In a comment on my post, “Dealing With Evangelizers Who Seem Fragile,” Nomad asked a very good question:
“Remember, the vulnerability is an illusion.”
I don’t think that’s true. Many religious people are very vulnerable. Your suggestions are primarily for dealing with those who are not. So you really haven’t addressed how to deal with that proportion, however small, who are vulnerable. And the most vulnerable are often those closest to you. Or at least those are the ones you care about. It’s is a real problem. Do you have an answer?
The original post, as the title says, is about dealing with those who seem fragile. These are the people about whom Mike asked, people who, unbidden, approach you with their sad story as a proselytizing tool. The majority of the time they are shined on, turned down or shooed away. They are already used to it, and have not been crushed.
But this is a good idea; to expand my suggestions to how to handle religious people who are actually vulnerable.
If they are actually vulnerable then they are still in the midst of their troubles, their addiction, their codependency, their emotional turmoil, whatever it is. They are vulnerable because they don’t yet have the successful outcome to add at the end of their sad story. They will not be approaching strangers with this stuff. They will be avoiding any and all challenges. You won’t meet them on the street.
So the only likely way you would know such people is that they are, as you say, close to you in some way, such as a family member or a close friend. That means that you are close enough to be a possible resource for help, advice or encouragement.
If they are using religion as an emotional support, let them. Ridding them of religion is not what is important in this situation. If their sanity, health or life are at risk, whatever stops the hemorrhaging is fine for the time being. For this scenario I repeat my suggestions on the other post of listening politely and patiently in a neutral stance. You don’t have to debate them and you don’t have to pretend that you agree. You don’t have to go with them to their church or whatever they ask. All you have to do is to be courteous and tactful. You can still politely decline whatever you wish to decline.
However, because of your closeness, you can still be of more tangible help to them. Suggest that in between their religious efforts, they go to see a counselor or go to an appropriate support group, or take classes or training for better employment or whatever might help, just as an augmentation to their religious efforts. Never mind that that’s where the real improvement will come from. The important thing is that they have a chance to get better, that they survive.
If misdirecting the credit for their recovery to a deity puts a limit on how well they otherwise could become, oh well. Most people rise to a level of functioning and emotional development where they just get by. Very few reach their full potential. We can love and encourage those who limp along because limping is far better than falling down and dying. Maybe some day the limping will fade and they will be able to discard whatever is their crutch, But that will only happen if they are alive.
Meanwhile, we can all work on our own lameness. None of us are so self-actualized that we don’t need improvement.
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