Religion is Tearing Famlies Apart

Yes, I know the title of this post is a little dramatic for the remaining text, but you will soon see that it isn’t far off from what I am trying to say.

About a month ago I had the “pleasant” experience of trying to explain to my parents that I am an atheist. It all started as normal conversations do in my family. My father was as close minded as usual and my mother, always there to listen, was at least somewhat understanding of my thinking even if she did not agree with it herself. In spite of a normal beginning, by the end of the conversation, my father was yelling, my mother was crying, and I was wondering what had gone wrong.

I hope that you will use this article to see how to go about a similar discussion with your own family and avoid some of the mistakes that I have made. When debating your own family, you can’t be prepared enough, but you likely already know the arguments they will make or what they believe so that is an advantage.

How it all happened

I started the conversation out by suggesting that we watch an episode of The Atheist Experience together. They didn’t like the idea and immediately responded with “Why are you always trying to push your ways on us.” In reply I stated that it was merely a suggestion that we could use to learn about other religions (as they are commonly discussed on the show) and atheism. After all, my mother had previously expressed distaste for the catholic church with their constant demands for money and their child abusing priests.

Following this, I asked why they felt so sure that a god exists. My father answered saying, “You know, sometimes you just have to take things on faith.” With complete disregard for my argument explaining that science is a better means of discerning whats true than just believing something is true, he began to become quit irritated with my arguments and asserted that I was close minded. Yes, he asserted that the person who was proposing we watch a television show to expand our understanding of other religions and atheism is close minded. However, he was practically out of the discussion at this point and didn’t talk much for the next 30 minutes while my mother and I discussed religion. When he did speak, it was only to rephrase his first two arguments (assuming we count calling someone else close minded an argument) and to inject irrelevant information which has no logical impact on the existence of god.

Fast forwarding into this debate, it was visibly discernible that my logical points where having some kind of an impact on my mother who was beginning to cry as this brought into question her own personal dream in which she saw her dead mother.

She is too emotionally attached to the idea of an afterlife to even conciser the issue logically. This is what religion does to people. It clouds their minds with thoughts such as this so that they don’t want to leave; they don’t want to see the truth.

It is essentially a prison, a prison for your mind. You can be perfectly happy sitting inside it, however, if one you try to leave, all these emotional traps are sprung. Nobody can show you them the truth because they don’t want the truth. Sure, people have escaped this mind prison, but first, they generally accept that the truth is more important than a fantasy (or they are just not that far into religion where they need it to be happy).

Things I wish I would have said

In no way do I wish to imply that I am unhappy with the outcome. To be honest, I am shocked I got as far as I did. However, there are always things which could have been done better.

  1. I let my father get away with yet another of his classic “You’re so close minded” well poisoning fallacies. I’ve really gotten sick of this one and had even prepared a response to it. Sadly, I did not manage to use my response as I was too busy addressing other more logical points to acknowledge a simple fallacy such as this one. (In case you are wondering, my counter argument would be something like this: “You’re pinned up against a wall with valid logical arguments against your claims and the only thing you can say is a fallacious statement that I am close minded?” Another one which would work in this situation for many people is “I’ve gone out of my way to look at other religions, atheism, and weigh the facts and evidence for both of them. That doesn’t sound very close minded to me.”)
  2. Both my parents during this discussion/debate used a form of Pascal’s Wager and I which I would have focused on this more as it would have been important later in the discussion (of course, I did not know that at the time). If you are looking for arguments to use against Pascal’s Wager, I would check the Iron Chariots Wiki, the same place where I get much of my information.

Things I wasn’t prepared for (but am now)

  1. At the time of this debate, I was not prepared to respond to the argument “it requires faith” properly. Arguments requiring evidence obviously fall upon deaf ears when used against someone what takes religion purely on faith. Since this time, I have approached my mother with a simple example of how foolish this is (maybe for another post, sorry). If you want information on this topic, I will have to (once again) point you towards the Argument from Faith article on the Iron Chariots Wiki.
  2. Answering to to people at the same time it a debate can be rough. Don’t fall into the trap of giving short half-constructed arguments when debating two people at the same time. Force them to wait for you to give your full reply before answering any objections. Short responses are unlikely to be sufficient, especially if they are dealing with logical proofs and fallacies the people you are discussing/debating with don’t understand.

Conclusion

I hope that after reading this you are better prepared to address this issue with your own family, but remember, you can never be too prepared for it. You are likely to encounter some type of emotional trap like the one I described above, so think about how you would deal with that too.

