Afternoon InquisitionRandom AsidesSkepticism

AI: O Brother, Why Aren’t Thou?

I have two beautiful sisters and a brother (who, I should say, is also quite beautiful). We are all close, and we have shared some wonderful family moments together over the years.

But you know something? My siblings don’t think about things the same way I do. They don’t behave the same way in the same circumstances, they don’t laugh at the same jokes, they don’t find the same injustices in the world that I do. They don’t get the same rush out of solving an intellectually challenging problem, they don’t stay up all night discussing whether skepticism leads to atheism, they don’t search for avenues of interest that fall outside of their boundaries of normal, they don’t see the folly and brilliance of politics, nor the power and depth of culture, they don’t rail against postmodernists for dubious uses of language while saying nothing, they don’t sample the same art, they are not enamored of the avant-garde, they don’t worry that science literacy might be waning in the US, they don’t revere critically thinking the same way I do.

And I want them to. I want them to be spokespeople for science and rationality. I want them to know what I know. I want them to do what I do.

Now, I learned a long time ago that my siblings are individuals. Those first few paragraphs are simply a springboard for today’s discussion. My sisters and brother are separate people with their own unique personalities and identities, and it’s unfair of me to expect them to be exactly like me. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t like them much if they were exactly like me.

But I wonder about the differences. I mean, we have the same parents. We were raised in the same environment. Why aren’t we more alike?

But what about you?

Do you have siblings? Do they think like you do? Are you concerned/embarrassed by the things they do and say? Are you the “Black Sheep”, or is it one of your siblings? Do you try to sway them to your way of seeing the world? Do you care?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. “Do you have siblings? ”


    … crap, guess I can’t answer any of the other ones …

    … awkward. *whistles quietly*

    I always wish I had siblings, though. I feel that my anti-social nature might not have occurred had I had siblings to grow up interacting with. As it is, I grew up isolated and segregated myself from the majority of my peers because I just didn’t really know how to -be- a social person. My parents didn’t exactly teach me, either, so having siblings might have helped a great deal.

  2. My brother became* a redneck bible-thumper with a giant cross tattoo on his shoulder. Not very much like this atheist progressive. No idea how that happened.

    * I say “became” because we grew up as upper middle-class suburbanites. He chose to become a redneck!

  3. Sam, I certainly empathize with you. You said your siblings don’t revere critical thinking, but do they engage in it, at least?

    I only have one sibling, a brother. Politically and religiously (as in, NOT), we’re very similar. But then so is our mother. We’re all big fans of science. I love my brother, but living far away can be a wonderful thing. After about a week we get on each other’s nerves. Well, I’m assuming I get on his, ’cause he sure gets on mine. He frequently needs to take a chill pill. But he is a fantastic man!

    Personality-wise, we’re very different.

    I don’t think of either of us as the black sheep, though we’re certainly among the more functional of my extended family, at least on the one side of my family.

  4. There are 5 of us. Four sisters and me. We were all raised Catholic. There’s one Catholic sister left, another one’s a Lutheran, the last two sisters are re-born Christian’s. I’ve come “out of the closet” athiest to the Catholic and Lutheran. I’m pretty sure the other two Christian’s know but they don’t let on.

    But in the end, I’m not sure they would choose me or their faith if push came to shove.

    I guess it’s fortunate we don’t live within a days drive of each other.

  5. @CyberLizard:

    I’ve seen that before! How does that even enter someone’s head?


    You said your siblings don’t revere critical thinking, but do they engage in it, at least?

    Yeah, they are fairly rational people, but there are some areas where they don’t mind remaining blind.

  6. My brother is a “liberal” Christian. I am most definitely not. Otherwise, we seem remarkably similar in lots of ways. Although, I like reading books a lot more than he does.

  7. I have 3 siblings, 1 brother & 2 sisters. As for whether or not we share the same beliefs, that is hard to say as we have determined 4 subjects that we don’t discuss, sex, religion, war & politics, except in the negative when any of the above would cause a problem. Then we usually agree.

