Afternoon Inquisition, 11.28

Most of you are probably still recovering from eating, shopping, spending time with family etc.  I’m no exception, of course.  Although I didn’t grow up with the tradition of Thanksgiving, we always go to my husband’s family for Thanksgiving and I’ve learned to really love this holiday and to hold to the same traditions they have for their entire lives – the turkey, the football, the early morning shopping trips…  But I enjoy it and they have always made me feel included and welcome into these traditions even though they are mostly foreign to me … that’s sort of what family is all about,  I think :) But I digress. On to the Inquisition!

When you spend time with your family (direct or distant) for the holidays, do you have to temporarily change anything about yourself, skeptical, religious or otherwise?  Do you find yourself acting differently either for the sake of harmony or simply because that’s how you’ve always related to them (no pun intended)?  Is that good or bad?


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. When I spend time with my in-laws, I try really hard not to be as chatty. Mostly because anything out of my mouth identifies me as different: as a NY city girl, everything I do or say points out how unlike my midwestern in-laws I really seem to be.

    As you might imagine, sometimes I just can’t keep my trap shut, but I try.

    Also, I’ll note we’re spending Thanksgiving weekend at home, with friends and movies and baking, and not with the in-laws.

  2. If my relatives visit me, I don’t change anything.

    If I visit them, if they have kids I try to curtail my foul mouth.

    If they are Christians, I sit quietly while they say grace (I don’t participate though), and I also try not to use too much profanity, and I don’t drink if they do not allow alcohol in their homes. If we go to a restaurant, I drink whatever I want.

    Basically, I try to respect how they run their homes. If I am too uncomfortable with their rules for 24/7, I stay at a hotel. I expect them to respect how I run my home too. They had a little trouble with the fact that we don’t say grace, no not even at Thanksgiving. And we don’t allow prostelyzation in our home. I don’t mind talking about their church and whatnot, because it’s a big part of their lives. But they are not allowed to try to convert anyone while they are visiting us. (And likewise, we would not try to deconvert their friends while visiting them.)

  3. When I hang out with friends, I’ll openly challenge things they say that seem silly, biased, or simply aren’t supported. My friends appreciate it (or they probably wouldn’t be my friends, would they?).

    With family, on the holidays, though, I tend to bite my tongue. I don’t get to choose my family, you see.

    Under different circumstances, I might challenge and argue with family members — we argue with people because we care about them, after all — but at the holidays I keep my peace. Pursing topics that get heated would “ruin” the day for most of my family, and make them less amenable to reasoned argument in the future.

  4. I used to, mainly because my dad was simultaneously a bullying prick and also a rampaging godbot. But since he died (good riddance), I’ve felt much freer to be myself around my family. I don’t go off on tirades about how god doesn’t exist or whatever, so that makes it a lot easier.

    (Although I did rant about my grandfather’s funeral, where some asshole preacher tried to make the whole thing about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus even though my grandfather stopped going to church after his wife died and, worse, that he completely avoided talking about anything my grandfather actually, you know, did while he was alive. And he didn’t have a boring life story, the guy was an Okinawan-American who served in the Army at the end of WWII… Bah, still a sore point with me. Stupid god botherers with their fucked-up priorities.)

    But anyway, eh. My mom knows I’m an atheist. It doesn’t seem to bother her much, even though she’s still a church-going Christian. My little brother made a couple of lame comments about the Darwin sticker on my MacBook, but even he, despite taking after my dad in a lot of ways, mostly doesn’t bring it up. I don’t bring it up, either, but not because I’m hiding anything. It’s just that, you know, I consider the main advantage of being an atheist to be that we’re perfectly free to utterly ignore this supposed god thing that doesn’t exist. Because it doesn’t exist, so what does it care if we rail against it? Seems a bit silly to make a fuss.

  5. When my mother says “God put the animals here on Earth for us to USE!” I’ll respond “Now that’s the attitude that has led abuse and destruction of the very environment we require to survive.”
    Somehow my mother and I always get into loud political discussions. Her being a conservative Mormon we tend to disagree a lot.

    The biggest change is that if my mother isn’t invited, myself, one of my sisters, and one of my brothers will get out the beer and liquor.

  6. Not really. My family are part of what is what referred to as the “Pinko, Commie, Catholic, European, Left-wing Intellectual, Liberal Elite, Champagne Socialists”

    The big problem for us is scaring off family member’s wives/girlfs/husbands/boyfs who, having not grown up it, are shocked by the “full and frank exchange of ideas” that usually takes place.

