Please Don’t Hold Me at Arm’s Length

Please Don’t Hold Me at Arm’s Length June 22, 2014

reachDear (family member),

I’d like to talk to you for a minute about this…thing…that’s come between us.  Because we are family, our conversations remain warm and our mutual love is authentic.  For that I am grateful.  But amidst the warmth there remains an uncomfortable tension—an emotional distance—that wasn’t there before.  Things between us were pretty good before you found out I no longer share your religion; but now that you know, there’s a tension in our conversation that makes my heart ache.  Surely you feel it, too.  I hate it, and I wish I could make it go away.  I don’t know any honest way to get rid of it, but I can at least talk about what I see happening and I can take this opportunity to clear the air about a few things.

I know it upsets you that I no longer hold to the religion we once shared.  I know that’s painful and maybe a little bit scary for you because we were both taught that bad things happen to people who reject your faith.  We were also both taught that people like me are a large part of what’s wrong with the world, and that it’s people like me who are holding the world back, keeping it from being what it could be.  That has to be upsetting, seeing someone you love join up with the wrong team, so to speak.  It’s an awkward and painful position to be in, I know.

I want you to know first of all that I can’t help it.  I just can’t.  People will tell you that’s not true, and that I could and should just choose to be different.  Please consider believing me when I honestly tell you that those people are wrong and they don’t know what they’re talking about.  They’ve never been in my shoes and they have no right to tell me or you what’s going on inside of me, as if they know me better than I know myself.  That takes a lot of nerve, and it upsets me whenever I am so misunderstood and misrepresented.  I can often ignore it when it comes from a complete stranger, but when someone I love seems to think the same way, that should be upsetting because it’s never a loving move to fail to take the time to listen and understand what a person says about himself.  When people choose to ignore what we say about ourselves, especially after we’ve borne our metaphorical souls to them, it’s a failure to love.  That upsets us because it should.

I also realize that, even if you believe the sincerity of my unbelief, it still hurts to see someone you love reject something that has been so precious to you for so many years.  Please believe me when I say that I know what your faith means to you.  I accept that as a part of your story and I will not ask you to change for me.  I will not try to take from you something which has brought you comfort, consolation, hope, joy, or peace.  I just won’t.  I do not see you as less of a person or inferior to me simply because you believe things that I do not believe.  I will disagree with you, and there will be times when I think it is appropriate to voice my disagreement out loud.  In those moments I hope that my tone and my words make it obvious that I don’t respect you any less just because we don’t see eye-to-eye on things.  When you feel that I am failing to show you respect, I hope you will tell me so that we can discuss it and try to come to some kind of understanding and/or truce about the issue.  It matters a great deal to me that you and I maintain our connection and that we remain able to agree to disagree on things without making the other feel like a fool because of our differences.  It grieves me to think that my words may do that to you.  I know all too well how easily that can happen because I’ve felt it myself.

In church they often say you can “hate the sin but love the sinner.”  I believe I can also hate a belief while still loving the believer.  Because I share my opinions with others in public (as does everyone now, thanks to social media!), even if I avoid these topics in your presence, you will still occasionally encounter my criticisms of beliefs that you hold dear.  I wish I knew a good way to keep that from being painful for you.  But the tension this creates between us doesn’t make the things I disbelieve any more persuasive for me, and I have my own reasons for feeling that it is important to speak up about the issues I address.  This brings you pain and sometimes it makes you angry because it means I’ve defaced or devalued something that is precious to you.  It bothers me as well to know that, but I also feel that this is an excellent moment to test this notion that you can hate the thing believed or practiced while still loving the one believing or practicing it.  Do you really feel that is possible?  Do you feel that you do that toward me?  If so, then please consider that I aspire to do the same thing myself.  Just because I disagree with a belief to which you hold doesn’t mean that I think less of you for disagreeing with me.  We can agree to disagree.  You will give voice to what you believe and I will do the same, and I think that we can do this without belittling each other or rejecting one another in the process.

In closing, I want to confess that it’s a difficult thing to discover that you’re “on the outside” of a group to which you once belonged.  The need to belong is one of the most fundamental needs of a social species like ourselves.  But discussions like these make it disturbingly clear that those of us who no longer share the faith of our families now don’t belong in the same way as we did before.  Yes, we’re still family, and we still get together.  We still hug and we exchange gifts and share meals (thankfully, you don’t listen to people like this preacher who advised families to shun their children for being different, shame on him).  But there is a tension there, a distance, an uneasiness that strains the conversation.  Sometimes we choose to avoid certain subjects because we know that my presence makes you have to put up your guard in some way.  Perhaps because of the way things are there will be no way to keep that from happening.  That makes me sad.  But at the same time, consider this:

Despite our differences, you and I are still family, and we still love each other.  We still value each other’s presence to the point that we would rather stomach the tension and be around each other than avoid each other to spare ourselves the discomfort.  That really says something, doesn’t it?  Maybe blood really is thicker than water, so to speak, and maybe it’s even thicker than ideology.  At least I hope it is.  I will not reject you just because I no longer hold to all the same beliefs, and I hope you feel the same way.  Truth be told, our stories are inseparable, so we probably share more of the same values than we realize, even if our beliefs are no longer identical.  I think that’s enough to build a strong relationship around, and I hope you feel the same way.

I love you, and that overcomes a lot, doesn’t it?  Tell me you feel the same way, and that’s all I need to hear.  Just don’t keep me at arm’s length, okay?

_______________

[Wait, where’s part two of Deanna’s post entitled “It’s Not Me, It’s You“?  Calm down, it’ll be here later this week!  Sheesh!]