  8. I have two older brothers. We were raised in a devout Catholic household and we are now all liberal atheists. We were raised in the Midwest and all chose to move to Southern California. We’ve chosen different career paths, but we all are similarly minded and get along well despite large age gaps between each of us.

  9. So you want to know about my sister the firewalker… ? Aside from that she’s smart and a pretty rational banker type who’s married to a great guy.

  10. I have one brother, 24, a devout Christian, who was raised by our parents; both of whom are devout fundamentalist Christians. I’m an agnostic/atheist 26 year old former fundamentalist Christian.
    I attended the same summer Bible camps as my brother, and sat next to him in the back seat every Sunday while my dad drove my mom, brother and I to church, and memorized the same bible verses in AWANA (an evangelical children’s foundation). This routine remained unbroken until I started high school. When I entered my junior year, I decided to join the debate team. While my National Forensiscs League career was somewhere short of stellar, I nevertheless gathered the powerful tools of freethought and critical thinking. It was this year I began to call into question my commitment to a deity whose relationship to even the most fervent of followers is tenuous at best.
    Throughout high school, and into his college career, my brother attended church camps, first as a camper, then as a counselor. To this day, our divergent experiences separate us ideologically. However, we still remain best of friends. As a matter of fact, I just finished a discussion with him on Skype about the validity of the Gospels, before I read this post. I prefer heated discussions on Skype because when I come upon some good evidence, I share my screen.
    My family still believes I’m going to hell because I don’t accept the validity of Jesus as the savior of all mankind. While this provides plenty of interesting fodder over the holidays, it’s usually civil. I still love my family, and I though I may be a black sheep, I’m proud to offer a different shade of wool.

  11. One brother that thinks and acts much the same way I do. If we hung around more often we would probably get on each others nerves (who wouldn’t be annoyed by an exact clone of oneself), but since we only see each other occasonally we is cools.

    I have a family and he is, as they used to say, a “confirmed bachelor”, either asexual or gay. I don’t know, or care, which. Its just that thats the only real difference between us.

    That sentence was one of the hardest things to make clear that I have ever written.

  12. Both my brothers are very conservative Christians. I know that the younger of the two is a young earth creationist and we have had arguments. The older of the two threatened to kill me over biblical inerrancy.
    My mom and her husband teach classes on biblical astronomy and creation science.
    My sister is a pretty liberal christian, mostly in name only. She is the “well there has to be somethings out there” types without any real dogma.
    So I am the weird one. :)

  13. I have two younger brothers. They are both like me in some ways, and unlike me in others, though not necessarily the same ways. They’re even like each other in some ways and not like me.

    They see the world somewhat like I do, even if they’re not as conscious of and interested in rational thinking and skeptisism as I am. They may have the odd off the wall opinion that I disagree with, but I’m not embarassed by either of them, and I don’t think they’re embarassed (much) by me.

  14. My brother and I both distanced ourselves from our Methodist upbringing starting in high school, and continuing through college. I started getting annoyed with churchie hypocrisy, so I stopped dealing with it.

    I didn’t start looking at it closely and turning vocally against organized religion (and the dangers blindly following arguments from authority) until post-college. I had more time on my hands without $1 pitchers every night.

    My brother has mostly the same path, maybe started on it a little younger than I did. He introduced me to the internet-atheists, and I have never looked back.

    We are both going to hell as black sheep, although neither of us have won this prize* at Xmas…yet.

    *Yes, we have a prize for whoever ruins Xmas.

  15. I have two brothers and none of us is much like the other two. Though to be fair they are my step-brothers. Still they’re not like each other. In fact my youngest brother is more like me than the other one. I think all three of us are black sheep in some respects.


    Curiously that’s exactly what I would have written about the elder of my two step-brothers.

    I have two daughters, who do share both parents (AFAIK), and they are totally unlike. Other than both being beautiful and smart.

  16. My parents converted from Catholicism to atheism when I was about 9. My family is all fairly intelligent and we were raised to respect logic and reason.

