he had never been to church.
I can’t be certain but I think it was due to his military service: he served in the 2nd World War, as well as Korea and finally Vietnam before retiring in 1969. When I think about it now, the horrors a kid saw during WWII, not to mention the other two conflicts he was in, may have affected his belief in a loving, caring God.
It affected me as well. Since my Father never went to church, I recall deciding as a child, around 12 years old, that I wasn’t going to attend church either. He wasn’t angry with me, but just asked me one Sunday morning why. I recall saying that since he never attended church, why should I? He looked at me, nodded, and that was the end of the conversation.
The topic never came up again and I wondered through my teens and early adulthood if my Father even believed in God. In my family, at least for me, it was not something ever discussed. I do recall when I was in high school, although I can’t recall the context of the conversation, that my father made a statement: When you’re dead, you’re dead. It wasn’t directed at me but at some other adults in the room.
That alone had me thinking because as a teenager, I was a believer. I was never encouraged nor discouraged in my belief. I’ve never forgotten that statement of absolution.
As an adult, I lost my belief. A lot of reasons as to why but one that stuck with me was that declaration by my Father. Even when I returned from my deployment in Iraq in late 2004 did the subject ever come up. When he was dying from cancer two years later, I never heard him talk about God or Jesus or anything that had to do with religious belief. And he knew at one point that he was in fact dying.
Was my Father an atheist? I don’t know. I do know he was never one to label anyone and therefore never labeled himself. It makes me wonder if referring to myself as an atheist actually means anything.