Also, if you’d like to see the archive of Godless articles, you can find that here.  And if you know someone who has a story you think should be heard, please contact me.  I’ll be happy to make sure more of you get a chance to share them here. –Neil

"The synopsis of Christianity about 1/2 way through is brilliant. I'm wondering if there is ..."

How Evangelicals Handle Doubt
"I'm a former fundy and go occasionally to my DD's fundy church so I can ..."

How Evangelicals Handle Doubt
"I have to wonder, how many so called christians quit believing a long, long, time ..."

How Evangelicals Handle Doubt
"I never quite had the nerve to leave the church on my own, actually. Last ..."

How Evangelicals Handle Doubt

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Beautifully written piece. I hope it has its intended effect.

  • Beautifully written piece. I hope it has its intended effect.

  • Beautifully written piece. I hope it has its intended effect.

  • exrelayman

    Well said. My believing brother hugs and expresses love also, but it angers him if even tangentially something I say elicits awareness of this difference between us. He has resentfully said to me, “Why do you always have to bring that up?”

    Now HE believes I am hell bound with my unbelief. No worse eternal fate is possible. For Odin’s sake, with my eternal fate in peril (to his way of thinking) shouldn’t HE be insistent on bringing it up? See, he, for a present non confrontational comfort (for him), is willing to let me suffer eternal damnation. And he hugs me and says, “I love you brother.” An analogy would be him seeing me teetering at the edge of a cliff and telling me how much he loves me but not being willing to risk approaching the cliff’s edge to help me. I’m pretty sure I am just beating on a drum here that you have already played many times before.

    I think fear and love are in conflict. I have heard a lot about how powerful love is, but fear seems to top it. There is discomfort and anger associated with even talking about it. Why so, if not fear? Is it so fearsome to even contemplate the possibility that one could be wrong ?

    An associated irony is that the Word of God in conjunction with the Paraclete, are emanations or aspects of the omnipotent diety. And I on my lonesome, thinking for myself, am uninfluenced by the arguments for faith that used to hold me in their sway. To this extent, I am stronger than God! Well, not too difficult really, God being an imaginary friend, you see.

    This sort of suffering, while mild in comparison with say the Inquisition or Muslim ‘honor’ slayings, is a vast, real, and unmeasurable ill consequence of belief in a diety that will weigh us in the balance and determine our eternal destiny. Once you die, the trap door swings shut, and all possibility of salvation is gone. What a pernicious yet effective doctrine for mental enslavement!

    Okay, pretty long rant. But they think they are so wonderful and agents for God, good, and the American way! Oops, got carried away there.

    It is not my nature to blog or always be in there commenting, but I do want to compliment you on the excellence of your writing and the fine character revealed by how you comport yourself with disagreement in the comments. You are one of our (atheists) finest spokespersons.

  • exrelayman

    Well said. My believing brother hugs and expresses love also, but it angers him if even tangentially something I say elicits awareness of this difference between us. He has resentfully said to me, “Why do you always have to bring that up?”

    Now HE believes I am hell bound with my unbelief. No worse eternal fate is possible. For Odin’s sake, with my eternal fate in peril (to his way of thinking) shouldn’t HE be insistent on bringing it up? See, he, for a present non confrontational comfort (for him), is willing to let me suffer eternal damnation. And he hugs me and says, “I love you brother.” An analogy would be him seeing me teetering at the edge of a cliff and telling me how much he loves me but not being willing to risk approaching the cliff’s edge to help me. I’m pretty sure I am just beating on a drum here that you have already played many times before.

    I think fear and love are in conflict. I have heard a lot about how powerful love is, but fear seems to top it. There is discomfort and anger associated with even talking about it. Why so, if not fear? Is it so fearsome to even contemplate the possibility that one could be wrong ?

    An associated irony is that the Word of God in conjunction with the Paraclete, are emanations or aspects of the omnipotent diety. And I on my lonesome, thinking for myself, am uninfluenced by the arguments for faith that used to hold me in their sway. To this extent, I am stronger than God! Well, not too difficult really, God being an imaginary friend, you see.

    This sort of suffering, while mild in comparison with say the Inquisition or Muslim ‘honor’ slayings, is a vast, real, and unmeasurable ill consequence of belief in a diety that will weigh us in the balance and determine our eternal destiny. Once you die, the trap door swings shut, and all possibility of salvation is gone. What a pernicious yet effective doctrine for mental enslavement!

    Okay, pretty long rant. But they think they are so wonderful and agents for God, good, and the American way! Oops, got carried away there.

    It is not my nature to blog or always be in there commenting, but I do want to compliment you on the excellence of your writing and the fine character revealed by how you comport yourself with disagreement in the comments. You are one of our (atheists) finest spokespersons.

  • “but I also feel that this is an excellent moment to test this notion that you can hate the thing believed or practiced while still loving the one believing or practicing it. Do you really feel that is possible? Do you feel that you do that toward me?”

    That was brilliantly put. The possible problem is — they may believe that you have become an enemy to their god (James 4:4) I feel sorry for them — the psychological turmoil they must be experiencing. Hope things get better between you and your family.

  • “but I also feel that this is an excellent moment to test this notion that you can hate the thing believed or practiced while still loving the one believing or practicing it. Do you really feel that is possible? Do you feel that you do that toward me?”

    That was brilliantly put. The possible problem is — they may believe that you have become an enemy to their god (James 4:4) I feel sorry for them — the psychological turmoil they must be experiencing. Hope things get better between you and your family.

  • Well said to you as well, and I totally feel ya. I’ve gotten the cliff thing so many times it’s incredible. I try to explain to them that the flaw in the analogy is that a cliff can be observed and known to be real, while they are warning us of a thing that, if it exists, would be in its own category and they’ve never observed anything remotely like it. So their behavior toward us isn’t so easily justifiable as they make it sound.

