My Atheist Uncle

Back many years ago when my uncle was alive, he would come to visit us in Canada from Scotland. When he first came over, his wife had just passed within that year and he was heartbroken. He came over another three times within the following five years. Each time he would stay longer. He liked how most of our family was in close proximity and enjoyed the time with my parents. His family back in Scotland were more dispersed and he only got to see them on the major holidays.


I had one particular conversation on his dealing with the loss of his beloved wife. At this point, I had not reached any conclusions on the afterlife. I had already begun to doubt the Catholic teachings I grew up with. I still believed in some energy transfer after death. When we discussed his wife and how she passed, we somehow got on to that conversation. With no uncertain terms, he quietly stated that he believed that there was nothing after death. That you were "just gone". I was surprised and thought I could convince him otherwise. Again, he quietly affirmed what he thought happened. I didn't think much of it until much later when I myself had veered more to atheism and away from religion.


The amazing thing was that he came over for visits and was completely dominated to the Catholic lifestyle. He went to church every Sunday. Was social with everyone in the church hall after mass. He went to all the high holidays if he were still there. My mother was adamant that he participated along with the rest of the family. Because he did without so much of a complaint, my mother proudly thought that she had him and his "crazy ways" converted. What made it easier is that my mother was a social Catholic. You could not discuss the transfiguration of Christ into the communion wafer but you could certainly count on her to make sure that coffee, juice and biscuits would be made available after mass in the hall.


My uncle quietly absorbed the busy schedule of being Catholic during the weekend but still quietly held on to his own atheist beliefs. There were no inner conflicts within him. He was happy to be part of a larger community but never considered changing his own views. I don't know how or when he decided that he would become atheist but I think he represented how atheists dealt with a religious environment without compromising himself or antagonizing anyone else. Like many Europeans surviving the war, he was fascinated by history, culture and people. That small conversation struck me later about how quiet but cemented his views were. He was careful not to impose them on anyone else but was happy to answer any questions for those inquiring about his own philosophy of life. He passed on about six months after my father and was very much beloved and missed. Atheists have become more visible in society and will continue to do so. I still look to my uncle on how to respect religious traditions but still maintain atheist views.

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