Advice to an Atheist

A few days ago, I had an e-mail query from an atheist looking for advice. I answered him as best as I was able, but his was a question that I think could benefit from some additional perspectives. With my correspondent’s permission, I’m reprinting his query below. If you were in his situation, what would you do?

My wife is a Christian and I am an Atheist. We have two small children. She knows how I feel about religion and doesn’t like it, but we have basically agreed to disagree. I do not try to convince her that her beliefs are false because I do not think she wants to hear it. Her family is Catholic and they do not know that I am an Atheist. Otherwise, we have a wonderful relationship and I love her dearly. However, recently, as I have been learning more and more about religion, it has become more and more difficult to keep my Atheism “in the closet” and hidden from her family. When we are at my in-laws’ home and religious issues are being discussed, it is very hard for me to keep my thoughts to myself. I really want to let the world know that I am an Atheist and that Atheism is the answer. However, I also know how much my wife wants her parents and siblings to continue liking me and this would pretty much keep that from ever happening. I also know that my wife is an intelligent lady, but she knows very little about Atheism or even her own religion. She has simply clung to Christianity because that is what her family believes and that is what she finds comfortable. I do not want to cause her little world to come crashing down, but at the same time, I hate pretending to believe in something that I know is false. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to start fights with her family or argue about whose right and whose wrong, I just want to disassociate myself with Christianity.

What do you suggest?

First of all, I think my correspondent is wise to fear a prejudiced reaction. Atheists are more visible than we once were, but no matter how many millions of books Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris sell, there will be millions more believers who have never read them, never heard atheists speak in our own words, and know us only as objects of calumny from their sermons.

On the other hand, the only way we’ll ever combat those stereotypes is by stepping out and becoming visible, showing others that we exist and are not the misanthropes we have been demonized as. For this reason, I encourage all atheists whose situations permit it to come out of the closet and declare themselves, and I applaud my correspondent for wanting to do so. At the same time, I sympathize with his desire not to provoke fights. Our purpose in coming out should be to make friends, not enemies. And while many religious people perceive the mere existence of atheists as an insult, I think this hostile reaction can be defused if done with sufficient candor and tact.

I’ve reprinted below the answer that I gave. If you want to expand on it or offer an alternative, feel free either way.

You said you didn’t want to start a fight with your in-laws, and I don’t think you have to. The next time you’re there and religious issues come up, especially if someone makes a comment that thoughtlessly assumes you’re a Christian, I’d just say something like, “Thank you for your concern, but actually I’m an atheist, and here’s what I think…” Then give your opinion – not hostile or combative, but a simple statement of what you feel and why. If someone attacks you, defend yourself, but don’t get angry or confrontational and don’t try to convert them; just emphasize that you’re still a good, moral person, like most atheists. If people get agitated, I’d tell them politely that I won’t discuss this any more right now, and give them a chance to cool down. If you do this and stick to it, over time they may come to accept you.

Or, another thought: it might be even better for you to arrange for your wife to mention your atheism. Having her break this news to her parents, rather than you, may soften the blow for them.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Reed Ulvestad

    I’m in a very similar situation – my wife and her parents are religious, I’m an atheist, and we’ve got two small children. Fortunately, we live about 1200 miles away from my in-laws, so we see each other rarely enough that it doesn’t really become a problem. Ebon’s advice is very good – don’t let yourself be trampled, but don’t be obnoxious either.

    I don’t bother to discuss it with her parents unless they bring it up, but I do discuss religion with my wife. In fact, whenever any particularly good points are brought up here, I usually try to discuss it with her. I used to be concerned that we’d have trouble arguing over how to raise the kids, but I’m not really concerned any more. I no longer have a problem with her sharing her beliefs with them and me sharing mine. I think if a kid has at least one reasonable influence in their life, it will be abundantly clear which belief system corresponds to reality. The problem is when every authority figure the child is exposed to reinforces the shared delusion of religion.

  • andrea

    I would have to disagree with the original letter writer. How can his wife be “intelligent” and not know much about atheism or her own faith? At best, she can be called willfully ignorant. Clinging to a falsehood just because it makes you “comfortable” is no sign of intelligence.
    I do like the advice given. I also think that it is not the writer’s fault if others take a fit. Oh well. Better off without them.

  • Alex Weaver

    I would have to disagree with the original letter writer. How can his wife be “intelligent” and not know much about atheism or her own faith? At best, she can be called willfully ignorant. Clinging to a falsehood just because it makes you “comfortable” is no sign of intelligence.

    It’s a sign of immaturity, which isn’t necessarily incompatible with intelligence (certain commenters on Pharyngula are excellent cases in point; I have one in particular in mind). Additionally, many people of average to exceptional intellectual capabilities have a chronic problem where they have allowed themselves to be convinced that they are Stupid, and consequently fail to solve numerous simple problems because they subconsciously don’t even try, but impress everyone on the rare occasions when they bring their full intellectual potential to bear. Religion often seems to encourage this attitude, by promoting the idea that certain people have an inherent connection to the divine, that authority figures are not to be questioned, that god’s ways are too complex for our puny human minds to try to understand, etc.

  • M.

    What worries me is the statement “Atheism is the answer.” That sounds really preachy to me. I cannot STAND it when people of other religions come to me claiming to have “the answer” and I can’t imagine that they like it much either.

    I don’t think you can avoid a fight if you approach the situation with that kind of attitude. And yes, if it comes out in an e-mail where it’s likely that you had some time to think about it, I’m sure that attitude would come out in a verbal argument as well.

    My husband is an atheist and I am a Christian. We agreed very early in our relationship to treat each other’s beliefs with respect and interest and to never claim to have “the answer.” He has come to church with me and I have read up on atheism and our relationship is all the stronger because we are able to understand each other, even if we disagree. As his entire family is atheist, I had a similar situation to yours in “coming out” to them. They were shocked at first, but they knew me and they loved me and after a while they realized that knowing I believed in God didn’t change who I was. I don’t bring it up, I don’t shove it in their faces or preach at them. If one of them is having trouble, I might say that I will pray for them and they see it for what it is – my way of caring.

    It can take time and, depending on the people involved, can be very difficult. But the single most important thing to remember is that while you may believe you are right, they believe they are right too and preaching about them about how you are the really right one and they are believing in lies will only hurt your family’s relationship.

    I wonder, though, why you thought to marry a woman and have children with her before this came up? If I were you, I would have a long talk with your wife about how your children are to be raised. Just to give you an example, my husband and I have decided to teach reason to our children and keep them out of the church until (if) they express an interest to go. Think about considering a similar solution for your own children.