    And thank you heartily for the high praise. I hope I can live up to what you described. It’s a tricky minefield we’re dancing through.

  • Well said to you as well, and I totally feel ya. I’ve gotten the cliff thing so many times it’s incredible. I try to explain to them that the flaw in the analogy is that a cliff can be observed and known to be real, while they are warning us of a thing that, if it exists, would be in its own category and they’ve never observed anything remotely like it. So their behavior toward us isn’t so easily justifiable as they make it sound.

    And thank you heartily for the high praise. I hope I can live up to what you described. It’s a tricky minefield we’re dancing through.

  • Well said to you as well, and I totally feel ya. I’ve gotten the cliff thing so many times it’s incredible. I try to explain to them that the flaw in the analogy is that a cliff can be observed and known to be real, while they are warning us of a thing that, if it exists, would be in its own category and they’ve never observed anything remotely like it. So their behavior toward us isn’t so easily justifiable as they make it sound.

    And thank you heartily for the high praise. I hope I can live up to what you described. It’s a tricky minefield we’re dancing through.

  • You have written what I have had in my head since I was 17 years old in 1963. Back then the main conflicts in families were whether to marry into or out of the particular faith one was born into. Catholics married Catholics and Protestants married Protestants. If there was a crossover there was “hell to pay” from the families. Reminds me of the Montague-Capulet Feud in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and studying Shakespeare opened my eyes to the tragedy of hate, for whatever reasons. So sad that religion has become one of the “main” reasons to bond instead of common goals, compatibility, and LOVE. My family went through many iterations of religion before we all just went our own way. We are now, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Agnostic. We still love each other and hold no animosity against each other for our beliefs. After reading the angst, anger, and loneliness expressed in the many posts on your blog, I know just how lucky I am!

  • You have written what I have had in my head since I was 17 years old in 1963. Back then the main conflicts in families were whether to marry into or out of the particular faith one was born into. Catholics married Catholics and Protestants married Protestants. If there was a crossover there was “hell to pay” from the families. Reminds me of the Montague-Capulet Feud in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and studying Shakespeare opened my eyes to the tragedy of hate, for whatever reasons. So sad that religion has become one of the “main” reasons to bond instead of common goals, compatibility, and LOVE. My family went through many iterations of religion before we all just went our own way. We are now, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Agnostic. We still love each other and hold no animosity against each other for our beliefs. After reading the angst, anger, and loneliness expressed in the many posts on your blog, I know just how lucky I am!

  • You have written what I have had in my head since I was 17 years old in 1963. Back then the main conflicts in families were whether to marry into or out of the particular faith one was born into. Catholics married Catholics and Protestants married Protestants. If there was a crossover there was “hell to pay” from the families. Reminds me of the Montague-Capulet Feud in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and studying Shakespeare opened my eyes to the tragedy of hate, for whatever reasons. So sad that religion has become one of the “main” reasons to bond instead of common goals, compatibility, and LOVE. My family went through many iterations of religion before we all just went our own way. We are now, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Agnostic. We still love each other and hold no animosity against each other for our beliefs. After reading the angst, anger, and loneliness expressed in the many posts on your blog, I know just how lucky I am!

  • I’m very happy–and feel quite lucky–that my family seems to be well aware that I’m not exactly Catholic anymore but still loves me. We’ve tacitly agreed to drop religion as a conversation topic these past couple decades and that works for us. There’s no risk whatsoever of a family member getting blitzed and freaking out at a reunion and starting up a preachin’ session on the veranda. But Catholics don’t have the same fears Protestants do, not entirely anyway. I’m sharing this personal stuff because I want you to know that it’s very, very possible for a family to have religious differences and be okay. I really hope that in time your family can find that equilibrium. Your letter conveys a great deal of emotional pain as well as hope, and I hope that for your kinfolk, love really can cast out fear–because fear tests love in a way that nothing else can, even destroy it. Good luck, hon. It’s possible and I hope your family is up to it.

  • I’m very happy–and feel quite lucky–that my family seems to be well aware that I’m not exactly Catholic anymore but still loves me. We’ve tacitly agreed to drop religion as a conversation topic these past couple decades and that works for us. There’s no risk whatsoever of a family member getting blitzed and freaking out at a reunion and starting up a preachin’ session on the veranda. But Catholics don’t have the same fears Protestants do, not entirely anyway. I’m sharing this personal stuff because I want you to know that it’s very, very possible for a family to have religious differences and be okay. I really hope that in time your family can find that equilibrium. Your letter conveys a great deal of emotional pain as well as hope, and I hope that for your kinfolk, love really can cast out fear–because fear tests love in a way that nothing else can, even destroy it. Good luck, hon. It’s possible and I hope your family is up to it.

  • I’m very happy–and feel quite lucky–that my family seems to be well aware that I’m not exactly Catholic anymore but still loves me. We’ve tacitly agreed to drop religion as a conversation topic these past couple decades and that works for us. There’s no risk whatsoever of a family member getting blitzed and freaking out at a reunion and starting up a preachin’ session on the veranda. But Catholics don’t have the same fears Protestants do, not entirely anyway. I’m sharing this personal stuff because I want you to know that it’s very, very possible for a family to have religious differences and be okay. I really hope that in time your family can find that equilibrium. Your letter conveys a great deal of emotional pain as well as hope, and I hope that for your kinfolk, love really can cast out fear–because fear tests love in a way that nothing else can, even destroy it. Good luck, hon. It’s possible and I hope your family is up to it.

