Atheists: how to deal w/ religious family members?

(To mods: please move this post to the appropriate board if I have posted in the wrong place. I’m still pretty new here)

My sister and I have taken two widely diverging paths through life. I am an atheist and she, at this late date in her life, decided to ditch a legal practice and become an ordained Episcopal (sp?) priest. Fair enough. However, since her mid-life conversion to religion she has become quite aggressive in her outward displays of faith and insists on others either doing the same or listening in silence. For instance:

—When my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary with a big family party, she was quite put out when I said I would only allow her to pray over us if we could strangle a sacrificial chicken first (one ceremony makes about the same amount of sense as the other to me).

—When my father was dying of brain cancer she insisted that he get last rites from a priest with no justification that my comatose dad had ever expressed any interest in that ceremony at all.

—My dad had not been a religious man, neither is my still living mom, but my sister hijacked the funeral plans, insisted it take place at her church with her in the preacher role and her sons as alter boys. Other family members wishes were not included.

—And on Christmas Day, at a big family dinner, she stood up and in a loud, piercing voice, proceeded to say grace, leaving all of the rest of us in the position of either saying it with her or remaining silent while our philosophy of life was ignored and disrespected.

The question I have is…how do I deal with the aggressive nature of her religiosity, or do I have to just suck it up? And why is it always the non-religious who have to do so, anyway?

You have to MAKE her understand your position.

I suggest you first try to reason with her. Explain your own beliefs and ask that when she is with you/other family members she respect you/their own traditions (or lack thereof).

Likewise, you’ll have to learn to compromise, there’s no other way around that if you want her to remain a part of your life. If she wants to say grace, then allow her to do so. You needn’t say it with her, a moment of quiet can give you a chance to reflect on the day, think about your wife in that sexy outfit you got her for xmas, the new game you bought yourself and your itchin to play, etc.

Find a middle ground where she doesn’t feel attacked for her beliefs, and you are not being force fed religion every 5 minutes.

It’s all about compromise :wink:

Ummm…I was with you up to the sexy wife part. I was sorta hoping I WAS the sexy wife in this marriage. Gee, my husband’s going to be disappointed…

Anyway, thanks for the advice. Compromise was what I had been aiming at earlier but in the last six months it’s been all one sided and I think I’m just tired of it being one-way only.

Quote Matthew 6 and 7. It won’t convince her, but it’s damned annoying.

This isn’t so much an issue with someone who is just religious; it’s an issue with someone who is overzealous and dictatorial. Did she act similarly before she was ordained a priest?

I would certainly let your sister know that it’s inappropriate to impose her views. But don’t do it alone; make sure you have other family members on your side. I wouldn’t lauch a religious debate, which can be endless and create more animosity. All she needs to understand is that her religious beliefs are not shared, and that you’ll respect her choice if she’ll consider for a moment that it is reasonable for others to have other beliefs.

Of course, you should show the same respect, and avoid comments like the one about the sacrificial chicken.

What the heck? I like your comment about the sacrificial chicken.

She’s the one who imposes, right? Put her in the hall and let her say her prayers to the mailbox.

Good luck.

I think your approach to your anniversary was witty and reasonable. Not sure what to say about your father’s funeral, etc., except that, in the future, those who don’t want Christian ceremonies are probably going to have to be a bit more emphatic about what they do want. As an atheist, I personally don’t care what my family does with or over me after I die, as long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money.

If you are going to have family celebrations on major Christian holidays, though, letting your sister say a short prayer while you contemplate the silverware is not a big concession. (And, yes, I know all about the pagan aspects of Christmas. I’m assuming you are not a pagan either.)

Hehehe, sorry about that :wink: So think of him lying in a tub of chocolate with sprinkles on top and some whipped cr… what?

As someone else pointed out, make sure you have the backing of other family members and don’t go down the slippery slope of religous debates. That’s just not going to be productive.

I know I dealt with this a lot when I was younger with my mother’s die of the family, and then later with my father’s side. And in both cases I did what I had to do. I compromised.

