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!
For those of you who are interested, here are a number of e-mails I received (all on the same day) from the same person who wrote the e-mail I responded to yesterday:
HEE HEE HEE!
HEE HEE HEE!
Ur blog thang takes too much of my RAM, i’m on oldschool xp dude.
I will only deal with the email through this email. As others energies (k)xM=c/c2are rediculous of nature and dumbassed. The interrogative attitude is like scrambled eggs. For your interests, but honestly. Less “wow” and more “oh yea”.
I have to trust. And Frank Lee, Miss Surely, I trust myself more than anyone else. However, my dreams involve the game “RISK”. For if you try this, communicably disabled shall be near in your certainty and ummmm. Or, you could let the dreamers and believe in dreams, since of course, Atheism of Certain to Find Truth. It is truth, yet uncertain, that dreams exist if at all how. Do you like the song “The Age of the Aquarian”?
And about detailed information. I am only one person. With a massive brain. Cough Cough Brane. Surely, Miss, Brane and Brain are part of the same systems.
And closing with…
Also, last email for a while. I’ll contradict this: As logic is on or off, As this paragraph is full of OFFS
For once, I had no idea how to respond. I welcome your suggestions.
I received this message via e-mail:
God uses Hell in the same way. If it was not for Hell, then there would be no punishment for many sins and people would try to get away with everything. Can you tell me why an atheist would be moral, other than accidentally or just feeling like it, without fear of Hell?
Hell: Figment of Human Imagination
Punishment: You cannot blame the sky or paranoia.
Sin: After figuring out what we did wrong, will we as one person, or a group do it again?
Try: To attempt to distance from laziness.
Why: Only lack of experience is a fools reason to ask of this exact three letters.
Can Somebody: Yes!
Moral: Once you stop caring you will loose your humanity that we worked so hard to develop. Unless of course you are a hitler and just a shit crappy person, god or no god.
Feeling: Bodies and brains are composed chemically of magnetic charges.
Hell: It’s good not to go in complete circles. Ellipses are kewl.
Followed a few minutes later by this one:
The universe in essence, is magnetic. K bai. Seriously. Draining. K bai.
The only question I saw in here was about why atheists would be moral without fear of Hell. The simple answer is that there are many reasons an atheist should be moral. For example, it can be demonstrated logically that being moral is the right thing to do. Also, there are pragmatic reasons to be moral, since morality can bring with it many rewards (without the risks associated with the rewards of immorality).
In: About atheism, Morality
I’ve got a question for Christians — particularly for born-again Christians — to answer. I’ve heard Christians say that they are going to pray for a person who just died, and I’m wondering what the point of such a prayer is.
I can only think of three possible reasons to pray for a dead person.
- To help the person’s soul get to Heaven.
- To bring the person back from the dead.
- To make yourself feel better.
If you’re a born-again Christian (and not, for example, a Catholic), then you believe that the only possible way into heaven in by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus in payment for your sins. If a person has accepted this sacrifice, then that person will get into Heaven; if they have not, they will not, and no amount of praying can change that. That rules out possibility #1.
There’s no logical reason why God couldn’t bring people back from the dead, and certainly the Bible says that people can come back from the dead, either when commanded by Jesus or on special occasions (such as Good Friday). Within a Christian context, I can see no reason not to pray for someone to come back from the dead. But, in general, Christians don’t do this. I have yet to attend a funeral in which the congregation is asked to join in prayer for the deceased’s immediate return — even when the funeral was for someone who obviously died too young. And pardon the potential offensiveness of this suggestion, but I’ve also never heard those who think that abortion is murder praying for those aborted children to come back and live out their natural lives.
The third possibility — making yourself feel better — is certainly reasonable, but most Christians I’ve met have an aversion to this reason for praying. It’s as if they think that saying they are praying to make themselves feel better is an insult to prayer. Instead, they generally say that they are “praying for her soul” or something equally vague and don’t want to get into what that actually means in practical terms.
So, Christians, tell me: if you pray for the dead, why do you do it? If you don’t, why not?
By the way, as I was thinking about writing this post, I came across the below video in which a woman instructs a room full of children on how to pray to bring someone back from the dead. This is the first time I’ve run across a Christian advocating prayer for the resurrection of living things, and she even says that she knows children whose prayers have brought animals back from the dead. One telling moment: when relating that children have brought pets back from the dead, she qualifies this statement by emphasizing that the pets had not been in the grave but only just died, then goes on to say that God’s power can do anything. If God’s power can do anything, then why does it matter if the pet just died or if it’s been in the grave for a decade? Shouldn’t I be able to get my childhood pets back if I have enough faith? I can’t see why not.
