Ask Richard: Religious Blackmail Part 2 of 2: Financial

“He who complies against his will
Is of his own opinion still.”
~Samuel Butler (1612-1680)

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Richard,

I know you get a lot of emails about people having difficulty reconciling their atheism and their parents, but I need your advice.

My family is heavily religious (Christian) – both my parents and my younger brother are prominent members of their respective churches. For several years, my atheism has been an open secret in my family. It was never spoken of, but I noticed that my parents would subtly punish me and my wife. It was small but hurtful things, such as canceling plans at the last minute or finding a way to ask what church we were attending in every conversation. Later we found out that my parents gifted my brother the land he built his current house on and are buying him a new house because he wants to move twenty minutes away. There were never any such gifts or offers for me or my wife.

Two years ago, I got laid off and dropped out of college to pay the bills. I recently got a full time job for the first time since then and applied to return to my undergraduate school. Unbeknownst to me, my loans for the last semester I attended and left had been canceled and I had a $7,000 bill that I had to pay to re-enroll. My wife and I tried everything to get a loan, but to no success. I finally asked my parents to cosign on a loan. They refused until I agreed to start attending church and become an upstanding Christian. I had to have the loan to finish my undergraduate in time to begin law school next fall, so I accepted their ultimatum. Please note that no money (or offer) came from my parents, only their signature.

I feel like a hypocrite, attending church while internally railing against the dogma I hear. I feel like I am deceiving everyone there. I also am finding a growing resentment towards my parents. They chose to hold my education and my future hostage to their religion. Is my relationship with my parents beyond repair?

Thank you,
Curtis

Dear Curtis,

You’re wondering if your relationship with your parents is beyond repair. Well, let’s take stock:

They passive-aggressively penalize and needle you and your wife.
They give your younger brother land for his house, and buy him a whole other house. You get nothing. When you’re over a barrel and need them to cosign for a loan, they extort an agreement from you to attend church and ostensibly become a devout Christian, knowing that this is very much against your views.

I think the first thing to repair is your own life. Worry about your relationship with them later.

You’ve already agreed to their conditions, and you have already begun to comply. So we don’t have to be concerned about that decision, it’s done. Feeling the guilt of being a hypocrite and a deceiver as well as, I’m sure, humiliation is the fee you are paying for their help. “A growing resentment” is the very least reaction I would expect from anyone in your position, but right now that is not a priority.

Concentrate on moving on from this point. Do whatever it takes to keep your job, and save every penny. Manage your education very carefully, both academically and financially. Pay off the loan as soon as you can without putting yourself into debt in some other way, and then get out from under your parents’ domination and this ridiculous play acting of the “church-attending, upstanding Christian.” After you are financially stable and self-sufficient, after you are sure that you will never need their material help again, then you can consider if the relationship is reparable.

By that time, it might not need repair, it might need resuscitation. It is missing a vital element, respect. Their behavior shows no respect for you, and I would be surprised if by the end of your indentured servitude you still have any respect for them. Aside from that is the matter of your own self respect, which may have been damaged by all this as well.

For love to ever be possible, there must be respect. For respect to ever be possible, there must be honesty. There is no honesty here. The “open secret” in the family about your atheism means that it is known by everyone but not honestly acknowledged by anyone. Your parents’ passive-aggressive mistreatment of you and your wife, and their cagey favoritism for your brother is more of the pattern of less-than-truthful interrelating. You agreeing to fake your piety for them is more deception.

Finally, there is their astonishing act of self-deception, either thinking that they will get sincere religious belief from you by using coercion or bribes, or that after being blackmailed into attending church you’ll “come around.” This shows a lack of understanding about people and a lack of clear thinking. Small children can be compelled under duress to accept things they doubt, but trying to force an adult to believe something against their will is asinine. The most they will get is compliance, and to believe it is genuine and heartfelt is self-deception.

After your repairs on your own situation are complete, if you want to rehabilitate some kind of relationship with your parents and brother, start by honestly but calmly sharing your views, beliefs and feelings with them. Sweep away open secrets, speak the unspoken truths. Describe the relationship that you want to have with them. Keeping your composure, tell them how their behavior has affected you and your wife. Talk about the hurt, but leave the anger out of your voice. Listen willingly to their hurt if they share it.

