Ask Richard: Atheist Has to Listen to Roommate’s Christian Rock

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

Dear Richard,

I recently moved in with three other girls into a small, one bedroom apartment (we’ve all left home a year early to pursue a very specialized career). Along with the normal problems that accompany living in tight quarters I’ve run into a problem with the music one of my roommates has been listening to- namely Christian rock. She doesn’t wear ear buds and I, raised in a non-religious household, get very distracted when the music playing in our house suddenly switches from Passion Pit to Jars of Clay. Unlike my other (Christian) roommates, I’m not used to music that “praises the Lord”. Given that we’re all still young and under enormous pressure in our professional lives, I have thus far tried to avoid any confrontation and ignore the music. I don’t want to offend anyone by making them feel as if their religion annoys me. But how can I, at some point, let my roommate know her music is making me uncomfortable, if I should at all?

Thanks, Natalie

Dear Natalie,

Religion versus atheism is not the issue here. There’s no need to make it the issue.

Four young women crowded into a small, one bedroom apartment is a situation that will cause continuous stress unless each person is constantly aware of and adjusting for how everything she does directly affects all the others. Everything that each of you do, cooking, keeping the place clean, keeping track of your things, where and when you sleep, when and how long you use the bathroom, where, when and how you relax, even just turning on a light will immediately have an impact on the other three, and little conflicts between each person’s needs will steadily build up stress. Any single small problem could be shrugged off, but the cumulative effect of hundreds of tiny collisions builds to a breaking point.

It doesn’t matter whether your roommate is playing Passion Pit, or Jars of Clay, or Metallica, or Mozart. In such close quarters, each person must have access to a small unencumbered physical space around her and a small space of quietude around her whenever she needs it. This is a basic need for the comfort and sanity of each of you, and it requires no further justification than that.

The four of you must have already worked out some formal or informal “rules of the house” in order to be able to co-exist in such crowded conditions even for a single day. Propose to all of them that listening to music with ear buds should be a rule of the house. Don’t even bring up the type of music being played. Whether or not you like the music is irrelevant, and if one of them asks you, gently say that that’s not the point. All of you need to have the option for quiet or music of your choice.

From your letter it sounds like you’re getting an education or training as well as working, so when you come home, you’re tired. If studying is part of your routine, then you need freedom from distraction. Whatever your bodies and minds need, each you can and must find ways to provide it for yourselves without intruding onto the needs of the others.

Use some example of how your roommate has been considerate to your and the others’ needs, thank her for that, and draw a parallel to this issue. You’re rewarding her for being kind and thoughtful, and here’s another way she can be kind and thoughtful. By speaking in these general, human-oriented terms, hopefully you can present your proposal in a way that does not put anyone, them or you, on the defensive about their taste in music or their beliefs.

Many atheists go through several often painful experiences of disapproval, rejection, and conflict with religious people around them. I think that as a result, sometimes an atheist might assume too quickly that an atheism/theism issue might be an important part of a conflict. If an ordinary conflict has religion as only a peripheral detail as this one does, to focus on that as if it’s a central part of the conflict will make it unnecessarily emotionally charged and risky. If that’s not really a part of the problem, then there’s no need to include it when you start looking for a solution.

I’d be interested to hear how this works out. Please write again.

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.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • CelticWhisper

    A short-term stopgap fix until a long-term solution can be found: Headphones.  Preferably active-noise-cancelling but DEFINITELY circumaural.  They’ll put your sanity on life-support long enough for the four of you to figure out the kind of arrangement Richard is talking about.

    Noise cancelling circumaural: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826106370

    Non-ANC, but still circumaural: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826262102

    Put on, turn up, rock out.  Note that this is not intended as a final and all-encompassing fix for what is, at its core, a social problem, but it should at least keep your stress levels down.

  • Matt in Memphis

    I’m pretty sure that forcing anyone to listen to Christian Rock against their will is classified as “torture” under the Geneva Convention

    • Eagle

      Same with “Hotel California”. 

      • Anna

        Aw, I like Hotel California. ;o)

      • HughInAz

        You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave… sounds a lot like the catholic church.