  • David W

    Thank you! I will be sending this to some of my family members.

  • David W

    Thank you! I will be sending this to some of my family members.

  • David W

    Thank you! I will be sending this to some of my family members.

  • Sensitive and articulate. Always worth a try to communicate these thoughts and feelings. And, of course, no guarantee family will really hear and respond. I hope it works. Honesty meets fear-based faith. . .anything can happen.

  • Sensitive and articulate. Always worth a try to communicate these thoughts and feelings. And, of course, no guarantee family will really hear and respond. I hope it works. Honesty meets fear-based faith. . .anything can happen.

  • Sensitive and articulate. Always worth a try to communicate these thoughts and feelings. And, of course, no guarantee family will really hear and respond. I hope it works. Honesty meets fear-based faith. . .anything can happen.

  • It’s funny how you can pour your heart out and find it takes less than 24 hours to discover that this level of empathy cannot always be returned. And by “funny” I mean “sad,” or “infuriating.”

    We do what we can. As you said, no guarantees at all. But it’s always worth a try, if for no other reason than to know that you did your best.

  • It’s funny how you can pour your heart out and find it takes less than 24 hours to discover that this level of empathy cannot always be returned. And by “funny” I mean “sad,” or “infuriating.”

    We do what we can. As you said, no guarantees at all. But it’s always worth a try, if for no other reason than to know that you did your best.

  • It’s funny how you can pour your heart out and find it takes less than 24 hours to discover that this level of empathy cannot always be returned. And by “funny” I mean “sad,” or “infuriating.”

    We do what we can. As you said, no guarantees at all. But it’s always worth a try, if for no other reason than to know that you did your best.

  • I was reading through Joel Osteen’s website today, and noticed two things: he never talks about Jesus (only God), and he is relentlessly upbeat about what you can accomplish through God if you maintain a positive attitude toward him. Reading your post today, and the comments about the use of fear to hold Christians in bondage to their belief in God, I’m beginning to think Osteen is as successful as he is because a lot of Christians can’t take living in fear anymore. I wonder if that means his followers are squishy sort of Christians who might be more willing to accept a family member who was out as an atheist. (love your stuff, Neil, but can’t wait for Deanna’s follow-up post).

  • I was reading through Joel Osteen’s website today, and noticed two things: he never talks about Jesus (only God), and he is relentlessly upbeat about what you can accomplish through God if you maintain a positive attitude toward him. Reading your post today, and the comments about the use of fear to hold Christians in bondage to their belief in God, I’m beginning to think Osteen is as successful as he is because a lot of Christians can’t take living in fear anymore. I wonder if that means his followers are squishy sort of Christians who might be more willing to accept a family member who was out as an atheist. (love your stuff, Neil, but can’t wait for Deanna’s follow-up post).

  • I was reading through Joel Osteen’s website today, and noticed two things: he never talks about Jesus (only God), and he is relentlessly upbeat about what you can accomplish through God if you maintain a positive attitude toward him. Reading your post today, and the comments about the use of fear to hold Christians in bondage to their belief in God, I’m beginning to think Osteen is as successful as he is because a lot of Christians can’t take living in fear anymore. I wonder if that means his followers are squishy sort of Christians who might be more willing to accept a family member who was out as an atheist. (love your stuff, Neil, but can’t wait for Deanna’s follow-up post).

  • Link exchange is nothing else but it is just placing the other person’s weblog lunk onn your paqge at proper place

    and other person will also do same iin favor of

    you.

  • Link exchange is nothing else but it is just placing the other person’s weblog lunk onn your paqge at proper place

    and other person will also do same iin favor of

    you.

  • Link exchange is nothing else but it is just placing the other person’s weblog lunk onn your paqge at proper place

    and other person will also do same iin favor of

    you.

  • Stephen B

    So sad. I have two family members, cousins, who won’t speak to me. I’m the devil. And they blame me. Why are you doing this to us? But they pushed ME way!

  • Graciebaddog

    Here is a question I would ask your brother.

    “If heaven is this perfect place and I’m burning in hell for eternity won’t that bother you? If so, how could that be heaven? If not, then do you really love me? Or once you get to heaven do you just cease to care, or maybe even remember me? If that’s true, the person are now must not be the person are in heaven, making your small finite life on earth even more meaningless.”

    This question works better with a parent. “How will you feel mom, as you sit in heaven knowing your son is burning in hell. Won’t that harsh your mellow a bit, or for actually all of eternity ? Why would god do that to you? He made the rules. He can change the rules. Don’t blame me I really tried to believe.”

  • Graciebaddog

    Here is a question I would ask your brother.

    “If heaven is this perfect place and I’m burning in hell for eternity won’t that bother you? If so, how could that be heaven? If not, then do you really love me? Or once you get to heaven do you just cease to care, or maybe even remember me? If that’s true, the person are now must not be the person are in heaven, making your small finite life on earth even more meaningless.”

    This question works better with a parent. “How will you feel mom, as you sit in heaven knowing your son is burning in hell. Won’t that harsh your mellow a bit, or for actually all of eternity ? Why would god do that to you? He made the rules. He can change the rules. Don’t blame me I really tried to believe.”

  • Graciebaddog

    Here is a question I would ask your brother.

    “If heaven is this perfect place and I’m burning in hell for eternity won’t that bother you? If so, how could that be heaven? If not, then do you really love me? Or once you get to heaven do you just cease to care, or maybe even remember me? If that’s true, the person are now must not be the person are in heaven, making your small finite life on earth even more meaningless.”

    This question works better with a parent. “How will you feel mom, as you sit in heaven knowing your son is burning in hell. Won’t that harsh your mellow a bit, or for actually all of eternity ? Why would god do that to you? He made the rules. He can change the rules. Don’t blame me I really tried to believe.”