    My brother is fairly similar to me. He’s a more into sports and is more comfortable around people. I’m more into nerdism and the life of the mind, but there is very little we disagree about. My sister is not a practicing skeptic (or anything for that matter). She’s comfortable around our skepticizing, but she’d rather spend her time watching a horse race or (gasp) NASCAR.

    My family does think I’m deeply strange, however, because of my refusal to ride in cars or airplanes. I’m hoping the TSA will help push them into my camp.

  17. @quarksparrow: Your comment goes so well with your avatar.

    I’m about as close to a Black Sheep as my family has, which is to say, I was always the weird artsy one. I have a brother who is a bit over 2 years younger and we have always been polar opposites; emotionally, mentally, interests, you name it. Our orthodontist even told us that he’d never seen 2 brothers with such wildly differing teeth (mine: huge gaps. his: crowded pile-ups).
    As for the last part of the question, I am a pretty persuasive talker, but my brother is stubborn as all hell, so I guess it’s a wash.

  18. @mrmisconception:
    Yeah, I said something like the pool in the temple of Solomon could not have been 10 cubits across and 30 around without some seriously shoddy workmanship, as the circumference would have been off by roughly 1.4 cubits (25 inches/65 cm or so, which is a pretty noticeable amount) and that guy who wrote the story probably never saw the thing and was making it all up.
    He replied with something like “Next time I see you, I ‘m putting a bullet in you”. To his credit, he didn’t and we have even gone shooting since (with his large collection of firearms!).
    He is much mellower now that he does not drink coffee any more.

  19. I have two brothers, one older, one younger. All three of us are intelligent; I think my older brother a bit less so, though he’s the most mathematically inclined (and the only one to follow my dad as an engineer), my younger brother being the most intelligent, and I being, IMO, the most prone to brilliant leaps (that others then insist that I go back and prove).

    There’s a number of similarities between us. All are SF/Fantasy readers (though my older brother influenced that by buying and loaning books to his younger brothers) with a heavy interest in gaming (me the most). All have senses of humor similar to my father, though Ryan, the youngest, tends towards dry.

    None of us dated much; I’m not actually sure if Ryan has ever gone on a date, Mike’s only date in high school was the result of someone tricking him (I drek you not; she claimed to need an escort to the ball for some extracurricular they were in… when he found out she didn’t actually NEED so much as WANT one, my mom made him keep the date, anyway); I didn’t date in high school, just tended to have a lot of female friends (who I hopelessly lusted after).

    Of the three of us, Ryan tends to be the bridge between Mike and I; it’s not that Mike and I dislike each other, but there’s certainly a larger degree of distance. I am the most liberal, politically and socially, of the three of us. I’m also fairly freely acknowledged as Mom’s favorite, while Dad, Mike and Ryan all have a pretty deep bond.

    I think a lot of what shaped us into similar people is similarity of experience, combined with similarity of genetics. Moving around meant that I seldom had the same teachers as my older brother, but we did a lot of the same activities (Boy Scouts, soccer), all had our father as a pretty big and constant influence, and tended to be brought together by our constant moves. The differences between us can somewhat be attributed to different early experiences (plus obvious things, like my bipolar). Mike was an only child for four years before I came along; I always had an older brother, and Ryan was both the “baby” and a creepy little mutant. ;-) It made everyone’s experience a bit different, and when you juggle some genes and our family’s different circumstances (father’s promotions and mom going back to work leading to a steady gain in affluence, different places lived during formative years), you get three people who have a lot of similarities, but certainly aren’t the same.

  20. I have one brother, and quite frankly we don’t talk much about politics, religion, or much else. I love my brother, but he’s a white male Marine, maybe ADD but otherwise neurotypical, who AFAIK goes to church, at least for political reasons. I’m a white female library aide, feminist, on the autistic spectrum, going back to school for training to become a librarian, and pretty much against any career that has a high probability of people shooting at my brother. Plus I’m an atheist (out in name to only my mother, but the rest of the family knows I’m not as religious as I used to be).

    We don’t have much in common, so when he’s home we mostly talk TV, or sports, or play Scrabble.