Of course, if you are not a legal adult yet, remember that your parents can force you to go to church, to Bible camp, and other such events. If you fear that this might happen, you may want to hold out. Of course, if you enjoy debates as much as I do, de-converting the kids at Bible camp might become a favorite past time (I think a tactics article is necessary to cover this).

Anyways, keep the above advice in mind. And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me by email or IRC at any time.

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9 thoughts on “Religion is Tearing Famlies Apart

  1. Pingback: Atheism, it’s not a phase | Atheist Thinking

  2. Since our discussion last week, I have had a chance to read through your blog. This post intrigued me and I had a few questions. I’ve very interested in how you came to the decision of becoming an atheist. You mentioned in this post that your parents are religious. What religion are they and how long have they been practicing? Were you raised in the same religion? If so, what was your commitment level? What lead you to become an atheist? Was it a book, a seminar, a friend or teacher? Or was it simply the frustrations you had about religion, in general, and specifically of your parent’s?

    Sorry for the third degree, but I am really curious as to your decision in this. I’m going to be upfront with you. I would really love for you to get to know my God. The God of the Bible and the God who created our universe. He is a wonderful, loving, and gracious God. You seem like person of reason, open to hearing and learning more, and I would love to answer any questions you have about Christianity.

    -Juan

    • Thank you for your comment. My parents are of the Catholic religion and they have been raised in that religion. Yes, I was raised in that religion and I was once very committed to it. I went to a Catholic school with daily religion classes as well as going to church once a week in school as well as every Sunday outside of school. While in school I discovered that I was very talented with math and science and began reading more and more about physics, a topic that really interested me. I then began to read books about quantum physics and the idea of alternate universes was something that really caused an internal struggle between science and religion. I sincerely wanted the religion I followed to be true, I prayed to the god I believed in at that time to show me how religion fits with science. No answer came. I had decided that the Catholic religion was not for me.

      During my 8th grade year at this school I continued to read more and more about physics as well as various religions. I was exposed to Deism in an online forum and for a while considered myself a deist. However, as I began to understand how alternate histories can co-exist I began to see that Deism had the same conflict with science. I then became a pantheist about half way through my 8th grade year.

      I did not, however, know that there was a word for pantheism at that time. I thought I had come up with something completely unique. I thought god was the universe and everything in it. And I truly did believe this as well. Most notably I have (as far as I know) converted a person with the online alias Livin4Jesus to pantheism in an online chat-room through a series of debates. Sadly, I never did figure out if he was converted because he disappeared a few days later before we had time to talk but he did seem to agree with what I was saying. This religion avoided all conflicts with science.

      What finally made me into an atheist was a comment made on a TV show called the Atheist Experience. I had watched a few videos on YouTube from them when I stumbled across one where a person who called into the show was discussing pantheism and the host of the show dismissed with a single valid logical argument that I had overlooked. Why call it god? It has none of the other properties associated with gods. No magic powers, it does not answer prayers, it didn’t write the Bible, etc. I already agreed that god/the universe did not do these things and when it was pointed out that there already is a word for the universe I was forced to admit that I was an atheist.

      Now, some things that made this possible that I need to point out. I think that I only went down this path because I valued the truth above everything else. I loved science, something which I don’t see often enough. I valued the truth about the existence of a god above the existence of the god itself.

      Also, if I did not have such an ability to understand science and math, I probably wouldn’t have become an atheist. It is not that I couldn’t be an atheist without an understanding of math and science but rather that lead me to the truth.

      One final thing that led me to atheism was priests arguing for the existence of god badly. Here is basically how the portions of his lecture regarding science went:
      1) E=MC^2, therefore, the universe is ordered
      2) Scientists say that the universe arose at random from a mixture of chemicals
      3) Therefore, the universe must have been created by god

      My reasoning at this time is summed up in this practical demonstration that something which appears to be ordered can appear within something that is completely random. To demonstrate this I made this page on my website: http://www.aj00200.org/code/random.htm where random numbers are picked and the it searches for a sequence of characters which are adjacent and the same. For example, 333 in the random numbers 438633374 is a an ordered sequences within random numbers. The longer you leave the page open, the more order will be found.

      Of course, the probability of finding a longer string of order decreases exponentially in this case.

