Dumbest ‘Dear Abby’ Letter Ever?

A Portland news site has a Dear Abby equivalent named Robin DesCamp and she got an absolutely ridiculous letter from a woman who just found that her son and future daughter-in-law are atheists and are having a secular wedding and they’re thinking about rescinding their offer to pay for the wedding reception if he doesn’t “compromise” — meaning “do it our way.”

My son is getting married in June and his father and I committed to paying for the reception when he and his fiancé became engaged last year. He is our only child and we are thrilled he is getting married. And we love his fiancé! So what’s the problem?

We raised our son in a very Christian household. He went to private Catholic school, including college, and religion has always been a central component of our lives. His grandparents, all of whom are still living, are also deeply religious.

So imagine my reaction when he announced there would be no mention of God during the ceremony and that rather than our family priest, he was having a friend conduct the wedding and that friend was ordained on the Internet! Apparently my son and his future wife are atheist, which came as a very disturbing surprise to me and his dad.

His father and I are deeply disappointed and angry. This is not how we raised our son. Not only will we be very offended if God is ignored in the ceremony but I know his grandparents will be horrified.

We are considering withdrawing our offer to pay for the reception if he does not compromise and use our priest for a traditional Catholic wedding. His fiancé’s parents don’t have very much money so I don’t think they can just pick up the tab, nor can my son, who is just beginning his career in insurance.

We would still attend the wedding but don’t want to contribute financially if it is going to be a huge slap in the face to our family and our religious beliefs.

Thoughts? My best friend thinks I am being unreasonable, but my husband and I are in total agreement on this issue.

Signe,

Future Mother-in-law

Robin was firm but entirely too kind in her response. My response would have started with “Dear bigoted asshole.” She’s basically blackmailing her own son to coerce him into following religious practices he doesn’t believe in because they do and they demand that he follow their traditions despite his disbelief. Fuck that. And fuck both parents.

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  • dcsohl

    Ok, but this paragraph was still awesome: “Please consult a dictionary and look up the word ‘compromise,’ because it does not mean what you think it means. You are making a unilateral demand under threat of severe retaliation to have things your way and in direct opposition to how your son and his fiancé wish for things to be. That’s not ‘compromise,’ that’s American foreign policy.”

  • matty1

    That is probably the best paragraph ever included in one of these replies.

  • zmidponk

    Robin was firm but entirely too kind in her response. My response would have started with “Dear bigoted asshole.”

    I don’t know about that – I think Robin’s response was a pretty damn good example of how to call someone a bigoted asshole, at length, without using the words ‘bigoted’ or ‘asshole’, and was actually more cutting for that.

  • http://zenoferox.blogspot.com/ Zeno

    I agree that Robin wrote a pretty good response overall, but I’m not sure whether she realized how impossible one of her suggestions was. Perhaps she included it to make a point:

    Ask them if they would consider honoring your beliefs by having your priest share some portion of the ceremony with their friend during which he can make some sort of religious comments…perhaps about love and family and what Jesus (allegedly) said on those topics.

    The problem is that a compromise of this nature is impossible with the Church. No priest would agree to meet the couple halfway like this because he is forbidden to participate in a marriage that the Church would regard as invalid. Fortunately, Robin mentioned that the engaged couple might well decline such a suggestion, regarding it as an exercise in hypocrisy. The Church believes it owns marriage, which is why it fights so vigorously against anything that diminishes its role. (Too bad for it that a growing number of contemporary marriages are directly contrary to Church dogma, making the institution more and more irrelevant to modern life.)

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    My son is getting married in June and his father and I committed to paying for the reception when he and his fiancé became engaged last year. He is our only child and we are thrilled he is getting married. And we love his fiancé! So what’s the problem?

    So they don’t mind that their son is gay, but the atheism really sticks in their craw?

  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    Obviously Republicans, because they use the same definition of “compromise”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Note the false starting premise that neither the parents nor Robin seem to recognize: that a ceremony that doesn’t mention God or Catholic beliefs is atheistic. Having a wedding that is completely secular is the compromise position. If they demanded that attendees recite “There is no God”, that would be atheistic.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Interfaith Marriages

    Theologican Robert Hater, author of the 2006 book, “When a Catholic Marries a Non-Catholic,” writes: “To regard mixed religion marriages negatively does them a disservice. They are holy covenants and must be treated as such.”

    A marriage can be regarded at two levels – whether it is valid in the eyes of the church and whether it is a sacrament. Both depend in part on whether the non-Catholic spouse is a baptized Christian or a non-baptized person, such as a Jew, Muslim or atheist.