  • http://www.godispretend.com Brad

    I suggest having a conversation with your wife. Tell her how you feel, and ask for her input.

    You don’t have to fight over the details. Just tell her that this is something that is important to you, and let her help you decide what to do.

    Ask her about the situation with her parents as well. Tell her this is an important part of who you are, and ask her to help you find a solution that makes you both happy. It may help to make sure she is aware that you would, and will, do the same for her. If her beliefs are important to her. Let her know this doesn’t mean you will not go to church with her (or whatever the case may be in terms of how she participates in her faith). What you want to do is let her know you don’t expect her to change her life around.

    You said it really well in your letter. “I hate pretending to believe in something that I know is false. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to start fights with her family or argue about whose right and whose wrong, I just want to disassociate myself with Christianity.”

    Tell her that. It’s good.

    What you shouldn’t do is hide your feelings from your wife. In my opinion that can only lead to trouble.

    If you try to talk and she tries to shut down the conversation just say “I understand you don’t want to talk about this, but it’s important to me. I think we can discuss something that is making my unhappy, without fighting over who is right and who is wrong. I don’t want to convince you of anything, I just want to talk about a few things that are making the situation difficult for me, and ask you what we can do. Can we do that?”

    Regarding her family, let her participate in the decision.

    A friend of mine recently came out as an atheist to her family, and the reaction wasn’t anywhere near as bad as she thought. Maybe they were just “talking big” before, or maybe they had a change of heart… I’m not sure, just making the point that it’s not always as bad as you think.

    Sometimes it is though, so I would also suggest being prepared for that as well.

    Having said all that, I personally wouldn’t do any of that. My advice is based on the fact that you want to keep things together. I couldn’t do it. I don’t do it. I hope things work out for you though.

  • I Am Mine

    I’m in the exact same situation. I have a 2 year old, and a Catholic wife. I’ve been gradually deconverted over the past year and a half. My wife is having trouble with my atheism, so I agreed to allow our daughter to be raised in the church. Even though I can count on one hand the amount of times my daughter has actually been to church, my wife finds comfort in knowing she’ll be raised with religion.

    It’s MY parents that I’m concerned with, not the in-laws. I recently came out to my brother because he has a baby due at the end of the month, and he earlier asked me to be the Godfather! He wasn’t too happy about it. But my approach has been to explain that my Atheism is based on what I know and don’t like about the bible, rather than getting political. Chances are good that you can out-wit any Christian with your knowledge of Bible passages. It seems to soften the blow if they know that you, at least, believe to have good reason for being an Atheist.

    I’ve actually blogged the email I wrote to my brother just yesterday. Feel free to read it and comment.

    Good luck!

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    Andrea, I’m agreeing with Alex here about it being a sign more of immaturity than of unintelligence. My wife has a masters in electrical engineering (and you can’t do that without being fairly smart) but she also has a lack of interest in actually learning about certain things, again wrt her own religion – though she has started to work on it in the past year.

    Anyway, ebon’s advice sounds good to me. There are no easy answers for this one – generally, the more you push, the more they entrench, so you can’t be obnoxious about it. Chances are, in the short run it’ll be very awkward, but over time you can change their perceptions of atheists by being a good person and good parent.

  • Don Pope

    I am in a similar situation. My wife of 15 years is Catholic and her family knows that I’m “not very religious”, but most would be shocked to find out that I’m actually an Atheist (my wife has known since we met, of course). To prevent any awkwardness I avoid any discussions of religion with them. If they say “God Bless You” I say “Thanks”.

    However, where my situation differs from the original correspondent’s, is that most* of my in-laws are very nice people who don’t preach or judge, and most probably wouldn’t treat me any differently if they knew. If all Christians were like this family, nobody would have a problem with Christianity.

    *- There’s one uncle who might have a problem with it though.

  • Polly

    [replying b4 reading any comments, redundancies may appear]
    My wife broke the news to her father about me a few weeks back. Funny thing is, he didn’t take it badly at all. Of course, he also implied that it was probably just a phase. Oh well, I ‘ll take what I can get. :)
    Which brings me to my suggestion: Perhaps your in-laws’ liking of you is not in any way dependent on your perceived religiosity to start with. Most of the time, religion is used as a filter at the outset of deciding whether to form relationships. But, you’ve already gotten through that checkpoint. If they like you now, they’ll probably still like you as an atheist.
    If that’s the case, your biggest hurdle, then, is not atheism, but the sudden change. They might feel like you’ve been deceiving them. And, perhaps you have been. (I consider myself to be deceiving those around me who still think I’m a xian.) But, the only way I know is to apologize for allowing them to think something that is untrue. (I am NOT saying apologize for being an atheist. Never!) Follow that up with a commitment to be more open in the future as you wish – and state this – to build and maintain a strong, close familial relationship with them. Remind them that the foundation of family is not god, it’s love.

  • Alex Weaver

    Am I the only one who finds it strange that the situation of a wife being religious and her husband an atheist seems to be far more common, rather than the reverse? Any thoughts on why that is?

  • dave

    This is a common situation, and can be fraught with a lot of conflict. I think comments to the effect that this gentleman’s wife is not intelligent or that she is immature are not at all helpful to someone who really is in a difficult spot. There is a very sensitive relationship problem to navigate, and I can say with certainty that telling the wife and in-laws that they are stupid, immature, or irrational is not the way to go about it. I commend to you the excellent example of Charles Darwin, who dealt delicately with a similar situation for much of his married life.

    That said, I agree that religious people may see your mere existence as an atheist as an insult or threat, so you don’t have to actually call them stupid or immature in order for them to be offended. (They will assume you think they are stupid without you even saying it — I recommend keeping the moral high ground in order to be able to say “I never called you an ignoramus!” Be warned, however — I have seen few christians who hesitate to make ad hominem attacks. ) I can offer no advice on this, because I haven’t found a good way to deal with it. They are probably just going to have to be offended for awhile… The practical benefit for not insulting the in-laws is that it doesn’t put your wife in the bind of feeling like she has to defend her family against not only your atheism, but also your anger and insults. It’s not fair, and it’s not easy…

    The way I’ve tried to deal with similar situations is to be *for* something positive, rather than simply negative about religion/god, and also to be very wary of getting sucked into the inevitable debate and cross-examinations that follow your disclosure. Since there is good chance that they are mind-reading you (“he thinks I’m a fool for believing in god”) I think it is really important not to act patronizing. I wouldn’t make a big deal of “coming out” — it sounds like this family talks about religion pretty regularly so it’s going to come up. The “I disagree because…” tack could work, but I wouldn’t say “because I’m an atheist.” You probably disagree for good rational reasons — you may as well state them. Show them that you are thinking about stuff. You don’t have to be coy, but there’s nothing wrong with letting it come out naturally rather than sitting the whole clan down for “The Announcement.”