  • el_slapper

    It’s easier to learn that kind of communication despite differences when everyone is different. My parents are new-agers, my sister is skeptical, her husband is pure atheistic, I’m agnostic(in the sense I don’t know & don’t care), my wife is evangelical…and the last time we were together, the only trouble was about food habits.

    If everyone but me was evangelical, that christmas eve could have turned sour. Because the near-unity of most of the group makes any remark gaining a far stronger momentum. When everyone is different, there is no way someone will feel entitled to bully someone thinking differently. I don’t suffer from the weight of a local area filled with 90% evangelicals, a family filled with 90% evangelical.

    Must be tough. good luck.

  • el_slapper

    It’s easier to learn that kind of communication despite differences when everyone is different. My parents are new-agers, my sister is skeptical, her husband is pure atheistic, I’m agnostic(in the sense I don’t know & don’t care), my wife is evangelical…and the last time we were together, the only trouble was about food habits.

    If everyone but me was evangelical, that christmas eve could have turned sour. Because the near-unity of most of the group makes any remark gaining a far stronger momentum. When everyone is different, there is no way someone will feel entitled to bully someone thinking differently. I don’t suffer from the weight of a local area filled with 90% evangelicals, a family filled with 90% evangelical.

    Must be tough. good luck.

  • el_slapper

    It’s easier to learn that kind of communication despite differences when everyone is different. My parents are new-agers, my sister is skeptical, her husband is pure atheistic, I’m agnostic(in the sense I don’t know & don’t care), my wife is evangelical…and the last time we were together, the only trouble was about food habits.

    If everyone but me was evangelical, that christmas eve could have turned sour. Because the near-unity of most of the group makes any remark gaining a far stronger momentum. When everyone is different, there is no way someone will feel entitled to bully someone thinking differently. I don’t suffer from the weight of a local area filled with 90% evangelicals, a family filled with 90% evangelical.

    Must be tough. good luck.

  • Thinker1121

    Neil, this is a very moving post and hits close to home for me. If you’ll forgive me for using religious language, you are truly blessed to have such an amazing gift for writing and communication.

    From my experience, the underlying problem you espouse here is a result of the definition of “love” itself. What does it mean to love someone? You may disagree, but I think that love is the emotion we feel towards people who share our values. Think about it. Aside from your family, have you ever felt a deep, passionate, or intimate connection with anyone (either in a romantic sense or in a friendship sense) who doesn’t share your values (or didn’t at the time you became close)? Probably not. At least I never have. Love is a consequence of recognizing shared values. Show me a man’s spouse/lover/best friend, and I’ll be able to show you what he values most.

    If this is true, then the tension with our families is similar to seeing a childhood best friend after being separated for 20 years and growing apart. You still remember the love you felt for them and you still feel the bond you developed with them, but you realize that there is no longer anything to sustain the bond, except swapping stories of good times from “back in the day.” The bond is based on past experiences and past shared values, not current ones. Think about it another way. How many in your family would you probably become friends with today if you met them on the street? I can think of 2 in my family, but 10 years ago I would have been able to give you at least 15. The only thing that’s changed in that timespan is my value system.

    Again, this is obviously just my opinion, but I think the only time that differing religious/political views will not come between the closeness of two people is when the religious/political views themselves don’t matter much to those people. In my circle of friends, religion almost never comes up because it’s not important to anyone. So when someone occasionally espouses a particular religious viewpoint, no one is offended or is judgmental about it. But that’s not because we are “tolerant,” it’s because religion isn’t a value to us. We just don’t care. HUGE difference.

    I have the same problem with my in-laws. They are partisan liberals – several are vegans. I am neither. We respect each other, but I realized early on that I was never going to have a close relationship with them – it’s just not possible. Our shared values don’t overlap enough. And while this doesn’t really bother me since we haven’t lost a bond we once had in the past, it really bothers me when I realize that I now have this same mutually respectful, yet not-close relationship with my own family – because we DID at one time have a strong bond that cannot be restored given our current value systems.

    Values are everything when it comes to love. Hopefully you can focus on the shared values you do have with your family to build your closeness again. Nothing creates bonding as well as shared righteous anger. :) Seriously, find a value or two that you share and rant with your family about people who don’t share that value – it’ll help your bond. This trick works for me, and I’ve seen it work for many others.

  • Thinker1121

    Neil, this is a very moving post and hits close to home for me. If you’ll forgive me for using religious language, you are truly blessed to have such an amazing gift for writing and communication.

    From my experience, the underlying problem you espouse here is a result of the definition of “love” itself. What does it mean to love someone? You may disagree, but I think that love is the emotion we feel towards people who share our values. Think about it. Aside from your family, have you ever felt a deep, passionate, or intimate connection with anyone (either in a romantic sense or in a friendship sense) who doesn’t share your values (or didn’t at the time you became close)? Probably not. At least I never have. Love is a consequence of recognizing shared values. Show me a man’s spouse/lover/best friend, and I’ll be able to show you what he values most.

    If this is true, then the tension with our families is similar to seeing a childhood best friend after being separated for 20 years and growing apart. You still remember the love you felt for them and you still feel the bond you developed with them, but you realize that there is no longer anything to sustain the bond, except swapping stories of good times from “back in the day.” The bond is based on past experiences and past shared values, not current ones. Think about it another way. How many in your family would you probably become friends with today if you met them on the street? I can think of 2 in my family, but 10 years ago I would have been able to give you at least 15. The only thing that’s changed in that timespan is my value system.

