Brainwashed little brothers

From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:

Hi , Recently I had a very awkward moment with my father. He came from a religious back ground ( Christian ) but never pressed his religion upon me growing up . I’ve never believed in any god. And didn’t really think he did either .. Religion came up one day and we got to talking.. Now reasonable thinking and some comen sense I thought we shared incomen.He started telling me about jesus Christ. And all the good things he’s done and that’s where it got awkward… cuz I think all that shit is bs and any one living in that time would make up shit to make themselves feel better about dyin from a commen cold or lack of Medical treatment .. So I’m like dad “science” ?? You don’t really believe that do you.but he said Jesus was a good person…, and I don’t know how to respectfully tell him or my little brother you dont need a fake dignity / religion to do the right thing and I feel like there brainwashing my little brothers (14)and (11).. Christian schools church every Sunday .. So my question is how do I go about giving my little brothers their own options about religion/ atheism without the huge emotional backlash from my stepmom ??? Huge jesus fan !! Lol It just breaks my heart to see them get spoon fed this garbage and not have the opportunity to think other wise… -thanks for listening

This is a complex question; I’ll see if I can be of some help.

The first thing I notice is that you seem to think that Jesus was either everything Christians believe he was, a liar, or fictional. But it is completely possible for a non-Christian to consider Jesus to have been an actual, good person, even if there isn’t even the remotest possibility that he performed miracles. Thomas Jefferson — a Deist — was of this opinion. He even made himself a version of the Gospels in which all of the miracles and other items Jefferson thought were false were eliminated and only Jesus’ moral teachings remain. You can get a copy of The Jefferson Bible on Amazon, if you’re interested.

Is it possible that Jesus was a real person who said great things and who became the focus of a bunch of legends? Yes. Is it possible that Jesus said some great things but that great things said by others were misattributed to him as his story was retold? Sure. Is it possible that Jesus was a fraud who set out to make people believe he could work miracles? Yep. Could Jesus have been made up out of whole cloth by people trying to start a religion? It’s possible. Is there any way, at this point in history, to tell exactly what the historic Jesus said and did, assuming he even existed? Not with any accuracy.

My personal opinion, based on reading religious texts and studying folklore and the growth of urban legends, is that Jesus was probably a real person who believed the world was about to end and that Jewish law, as then practiced, had become corrupt and was in need of repair. He came to a spectacular end, and this spurred transmission of his story, which grew over the years, becoming more supernatural with each telling (as you can see if you read the Gospels in chronological order).

Getting back to your specific situation, I’d like to know what exactly your dad is saying when he talks about “all the good things” Jesus did. If he’s talking about moral teachings — love your neighbor, give to the poor, etc. — then you’re right, you don’t need a deity to do those things. There’s nothing wrong with an atheist giving credit to Jesus for promoting them, though. On the other hand, if you’re talking about miracles — walking on water, cursing trees, etc. — these are things that would require a deity, but they’re not moral lessons. They tell us nothing about how to be moral people.

Here’s something to think about: I find that the most moral people are the ones who really think about morality, as opposed to those who blindly follow someone else’s example of morality. In my opinion, asking “What would Jesus do?” is largely useless for Christians, since if their religion were true then the answer in many cases would be “a miracle” — and we humans don’t have that option. Instead, we have to learn how to think morally. We might ask, “What would Jesus do if he were a man?” But that’s just asking, “What would a moral person do?” Which can be simplified to, “What should I do?”

That’s all well and good, but you need some concrete suggestions. Where should you go from here? I have found that in most cases of kids living at home with religious parents, it’s best to try and work within their system than blatantly bust out of it. You can promote moral thinking to your siblings without having to say a word against — or even about — Jesus. If you’re worried about religious belief in general, you can also try to start polite, friendly, family conversations that push at the edges of religious belief and knowledge. How many people visited Jesus’ tomb? What were Jesus’ last words? Can good works get you into Heaven, or do you have to believe in Jesus? If you have to believe in Jesus, then is Moses in Hell? There are tons of questions like this that you can ask in a non-confrontational way. So long as you make clear that you are really interested in hearing your parents’ answers and not just trying to poke fun at them, your parents should have no objection to discussing such things.

The long-term goal here is to get your parents to admit that there are some thing that they either do not know about their religion or some things that they take on blind faith. Once you have that, build on it. Your siblings will get the idea that religious ideas are ideas that should be considered, not just accepted. If they are also taught good reasoning practices, this should be enough to — at the very least — show them that the atheist position is reasonable, whether they end up agreeing with it or not.

Since you mention morality more than once, it is possible that this is what you are most concerned about (and, personally, I think it’s a more important subject in many ways). You can also use family discussions to explore your parents’ morality and show that it’s just not possible to rely solely on Jesus for moral teaching. For example, Jesus nullified the Jewish law but many Christians still treat the 10 Commandments as valid. You can go through the commandments and try to puzzle out exactly what they would allow or condemn. What does “Thou shalt not kill” really mean? Can you kill in self defense? In war? For food? Is it a sin to kill someone accidentally? What if a person in horrible pain is begging to die? Or capital punishment? You could discuss this one for hours.

If you will pardon some self promotion, my book Ask Yourself to be Moral has pages and pages of questions like this that can be used for family discussion if you really want to build your family’s moral-thinking muscles. The book is appropriate for theist and atheist alike, and if you have a Kindle, you can borrow it from the Kindle lending library at no cost.

To sum up, I suggest you do three things to help your siblings and keep family harmony:

I thank you for writing to me and wish you the best of luck. I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to write again if you would like further explanation, or additional issues arise.

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Dealing with religious folks

One Response

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  1. Written by Miranda
    on March 18, 2012 at 12:52 am
    Reply · Permalink

    First off, learn how to spell and use punctuation correctly. Second, he could also be thinking that you’re brain-washed. Stop being so bitter, he can believe whatever he wants to believe. And even though he is sending your brothers to Sunday School, that doesn’t mean he’s forcing Christianity upon them. You didn’t even grow up going to church, so how could you possibly know what Sunday School is like? Let me inform you, Sunday School is just a religion class. You learn about the bible and the religion of your church.

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