Well, yesterday I told my mother and my sister that Lindsay and I are getting married.
I guess I wasn't surprised by my mother's reaction. She's worried, partially because "She's so young!" and because we haven't been together for very long (As far as I'm concerned, it's been nearly a year, but I don't think I would be able to convince my mother that an online relationship carries the same status as one "in real life" - we didn't actually meet in person until July 2001, when I went to Chicago. My sister just said "Congratulations!", but I know that she will go home and express all her worries to my mother, not to me, so I should probably be grateful that my mother was open with me about how she felt.
As far as getting married so soon is concerned, she might be worried, but she'll get over it. She'd only been with my dad for 6 months before they got engaged, so she doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. But something else came out while I was talking to her, which I found more bizarre. She asked:
"Will you be getting married in a church?" and I kind of looked at her strangely and said
"Well, no, of course not".
"Why of course?"
"Is this a serious question? I haven't been a Catholic since I was 14."
"A lot of people go through a phase of questioning their religious beliefs, but I just thought..."
"You thought I'd just come back to the fold after my silly wanderings were over?"
"I didn't say that...but you know, your spiritual life is very important."
"I have a spiritual life! I can't believe you're saying this. Why would I want to get married in a church when I don't practice the religion?"
"You were brought up a Christian, Alan, you can't just leave it behind..."
"Of course I can! I did years ago! For god's sake, I even joined another religion since then and left it too..."
The sad thing is, she is well aware of how I feel about the religion I was born into. I mean, as religions go, it's not the worst, it's not the best, and it has nothing to offer me any more. Christianity as it was taught to me by my parents and teachers is a religion best suited to children: little baby Jesus in the crib, angels and saints, heaven and hell. Good and bad are conveniently divided by a big wide gulf, and God is love. I mean, at its core it contains a message which the whole world could benefit from: love. Love others, love yourself, love God, whatever God is. But to live at that core, you don't need to practice a mainstream religion. All you need is to be a full human person. I've talked to my mother about all this before, and I know she knows how I feel.
She wants her son to be married in a church. I asked her if she'd prefer me to just mouth the words of the ritual, even if I didn't believe in them, and she hesitated, and didn't say anything. I asked her if she understood that, to me, the truth is incredibly important, and I wouldn't lie just to make someone happy, and she said "That's so male." We talked about James Joyce - how his mother asked him, on her deathbed, to renounce his atheism and return to the Catholic faith, and he refused. My mother thought that was cruel and heartless of him. I think it was cruel and heartless (and stupid) of his mother, the worst instance of emotional blackmail I think I've ever heard. My mother said that if it was her, she would have lied to make her mother happy, and I said, well I wouldn't. "That's so male".
My mother would prefer me to get married in a church, like the promised reward of the hard-working and faithful parent, because if I don't, she will have to explain to her entire family why I didn't. She would rather lie and lie and lie until they are all dead than go through the awkwardness and arguments and criticisms that will come if they find out now. What's the big deal, you might ask? This is Ireland. They are in their seventies, and they come from a generation in which it was utterly unheard of to reject the religion you were brought up with. The Pope is infallible, and everyone in any other religion is going to hell, and you get married in a damn church.
I don't mind facing down my family. I had a guru for 2 years - I spoke to most of my family about it, and I was perfectly prepared to talk to my grandparents about it, but my mother persuaded me not to, "they wouldn't understand". My uncle was an atheist for years, but no one talked about it, they pretended like it wasn't real, and after a decade or two, imperceptibly, he returned to Catholicism. He got married in a church. Maybe my grandparents will pretend like I don't exist, or like my wedding didn't really happen. Maybe in their eyes, it won't really have happened, since it didn't happen in the sight of God. I don't really care, and I won't sacrifice the truth just to let anyone rest easy in their illusions. I don't attack their beliefs; that would be wrong. But I won't live my life any differently than I want to. That would be wrong too.