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After over a decade of mostly ignoring, shutting down, or being more than a little combative in the conversation(s) about god from my very fanatical baptist father, I recently decided to actually start a back and forth email discussion with him. This way we can each take our time to read the others' position, concerns, questions and respond in kind, asking clarifying questions, etc.. without having to deal with interruptions, time restraints, saying things we don't mean, and generally allowing us to take our time, research or look into suggestions or challenges we might pose, and offer a measured, calm response.

I am not expecting to change my father's mind or deconvert him. I don't think there are many things that could. I've told him as much, and made it clear to him that the chances of him "bringing me back to god" are even slimmer. The intent is simply to understand his position as clearly as possible, and for him to understand me. In addition to that I figure it would be beneficial to both of us to ask any questions we may have about each others' position, beliefs, etc.

Admittedly, it has gone fairly predictably so far. But I attribute that more to my initial approach of going almost straight for the questions I have about the bible. So I've sort of hit reset on the conversation and sent a longish (all my emails tend to be lengthy) detailed explanation of when and how I came to where I am. Without getting into science or reason. So now I'm just awaiting his response.

What do you think? Have you had conversations like this with your parents? Do you think it hurt or helped your relationship or mutual understanding with/of them?

By DaveBA51504
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30 comments

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0

I have email conversations with friends around the world on a range of ethical and moral issues - it is a great way to discuss philosophical differences and overlaps

That it is. Great to see ya have a community of friends willing and able to have those intriguing and important conversations with.

6

Communication is good. Doing it in writing is smart.

skado Level 8 June 18, 2019
6

Good for you for keeping dialogue open with your father and having an open mind.

My mother was an atheist. Dad never went to church.

So they were supportive when I became an atheist at age 13.

I kind of envy you for that. I can't help but think of how much better use my dad could have put those thousands of dollars he'd given the church over the years. He could have put it in a college fund for my sister and I. Instead neither of us have so much as an associates degree. Not all his fault, obviously, just a sore point and a what if.

6

I applaud your effort to keep the relationship going with your father, respecting his views, as well as respecting your own right and decision to question religion. Your decision to do this calmly through email is a sound one. You should feel good about it.

Sending him an email based on your feelings is a good place to start as the two of you have an emotional connection, and restoring that trust is necessary to listen to each other. However, at some point your discussion needs to bring in both science and intellect (reason) to validate your continued decision to not follow religion. My switch to atheism was based on my gut telling me that christian behavior, mainly the way they treated me, was not congruent with what they preached. When I joined agnostic.com, I used it to learn more of the scientific, intellectual, and historical justifications why religions of all sorts are just mechanisms to control people.

I have to say Georgetown is one of my favorite Texan towns! My best memory is wine tasting and shopping the square where I found one of my favorite dresses!

The last thing I'll say...you and your dad do not have to agree on everything to have a good relationship. My mother and I disagreed on a lot. I put my foot down (which we are allowed to do as adults) at one point and told her if she wanted to have her daughter in her life we could not talk about certain subjects. Then I listed the subjects. Religion was one. She did respect this, and the last five years of her life we were close, talking every week. I still miss her very much.

Good luck, I think you have a good plan!

linxminx Level 7 June 18, 2019

Thanks for the feed back! I will say, all the science and reason in the world won't likely make my dad understand or approve of my disbelief.... its funny because he fancies himself a scientist. Which is laughable given he refuses to believe evolution, despite all the tangible and even living evidence... he's a computer programmer, and has worked on space projects, like shuttles, sattalites, and rockets.... so he believes the universe is a thing and even admits the possibility of there being intelligent life elsewhere.... so he's not a flat earther at least.... and yet he is a hardcore fundamentalist, believing the majority of the bible, right down to all of Genesis, as being literally true.

@DaveBA5150 I hear you. My mother did not attend church but sent me to every church-based private school under the sun--lutheran, baptist, catholic. She was an independent, divorced woman who raised her daughter pretty much on her own. She would say "religion and churches have some kookie ideas associated with them," yet also insisted our country needed us to be all about God, Church, Marriage, Family & Country. She was a walking contradiction. Although I never really figured out why she talked the talk, but didn't walk the walk was that this christian, conservative side was where her social group was. It's where as a single female, she found her friends and her support network. Religion and education were the areas we would fight over. After not talking for 6 months, I told her we cannot talk religion, education, and politics ever again. Thank goodness she respected that. There were many years prior to this that she did not respect my views and was quite hurtful. I'm glad we had a peaceful relationship before she passed away.

6

I have not. I see no logical reason to go down that path. It makes no difference to me who gets my lack of belief or who doesn't. I totally get their beliefs and why they believe as they do, which is yet another reason I don't bother. Life is so terribly short, I'm not going to waste precious time on things that truly do not matter. I subscribe to the "as I am, as you are" theory of living and letting live.