Your parents and brother might or might not be receptive; it is hard to predict. It could take a long time. If this is like building a bridge across a chasm, you can only build your half. If they do nothing, at the very least they will be able to see you more clearly and understand you more accurately.

Curtis, I have seen families that were split even more deeply than yours gradually heal and become whole. If at first they don’t respond favorably, don’t write them off. Just leave your half of that bridge reaching out to them, and make it clear that your heart is open to them. Maybe some day they will reach out too.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Kahomono

    …self-deception, either thinking that they will get sincere religious belief from you by using coercion or bribes, or that after being blackmailed into attending church you’ll “come around.”

    Oh come now. They don’t think anything of the sort. Nor care. All they care about is their status in that community, and it’s being damaged by the defection of one of their children.

    All they are looking to reverse is the damage done by that defection to their social standing.

  • heironymous

    The loan is co-signed. It’s done. Tell them the truth now. Let your parents know how you feel. Explain to them that the emotional and financial blackmail they are perpetrating. Point out that if you have any children in the future, you probably don’t want to expose them to such hypocrisy and double-dealing. You certainly won’t be raising them in the church. The grandchild dynamic gives you far more power than you know…

  • Trace

    Ah, necessity…

    As you can severe financial strings things should become easier (perhaps).

    I hope your relationship with your parents and sibling improve with time.

    Good luck.

  • http://fredsblahg.blogspot.com/ freddy

    Good luck with this one, Curtis. I lost my mother due to this kind of bullying and disrespect. I don’t wish that for you but don’t sacrifice your own self-respect and values in order to keep from losing them either.

  • jenea

    This is why I admire Richard so much. I don’t think I personally could have responded to that email without a string of profanity or two.

  • Robert

    They cosigned the loan, and that probably means you already have the money in hand. Perhaps you could try a little more deceit; don’t feel guilty, you’re deceiving people who never really loved you. Get them to give you more money by pretending to be a “good Christian” (please, don’t sign any contracts with them that stipulate this though) , and then once you have enough to get away do so. Break all contacts, move the hell out of state or at the very least somewhere they can’t find you, and start anew.

    You do not need these people. Get over the idea that you do, get over the idea that you have any sort of responsibility to them and punish them. They inflicted suffering upon you, now it’s your turn to pay them back. Be deceitful, be conniving if you must, but whatever you do don’t feel guilty because there is absolutely no reason for you to be. If they do such things to you, it is a sign they never loved you and hence a sign that you shouldn’t give a rat’s a*s about them either.

  • KeithLM

    I recommend a little passive-aggression on your part. Make snide comments after every church service like “there’s another hour of my life I won’t get back” and “do you really think this is going to change my mind about such nonsense”. If they give you a hard time about that, just point out that if they treated you like your brother, perhaps you’d show them a bit more respect. Make the experience for them as uncomfortable as it is for you.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Look to the future and try to get your mind out of any sense of entitlement that you may feel for being one of your parent’s children. Your parents are not fair and don’t think in terms of unconditional love. For them, there is only conditional love.

    Work to manage your own life independent of your parents and create unconditional love with your own nuclear family (wife and any future children). If and when you do have children, be sure to give to them equally.

    This whole thing you describe is your parents fault. Mentally move beyond them and don’t let it bother you.

  • Silent Service

    They are demanding that you buy their love with obedience to their view. Since the loan is all ready co-signed, walk away. Don’t go to church, don’t go to family events. Don’t call them. Don’t have anything to do with them. When they show up at your door treat them as unwelcome and with the contempt that they have earned for their behavior. There is no relationship here to repair. Relationships are built on mutual trust, understanding, and acceptance. None of that is being offered from your parents so give nothing back. Save your emotional energy for important things like your own family and your friends.

  • Synapse

    I have to say I respect you greatly Richard – I too would have had a very difficult time providing this kind of level-headed, healthy response.

  • Robert W.

    Everyone,

    They cosigned the loan, and that probably means you already have the money in hand.

    Perhaps you could try a little more deceit; don’t feel guilty, you’re deceiving people who never really loved you. Get them to give you more money by pretending to be a “good Christian” (please, don’t sign any contracts with them that stipulate this though) , and then once you have enough to get away do so. Break all contacts, move the hell out of state or at the very least somewhere they can’t find you, and start anew.