    If the non-Catholic is a baptized Christian (not necessarily Catholic), the marriage is valid as long as the Catholic party obtains official permission from the diocese to enter into the marriage and follows all the stipulations for a Catholic wedding.

    A marriage between a Catholic and another Christian is also considered a sacrament. In fact, the church regards all marriages between baptized Christians as sacramental, as long as there are no impediments.

    “Their marriage is rooted in the Christian faith through their baptism,” Hater explains.

    In cases where a Catholic is marrying someone who is not a baptized Christian – known as a marriage with disparity of cult – “the church exercises more caution,” Hater says. A “dispensation from disparity of cult,” which is a more rigorous form of permission given by the local bishop, is required for the marriage to be valid.

    1) They don’t go into details about the requirements placed on such mixed marriages, such as a demand that any children be raised as Catholic.

    2) None of this applies since it isn’t a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic, it is two non-Catholics getting married. If the parents expect the Holy Roman Catholic Church to accept that, they are SOL.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Theologican Robert Hater…

    Hilarious, isn’t it?

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    This is not how we raised indoctrinated our son.

  • freemage

    I do wish Robin had pointed out that the mother was actually, by the teachings of the RCC, suborning blasphemy. I mean, how hypocritical can you get?

  • Erp

    @selkirk, the Catholic church doesn’t take the self-identification of an individual when considering whether someone is Catholic or not. Instead once a Catholic always a Catholic though perhaps one who is apostate. From the Catholic church’s point of view the marriage will apparently be invalid since at least one person in it is Catholic and will not be getting church consent (if neither were Catholic the marriage would be valid).

  • raven

    The xians do the same thing at funerals. It’s not uncommon for lifelong atheists to be buried in a xian funeral by their relatives. It’s like the last time the relatives can keep the family fight going and finally win. And the atheist is at a huge disadvantage finally, being…dead.

    I’ve been to xian and Pagan funerals. The Pagan ones are much better.

    My friends very old parents died, lifelong Catholics. Or so they thought. They both said in their wills they were atheists and didn’t want a Catholic funeral. The kids didn’t care, all of them having gone to Catholic schools, and all of them ending up nonCatholic adults.

    I’m doing the same in my will. No one will care anyway because AFAICT, none of the kids of my generation are xians any more.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    @sigurd jorsalfar #5 – MIL describes the other person as a future wife, so presumably the choice of “fiance” rather than fiancee” is a misspelling.

    As for dumbest letter, surely you have read authentic Dear Abby letters? I think the dumbest one she responded to was from someone who a gay couple move in down the the street. After ranting for several paragraphs, the writer ended with “Abby, these weirdos are wrecking our property values! How can we improve the quality of this once-respectable neighborhood?”

    Her response was classic Abby, short and sweet: “You could move.”

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    @Gregory in Seattle #14:

    I thought you were going to cite this one, which is pretty funny:

    Letter:

    Dear Abby,

    A couple of women moved in across the hall from me. One is a middle-aged gym teacher and the other is a social worker in her mid-twenties. These two women go everywhere together and I’ve never seen a man go into or leave their apartment. Do you think they could be Lebanese?

    Abby:

    Anything is possible.

  • whheydt

    I can cite so data from 40+ years ago… Even though I was an atheist at the time (and still am, I hasten to add), my wife (then fiancee) was (and is) Catholic. However, since my parents were raised as Protestants (Lutheran in my mothers case, I think, not at all sure of my father, but given his family history, probably Episcopalian) and became Unitarians. So I was baptized. After some going around with the priest, involving comments like “Why do you care?” and “Why do you want to know?”, she documented that I had been baptized. So that took care of that issue.

    The one thing the priest insisted on was that I promise to “permit any children to be raised Catholic.” After a bit of thought, I readily consented. Not because I thought the Church might be getting some more parishioners, but because I figured they’d see through it all and reject it by the time they were adults. As it happened, at about age 7 our son asked a Sunday School teacher a question she couldn’t handle and got tossed out. Our daughter then declared that if her brother didn’t have to go to Sunday School, then she wasn’t going to either. (There is a lot of Welsh in my wife’s ancestry…our daughter has a “WON’T of iron”.) Note that I promised to “permit” them to be raised Catholic…nothing was said about *forcing* them to be Catholic. They’re both pretty irreligious now, though our daughter claims to be a Pagan.

  • whheydt

    As for the advice… I would (if asked) advise the couple to plan on paying for their reception themselves and organize it according to their financial means, not counting on any help from his parents. For the prospective MIL, I would advise that she back off–*way* off–if she ever wants to get to be a doting grandmother. Unless she changes her tune, she isn’t likely to have much contact with any grandchildren. (Can you say “poisoning the well”? I knew you could.)