    Finally, any such discussion is almost certain rapidly to devolve into a predictable swamp of cross-examination (“how can you look at stars and not believe in god?” ad infinitum) and hurt feelings (“you think I’m a fool for having faith!”) — perhaps even blame and abuse (“you are going to burn in hell”). Avoid this quagmire to the extent possible — no one ever “wins” these kitchen table debates (especially if you are getting ganged up on). About the best you can do is hold your ground, raise some questions in their minds, and try not to burn any relationship bridges. I think that it’s extremely important to let your wife know that your rejection of catholicism/theism is not a rejection of her. (Believe me, she is worried about this.)

    There are plenty of situations where a more heavy-handed approach is fine — and can be quite good sport. Family relations — and especially where spouses are in the middle — are generally not. Don’t underestimate the intensity of feeling — fear, rejection, anger — that the simple words “well, I really don’t think god exists” can provoke. I have found that most of the atheist/freethinker stuff you find on the web completely fails to address the real conflict and pain that can result when we butt heads with theists, especially those with whom we have intimate relationships that we want and need to preserve. Patience, empathy, humility (all those good atheistic traits) are important. Good luck brother!

  • James Bradbury

    I admit I have a strong disliking for confrontation which may explain my cowardly diplomatic reply, but I will go through my thinking on this so you know where I’m coming from.

    In my opinion, the fact that atheism is a reasonable world-view which does not require animosity or even evangelism towards other beliefs is irrelevant to this situation. What matters in this case is your in-laws’ pre-conceived idea of atheism. If they are especially intolerant of atheism as you suggest they might be, then you have to accommodate that – unfair though that is.

    My suggestion depends on how well you currently get along with your in-laws. If you are not really close with them and they haven’t yet had a chance to see what a decent, honest guy you are, I would lay low. I’m not sure you should actually pretend to be a Christian, but try to stay out of it or act agnostic or non-committal. It may even be worth joining in with them at religious occasions in a back-seat kind of way and think of it as a family thing more than a statement of religious faith (for many “Christians” the social side is the most important bit anyway).

    If you come out as an atheist before they’ve formed a strong opinion of you, they may treat you with less respect. They may be imagining all the terrible false attributes of atheists applying to you. This would probably make it hard for you to be nice back to them and show your true colours. You may end up having a destructive relationship with your in-laws and they’ll feel that their preconceptions of atheists were right.

    Ideally you should give them a chance to get to know you and discover that you’re an ordinary decent, compassionate person, BEFORE they find out you’re an atheist.

    In many cases, when we find we have two conflicting pieces of knowledge, one gets thrown out, usually the less ingrained one. For example, if you’re introduced to someone with say, schizophrenia you might be wary of them and unsympathetic. However, if a life-long friend calls to tell you she’s been diagnosed with the same disorder you’re more likely to be concerned and supportive. In the latter case your opinion of what schizophrenics are like is more likely to change than your opinion of the person.

    OK, it might not work that well. Perhaps the best you can hope for is for them to say, “He’s quite nice, for an atheist”. It’s bizarre, but being a nice atheist who they genuinely like will do more to foster sympathy from them towards your beliefs than the most convincing logical argument.

    If you can’t avoid a direct question, then Ebon’s advice is good. I like to be a little prepared for what people might say or ask me in such awkward situations. It helps me give the answer I wanted to and not overreact. If they ask if you’re life’s meaningless you could say, “No, my wife and children fill my life with meaning!”. Or if they ask whether you think they’re stupid you could say, “No, just mistaken about some things – just as you think I’m mistaken”. I’m sure you can think of better responses than me and maybe it would be good to have them in mind in case you are involuntarily “outed”.

    Perhaps you should discuss it with your wife. If she can agree to disagree, then maybe she’d want her family to as well.

    I hope that’s of some help and I hope you can stay on good terms with your in-laws.

  • Polly

    @Alex W said:
    Am I the only one who finds it strange that the situation of a wife being religious and her husband an atheist seems to be far more common, rather than the reverse? Any thoughts on why that is?

    I noticed that, too. I think the majority of bloggers/responders may be male, so we’re seeing some selection bias from the medium itself.

    OTOH, I notice this in “real” life as well. At church, there are plenty of married women who’s husbands are typically absent. I find it hard to believe they all work every Sunday. I’ve heard the same about “Wards” – in the Mormon church.

  • Jason Albin

    I to live in a family that is very religious but it is my parents and my brother and sisters that are religious not my wife. My wife is also an athiest which is helpful. But, in dealing with my family I have great problems because my mother sends me regular letters expressing how she does not want to die knowing that I and my wife will be going to hell. My siblings aren’t much better. They are always asking me to go to church with them and though I don’t want to offend them they are offending me for not accepting my beleifs. Lately my way of dealing with this is to be silent but I don’t know how long I can keep that up for. I do love my family but their hatered for anyone different than them selves is becoming intollerable. I simpithise with this person and hope that he finds the strength in his life to make things work for his family while not excluding himself from them.

    Good luck.

  • andrea

    “Andrea, I’m agreeing with Alex here about it being a sign more of immaturity than of unintelligence. My wife has a masters in electrical engineering (and you can’t do that without being fairly smart) but she also has a lack of interest in actually learning about certain things, again wrt her own religion – though she has started to work on it in the past year.”

    I’ll have to again go with my statement that then they are willfully ignorant. This does not confirm to me that they are intelligent at all. Most average people can get a degree in anything as long as they work at it. A lack of curiosity seems to be a break point between average and truly intelligent people.

    As for why women seem to be the ones to keep their religion, IMO, women are taught to keep within the “safe” bounds of society more. They have been taught that they need to be taken care of, and who better to do that than an “sugardaddy” in the sky.

  • mackrelmint

    Others have said it here already but I think it bears repeating given what was said in your initial query:

    “I really want to let the world know that I am an Atheist and that Atheism is the answer. However, I also know how much my wife wants her parents and siblings to continue liking me and this would pretty much keep that from ever happening.”

