I am now an ‘almost’ recovered former evangelical Christian. I say ‘almost’ because I am not really 100% certain that my former beliefs aren’t true but I see no evidence for them. Anyway now my wife is not happy with me and my mother wrote me a scathing letter full of Bible scriptures of how I have ‘gone bad’ although I don’t think I am now all the sudden a bad person. I help injured people by raising funds for the under-insured, for example. I have been attending church just to keep my wife from going ballistic and I have no idea what to say to my mother if anything. I am not even sure how she knows except my ultra-religious sister must tell her about my pro evolution/science pages/links on my Facebook.
Personally I feel very lied to all my life and somewhat brainwashed. Imagine if you will; you were not only told that Santa would not bring you presents if you were bad but that he would lock you in a dark room for 7 days. How many parents would be outraged by that? Well the way I see it Christianity is far worse. Not only do you not get presents but you will burn for eternity – WTF?! Do I tell my family or just let it simmer?
It sounds like the secret is basically out. Facebook, the bane of not-yet-out atheists, has struck again. You’re surrounded by your wife, mother and sister, who are all disapproving of you. You haven’t done anything that warrants such harsh condemnation; in fact it sounds like you’re a kind and admirable person. But you’re up against the fear-based nature so common among the followers of your former religion. Their own faith being flimsy, they consider all those who doubt to be serious threats, and so they try to pressure them with guilt into believing again.
I’ve never seen that actually work. At the most, it only gets the doubters to comply with outward appearances, just as you’re doing by attending church. The doubters have to be phonies merely to be treated decently, and their resentment begins to simmer, just as yours is. Sooner or later it can boil over. I don’t think that you should let this sit and fester. Resentment and disapproval will bounce back and forth and will only grow worse.
For the sake of your relationships, I think it’s time that you stand up for yourself. You should primarily address your wife, and possibly your mother and sister. They all seem to be working together, so it’s probably going to have to involve all of them.
It sounds like this is still new to you, so you may lack both self confidence about defending your position, and the skills and basic argumentative tools to do so. Those can come with practice, by “sparring” on blogs like this, and by watching how others can parry and block the accusations and recriminations that believers often thrust at us. You may feel uncomfortable and not fully prepared, but from the sound of things, I think you should take steps to make things better soon.
You can do this assertively rather than aggressively. If you feel angry that you have been lied to all your life, then don’t play along with the lies by trying to placate others with false gestures of compliance. It can be very tempting to go to the other extreme and just vent your anger in hurtful shouting matches, but that would probably not make you or the family healthier. Tap into your anger as you would an oil well, using the energy sparingly and wisely.
You can make clear and concise demands, and do it with dignity and sensitivity. Keeping your voice soft and your words polite, you can make it clear that you expect to be treated respectfully, and that you will treat others respectfully. People can disrespect each other’s opinions, yet still treat each other respectfully. You should insist on a rule of mutual respectful treatment in your family, regardless of your differing opinions.
Don’t bother defending your agnosticism or atheism, defend your character. Don’t challenge their belief about gods, challenge only their belief about your worthiness as a person. The former is probably futile, and the latter is what you need to do to make things better at home.
Your central argument is that you should be treated according to your conduct, not your private thoughts, and that you will treat others according to their conduct, not their private thoughts.
Often Christians hold that a person’s belief in God rather than his behavior is the essential measure of his morality. Most non-believers consider this to be ridiculous. Thinking lofty thoughts does not add one millimeter to our stature or our virtue. To us, it is our habitual conduct that defines our character. The effect that our persistent behaviors have on others and the world around us make us moral or immoral. Beliefs are thoughts. Thoughts weigh nothing. Without actions, thoughts do not exist in any real sense. Just thinking or believing something without taking action does not make us good or bad. We are only what we do.
Tell these three women that you want to have good, loving relationships with them. Then assert that you have the right to have your doubts about anything, and the right to have opinions that you hold strongly, just as they do. They don’t have to agree with you, but they should still treat you respectfully, just as you treat them. You do not have to attend church if you do not wish, just as they can attend if they do wish. They can prefer that you would attend, but they should still treat you respectfully. Church participation should be sincerely desired, not coerced. Make it clear that you have no intention of attacking their beliefs. Their thoughts are their business. How they treat you becomes your business when they are unfairly hurtful, condemning, or cold to you.
Assert to your wife that your conduct, your love, loyalty and helpful devotion to her has continually shown your virtue as a husband and as a person. That has not changed just because you are no longer convinced of something that she believes. “Going ballistic” against you is not justifiable.
Challenge your mother to list any recent actual behaviors that show that you have “gone bad,” rather than just a change in belief. If she has any real, legitimate complaints, acknowledge and own them, and make proper amends. If she doesn’t, then ask her to step down from her high throne of judgment, and let how you actually live be the measure of your morality.
Tell your sister that you have every right to your opinions about science and evolution, just as she does. You have come to need evidence in order to accept the truth of a claim, and she does not. If she has a problem with your opinion, then she should have the courtesy and courage to come directly to you with what she thinks is a convincing argument, rather than meddling in your relationships with your wife and mother behind your back.
Simmering, make your part of every conversation with them an example of the patient, measured, thoughtful treatment that you want from them. You must give first what you want back from others. Show kindness in the face of anger, remembering that the root of their anger is really fear. Show warmth in the face of coldness, remembering that when they pull away from you, they are lonely too. Quietly dismiss abusive remarks as would a patient parent, adjourning the conversation until cooler heads can prevail.
This may take a while; they are fear-based and guilt-based, and that is deeply set. Think back how not so long ago, you were in that place too. That will help you to be patient and empathetic. Eventually they will see that they can discard their anxious prejudice about your skepticism without abandoning their faith altogether. Perhaps they will console themselves by having enough faith to leave the matter of your doubts up to their god rather than thinking that they are the ones who are supposed to correct you.
The tragedy of families that are torn apart over religious disagreements is that it is so unnecessary. So many people sacrifice precious love, trust and kindness for their vanity of being right. I hope that all four of you can make agreements about having kind, caring, sensitive and grownup interactions, and see past these differences in belief to the fragile treasure that you all still possess.