After her failed attempts during our last visit to drag us to church with most of the rest of the family (FIL didn't go), my mother-in-law had me on the phone for half an hour one day during work, trying to talk me into the church life, soon after we returned from the visit. I told her that I'd be happy to continue the discussion but I couldn't do so at work!

Got a letter from her on Friday- John opened it, handed it over asking if I'd like him to shred it for me. Told him no- I said I'd continue the discussion, and so I will. Maybe- just maybe- I can find a teeny crack in her armor and expand it a bit. I did this with her favorite xtian charity already, which gave me some hope that she's actually listening. I could be wrong, but it's part of our responsibility as atheists not to remain silent.

The letter began with how my life cannot possibly have purpose and meaning without God. Well! I beg to differ. Of course it went on about how she came to accept JC etc. even with her own doubts at first. She took issue with my recent e-mail that included a Hitchens video and my comment that "faith can be a dangerous thing" (she was talking about Islam at first, and so was Hitchens, but toward the end, I believe he included a dig at xtianity.)

I just spent some time writing a reply to her, explaining how religion can get good people to do bad things, and how faith, by definition, means belief without evidence, and how it's impossible for skeptics to take things on faith alone. "We have to live the examined life, and no subject is too sacred, especially not one like religion since people base their lives on it."

Told her that I gave up going to mass and saying prayers in exchange for doing volunteer work at the local cat shelter when I was a teenager. I went on a bit and then told her that there's a book on its way that would better explain my feelings about the bible and religion.

I had ordered "50 Questions for Every Christian," which seems a lot more gentle than the books by the "horsemen." I can't scare her off with the likes of Hitchens and the rest. This will be enough! Anyway, she should get that by Thursday, and my note should arrive by Tues/Wed.

She's retired and has built her life around religion, so I have no delusions of converting her. I simply need to defend my position. My husband is cringing- he always simply shut her down, and does not want to get an "earful" from her. I told him to direct any and all angry calls to me.

Views: 394

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

You have every right to be angry, but think about proving them wrong about atheists by example.

If you're unfortunate enough to be around Chick Tracts, you'll see how they portray atheists as angry all the time (among other things!) Which is normal, of course- we're angry being treated like dirt for no reason!

So I strive to counter that stereotype. It helps to realize that, in many cases, they simply don't know any better. My own mother used to use the word "atheist" as a derogatory term, so it took me a while to get used to it as a label for myself.

Fundies have been indoctrinated, and are surrounded by unchallenged ignorance, so they never hear a competing point of view. Think of them as needing some gentle exposure to the outside world.

Feel sorry for them! Have pity on those who go through life trying to make their egotistical taskmaster happy, which is impossible.

Remember- even those who are the most fundemental now, might change their minds later on. You might be the one who gets them thinking...... and often, the louder they are, or the more devout, the harder they're trying to convince themselves they're right. They might be the most likely to shift gears (moderates not so much.) Like homophobic men who are secretly fighting their own gay impulses.


The huge fight I had with my mother after coming out was partly fueled by my erroneous belief that she might listen to me and see I was right. Fat chance! People change, but usually they don't. They especially don't if they are older and have been devout Christians all their lives. The longer they have been bamboozled, the longer they will reject any evidence of having been bamboozled. (Yes, I paraphrased a quote from Carl Sagan.)

Had I played it differently, my mother might never have done the things that brought out so much anger in me in the first place. Yes, she thought I was demon-possessed and tried to have me committed. There were a number of other transgressions that were also very hard to forgive.

For a time prior to my coming out, I was not at all militant about my atheism. My boyfriend and I would giggle about the god that didn't exist, but neither of us intended to tell our saintly mothers. I really did think my mother was a saint at that time. Nothing would ever change our loving relationship...or so I thought. 

Then 9-11 happened. On that day, I didn't know my life would be irrevocably changed. I didn't know anyone who died. I didn't even know anyone who knew anyone who died. But as events unfolded, I changed. 

Muslim militants flying planes into buildings made me more militant. When the drumbeat of war began, I re-evaluated my politics. I realized George W. Bush was a horrible president, a vicious idiot who was going to send our nation down the toilet. Once my politics changed and I became a more militant atheist, it paved the way for a showdown with my mother. She sensed I no longer believed and that my politics had taken a hard left turn. 

When she finally asked me, I told her the horrible truth and life was never the same for either of us. We did nothing but argue for the next several years, with some disastrous results.