    It is important to YOUR happiness to not feel compromised and be able to admit your atheism, so somehow you need to find a way to do this, for you and for them. I like Ebon’s answer of involving your wife in this and not making it a big deal. I suspect that your in-laws like you already for reasons other than your religious beliefs and your atheism isn’t inherently a reason to dislike you. If you treat them with patience and kindness, and especially during any resulting discussion, that won’t change.

    That doesn’t mean that they won’t feel the need to question you and they may very well have difficulty with your position, so you’ll need to think about how you’ll answer them and it would be a good idea to discuss this with your wife beforehand.

    Letting the in-laws know that “atheism is the answer” for THEM might not lead to the familial peace you and your wife want to maintain, so if you do choose to answer their questions, keeping it to reasons why it works for you, would seem best to me.
    (Dave said much of what I’d intended to write about the family discussions/gang-ups so I’ll end by just saying “What he said!”)

  • Alex Weaver

    I think that’s more of a WIS than an INT issue.

  • http://www.godispretend.com Brad

    While I think there is a diplomatic solution, I question some of your responses.

    What if her family was prejudiced against black people instead of atheists? Would you be so concerned about them then?

    How much different would the situation be if the lie that he had to tell was that he believed black people are inferior?

    Religion seems to have been granted a special right to biggotry.

    I think the fact that it’s possible to reach a diplomatic solution here shouldn’t overshadow that ultimately what this woman and her family are doing is wrong. There is biggotry there. Should we tolerate racism for the sake of family harmony? If not, why should we tolerate this kind of discrimination?

    This is more of a response to comments than the actual post. We don’t know the whole situation.

  • http://www.blakeclan.org/jon/greenoasis/ Jonathan Blake

    Each family is different (thank you Captain Obvious) so any advice I give must be translated to your own, unique family.

    I’ve made a rather smooth transition from Mormon to nonbeliever, all things considered. I was open and honest with my family (hers and mine). I explained why I couldn’t be Mormon anymore in vague, non-confrontational terms. I didn’t try to convert them to my godless ways. My first priority was to be honest with them about my own disbelief and to gain their respect for that choice. Family, in my opinion, should be a safe place from religious argumentation, especially if the family relationship is fragile.

    I found it difficult to express my thoughts and feelings in person, so I wrote a letter to them. This may seem cowardly and evasive, but it allowed me time to get the message exactly right, and it gave them space to consider what I said without feeling like they had to answer back leading to a confrontation. They had some time to cool down before we saw each other again.

    This next step is important, so I want to highlight it. I asked for their help and support to keep my wife and I together. I think this is important for a number of reasons. It shows that I want to make our marriage work (I think our family would otherwise have worried that I was going to leave my wife) and it enlisted their help. It changes the tone of the situation from one of feuding over religion to one of mutual aid to protect something that we both value: the health and happiness of our family.

    You might benefit from this post about how Pete Wernick made peace with his Catholic wife.

    Above all, make it your top goal to keep your family together while living honestly. Convincing your family that atheism is the only rational conclusion must come second.

  • James Bradbury

    Should we tolerate racism for the sake of family harmony? If not, why should we tolerate this kind of discrimination?

    It depends what the likely outcome of not tolerating it would be. I’m not going to ask this guy to (possibly) wreck his marriage for the principle of freedom of belief on a one-family scale.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I know this will sound trite, but I think this is one of those situations where you are really the only one who will be able to navigate your way through this. You will receive all sorts of advice, but only you knows what you can live with.

    I was married to a Christian for several years and was in a similar situation in that her parents did not know. The marriage ended for many reasons, but I can honestly say that our religious differences were a frequent source of tension and were one relevant factor.

    I think the real question will be whether your marriage can survive the sort of changes you describe (i.e., your increased interest in and desire to explore atheism). As I went through this process, I became increasingly resentful of the need to keep my thoughts to myself for fear of offending her parents. I told myself I was doing it for her and that it was worth the sacrifice. But over time, I ended up disliking myself for feeling so fake. It got to the point where I simply couldn’t stand being with her parents at all because I felt like it involved leaving myself at home. I finally reached the conclusion that I needed to be myself and that they could take it or leave it.

    It is my sincere hope for you that you resolve your situation better than I resolved mine. I’m okay with where I am now, but it was a terrible path to get here. Still, I’m not sure I’d do anything differently if I had it to do over again. I don’t want anymore relationships based on lies, and I’ve finally reached the point where I’m willing to remain alone if this is the price.

  • http://wearethefounders.com Kawlinz

    It depends what the likely outcome of not tolerating it would be. I’m not going to ask this guy to (possibly) wreck his marriage for the principle of freedom of belief on a one-family scale.

    It is a delicate situation, but I understand Brad’s concern. If someone’s family or in-laws are racist, are you to let them have their beliefs without mentioning the flaws of such thoughts for the sake of “being peaceful”? Allowing bigotry doesn’t conform with peacefulness or harmony at all. It might be peaceful on the local level, but bigots hold an irrational hate toward a certain race of people for no reason.

    Do you let them get away with “well you believe what you want and I believe my way”?

  • Stephen

    Let me start by supporting Jonathan Blake’s opening paragraph.

    Having said that, my advice to the original correspondent would be: don’t hurry. Take your time. Relax.

    I was also one who was not very religious when I got married to my Christian wife, but only several years later became a convinced atheist. I have never attempted to convert my wife and she has never attempted to convert me, although she does insist on me accompanying her to church occasionally.

    What I have done is occasionally, when it came up naturally in the course of conversation or because of somewhere we were visiting, educate her a little bit on her own religion. I was astonished (though it will come as no surprise to our host, nor probably to several commenters) how little she actually knew about it. She now freely admits that I know more about Christianity than she does – and she finds that utterly bizarre. And very occasionally I have done the same with the in-laws.

    So, as I said, I never tried to convert her. However now, several years on, I note that she decides more and more frequently that a long lie-in on Sunday morning, followed by a leisurely breakfast and perhaps a walk in the woods, is a lot more attractive than rushing off to church. Suits me.

  • jack

    This post probably hits a sensitive nerve for most readers of Daylight Atheism. It certainly does for me.

    I understand and respect your desire to be honest about who you are with your family. Ebon and many other commenters have given you sound advice, some of which I will reiterate. But, at the risk of some self-indulgent emotional gut-spilling, I will also tell you my experience.

