I offered to post these letters anonymously to our blog to solicit more feedback from others who might have more, or better, ideas to help this person—to make it simple, let’s call him “John.” My offer was accepted, and so I’m sharing. In brief, John suspected that his mother was being influenced by religious relatives. And the relationship between him and his mom, which had been cordial, became strained. I suggested he not go on a hunch, but address this issue with his mom directly, to just ask what had motivated the change—so they could at least have a conversation based on whatever was actually going on. This is the reply I received after he took that advice:
Thanks for responding Tracie,
I took your advice and finally confronted my mom about it, asked her about her acting weirdly like getting snappy when I share a recently published article which I found cool (because my sister is also a bit of a nerd), constantly reminding me that “sexuality is a choice” and making me bow my head during grace. She was sorta dismissive about it but she came back to me and she said something that I’m not quite sure how to react to.
Before I say this and give the impression of any serious mental illness in the family, I best put down a few things first. I may have mentioned that I’m from a neo-Pentacostal background, and I don’t if you know this but some parts of that denomination are into speaking in tongues and faith healing and stuff. More importantly, the idea that demons, spirits and god himself can speak directly to you during prayer or dreams isn’t that alien. One of my aunts, who seems to hate my guts to no end by the tone of her verbal abuse, claims to have these particular gifts of prophecy. Secondly, my sister, who is 14, is not as crazy and can be a bit more cynical and critical about things. She’s still a devout Christian but is more liberal with social views as she believes god gave us the freedom to sin, as I said she shares my interest in science, believing that God worked through natural processes, intervening in things such as the big bang and over coming ‘irreducibly complex mechanisms’. Mom never used to have a problem with this because she’s still a Christian, which is more than she could say for me, but other parts of the family sorta warn her to stay faithful and because they can be really ruthless on that, I stay well away from any religious opinions she wants from me.
Anyway, with that out of the way, my Mom told me that my Aunt had a dream and that in this dream it was revealed that all of mom’s 3 children would be together in the after life. Of course the conclusion was that either I was going to drag my sister and brother to hell or I was going to come back to the faith. The really horrible part was that I wasn’t joking when I said that my mom can be really easily influenced by those around her. She said that it was really really important that I return to the flock because she does want all of us going to hell. That was followed by how some in our family wanted me out of the picture to my ‘Satanic influence’ doesn’t get to my siblings any more as they evidenced with my sister, although she seemed really upset with that prospect so I’m hoping that means she isn’t going to do it. I’ve considered lying and just saying I was a Christian again but I’m a notoriously bad liar and that just isn’t sustainable.
I know how this might sound, I’m trying to get around the idea that this is coming from a dream too. I guess I had some inkling on what to do before but now I have absolutely no idea what to do. Thanks for you reply again.
My advice to him after that was this:
Well, first let me say “well played” to your conniving aunt. She was able to set up a scenario where you are not only responsible for yourself, but now for your siblings’ eternal well being, as well. Bravo to her for finding a way to put the screws to you, and your mother, and force more pressure. It’s interesting and almost masterful. If it wasn’t so diabolical, manipulative and wicked, I’d almost admire it.
I will give you a couple of options that could help:
1. I can post this letter anonymously to the blog and ask people for advice and opinions, and you can see what others might come up with.
2. Here’s my “next move” suggestion (and I won’t be offended if you choose Door #1 over this, since you know the players better than I do): The scenario we’re in is that we have you, and two siblings. All of you will suffer the same fate in the after life–good or bad–but we don’t know which fate. This binds you and your siblings together in a sort of Corsican Brothers way, in the mind of your mother–who loves you all and wants none of you–and clearly not ALL of you–to suffer eternity. Her response to this is myopic: Pressure YOU to become a believer/good Christian–in order to save your siblings and yourself.