    Just wanted to make it clear that I wasn’t the same Robert that made this post and that I completely disagree.

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ Andrew

    Remember that, in the end, you may end up helping to pick out their nursing home; whether you choose to share this insight with them is your decision. Worst case scenario, your brother gets to do the work. Believe me – you want that.

  • http://www.dwasifar.com dwasifar

    I think the parents may have another motivation here – to “prove” that atheists are unprincipled. If they can make Curtis violate his principles for money, they can sit back and feel superior to all those amoral atheists.

    Personally, I don’t see why Curtis needed to cave in on this. He left school for a while to get a job. I don’t see why he couldn’t have stayed at that job a little longer until his financial situation improved enough to get a loan or pay the $7k. So I’m not entirely sympathetic to this situation. He compromised his principles for money, making atheists in general look bad, and now he’s made an agreement to become a good christian that he does not intend to keep. I know there was duress involved, but it’s not life and death; he could have refused to make that promise, but he made it, and eventually he’s going to break it, which will give the parents more ammunition to accuse atheists of being unprincipled and untrustworthy.

  • Nakor

    Actually, I wonder if Kahomono might be onto something. The whole point of this might be purely to make it look to the public as though their son is now a proper Christian, and thus improve their social status a bit. It hardly even needs to be a conscious decision on their part. And it’s very common in extremely conservative communities to overlook problematic truths as long as appearances are intact.

    In other words, while it’s probably true they detest what he believes (or doesn’t, rather), their primary motive may be to simply make it appear as though he’s one of the cult. As long as the appearance is up, the family and the community can both more easily ignore the truth of the matter, even if they all honestly know about it.

  • Craig

    I disagree with those saying to cut off contact, or extort money, or anything of the sort. But if that loan is cosigned, they can’t back out. Make sure you keep up your payments so that they never fall financially responsible for the loan, and stop going to church. Tell them honestly why. When they complain about the disrespect, calmly tell them that you feel just as disrespected at what is, in your opinion, blackmail from them. Tell them that to have any sort of healthy relationship, you’re going to have to deal openly and honestly, and there is nothing honest in your pretending to believe.

  • ButchKitties

    I agree with Craig. I’d probably also tell your parents that being blackmailed into going to church is only going to make you strongly associate church with blackmail. Forcing you to go back temporarily is only going to further ensure that you never go back permanently.

  • http://twitter.com/achura Rooker

    Horrible, despicable people. That’s not a relationship that’s worth trying to repair.

  • Rieux

    I’m with Richard. In light of the material dependence at issue, I suspect any attempt at retaliation (or “Gotcha! You cosigned, and I’m not going to church, neener neener”) is likely to present big and dangerous risks in the near future. Curtis’s options will open up a lot once he knows he won’t have to depend upon these losers for material support. Then he can abandon the deal.

    I think there’s a very good chance that Kahomono is partially or wholly correct (though surely his/her certainty is unwarranted) about the parents’ motives—but I don’t think that changes the best course of action for Curtis. Whether the parents are worried about God’s wrath or their neighbors’ (or both), Curtis is stuck in the same bind.

  • dc

    I would suggest having a heart to heart with your parents. I would tell them that you felt under duress to get that co-signing, that you have begun to attend church in an effort to comply with their stipulation, but are regretting the deal/deceit. You can’t continue to live a lie. You love them and appreciate the many things they have done for you over the course of your life. You understand their position, and that they just want you to be “saved” according to their world view, and it is difficult for you to be honest with them that you are no longer a Christian, because you know that is a hurtful truth for them to hear. You’re not intentionally trying to hurt them. You love them. You’re trying to be true to yourself and what you believe to be true. You are an adult capable of making your own decisions now. You are sorry that you made promises that you no longer intend to keep, but you will pay back every cent of that loan on your own, so that their signature will never cost them a dime.

    Tell them that you know this admission will make them feel betrayed. It was not your intention to betray them, but you now realize you can not continue to go down this path. You hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive you for reneging on the church attendance part of the deal, and that you hope you will be able to maintain a relationship for the sake of your future children. You will in turn, forgive them for extortion, and the favoritism they have shown to your brother.

    That’s it. You will have said your piece. You will have apologized and called them out on their part of the mess.