    My mother was Catholic, my father protestant. My mother took my 3 siblings to the Catholic church, while my father took me to his church. Their thinking was this: for my mom to be a good Catholic in a mixed marriage, she had to raise all the kids as Catholics. But to spare my dad from having to go to his church alone, they would bend that rule and let him have one kid to raise as a protestant (me).

    When I was almost 16, I had ceased to believe Christianity was true. I was not quite an atheist yet, although within another year I would be. I felt that my church attendance was an act of dishonesty and hypocrisy, a feeling I now attribute, ironically, to the example my father set as a man of integrity. With some trepidation I decided to tell my parents I would not be going to church anymore.

    My trepidation was justified. They told me I was too young to make that decision, and that they would force me to go to church. I told them that they would have to chain me to the pew. They insulted my intelligence, and it became ugly and stressful for all concerned. They never kicked me out of the house, though, and aside from our conflict over religion, they were good and decent parents. Eventually we reached a state of peaceful coexistence by just avoiding the subject. At his most magnanimous, my dad even went so far as to say, “you gave Christianity a fair chance, but it just didn’t work for you.”

    Now, decades later, both of my parents are just starting to show signs of senility, and they have completely forgotten the events I’ve just recounted. My mother is blind and my dad is an invalid. My wife (also an atheist) and I spent the last two years caring for them in our home. Last May they moved in with one of my brothers. While they were with us, we cheerfully accommodated their religious beliefs as best we could. We played their favorite hymns on Sunday. At Christmas we made a ritual of reading one of my dad’s Sunday school lessons (he taught SS in his church for 35 years and saved a huge stack of handwritten lessons). But sometimes our lack of belief would come up in conversation, usually from my mom’s prodding. My dad was too hard of hearing to get involved, but my mom would sometimes be confrontational and insulting. I was shocked at just how much emotion welled up inside me (defensiveness, hostility, etc.) at some of her comments. I usually contained myself and said nothing, thinking, “she’s senile, just forget it”, but sometimes I had to say something.

    I guess I have several conclusions to draw from all that:

    First and foremost, be sure your in-laws understand that you love your wife, that she loves you, that you both love them, and that your family ties mean a lot to you.

    Be sure they know you are a good person.

    It might be good to take Sam Harris’ advice, at least temporarily, and avoid calling your self an atheist. The A-word just triggers too many bizarre things in the minds of some believers. Wait till they know what you really think before trying to explain to them that atheists are not all satan-worshipping misanthropic communists who eat Christian babies for breakfast.

    Be prepared for intense emotions that seem to come out of nowhere and that can easily overwhelm your better judgement. It could happen to your in-laws, too.

    No matter what you feel emotionally, try not to show the emotions. If the emotions are too strong for that, change the subject and try again another time. Try to be cool and rational as best you can.

    You have my sympathy and best wishes.

  • GSmith

    I am the guy who made the original post above. First, I would like to thank everyone for all of the advice and support. I live in the heart of the South and the people I correspond with on websites like this one are all that keep me from feeling alone. As for my situation, I have decided that I will discuss the situation with my wife (hopefully tonight). Then, the next time that we are around her family and somebody says something like “all those atheists” or “how can someone not believe in God?”, I will simply let them know that I am an Atheist. If they want more details, I will give them. If that ends the discussion, so be it. I do not want to argue. I just do not want to sit there and pretend to agree with them. I think it is best for me to bring up my beliefs when the topic of religion comes up, rather than calling a press conference and making a big deal about it. If I mention it within the context of a conversation, it might be easier for them to digest. Knowing my in-laws quite well, I do not expect that they will be angry. I think they will feel sorry for me and act as if it is an illness or something that they can help me to overcome. I will have to let them know that I am quite comfortable with Atheism and that I have actually been an Atheist, or at least Agnostic, for my whole life. As for my wife’s two brothers, they are fairly extreme in their religion and it will be difficult for them to get along with me afterwards, but oh well. That is really beyond my control. Thank you to everyone for your advice. I am still open to advice.

  • http://godlessvoters.blogspot.com Elena

    I have no advice. But I wish you all the best. It is a courageous thing you’re doing and if more people spoke out as you have I think a lot of the vilification of atheists would stop.

    Please consider this a token of respect and I wish you the best of luck talking to your wife.

  • Nurse Ingrid

    I was raised by parents who came from fundamentalist backgrounds but “left the fold” before I was born (so I dodged a bullet there!!). The rift in the family never healed, but we were still able to have a relationship with our religious family members. My personal way of dealing with it was to adopt the policy of, “I will not volunteer information, but I will not evade a direct question, and I will never lie.” So if they said “Did you go to church this week?” I said “Nope.” If they said “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” I said “Nope.” If they started in on some religious nonsense I kept my voice calm and said “Gee…I really disagree with that” and then changed the subject. This got me through many years of family visits with my integrity intact, but I was still able to have a cordial relationship with my relatives, of whom I was rather fond despite our vast cultural differences. Also, they kind of learned eventually that they shouldn’t ask questions if they thought they might not like the answers.

    The thing that fascinated me was, I could tell they found me and my immediate family deeply baffling. According to their religious teachings we, as nonbelievers, were supposed to be miserable and wicked. And yet we were the same nice, loving, happy people they had always known. Their worldview just couldn’t explain us.

  • Eric

    One thing that hasn’t been brought up or suggested is to use a “hypothetical machine” with her family. Meaning, ask them “What if I was Jewish?” or “What if I practiced Shintoism?’? or some such alternate religiion. If they then said they would respect your beliefs, you can then say (and I know atheism is not a religion, and it has its pratfalls in this argument) your beliefs are atheistic. If they have a reaction counter to their profession of acceptance twoards Judaism or whatever, put out the question to them of why is this different? and why the intolerance? In many ways this can be positive because it challenges bias and discrimination. Many people inb this day and age want to NOT be such and would typically use tests like this to grow.

    Just my two cents.

    Eric

  • Karen

    My parents never caught on that my husband and me are atheists. It would have devastated my mother; by the time she died, my dad was almost 90, old enough that he wouldn’t have been able to get his mind around it. However, it was my dad who taught me, by example, how to head off conversations about religion. He simply wouldn’t talk about it except to my mom. He was always very diplomatic, but skilled, at changing the subject.

    My in-laws may not know, or they may — they’ve certainly learned not to bother bringing the topic up, because we follow my dad’s example and change the subject. We get along fine, and have made an unspoken agreement to “just not go there”. From a pragmatic point of view, this is the easiest solution.