      Also, looking at these arguments now

      1) E=MC^2, therefore, the universe is ordered
      – wrong, that which is mathematically quantifiable not necessarily order
      – is god necessarily the source of this order?
      2) Scientists say that the universe arose at random from a mixture of chemicals
      – this is a straw man fallacy as well as a false dilemma fallacy
      3) Therefore, the universe must have been created by god
      – therefore, the premises do not support the end conclusion

      • Hey AJ,

        Wow, that’s quite a journey! Even summed up, 8th grade seemed like a confusing year. Reading conflicting ideas and trying to figure out what to make of it, didn’t sound easy. I have a hard time figuring out why my DVR doesn’t record “The Office” when I have previously set it up. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go from worshiping God and praying to a multitude of saints, to worshiping and praying to everything, to eventually throwing in the towel on worship and prayer entirely.

        I assume your social life, along with family life as your post suggests, took a hit after that year? I remember that I lost a friend simply because I thought the Green Power Ranger was cooler than the Red one. Not having the same beliefs about life (or the coolness factor of the Power Rangers) can definitely put a strain on relationships.

        I admire your thirst and understanding of math and science. I consider myself a math and science guy as well, mainly because I loathed analyzing sonnets in english class. You reading text on quantum physics at such an early age makes me feel like I wasted my 8th grade year on collecting all of the golden skulltullas on Zelda – Ocarina of Time.

        On a serious note, I am sorry to hear about your relationship with your parents. I imagine it’s tough hoping that they would be proud of you for taking the time to study and learn more before making such an important decision, but instead they get upset and even disappointed. If you’ll let me offer just a small bit of advice, I would suggest that you take a quick look at the situation from their perspective. If your parents are of the Catholic faith, then they have read and believe in what the Bible says. The Bible clearly states that those who do not love and follow God will go to Hell. I’m sure their anger and frustration has an underlining fear that you are setting yourself up to go to hell. Parents want the best for their children, so try to understand that this is tough for your parents. They might be more willing to listen to you after you have acknowledged that you understand where they are coming from. Again, you can take it or leave it, and I know I probably don’t have to explain the importance of family to you.

        Regarding the last part of comment about priests not able to properly explain the existence of God. I agree, it’s hard to believe in something when a spokesperson has a breakdown in their own beliefs. I would like to point out that just because a priest may not have the best debate skills, it doesn’t mean there is no proof for God. My 4 year old niece can talk, but she doesn’t have the language or understanding to argue why a car is faster than a bicycle. Just because she can’t do it, doesn’t make it not true. However, I do believe that it is a huge over sight on the priest and his church leadership to have him in authority with no proper training on such matters. That is unacceptable.

        My blog, as you have read in the post you commented on, is to educate and train those who say they are christians but want clarity in how the Bible and science fits together. It’s embarrassing when those who represent my faith make a fool of themselves and all who say their Christians.

        I pray that everyday I would represent God correctly. Christians are supposed to be known for our love towards others (John 13:35), not ignorance and self-righteousness which seems to be the norm. I value seeking truth and understand very highly, but there are many questions that will not be answered on this side of death (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). The Bible is not a scientific text and it does not fully explain our universe. But I do believe that, “thenfear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”

        It’s not the state of being scared or frightened that leads to wisdom, but it’s a respect and reverence to God that opens our eyes to understanding. I’m not going to pretend that I know anything about alternate realities or parallel universes (of course I did watch enough episodes of Sliders to know that they should all be avoided at all costs), I do know that God is much more real and tangible than these theories.

        I’ll end with question for you. What are the benefits in being an Atheist vs. a Theist? What does the Atheist belief system have to offer that is superior to a belief in the God of the Bible? Take care my friend and I pray that you come to know the creator God as your Lord and Savior. Let me know if you need anything.

        -Juan

        • First, I would like to make a small correction. Pantheism does not necessarily entail worship of everything and it did not in my case. Of course, I still called the universe god but I later realized that this was absurd. I did not pray to or worship the universe, but for a while, it felt magical knowing that you were a part of god.

          I never did lose any friends due to my religious beliefs. I never had many friends during my life, even now I have a very select few. I guess in that regard I never experienced the sense of community which religion offers but that is such a superficial element when compared to validity. Because of this, I never experienced the kind of communal re-enforcement that most followers receive and today I see that it is likely for the best. I think that many people are tied to their religions because their friends are there and wouldn’t want them to leave or just that they re-enforce these crazy biblical stories until they seem plausible.

          Only a few months ago I found out that most of my current friends were atheists. I did not know this for a long time as the topic never came up but it was a pleasant surprise.

          Also, do not be ashamed, I too have wasted my fair share of time playing Zelda games. I never did actually finish one but I did get quite close to finishing the original Legend of Zelda. Those games are highly addictive.

          Thank you for the advice regarding my parents. I can not imagine how they can think I do not understand where they are coming from having once followed their religion just as closely (or even more closely) as they had but I will try to make this point when we next speak on the topic.