    If they really believe there is truth in the parable of the Prodigal Son, they’ll forgive you sooner than later and realize they have to accord you the “free will” they believe their god extends to everyone.

    There’s really no restitution to be made, as the only thing they gave is their signature. This is a big f#$%ed up mind game.

  • graicebaddog

    Continue to attend church, that was the deal and you need to respect that.

    Next time you do, wear a big Atheist A button on your jacket. Festoon your car with Darwin Fishes and Atheistic bumper stickers, get to the church early and park prominently so everyone has to walk by it.. Sit in the very last pew, center aisle and read a Hitchens or Dawkins book making sure everyone can see it as they find their seat. . Don’t follow along with the riturals if they are not compelling enough, read the book if you want. The Church needs to sell it’s religion to you, if they can’t, then it’s the church that has failed, and you have lived up to your end of the deal.

    My guess is you won’t have to do this for long. Either your parents or the church will get the message and give you the boot.

  • Wrich Printz

    It may be that your parents were “desperate”, and willing to do anything, even put their own mortal “souls” in peril by forcing you to comply with their version of reality, even when it expressly violates the teachings of Jesus.

    Even as an athiest, I see the value in many of the great teachers in our past (with out any of the baggage that says they are the children of powerful sky gods…), and the dictates of Jesus would have been to love you regardless of your belief, not blackmail you.

    That is why I find so many Christians entirely at odds with the teachings of their faith to be so alarming. So many of them are willing to call for the death of their enemies, victory in sporting events, or the granting of financial gain “in his name” and I find this to be the height of hypocrocy.

    In the end, only you will be able to determine if you are able to forgive your parents, even when they were not able to forgive your tresspasses and simply accept your own convictions.

    Often times, people are as their parents raised them to be. You will be one of the few who have the chance to be better than the circumstance in which you were raised. Don’t let that chance slip you by. Accept that you can forgive them, and forgive yourself the choice you had to make, and become a better person for it.

    You can still be strong and follow your convictions in the future even when circumstance has in the past presented some choices that were less than ideal for all involved. Don’t covet, or want for a single thing they have given your brother, and be as respectful to them as they should have been to you.

    In this way, you as a secular, proud athiest will have been more of a Christian to them than they ever were to you, or themselves. Perhaps then the light of reason will reach them? (or so we hope.)

  • Carlie

    It’s cold comfort to know you’re the only one acting with principles, but it’s still the best way to get to sleep at night. It truly does feel better to be able to look around a tiny house with no furnishings and know you got it all yourself than to feel beholden to your parents for still buying things for you when you’re an adult. Look at your brother with pity rather than jealousy (that takes a long time, but practice helps) that he can’t seem to survive on his own.

    I agree with dc – heart to heart talk, no games, and even if they disown you then everyone knows for sure what happened and why. Spell it out to them very clearly, and they can’t claim that you acted badly and that’s why they don’t help you. (although I wouldn’t blame you if you happened to mention that it’s hard to carve out Sunday mornings for church when you have to work so many hours to pay rent and do well in school)

  • dc

    That being said, I don’t know if you have any kind of history with not being responsible with your finances. If so, your parents would be justifiably leery about having taken on a legal responsibility to pay your debt, if you default. You need to make those loan payments under any circumstances.

    If your family has witnessed you spending lavishly in the past, they may think that only “god” can help you get a problem like that under control. So from their point of view, they agreed to sign the loan, fearing they’ll likely have to pay it, and hoping that the church attendance bargain they cut with you is the equivalent of forcing you to attend Debtors/Spenders Anonymous.

    I’m not saying you have a problem, and I certainly hope you don’t, but it just occurred to me, that we might not know the whole story here.

    Good luck to you. There’s a bright future for you on the other side of this valley!

  • BlueRidgeLady

    Curtis-

    Richard is much more diplomatic than I. Your parents are being raging assholes, and if they are christ’s best and most upstanding representatives, then hopefully this shows that you made the right choice in not participating in their religion. It doesn’t make it hurt any less, because what they’ve done is really cruel. You are their child. Best luck to you dealing with them- you do not deserve that treatment- Take the money and run.

  • Richard Wade

    I’m glad that Kahomono and others have brought up the possibility that the parents’ motive might be for social status and appearances only. I have received other letters where that was the overt motive for forcing someone to attend church.