    Again, this is obviously just my opinion, but I think the only time that differing religious/political views will not come between the closeness of two people is when the religious/political views themselves don’t matter much to those people. In my circle of friends, religion almost never comes up because it’s not important to anyone. So when someone occasionally espouses a particular religious viewpoint, no one is offended or is judgmental about it. But that’s not because we are “tolerant,” it’s because religion isn’t a value to us. We just don’t care. HUGE difference.

    I have the same problem with my in-laws. They are partisan liberals – several are vegans. I am neither. We respect each other, but I realized early on that I was never going to have a close relationship with them – it’s just not possible. Our shared values don’t overlap enough. And while this doesn’t really bother me since we haven’t lost a bond we once had in the past, it really bothers me when I realize that I now have this same mutually respectful, yet not-close relationship with my own family – because we DID at one time have a strong bond that cannot be restored given our current value systems.

    Values are everything when it comes to love. Hopefully you can focus on the shared values you do have with your family to build your closeness again. Nothing creates bonding as well as shared righteous anger. :) Seriously, find a value or two that you share and rant with your family about people who don’t share that value – it’ll help your bond. This trick works for me, and I’ve seen it work for many others.

  • mikespeir

    I’ve been very fortunate. My parents, Pentecostal Christians, are probably my best friends in this town. We simply avoid some subjects when we talk. But it’s sad that we have to do that. There is a distance that hasn’t always been there.

  • mikespeir

    I’ve been very fortunate. My parents, Pentecostal Christians, are probably my best friends in this town. We simply avoid some subjects when we talk. But it’s sad that we have to do that. There is a distance that hasn’t always been there.

  • David W

    “…the definition of “love” itself. What does it mean to love someone? You may disagree, but I think that love is the emotion we feel towards people who share our values.”

    Nice post, I agree with your point here!

    (I would only add that this is a partial definition, which I suspect that you would agree with .)

  • David W

    “…the definition of “love” itself. What does it mean to love someone? You may disagree, but I think that love is the emotion we feel towards people who share our values.”

    Nice post, I agree with your point here!

    (I would only add that this is a partial definition, which I suspect that you would agree with .)

  • Thinker1121

    Yes, you’re right. It would be more accurate to say that shared values is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to love someone.

  • Thinker1121

    Yes, you’re right. It would be more accurate to say that shared values is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to love someone.

  • During my years in a literal and legalistic Christian environment we were told that in heaven there are no more tears and no more sorrow, so we would not consciously have any memory of anyone in hell because to do so we’d have tears and sorrow . . . and . . . well, there are no tears or sorrow in heaven. :-) Convenient.

  • During my years in a literal and legalistic Christian environment we were told that in heaven there are no more tears and no more sorrow, so we would not consciously have any memory of anyone in hell because to do so we’d have tears and sorrow . . . and . . . well, there are no tears or sorrow in heaven. :-) Convenient.

  • During my years in a literal and legalistic Christian environment we were told that in heaven there are no more tears and no more sorrow, so we would not consciously have any memory of anyone in hell because to do so we’d have tears and sorrow . . . and . . . well, there are no tears or sorrow in heaven. :-) Convenient.

  • You’re a more graceful man than me. If my family had ever expressed a sentiment that I was going to hell I would say “fuck em” and never look back.

    Thankfully, with all the people that I value in my life we have all been of a mutual understanding that goodness triumphs belief. The subject rarely comes up, really. I suppose I’m lucky, especially since I’ve also been in the South my entire life.

    Like you said, we have far more of the same values than different. It just baffles me than anyone could disown family over something like this. What’s the big freaking deal? We all want to do what’s best for the world. Can people really love an idea more than the person standing in front of them? (DAMN YOU, ABRAHAM/ISAAC STORY!)

    You’re a strong man for not buckling under, for still desiring that kinship with people who might reject you. No matter what, you can at lt least take solace that you have tried to live as the best person you can be..

  • You’re a more graceful man than me. If my family had ever expressed a sentiment that I was going to hell I would say “fuck em” and never look back.

    Thankfully, with all the people that I value in my life we have all been of a mutual understanding that goodness triumphs belief. The subject rarely comes up, really. I suppose I’m lucky, especially since I’ve also been in the South my entire life.

    Like you said, we have far more of the same values than different. It just baffles me than anyone could disown family over something like this. What’s the big freaking deal? We all want to do what’s best for the world. Can people really love an idea more than the person standing in front of them? (DAMN YOU, ABRAHAM/ISAAC STORY!)

    You’re a strong man for not buckling under, for still desiring that kinship with people who might reject you. No matter what, you can at lt least take solace that you have tried to live as the best person you can be..

  • You’re a more graceful man than me. If my family had ever expressed a sentiment that I was going to hell I would say “fuck em” and never look back.

    Thankfully, with all the people that I value in my life we have all been of a mutual understanding that goodness triumphs belief. The subject rarely comes up, really. I suppose I’m lucky, especially since I’ve also been in the South my entire life.

    Like you said, we have far more of the same values than different. It just baffles me than anyone could disown family over something like this. What’s the big freaking deal? We all want to do what’s best for the world. Can people really love an idea more than the person standing in front of them? (DAMN YOU, ABRAHAM/ISAAC STORY!)

    You’re a strong man for not buckling under, for still desiring that kinship with people who might reject you. No matter what, you can at lt least take solace that you have tried to live as the best person you can be..

  • It is deep in the Christian psyche that “he who is not for me is against me.” It panders to the worst in human insecurities. In my experience, most Christians have no context for understanding your perspective or of what it is to objectively evaluate their faith. And people generally fear what they don’t understand.

