Everyone in my family knows that I'm an atheist, but it isn't a topic that gets discussed when we are together, which isn't often due to geographic constraints. I think they know my philosophy by now:
If you want to talk about religion, that's fine, but you should first realize two things. One - I can guarantee you that I will be no less of an atheist when we are done, and two - I cannot guarantee you will be no less of a Christian when we are done.
That is what probably convinces them to leave the topic alone, other than to make the obligatory offer to attend a Christmas service with them, which I never will. My automatic response is "that's like inviting a vegan to a pig roast." It's not meant to be a nasty remark, it's just the closest analogy I can think of. Everything else about our relationship is completely normal and functional.
My older brother has come out to me as an agnostic since last year, which must be rough for him being married to the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. By coincidence, my brother and I grew up with Presbyterian parents, and having no choice but to attend Presbyterian church every week. He is now the only one I approach to discuss the antitheist related happenings in my life, like attending the Reason Rally.
This year's xmas get-together might be a little interesting though. Mom called and wanted gift suggestions. I really don't need anything, so I suggested that I give her a list of books, and she select some from that list and order them from Amazon. Unfortunately, mom refuses to try and understand technology. She has trouble answering a cell phone, still has no idea how to text, struggles with email, and successfully negotiating Amazon would be expecting far too much from her. I could tell that my suggestion would ultimately net me nothing I actually want for xmas, so instead, I found what I wanted on Amazon, ordered and paid for it myself, and had it sent to her address.
I sent her a text on her new smart phone to let her know of my actions, and wasn't surprised to have gotten no text back several days later to acknowledge she understood. I called my daughter several days later, who lives near mom, to ask if she knew whether mom understood. She said yes, mom got my text but didn't know how to text me back ... and apparently was struggling with that whole "phone" part of her smart phone. She also said "the books have already been delivered, and nana can't believe she ended up getting you atheist books for Christmas." Yes, I ordered three books from Christopher Hitchens that I have not had the opportunity to read yet, so that my God fearing mother can give them to me as gifts. I won't be surprised if she refuses to pay me back for the order, or even give them to me. Hey, that what she gets. It kills me that our communications are so limited because she can't figure out how to use basic technology.
Anyone else have an awkward xmas gathering coming up?
Your idea of ordering your own gifts and having them shipped to your Mom to wrap and give to you is genius! I wish I did that while my parents were alive.
On the other hand, I wonder how my Baptist parents would have felt giving me a copy of "The joy of gay sex". Just kidding about that.
Your philosophy sounds right on. Not knowing your brother, I wonder if his agnosticism is a compromise for family peace, and he's really atheist under it all.
My parents became very inept with technology as they grew older. I had to accept that it is what it is. When my dad couldn't work the TV remote, I knew he was declining. It made me very sad.
When my family got together, the compromise was, we didn't discuss religion, we didn't discuss politics. We did discuss the weather, house repairs, gardening, family history, and food. That was as much my family dynamic, as it was my choice. If I wanted to "put it in their face", it would have been adversarial, nonproductive, and made the limited time we had together unpleasant.
I regret that I could not be fully myself with my parents. I don't think they really knew me. I don't know if my ongoing decision to keep the family peace was right. When I told them, early on, I had become Unitarian, they freaked out completely. Which is what they did when I joined the Army. They accepted that I lived with the same man for 10 years in a one bedroom house, but it was otherwise don't ask/ don't tell. For religion, sexuality, health, and money. Given how solid they were about maintaining denial, I don't think I could have done it any other way. They are all dead now.
My christmas will be with my Chinese atheist-raised partner, who regards the holiday as a curious silly American custom, and enjoys the food and lights. It's interesting to have that outsider point of view, and gives perspective.
My brother and I were never close growing up, him being the good son and me being the problem child. I mellowed with age, and now we still communicate infrequently, but we realize that we are more like one another than previously thought. I've always thought of atheism/theism like it is a randomly set switch in the DNA somewhere. I simply can't imagine myself ever having capacity for deistic faith, no matter what age. If it turns out that there is some pantheistic explanation for it all, that would be a thrilling and devastating blow to organized religion, but I personally don't much care, just like it wouldn't care if I care. I get the impression my brother is the same way, but as you suggested, he won't go beyond agnostic admissions just to keep the apple cart somewhat upright with his familial arrangement.
I don't think my parents really knew me either. The more they found out, the more disappointed they were, so I metered my personality out in small doses to them. I was surprised later in life when mom told me that they were relatively certain that I would never graduate college, when the reality of it was though I didn't like academia all that much, I would not accept anything less for myself than a Bachelors degree. Dad is an engineering professor, and I didn't want to enter the world of independence without an education he could be proud of. It was hard enough to feel like I fit in with my family to begin with - not completing college wasn't even an option in my mind.