I also made sure they understood my position in all matters of faith, and that I wouldn’t back down and “just go along with it”.

General Questions is for questions with factual answers. IMHO is our forum for opinions and polls. I’ll move this to IMHO for you.

DrMatrix - GQ Moderator

Look at the OP.
Think about strangled chickens.
With cut throats.
And blood everywhere.
Which you paint on peoples faces while muttering gibberish.

First time you pull that shit at a wedding or a funeral she’ll get the hint.

  1. Don’t debate her. If she feels it is her mission to save you, all attempts to fight her will simply encourage her. Consider yourself a trophy. The more you protest–the more you need to be saved–the bigger the trophy you become.

  2. Define your house rules (like no saying grace or praying out loud) and kick her out of the house if they are broken. If she can’t handle your house rules, she doesn’t get invited into the house. Within the confines of your own home, you must stick up for your beliefs and the beliefs of your husband of 20 years.

  3. If this is new to her, give her some time. I’ve noticed that people are very gung-ho when they make a major life change, like quitting smoking, dieting, etc. It wears off.

  4. Everyone tends to “suck it up” when they disagree with the speaker. We agree when talking to the person and then disagree by talking behind his back.

Compromise? No.

The problem is that there can never be a true compromise in this situation. Someone is always going to feel like they have lost the contest if they have to, for example, endure sitting through a prayer, or endure feeling the void of the lack of a prayer.

  1. Prayers being offered, means your sister is happy, and you are not.

  2. Prayers not being offered means you are happy and she is not.

Where’s the compromise?

How can anyone be happy?

I think the dialogue that needs to take place here is: “This is the way we do things in my house. In your house, we do things your way.”

As for family events such as a funeral, the whole family needs to express an opinion and agree to honor it–a difficult and unlikely scenario, when your family is probably scattered all over the beliefs continuum.

Athiests have to bite their lip every time they turn around in this world, with continual references to god, satan, angels, heaven, divine intervention, hell, eternity, and all the rest. As an athiest, you know this is true. I think you need to tell your sister to shut up already about her beliefs when she is infringing on your beliefs. She is perfectly willing to shove it down your throat as long as you are a willing partner. Don’t just sit there and take it.

Don’t compromise. She doesn’t.

yellowcakesolid provides some excellent advice.

In many cases, being up front with an overbearing Christian about your conflicting religious beliefs will reduce you to a needy ignorant putz who must at all costs be saved from your stupidity. People from her congregation may call you and come to your door (some even bring baked goods), you might be put on a “need-to-be-saved” mailing list, and every birthday or xmas gift will be some sort of self help literature designed to correct your convictions, all because she “loves you and wants to save you from the depths of hell”.

Well, actually mailman, the dialogue you suggest sounds like a compromise to me. The only reasonable one too.

Wonder9, in your own house or generally at events you are running you have the right to decide if there will be prayer or not. Likewise for your sister. If she tries to force the issue she’s being unreasonable and (I think you should point this out to her) not very charitable or respectful, which are characteristics that a lot of christians believe they have.

Keep in mind that since she’s made such a dramatic change suddenly, she’s probably going a little over the top as rookies often do. Maybe in time she’ll relax a little and not force the religion so much.

I’m not suggesting that christians aren’t charitable or respectful. I think most, if not all, are. But some sure as nonexistence aren’t.

I would say that you need to set boundaries and be clear and firm with her about what you will put up with and what you won’t. I’m lucky, in that my family is very respectful of my beliefs, but I think part of that comes from the fact that I try to be considerate of theirs. I’ve also had a much easier time with my family since I made clear statements about what I’m willing or unwilling to do, rather than sort of feeling our way along, which often lead to someone being put in an awkward spot.

Since we’ve learned to talk about it, they now ask me in advance whether I’ll be cool with this or that, and we can work things out, calmly and privately. Everything is kept on the level of how we feel about this or that, whether we’re comfortable with whatever compromise. Theological debates have been resoundly unsatisfying to all parties, so we avoid them.