I can understand that. It may be a failing in my own personality, but I am always interested in what makes people tick. I understand mostly What he believes, not so much the why. So part of this is to try to get some kind of satisfactory answer to that, the other part is just so he can understand my side, even if he is incapable of agreeing

6

I told my father about 8-10 years ago I had doubts. Now I've moved from agnostic to agnostic atheist. I don't think he got it with what I first told him and I don't see a reason to inform him of where I am now. He's very intelligent, but also about to turn 79. Why make him worry that he'll be in Heaven and his son will be burning in Hell?

5

Keep talking with your dad don't lose that

bobwjr Level 9 June 18, 2019
4

hmm, I'm a 4th gen atheist so I can't imagine... however I wonder if it's analogous to the times I've had to 'have a go' at my parents over other issues - they became somewhat racist at one point, think we cured that, and then somewhat cured the standard homophobia of their generation (linked mainly to confusion with pedophilia) and now we're working on resisting Islamophobia... these things are due to reduced inputs as they are in a rural area, no intellectual company, in another language... but gradually they are still able to change their views (age 77+) if we take the time to discuss.

Allamanda Level 8 June 18, 2019

Thats great, sounds like your parents are open to new ideas even if they challenge their own. I envy that. My mom is awesome and very open minded (occasionally a little too much).... polar opposite of my dad. Its a wonder that they remained married for 20+ years before finally divorcing.

4

I think it is good to offer a line of communication with your parents. Whether or not they accept the offer (and you), you are doing what you can. Just remember it is neither in your power nor your responsiblility to change another person.

Buxx Level 7 June 18, 2019
3

Why not? If your aim is to convert him that is disingenuous and just fulfills your desire for him to be like you. If however it is to get to know each other better its a brilliant idea and hopefully encourages a relationship between two people rather than the flailing arms of ‘superior’ ideologies

Geoffrey51 Level 8 June 18, 2019

I could never convert him no matter I try. He's 70 and has been a born again christian for a good 80-90% of his life. There's no teaching that old dog new tricks in terms of thinking. The goal now, is just to understand each others' thoughts and beliefs. Thats it

2

I founf that long exchanges with people, especially men, require bulleted points to further understanding.

Spinliesel Level 8 June 19, 2019
2

I think if you both come from the place of being right and the other wrong, time better spent would be on a topic that would enhance what you both love.

gigihein Level 8 June 18, 2019

I mean I know I'm more right than he is, lol. But no, that's not where my latest email is coming from. All I did, or really intend to do, is state my thoughts or beliefs, and let him do the same. My goal is no longer to debate him. Instead, I realized that most of the time, when I thought of what he believed, its possible I was straw manning him because I've never really cared to actually ask him. I have a good understanding of some of his beliefs, but not a full picture. These conversations are to remedy any misunderstandings we may have of one another.

@DaveBA5150 Great place to come from. I always think if .I believed what they did, I would get it, so it makes sense they don't get me. So refreshing you are working to get each other even when such a difference.

2

I think it sounds perfect what you are doing. No screaming, no raised voices, nobody’s angry face, etc, etc.

Jolanta Level 8 June 18, 2019

Exactly

2

Communication is always good. And having a calm reasoned discussion, if both of you can manage it, is very good. Luckily, my father was a philosopher at heart, and we could discuss anything. Him leaving the church when I was young also made me start questioning it, and put me on the path I'm on today.

2

For the reasons you mentioned, I think it's a great idea to approach the conversation in this manner. I've no helpful experience with it, so I'll just wish you the best of luck!

2

Welcome to the asylum. Enjoy your stay.

Good luck with your plan.

KKGator Level 9 June 18, 2019
1

Always good to talk and even better not to have expectations.

Fernapple Level 8 June 19, 2019

I agree, you can have goals or hopes for a conversation, sure. But to actually fully expect to meet them is just setting yourself up for disappointment

1

Nice try, good effort as well, BUT, in my experiences with my 'mother,' who was a somewhat religious person ( when it suited her) I learned quite early that " you can lead a believer to reason BUT you can't actually make them think."
My Dad, on the other hand, was a 100% full on Atheist and encouraged us children to think for ourselves and never to take things like religion at face value.
Out of the 5 children in my family, 2 are Atheists, my self included, and 3 turned to religion only to eventually realize, later in life, that their father was right after all.

Triphid Level 8 June 18, 2019

I agree completely. Its why I have no expectation of leading my father to reason. The best I can hope for, is that he'll understand MY reasons for being unable to believe, and perhaps provide insights into precisely what he does.... the goal is more to come to a mutual understanding of each other, rather than to have a debate..... I hade tried the debate tactic, all I got in response were bible quotes and more assumptions about what things meant. Showing the typical backward reasoning and mental gymnastics.