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Alternatively, play Tim Minchin constantly.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor
    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      That would be fun if it weren’t for the fact you have to live with the person you’re getting revenge on. Intentionally being provocative can be justified and reasonable sometimes. But if you have to share a small home with those being provoked, you’ll be making your point at the cost of creating an even more stressful and anxiety-filled environment for yourself as well as them. Not fun.

  • http://twitter.com/Outcast_Kyle Edgar

    Well, the solution is very simple, but you need to grow a pair. That “I want to avoid any confrontation” attitude will lead to people using you as their door mat.

    The solutions are either tell the that you’re uncomfortable and that if she wants to hear music the she should use headphones, or fight fire with fire and put some Tim Minchin as someone said before or some death metal.

    • http://www.shadesthatmatter.blogspot.com asmallcontempt

       If the writer has already made the disclaimer that she doesn’t like confrontation, how in blue blazes would an arms race of music annoyance improve the situation?

      I’m not one for confrontation either, but there is no way in hell I am a “doormat” just because I don’t like raucous conflict. I’ll avoid conflict with people until I am sure I can make my case rationally (i.e. I would rather process the situation rather than enter into a conflict when emotions are running high.), but if I’m in conflict with someone they are CERTAINLY going to hear my complaints. 

      You are correct that she needs to make her complaints known, but I am insulted on her behalf at your implication that she is a pushover, and then proceed to make a suggestion that would only get the results she wants if she happens to live in a sitcom.

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

       That doesn’t work out too well when you live with those people. Unless stress and anxiety is your bread and butter. Because you’ll literally be living in it.

    • Drew M.

      Tells letter writer to grow a pair. Suggests passive-aggressive solution.

  • The_lipster2000

    I agree with Richards response, but I have a couple of points and questions.  I must say that the person the writer is referring to has every right to play whatever sort of music she wants to in the room, provided she is paying rent and following whatever social rules have been agreed upon (i.e., no music at 3 in the morning).  If it is just the type of music, I would suggest that the writer grow up and realize that different people like to listen to different things (I personally listen to Horrorpunk, Celtic, Bluegrass, and sometimes Polka).  However, I do not believe this is the case.  The part in the letter that leads me to believe there is more here is “suddenly switches from Passion Pit to Jars of Clay”.  I would be led to believe by this phrase that background music is pretty much the norm in the room, and the person in question will turn off whatever someone else is playing to put on her particular music upon entering, kind of “the only thing that plays around here when I am here is Christian music.”  That is just rude and childish up0n this roommates part, and it would be that which I would address.  My question would be is there some sort of rotation of music choices?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6JIXQV3TGH5IONXYV5V44FVLXQ melissa

      Agreed. My old room mate used to play regge music all the time. I’m a showtunes and choral girl and it wasn’t my type of music. 

      I just had to deal with it. We were both adults. 

    • rhodent

      I think you’re reading something into this that isn’t actually there.  If the roommate was actually turning off what other people were playing in order to play her own music, then I suspect that 1) the letter writer would have mentioned this and 2) the other roommates would weigh in on the issue as well. 

      • The_lipster2000

         I very well may be reading more into it.  It’s just that phrasing bugged me, and thought it might be worth bringing up to see if others interpreted that way.

        • Guest

           I interpreted it as everyone adding songs to a playlist (or each adding cds to a cd changer if anyone still uses them) and one song finishing and the other starting.

    • onamission5

      Yup.

      I lived in a communal house with a communal stereo (yes, I’m old, lol) and there was a very basic but unspoken rule: whatever music is playing, if you want to hear something else, you either wait until your roomie’s choice is done before you switch or you find the person and ask if they mind a changeover. Very basic social contract for people sharing space.  Yes it meant that occasionally I had to endure a genre that I loathed, but then again, so did my house mates.

      Cutting off someone esle’s music mid stream without so much as a hello sounds very passive aggressive and control freakish. Once I’d let pass, twice I’d find annoying, thrice is hostility.

      The ear bud suggestion is a good one. I wonder what happens, though, should the flatmate refuse?

    • Donalbain

       Well, I read it somewhat differently. My guess was an iPod shuffle kind of deal where some of the music was Christian and it happened to come on from time to time. If that is the case, and they already are OK with other people’s music in the room, then I am afraid the solution is either everyone’s music or nobody’s music.