    What upsets me is not the fear but the unwillingness to even try to understand or to admit that they have never troubled themselves to even examine whether what they have been told is or possibly could be true.

    The problem is that you have grown up and they cannot understand your growth any more than your six year old can understand the realities of being a parent. They would prefer that you remain a child, but you can’t go backwards like that.

  • It is deep in the Christian psyche that “he who is not for me is against me.” It panders to the worst in human insecurities. In my experience, most Christians have no context for understanding your perspective or of what it is to objectively evaluate their faith. And people generally fear what they don’t understand.

    What upsets me is not the fear but the unwillingness to even try to understand or to admit that they have never troubled themselves to even examine whether what they have been told is or possibly could be true.

    The problem is that you have grown up and they cannot understand your growth any more than your six year old can understand the realities of being a parent. They would prefer that you remain a child, but you can’t go backwards like that.

  • It is deep in the Christian psyche that “he who is not for me is against me.” It panders to the worst in human insecurities. In my experience, most Christians have no context for understanding your perspective or of what it is to objectively evaluate their faith. And people generally fear what they don’t understand.

    What upsets me is not the fear but the unwillingness to even try to understand or to admit that they have never troubled themselves to even examine whether what they have been told is or possibly could be true.

    The problem is that you have grown up and they cannot understand your growth any more than your six year old can understand the realities of being a parent. They would prefer that you remain a child, but you can’t go backwards like that.

  • Hypatia

    I was drawn to your Southern Gentlemanly way of, like Seth, disagreeing without being disagreeable.

    The term “atheist” doesn’t snugly fit us former Christians either. Not only does it validate the premise that theism is the norm and WE are the deviants, as you astutely observed, but it also smacks of a certain arrogant certainly that DOES NOT INSURE a thoughtful process by which one rejected a deity. But I think there is a middle way. Stay with me…

    I constructed a term for myself after MUCH consideration of what I AM and what I am NOT. Words mean things.”Ex-Christian” leaves open that I might be a recently convert to Judaism, etc. “Ex-Deist” says I might have toyed with the One True Bible God in the past, but reject him in favor of polytheism of some stripe or some New Age woo.

    So I settled best on ‘Ex-theist” because while it does circle back to the premise that THEISM is the norm, the currency in today’s spiritual venacular is worth the trade for the clarity it offers.

    “Ex-theist” tells a believer that I was once where he is, and efforts to “save me” may well end with getting his a$$ reamed in a game of “Trivial Biblical Pursuit” or “Pin-the-Torah-on the Donkey”— he smack downs I regularly administer to smug Baptists and Jews who persist hectoring me with long refuted apologetic wonkitude.

    I also think that those who never believed are in many ways more callous and demeaning in their lack of faith. Capital “A” Atheists give us Ex-theists a bad reputation and sooooo many times end the dialog before it can begin with CHRISTIANS, WHO LIKE OURSELVES, ARE SEARCHING THE EYES OF FRIENDS FOR VALIDATION TO WALK AWAY FROM THEIR FAITH.

    Help one escape faith if you can. Calling yourself anything but an “Atheist” may be the beginning. At least in DIxie. ;) (I love Peter’s book and use it’s techniques daily.)

    Thank you for your gentle example, Neil, and for giving us Ex-theists a home beyond the hate.

  • Hypatia

    I was drawn to your Southern Gentlemanly way of, like Seth, disagreeing without being disagreeable.

    The term “atheist” doesn’t snugly fit us former Christians either. Not only does it validate the premise that theism is the norm and WE are the deviants, as you astutely observed, but it also smacks of a certain arrogant certainly that DOES NOT INSURE a thoughtful process by which one rejected a deity. But I think there is a middle way. Stay with me…

    I constructed a term for myself after MUCH consideration of what I AM and what I am NOT. Words mean things.”Ex-Christian” leaves open that I might be a recently convert to Judaism, etc. “Ex-Deist” says I might have toyed with the One True Bible God in the past, but reject him in favor of polytheism of some stripe or some New Age woo.

    So I settled best on ‘Ex-theist” because while it does circle back to the premise that THEISM is the norm, the currency in today’s spiritual venacular is worth the trade for the clarity it offers.

    “Ex-theist” tells a believer that I was once where he is, and efforts to “save me” may well end with getting his a$$ reamed in a game of “Trivial Biblical Pursuit” or “Pin-the-Torah-on the Donkey”— he smack downs I regularly administer to smug Baptists and Jews who persist hectoring me with long refuted apologetic wonkitude.

    I also think that those who never believed are in many ways more callous and demeaning in their lack of faith. Capital “A” Atheists give us Ex-theists a bad reputation and sooooo many times end the dialog before it can begin with CHRISTIANS, WHO LIKE OURSELVES, ARE SEARCHING THE EYES OF FRIENDS FOR VALIDATION TO WALK AWAY FROM THEIR FAITH.

    Help one escape faith if you can. Calling yourself anything but an “Atheist” may be the beginning. At least in DIxie. ;) (I love Peter’s book and use it’s techniques daily.)

    Thank you for your gentle example, Neil, and for giving us Ex-theists a home beyond the hate.

  • Hypatia

    I was drawn to your Southern Gentlemanly way of, like Seth, disagreeing without being disagreeable.

    The term “atheist” doesn’t snugly fit us former Christians either. Not only does it validate the premise that theism is the norm and WE are the deviants, as you astutely observed, but it also smacks of a certain arrogant certainly that DOES NOT INSURE a thoughtful process by which one rejected a deity. But I think there is a middle way. Stay with me…

    I constructed a term for myself after MUCH consideration of what I AM and what I am NOT. Words mean things.”Ex-Christian” leaves open that I might be a recently convert to Judaism, etc. “Ex-Deist” says I might have toyed with the One True Bible God in the past, but reject him in favor of polytheism of some stripe or some New Age woo.