@DaveBA5150 Best of luck with reaching a " mutual understanding with your father."
Such things, in my experiences, are extremely rare and hard to attain, though having said that I have actually attained a rare few between my self and members of the clergy from time to time, the first ever being with the Hospital Chaplain when, out his curiosity I suppose, he wanted to discuss with my daughter and I why we were Atheists, etc,
To cut a long story short, after numerous coffees and over an hour of discussing he finally saw that Reasoning, Logic and proven Empirical Facts far out-weigh religious beliefs based solely upon things that can only surmised and never proven.
Perhaps he was not as deeply embedded in his beliefs as he always thought so, just maybe, a similar type of tactic/discussion MAY yet yield results with your father.

1

Congratulations. You're all grown up now. Or not.

It was necessary to say firmly and clearly that I will not be treated like a child. I am a man.

First Corinthians 13:11

uuberdude Level 7 June 18, 2019

Lol

1

A calm dialogue can always be helpful, wish you well on your journey.

oldFloyd Level 7 June 18, 2019

Thanks!

1

Oof....
Really I don’t see the point.
It’s like a marriage or friendship argument that is never won.
Either you both agree to disagree or you part ways.

If we have to win an argument with a loved one, then we already lost.

I’m not saying that’s what you are doing here. It sounds like you just want to be understood, but how can he understand?
He has faith.
That’s a conversation ender.
There is no counter argument to that.

I mean fuck they believe in magic of all things.
That’s no different then Santa Claus to us.

But they believe this shit man.

As a young man I told my mother there was no god. That’s something that has permanently injured her. The worry it has created for her is something I feel regretful for.

To me it has nothing to do with religion. It’s just simply a kind gesture to a wonderful woman that has never done any wrong to me.
She never pushes her beliefs on me, but I know she’s worried about my soul.

Yeah yeah yeah, roll your eyes and say what you will, but my mother is a good honest hard working human being that would give a stranger her last dollar.

I would stop the conversation with your father. Each of you know where the other stands.

Can you each live and respect each other with your respected differences?

If not then go your separate ways and deal with those consequences individually. I don’t speak to my father and for now I’m good with that.

You can’t make an elephant be a lion my friend.

Good luck

darthfaja Level 7 June 18, 2019

The thing is, I DON'T think he knows where I stand. Your mother sounds a lot like him actually. I don't think he really understands what I mean when I say I'm an Atheist. I've tried explaining it before, but not sure how successfully. That is part of the point. He loves me, and despite how shitty I feel about it, I can't say I love him. At the same time, he is, or at least tries to be, a good man. So I want to understand him in turn. Thats it.

1

It's good to practice tolerance of another person's ideas when they disagree with us (generally, anyway. I don't mean we shouldn't argue or work against beliefs or ideas that we think are clearly wrong or bad.). Maybe these discussions are beneficial to the relationship between you and your dad, too.

MST3K Level 8 June 18, 2019
0

I never had these kinds of conversations because I didn't care about my family's beliefs and they didn't care about my lack of. I didn't need to understand them - they didn't need to understand me. I wasn't threatened by them and they weren't threatened by me. We had far more important things to talk about and and it was these far more important issues that kept us together and engaged. I was lucky perhaps - my family didn't care if I didn't show up for church - but they sure appreciated when I was there on a cold Vermont day to shovel the driveway or bring in extra firewood. Or when I cooked for my grandparents when my grandmothers' breathing got worse or when I tended my grandfathers' garden after his hip surgery. These issues or events or whatever you want to cell them are far more important than our religious differences.

SLBushway Level 7 June 20, 2019
0

I think after a certain point, the best thing to do is to get away from all the arguments and explanations of why you are where you are in your thinking on being religious or non-religious, and both people need to just agree to move on from the issue and just live life as two people who care about each other. Enjoy the every day things. Share in the love of the kids. Talk about your jobs. Etc etc etc. I know it's easier said than done because one person in the conversation might be more biased towards the other for their beliefs, but I think it's important to try it.

To be honest... I have exactly zero interest in his life. Occasionally we have interesting discussions regarding computers, or various other topics, but the moment he starts prattling on about his life, I tune out. This conversation is me puting in effort to talk

0

During a conversation, even a written one, some people don't react well to positions that appear to challenge their own thinking. They won't see the other side in the heat of the moment because it's painful to be wrong. Emotions take over. Time and space are the key, here. It is not easy to change one's hard-felt belief system without facing personal embarrassment. Many people who know they are wrong need to be alone with those feelings for a while before they can admit to them...and that's where you need to butt out and just let it happen. Or not.

