Losing Faith and Keeping Relatives

by James

Losing faith produced some turmoil in personal relationships with close relatives. This set of letters chronicles the resettling process in my own case. Perhaps other new deconverts will find some courage here for resetting the terms of their own affected relationships. These letters have been sanitized to protect the privacy of the other people involved.

Contents

Introducing Relatives to Tough Questions

To: [three believing relatives]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Issues with Christianity to follow in next two messages...
Attachment:
Date: 12/14/97 4:20 PM

[Names omitted],

Now that my exchanges with RO have come to an end, I am going to forward you a list of issues that I have with Christianity. I will break the list into two parts and send each part as a separate message, because of the length.

Let me explain the origin of the list. I lost many good nights' sleep worrying about how awful it was going to be to tell you about my loss of faith. The first draft of the list was written from 2:00 AM to 3:00AM one morning after I had lain in bed sleepless with worry wondering how I could possibly ever make you understand. I concluded that I may never be able to help you understand, but the best thing I could do to try would be to give you a window into my mind about precisely what issues I have with Christianity.

I have waited until now to send it, because it was obvious to me that you held many false assumptions about my unbelief that you had picked up from your background in the church. Maybe you still hold some false assumptions, but at least I have addressed them in my previous messages.

The list is not even close to being exhaustive. I have only listed the items that came to mind during that one hour. There are many more issues with Christianity than the ones I have listed, but these are sufficient to show the the scope and depth of the problems I see with the religion.

[Name omitted], I am copying you on these messages because I suspect that you are much more curious than you let on to be in your visit with us this weekend. It seems uncharacteristic of you not to even bring up the issue, especially after my invitation in my response to [name omitted]'s first letter. Also, your lack of eye-contact, your pursed lips, and your general unease on this visit make me suspect that [names omitted] instructed you not to bring up the issue of my unbelief. They probably did this on [their pastor's] advice, perhaps fearing for your faith and their own if I were allowed to open Pandora's box of issues with Christianity. If I am wrong, and you do not want to know the kinds of issues that led me to lose faith, then just hit the "delete" key when my two messages appear in your inbox. I will understand.

By the way, in our first and only discussion of my loss of faith, [name omitted] asked me if I would be willing to speak with his pastor. I told him I would, and I still am willing (under certain conditions, which I will name if he approaches me again on the issue). However, neither [name omitted] nor [name omitted] have mentioned it again. I suspect that their pastor does not want to meet with me, possibly because he has had an unpleasant experience failing to defend the truth of Christianity to someone who knows the absurdities of the religion. Instead, I suspect, he has taken the wiser route of advising [names omitted] not to get in losing discussions with me about whether Christianity is true or false. He has probably given them some reason to shut off dialog, probably suggesting that the reasonableness of Christianity is not the "real" issue, but instead that the issue must be with ME -- that I must have some emotional or spiritual conflict, and/or that Satan is attacking me, or that I have a secret sin I want to keep on with, or that I am angry with God, or that I have had a bad experience with the church. Whatever reason he has gotten them to accept, it PROTECTS HIM from meeting with ME.

Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe [names omitted] have just been too busy to follow up on this. (Oh, by the way, I am not trying to hide anything from [names omitted]. Go ahead and forward this message to them if you like, and any other messages I have sent to you. I just don't have their e-mail address.)

But if I am right, isn't it interesting that another minister of the gospel, trained at seminary, is unwilling to defend the truth of Christianity. What unpleasant facts about Christianity do these people learn in seminary that they are not sharing with us laymen? Or, more likely, perhaps they never do learn about the real problems with Christianity but only some parody of the problems, and then they learn how to shut themselves off from EVER learning about the REAL problems by convincing themselves and their parishioners that the real problems are not with Christianity but with the unbeliever. Trained intransigence!

Anyway, [names omitted], before you view the videotape RO is sending you, read my list of issues. I have cast each issue in the form of a question. As you view the videotape, ask yourselves how many of my questions the presentation leaves unanswered. After you finish watching the videotape, read my questions again and see how satisfied you yourselves are that they have been answered. Do this with any apologetic material, and you will find that the apologists dance all around the issues, or they spend all their time answering easier or irrelevant issues to make Christianity look good, but they rarely or never make direct answers to the direct issues I raise in my list of questions. Why not? What they do instead, usually, is to try to reframe the discussion, making unstated assumptions about what is true and depending upon the listeners to accept those assumptions uncritically, and then they can simply dismiss the real issues without answering them, because the listeners no longer see them as meaningful.

