I Get Email: Religious Family During the Holidays

I received an email the other day detailing a scenario I’m sure several atheists find themselves in during the holidays.

Greetings,

I’m a 21 year-old college student majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and biology. Because of the wonderful pre-vet program at this particular university, I went there despite it being affiliated with one particular christian denomination. As a non-religious person, I am no stranger to the kind of hypocritical persecution christians dish out to atheists. My car was vandalized last year because it had a Darwin fish on the back; it was painted all over with messages like “jesus loves you” and little jesus fish. I had to remove the paint myself, and security wasn’t too helpful either… they told me I -could- watch the security camera footage, but it would take hours and they didn’t think it was worth it.

At any rate, I have never allowed such incidents to get me down. I have recently come across a dilemma, though, that I would like an oustide opinion on. I have a cousin who recently became very religious (within the last decade or so), partially due to marrying into a very religious family and partially as a way to cope with his dad leaving his mother for a woman he’d been having an affair with for four years. Surprisingly, he has become even more zealous than the woman he married. I previously got into a debate with him over facebook about whether or not a catholic school should be allowed to have “Darwin Day,” which he disagreed with even though the catechism of the catholic church says evolution is OK (I know… 12 years of catholic education and I had to read that thing multiple times.) Things have been better between us since then, but he’s never missed an opportunity to emphasize his religion. For example, at my grandma’s funeral, I was telling him and the rest of the family about our experiences in Las Vegas, to which he responded “that’s why they call it SIN city.”

The other day, I posted a video entitled “Kristin Stewart Explains Christmas,” which I thought would be funny to all my friends and family members that enjoy mocking the twilight actress’s bland acting and general lack of brain cells. Most of the comments were about how funny it was. My cousin felt the need to say, and I quote: “call me crazy, but this is highly offensive. Here is the real meaning of christmas:” and then he sent me a link to a christian rock song. When I tried to explain to him that A) I meant no harm, and B) the video was mocking Kristin Stewart, not the Christmas story, I expected him to apologize. He did not. He went on to rant about how christianity is being persecuted and that christ should remain sacred at all times. I apologized again for having offended him (mainly to preserve some semblance of peace between us) but he did not respond.

I am now faced with the challenge of seeing him in person over the holidays. Before, when we debated evolution, the argument ended with apologies and reminders that we were still family. This time did not. I do not know what I should do if he confronts me. Do I try and explain myself to him, or do I just ignore him and try to be nice? I don’t want to ruin anyone’s holidays, but the fact that went out of his way to verbally shove his beliefs down my throat and the throat of anyone else who commented is just plain wrong.

Any advice is appreciated.

Well, I’m not a psychologist or a counselor, so any advice I give should be taken with an extreme grain of salt.  With that being said…

I travel around the country giving talks and am always encountered by religious people.  I do organized debates where the house is almost entirely religious.  What I have found is that honesty is truly the best policy and the ultimate indication of respect.  They may not like it, but as long as you’re not offending for the sake of offending, as long as their offense is due to the idea they might be wrong, I have always found that respect soon follows, even if agreement doesn’t.  You don’t expect your cousin to be anything other than himself, he should not expect any different of you.  By demanding you mask who you are in order to preserve his perceived right to not be offended, what he is saying (without realizing it) is that he loves himself more than you.  This is not how family members should behave.

Be aware that religious people don’t “win” by having good arguments, they win by motivating their followers into being ideological or emotional bullies.  This is what your cousin is doing, likely without even realizing it.  The behavior is probably picked up by emulating those around him.  In my experience, once a person like your cousinrealizes that someone doesn’t hate them but that they will not be bullied, the bravado immediately vanishes.

Give your cousin the respect of being straight with him.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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