  • Tainda

    I agree with Richard.  This has more to do with the music than the music genre.  She should realize that any type of music is annoying in those close quarters.

    I listen to some pretty loud music (mostly metal) and my philosophy is “if you can’t feel it, it isn’t music” but when I come into my neighborhood I turn my stereo down so others aren’t bothered.

    It’s something everyone in this world needs to learn, respect for other people.

    • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

      THANK YOU and can I clone you to teach lessons?  So many people out there don’t understand the concept of “turning the music down”.

      • Tainda

        If I could clone myself, I would have already done it :)  That’s just how awesome I am.

        Hey, I didn’t say humility was one of my strong points hahaha

    • Archaeopteryx1861

      Thank you! I don’t mind when people crank their music when others aren’t around….but I really REALLY hate when people have obnoxious rap music thumping at traffic lights or in parking lots. Here in Maine, the expletive-laced, and racial slur filled rap music just seems silly, especially when it’s some young “punk” who rides around with his seat all the way down and back so that he just sort of slumps there with his wrist bent over his steering wheel…….Dude, this is Brunswick, Maine, not exactly the ghetto. My response for these people, at red lights, is to pop in some really really cheerful song (like “Good Morning Sunshine” by Alex Day, or “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain) and then crank my own speakers loud enough to cover all of their N-words. The important part of this tactic is to look just as enthused about your own cheerful music as they are acting cool and indifferent to their own.

      • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

        I do that with the Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog soundtrack. Any time people have rap music that I can feel at a stoplight and I’m right next to them, they get an earful of Neil Patrick Harris singing about how “the birds are singing cause you’re gonna die!”

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        I crank music in my town, but only because we have some people that have no issues with putting their head in the window at a stop light to tell you that your “insert racist slur here* music “ain’t welcome.” So now I keep a mix CD in my car of nothing but music from around the world, in many languages. Gives the window leaning guy that’s always hanging out on the corner a fit.

        Otherwise I keep it at a reasonable level.

      • allein

        I live in a townhouse complex and one of my neighbors has the loud rap music going in his car at all times. Luckily I usually only hear it for a minute or so as he comes and goes but it’s quite jarring when I’m just relaxing in my living room and suddenly the whole place starts thumping. The really annoying part is I don’t actually know who it is to knock on their door and say something.

      • Tainda

        I usually don’t turn it down at stop lights but this is in downtown Kansas City so most people have it cranked lol  I do have a habit of turning it down when the swearing gets bad on some songs.  I’m an old lady (38 lol)  so that may account for me being more thoughtful.

        I like a wide range of music for everyone to love :P  One minute it’s Harry Connick Jr, next it’s Five Finger Death Punch and the next it’s the Andrews Sisters.  I also have an unhealthy obsession with Finnish rock bands so there are a lot of those too lol

    • http://www.facebook.com/cestatheeconne Jezzie James

       I think it’s great that you turn your music down when entering your neighbourhood …and am curious if you do the same when in other neighbourhoods?

  • W.R. Printz

    Excellent advice Richard.

  • John Heylin

    Play Muslim prayer calls full blast five times a day.

  • Martin

    Dear Richard, my new upstairs neighbors walk very hard.  Cloppity clop clop clop throughout the day and night.  As an atheist what should I do?  

    Really, is this the type of issues we have come to face.  People have music preferences so be it.  I used to ride a work shuttle that played Christian contemporary and I just ignored it.  Now mind you, when the driver put a CD of just preaching, I filed a complaint.  I even mentioned I just brushed off the music to music preference, but a non-musical gospel session was going to far when the hospital I work at receives government contracts.  And this put an end to that quick (mind you they decided no music on the shuttle at all which I think was ridiculous, but thats how the Christian community usually deals with these situations as we have seen with holiday displays, “Our way, or no way!!!”)  

  • Sam B

    I can remember far too many occasions where loud obnoxious music would have been preferable to ‘other’ sounds.

    Yes I mean sex.

    And not just roommates.

    Parents and their new boyfriends.