When someone like me comes along and calls their bluff, they do whatever they can to invent problems that they can then attribute to the unbeliever in order to take the focus off the problems of Christianity. And with someone like me, who can see through that strategy and keep the focus on the problems of Christianity itself, they have to cut off the conversation and control whatever "damage" I may have already done. This is exactly what RO did, and it appears that [other relatives' pastor] is doing the same.

I haven't seen the videotape RO is sending you, but watch and see if any of these manipulative tactics is used. Even if the presentation is fair and not manipulative, check and see how many of my questions remain unanswered.

Of course, I am assuming that the truth or falsehood of Christianity is of interest to you. If you are not really interested in whether Christianity is true or false, then I am wasting my time.

However, maybe it is the CONSEQUENCES of unbelief that bother you, and not the REASONS for unbelief. You probably still think that unbelief necessarily results in immorality. If you request it of me, I can refer you to some reading material that dispells that false notion fairly thoroughly.

If there are other issues, I would appreciate knowing what they are. So far, I feel as if I am talking into empty space, because I have received almost no response from you. Should I just resign myself to the dismal prospect that you will never respect me again and have no intention of ever coming to a resolution with me on this issue?

James

Reply from Relatives Concerning Tough Questions

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Re: Issues with Christianity to follow in next two messages...
Attachment:
Date: 12/14/97 11:02 PM

James, We have received your messages and it is very apparent that you have studied the bible much more in depth , thoughtful and questioning than we have. Your new beliefs took us by surprise and we were not prepared for this. I'm sure you can understand our shock and confusion about your decision and the effect on Alison and your children. [Name omitted] and I both grew up in strong Christian homes and accepted the faith of our families without much thought to question and hunt for reasons to disbelieve. I knew that my beliefs were mostly because I had been taught them from childhood. If I had been raised in a Catholic home I most likely would be a Catholic. We didn't always understand parts of the bible but just accepted what we didn't understand and looked at the good parts that helped us live a better life. I do not have time right now to look for answers and don't feel qualified to answer you, as it is plain to see that you have studied the bible in much deeper depth than I ever have. There are so many things in this world that I do not understand!!! But I can not see how this world could just evolve and not be guided by a supreme being. We might all be on the wrong tract in knowing and understanding this. Meanwhile my religious faith does help me cope with life and all its problems. It inspires me to be a better person. It comforts me in the difficult parts. There is much wisdom in the bible and I feel like I am a better person because of my religious beliefs. [Name omitted] does not want to get into any debates with you on this subject. He doesn't feel like he can answer your questions . He finds strength and comfort in his religious beliefs and does not want to change. I do want to do some studying on many of the questions that you have raised. Surely there is a minister somewhere that would discuss these with you. I would like to hear these answered also. Have you tried any minister or some one at the seminary? We want to have a fun, pleasant visit with you and your family over Christmas. I want you to know that we do not scorn you. I did feel some anger when I first learned of your new beliefs. Right now I feel for you as I can tell from your letter that you have come to this decision after much studying and searching and you have had a difficult time with this decision also. I have been in your home enough to know that you are a wonderful person and that you love your family deeply. I know that you would not do anything to harm them. Let's back off from this subject for awhile. I do appreciate your letters and questions because it helps me know what your thought process has been like. We leave for [name of city omitted] in the morning and look forward to joining you next week. Love, [Name omitted]

And a Reply from Another Relative Concerning the Ongoing Discussion

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Re: Issues with Christianity to follow in next two messages...
Attachment:
Date: 12/15/97 8:14 AM

James,
Thank you for your e-mail. You are incorrect in your assumption that I had pursed lips or that I was instructed not to bring up the topic of your change in beliefs. I spent much of my time thinking of it and how such a view might impact one's life and it's meaning. I chose not to bring it up on my own accord because I feel you are already feeling somewhat threatened by the rest of the family. I also see plainly that you stand firm in your beliefs as of now, and although I am a Christian and hence feel saddened by your decision and confused, I see no productive way to bring the issue up at all. In fact, the only solution I see would be to take up your challenge to defend it. To do so, I decided first I would begin the debate at the beginning and at the broadest level. I would assume there was no God, and then debate the origin of the universe, what came before it, and what lies beyond its boundaries. Since I have no time or energy to throw into the issue, I didn't bring it up. I would like to discuss it with you and share our views though, perhaps over Christmas. With much love, [Name omitted]

And Another Reply from this Relative

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Re: Tough Questions for the Christian Church, Part 1 of 2
Attachment:
Date: 12/15/97 8:14 AM