Last year i thought i was making progress with my sister (dropping hints over time, pointing out the nonsense, etc. ) She's much older and thought it was a phase, and asked me if i wanted to go to church with them. Heh, Heh. After i answered, she asked "why not?!" with her head turned sideways. It's very insulting to think that she thought that i would forget my stance on things, and just go with the flow. From my standpoint, she dismissed everything i discussed with her by asking me that question. I guess you had to be there, but i was hot. Not looking forward to this year. It's sad that i dread these things, but i'll have to grin and bear it. I cannot guarantee that i won't pull aside a niece or nephew and ask them a couple of pointed questions:) I'll attempt to plant the seed of doubt.
If you haven't read any of Bart Ehrman's books, I would suggest it. Him being a former hardcore fundamentalist and Biblical scholar turned agnostic, it would be hard to find a better authority on the true origins of Christianity, who willfully espouses its shortcomings and little known history of deceit and utter fallibility. It's great information to have in your back pocket when someone makes the mistake of asking you "why not?", or for spreading the seeds of doubt.
"that's like inviting a vegan to a pig roast." ...............not necessarily, I am invited to 'pig roast' type events all the time (I live in Calgary, the heart of Cattle country), although I am vegan I often accept. My friends all know that I always eat before I go to their dinners! They also know that I accepted their invitation because I want to hang out with them, not for the food. And I also know that they didn't invite me with the purpose of exposing me to dead flesh and converting me to a carnivore.
The invitation to an atheist to attend a religious service seems a little different, almost rude, especially if they know you are an atheist. For example at the 'pig roasts' if the odd person or two learns I am vegan I am sometimes offered apologies because 'there is nothing for me to eat'. They believe I may be uncomfortable or hungry and show their concern, sometimes people tell that they are interested in my dietary choices - not because they want to become vegetarians, but because they are interested in other peoples views.
Would an atheist receive a similar apology at church if the congregation found out he/she was atheist? Would they be concerned that the atheist might be uncomfortable? Would they be interested in the atheist's lifestyle, beliefs etc?
Good points. It's not the best analogy, just the best one that came to mind at that moment. Although, I must say that I've never personally known a vegan who would be interested in attending a pig roast - but I've never lived in cattle country and have only had a couple opportunities in my life to attend one myself. I guess my gut instinct is that the smell and image might be a little overwhelming for a non-meat eater, particularly one who made their choice for PETA type reasons.
I know my parents aren't trying to be rude by inviting me, they just don't fully understand what it means to actually be an atheist. It's not like inviting a Catholic to attend a Protestant service, which is something my parents also have been known to do. It's not like asking a bridge player to join in a pinochle tournament. They just don't get the significance of their request, because they take such pride in their membership. When I was younger and married, my wife and I would end up attending some random special worship service with our parents just to appease them. I was atheist, she was spiritual but not religious, my parents were Presbyterian, hers were Catholic, and the event would invariably be in a Catholic church. My wife and I would be cracking up in the pew watching our mothers nonchalantly trying to outdo one another with their singing performance. It was so obvious to us that the humor in that aspect alone was worth going to church over. Now days, I find nothing humorous about organized religion.
Worse images on TV, plus bacon smells good, it's a 'gateway meat'..........lol. I did make an informed choice to be vegan, some of the reasons could be interpreted as 'PETA like' reasons. But, I see no point in estranging myself from perfectly good people and potential friends because they eat meat.
But back to your point, you are right, it is just rude to invite you to their service/mass whatever.
Maybe a better analogy would be "that's like asking a friend to go on a date with your ugly sister."
Not with family, but I spend 40 hours a week, week in, week out, at a workplace where they are gearing up for christmas with decorations, cookie contests, after-work get togethers..... In terms of time spent together, the work place is sort of "family". Although my family didn't have performance measures and follow my productivity and monitor my email. Although maybe they would have....
A few years back, at a different office, same employer, I suggested that we should have an inclusive holiday, since we also had at least a couple of Buddhists, an Arab-muslim-raised atheist, several Jews, and others who were not open about it. The hindu wound up with a creche-decorated stocking on her door. She was horrified, but afraid to say anything. So they went with a blue and white theme, snowflakes and snowmen, and evergreens. There was SO much complaining. "Who thought of that idea? Who wanted to take Jesus out of Christmas? This is the worst Christmas ever". Later, I was hounded out of that office, although I don't think christmas was why.
So now I stay quiet about it. I resent the overbearing forced christmas on the place where I spend the majority of my time. But I don't say a word about it. I also don't say I'm atheist.
I sympathize with you, SB. I don't advertise my atheism in person, but I am as noisy as can possibly be about it in on line anonymity. Times are a changin', and some day our numbers will be a force for change, but for now we are saddled with being the most hated demographic - so we have to be creative in how we approach or distance ourselves from the subject.
This website is a great place to connect and communicate, and not feel isolated. There is a diversity of opinion and expression, so it's not an echo chamber. But it's united in the promotion of freethought, and sharing of experiences.
I have to be careful. I'm pretty anti-theist, not just passively atheist. If people knew that my attitude about religion was as negative as their attitude about atheism, I'd be burned at the stake. Figuratively.
Kind of an interesting read on about.com about manufactured reality, with some comment about the artificial nostalgia of Xmas. Although then the author generalizes to politics and other issues.