    However, in this case it seemed too speculative to spend time describing this possible motive in my response, and as Rieux pointed out, it makes no difference in what I would suggest that Curtis should do.

    I have also seen in some cases an ambiguous blending of these and other motives, where the “enforcers” are partially aware that they probably won’t get the person to genuinely come back to the fold, but they are also partially practicing wishful, magical thinking that somehow the person will come back to the fold. They might also rationalize that their loved one’s immortal soul is at stake, so a desperate ploy like blackmail is justifiable. Added to all of that can also be the social status motive, of which they might be only partially conscious.

    So the motives for this kind of thing are often not cut and dry. They can be a muddled, confused, partially unconscious mix from several sources, not fully understood by any of the people involved. It can be very difficult to deal with in a rational manner. Sometimes the unbeliever has to give up trying to argue with or even understand the parents’ motives, and just take care of his own needs in a pragmatic way.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    I don’t think the parents’ motivation is just purely for social status and appearances. Rather, I think that in many Christians’ views, appearances are all that matters. If you consider the reasoning that leads to Pascal’s wager, those who advocate the wager as a reasonable proposition clearly believe that God doesn’t care whether you are sincere; he only wants your public profession of belief.

    This kind of thinking strikes me as grossly immoral, and I can’t see how such Christians can view themselves as morally superior. If this is really how God is, he is no better than a rapist holding a knife to his victim’s throat and saying, “Tell me you love me. Go on, say it. SAY IT!”

  • katertot

    Well, not to sound too crass, but if the loan has already been cosigned there isn’t anything your parents can do so I would quit putting on a show for them and live my life the way I want to–with reason and respect. Normally I’m not a huge proponent of the eye for an eye mentality, but from what I gather from the letter the OP has not done anything to hurt or disrespect his family, except reject their condescending idea of faith. Why shouldn’t he take advantage of that situation a bit? If the parents can buy land and an entire house, they can cosign for their child to get an education. While the optimist in me would like to agree with Richard and say, sometime in the future, that they should work on reassembling something that resembles a healthy parent-child relationship, it doesn’t seem like the parents have done anything to deserve that kind of respect.

  • http://theehtheist.blogspot.com The “Eh”theist

    Just a quick point-for those saying there is nothing else the parents can do, that isn’t quite correct. They could buy out the loan from the bank and then Curtis would be in debt to them which could be a whole lot more misery than the current situation.

    Much better to pay off the loan quickly and plan what to say to his whackadoo parents in his final communication to them after the last payment is made.

  • sailor

    They clearly want to believe that atheists are despicable awful people with zero integrity. They would probably be happiest if this belief was confirmed. You can help with this. Default on the loan and and let the bank come after them!
    (Someone has to give you a crap suggestion among all the good ones, might as well be me).

  • Carlie

    ust a quick point-for those saying there is nothing else the parents can do, that isn’t quite correct. They could buy out the loan from the bank and then Curtis would be in debt to them which could be a whole lot more misery than the current situation.

    Not legally, I don’t think. Since they co-signed on the loan, then if they pay it off it’s not a legal gift to him, it’s just them paying off a bill that they’re accountable for. And if they don’t have anything that proves that he agreed to transfer his debt to them directly, they couldn’t force him to pay it back.

  • Unholy Holly

    Aw ‘cmon people! Why are so many of you eager to saddle the poor guy with lifelong regrets? Bailing out on the loan is just a bad, bad idea. Quitting the church thing without an explanation is a bad, bad idea. He made an agreement with his parents that, although probably not legally binding, was made in “good faith” (no pun intended) (ok, well maybe it was…). So a resonable way to modify the agreement is to negotiate honestly. Maybe at some point, after a certain amount has been paid off, they can discuss how the agreement is working. He’s gotten what he needed (money), but have the parents had enough time to see that they can’t force someone to honestly believe in the supernatural? Set up some quarterly checkpoints and reinforce that there is no progress being made and that continuing the charade is pointless.

  • plublesnork

    Ask if you can give a talk at the church you attend. Talk about Christian love, and tell everyone just how loving your parents are.