James, Also, I did not bring the subject up b/c the children were around when you showed me the letters. I would be glad and personally interested in discussing religion with you. I have not talked with any pastor nor have I any conspiracy with [names omitted] nor have they spoken to me about handling the matter with you. [Name omitted] did tell me she has spoken to no one about it as of yet. I will address the matter openly and frankly with you. I hide nothing. I am who I am both in terms of my religion and in my personal relations. I try to stick to the creed:"what you see is what you get" in all my relationships b/c I can't stand hippocrits and don't want to become one. Anyway, enough now, I am going to sleep b/c I have to get up early! [Name omitted]

My Apologies to a Relative

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: My apologies to you, [name omitted]...
Attachment:
Date: 12/15/97 8:37 AM

[Name omitted],

Thank you for your gracious reply to my message. And I owe you an apology. In some of my messages, I was too harsh on you, lumping you in with [name omitted]. In some of the statements I made, I carelessly wrote as though they apply to you when they don't. From the beginning you have been gracious, open, and respectful of me, even though you are disturbed by my unbelief.

I understand that Christianity is meaningful and useful to you, and that it gives you strength and comfort. I do not want to deprive you or [name omitted] of these things. My forceful response has been in reaction to the incorrect assumptions about me and Alison that have been expressed by various family members. I am content to live and let live, and to back off this subject. That is why Alison and I never brought it up to begin with.

By the way, there is a new book out that refutes out-of-body experiences. I'm not trying to push it on you, and I haven't even read it myself. I just thought you would be interested. I can give you the title and author if you like.

James

Soothing Words

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [other relatives]
Bcc:
Subject: Re: Issues with Christianity to follow in next two messages...
Attachment:
Date: 12/15/97 8:58 AM

From: [Name omitted], on 12/15/97 8:14 AM
To: James

James,
Thank you for your e-mail. You are incorrect in your assumption that I had pursed lips or that I was instructed not to bring up the topic of your change in beliefs. I spent much of my time thinking of it and how such a view might impact one's life and it's meaning. I chose not to bring it up on my own accord because I feel you are already feeling somewhat threatened by the rest of the family.

I am glad that I was wrong. And thanks for your sensitivity to our needs.

By the way, this situation has illustrated that misunderstandings can easily happen in the absence of dialogue, and that is why I requested not to cut off dialogue in my first letter back to [name omitted]. I made false assumptions about you and about what must have happened out of my sight, and when I expressed them you had the chance to correct me. If I had not expressed them, you never would have had the chance to correct me. Just making an observation.

I also see plainly that you stand firm in your beliefs as of now, and although I am a Christian and hence feel saddened by your decision and confused, I see no productive way to bring the issue up at all. In fact, the only solution I see would be to take up your challenge to defend it. To do so, I decided first I would begin the debate at the beginning and at the broadest level. I would assume there was no God, and then debate the origin of the universe, what came before it, and what lies beyond its boundaries. Since I have no time or energy to throw into the issue, I didn't bring it up. I would like to discuss it with you and share our views though, perhaps over Christmas.

I am content to let it lie, or to discuss it, either one, at your initiative. I have no agenda to undermine your faith, or anyone else's, but only to defend myself if I am challenged.

Thanks for viewing me as a peer and for not being condescending.

Best regards,
James

More Soothing Words

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc: [other relatives]
Bcc:
Subject: Re: Tough Questions for the Christian Church, Part 1 of 2
Attachment:
Date: 12/15/97 9:07 AM

From: [Name omitted], on 12/15/97 8:14 AM
To: James

James,
Also, I did not bring the subject up b/c the children were around when you showed me the letters. I would be glad and personally interested in discussing religion with you. I have not talked with any pastor nor have I any conspiracy with [names omitted] nor have they spoken to me about handling the matter with you.

Sorry if I sounded accusatory. I was just trying to make sense of what happened. Maybe I feel a little paranoid.

[Name omitted] did tell me she has spoken to no one about it as of yet.

Thanks for letting me know. I wonder why not? (I'm not trying to make a point out of the fact that she hasn't. I seriously wonder why she hasn't talked to anyone about it. But [name omitted] did tell me they told [names omitted]. ???)

I will address the matter openly and frankly with you. I hide nothing. I am who I am both in terms of my religion and in my personal relations. I try to stick to the creed:"what you see is what you get" in all my relationships b/c I can't stand hippocrits and don't want to become one. Anyway, enough now, I am going to sleep b/c I have to get up early!

Again, I didn't mean to sound accusatory. Sorry. I do have confidence in your personal integrity.

