Help. I’ve just discovered through his Facebook page that my distant nephew who I don’t know well is wasting his life and education apparently. His page says he’ll be studying Political Science and Theology in college.
I was afraid his parents reading him the Bible daily when he visited my parent’s home with them as a young child would cause harm, but I didn’t want to interfere. I now wish I had, although don’t know that it would have done any good. I tried to introduce him to some writings of Dawkins when he was older, and his mother gave me a paper on creationist nonsense.
At this point I’ve asked him what church or denomination he belongs to, and got the reply, “Well, not exactly an easy question to answer. Over the years I’ve developed an evangelical, charismatic and Catholic church background. (As no one really can say they’ve “got it all right” without being arrogant towards others and ignoring things important to others…)” He seems to go to church more than once a week for unknown reasons (to me).
Now, I’m not a particularly ‘friendly’ atheist, and not known for my tact, because I’ve felt discriminated against in 3-D and on the web for my anti-theist beliefs. I’d like to start a dialog that is overdue because of few chances and family discouragements. I don’t want to chase him away but yikes, is this kid related to me?!
I’m about to reply with: “In a nutshell, I think religion is: pernicious fraud and one of the chief causes of war and suffering in the world, indoctrination of vulnerable children s child abuse, and to profit from either immoral. To waste one’s time studying how to do those things is a darn shame and a waste of the one life we have doing harm to the world. The reasons I believe that are numerous and have steadily accumulated over the years as I’ve become interested and acquainted with them. I sure wish I’d been able to talk with you about this far sooner.”
Is there some reason I shouldn’t? Advice?
I think that you are overestimating the influence you could have on your nephew’s beliefs. You say the two of you are “distant,” and you don’t know him well. With a sparse relationship like that, you will not likely be able to overpower the training that his parents have been giving him all his life.
You said that you want to start a dialogue with him, and you don’t want to chase him away. Don’t start a dialogue with a diatribe. The remarks you’re considering saying to him I don’t think will be at all persuasive. He will simply shut you off, and you’ll have no further chance for a dialogue.
People often associate the validity of an idea with the personal demeanor and manners of the person who is presenting that idea. It is not a rational association, but people do it. If right from the start you sound disapproving, harsh, and antagonistic to his beliefs, he will most likely take that as your being disapproving, harsh and antagonistic directly to him. From his point of view, he has no reason to take any more of that.
You sound like the discrimination you have experienced has left you with some bitterness, anger and hurt. As justified as you might think those feelings are, he is not responsible for someone else’s mistreatment of you, and he might not approve at all of such mistreatment. Be careful not to target him in your desire to retaliate against those who were unkind to you.
From the quote you gave, your nephew sounds like a rather thoughtful young man. The parenthetical part of his statement has a very live-and-let-live flavor to it: “(As no one really can say they’ve ‘got it all right’ without being arrogant towards others and ignoring things important to others…)” That sounds like good advice for how you can establish a respectful interaction with him.
You say that you’re not known for your tact, but I think that is exactly what you need in order to have productive dialogues with anyone. I think that you can develop skills with tact if you also practice empathy. That means trying your best to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes, and accurately understanding what emotions they are feeling. Then you can choose your words for how they will emotionally affect the other person, rather than talking simply to satisfy your desire to express yourself.
Expressing yourself doesn’t require paying attention to how the other person is responding to what you say, or even if they’re listening at all.
Effectively communicating is very different. It requires you to speak according to how you will be heard. You speak with your ears, rather than with your mouth.
Defiant, if you care about your nephew, care about the whole person, not just saving him from what you have decided is a “waste of his life.” That assessment can only be made by the person living that life.
Ask yourself this: If you could establish a close and caring relationship with him that would be a positive thing for the both of you, but he would still be following his present path of beliefs, would you continue that relationship? In other words, can you rise above this disagreement you have with his views, and love and respect him as a person, regardless of his religion, as long as his personal conduct does not harm you or others?
If you could not do this, if your underlying primary motive for establishing a closer relationship would be to change his religious views, then back off and leave him alone. Atheists often complain that some Christians pretend to befriend a person with no strings attached, but are really only trying to make another salvation conquest. If you find that practice loathsome, be sure to not practice it yourself.
However, if you sincerely think that you can be his friend exactly as he is, then first work on establishing a genuinely caring and accepting relationship with him, based on topics and interests completely separate from theism and atheism. Just as there is more to you than your atheism, there is more to him than his religion. He’s still a person with all the needs and desires, hopes and fears as anyone else. He deserves respectful treatment even if you don’t respect his beliefs. and he will respond best to respectful treatment.
If you’re at all interested in doing this, it will require patience and time, and meanwhile he’ll probably continue in his educational plans. From your present relationship, I don’t think that’s something with which you should or even can interfere.
The real point here is that this is more of an opportunity for you to change yourself rather than him.
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