    It’s hard to say who’s the “Black Sheep”. In going for a white-collar, civil service, intellectual job, I’m more like my parents and what I think they wanted for us. My brother’s the one with offspring (singular), though, and by going in the Marines, he’s continuing a pattern of military service in my family’s history (grandfathers in the Army and Coast Guard, uncles in the Navy).

    I care deeply about my brother, but we’re never going to agree on much, so mostly I just let him have his opinions and I have mine, and we don’t let it bother us too much that we don’t agree.

    Then again, he isn’t a Bible-thumper, and he hasn’t come out with any crazy geocentric or “woo-worthy” ideas, so that’s probably part of the reason why there’s no drama.

  21. @hkdharmon: Wow, keep him away from the Starbucks. :)

    I once brought up the whole pi=3 in the bible thing during a discussion and was was told by a fellow skeptic that nitpicking like that doesn’t help the cause.
    I told him that if this was just “some old book” I’d agree but since they claim it as the unerring word of god he could at least get the fucking math right.
    After hearing your story however, he may have been right. :o

  22. I come from a long line of ultra-conservative Church of Christ fundamentalists. I “came out” as an atheist at the time of my divorce five years ago.

    My father is a preacher for a rural Church of Christ and my brother is now a sophomore at the same Church of Christ-affiliated college I went to 20 years ago (yeah he’s 20 years younger than me).

    He’s studying to be a preacher/missionary and he and his girlfriend who he’s been dating since he was a sophomore in high school spend each summer now in some “mission field” so to say we don’t really agree on much is an understatement.

    They all live in TN and I live in FL so we rarely see each other but when we do there’s always a certain uneasiness underneath everything.

    I’m guessing it’s just the fact that they think I’m going to hell and I think they’re all batshit insane, at least in their religious beliefs. He even hit me once a few years ago with the old “I ain’t no monkey, I didn’t come from no monkey” line, to which I replied “No you’re not a monkey, you just share a common ancestor with one, you should really go look that stuff up.” I think it kind of blew his mind because he never brought it up again.

    It’s really strange, my brother and my parents can be reasonable people other than that whole Jesus shtick.

  23. “How did you turn out so much different than your brothers?”

    My wife has asked me that so many times over the last twenty years and I still don’t have a good answer.

    Do they think like I do? Absolutely not. I have always been the analytical and introspective person. More swayed by reason than emotion. It has served me well for my 50-plus years. They are much more conservative and have a much narrower world view than I. I attribute much of this to the fact that I have had an opportunity in my adult life to be exposed to many different cultures and experiences through travels to different parts of the world. They have, for the most part, stayed within their comfortable, white, middle class suburban bubble. Working and socializing with people exactly like themselves for almost their entire lives. They seem for the most part to be content and comfortable with this arrangement. But it makes me feel sad for them because it has only served to narrow their their minds and hearts to so much that is available to them. It has stunted their curiosity and made them comfortable in their own ignorance.

    Do they embarrass me by things they say? No, it doesn’t embarrass me, it makes me sad that they will never be comfortable with anything outside their own very shallow world.

    Am I the “black sheep”? Oh, definitely YES! Not just relative to my siblings, but pretty much within my entire extended family. But hey, you get used to it.

    Do I try to sway them? Well, I get my digs in when I can, but they are really not amenable to discussion as they are not only conservative, they are fundamentalist Christians, which really doesn’t help.

    Do I care that they are so different? Sometimes, yes. We have slowly drifted apart over the years because of these very differences. As I was once a fundamentalist myself, I can understand why they feel they way they do. But it saddens me to see them getting more and more hardened in their views as time goes by. For all their talk of Christian joy, I see only angry and fearful individuals whose spiritual views have simply heightened a sort of siege mentality against what they view as a wicked and innately sinful world. I am so happy that I am no longer held prisoner by this ball and chain they are dragging around through their life. My journey to where I am today took the better part of twenty years and was the result of a lot of inner searching and curiosity that I’m not sure exists within my brothers. They have settled into a very binary view of the world. There is little to no nuance in their thinking. And I’m afraid that without that ability to see shades of gray in a lot of what goes on in their lives, they might well be incapable of change. I haven’t given up hope, but I have a hard time seeing the situation changing.