Anyway, watch the video if you have the stomach for it and let me know what you think.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
How can you proclaim to be an atheistic website and yet you post this Atheistic Rights & Responsibilities? Your setting up a code to which atheists “need to follow”, doesn’t that mean you’re attempting to make atheism into its own organized religion? Religion is not restricted to the organized worship of deities, it also includes the worship of ideas. By posting that list, aren’t you solidifying atheism as an organized worship of the idea of no worship? Everything in your atheist version of the ten commandments is basic human behavior of civilized people. Why break that down just for atheists?
You guys are hypocrites, and your imposingness is giving us atheists a bad name.
If their God wins, see you in hell.
To save some time, let’s get this sorted out before we both get to Hell.
I’m going to let you answer the bulk of your own questions, since you are completely correct when you say: “Everything in [the] atheist version of the ten commandments is basic human behavior of civilized people.”
The page says that these are rights and responsibilities every moral atheist has, not that these are rights and responsibilities only for atheists. The point is that even though, as you pointed out, these are things everyone should do, there are some religious people who would speak badly of atheists who did them because we aren’t doing it for the “right” reasons.
The page isn’t a call for organized atheism, but a snarky criticism of the way some theists think.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
Hey there! First, I want to say I was directed here by a good friend and I love your site and your blog. I thought I’d ask you for a little feedback, or perhaps some advice. I’m an atheist, my husband is an atheist, and our toddler is, obviously, an atheist. We did a secular naming ceremony when she was 3 months old. Since then, I’ve noticed that most people I know don’t invite our family to baptisms, gatherings, weddings, or even birthday parties, because they don’t want to “offend” us in any way when they pray or what have you. It’s like we’ve been blacklisted by family and friends over our choice to raise our child atheist. How do I get it across to these people that, while my family is not religious, their religion doesn’t necessarily offend us? I’m honestly offended by them thinking we’d be offended… but that opens a whole can of crazy. Thanks!
Great question! I’m flattered that you’d ask me for assistance, and I’ll do my best to help.
First off, I assume that you invited your non-atheist friends to your daughter’s naming ceremony, so that you are not inadvertently giving the impression that you are drawing a line between your theist and atheist friends. I also assume that we’re discussing occasions on which it would not be inappropriate to have an atheist present (such as a Mormon Temple wedding in which non-Mormons are not permitted). It sounds like these are safe assumptions.
Now, before I can give you any suggestions, I have to ask a question: are you sure that the reason you are not being invited is that your friends are worried about offending you? Is it possible that some of these activities have religious content and that your friends are worried about the presence of an atheist or a non-participant being awkward or embarrassing? Or might there be people invited to these parties (e.g., cranky super-conservative relatives) who would object to the presence of atheists? Could they be worried that having people with conflicting religious viewpoints present would lead to arguments (whether or not initiated by you) or inappropriate conversation? Or something else?
Fortunately, the solution I’d recommend is essentially the same, no matter what the root of the problem is. Also fortunately, you’ve already taken the first step — having a family-ceremony-type get-together at which you demonstrated that you’re fine keeping social company with non-atheists.
I’d say that what you need to do next is go a little out of your way to make clear that you want to participate in these occasions. If a friend’s birthday is coming up, ask whomever normally throws a party for that friend if you can help plan or host. If a wedding, for example, is approaching, talk to the people involved about how much you love weddings. If possible, talk about a beautiful church wedding you attended. The point is to demonstrate that you think these are wonderful events, that you don’t look down on them because there is religion involved, and that family and friends are more important to you than religious considerations.
If you get a reaction like, “But I thought you were an atheists?” or “But it’s going to be in a synagogue,” don’t make a big deal out of it. You can act mildly surprised that they’d think it’s an issue if you like, then say something like, “That’s fine with me,” followed by a related, positive statement (e.g., “My cousin was married in the same church she was baptized in, and it was a lovely ceremony,” or “I look great in a yarmulke.”)
It may take some time, but hopefully people will get the hint.
