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Preaching to the Unconverted

How can an irreligious Eagle Rock dad keep family gatherings religion-neutral?

My spouse and I have raised our two sons without a distinct religion, although they have been exposed to Buddhist and Christian traditions. My kids are pretty pragmatic and both lean towards atheism. My wife’s brother and his wife and two girls, on the other hand, have all become born-again Christians.

That’s fine with me. But the problem is that at every family gathering they foist their beliefs on us. They make us say grace at our dinner table, they gave my sons bibles for Christmas, and they even sent my older son several invitations to bible study classes with their daughters.

This really gets on my nerves. How should I tell my brother-in-law to leave his bible thumping at home?

Jan Freed June 12, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Take a single situation, such as when they offer a Bible. Simply say, "No thanks" and things like, "I would rather not discuss it" , "you may be right" etc. ; keep repeating things like that, calmly, in the manner of a broken record. Once you start to "share your views" you may be in for a long long discussion. So, don't start if you don't want that discussion.
Suzanne June 13, 2011 at 03:13 PM
I'd actually approach it in terms your brother-in-law and his wife will likely understand: parental rights. As a parent, you have the right to determine what values are promoted in your household. By giving your children Bibles, repeatedly inviting them to Bible studies, and insisting on a verbal grace while at your dinner table, they are interfering with your right to raise your children as you deem appropriate. They may not agree with your approach, but unless it constitutes abuse, they don't get a say. I wouldn't broach it in such stark terms, but would they be okay with your giving their kids books that contradict their religious beliefs, or inviting them to events that are in conflict with those beliefs? I think not. As a host, I'd hope you would want to make your guests feel welcome, and in the spirit of generosity, you might tell them you appreciate their need to say grace and will sit silently while they do so, but will not be joining in. Or take the lead and do "thankfuls," with each person sharing something that they're particularly thankful for at that moment (no belief in God required, but not discouraged either). Of course, the other alternative is to just chuckle silently at each Bible as you chuck it into the "donate" pile, and politely decline any and all invitations for the children.
Terry G. June 22, 2011 at 09:30 PM
I think that I would handle it like Jan and try to treat each situation singly. If pushed, I might say something calmly like, "Oh, well, we believe in tolerance. I bet you all do, too." Religious fanatics, even well meaning ones like your relatives seem to be, are truly annoying, but trust in your children that they will grow up with your values. I used to worry that the church-run preschools that my kids went to (no other choice because demand vastly exceeded supply) would indoctrinate them with all this religious talk and singing and behavior, but they grew up to be our kids after all, and all three have my and my husband's loose and tolerant approach to personal religious beliefs.

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