Are You a Victim of Family Censorship?

Are You a Victim of Family Censorship? February 19, 2021

Note: My thanks to commenter Katydid for sharing this story, which inspired me to write this Friday’s post on the Art of Freethought.

Over the past few days numerous sources have been reporting on the letter sent by family members to Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

From CNN’s Caroline Kelly:

“Eleven members of Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s family sent him a vitriolic letter accusing him of being a member of the “devil’s army” in light of his criticism of then-President Donald Trump after the January 6 insurrection, The New York Times reported Monday.”

Freedom of speech is a guiding principle. By upholding this principle like a guiding light, we can easily spot misinformation by the way in which it prevents us from expressing our views. / Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

But Rep. Kinzinger was not the first to be shunned by family or denounced by the Republican Party.

“Backlash has been swift and unrelenting for the few Republicans in Congress who voted alongside Democrats in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. Some of the seven senators who voted to convict Trump on the charge of inciting the deadly Capitol riot are facing censure and criticism from within the party.” CNBC

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Although I’m not a senator, I can add my own recent example of being censored by a family member. Just last week I was “unfriended” on Facebook from a family member I care deeply for. The backstory – near as I can guess – is that I challenged a few posts showing up in my feed involving conspiracy theories that were posted by this particular family member.

Perhaps other readers here on Patheos can relate?

It’s one thing to be “unfriended” or to “unfriend” a person because we share no common interests with this person. And I think it perfectly acceptable given today’s politically charged environment to stop following the news feeds of family members and friends whom we strongly disagree with in matters relating to religion, politics, and conspiracy theories. But unfollowing a news feed is completely different from “unfriending” a family member. This action might be irreparable, and the family bond may never be mended.

I call it familial censorship, and it’s a double whammy. For one thing, to be censored is to be silenced. One’s opinion is no longer valued. But in the broader context, being censored is a form of psychological bribery; a cruel attempt to withhold social contact to coerce another family member to see the world as they see it.

An assault of freethought

In the case of all the brave republicans who refused to kiss Trump’s ring, being censored as a senator is also an assault on freethought and free speech. Both of these principles are pillars of our thriving democracy and worth defending by any public servant. Yet, it’s quite clear that these are not the pillars of democracy worth fighting for in the rebranding of the Republican Party following its loss.

To describe what the Republican Party now stands for this week would be tough. But I’m going to give it a swing . . .

I characterize the Party as operating under the guise of pseudo-religious morality; which maintains a disturbing cultish adoration towards their demagogue; that is willing to overlook any form of insurrection or treachery by its members to hold power; and which seems incapable of governing with any principled course of action. (I’m not gloating here, because the party’s waywardness is causing lasting damage to our democracy.)

Now factor in the Party’s loyal base of followers. (These individuals are definitely not gloating, because they support this characterization of the party to include the Party’s efforts to censor / silence / and shun anyone who dares to exercise their freedom of speech.)

But we must discuss another malevolent influence on the Party to paint a complete picture of its demise. This is the embracing of QAnon and other conspiracy theories by its loyal base, to include accepting the mass delusion that the election had been stolen. Instead of offering leadership, the Party merely assimilated these lies and absurdities into its platform. Think of the BORG.

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Reasons why people shun their family and friends

It’s difficult to predict the number of friendships and families that will be ripped apart by the actions of the individuals I’ve described above. It’s even tougher to predict if and when America will return to normalcy. We should be mindful, however, that these individuals are being influenced by a number of additional factors, which they may not be able to free themselves from, and to which they use as an excuse to justify their actions.

The most damaging influence is religion. Many of these individuals feel they have a moral obligation to sever their bonds with friends and family members due to the teachings of their faith. Within the Christian tradition, Jesus himself set the precedent for justifying familial censorship:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Matthew 34-36

Believers may question the true-life consequences of Jesus admonishing his followers to denounce family members. Yet, many agnostics and atheists have suffered the effects of this teaching, because they have been personally disowned or denounced by Christian friends and family members.