    Or perhaps more realistically, as said above, your parents may be very interested in having a relationship with their grandchildren should you and your wife have kids. When you think the time is right, it might be worth talking to them and telling them straight u pthat you’re done with church, you don’t believe, not because of actively not wanting to believe, but just that you *can’t* believe something that doesn’t ring true to you. They need to accept this, and if they can’t, then they’re going to miss out on a relationship with their grandkids.

    … then put a notice in the paper informing everyone that they chose to be bigots rather than grandparents. 😀

    Feel free to ignore the snarky/spiteful elements of this post, I’m only slightly serious about those bits.

  • Donalbain

    It seems to me that for the time being the parent/child relationship has gone. So, this should be treated as a business deal. In return for something that will massively enhance your future prospects and career, you agreed to undertake a chore once a week for an hour or so. That is not such a bad deal. Attend the church. It will be boring, it will be people talking nonsense. But it will not harm you, and is better than most part time jobs.
    Make sure however that you are honest. Do not go to the altar call or take communion. Tell your parents how you feel and what you believe and do not believe. That way, in the future, any famillial relationship that starts up again will be based on the truth. Also, they may tell you not to attend church if you are willing to tell people there that you do not believe in it and are doing it as part of a deal with your parents.

  • Claudia

    A part of me wants “Curtis” to go to the same church as his parents, and then at the first available opportunity insert into a conversation with as many chuch members as possible+pastor+parents that you are there solely because your parents refused to help you go back to school unless you went to church, because after all, buying your brother his second house was expensive. Maybe this would teach them a lesson about taking their own childs future hostage for the sake of their precious “reputation”.

    I don’t agree with running away on the deal. You made a deal. Sure, you made it with a couple of amoral unloving snakes, but you made it nonetheless and you should honor it. Work hard, live frugally and pay back the debt. I would take your parents out to lunch the day the last payment is sent, inform them you are never going back to church again, inform them that their finantial blackmail and favoritism towards your brother makes you even less convinced that morality comes from Christianity, and then you can either cut them out of your life entirely or, if you are a very generous man indeed, inform them that if they are to have any involvement with you and/or with their grandchildren in the future they will have to treat you with authentic respect starting inmediately.

    I’ll admit I don’t really think they deserve that second chance, but I can understand where I might feel differently if I were unlucky enough to have that be my own parents.

  • Nick Andrew

    Kudos to Richard for a much more sensitive answer than I would likely provide.

    Curtis, your parents are assholes. I would never make my support for a son or daughter in a secular matter contingent on some religious belief or practice.

    As a consequence of the above, you need to become independent of them. At least financially independent, but perhaps emotionally and socially as well. It’s all very well to talk about repairing the relationship, but you need to do it from a position of strength, not dependency.

    Some commenters have suggested you should renege on the deal. Others have suggested that such behaviour will reinforce in your parents a stereotype that atheists are immoral. I suggest sticking to the letter of your agreement during the period that your parents are guarantors on your loan. The reason is for your own self-respect, not their opinion.

    In the meantime there are a couple of things that you can do. First is, you can try to get their names off your loan document. You might have to pay off part of the loan to achieve that, or find somebody else who can substitute. Maybe an old friend, or a teacher. Somebody who trusts you enough to not default on the loan which would leave them responsible for repaying everything.

    The second thing is … exactly what did you agree to? It says here “start attending church and become an upstanding Christian”. You should totally do that … in fact you should be so over the top during this time that your parents will end up wanting you to be less of a Christian.

    Some suggestions:

    – Don’t do any work on the Sabbath. If you are with your parents and you see anybody working on the Sabbath, suggest that they be stoned to death. Give the bible chapter and verse just to prove that you know the ropes.

    – Hate Gays. I know, you’ll feel like such an asshole yourself. But your parents need to be taught an important lesson, and it’s only temporary. Get some Westboro Baptist literature, maybe make up a big God Hates Fags sign. Try very hard not to let it be seen by anybody except your family. Be sure you can quote the same biblical verses which the WBC use to justify their homophobic intolerance.

    – Become Edward Current. Learn from the master well, that you may apply his techniques at any moment, in any situation.

    – This next step is only if you contemplate truly hardcore civil disobedience: become 1GOD1JESUS.