For example, I will attend worship services as long as I don’t have to participate. This is cool with my Grandma, so I go to church with her sometimes when she needs a ride. It’s boring as hell, but Grandma appreciates us spending time together. (Time when we don’t look at each other or talk to each other, but . . . sigh It makes Gramma happy.) My refusal to participate is not cool with my mom, who feels self-conscious about me staying behind the pew while everyone else goes to the Communion rail, so I don’t go to church with Mom.

So I recommend that you pick your standards based on your own comfort level, and let them be known to your sister. Be aware that you will have to compromise, also. For example, if you’re a guest, it’s for your host, not you, to dictate whether she says grace at a family dinner. And tolerance is a two-way street. If she’s really pushing something, ask yourself if it would really be compromising your beliefs to let her do it.

As far as saying grace goes, what about if you talk to her about it, and make it clear that you don’t want to pray with her, but you are willing to let her pray. You take the sting out of it, then–she’s not “disrespecting” you if you have given her permission, right? I admit that this is somewhat tortured reasoning, but I have a hard time understanding how simplying having someone pray in your presence is an insult; it’s insulting for them to pressure you to participate (overtly or subtly), or for them to pray about you, or for them to pray when they are a guest in your house and you have asked them not to. But if you invite her to lead the prayer for those who want to participate, then would you be okay with just sitting quietly for a few minutes what she does it? I mean, if the answer, for you, is no, then that’s what your comfort zone is, and as others have said, you should just say firmly that you don’t want her praying when she is your guest.

The number one consideration should be that you love your sister and she loves you, and if you respect one another, you can work out a means of getting along. She’s pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable in her zeal, and you have to push back to let her know that your feelings are being trodden upon, but at the same time, I hope you will still let her have some space to express her beliefs in. It’s an important part of her life, and it’s not fair to try to shut that aspect of her personality out of your life entirely.

You all have made some excellent points.
Beelzebubba: You’re sweet. I think I love you. But did I mention that she used to be a lawyer? Much as I’d like to annoy the hell out of her—on purpose for a change—she’s probably up for that one.

gum: Thanks for the support about the sacrificial chicken. The look on her face was priceless. And I think the mailbox would be a great and private place for prayers.

cher3: outstanding point about having to put up with religiosity on major christian holidays. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. And nope, I’m not a pagan although boy that sure sounds like a whole lot more fun than christianity AND atheism. Dancing naked, free sex, drug induced frenzy…except for that whole believing thing, sounds good to me.

don’t ask: if I wasn’t already committed to Beelzebubba and gum, you’d definitely be on my list of future dates. I may just try that at her son’s high school graduation.

to you other fine folks: I appreciate the viewpoints and will redouble my efforts to be understanding (gak!), willing to compromise (sigh) and yet stay protected from any ill advised attempts to save my poor wretched soul.

>>Dancing naked, free sex, drug induced frenzy…except for that whole believing thing, sounds good to me.

Paganism isn’t a monolithic thing, so you can find just about anything if you look for it. But I got involved because belief was not a requirement. (There was also no naked dancing, free sex, or drug induced frenzy, at least not at the rituals, but like I said, groups vary.)

Has your sister by any chance always been determined to get her own way and be the one in charge? If there’s been a big personality change I’d almost wonder if there was a medical reason.

Others have asked somewhat the same question. The answer…she made an OUTSTANDING lawyer for all of the reasons you might expect. She is determined, dogmatic, aggressive, arrogant, intelligent, and self-centered. The law lost a great one when she decided she wanted to preach.

BTW, preaching, not ministering, is what she likes to do. She tried to get out of a hospital rotation during her seminary degree program because she said she didn’t like dealing with sick people; they made her feel bad. Boy, that’s the kind of priest you want with you as you face the final curtain.

wonder9, have you considered duct-taping her mouth shut? Wrapping it around and around her head (particularly if it touches her hair) would make it more difficult for her to remove it. Just remember not to cover her nose or you could be nailed in a wrongful death suit.