  • Simeon Kee

    The advice in one of the responses above (I can’t seem to spot it now) paraphrased as: “The more you push, the more they will become entrenched” seems to be the most valuable sentiment offered here in my estimation.

    I also live in a fundamentalist family and my best friend is also my cousin. He has an open mind and he had known for years that I was not a Christian but a Deist (which I actually was for some time.) As we could (and still do) have very deep conversations, I had had him almost convinced of evolution (albeit he interpretted it theistically.) Well anyway, it became known to him that I was indeed an atheist about a year ago, and he immediately bought some Kent Hovind videos and began trying to convince me of creationism!

    So my advice would be to maybe go about it indirectly. Perhaps if I had kept the information confidential that I was an atheist, and let the “radical ideas” of evolution, other culture’s religions, etc ferment longer, such an extreme polar shift could have been avoided. I don’t know – that may be being dishonest. But perhaps in a practical way.

  • Entomologista

    My mother never went to church while I was growing up but my dad did. So I think what’s going on here is probably selection bias.

  • http://goddesscassandra.blogspot.com Antigone

    @ Alex

    I’ll add, it’s probably your own selection bias at work. Most atheists/ agnostics I know, online and in “the real world” are female, but my circle tends to be feminist, which is female skewed in both places. (Incidently, a lot of atheist feminist overlap).

    So, I don’t think that the male-atheist female-religious thing is an actual event. Of course, I’m the female agnostic marrying the male (arguably) Luthern, so ymmv.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    On the tangents here as opposed to the main topic, but oh well:

    According to Shermer’s “How We Believe” (I think that’s where I read it), women *are* more likely to be religious believers than men. Or at least, they’re more likely to say they are in a poll. Why that might be, I have no idea (although I could probably come up with some harebrained speculation). But if you believe Shermer’s stats, it’s not confirmation bias.

    And re the question of whether a confirmed religious believer who doesn’t know much about their own religion could be intelligent: It seems very obvious to me that people can be intelligent, even wise, in some or even most areas of their lives, and not intelligent or wise in others. If someone is slow and incurious about, say, computers, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they’re not intelligent or wise. The notion that a confirmed and incurious religious belief means you’re not intelligent contradicts the obvious evidence — namely, that many, many intelligent people *do* believe in God. Heck, most people believe in God. They can’t all be dolts.

    Don’t have much to say on the actual topic, since both my blood relatives and my in-laws are non-believers. And the more I read and hear about the problems atheists have with their families, the more grateful I am for that.

  • MJJP

    This letter could have easily been written by me except the denomination for my wife is different.What is not included in the original post is the probable fact the the husband was originally a theist.(my situation)Belittling the wife does not do anyone any good. What does it really matter if the wife is happy in her beliefs? At the end of the day (death) she will have lived her life and been happy. If showing her the errors of her beliefs now makes her depressed for the rest of her life is that really accomplishing anything?What the original poster is crying out for is some comeraderi which is sorely lacking in the atheist environment. The fact that there are so few of us and the public perception hold atheists as lower than dung heap should not rally us to entangle those we love who are presently happy in their state of affairs. I also strongly suspect that the poster does not embrace many of the social behaviors usually associated with atheists such as ultra liberal, drug use , abuse or tolerant of it,loose sex,alternate sex, deviant sex, rabble rouser, intolerant, heavy metal, etc etc etc. I realize that not all atheists subscribe to all the above behaviors but conservative atheists are a rare breed indeed. The only comfort and advise I can offer this man is to let him know that he is not alone.

  • MissCherryPi

    As to the gender gap – many religions are deeply sexist. The men who belong to them would be less likely to marry outside their religion. If they have a low opinion of women in the first place, why would they want to be with someone who was both a lowly woman and a heathen nonbeliever?

    On the other hand, if a woman lives in a sexist religious community, she might find that an atheist man might treat her better than the religious men she knows as he lacking the sexism that pervades religion.

    Not that there aren’t any men who are feminist Christians (Hugo Schwyzer) or sexist atheists (Raving Atheist).

  • Alex Weaver

    I’ll add, it’s probably your own selection bias at work. Most atheists/ agnostics I know, online and in “the real world” are female, but my circle tends to be feminist, which is female skewed in both places. (Incidently, a lot of atheist feminist overlap).

    Actually, that observation was mostly derived from this thread and a couple of similar discussions elsewhere online. My circle of friends is actually both overwhelmingly feminist and predominantly female (additionally, “Alex” is actually a gender-neutral name these days) and I would be interested in hearing the basis of your assumption to the opposite effect.

    I also strongly suspect that the poster does not embrace many of the social behaviors usually associated with atheists such as ultra liberal, drug use , abuse or tolerant of it,loose sex,alternate sex, deviant sex, rabble rouser, intolerant, heavy metal, etc etc etc.

    You know, “recognition of the right of others to control their lives and bodies” is a lot fewer keystrokes.

  • Alex Weaver

    Posted too soon. The behaviors you’ve listed are either harmless, attitudes rather than behaviors, or not at all common among atheists except the fictional ones invented as antagonists from the dishonest school of Jack Chick and similar hucksters.

    As for “intolerant”, that’s rich coming from the person responsible for much of this comment thread.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    I have a similar situation, so nothing I say really will be new here. However, I wanted to respond to the assertions in the first couple comments that religious people are either “not intelligent,” or if they are “intelligent,” then they are “wilfully ignorant and/ or immature.” These are quite broad sweeping statements, and I can’t agree that they are true.

    First of all, there are many many people in the world, including parts of the U.S. who have no idea what atheism is, or that there are such things as atheists. Surely there are intelligent people included in this sub-group, and they are not wilfully ignorant.

    Secondly, even if intelligent people do know about what atheism is, I can hardly call them wilfully ignorant if they have good reasons for their belief. We can contest all day long whether there are any good reasons for belief, but I would maintain that a religious person can be intelligent and remain religious for good reasons. So I doubt the majority of intelligent religious people cling to religion (or a ‘falsehood’) solely because they want to remain comfortable.

    Thirdly, I would hardly say that intelligent people who are religious are somehow immature. Freud certainly argued this with his theory of the Father Figure, though I doubt all religious people are religious because they are, either consciously or sub-consciously, looking for a Father Figure.

    There are certainly intelligent, mature, religious people who are religious for good reasons, and I don’t think it right to make sweeping statements to the contrary.

  • Alex Weaver

    I didn’t say religious people were generally immature. I said that a lack of interest in learning about the details of the beliefs to which one subscribes, or the details of other beliefs, is a sign of immaturity. You realize that these statements are not equivalent, yes?