Best regards,
James

Another Relative Asks for Tough Questions

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: e-mail on the way...
Attachment:
Date: 12/16/97 12:44 PM

[Name omitted], I just got off the phone with Alison. She said you asked for my list of questions. I will go ahead and send the other e-mail exchanges that I have recently had, as well, since they will undoubtedly answer a lot of questions. There is probably a half-hour's worth of reading altogether.

I'm addressing you, because it looks as if the e-mail address is yours. Of course [name omitted] is welcome to read these as well.

James

And Thanks Me for Them

To: James
From: [Name omitted]
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: e-mail on the way... -Reply
Attachment:
Date: 12/18/97 4:41 PM

James, I received your e-mails - thanks for sending them. I have skimmed through them but haven't had the time to read them in depth yet. We do plan on reading them however and would appreciate the opportunity of talking with you sometime soon.

[Name omitted] and I are both looking forward to spending time with all of you this Christmas. I hope that our differences in religous beliefs won't stand in the way of our having an enjoyable time.

[Name omitted]

PS I am generally quite busy at work and therefore would prefer to talk with you in person or by phone rather than correspond via e-mail. If you would like to send any correspondance by e-mail you can send it to [name omitted] at [e-mail address deleted].

And I Acknowledge

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: re: e-mail on the way... -Reply
Attachment:
Date: 12/18/97 5:32 PM

From: [Name omitted, on 12/18/97 4:41 PM
To: James

James,
I received your e-mails - thanks for sending them. I have skimmed through them but haven't had the time to read them in depth yet. We do plan on reading them however and would appreciate the opportunity of talking with you sometime soon.

Any time, pending mutual availability.

[Name omitted] and I are both looking forward to spending time with all of you this Christmas. I hope that our differences in religous beliefs won't stand in the way of our having an enjoyable time.

Alison and I are looking forward to this as well, and, aside from maybe a few minor uncertainties about decorum, I think we can enjoy spending time together, like we always have in the past. I'm glad you feel this way, too. I never really had any doubts that you would feel otherwise.

[Name omitted]

PS I am generally quite busy at work and therefore would prefer to talk with you in person or by phone rather than correspond via e-mail. If you would like to send any correspondance by e-mail you can send it to [name omitted] at [e-mail address deleted].

Done.

James

Opening Dialogue with Yet Another Relative

December 19, 1997

[Name omitted],

I received the books you sent yesterday. It was thoughtful of you to send them.

You must be curious about our loss of faith. I appreciate that you didn't start a holy inquisition, as [referents deleted] did. Thanks.

When I heard that [name omitted] had called you and told you our private affairs I was very surprised and not a little upset. He stole from me the opportunity to tell you in my own way, and even my opportunity to decide whether to tell you at all. Oh, well. It's probably just as well that you found out this way as any.

Anyway, I did not want to initiate a dialog with you about the subject myself, because I didn't want you to think I was trying to push my unbelief on you and cause you to lose faith, too. But since you sent the books, I do want to give you the opportunity to know in more detail what has happened to us, and so I am forwarding copies of the correspondence I have had recently. I think you will find that the exchanges will answer many questions you may have about what happened to us, and how Alison and I could possibly leave the faith.

I have put the letters in sequential order. If you read them in that order, you can keep a sense of the flow of the conversations. Some of the letters are to RO, our former pastor. It turns out that [name omitted] also had called him and divulged our private affairs.

I think probably the only thing that is not clear from the letters is the way the news came to light in the first place. [Name omitted] happened to come across one of the books I was reading, a defense of atheism, which I had not concealed well enough. That, together with the fact that she knew we weren't going to church anymore and that we weren't praying over meals anymore, was enough for her to put two and two together. Alison confirmed our loss of faith to her, and she left the house in tears.

Also not represented in this set of letters is a private conversation between [names omitted] and myself that happened about a week after [name omitted] figured out our loss of faith. [Names omitted] tried a little bit to understand what had happened to me, but mostly they challenged my unbelief and argued for belief. Their interaction with me was dominated by false assumptions they have about unbelief, provided to them by their church. As of this week, they also have a copy of the enclosed letters, which address most of their false assumptions.

I hope these letters satisfy any curiosity you may have. It is our wish that differences in religious belief will not affect the good relationship our families have together, and that we can continue to enjoy ourselves together on our visits as we always have in the past.

Best wishes,
James

And Bringing Another Up to Speed

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: e-mail exchanges...
Attachment:
Date: 12/29/97 2:18 PM

[Name omitted], I will send copies of recent e-mail exchanges I have had with [names omitted] and with RO, my former pastor. I will also send a copy of the cover letter I sent to [name omitted].

If you read everything I send in order, I think it will answer a lot of questions you may have.