And, at the end of the day, some people are just not able to go all the way on that journey. We have to let those people be. They need the safety and comfort of that certainty and it's not our business to be pulling the rug out from under them. We must stand aside or we face damaging the relationship, and we'll deserve at least some of the blame for it.

The best thing we can do is state facts as we know them as plainly and clearly as possible and let them soak in on their own. No arguing, no display of negative emotion, just plain words that simply state a position.

It took my father some time to come around. Plain words, solid facts, and the space to be wrong without embarrassment proved to be the way to go. That's the best we can hope for.

Edit: of course, if we have a specific intention of changing someone's mind, we have to expect the conversation to go south at some point. If that is your goal, give up on the idea. That's no better than conversion therapy.

Shawno1972 Level 6 June 19, 2019

sighs I appreciate your input, but if you had read the actual post you might have seen the part where I explain I have no intention or expectation to change his mind. In fact, I suspect he uses his faith to keep him on the straight and narrow. If there's a hell, then acting on certain urges I suspect he may have, would condemn him to it. Now I don't believe in gods, devils, heaven or hell, but if he does and it keeps him from acting the way I suspect he would otherwise feel compelled, then so be it.

The entire point of the conversation, is to attempt to understand him, and he me. Perhaps if he realizes why I don't believe, he'll give up preaching to me. I mean he's gotten better about it since, a few years ago, when I explained in no uncertain terms, that starting in on a sermon is the best way to immediately be hung up on. But he still sneaks god talk into birthday cards and letters tacked onto gifts.

This is my way of keeping a dialog open with him without being bored to hell of him going on and on about what he's been up to with his wife or step-grandchildren. Because I truly could not care even a little less.

@DaveBA5150 I did read it, and I didn't miss the part where you stated you weren't trying to change your dad's mind or deconvert him. I added that last bit as an edit after the fact, based on some things you said in comments below some of the replies. But we can set that aside, as there appear to be other more pressing matters at hand:

In another thread, you stated you and your mom believe your dad may be a pedophile. It turns out that you have bigger fish to fry than reading opinions on the internet.

Best of luck.

More suspect, based on circumstantial, and therefore unprovable evidence that he may have an unhealthy attraction to significantly underage girls. Though that certainly is a concern of mine, I have no reason or evidence to leade me to believe he has acted on any attraction or urges he may feel. As such, unless I learn otherwise, there really isn't any purpose in acting as though it is true, instead I remain alert for any slipups in speech or action to offer more insight.

So until I have some method of concretely confirming or dismissing my suspiscions, I remain vigilant yet Agnostic. I always appreciate feedback, so I do thank you for yours.

0

I wish my Evangelical mother was not a Narcissist. It makes any sort of respectful conversation with her utterly impossible (because she just about refuses to respect people who are different than she is). Her standard answer for everything since the beginning of my time is "NO, {name} THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS." And then she resorts to personal attacks and martyrdom/victimhood with a lot of yelling and banging her fists.

I do not have any debate skills...I only picked up the traits she modeled for me: personal attacks, name-calling, bullying, victimhood. (I don't vocalize them like she does. I'm the opposite of a Narcissist: I'm an empath/HSP.) So I'm not the type who is even capable of debating with her or anyone. But I know a few extremely intellgent and well-read people who I would LOVE to see discuss Christianity with her. I would love to see her brought down a few notches. I would love for someone to plant some seeds-of-thought in her mind. And I would also love to hear the depths of the things she believes, not just what she's taught me.

But she is impossible and hate-filled, and this would be a waste of my time.
I have no idea what my dad believes, other than I know he's a born-again Christian. He's very impersonal and private. I suspect he would use humor to try and stop the debate. He's not the type to discuss......anything important.

MayQueen Level 6 June 19, 2019

I'm sorry to hear that. It is always especially difficult to communicate with people like that. I'm fortunate that my dad is the type that at least tries to be good, humble, loving of all. Despite that he has a history of really overplaying the pious part. To the point that he just comes off as self righteous and judging. He's emotional without the benefit of actual empathy for others.

I might suggest, perhaps, depending on your current relationship with her, would an email be worth writing? Not for the same goal as I've mentioned by efforts gearing towards, but just to let her know how you feel, without strictly labeling her as a bad guy/gal. Just using a bit of introspection, like a one way letter she can respond to, or not. No debate needed there

@DaveBA5150
It's not worth it to open up to her or to attempt a mature/respectful conversation. Anything I say will be taken as a personal attack, and she'll turn it around to make herself the victim of "such an ungrateful daughter." Then she'll bring up all the things she resents me for, all the ways she "tried to raise me right" and how I've failed her and what did she EVER do to deserve to be "treated this way". She flies off the handle at the most mundane things. She's incapable of introspection and empathy because she's a Narcissist. It's all about her, never about me.

I pick my battles. It's a waste of time and energy, unfortunately.

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