Difficulty understanding literalist and fundamentalist beliefs

Over the last couple of years I have been around more devout Christian believers than at any point in my life. For the most part religion does not become a discussion topic. But, with Christmas coming there has been some recent hardlining by some people. I'd rather not get into too many specific details,  but to summarize:

Some people important to me are being made to feel excluded because one of their siblings is forbidding the usage of Christmas trees and all things related to Santa class. Their explained reason is that trees have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus -- they was no decorated tree in the gospel accounts -- and Santa is fake while "Jesus is real!". This person recently became a parent and wants to create family traditions they can be proud of and says they never want their child to question him about whether Jesus is real if the child someday learns that it was lied to about Santa.

This attitude was presented in very stark terms and is making the other siblings feel alienated and ignored and they are unsure now how much time they could tolerate in that kind of environment. They both enjoy trees and family togetherness that it symbolizes and represents nostalgically. He told them if they ever were to host Christmas in their own homes, and had a Christmas tree, that he "would not judge you, but I will not attend."

I don't want this to become a thread that degrades into belittling  believers who are this rigid and calling out all their flaws in comparison to our lack of such flaws.

Yet, I really cannot fathom this kind of mentality.

There is an argumentative, competitive part of me that wants to say to him, "So you want to be faithful to the bible accounts? How about we turn off the lights too since electricity was not in the gospel accounts? And, now let's talk about Jesus is real while Santa is fake. Jesus is real in what sense to you?"

Yet, I know this would just open up a ridiculous discussion in which I will have to accept the authority of Scripture, the harmonization of the gospels, the abundance of independent extra-biblical (yet anecdotal) evidence for the existence of Jesus,  and more.

That is because his view is that Jesus is the unique son of God who is the savior through which all are saved. You all know how that goes, I bet.

Yet, I also feel compelled, at some point in the future, to understand more about why he and his other family members believe *so strongly* in these convictions. It is fascinating to me. There is, of course, part of me that wants to be respected for not believing them -- but I can be content to disagree with him there -- yet I just find it intriguing how people develop these beliefs and how they hold onto them over time. This person I'm talking about is not uneducated -- far from it, he has two advanced college degrees and two professions, in natural sciences and in law.

But for me, it is as clear as day that his religion is no more factually verifiable than is Islam or even Mormonism.

I've read books by apologists like Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel...etc. I've seen all that.

The problem I have when I try to speak with people who believe in the bible via faith and even say things like "miracles happened back then, but NOT now"...is that I almost immediately start raising questions about other religions and how to tell the difference, how to know which of the exclusivist truth claims are *actually* true...etc etc etc...it's very difficult for me to not want to ask these things...

So, what I'm interested in from others here is:

How can you engage someone in a conversation when you fundamentally disagree, but want them to talk so that they really feel listened to (perhaps even if they are not willing to listen back) -- and without throwing your hands up by getting baffled with things they believe?

Thank you

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Based on my experience with literalist believers, it seems to me you're faced with a binary choice - to confront their beliefs (as diplomatically as possible, of course) or to remain silent. No matter how diplomatic and empathetic you try to be, if you question their beliefs in the slightest, they are going to take offense.

The attitude you describe sounds very much like that of Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate Christmas or Easter and seem to want to put the bible and Jesus in front of everything and everyone.  As I understand them, they are also not very much about higher education, excepting trades and the like.

My attitude toward them would be this: We live in the 21st century, a time where science and technology provide benefit for those who use them whether they believe it them or know how they work or not.  Science and technology depend far less on belief than they do on KNOWLEDGE, and not at all on unsubstantiated faith.  If they are willing to have a conversation based in what we KNOW and can verify to be factual, then fine.  If every challenge to their belief is responded to with, "Well, the bible says...", then there is no basis for discussion.  The bible is flawed way past any chance that it can be taken seriously in any historical context.  So long as it is their focus and they cannot be as critical of it as they might be any other referent, I simply would not waste my time.

" I will have to accept the authority of Scripture, the harmonization of the gospels, the abundance of independent extra-biblical (yet anecdotal) evidence for the existence of Jesus,  and more."

Josh, what a terrible dilemma you face. If you break it into small chunks it may be easier to come to a decision that you can live with. 

I assume this is your brother and his wife and family are fundamentalists. 

How do you feel when you are with your brother, alone. Can you speak freely with him? Can you ask him the tough questions that you pose here? 

It seems to me you have the right and responsibility to ask the tough questions of your family member. You would ask a sibling the tough one if he or she were abusing alcohol or drugs. Religion is a far more difficult topic to confront. I believe it has to be done. 

How do feel when you are with his family? Do you want to ask the tough and remain silent? 

Do you want to maintain the relationship if their religious beliefs get in the way of good relations? 

Do you bring up the subject of religion? 

In my experience is not a good idea to bring up the subject until and unless you see harm to your extended family members. Religious call abuse discipline ... I know from experience and my children paid a heavy price for my not responding sooner. The good news, I raised them as a single mom and they turned out to be fine citizens. I think it can be done as a single dad too, but parenting is always a crap shoot. 

What do you do if someone else brings up the subject of religion? 