I haven't heard anything from [names omitted]. I would like to know if they intend to shun us. If they have trashed the letters I sent them without even reading them [note: this information was obtained from a previous phone conversation with [name omitted]], that may be what they have in mind. I hope not. It would be a shame for the kids not to see each other anymore.

[Name omitted], and anybody else, is welcome to read what I send. If I had anything to hide I wouldn't put it in writing.

James

Worries About Being Shunned

To: [Name omitted]
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: [Name omitted], would you like for me to you copied on future correspondence?
Attachment:
Date: 12/29/97 5:02 PM

[Name omitted],

I have now forwarded copies of all the correspondence I have had on the subject of my loss of faith. I expect that things will slow down to a crawl now, but if there is any more correspondence, would you like me to keep you copied on it?

I think you can see from my messages that I am quite capable of defending myself on this subject, and that I know what I'm doing. You need not worry about me. I am not depressed or despairing in the least. In fact, I find the exchanges somewhat invigorating.

There is one thing I'm discouraged about, though, and that is the possibility that [names omitted] could shun us without even giving us a fair hearing. I began to fear this when you told me that [name omitted] would not read my letters and that [name omitted] told her to throw them away unread. I don't know whether they would shun us, but their church probably teaches shunning. We'll just have to wait to hear from them. They've probably been too busy to respond yet, and it may also take them some time to figure out how they want to respond. Hopefully, they are being closed-minded only because they don't want our religious differences to come between us and would rather avoid the SUBJECT than to avoid US. I am optimistic that this is the case, but I won't know until I hear from them. Still, I don't want to rush them, and I intend to wait patiently.

Thanks for calling and giving me your support. I think my faith distanced me from you in the past, but it need not come between us any more.

James

Update to Ex-tian About the Situation with My Relatives

To: ex-tian
From: James
Cc:
Bcc:
Subject: Report on my [relatives]
Attachment:
Date: 12/30/97 10:06 AM

Someone asked me off-line about the status of [my relatives] now, suggesting that the list members would like to know. I've only had a few short e-mail responses from them, which I do not plan to post to the list.

Mostly their response has been silence. In the few short e-mail responses they have sent, they have not tried to rebut anything I've said.

They admit to me that it is obvious I have studied the Bible in much greater depth than they have, and they admit that they simply are unable to answer me.

They admit that they are Christians because they were raised Christian, and that they do not have an objective basis for their faith.

They continue in the delusion that my wife and I have given up living a moral life because atheism = immorality, but they have refused to read the literature that refutes this idea.

They cling to the hope that somewhere there is a pastor who will discuss with me the question of whether Christianity is true or false, and have suggested that I seek out a seminary professor (as if I had any interest).

They continue in the old thought pattern of assuming that my unbelief is a "problem" that I am interested in "solving."

On the practical side, they have volunteered not to undermine our relationship with our children, and they have acknowledged that my wife and I would never intentionally do anything to hurt the children. They have agreed not to take the children to church, or to proselytize them. They do not insist that we say grace over meals when they visit us, nor do they insist that we have group devotions on Sunday mornings at times when going to church is impractical, as they were wont to do in the past.

They continue to be concerned that we are going to raise the children without morals, and I feel I need to do something to put their minds at ease about this issue. It's hard, since they won't read the literature I suggest.

They continue to talk to my wife when I'm not around, but now it is mostly just to vent. I counseled my wife to let them vent, but to deflect their conversations over to me whenever she feels cornered. So far there is no danger of them coming between my wife and me, but I'm keeping my eye on the situation.

Overall, I consider my interaction with them to be an unqualified success. They have not lost faith, but I shouldn't expect that they would in such a short time -- it took years for me to lose faith. My main goal has been achieved, namely, that they respect me again, and they recognize that I came to my unbelief competently. They recognize the possibility that there could really be something amiss with their beloved faith. They don't understand my unbelief, still, but I shouldn't expect that they would yet -- the old thought patterns are too deeply ingrained to be quickly overturned. Our relationship is cordial again, and, in fact, [one particular relative] is easier to get along with than ever.

My hope for the future is that we would eventually become peers, seeking truth together wherever it may lead. Right now we are not peers. I know much more than they do about their own religion, and I am willing to follow reason even if it overturns my cherished beliefs, where they are not. That situation is uncomfortable not only for them, but for me, too. Realistically, I doubt we will ever become peers, because I am obsessed with knowing what is true and false, while they are not. Practically speaking, I think we will end up majoring on our common interests and sweeping our differences under the rug -- they'll still be there, but they'll be out of sight. In other words, I think we will have an adequately normal relationship.

James

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