    I may need more counselling.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Does your roommate turn the music on or increase the volume when you enter the room? If so then I would hazard a guess that they are using the music as part of their attempt to convert you.

    Next question: Do your roommates know of your non-belief? Have they confronted you or in anyway attempted to rationalize their position? If yes. Then the playing of the music is clearly part of their conversion tactic.

    If you moved in with them, meaning they already lived together before you arrived, then this is a matter of territorial claim, and you really cannot do anything about it, since this is their standard of living. You will have to be vigilant in your tolerance. Attempting to establish a fair set of rules will reveal your nonconformity and will most likely pit them against you.

    We are the tolerant ones. We stand for the rights of all non-believers and believers. We are not here to belittle or diminish religion or remove it entirely, but to show that all people can live in a free and equitable society. Even a society of four.

    Our purpose is to gently challenge the delusional beliefs of the religious in order to facilitate a society of self reliance, freedom of thought and equality for all.

    Exercise your curiosity muscle. Ask questions about the bands, the musicians and the genre. Implore your roommates with honest interest and make comparisons to your own music. Bridge the gap of their ignorance. Show them the similarities of your values.

    Your persistent (annoying) inquiries might be a cause for them to shut the music off whenever you are around.

  • Noelle

    One of my college roomies was annoyed I played music while studying without headphones, but it took her awhile to say anything. These were the days before iPods, and my collection was a mix of CDs and cassettes. She was a music major who basically lived in the music building, and I was accustomed to having the dorm room to myself for studying and listening to whatever I liked. She tried dropping hints the rare times she was there, but I’m not too good at noticing subtlety. Eventually she just asked if I wouldn’t mind using headphones. I wasn’t offended in the least. I plugged some right in and went on enjoying my happy world of horrible music.

    Unless your roommate is clairvoyant, you’re going to have to use your words to let her know you’d prefer she use some earbuds.

  • Randy

    If music can be played through speakers for others to hear, then I think the answer is Greydon Square, Baba Brinkman, or Jonny Berliner, with the occasional Jonathan Coulton track.   To start.

  • Defiantnonbeliever

    Clear case of justifiable homicide.  ‘Get out or die.’

  • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

    Does anyone else here cringe out of embarrassment for Christians who listen to Christian Rock? No judgment about the music itself, but the lyrics seem to be concentrated WTF.

    “Jesus is the Loooorrrrd, yeah yeah yeah, He is the Almightyyyyy, yeah yeah yeah, O Lordy Lord Looooorrrrd….”

    • Maryp

      LOL!  That just reminded me of David Koresh.

      Howard Stern had played some samples of his music and said his followers should have known he was not the returned Christ because he was such a bad musician, singer, and composer.

      Well, it was funny at the time :/

    • Justinas

      The music is often less than spectacular as well. Honestly, adding “Christian” to anything seems to magically make that anything worse than anybody could possibly imagine.

    • allein

      I just got a new car and it comes with free satellite radio for some period of time…Flipping through the stereo settings, I found that one of the satellite modes was set to the Christian rock channel; I couldn’t turn that one off fast enough. I really need to take a few minutes and set some favorites…

      • Anna

        I miss satellite radio! I had a free trial for three months when I got my new car, and it was nice not to have to listen to commercials and static.

        • allein

          Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll keep it after the trial is done but it’s nice in the meantime (though I’ve been listening to podcasts on my ipod more than anything, now that I also have the USB outlet). I need to look for a channel guide and see what’s what.

          • Tainda

            I couldn’t live without it but I drive an hour, one way, to work every day.  I use my ipod tons too though

            • allein

              I drive about a half hour each way; I often listen to most of a podcast in the car and then put on my headphones and finish it up while I’m settling in for the day. I used to have one of those adapters that uses an empty radio station, but it’s kinda hard to find an empty one around here anymore.

          • Anna

            If you enjoy new pop/rock music, I’d recommend The Pulse. That was my favorite channel.

      • Tainda

        Octane, all day every day lol

        • allein

          Just looked it up…that will definitely get a favorite button.

      • chanceofrainne

        I got a subscription just so that I can spend my entire life flipping back and forth between the 80s channel and the 90s channel.


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