A semi-related aside: When I was a teenager I occasionally butted heads at family gatherings with an in-law who was a young-earth fundamentalist Christian. It got to the point that you could feel the tension in the room when he said something to try and bait me on the subject of science. One Thanksgiving, while we were all seated around the big Italian dinner table, he said to me, apropos of nothing, “You know, evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics.” Now, this is not only a stupid argument, but one that even as a kid I could destroy in minutes. It was like a bully walked up to me and said, “Could you please punch me in the face? Hard?” But instead of taking the bait, I said, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and let the whole thing drop. He looked a little uncomfortable for a minute, but that was it — the threat of inappropriate conversation was over and a silent sigh of relief went up around the table. I had several family members come up to me after that and tell me how well I’d handled the situation, and I felt like I’d matured ten years over the course of one dinner. Nobody who was in that room ever hesitated to invite me to religious events after that, even when I became a full-blown, not-secret-at-all, arguing-online atheist.
Getting back on track, I’d like to say a couple words about your being offended by people worrying that you might be offended: stop it. There’s nothing wrong with people making an honest mistake about a belief system they are not particularly familiar with, or with their wanting to avoid doing something that could upset you. Save your feelings of offense for when they are truly needed.
I think that’s all I’ve got on the subject for now. Let me know how it goes!
In: Atheists' problems
I’ve recently put up a new site I’m hoping my blog readers can help me test. Atheist Survey asks visitors questions related to atheism, religion, etc., and then posts the responses for all to read. You certainly don’t have to be an atheist to participate, and my hope is that this will be entertaining and informative for all.
I would very much appreciate it if you could visit the site, answer a question or two, and let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. It would also be great if you could help me “get the word out” about this new site, because without publicity it will likely fade away pretty quickly. Thanks!
For the first time ever, I’ve posted a “guest essay” to the IAmAnAtheist web site. 16 Things Atheists Need Christians to Know is an entertaining little rant that I’m hoping cranky atheists will find cathartic.
I thought it was enjoyable, and I’m sure that the fact that I’m related to the author in no way influenced my decision to publish it on the site.
If you have any comments on the piece or would like to send a message to its author, Deborah Markus, please feel free to do so in this thread’s comments.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
You have met an intelligence next to God. You can take this opportunity to explore my arrogance and eloquent expression.
Also from the feedback form, a few minutes later, from the same person:
I can and will contradict anything you say. Blog Away. If I am updated, I often have no regard for the internet, aside from Masturbation and self love. HA! I suggest, if you do not wish to spin as retarded as the earth, which is retarded to the star, sun, which is retarded to our milkyway, open that irregular mind. I not hate, but full of love and glory. HA! Blog away. Notify me, I LOVE BEIONG MY BRAIN!
Wow — an arrogant, eloquent intelligence that’s next to God. Neat. After just reading your first paragraph, I’ve learned that being next to God doesn’t automatically grant one even minimal coherence, so thanks for that.
It appears you either want to have a conversation or don’t know to avoid using the computer when high or both. Okay. It also appears that you are attempting to challenge me by saying you will contradict anything I say. To paraphrase the argument clinic, that isn’t an argument, it’s just contradiction.
Even so, I’m game — if only to see just how clever you really are.
Here’s my statement: My name isn’t Hildegarde.
Your turn — contradict me!
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
I would like to know how to not believe in GOD, you people that claim to athiests are living proof of GOD. If there is no GOD there would be no devil, without a devil, you would not care what anyone did. If you just said, I do not believe there is a GOD, and let everybody else believe what they want, I might agree. But all of you are prodded by satan. You are much more religius than any church.
I found your message difficult to understand, but I’ll try to address your points.
1) I can’t tell you how to not believe in God. In fact, some people are not capable of not believing in God (for one reason or another), even if God does not in truth exist. At most I could demonstrate that God is not a necessary being, that arguments for the existence of God are flawed, that some religious belief systems are not logically valid, or that even the best reasons for belief in deities are not compelling to everyone.
2) I agree that the devil also does not exist. I don’t see how this has anything to do with whether or not I care what anyone else does.
3) I can’t say “let everyone else believe what they want” for a number of reasons. First, I feel compelled to respond to those who are not content to let me believe what I believe. Second, I think that some people have beliefs based on false assumptions or reasoning, and I feel I have a responsibility to point that out. And third, some of those people with beliefs different than mine want to use them to pass laws or make other significant decisions that could impact my life.
4) Your statement that atheists such as myself are more religious than any church makes no sense to me whatsoever.