My parents recently moved to a new city, so naturally they are making lots of new friends. Often they are asked about their family. The conversation inevitably goes something like this:
New friend: Do you have any children?
Parents: Yes, we have one son.
New friend: And what does he do?
Parents: He’s studying to be a minister.
New friend: Oh, I didn’t realize you were religious.
Parents: We’re not… (Cue looks of confusion on the part of my parents’ new friend’s face)
You see, we’re the opposite of what you’d expect. Often it’s the parents who are religious and the children who even up leaving. Millennials, the generation of which I am a part, are the least likely age-group to regularly attend church. It’s no surprise that my parents’ friends make the leap that if I’m religious, obviously they must be, too.
I’ve often wondered if the fact that my parents aren’t religious and I very much am makes my small nuclear family an interfaith one. And in some ways it feels like we are. I, the convert in young adulthood doing something my parents don’t really understand. But in other ways we aren’t. We celebrate the same holidays (Christian ones, thanks to our social location as cultural and ethnic Christians) and uphold many – if not most – of the same values (I recently read the seven Unitarian Universalist Principles to my mother and she nodded along in agreement with each one).
Yet, fundamentally we identify differently when it comes to faith.
Now, because we don’t disagree on the basis of faith very often, I can’t remember a time that we’ve gotten into an argument about our religious differences.
But because of this sometimes I struggle with a desire to make my parents Unitarian Universalists. Sometimes I just want to convert them.
I mean, if they believe much of the same things I do, why can’t they just accept that they really are Unitarian Universalists?
Last time I visited with them I no-so-subtly suggested they take the Belief-O-Matic, a quiz that has often been quoted as leading people to Unitarian Universalism. I sat there with a smug look on my face while they each clicked through their results, fully expecting them to each come up as strong Unitarian Universalists.
“Secular Humanist,” my dad said when he finished. He handed the laptop to my mother and, lo and behold, she was a Secular Humanist, too.
“But there are Unitarian Universalist Humanists! I’m a Unitarian Universalist Humanist!” I thought. Why was this so important to me? Clearly my parents were happy with their Secular Humanism and saw no need for my particular brand of religious Humanism.
It’s been ten years since I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist, and it wasn’t until my father said those words “Secular Humanist” proudly that I realized what I’d been doing.
In the ten years since I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist, I kept expecting that someday my parents would come around and join me. Not just because I thought I was “right” but because I felt like I needed their approval of that “rightness.”
Unitarian Universalism is a faith grounded in religious pluralism. Surely that includes respect for the secular humanists who chose not to find meaning at my church. Surely that includes honoring my parents’ beliefs and (lack of) faith practice for what it is for them, not what it means for me.
Image courtesy of Flickr Commons.