    The idea that the whole family wouldn’t argue for eight hours or more seems a bit odd to me. You can disagree with someone totally but still love and respect them, in fact I don’t think I could even like someone I couldn’t have a decent, vigorous, argument with.

  7. I used to go to church with my family on major holidays because I thought it would make my conservative Catholic father happy. That all stopped the Christmas he started screaming at me that I was “losing Pascal’s wager.” I now behave how I like when I visit for the holidays, but we generally try to avoid talking about religion or politics.

  8. Like many others, I too have a very christian (extended) family. My immediate family is relatively laid back, and despite my mother’s own spiritual beliefs (a very open type of christianity) we seem to thoroughly enjoy every discussion we have on the subject of religion. My extended family, however, is very different. They are a very conservative lot and I find I have to keep my mouth shut in order to keep the peace. It’s a big family – and things have been overly dramatic in the past. They’ve already “cut us off” from certain events, so when we do get together we try to be very civil between each other. There’s the occasional person I can argue with and have no hard feelings after, but that’s rare… and I can count how many relatives that is on a single hand, out of about 50 :| As I said… big family…

  9. I’m very fortunate. My mom’s side of the family (the side we have Thanksgiving dinner with) is very liberal. While most of them are Christians there’s a large percentage of us that are atheists and everyone knows it. Last night my uncle, who as far as i know is Christian, asked me if i was familiar with Michael Shermer and told me about some stuff of his that he’d read as well as stuff by Richard Feynman. I believe he was also the first one to tell me about E.O. Wilson.

    Then later my grandmother told me that lately she’d been having her doubts about God. She said she was having trouble with some of the logic of it. Then she told me about how my grandfather was on some church committee and was one of the ones trying to get the church to allow gay pastors.

    I rode to Houston from Dallas with some family of mine, and for part of the way we listened to the SGU.

    My dad’s side of the family is a different matter though. I’d really like for them to know that i’m an atheist/skeptic but i don’t want to be the one to tell them.

    But like i said, for the most part i’m pretty fortunate.

  10. Because my family doesn’t know what I do for work, I do have to lie. The risk of disclosing my job would be more damaging than lying to them – thus, I don’t think that it is a bad thing that I do it. Instead, I consider it a just lie. Most of the time it isn’t direct but I try to avoid overt lying and don’t really talk about work with people. That also makes me feel less bad about it. Unfortunately, my family is pretty intolerant. They also don’t know that I’m bisexual and only know that I have done activist work – they don’t know the full extent or the wide variety of things I’ve been involved in.

    Aside from not discussing my sexuality or work with them, I’m pretty much normal around them. I do all the geeky things around them that I talk about online, I still sing goofy songs and even still dress in my snug little goth-ish clothes (much to their disapproval). I find that taking this approach still leads to some conflicts at times since my interest in science leads to a lot of debate when my family really considers most sciences I’m interested in as counter to what they consider to be the best for the world. I figure that letting that part of me show without showing other things is something that can help gently lead them into a better way of thinking instead of making the parts of me that I know they’d be overly opposed to all show up and create too much controversy for them to listen to the smaller points that could some day lead to a better understanding to them as their knowledge is built.

    note: I’m working on the phones right now and so I’m hoping this post is half way coherent as I’m talking and working at the same time and that often leads to horrible mistakes in what I write.

  11. Around my immediate family I’m pretty much normal. We have disagreements, but they don’t bother us much, and we can go from a heated argument to wonder who that guy in the movie is without missing a beat. My extended family is largely conservative christians, and I tend to bit my tongue around them, because it just isn’t worth starting a fight. Most of the rest of my immediate family does the same. Which could be why we stayed at my parents for Thanksgiving this year.

  12. In my extended family we don’t discuss politics, religion or similar things, so there’s no conflict.

    In my extended family we’re more frank, but my opinions are close enough to my parents that there’s no conflict. That and neither of them take disagreement as a personal insult.

    My brother and I used to have wonderful political arguments, its one of things I miss about leaving Hamilton.