  • KShep

    GSmith—-

    I’m writing this before reading through all of the comments, so apologies if I’m redundant.

    You don’t have to reveal yourself as an atheist to your in-laws, at least not right away. I haven’t, and I have the worst in-laws you could imagine. I’ve had a few arguments with them over the years and I’ve always handled it as a “devil’s advocate” type of argument, that is, I don’t ever say what I am, I just say things like, “where in the bible does it specifically condemn homosexuality?” or “I notice all the opposition to homosexuality is directed at gay MEN, not women. Why is there less of a problem with lesbians?” I can always back them into a corner, quickly, by just asking them to justify their beliefs and pointing out the contradictions in the bible.

    If you use this approach, it will buy you some time to assess their possible reaction to your future coming out.

    It will also allow you to possibly educate them about atheism, so their pre-conceived notions will be softened when you do come out. Saying things like, “I read that atheists say…….” will steer the conversation to “those stupid atheists and their beliefs” and you can then dismantle their arguments one at a time. You may even get some members to think critically about their beliefs a little bit, always a good thing in my mind.

    I actually started an argument with my in-laws by having a letter published in the local paper, where I trashed another letter-writer for his religious bigotry. My brother-in-law actually said, unable to mask his hostility, “what are you, some kind of atheist?”

    I replied, “it’s irrelevant. The guy I wrote about IS a bigot, and I called him on it.”

    I figure that by the time I actually say to them, “I’m an atheist,” they’ll be unsurprised, but they now have a greater understanding of atheism, and instead of thinking of atheists as “godless heathens” they’ll realize that we are human beings, too.

    You have kids. This is going to be a tough thing to deal with. I’m lucky that my wife isn’t religious either, so we never took the kids to church. But my oldest daughter tried church a few times in her teen years, with friends, only to conclude by herself that it wasn’t for her, a decision that cost her a couple friendships. We never discouraged her from going, just told her to keep her mind open for ALL possibilities. She came out as an atheist while at college a few years ago, even going so far as to declare it on the front of her MySpace page.

    The in-laws were NOT pleased.

    You aren’t going to have it so easy—–all I can say at this point is to try and teach your kids to think critically, so they’ll have the skills to figure out what’s best for them (I was never concerned when my daughter attended church with her friends—I knew she already possessed critical thinking skills and was just educating herself). They’re going to grow up in a conflicting environment, no matter how hard the two of you try not to let that happen.

    Finally, I have to say that you’re a brave man, and I feel for you. You live in a region where it is VERY difficult to be anything but a mindless follower of religious dogma, and things are going to be tough for you. Keep your head up.

  • Jim Speiser

    As the owner of the Young Atheist Freethinkers egroup on Yahoo, I’ve seen the vertical corollary of this situation – i.e., children trying to come out to the parents. In response, I wrote a generic “Dear Parent” letter, inspired by FFRF’s “Dear Christian” letter. The idea was for them to print it out and use it as a starting point for “coming out.” It has gotten favorable reviews, and has been used successfully in at least one case. Perhaps a “Dear Religious Spouse” letter is in order.

    I will attempt a link to the Dear Parent letter; if it does not appear, I will email it to Adam. (I’m not “intelligent” enough to be facile with this blog software yet).

  • Robert Madewell

    Similar situation with me too. My wife is a theist. I’m an atheist. Except, her family couldn’t care less about my atheism. It’s my family that has a problem with me being godless. Actually, I have not come right out and told them. I’m sure they suspect, because I am not shy about stating my opinion about an issue. Also, I live in the south too (Northern Arkansas). Society is so godsoaked here it is pitiful. Seems that everyone and his brother want to declare faith on everything from bumpers to billboards. My advice is to let her family know where you stand on issues, if it comes up. When asked if you believe in god, just say, “No, I don’t”. They will, of course, ask why. Just simply tell them why not. I learned a long time ago, not to bring the subject up out of the blue. That starts fights. Let the subject come up. It will, eventually. However, don’t back down on the issues (creationism, prayer in schools, etc.). Tell them what you think and why. That’s what I do. It’s the issues that are important. Not whether I think god is real or not.

  • MJJP

    You know, “recognition of the right of others to control their lives and bodies” is a lot fewer keystrokes.

    Comment by: Alex Weaver
    ==========
    Again missing the point. Why am I not surprised? There is more to life than me, me, me and myself Alex.

  • MJJP

    Posted too soon. The behaviors you’ve listed are either harmless, attitudes rather than behaviors, or not at all common among atheists except the fictional ones invented as antagonists from the dishonest school of Jack Chick and similar hucksters.

    As for “intolerant”, that’s rich coming from the person responsible for much of this comment thread.

    Comment by: Alex Weaver
    ================
    You seem to be awfully sensitive today Alex. You come off here as trying to be mightier than thou but the reality is you again failed to understand what is being written. It is all about perceptions of the atheist and who he is. The sad fact is that what you consider “harmless” most people do not. That is the reality. Atheists are the most despised group in America . There are reasons for it and its not because they are like your everyday neighbor but that is the perception.So get that chip off your shoulder and get a life.

  • Alexander Simmonds

    Hmmm … There seems to be a lot of good advice here. Here’s my two cents (a more mechanical approach),
    I think I would start by being very specific about what outcomes are okay for you specifically. Basically determine what you want and what your intention is (and what you want to avoid absolutely).
    These next bits are not in any order (just what is coming from my head)…
    I would engage in conversation with your wife (and parents) about what they think about atheists. I would be attempting to make it a sideways conversation (like “I was reading about this guy Mr X who is an atheist and how he is being discriminated against because of his position….”) What you want specifically are the value judgements made in association with atheism or atheists are. “I don’t like them because …” or “They are …” and so on.
    I would practise doing direct rapport with your wife – like breathing in time with her (or preferably moving another part of your body in time with her breathing – blinking every other breath out, or changing your voice rhythm to match the breathing pattern) in a way that she does not consciously become aware of it. Put your body in similar positions to hers (also the main idea to to do this without her becoming aware of it).
    Notice any differences in the quality of the conversations you have when you do this and when you don’t. Keep doing what improves her disposition towards what you are saying.
    Discover what her most important values are: when discussing something asking things like “what about that it important to you…” Keep rapport put questions in relevant context (like “I really like finding about you…” or whatever it appropriate.
    Find out what values she has associated with religion.