          As far as your point about there being evidence for the existence of god even if this specific priest can not give any, I would really enjoy such evidence. I regularly do internet searches for such evidence. When I find a nice article I either read it until there are so many fallacies that I can’t even stand to read it any more or until I know how to refute the points being made. In fact, that is how I found your blog. Of course, you were not exactly offering evidence or logical proof, but I did read the article all the way through. I also almost started a website refuting articles proving the existence of god point by point but never got around to it (probably because the first article I tried was so huge that I still haven’t managed to add counter points to all of it); instead I decided a general purpose blog would be better.

          If you think you have such proof I respectfully ask you to “bring it” – maybe you have encountered something which is not based on logical fallacies or as easily refutable as the articles I have read in the past.

          I am glad that you have a blog encouraging people to think about my religion but in my experience, thinking about it leads to atheism. I’m also quite glad that you are not ignorant or self-righteous but I do not think you need to claim that you are this way as a result of prayer. I think you are perfectly capable of being the way you are now without prayer.

          And that leads to the question of why it is better to be an atheist. I would not say atheists have a belief system as being an atheist is just rejecting the claims for the existence of god. However, I find that when you become an atheist you get to see aspects of religions that you don’t see while you are inside of them. For example, you see that religions can be highly dehumanizing. People attribute their success and personal qualities to prayer when they should instead be attributed to hard work. Many religions say that various naturally human features are evil or wrong (for example, thinking sexual thoughts) but this is a natural human trait. Any religion which says that things which are naturally human are wrong and that you need to be saved from them are by definition dehumanizing. Any religion that says you need to be saved or accept Jesus as your savior is therefore dehumanizing as it is not a natural state to believe in a diving being. People are not born believing in such things.

          When you become an atheist yourself, the new atheists we previously discussed do not seem so out of line; they are simply calling religion out for being what it is. When a god is similar to my prayer answering unicorn who is invisible and intangible (therefore un-testable) it is no wonder that people are pointing it out. I am sure you do not believe in my unicorn friend which I pray to daily for guidance (just kidding) but I don’t believe in yours either.

          You begin to also see the atrocities done in the name of religion (here I would recommend the documentary Jesus Camp as an example – summary: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Jesus_Camp). Other instances are any form of holy war including the War on Terror the United States has right now. People have been killed because of religion even in the past year I recall a gay person being killed by his roommate “friend” because the Bible says to kill gay people. A mother also slit her child’s throat because she thought the rapture would happen soon.

          So, at this point, I am wondering why religion has done right and whether it could have been done via secular means thus avoiding the bloodshed and suffering that as associated with any progress that came about through religion. Also, to conclude my above points, where is there evidence of this god even existing? Have all these horrible things happened because of a myth, or a fairy tale?

          Feel free to address any of the points above. I am particularly interested in evidence for the existence of god.

  3. Hey Aj,
    It’s all about Jesus.

    I know this may be hard to understand at first, but Jesus is the evidence for the existence of God. To sum up, Jesus is the Son of God, who came down from heaven, lived a sinless life and sacrificed himself so that those who choose to follow him will be saved from an eternity in Hell. This is why the Gospel is known as “The Good News.” No other religion depicts a god coming down to save his people. Every other religion states that we need to clean ourselves up or attain enlightenment before reaching God or some higher state of being. Jesus was good, perfect, and sinless in every way and died the most horrific death that he didn’t deserve, so that we could be brought back into relationship with God.

    Jesus was an actual person who lived in human history. There are many extra-biblical accounts and documentation on his existence and his teachings. He has been regarded as a good man, a great teacher, a philosopher, and a humanitarian. However, he emphatically said that he was God on multiple occasions. To say that he was God, was the highest form of heresy. Jesus was ultimately crucified, because he constantly said he was God. Jesus was either a heretical lunatic or his claim to be God was true. Whatever the case he was still an actual man who lived on the earth.

    If you investigate the lives of the disciples you will see that their lives were truly transformed by this man Jesus. They followed him for 3 years being taught by him and after his death they were devastated. In just a short 3 days, they went back to their original jobs trying to start over. After Jesus’ resurrection, many people witnessed him alive. A crowd of 500 saw him ascend to heaven. The accounts of only 2 witnesses is perfectly acceptable in our current court system today and Jesus had over 500 witnesses.

    When the disciples saw that Jesus was in fact alive again, their lives completely changed. Peter, who was once scared of a little girl, spoke in front of thousands to share about Jesus. The disciples went on to travel throughout the middle-east and europe, spreading the Gospel of Jesus. 11 of the disciples were eventually martyred for their devotion to Jesus.