As for arguing with fundies, no thank you. Those days are over. I tried really hard, but didn't change a single mind. Instead, I became a pariah in my family and community and what's worse, I probably won't ever be able to leave this bed I made. I'm trapped in a town that hates me because I'm not religious. They aren't going to let me forget. If you fight with your MIL, you may create a similar situation. You cannot reason with crazy. People who are professional advocates for atheism have a lot more financial options than I do. I should have realized that before I started a fight I could not win.

The best thing I can do is try very hard to dump the rest of this anger. I will do my best to live and let live, even if the fundies don't want to let me. Because many of them have hurt me in the past, this is an extremely difficult undertaking...and I don't have the emotional intelligence of someone like Nelson Mandela, who was able to forgive the most egregious actions. If I were gifted in that way, I certainly would have seen how arguing with my mother and community members was an exercise in futility. I did no good and probably did a lot of harm. Obviously, I'm not up to the task of changing anyone's mind. 

If people on this forum want to engage in debate with Christians, that's their business. You might actually be successful. Maybe I just really sucked at it. But I also warn you to think carefully about the repercussions of doing so. So many things can go wrong. When I was younger, I was naive enough to think my mother would listen to me. I thought others would listen to me. I was wrong and things turned out horribly. Be prepared for some rather nasty events.

Peter Boghossian's book A Manual for Creating Atheists might give you a way of interacting with believers that works better for you.

It is not about debating with believers, or arguing with them, or reasoning with them.

It's about using the Socratic method with believers.  This is an ancient tool for teaching the unreasonable to think more clearly.

And the point is not to convince believers that God does not exist.  It's to get them to admit they don't know if God exists.

You are not alone in not wanting to get into arguments about religion.  I don't want to either, and many people don't like such futile argumentation.

Atheist in FundyLand, I have a huge amount of anger residing in me. I try to figure out a way I can come out a winner without being a victim. In this case, if I had yelled, shouted, called them names, or cried, I would have been a victim. As it was, the situation called for calm, decisive, in control attitude. It worked. 

Whatever happens, do not be a victim. 

What do you think constitutes "being a victim"? If it means feeling negative emotions besides anger, I'm not entirely sure I can change that. For me, anger is inextricably tied to many other emotions including powerlessness, fear, guilt, sadness, shame, etc. If I feel anger, I immediately feel all those other emotions, too, and vice versa. It seem to be an automatic response. It's a bit crippling because the emotions that wash over me interfere with cognitive thought, which makes it difficult to deal with whatever situation set off the cascade of emotions.

Years of therapy failed to fix the problem. After six years sans counseling, I am going to try again. I don't want to talk about the past anymore. I just want to see if these automatic emotions can either be modified or weathered without so much pain. Simply deciding to be less angry has only helped a little. Listening to the right-wing Christians in the restaurant proved to me that I am nowhere near exorcising anger and all the emotions that tag along for the ride.

Would leaving Fundyland do anything for you?

 People who are professional advocates for atheism have a lot more financial options than I do. I should have realized that before I started a fight I could not win.

Not necessarily. The host of The Atheist Experience mentioned losing his day job at some point, and has said that there's no financial benefit to doing what he does- it's public access TV, and when he makes appearences, he pays his own way. This seems to be the case for most of the "pros," they all have "day jobs." Dawkins retired from his teaching position.

Your atheism shouldn't be the focus of who you are. Moving might be ideal, but it's easier said than done. However, it sounds worth it in your case.

With my MIL, it's entirely possible she'll play the victim card and get the family to rally around her hurt feelings. She's the one who started it, though. I never discuss religion with the family unless THEY bring it up. I'm holding on to the hope that the rest of the family is more rational.

When my MIL first heard about her son moving in with me when we were dating, she wrote my then-BF a letter that said the most vile crap about me, he read the first line, shredded the letter, emailed his siblings what she said about me, and vowed never to tell me what it was.

Until recently, I didn't know they reacted at all, but my husband says they did, and all emailed him back saying that it was horrible of her. I was greatly relieved to hear that! I thought they were quietly backing her up.

Sure, they probably secretly agree that I'm some sort of jezebel wh0re for having "lived in sin," but they've been nothing but welcoming and generous to me. One SIL says she'd love it if we came to church, but she leaves it at that.

And if we ever go out to visit on a church day, we'd go with THEM b/c there's no sales pressure. It would just be out of curiosity to see them do their thing. With MIL, there wouldn't be a church visit w/o a sales pitch from the pastor.

I don't know if I could have your patience and energy with this issue. This is one reason i don't have facebook; they (family) would swarm me.


Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today



Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon



© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service