  • magistramarla

    We just spent the holiday with our daughter and son-in-law, who are as Atheist in their thinking as we are.

    His parents are uber fundies and his father was abusive to his family when the children were growing up.

    Our SOL has almost no communication with his parents and I believe that they have seen their granddaughter once since she was born 26 months ago. I saw my SOL watching a bit wistfully as my husband joyfully carried his granddaughter around the house on his shoulders and pulled out his McGyver knife to put together her new toys, with her help.

    It’s one of the things that makes me so angry about religion – it so often tears families apart.

    It is so true that religion poisons everything.

  • busterggi

    Back in 1980, when I was a pantheist, I married a good Catholic girl and agreed to make such a compromise so her parents would be happy. The priest did a prolonged sermon at the ceremony about how evil I was. And her parents never were happy. Heck, they even snuck the kids out to be baptized the only time they ever sat for them.

    Now her parents are both dead, we’ve been divorced over twenty years (she initiated it which violates RCC law but she has been forgiven by them) and I’m just another damned atheist.

  • Michael Heath

    The mom:

    His father and I are deeply disappointed and angry. This is not how we raised our son.

    Boo hoo; your mental abuse attempting to indoctrinate your son failed.

    This is a nice illustration why I think we need ongoing stand-alone critical thinking classes K-PhD. This woman, like billions of parents, think it’s fine and dandy to indoctrinate their children; nay, that their cohorts expect them to inflict such. She’s oblivious that indoctrination is a particularly insidious and virulent form of child abuse.

  • Abby Normal

    How could I not comment on this one.

    We would still attend the wedding but don’t want to contribute financially if it is going to be a huge slap in the face to our family and our religious beliefs.

    I believe your holy book has some specific instructions on how to react to a slap in the face. It also has a few things to say about love without judgement and respecting other traditions. Withdraw the offer to pay for the reception if you can’t find it in your Christian hearts to honor your son’s wishes on the day of his wedding. But don’t dangle it in front of him and his fiancée like all that matters is they put on a good performance for your friends. Don’t ask them to start their new family with an act of deception in your church. Besides, say they capitulate; what have you really bought, an act of blasphemy and a lot of enmity? Any way you slice it, this is wrong.

  • https://www.facebook.com/les.posen Les Posen

    I read this question and its response from Robin earlier today on her blog.

    I knew the OP was just going to have her nose shoved in it when Robyn began her answer (to these self-professed devout Christians) with the word “Maazaltov”!

  • raven

    Besides, say they capitulate; what have you really bought, an act of blasphemy and a lot of enmity? Any way you slice it, this is wrong.

    Religion poisons everything.

    This happens a lot, families being split apart or societies being destroyed.

    The current champions in the USA are the faith healers. Mortality of children in those cults, 0 to 18, runs 25%. They don’t really care. They love their imaginary friend in the sky (or fear him) more than they love their children.

  • U Frood

    If they demanded that attendees recite “There is no God”, that would be atheistic.

    I can’t possibly imagine any atheists wanting to do that at a wedding. Just like we don’t go around saying “There is no God” on most other days.

    An atheist wedding makes no mention of God, to either affirm or deny his existence.

  • dingojack

    Q: “Do you think they could be Lebanese?”

    A: Ask them to make you a kebab (with hommos and tabbouli) — it’s the only way to be sure!

    Dingo

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula PZ Myers

    Whoa, this is so familiar…that’s what happened with me and my in-laws-to-be, who were horrified when my partner and I announced that we were having a secular wedding, 34 years ago. There were tears and screaming and terrible tantrums and demands…all on their part. Well, on my mother-in-law’s part — my father-in-law just seemed exasperated.

    We gave in to the extortion threats, not because we were anxious to get the financial support, but just because tearing the family apart didn’t seem like a good idea at the start of our marriage. So we had an absolutely awful, pious, Christian wedding, and I hated every minute of it, but got through it because I was marrying the right woman, and that’s all that mattered.

    Weddings are stupid and trivial, it’s the relationships that last.

  • Matt G

    PZ@26- yes, many people seem to think that the wedding IS the marriage (or they think more about the wedding THAN the marriage…).

  • eric

    See, this is why you need to date crazy in college. Go way outside your parents’ comfort zone in terms of race, social class, religion, etc. Not only will it broaden your horizons, but when you actually settle down with a relatively normal non-parental-religion person in your ’30s, they can look back and just say “well, at least it’s not crazy Betty.”

    😉

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1330993844 Robin DesCamp

    Thanks everyone for your incredibly thoughtful comments! Unfortunately I just found this today. Ah, the wonders of Googling yourself. MMM…it feels good!