  24. Do you have siblings?

    Yes, one of each sex.

    Do they think like you do?

    No. My sister is into some kinds of woowoo such as chemtrails, intelligent water. etc.; my brother belives in marriage (twice) and populating the world with sprogs, and his current wife is into homeopathy (although her kids constantly present her with skeptic-based information on what a scam it is — and that’s alot of fun to witness). Happily no one in my family is religious, although my parents had a sort of weak and non-practicing vague belief in God of some kind.

    Are you concerned/embarrassed by the things they do and say?

    Concerned, yes, sometimes, especially my sister’s woowoo beliefs. She is otherwise an exceptionally intelligent person who somehow got lost on the road of silly stuff. Embarrassed, no, not really.

    Are you the “Black Sheep”, or is it one of your siblings?

    We are all black sheep in one way or another, my brother the least, and my sister and I take turns at being the blackest, most argumentative, most chthonic sprats. We’ve all been political activists for most of our lives, though my brother has more or less given up on that for the joys of running a small but profitable communications company. We’ve also all been professional musicians of various stripes for some length of time.

    Do you try to sway them to your way of seeing the world?

    No. Not at this time. They have absolutely no interest in anything I do or think, and any attempt I have made in the past to share my views results in great resistance.

    Do you care?

    Sometimes, yes, but not always.

  25. I have a younger brother who is nothing like me, or wasn’t (last I heard). I was always independednt, even to the point of saving up my allowance to buy my own clothes and shoes as soon as I started getting an allowance. Brother managed to burn through a full time monthly paycheck in less than three weeks, while living at home and not contributing one cent to household expenses at the age of 16.
    He was spoiled beyond redemption by my parents, while I was neglected to the point of abuse. Not that I’m complaining. If I hadn’t been neglected, I might have grown up to believe the only path to personal fulfilment is a marriage and 6 kids (Roman Catholic background). As we were growing up, I tried to instill some sense of responsibility in my brother, since my parents refuse to do it. Any time I tried to enforce my rights to privacy, property or anything else for that matter, I was told I was selfish and too hard on my brother. It all pretty much came to a head one memorable night.
    We both worked at the same fast food joint and while I was working, he went through my stuff (in my locker), stole my car keys, took the car for a joyride in a full parking lot (in my country you are not allowed to drive until you’re 18 and he was 16 t the time), blew a tire and trashed the entire driver’s side of the car – I never was able to determine if he trashed anyone else’s car, but I hope not – and then parked the car back where I had it, changed the blown tire for my spare (which he knew had a slow leak we had not got around to fixing), and pretended he had no clue what had happened. Several hours later, when I find my car trashed, call the highway patrol to report it, and give them a statement, he calls me and spills the beans, then goes off to the beach with some friends who worked my shift, leaving me to drive to the station alone, not knowing I had a bad tire on and no spare, at 3 am, to a street where I had once almost been mugged.
    The bottom line? When the story came out at home, not only did he not have to pay for repairs, but he got no lecture, no punishment at all. And he showed no sign of remorse at all. Last I heard, he’d bought an apartment he couldn’t afford, moved a ton of my stuff into it, and continued to live at home (because why buy your own food and pay for utilities when you can continue to mooch off mom and dad?).
    He’s smart enough, and a critical thinker when it suits him. Mostly, though, he’s a self-centered brat. I have no idea what’s been going on with him lately, and i can’t say that I care at all.

  26. My sister (5 years older) was a screw-up who lost years to drugs and did all the grown-up stuff after I did. When she planned on dumping her 11-year-old daughter on the state, I took the child in for two years. I sent her home for a short vacation and she never came back and my sister didn’t speak to me for years. I still don’t know why.

    She barely speaks to me now and only in regards to my niece’s baby when I ask how he’s doing. When I travel to FL to visit she’s civil and acts like nothing ever happened. Whatever.