    No one in history has ever claimed to be God, predicted their death and resurrection, and actually did it. If this was all a hoax, then this is the largest and greatest deception in the history of the world. What did the disciples have to gain by lying about Jesus’ resurrection? Why would they die for a lie? Christianity isn’t the most attractive religions out there. It teaches to be self-sacrificing to others, to serve and love those in need, and to obey God above what we may want. It goes against almost all human desires, so why would the teachings of Jesus and his life spread like wildfire and be so prevalent today if it was fake?

    It’s all about Jesus.

    The majority of the Old Testament is prophecy about Jesus and the preparations for his coming into human history. The New Testament starts with Jesus’ life and continues on to document the growth of the early christian church. The NT ends with the book of Revelation, which despite multiple debates on how to interpret the details, it is clear that Jesus will return to finally defeat Satan, restore heaven and earth, and establish his kingdom.

    For a very thorough investigation on the life of Jesus, read through the book of Luke in the New Testament. Luke was a doctor who never actually met Jesus and was not one of the original disciples. He was commissioned to investigate the claims made about Jesus. He travelled for years, conducting interviews and reading through written accounts of Jesus’ life and compiled it into what is now the 3rd gospel.

    Since the Bible holds most of the evidence for Jesus and God, the validity of the bible needs to be examined as well. First here is what Christians believe of the Bible.

    – That it’s the Word of God
    – It is God breathed & Holy Spirit Inspired
    – It is inerrant (If just one part is false then the entire book is rendered false)
    – It contains God’s laws
    – It was written over a period of almost 2000 years
    – Roughly 40 different authors
    – All congruent with itself
    – It contains both prophecies fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled
    – It’s all about Jesus

    The Bible is considered to be a historically accurate book even to those who do not follow the Judeo-Christian faith. The Bible has never been proven wrong or inaccurate in even the smallest detail. Here is a post I did about the Scientific Contradictions in the Bible: http://juanderboy.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/scientific-contradictions-in-the-bible/, (please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors, I am waiting on a friend to help me proof read).

    The Bible has the most copies and manuscripts of any other piece of writing in history. The Dead Sea Scrolls being the most recent findings which closed the gap between the originals to a couple hundred years. Despite the large amounts of translations and versions , there are no errors. However there have been arguments on word preferences, but the main ideas of scripture has remained consistent.

    You want proof for the existence of God? Then I challenge you to read and test the Bible. Truly, read and understand it and you will see that God exists. And even more, you will know in your heart that it’s true. Like I said earlier, we were made in God’s image and likeness. We can connect with him in a way that no other created being can. After a quick study on human communication, you’ll see that less than 20% is verbal and the rest is non-verbal. I believe that God is the same way. He allowed his spirit to move on the hearts of men to write the Bible, but the rest is how we interpret the world around us.

    I hope you take me up on that challenge and as you do I would like you answer a question for me. When people have committed some of the most atrocious acts against the human race all in the name of the Bible, Jesus, or God were they doing what the Bible said, or were they misinterpreting the words and/or skewing them to fit their own agenda to seek power and control? I have not seen Jesus Camp yet but once I do I’ll give you my notes.

    Again, it’s all about Jesus.

    He is our Lord and Savior. When Jesus returns every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is God. The question you will need to answer is, will you be doing that as his friend or his enemy? I know that might sounds harsh, but to not love him and devote your life to him is to reject him as your enemy. I pray that you will come to the saving knowledge of God. I’m sure you know of God, but I hope that one day you will actually know God personally. Once again, have a great day and let me know if there is anything you need prayer for or had any other questions.

    -Juan

    • For now I would like to have you watch an episode of the Atheist Experience or at least the beginning of it. It is episode #716 which you can find at http://atheist-experience.com/archive/ – it specifically deals with the truth of the Bible.

      Right now I am watching the Atheist Experience live so I will finish reading your comment and reply better after that.

  4. I have to admit, I like reading other people’s memoires or diaries, and this one was really interesting for me, I felt quite close to it, for I had such problems too, but not about religion. I feel great that I found here. Such debates are extremely frustrating for me. Especially when someone whom you love starts getting emotional.

    Again, it’s good to find such blog. Keep’em comming!

    • I am glad you enjoyed it and I will consider writing another post like this in the future.

      I also agree that emotions become extremely frustrating when you are attempting to have a logical debate or make a logical point but it is often unavoidable for topics like this one. Religion is constructed so that you rely on it as a source of comfort and your own coping mechanisms are thus impaired. It is just one additional level to the indoctrination.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

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