  13. My husband and I are still closet atheists around the family which is not a big deal around my family since they have never talked much about it. Besides, they always thought I was a little odd because I have been interested in science all my life and none of them did very well in that subject. My husband’s family are very Mormon. They aren’t particularly obnoxious about it, but it is a way of life for them. They have a large portrait of Jesus over the mantle and various churchy saying around the house. We try not to be the ones picked to pray, but if we are we just kinda try to get through it. I don’t mind. Praying means nothing to me, but it is important to them and I still respect and love them all very much. They know we are “liberal” and they still invite us over. It’s only a matter of time before my son tells his Grandma Sue that we’ve been going to the UU church. I expect they will send the missionaries to our house about 5 minutes after that. I’m still trying to decide what to do when my son turns 8 and he will be expected to be baptized into the church. That issue might make for some interesting holidays in a few years.

  14. Perversely, I keep it cool in front of strangers and extended family, but I go with both guns and my close family. Especially my older brother, when he’s around. I can’t help myself. It’s because of him that I minored in philosophy at school. (He’s an unlettered fundy. With all due modesty, the arguments tend to be one-sided.)

    I am picking up hints of nonbelief from the older batch of nieces (ranging from 20 to 14 years old). Much to their parents’ dismay (assuming they know about it).

    But it’s my brother who gets it right in the teeth, until mom threatens to stab us with a fork.

    I think with my in-laws for X-mas, I’ll stick with low key. :)

  15. Bjornar – do you mind if I digress and ask why your gravatar has a cork in his ear? Pure, unadulterated curiosity! Please, forgive…

  16. I bite my tongue. It’s a miracle (har har) that there’s anything left of it.

    14 year old cousin talks about seeing Expelled and it making her weep during the Holocaust part…tongue in teeth…manouver to Holocaust discussion rather than religious one.

    Aunt talks about the new Kirk Cameron movie about staying with one’s spouse above all else…involuntary scoff at Cameron somehow exhuming his acting career, followed by removing a tongue chunk.

    14 year old cousin (again) tell the inpsirational story of ‘martyrs’ who went to convert a hunter gatherer tribe in the Amazon and got killed. The tribe was later brought to Jesus by the martyrs’ wives…tongue…so…bloody.


  17. This Thanksgiving I stayed more quiet than usual. My cousin just died after a long illness. As she was dying she had “visions of heaven” and began “prophesying”. The things she said were very comforting to my aunt and uncle. She said things like she saw Jesus, her sister (who died as an infant) and our grandpa. I felt that pointing out that she was on heavy painkillers and having seizures would have been cruel. They need as much comfort as they can get at this point even if it isn’t 100% real.

  18. I tend to take the same approach as writerdd for much the same reasons. It isn’t much of an issue, as we are very far from family and the chance to get together for a holiday does not happen often.

    I wish my sister and brother-in-law were more like James K’s family, but they are VERY far away and we no longer speak except for family emergencies because of their tendency to turn even a remark about nice weather into a witnessing or “It’s all the liberal’s faults” rant. I got to the STFU stage, that’s all.

    @stacie: I’d probably have to bite my tongue bloody at that last one myself. IMHO, the missionaries that get killed and grilled deserve it.

    @juri: sorry to hear about your Dad screaming about Pascal’s Wager at you. :-( Too bad you didn’t have the phrase “false dichotomy” at hand. Tends to know them right off of their high horses.

    @DNAMom: They tried that on me once. I just told them that we would have thirty seconds of silence for each person to be thankful in his/her own way. ;-) Funny how I was never asked again… I guess that prayer or a blessing must be loud and in public to be “valid.” (Sounds like the disclaimer on a coupon, “This prayer not valid where disapproved of by the majority, some restrictions apply, see Owner’s Manual for full disclosure. Not valid were prohibited or taxed.”

  19. Never really comes up, for me: I spend family gatherings either playing with the little kids, or off in a corner reading.

  20. I generally avoid talking about politics and religion, but if one of my relatives says something I find difficult to swallow, I challenge them on it. I’d like to say I’m non-confrontational, but I tend to get passionate about several subjects. But, I say my piece and let the conversation continue. I don’t try to push my opinions on anyone.

    This Thanksgiving the topic of gay marriage came up and my sister-in-law was in favor or civil unions, but not gay marriages. I asked her how that was not discrimination and got into a conversation with my husband’s 80 year old grandfather about it. His grandparents are mostly liberal and he agreed that the government should not discriminate based on a religious point of view, but he had trouble with it due to his religion. He supports legalizing gay marriage, but says he cannot personally support gay marriage. While I was still bothered by the religious bias, I was encouraged that he at least was willing to uphold the separation of church and state and let people live their own lives as they saw fit.

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