    No great loss, but as far as is she like me in thinking? I have no idea. We weren’t raised in any religion and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have one now, but she may or may not believe in God. Growing up, she was spoiled and I was an afterthought.

    She’s a person I’m related to but there’s no real connection there. We both love Dad and dislike Mom. My family consists of my Dad, my kids and the people I surround myself with.

    Sometimes I envy people with close families. But I know who I am and I don’t apologize.

  27. I’m a rather long time lurker but have spent a while pondering this and decided to comment.

    I have 3 younger brothers and I honestly believe that if we were not family, we would probably not like each other much. I’m a scientist and a generally very rational person which tends to infuriate my siblings. One of my brothers is very religious, we had a discussion about the existence of ectoplasm and it’s connection to the devil recently. The other is an atheist of the god’s a big asshole variety, which I suppose isn’t really atheism in the end.

    I think that much of our tension comes from the very different roles that we all played growing up in our dysfunctional family. I was almost a mother like figure, one of my brothers was the trouble maker, the other retreated inward, and the third is much younger than the rest of us and doesn’t quite fit in. None of us experienced our upbringing in the same way. I hesitate to say that anyone had it worse than the other, it was just different. As a result what we took away from it is not nearly the same. I attribute my rationality at least in part to being expected to behave as an adult at a very young age. It’s almost impossible for me to just let go and go with the flow.

    I would assume that it is similar in most families, even ones where things are more normal than mine. No two children feel the same way about their parents and siblings. I love my brothers but I don’t always get along with them. I wish that they were more open to the way that I see the world but I’m not sure that it is possible for them at this point in time.

  28. I have two older brothers who both turned out to be super skeptics :) My parents sent us to religion school and more or less told us were Catholic growing up, which is strange because while my dad’s extended family is Catholic neither of my parents is religious. My oldest brother dropped out (of religion school, not the regular kind) in 8th grade after point-blank asking his teacher how he knew Jesus was the son of God and not receiving a good enough answer. Now he’s a scientist, go figure.

    I’m pretty fortunate since our extended family is decidedly Catholic, and all live together in Texas. Three of the girls over there are atheists and they’ve had, uhh…interesting experiences coming out to their families with that.

    @B Hitt: As someone who just moved from Irvine to San Francisco…I’m sorry. I’ve been by that church (and the many other megachurches Irvine is inexplicably home to), but never been forced to go inside! Sister’s wedding, too. Yikes.

  29. I have a younger blood brother and an older step-brother. All three of us are fairly skeptical. All of us are non-religious. My step-father was a pretty non-religious guy. He always self identified as agnostic. He was also skeptical. He would always ask us to justify what we thought about something. I think I’ve always been intensely curious about the world. It was my step-dad that gave me the tools to explore it.

  30. One older sister. he’s totally batshiat, fundie xtain Tea Bag, Beckkk and Rush fan…The whole sick bag. We hardly talk anymore except for emergency family issues, because she can’t resist injecting her views into even a simple “Good Morning.” I got sick of it and finally cut her off. My Dad once told me she’s “f—ing crazy,” which is unheard of in my family because he never talks like that.

    I also have a younger stepsister, but I haven’t seen or heard from her in decades. I wouldn’t know her unless she walked up to me and introduced herself.

  31. I have a brother and a sister, both younger. My parents raised us with no religion, they have no religion, we have no religion. It’s pretty awesome.

    My mom kinda gets suckered in by “beauty woo,” and my dad’s a bit Republican but just because he doesn’t like taxes. My sister is an airhead (she’s 16) and my brother is… well he’s a dick, but I like him. He’s only a dick if it’s funny. My dad, brother and I all work together, and my brother comes over to play video games pretty much every day.

    We are all black sheep >:-D

  32. I lucked out in the sibling department. My younger brother is awesome and I’m not just saying that because he’s probably reading this (hey, lurker!).

    He’s also a skeptic and an atheist. He has a practically encyclopedic knowledge of conspiracy theories and is very entertaining with his explanations of them. We have a lot of overlap in our senses of humor – he introduced me to the awesomeness that is the Venture brothers. Also, he has good taste in beer.

