Atheists Dealing with Religious Family and friends, secular parenting
Atheists Dealing with Religious Family
(or Religious Friends)
Can you appreciate where they are coming from?
We know that the churches talk about atheists as though we are devil worshipers and all manner of evil things. The pulpit scares churchgoers. These beloved family members and dear friends of ours live with a very deeply-rooted fear of sin and evil and demons and all manner of dark things that humans have created... Generally, these people do not understand that atheists neither believe in such things, nor do we have an agenda in alignment with any such invented force as dark side; but that is what they are taught about atheism.
Their fear is genuine and bone deep.
Believers can have some very real and profound emotional trauma when they think about their loved ones spending eternity in an everlasting punishment of hell. I have the utmost compassion for them.
I’m a non-snark kind of person and I sincerely discourage attacking the believer for their belief even if they are attacking you for your atheism. Their deep-seated fear may be unmovable. It’s possible that they will never accept your atheism. Remember, their church and their friends are advising them about their responsibilities to confront you about your atheism...what to say, what to do, and how to address you. They are very confused and they may be getting some terrible advice about how to handle it.
If only the advice was Live and let live we could all simply move forward and love one another, but it is unlikely that our beloved family members are hearing this healing and peaceful tenet from their spiritual support staff; it is more likely that they are hearing advice in how to entrap you, lure you, shame you, put fear in to you, or some other unscrupulous means of ensnaring new believers.
Make no mistake, they are scared to death.
Sadly, churches are so very good at creating fear rather than at alleviating it. But I do have a few ideas that I hope may help in keeping the conflict to a minimum. Keep in mind that everyone is different, every situation is unique, and we can’t really control anyone except for ourselves. Furthermore, remember that recovery from shock, disappointment, and pain requires time to heal the grief.
I offer these tips.
Beforehand: Plan the conversation. Schedule the time so that everyone is rested, prepared, and has adequate time to discuss. Remember, you may be changing your relationship with beloved family members during this conversation and they may need time to regroup.
1. Keep calm. When talking with these beloved people (now possibly appearing as out-of-control angry people) we must acknowledge that the news is new and alarming to them. Most clergy people and public messages paint atheists as actual demon-worshipers. Let these people have the time to vent their fears and anger. Fight all urge to respond with anger.
This does NOT mean that you stay in the room
if any person becomes abusive.
Be sympathetic to their fears and concerns.
3. Be factual about where you stand. Present your reasons if you must, keeping in mind that no explanation will be enough. This is not the time to disparage their beliefs but to explain where you are and how you got there.
4. I strongly discourage debating believers. Debating and arguing has never changed a person’s point of view when they are in crisis and self-protection mode. Assume that the process will take time. It is not always possible to fully avoid debating. Maybe leave them with a great website or a letter to read and explore, then make plans to talk about it again at a later time.
5. Know that they are “taking you to church", Women’s group, friends, clergy, or other members of their church for advice. Recognize that their words may not be their own. These so-called supportive friends are whipping up the fervor to a fevered pitch and your beloved friends and family are not getting any honest messages of love, healing, or acceptance. They may feel intense pressure to put forth their church's byline.
In other words, you are, first, facing the religious community by-line more than the real issues of your loves ones.
6. Reassure the people that you love, family and friends, that your atheism does not change how you feel about them, nor does it change the person that you are. Listen again and again to their fears. Model calmness and courtesy.
Respect their need for time to grieve.
7. Assure them that you have no desire to confront their beliefs, recruit them in any way, become a different person than they know you to be (except for being and feeling more honest), or have anything secret or unknowable about your life. Your atheism is simple and open and completely knowable. You are very comfortable answering any and all questions that they may have.
They truly don't know what you mean by atheist.
8. Identify areas of agreement. We all love each other and we love the kids. We are all doing what we sincerely believe to be the right thing. We are talking over this issue because we are honest and because we respect one another. We want to remain a close, loving family.
9. Make it clear and firm, whenever the need arises that you expect them to respect your parenting toward the kids and that there is to be no secrecy about talking about religion with the kids. Our parents had us to parent and we have our children. It is truly within our rights as the parent to protect our children from secrecy and other situations that put our children in uncomfortable situations. I don't know a single child who is at ease keeping secrets from their parents.
10. And finally, Love them through it. Even though the disagreement remains between you, do all you can to keep the relationship intact, healthy, and affectionate. Give them time to grieve the idea that you will share their faith with them for their mythical eternity. You may have to ignore some of the conflict and focus on the good. Life is about connection after all.
Bonus 11. Be the one to create the dialogue and keep that dialogue open, honest, and peaceful to the best of your ability. And isn't it nice that we, as atheists, can decide our response to things rather than look to some false authority figure instead?
You can't change anybody else except for yourself. History proves that some religious thought is incredibly resistant to logic, reason, compromise, openness, acceptance, or secular thought. As always in this freethought journey, know that the only thing you can control for certain is your own behavior in a situation.
Some people may be entirely unable to square things with you.
Some churches and belief systems are very divisive and, sadly, encourage people to split with loved ones over issues such as this one. It is sad for our beloveds...
My wish for you people who try to understand:
Have you dealt with this????
Do you have any words of wisdom?
Do you have any words of wisdom?
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