    So I settled best on ‘Ex-theist” because while it does circle back to the premise that THEISM is the norm, the currency in today’s spiritual venacular is worth the trade for the clarity it offers.

    “Ex-theist” tells a believer that I was once where he is, and efforts to “save me” may well end with getting his a$$ reamed in a game of “Trivial Biblical Pursuit” or “Pin-the-Torah-on the Donkey”— he smack downs I regularly administer to smug Baptists and Jews who persist hectoring me with long refuted apologetic wonkitude.

    I also think that those who never believed are in many ways more callous and demeaning in their lack of faith. Capital “A” Atheists give us Ex-theists a bad reputation and sooooo many times end the dialog before it can begin with CHRISTIANS, WHO LIKE OURSELVES, ARE SEARCHING THE EYES OF FRIENDS FOR VALIDATION TO WALK AWAY FROM THEIR FAITH.

    Help one escape faith if you can. Calling yourself anything but an “Atheist” may be the beginning. At least in DIxie. ;) (I love Peter’s book and use it’s techniques daily.)

    Thank you for your gentle example, Neil, and for giving us Ex-theists a home beyond the hate.

  • Gerrard

    I know how you feel,

    In my marriage it’s that subtle tension always below the surface. I can’t speak of expressive things anymore or intellectual truths. We don’t converse and many subjects are now avoided completely, especially anything around religion. The relationships with my wife’s side and me are over for good. It’s such a waste because me and my wife have been through so much together and we were best friends who shared everything once. Nowadays it is hidden emails, hidden passwords, hidden facebooks, and books are certainly off the agenda.

    This religion is very disruptive and destructive and christian people seem to have no idea of the concept and meaning of LOVE. To them love seems to be a bartering tool and it is sad how it destroys families and relationships. Perhaps my marriage is nearly over. The tension is always there and just when I feel that all is going okay again, BAM! Out it comes and the subtle undercurrent of tension is in flow again.

    Living together, trying to love each other but always knowing at the same time that we are at a distance even when we are so close is tragic.

    Excellent post my friend. I know how you feel, it is a difficult road.

  • Gerrard

    I know how you feel,

    In my marriage it’s that subtle tension always below the surface. I can’t speak of expressive things anymore or intellectual truths. We don’t converse and many subjects are now avoided completely, especially anything around religion. The relationships with my wife’s side and me are over for good. It’s such a waste because me and my wife have been through so much together and we were best friends who shared everything once. Nowadays it is hidden emails, hidden passwords, hidden facebooks, and books are certainly off the agenda.

    This religion is very disruptive and destructive and christian people seem to have no idea of the concept and meaning of LOVE. To them love seems to be a bartering tool and it is sad how it destroys families and relationships. Perhaps my marriage is nearly over. The tension is always there and just when I feel that all is going okay again, BAM! Out it comes and the subtle undercurrent of tension is in flow again.

    Living together, trying to love each other but always knowing at the same time that we are at a distance even when we are so close is tragic.

    Excellent post my friend. I know how you feel, it is a difficult road.

  • Gerrard

    I know how you feel,

    In my marriage it’s that subtle tension always below the surface. I can’t speak of expressive things anymore or intellectual truths. We don’t converse and many subjects are now avoided completely, especially anything around religion. The relationships with my wife’s side and me are over for good. It’s such a waste because me and my wife have been through so much together and we were best friends who shared everything once. Nowadays it is hidden emails, hidden passwords, hidden facebooks, and books are certainly off the agenda.

    This religion is very disruptive and destructive and christian people seem to have no idea of the concept and meaning of LOVE. To them love seems to be a bartering tool and it is sad how it destroys families and relationships. Perhaps my marriage is nearly over. The tension is always there and just when I feel that all is going okay again, BAM! Out it comes and the subtle undercurrent of tension is in flow again.

    Living together, trying to love each other but always knowing at the same time that we are at a distance even when we are so close is tragic.

    Excellent post my friend. I know how you feel, it is a difficult road.

  • Joyce Rutter

    Gerrard, I have much the same situation, myself, being “unqually yoked” together with a believer. I am the one who changed, not he. While I left my religious beliefs behind, he became more fanatically religious. There is little common ground left, except the past years of shared experiences.

  • Joyce Rutter

    Gerrard, I have much the same situation, myself, being “unqually yoked” together with a believer. I am the one who changed, not he. While I left my religious beliefs behind, he became more fanatically religious. There is little common ground left, except the past years of shared experiences.

  • Joyce Rutter

    Gerrard, I have much the same situation, myself, being “unqually yoked” together with a believer. I am the one who changed, not he. While I left my religious beliefs behind, he became more fanatically religious. There is little common ground left, except the past years of shared experiences.

  • Gerrard

    Hi Joyce,

    Yes it is sad and strange how one minute all is great and the experiences shared are magical and life seems rich and vibrant and the possibilities of life amazing and then in what seems like the blink on eye it all suddenly changes and all the common ground and common sense has gone.

  • Gerrard

    Hi Joyce,

    Yes it is sad and strange how one minute all is great and the experiences shared are magical and life seems rich and vibrant and the possibilities of life amazing and then in what seems like the blink on eye it all suddenly changes and all the common ground and common sense has gone.

  • Gerrard

    Hi Joyce,

    Yes it is sad and strange how one minute all is great and the experiences shared are magical and life seems rich and vibrant and the possibilities of life amazing and then in what seems like the blink on eye it all suddenly changes and all the common ground and common sense has gone.