M.I.L.E. (Mother I’d Like to Enlighten)

The below message was submitted through the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:

Hey there! I just stumbled on to your blog, and absolutely love everything you are saying here. Especially because I have been struggling with a very awkward and persistent problem with my mother-in-law, and you seem like you might have some insight on how to handle the situation.

My husband and I are both atheists, and his mother is an extremely devout christian. This is perfectly fine with me and I completely adore her, except for the fact that every time we start to actually connect and have a real conversation, she starts going off on to some tangent about religion and god, that ends with me shutting up and her telling me: “someday, my dear, someday when you’re older and have lived your life, you’ll realize that He created this all, and with out Him we are nothing, and He makes our lives whole, blah blah blah.”

I guess I’m mainly frustrated that she keeps bringing my age into it. She’s basically telling me that since I’m younger (22), whatever I believe about my personal spirituality – or lack thereof – is trumped by her almighty Christianity, simply because I’m lacking in the life-experience-meter. So, I guess I’ll just stop formulating ideas, drop out of college, and become a drone for the next ten years until I am actually capable of creating my own thoughts and discovering what I ACTUALLY believe.

It’s all just a big mess and I’m not really sure how I should approach her with out it being a huge disaster. I really enjoy her and wish we could share a closer relationship, but just feel stuck. What do ya say?

I love this question! This is a situation that those of us who don’t come from atheist families often have to deal with, and I hope I can be of some assistance.

Your problem reminds me of the difficulties that arose when my son, at age 4, decided he wanted to be a vegetarian. He was very serious about this, but relatives and other parents told us that it was just something that young people did and that when he got a little older he’d change his mind and “go back to normal.” Now, almost ten years later, he’s still 100% vegetarian. So much for age being a factor in his making a rational decision.

It also reminds me of advice my driving instructor gave me back in high school. He said, “If you’re ever on the road and come across an old man driving at half the speed limit with his turn signal permanently on who yells and curses at you when you safely and legally pass him, just smile, wave, and wish him a good day.”

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

I’d suggest that you treat your MIL the same way you’d treat a pleasant old man who has half a dozen fishing stories that he tells over and over as if nobody has ever heard them before. Just smile, nod, and consider your allowing this person to ramble as the good deed you are doing for the day.

When your MIL makes a comment about your feeling differently when you’re older, you can say something like, “we’ll see” and just let it go. Just to be philosophically rigorous about this, it’s certainly possible that when you’re older you’ll have a change in mind, so you’re not lying in any sense. You can even have a little place in the back of your mind where you gleefully anticipate the day when you’re old enough that her comments about your age just make her look silly. (BTW, this is what we did when people said my son would grow out of vegetarianism; they don’t say that anymore.)

Now, some of this might change if you have children and Grandma tries to frighten the kids with religion or give them religious instruction behind your back. But if all Grandma does is talk about Jesus and Heaven and tell Bible stories, I don’t think that’s a big deal. When I was little, I had a great grandmother who lived in a nursing home but thought that she lived on a farm. It was weird, but my parents explained it to me and I understood.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know how it goes!

Posted on October 1, 2011 at 12:39 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Atheists' problems

2 Responses

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  1. Written by ff42
    on October 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    While iamanatheist’s words are great, I would engage your husband in the matter. Does MIL treat him the same way?

    If I were in your situation I might also try to be real with her. “Dear MIL, I have enjoyed most of the things we have had together and I would like to continue our relationship but after you bring up religion or God I feel X and don’t like that feeling.” And then let that hang in the air, don’t make any conclusions nor blaming, just let it hang every single time she brings it up.

  2. Written by Andy
    on October 2, 2011 at 3:17 am
    Reply · Permalink

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    – C. S. Lewis (yes I realize the irony)

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