Other adherents to the Republican base are opting to denounce friends and family members for political reasons. Political divisiveness has always played a role in dividing people in our country. Yet, the demonization of liberals to the extent that it was popularized by the previous president, supported by the GOP, and whipped up into a froth of hatred by conspiracy theorists may be the worst it’s been in history.

Using freethought to forge better family relationships

Whatever the reasons people use to disown family members we can sense that their minds are certainly not free. Controlled would be a better description. We know their minds are not free, because they themselves are preventing others from freely speaking.

This all highlights the importance of having critical thinking skills. When we think of critical thinking skills, we often think of it as the ability to analyze information – as well as false information – and arrive at an understanding of the truth. As it turns out, the truth concerning many areas in life are encapsulated in many principles which represent our core values. Humanity’s core values. Values which have been passed along from one generation to another for thousands of years and live within us.

Freedom of speech is just one of these guiding principles. By respecting the principle of freedom of speech we know we stand on the side of what is right. By upholding this principle like a guiding light, we can easily spot misinformation by the way in which it seeks to prevent people from exercising their own right to freely speak and express their views. More importantly, this principle also serves as a guardrail, which prevents us from being misled and following people who do not value this principle.

Maintaining familial bonds is another important principle to preserve. It’s grounded in the deepest levels of love which humans can express towards one another. / Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Maintaining familial bonds is another important principle to preserve. It’s grounded in the deepest levels of love which humans can express towards one another. This familial bond should never be deliberately broken under any circumstances, because it may never be healed. Disowning a family member for religious reasons is one of those circumstances. Censoring family members because they express an opposing political viewpoint is another. And much like using the principle of free speech as a guiding light, when people value their family ties they will be able to resist the politicians, conspiracy theorists – and yes even preachers – from tearing their own families apart.

And there are many principles in life such as the two I’ve described that we can use as a guide, which all serve to lead us towards the right course of action, in a world where so many people want us to follow them in the wrong direction.

About Scott R. Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. You can read more about the author here.

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37 responses to “Are You a Victim of Family Censorship?”

  1. I disagree that family members shun to get the coerced family member to see things their way; I don’t believe that’s as important as the family member not speaking about the disputed ways. This is sometimes called “Just shut up and color”.

  2. Good point. I may have mentioned I have another family member in my immediate family that is a very committed Christian. We’ve barely spoken in 40 years. I mostly blame the admonition by Jesus I included in this post. Many believers use Jesus’ words to break all family ties and to focus on their faith. Is my family member trying to shun me to get me to believe what he/she believes? Not necessarily. My sense is I’ve been written off as a worldly person and I’m not worthy to be a part of his/her life. If I were a Christian, we’d be chatting up a storm and would have enjoyed each other’s company for the past few decades.

    This is a sad and all too often tale …

  3. I recently finished a fiction book with a character who reminded me of a neighbor when I was growing up. This type is the Christian who follows Jesus’s words to love one another and look for the good in people. I think there were more people like this before Rush Limbaugh and talk radio.

  4. OT, but I didn’t want to go back and find your post about the topic. When you said you were taught in the SDA that the Catholics changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, that intrigued me because I hadn’t been taught that in the Methodist church. So, I looked it up. Emporer Constantine declared the change in the year 321 AD. Back then there was no Catholic church–it was just *the* church until Martin Luther decided he didn’t like following the rules and declared his own in 1517, and his following became the Protestant movement….which promptly splintered into many hundreds of sects and is still splintering today.

    Tying this in with shunning; in the early 1990s when I was expecting my first child, one day at work my coworkers asked if we had picked out a name. I said we were thinking of Katherine because it’s a family name and also because it has so many nicknames–Kathy, Katy, Kate, etc. as my boss (who belonged to a fundy whackadoo church) was walking by, and he immediately leapt in to attack me that Katherine was “a CATHOLIC name” and therefore I must be Catholic. (spoiler: I am not) From that point on he was so egregiously prejudiced against me that several people complained to HR on my behalf. I was moved to another division and he continued on his merry way.