    – Help out at your parent’s church bake sales or whatever. You may not want to do this if you think your parents are primarily giving you this pressure in order to save their face in the community. But you can be an annoying god-botherer in public. They may welcome your enthusiasm to do the Lord’s work … but a few weeks of good old-fashioned Old Testament morality told to the customers followed by impromptu prayer (kneeling in the carpark, for example) and maybe an episode of speaking in tongues is likely to cure your parents’ church’s desire for you to help out.

    – Whatever you do, don’t give the church any money. Beg for money if you have to; tell them you are being held financially hostage by a cruel tyrant who loves you and wants you to go to heaven.

    – Change to Catholic. Or if your parents are Catholic, change to Protestant. It’s all Jesus anyway. Of course this minimises the intangible value of your parents seeing you attending church.

    – Attend a different church every week. Tell your parents you need to find a creed which is right for you. Eventually settle on some weird shit like Jehovah’s Witnesses. Tell your parents they should not have blood transfusions. Don’t tell them not to give _you_ a blood transfusion if you need it.

    – Repent your sins, loudly. Repent your _parents_ sins too. “Dear Lord, when I saw Dad looking down that lady’s top, I did not speak up, so please forgive me. And I’m sure he subscribed to the Playboy channel by accident, so please forgive him.”

    – Ask cool questions in church. Like if the bible is the inerrant word of god. And if so, why does it condone slavery?

    Like Richard said, forcing you to go to church isn’t going to make you believe if you have already decided that it is a load of bull. If your parents somehow think that it might, then the possibilities for fun are endless. One frequent characteristic of atheists that I have noticed is we enjoy making fun of religion. And Poe’s law applies here; excellent parody is indistinguishable from earnest belief. You can see how much you can wind it up until your parents catch on that you are taking the mickey, and when they finally challenge you on it, you can impart this timeless lesson: forcing church on you is not going to make you believe, so what is the god damn point?

  • Demonhype

    “I think the parents may have another motivation here – to “prove” that atheists are unprincipled. If they can make Curtis violate his principles for money, they can sit back and feel superior to all those amoral atheists.

    […]He compromised his principles for money, making atheists in general look bad, and now he’s made an agreement to become a good christian that he does not intend to keep. I know there was duress involved, but it’s not life and death; he could have refused to make that promise, but he made it, and eventually he’s going to break it, which will give the parents more ammunition to accuse atheists of being unprincipled and untrustworthy.”

    That’s similar to what I was thinking.

    What I was thinking was of Fred Clark/Slactivist’s piece in the Left Behind dissections on “Passionate Sincerity”. He explained that to some of these fanatics, it isn’t that atheists don’t believe in god or that non-Christians believe in a different god, or that other denominations of Christians believe different things about Jesus. No, every one of us knows perfectly well that they alone have the True Faith and the True God, and every one of us is just lying about our disbelief/alternative belief to piss them off and flout the True Authority of the True God. We’re all just pretending to disagree.

    Well, that’s what popped into my head the minute I asked myself, “what on earth could possess someone to think that forcing another person to profess a faith they do not adhere to is anything less than coerced hypocrisy?” Then that hit me and I realized that to some of these people, they don’t believe you are really an atheist. So as far as they’re concerned, to force you to attend church and profess Christianity is just forcing you to profess what you already know to be true but refuse to admit to.

    And, of course, is another possibility of what dwasifar said above. It’s possible they would take the violation of principles for money as a reinforcement or evidence that the letter-writer was only pretending to be an atheist and always knew–but refused to admit–that his parents had the True Faith. After all, if you really did believe what you say, why would you betray it, and for money?

    It is nice what Richard said about the possibility of mending the rift, but as far as I’m concerned it takes both sides making a mutual effort for that to happen. And it doesn’t sound like the parents here have any intention of giving an inch, and have every intention of punishing their disbelieving child until he believes as he’s told. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get people like that to ‘see the light’, so to speak. To that type, the politeness and civility of an atheist is taken as evidence that they’re “getting through” or “planting the Seed ‘o’ Faith”.

