I found an interesting post written by an American atheist reporting about her negative experiences with religiously conservative members of her family.
Musings on the Eve of a Family Reunion: Things not to say to your atheist relatives if you want them to continue to enjoy your company
This weekend, we’ll be traveling for my family reunion. Usually, it’s one of the highlights of my summer, but this year…feels different.
I don’t like conflict. It’s not enjoyable for me at all. It makes me feel shaky, to the point where sometimes, I will physically shake. My head will spin a bit. In bygone times, I sometimes backed down from it for just that reason–it felt insurmountable. Nowadays, I’m not so apt to back down, in part because I usually formulate my beliefs based on reasons that I can defend if I need to. That doesn’t mean that I want to, though.
Looking down the barrel of this weekend, I’m incredibly stressed at the prospect of interacting with my family as someone who’s “out and proud” as a nonbeliever. I am afraid of having to constantly defend myself–not because I can’t, but because I don’t want to. I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.
I work best when I can take these worries put them down somewhere outside of my own head, so here’s my list of things you should never say to your atheist relatives if you want them to enjoy your company and not dread having to interact with you. Enjoy.
1. This isn’t how you were raised.
2. You’re just going through a dark time.
3. You’re just rebelling.
4. You just want to be able to sin.
5. Can’t you see God all around you?
6. *any variation of “But Christians really believe this…” or “That person is not really a Christian…”*
7. What does your life mean?
8. What if you’re wrong?
9. How can there be morality without God?
10. Why do you hate something you don’t believe in?
11. You’re just mad at God.
12. You’ve just encountered bad Christians.
13. You really believe.
14. You do have faith. You have to have faith in (science/evolution/etc).
15. Don’t you want to believe? Just in case?
16. God doesn’t believe in atheists.
17. You can’t prove that there’s no god.
18. You’ll be back to God when you need him.
19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?
This is just a brief list, some of which is compiled from personal experience and some from wider stories and interactions online.
Basically, what I’d like to see in interactions with my family is the same lack of ulterior motives that was there before I left religion. I’d like to believe that all of our interactions are in good faith.
I have reason to believe that’s not the case–if there’s one thing our family does well, it’s gossip, and there’s definitely plenty of it circulating right now. I suppose my other wish would be, if I can’t have that lack of ulterior motives, to have brash, bald-faced honesty. I’d rather put it all out there, no half-truths or veiled questions.
If I can’t have no conflict at all, I’d rather just have it out and get it over with.
Instead, I’m stuck somewhere between the two, imagining conversations that might be, and hoping that they won’t be, and wishing that I didn’t have all of this knocking about in my brain. And fully realizing, of course, that it’s just as likely that I’ve blown all of this up in my head because I’m simply an anxious person.
No way to know at the outset. As the cliché goes, the only way out, is through, and so through I go.
Here is my answer to her post where I draw on similar experiences.
I’m an European progressive Christian and really love this post of yours:-)
“I want to be accepted with the same acceptance that I have for them. Unconditionally.”
I truly like that part. I can very well relate to this and hope that things will get better in your case.
As a Christian, I feel extremely disgusted by the anti-atheist bigotry which is commonplace among American fundamentalists.
I certainly think you should respectfully explain them the reasons why you’re an atheist and reassure them that you are still leading a moral life.
While I think that what you hear during such meetings is mostly offensive non-sense, I find that the following question is genuinely interesting:
“9. How can there be morality without God?”
It can be understood in two ways:
a) if you don’t believe in God, you’re gonna be very immoral
b) without God, objective moral values do not exist
The first interpretation is one more of these fundamentalist insults.
The second interpretation is a philosophical assertion which can lead to very legitimate questions, such as:
Many atheist philosophers would answer that no such thing is possible.
I also want to react to
“19. Why don’t you give your children a choice?”
I am all in favour of giving children a choice. I think that good enlightened Christian parents should always say something similar to that to their offspring:
“Look, we’re Christians, we think this is the best worldview and we believe that atheism is wrong and flawed. Yet, we do recognise there are reasonable and lovely people among other religious communities and atheists.
Therefore, we really encourage you, our beloved child, to make up your own mind.
If you sincerely conclude that atheism is true based, for example, on the problem of evil, then you should follow your conscience and Reason and give up your faith.
God will never punish a sincere person following his or her honestly acquired convictions.
Either way, stay always kind, loving and humble.”
Since your relatives would most likely never say that to their kids, they’re probably hypocrites ,
Now I wanna share my own experience.
I’m a Germanic Frenchman born in secular France and I often went through an ordeal similar to the one you’ve described.
In France, the reigning ideology is called Jacobinisme and it can be summarised as follows:
“French is the only language of the country. All dialects and other languages ought to disappear from the public sphere. Religion is a relic of the past which ought to disappear completely or at the very least become insignificant“.
I fell away from Jacobinisme by beginning to proudly speak and defend the declining German dialect of my region and becoming a Christian.
I then began to hear the following things from relatives and acquaintances:
1) You’re an old-fashioned fossil
2) You’re religious just because you’re “a weak animal”
3) (mocking my German accent)
4) You shouldn’t speak in dialect in the presence of French people
(after I had just whispered something to my father in our Germanic dialect)
5) What a religious brain-washing you underwent!
6) You speak German because you’re a Nazi!
(forgetting that my half-Jewish motherly grandfather could have perished in a Nazi death camp)
and so on and so forth.
As I documented elsewhere, anti-religious people can be as bullying and intolerant as their fundamentalist counterparts.
I usually also base my beliefs on reasons I can defend and a while ago I decided to react to these claims while trying to remain as kind and respectful as possible.
As a rule, I have no problem defeating their weak arguments and the discussions evolve in other directions 🙂
I wish you good luck with your relatives.
I hope we’ll have opportunities to interact with each other in the future.
Best wishes from Lorraine / Lothringen (my homeland).
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