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June 2003

June 19
Subject: Advice would be nice

My name is Tom, I have been in a long relationship with a girl for the past year. Recently we have been talking about marriage. There is no problem with us getting married on our side, it is her family, they told her that even though they would be really happy to see us get married, because I am not christian they won't give us any kind of help with money and the father won't give his blessing. Its not that we really need the money. My family is pretty wealthy and they to would love to see us married. It's the utter disrespect that I am being slapped in the face with. Now, my first reaction was to cut them from our lives, but she loves her family and can't see anything wrong with the way I would be treated. We have gotten into a lot of arguments and basically, I am left with a choice. I can accept the bigotry and just smile and act like nothing is wrong. Or I can fight back. I have devoted my life to fighting this kind of prejudice, and would be giving up my ethics if I allowed it to happen to me. Problem is that she won't stay with me unless I have a good relationship with her family, which at the moment I do, but after a insult like that I could not let them take part in my life.

Basically if I fight this injustice I might lose the love of my life, and lose my ethics. But if I don't I give up on everything that I have fought to hard to get when it matters the most, but I get to keep the girl. One last thing. Father is a pastor Mother is uber christian one of those holier then thou types, Younger Sister is studying to be a deaf interpreter for her church, Older brother is studying to be a youth pastor, religion is vary strong in her family just not so much in her.

Any advice you or anyone who visits you site would be GREAT!!! Thank you

Dear Tom:

You're in a rough spot and no question. You've obviously got a good grasp on the situation, as the options you've outlined in your letter are pretty much the only ones I can see. It doesn't sound like her parents are saying that you're a bad person, or that they're threatening to cut you (or her) out of their lives after the wedding. They're only withholding financial support (which you've said you don't need) and a blessing. Quite frankly, out of all the reactions you might have gotten, this is not that bad.

The blessing thing is probably (and I'm guessing here) based on their beliefs about the wedding being right in the eyes of their church. For instance, my marriage isn't valid in the eyes of my husband's Episcopal church because I'm an atheist and we didn't use the traditional ceremony. So the blessing question might be something that's part and parcel of their beliefs regarding ritual and not have much to do with you personally at all.

So your main task is to decide how important a blessing is to you. If it were me in that situation, I would simply smile and go on. They aren't really saying or doing anything all that nasty, at least not that you've mentioned. Unless they're threatening to boycott the wedding, to disown their daughter, or to pretend you're the invisible man, I'd let it go. When dealing with a cross-religious-beliefs relationship we all have to make certain sacrifices to keep the peace. I'm not suggesting you roll over and play dead, but this isn't a huge sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.

Good luck, Tom, and congratulations on finding the love of your life in the first place.

June 26
Dear Kimmy:

I need help in a major way. I'm nineteen and recently "came out" as an atheist to my family members. Most of them took it pretty well, but my twenty-two year old brother (call him CL for close-minded) didn't. He's a hard-core Christian (most of my family are lazy Christians) and he's convinced I'm going to go to hell. In fact, he's told me so in just so many words. He's constantly trying to "save" me.

I've talked to my dad about this, and he says the CL is just trying to show that he loves me. Seems to me that badgering me about my lack of belief is a pretty strange way to show love! I know that he doesn't agree with me, but why can't he just accept that I am who I am? How do I make him understand my position and just let the subject go?


Hurt & Confused

Dear Hurt:

First things first, as I tell everyone who asks me a question like this. You cannot make anybody see, understand, learn, grow or feel comfortable with anything. Never going to happen. The best you can do is try to help them, communicate with them, and keep repeating to yourself that you love your family members. It's going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repitions.

Basically, when it comes to dealing with CL you have two options. You can grin, grit your teeth, learn to smile and nod a lot and hope it will go away. I can tell you that it probably won't. If he's as hard core as it sounds, he's going to keep at you until you convert or he sees a good reason to stop.

This takes us to option number two. You tell your brother something along the lines of, "CL, I love you very much. You're my older brother, and we'll always have a special bond. But I am an atheist. That is not going to change. Your constant harping on the subject is starting to make me feel very uncomfortable, and it is difficult to enjoy my time with you. So I'm going to have to ask you to stop trying to discuss this with me, or I won't be able to hang around with you anymore." Then stick to it. If he brings it up, change the subject. Say, "I don't wish to talk about that," and then bring up the movie you saw last night. If he persists, leave the room or hang up the phone. Show him that his actions are having real consequences that could be very damaging to your relationship. Hopefully, even if he never fully understands or agrees with your choice, the two of you will be able to reach a sort of a truce and still be friends as well as family.

This probably isn't the case, but if he's confused about what atheism is or what it means for you to be an atheist you might introduce him to some of the more basic books on the subject. I recommend What Is Atheism?, by Douglas Krueger. It's a good introduction that answers a lot of questions.


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