    Kind of like that episode of Trading Spouses, with the God Warrior. All week that New Agey guy tried to make that fat bitch feel welcome, to the point where he gathered up the kids and went to a church of her choosing. It was a gesture of kindness he sent to her, to say “we want you to feel welcome and respected around us and in our home”. After they came home from church, she had a look like a cat with a bird in it’s mouth–utterly contented and even smug–and made some comments that indicated that she was glad they were coming around to see the error of their ways and the Truth of her God. You should have seen the poor man’s face as it dawned on him that to this woman, there is no interest in coexistence, that her only interest was in conquering the lives of others for her religion, and that any effort to show kindness or respect would be taken as an admission of defeat before Jesus. He finally realized that all that intolerance was not just a defense–she genuinely was that intolerant. To her, if she took part on some meaningless solstice ritual it was essentially betraying her God, so in her mind his willingness to attend her church was evidence that he was willing to betray his own beliefs, because to her there is no tolerant mid-ground in which people can coexist, and that single church-attendance was proof that he was finally coming to admit to the “fact” that he is wrong and give up his denial of the True God. For the first time, he began to defend himself instead of docilely trying to work around her. So the God Warrior, upon meeting her New Agey counterpart, tries to pull a fast one and lies to the guy’s wife about him “forcing his beliefs on her” and being so evil and cruel, trying to get him in trouble. Because that’s how moral people behave.

    Same thing here. If they have no interest in a polite and respectful relationship with anyone not already in their fold, if their only focus is on enforcing their faith, then I don’t see how a polite and respectful relationship can happen. And you can’t have a polite or respectful relationship with anyone who sees politeness and respectfulness as an admission of defeat rather than a gesture of understanding.

    Nice thing for me about that TS episode was that for the first time my mother realized what I had meant by “fundie” all these years–she had always thought I was talking about her. Of course, I do think she only realized that because the fundie in this case was berating New Agers, which is something my mother is a hell of a lot more passionate about than Jesus. If the fundie had been berating an atheist, I’m not sure if she’d have gotten the point at the time. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Wow, was I too blunt? Seems my previous comment has disappeared.

    Let’s see how do I put this politely so as to get by any censorship? (Frankly, I’m shocked as I’ve never had that problem before.)

    This guy’s a “jerk” who deserves all the grief he’s getting from his parents who do seem to be doing this for appearance’s sake only. He’s using them for money and money is obviously more important to him than honor and personal integrity. This is further indicated by his bitter mention of his brother being given property but not him. FSM forbid, he and his dear little wife should get off their duffs and, you know, like work their way through college like hundreds of other people have to do, even putting it off for a year or two if need be.

    Where’s the obvious question: what would you be doing if you didn’t have parents? After all, this is supposedly an adult. From the sounds of it, one well into legal adulthood since he mentions a younger brother who’s also married and active in the church and a career.

    Of course, it is rather obvious who he learned jerky behavior from but I still have no sympathy for him whatsoever.

    Are we now going to be censored on the “friendly” blog? I love this blog. I’ve been coming here for years under a couple pseudonyms but, man, if this growing trend for unfriendliness continues, I’m out of here. What the hell?

  • Richard Wade

    Donna,
    I searched diligently throughout the ultra top secret, subterranean Friendly Atheist headquarters for your lost comment. I could find no trace of it. Not in pending, which is usually only once for first-time commenters, not in trash, not in spam, and not in between the cushions of the sofa.

    I don’t know what happened to your previous comment, and I’m sorry that your effort was lost, but it was not censored. That is something that is extremely rare here. It takes a hell of a lot of abuse to warrant that. I always read every one of your comments, and I assure you that I would not censor them, nor do I think that Hemant would.

    Once in a great while my own stuff vanishes inexplicably. All I can say is welcome to the internet.

    I’m glad that you tried again, and I’m glad that you mentioned the disappearance of your previous comment. I would not want you to assume that it had been suppressed.

  • http://vancouvermoose.livejournal.com/ VancouverMoose

    Curtis,
    How many Christian churches are there where you live? Are they all the same? Is there one that is more tolerable than the rest? Perhaps you could have some control over your show of being an “upstanding Christian”.

    I would walk away from the family, and the deal, altogether. It would be really hard, but it would be the best option for me. For you, maybe not.

    Well, you have my sympathy whatever happens. Just try to keep in mind that you do have options, even if they do suck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 Donna Hamel (muggle)

    Richard, thanks for clarifying. I do apologize. I was up late last night and I thought some time later, I shouldn’t jump to conclusions since that’s never happened to me before even when I’ve vehemently disagreed. I really shouldn’t have gone there after all this time. I am sorry.