    You could then for instance do your breathing rapport and present information about people who are atheist and match your wife’s values in someway. You could demonstrate that you match her values in a particular context that are specifically those that atheists aren’t supposed to do.
    Basically look for and present counter examples of the negative behaviours she has associated with atheism (you are reworking she believes as regards to atheism). Present them as non-personal items of interest rather than statements of your position. Generally better do this with as much rapport as you can arrange.
    Over time you should be able to soften the ground and/or find out if her beliefs can ever be compatible with your own.
    (sorry very for rambling on … supposed to be working ;-) )

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    I said that a lack of interest in learning about the details of the beliefs to which one subscribes, or the details of other beliefs, is a sign of immaturity.

    I’m not sure if I’d agree with this, because it might mean we are all immature in some way. Surely we have no interest in learning about the details of all our beliefs. We certainly don’t have interest in learning the details of most of our trivial beliefs, so I’ll ignore them. More importantly, however, there are arguably non-trivial beliefs that different people think important to know the details. For example, I believe, for better or worse, that capitalism is the best economic system, even with all of its flaws. However, I am not aware of all the details of this belief; I’m not even sure I could give a coherent description of it or its competetors. Perhaps if I studied the many forms of socialism I would find one that I would think worked better than capitalism (if I could define what a ‘better’ economic system is.) I only have time, however, to thoroughly examine so many belief systems, trivial or not. Does this make me somehow immature? Perhaps, but I think you’ve defined your definiton of immaturity too broadly.

    I could interpret it another way, and assume your talking about only that people who have no interest in examining religious beliefs are immature, but I dont agree with that either. People may grow up atheists or theists without much interest in examining those beliefs, and I don’t think it correct to label them ‘immature.’

  • prase

    It is maybe better to say that those who don’t examine the beliefs which are important for them are in some way immature. You can’t of course absorbe an infinite amount of information, but if there is something that you are ready to fight for, then you are expected to be well informed about it.

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    Alex: if it’s more WIS than INT, why is WIS the prime requisite for clerics?

    Hrmph, the prime requisite for clerics should be CHA, with penalties for high INT and WIS.

  • Judy

    Ebonmuse, I think the advice you gave him was good. It is how I plan to handle myself if/when the situation arises again in my life where I must let it be known my “disbelief”.

    Incidentally, I revealed my atheism to my mother about six months ago (two years after my deconversion), after having listened to her carry on about god’s so-called magnificence for some time. She tried for an hour to dissuade me, using the same lame, illogical junk I’d heard about god all my life. What surprised me was that she didn’t go ballistic, because she loves her god like no other. She was pretty calm with her arguments. Since then, however, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that she thought I was joking, because she continues to talk about religion/god as if we’d never had that brief conversation. I just politely ignore her comments and move on to other topics. I don’t wish to try to change her; that will never happen. I just want her to respect that I don’t believe in gods, understand that nothing she says is ever going to change me back to that useless belief, and to stop talking about religion/god when I’m around.

  • Judy

    Oops, actually meant to say “non-belief”. :-0

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    prase:

    It is maybe better to say that those who don’t examine the beliefs which are important for them are in some way immature.

    Well, yes, thats true, I’d agree with that. There could be a quibble over whether if someone has an ‘important’ belief, but does not examine it, would we still consider it important? But whatever.

    In the case of this person, though, it does not sound like religion is very important to this person’s wife.

  • prase

    In the case of this person, though, it does not sound like religion is very important to this person’s wife.

    It’s far from obvious. It has been said that they “agreed to disagree”, but also that she doesn’t like the husband’s atheistic position. I have no clue whether (or to what extent) the question is important to her. But nevertheless my comment was intended more generally, not only to this case.

  • http://www.dougpaulsen.com Doug

    It’s far from obvious. It has been said that they “agreed to disagree”, but also that she doesn’t like the husband’s atheistic position. I have no clue whether (or to what extent) the question is important to her.

    Ya, I don’t know how she feels either; I was basing my uninformed assumption upon this:

    I also know that my wife is an intelligent lady, but she knows very little about Atheism or even her own religion. She has simply clung to Christianity because that is what her family believes and that is what she finds comfortable.

    But nevertheless my comment was intended more generally, not only to this case.

    To which I agree.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I went through this thing with my ex- and her family ’bout ten years ago. It wasn’t all that hard, but they were nice folk and I don’t think they had the heart to yell, even if they so desired. I merely told them I had no faith, and when they asked why, I told them I just didn’t have it, that it wasn’t inside me, and told them I’m fine with them having faith if they understand that I lack it. They were fine with that and we still happily co-exist seven years after I left their daughter. Understanding that your situation is quite different, I’d still say that honesty is not only the best policy, it is the only policy, and that to let the fear of intolerance weaken your ethical behavior not only lessens yourself, it also permits that intolerance to remain in your life. Is that something you really want? When my sister married a black man [I'm white, and Texan born- and bred] I asked my family members what they thought. Those who said they’d never talk to him were struck from the list of my family, in my heart. I don’t need losers who prefer fear to love. Nor, I submit, do you. If your wife’s family disown you because you lack faith, that’ll hurt. But the options? To live a lie? To submit? I don’t know. These words are mighty easy for me to type, but I’ve always been pretty hard-headed about things. I guess that wasn’t much in the way of advice.

    Regarding her, we agreed not to brainwash my son into either category of thought, and that neither of us would lie to him when he asked the inevitable questions. Of course, this ceded the battelfield to me. Instead of crying “there is no god!” at the drop of a hat [which is indeed a form of brainwashing] I merely made it a habit to question his pronouncements, and answer his questions rationally. [He may've been the only five-year-old in Ventura County who knew what the Rayleigh Effect was].
    The pint being is that now, at ten, without being programmed, he has come to understand that rational answers should be pursued, and to say “I don’t know” is that start of the learning, not the end of it. His mother lost out because like other Christians, she could not rationally explicate her faith, nor could she answer his questions.

  • http://onegoodmove.org/1gm Norm Jenson

    I find that when conversations involving religion come up as they inevitably do and when asked my opinion I simply say that I’m not a believer, and leave it at that. If I get questions such as are you an atheist I say yes that a fair description of where I stand. Further questions are always answered with I don’t see evidence for that and I need good reasons for what I believe. I don’t argue about it simply stay with a matter of fact I don’t see any reason to believe that and let it go at that. I think that works well with the inlaws, it gives them an opportunity to ask questions if they want or just leave it alone if they choose.


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