I always respond, unless there is some compounding variable i.e. when death is involved. My approach is to respond back mirroring the temper and one of the other. If someone speaks lightly, I answer back with a matter-of-fact response. If the other is aggressive, I stay calm, firm, competent, confident, and ask the hard questions. I had to do a little homework to be prepared for this event. But it isn't hard, just watch a few debates, especially by Hitchens. His arrogance puts believers off, but the content of his responses are gems. 

Can you have a family gathering without the fundamentalist ones attending and have fun? 

My experience is that I have fun whether the fundamentalists attend or not. If I am not having fun, I can always leave, unless, of course, I am hosting. If I am hosting, and if the fundamentalists become uncivil, I ask them into my office and describe how their behavior is unacceptable and invite them to leave if they cannot be civil.  

You wrote:

"I will have to accept the authority of Scripture, the harmonization of the gospels, the abundance of independent extra-biblical (yet anecdotal) evidence for the existence of Jesus,  and more."


You do not have to accept any uncivil, disrespectful, aggressive behaviors. If your brother is an attorney, he will understand building a case for one side or the other. You can build a case very quickly and easily to refute the bible if that is the direction you wish to go. I far prefer the 

“Critical Thinking Crash Course” by Dr. Peter Boghossian

I have a playlist that is well over a year old and there probably are more up-to-date videos available. 

You can be pretty smart and still batshit insane to. When people believe so strongly like this, you just gotta walk away man. It's quite literally delusional, after awhile it feels as though you're visiting a mental hospital. "Sure man, the government totally put a tracking device in your brain" walks away slowly. 

Thank you everyone for the ideas.

I appreciate you taking the time to think about it and respond.

There is a chance I may be spending at least a little time where he is around or on Christmas. If he makes it difficult for everyone else to simply hold a contrary opinion about the Bible, then I'll have to say something.

Maybe I can lean on some simple "I statements"...

When I hear you dismiss other people's right to hold a different opinion from you, and when you do so without being willing to sit down and go through the evidence together, it makes it unpleasant to be here and next to impossible to feel good about respecting your own view. Neither of us are Mormon, but how would you want to be treated if you were in the home of a Mormon? How would you feel if he were to put the Book of Mormon in front of you and told you this is true and if you do not believe it is true I do not want to speak with you any more.

If he says "The Book of Mormon is false. Joseph Smith was a liar and a fraud. I have read about how Mormonism was created, and I don't believe it.", I might say:

That is your right to come to that conclusion, but what do you think about how the Mormon should treat you, a guest in his home? And, how do you think he would want to be treated in your home?

I don't know...I'm just making stuff up now.

Perfect! You have the idea. Now, over time, and with skill, perhaps your family can be reconciled and have joy in being together. Good job. 

This is very hard to do. You have to keep a calm voice, ask questions, and ask them to explain their beliefs once you get down to basics. The bottom line on their part will always be like "I just know it by faith, god told me so, or the Bible says." In a world of all the possible religions they see theirs as the only true and right one. It never occurs to them that religion has a lot to do with the area of the world you are born in and that goes right back into the religion your parents had.

As for your friend's aversion to Christmas trees he might quote you Jeremiah 10: 1-10 if he is an extreme fundamentalist in his beliefs. Even so, Christians cannot "own" Christmas. They keep wanting to stick Jesus in there because "he is the reason for the season." Since when and says who? I can tell them where to stick Jesus.

When it comes to this man wanting to teach his children that Santa is a lie and Jesus is true, it will turn on him in latter years as the kids mature. A thinking child will not understand how all of our information is on the Internet today, but the only thing you can believe there is what your church says is true. Being home schooled used to be a way to avoid it. Today the Internet is where god comes to die.

This will happen because there is no "harmony of the gospels" and no evidence of god. All the holes and contradictions of the Bible are laid bare today, but they were easily hidden without the Internet.

Michael I agree with you regarding the gospels. Thanks for your reply and ideas.

I tried Christianity in my mid-twenties, and yes...the Internet Saved Me. It's actually quite interesting if you search for UU Tim Berners-Lee, you'll find a story about the web's developer a day his own rejection of Christian dogma (and his adoption of Unitarian Universalism for a community).

I don't expect to change a believer's views, but I would like them to understand how it feels to be dictated to without the option for collaborative discussion. I don't have to see him very often, but his siblings are feeling very hurt right now, and that bothers me.
Thanks freethinker,
He's not my brother, but I agree with what you are saying. I am just hoping he does not alienate his two siblings any more than has already happened. I haven't spoken with him because I don't live there and I'm not comfortable making waves about their religious beliefs, but it is frustrating to see the effect it has on his two siblings.

Sorry I'm not responding with what you want, but I find some of the things you say trigger a response in me.  At age 73, I don't have the patience or the time to pussy-foot around with the religiously brainwashed, such as my family.  

I finally broke-out of my indoctrination, and If they can't see the evidence I give them, too bad.  I suffered fear and guilt many years because of religion, and I "deserve a break today".  I'm not willing to suffer any more aggravation talking to them.

In the few years I have left, I want to spend it with reasonable people.


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