Family Appoints Me
To Religious Duties
I am in some kind of a spot, and I need some guidance. As I have already told you, I am from a very devout Christian family. My family's faith, I have now realize, borders on fanaticism, the latest development being that my family is appointing me to various religious duties behind my back, despite my parents knowing that I am an atheist. How should I react?
You had told me that it would not be desirable to start a scandal, especially in the family. I have been maintaining a moderate stand -- steering clear of all religious activities, and now, frankly, it is becoming rather difficult to do so. Please advise me as to how I may handle this.
I'll be grateful.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Ajit Nathaniel"
Subject: Re: advice needed
Date: January 26, 2002 11:23 AM
My advice not to start a scandal in the family assumes normal, healthy family conditions. I would say that this is not a normal, healthy situation at all.
Thus, you need to decide just what their behavior is costing you.
Then you need to decide what your various options in stopping it might cost you.
Having decided both what this is costing you and what your various options might cost you, you will be in a position to weigh your options against one another and decide your course of action in this no-win situation. There is no easy way out of a hard situation, so you probably want to minimize the overall losses if you can; if not, then try to minimize your own losses. (The two options might not result from the same course of action.)
We had discussions along these lines in the Forum piece called, "Moving Beyond Just A Polite Response?" We also discussed similar problems with youngsters still living with the family in the following Letters and Forum pieces: "How Do I Tell The Family About Me?" with RJ; "Breaking The News To Mom And Pop" with Paul Reid; "Growing Up Atheist In Honduras" from Ivan.
Chris Basten asked about his family appointing him Godfather of a child, and then the family started acting as if it was a religious duty, we discovered that this particular duty is not necessarily religious. In this case, one family member seemed to be "rubbing it in," at most, just to aggravate him, but to see this particular duty, Godfather, as strictly a religous duty was an error. Thus, no harm was done. You will want to look over each of these acts of your family to see whether or not any real harm is being done. True, it's embarrassing to have people tease you, and the like, but this could be all they're doing: teasing you. If this is the case, you do well to ignore it. I say this only because I don't know the details of your situation and must cover all the bases.
I also touched on this subject in a column called "Prayer as Intrusive Outburst," which is about a situation that came up in my family: Understand that try as I may, I have not been able to get myself invited to those relatives' functions since writing that column. I don't know if they saw the column or if my response to the outburst is what did it or if it's something else altogether, but sometimes you sacrifice more than you want to when making a statement such as you are thinking of making.
Thus, we must think very hard and determine just how badly we are being offended by their behavior, versus how much pain we might be subjecting ourselves (and others) to by taking this or that approach as our response. That is the bottom line, though: Exactly what are you willing to suffer in order to gain this or that?
Again: we're not talking about the bus driver on your regular route, or a landlord, or a co-worker, or even your boss, none of whom you really want to offend if you don't have to. We're talking about your family, who will still be there long after you've left this job or moved out of that flat. Thus, you can bet that your fellow family members value your continued involvement in peaceful family affairs.
Perhaps they will listen to reason, if for no other reason than that they want to keep the peace in the family, that they want you to remain involved at all in family affairs. Maybe they will be able to see just how badly this hurts you, if you, for example, asked them how they'd think if the family had all converted to another faith and then had asked the one remaining hold-out to practice the new religion! Name the religion you're thinking of for your example, and be sure it's a religion that they disdain: Here in America, it might be, "How would you feel if the whole family except yourself converted to Islam, and now they want you, a Christian, to practice the tenets of Islam? Could you imagine how that would feel? Wel l, that's exactly how I feel: you're asking me to practice the tenets of a religion that I find to be deplorable!" (Or, perhaps, you might use some word not as strong as deplorable.)
I wish you well. I can only urge you to use caution even now. And whatever decision you make, resolve to live with whatever consequences result from that decision. What they do is not your fault, but how you respond is always your responsibility -- even if they've forced you to choose between two evils.
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
people with no reason to believe
Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.