  5. I like that you do your homework! I probably shouldn’t have used the modern term “Catholic.” But yes, it was THE church up until the Protestant movement. The logic the SDA’s use is that Constantine was pretty much the representative of the church and he changed the Saturday Sabbath to Sunday. The Sabbath is really important to Adventists and it plays heavily into their eschatology of the end of times. They claim a lot of texts support their view that the Pope or power of the Papacy represents the anti-Christ. Here’s a few that I recall:

    2 Thessalonians 2:4 “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” “He” being the antichrist, a powerful religious figure.

    Daniel 7:25 “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” “Changing the times and the laws” refers to changing the Sabbath.

    So, if you throw in a few more texts and the Latin phrase for 666, you can kind of see how Adventist’s draw their conclusions.

    About your other comment … JEEZ! I’m sorry to hear that. Your experience certainly validates Jesus’ promise. “Don’t even think that I came to this earth to spread peace. I brought a sword and I’m going to teach my disciples how to use it — especially with their tounges.” [Emphasis mine of course.]

  6. I love research, and I love learning new things. I have a good friend who’s always sending me info, and 99% of the time it’s true. It’s that 1% that’s gotten me tripped up, so I’ve learned to research anything I didn’t know before I repeat it.

    Back to the point; I had never encountered anti-Catholic sentiment until I was an adult, but when I have encountered it, it’s vicious and usually baloney. To be clear; the Catholic sect of Christianity is no better and no worse than other mainstream sects. The SDAs have repeatedly announced the end of the world, only to have it not happen.

  7. You’re research skills are helping to keep me honest, and a few other commenters along way seem to be better spellers. 🙂

    I was thinking yesterday about the similarities between the predictions of SDAs/ other preachers / QAnon / Nostradamus. The prophecies never come true, and the they all sound equally whacked. This is why I have faith that as the prophecies of QAnon fail to come to pass, that most of its followers will eventually realize they’ve been duped. Then they can get on the road to recovery.

  8. Scott, I have a CT-believing brother-in-law. We all used to shrug at his nonsense and say, “Well, at least he’s not political…” But now he’s political. He called up at Christmas all full of CTs about how Trump actually won and come Inauguration Day, the usual suspects (the Obamas, the Bidens, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, etc.) would all be rounded up by the military and executed for various assorted crimes against humanity. This was all about as crazy as the child sex slavery ring hidden in the basement of a pizza parlor…with no basement. Did you know those children are being shipped to Mars to be sex slaves there? To whom? That’s never specified. Also, Hillary Clinton personally flew overseas and slaughtered the embassy folk at Benghazi, but the “Lamestream Media” (hur-hur-hur) are covering it up because…shut up, that’s why. So…an almost-70-year-old woman hopped on a commercial flight with a rocket launcher and heaps of grenades and flew halfway around the world and nobody noticed?!?!? In contrast, when I fly, they’re obsessed over whether my contact lens cleaner bottle weighs under four ounces; I need to know her secret on how to smuggle all that weaponry.

  9. I’m sure there are psych PhD candidates right now that are writing their thesis papers on CT’s. And specifically on how the human mind can believe such absurdities.

    When I hear my own CT relatives, what comes to my mind is that phrase “majoring in minors.” As an example, my CT family member was quite delighted to tell me today that Gov. Cuomo had been caught telling a lie about COVID nursing home deaths. He also mentioned that people say Cuomo acts like he is a mob boss, given the way he talks to people and fires people at a whim. I said, “Well, politicians do lie. The last guy in the WH told about 30,000 of them.” But that just went right over his head. And who knows how many people Trump fired that were retaliatory or to obstruct justice?

    This is what I mean by majoring in minors. CT’s act like they are so concerned about having honest politicians that don’t lie. Or having politicians that don’t abuse power. They’ll give Trump and all his cronies a pass, but not the dems. Not only do most CT’s believe in absurdities, they have no moral compass.

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