First: There is one really large problem: You are saved through faith, not works. And you do not control your faith. Belief is not a simple choice. I cannot choose to believe that I’m blind–while I sit here typing on my computer, looking at the monitor as I do so, seeing perfectly well. Nothing, short of convincing evidence of my inability to see, would be sufficient to get me to adopt the belief that I am blind. Your mother’s pressure, then, to force particular behaviors upon you, is not useful to anyone, as bowing your head, attending church, even getting you to agree to conform to her standards of sexuality–will not alter even an ounce of your unbelief. So, her methods are unproductive in light of her goal. If the goal is to get you to *believe* and have faith, and ultimately save you (and your siblings)–focusing on your actions will not accomplish that.
Next: If god already knows that you and your siblings will all end up together–then your fate is, apparently, already sealed. Your aunt may not have been provided the knowledge of WHERE you all will end up–but the fact that god is already able to say that he is able to see you all together in the afterlife, means he has observed your fate. So, at this point, however it plays out is just getting to a place where you–in practical reality–already are. Your future life events–and those of your siblings–constitute “going through the motions.” If anyone was able, at this point, to change anything, then the prophecy should have been that “if something doesn’t change, they’ll all end up together.” As it was a solid, then it is a done deal. If god already knows what will happen (isn’t he omniscient?), and can’t be wrong–then nothing you or your siblings or anyone else can do, will alter that fate. So, might as well just relax and accept it.
In the end, if god is just, then the fate of your siblings does not, and cannot rest with you. They will be judged on their own beliefs and actions, and you on yours. And we should trust god to make the right call–as a righteous judge. If, in the end, your siblings and you are found worthy of hell fire, then you, your siblings, and your mother can rest assured that your fate is a just one, and deserved. If your mother believes that you are the sort of person who should suffer for eternity for a lack of belief you cannot control, if she believes god would only mete out such penalties to those deserving of them, then she should not worry over you or your siblings. Whatever is best and right will be done in the end, for everyone involved. And if your mom is destined for heaven, then she will embrace your (and your siblings’) eternal torture as a good thing, and be happy with god in that ultimate end.
That is how I would address it if it were my mother. When my mom wanted to force me to attend church in my teens, I told her that I saw that as her way of saying I was not mature enough to make my own choice in the matter of adopting religion/joining the church–as a choice of “no” was not acceptable. So, I told her I refused to make any choice unless the choice I made would be accepted. She actually let me stop attending at that point.
But I don’t presume to know your mom. And it might be an entirely different situation.
Let me know if you want me to post this anonymously for feedback.
And his update is as follows—the last I heard:
I might have to do what you recommend telling her in your second suggestion seeing things are beginning to escalate after I confronted her, those who are close to my nan who doesn’t think I’m of the devil think it’s a ‘little’ crazy to throw me out, but most of them still listening to my aunt. I have already told my mom in the past that because I’m not like her in ways of trusting things on faith alone and needing to be convinced to truly believe something, I think that’s why she’s resorted to just cracking down on how I behave.
Thank you so much for all your help,
You now know about as much as I do about it. Any helpful thoughts?
The young man temporarily moved in with a friend to give himself and his family some space. Here is what resulted. Give yourselves a much deserved pat on the back:
My mom ended up calling my phone because she actually got really stressed out from the implications of driving me away. My nan actually came to my place to regulate and everything is looking good. Mom is still feeling worried over my aunt’s little prophecy and she’s still weary about my sister but I took the user ‘Malte’s advice (comment #14) with that. She said she understood that I needed convincing and she thinks that if we study the bible together she can save my soul. At the same time, if it was reading the bible that made me an atheist than I hope it may have a similar effect on her, if not liberalize her to the point where my sister is, discarding much of the dumb stuff as either history, myth or didactic allegory. I have my nan to thank for a lot of this, her intervention really got much of my family to cool it, but I also have to thank you. That status quo wasn’t getting anywhere and I doubt we could have gotten to this point and I don’t think I could have worked up the courage to even confront her by myself. I need you to give a huge thanks to Malte, badgersdaughter and Jamie Gairns please, they were really helpful. A couple of bruises and scratches were worth it, but I don’t think my mom will stay very close to my aunt (who hates my guts a little bit more some how) for a while after, which I feel sorta guilty about.
I’m so happy this worked out, it was looking really scary there for a moment. I really cannot thank you enough Tracie, I can only hope that other atheist kids get so lucky.