  33. I’m from a very Catholic family…hence my 17 siblings… 9 boys, 9 girls… I’m #9, my twin #10..

    6 of us are in research/medical fields
    6 are in the legal fields
    the rest generally need the help of those in the legal fields…

    None of us are practicing Catholics…
    All married with only 1 or 2 children…
    We are all very close..

    We all HATE any reality television that focuses on large families…although I’ll admit for that kind of money I wouldn’t have minded if Mom and Dad dressed us up and pimped us out to producers….

    on second thought….I probably would have…

  34. Do you have siblings?

    Yes, 1 older sister and 2 younger ones.

    Do they think like you do?

    My older sister – pretty much no. Don’t know about her religion, but she sells alternative medicine, and buys into all sorts of woo, like vaccines causing autism and “energy medicine”. She’s much more into material stuff, and overspends a lot. I love her, but like to make sure that when we spend time together, we have activities to do, so conversation doesn’t end up really uncomfortable.

    Sister 2 (20 months younger) is a liberal Christian, though she started off as a conservative one – we went through an awkward phase of her being unhappy about people she loved being headed for hell! We don’t talk about religion because she doesn’t like to apply reasoning to her religion. She has said this, though was embarassed when she realised what she’d said!

    But she’s also one of my best friends, smart, supportive and generally amazing. We don’t talk about religion, but generally think alike about other issues, value and respect each other’s opinions and know each other’s secrects. Just by being herself, she reminds me that religious does not equal stupid or crazy, and people can be blind in one area without it changing who they are deep down. She’s fantastic.

    Sister 3 (5 years younger) – I don’t know a lot about her religious opinions, as she’s not into a lot of heavy conversation of any kind. But she’s artistic and loves SF and fantasy and board games.

    Are you concerned/embarrassed by the things they do and say?

    I get a little concerned about how much my older sister is into woo – peddling the products etc. But mostly I’m over it.

    Are you the “Black Sheep”, or is it one of your siblings?

    None really. Our parents are vaguely Christian, or were when we were kids – church, Sunday school etc. Now my dad is reading things like The God Delusion, though my mom still goes to a Unitarian Church.

    Mostly they raised us to think for ourselves, make our own decisions and live our own lives. They worry most about older sister being not good with money – she’s well paid, but has borrowed a lot from them in the past, and doesn’t save well, so we all are a bit cynical about her.

    Do you try to sway them to your way of seeing the world?

    Not really. If it comes up, I’m not shy with my PoV, and I sometimes raise social/political issues with Sister 3, but mostly I leave them be.

    I’ve never felt the need to “come out” as an atheist, so I’m not even sure if they all know that I am, as opposed to just generally being a skeptic.

    Do you care?

    About our differences? Not really.

    Just realised this got super-long! But they are so different, I didn’t know how to be brief…

  35. I’m the black sheep of the whole family (cousins, etc… included)!!
    I’m the only one to move more than 2 hours away from home (aside from sister, who only moves around because of her husband). I’m the only one who isn’t devoutly religious.

    My brother is a Catholic, I can’t say much about him because he is in an out of homeless shelters and jail, haven’t spoken to him since he last scammed my parents.

    My sister married to a military man very young, had a couple kids and spends her days working with the church and schools. She is a right-wing, christian republican as you can get.

    I don’t attempt to change the way anyone in my family thinks – they follow my blog and my facebook so they are very keenly aware of where i stand on matters and have had a ton of resources handed to them to learn new things… but they don’t. I can’t make them, so I don’t waste the energy.

    I don’t see my family very much – once a year, at best – because I live across the country from them, so when I do get to see them, I make a point to make sure it is as argument-free as possible!!

  36. I’ve 3 brothers and a sister. My sister is a faithful Lutheran, though her husband is more overt about it. ie given to spontaneous calls for prayer and observations regarding god’s grace.

    We four males span the spectrum of disbelief.

    My older brother is militant, using atheism as a litmus to determine if you’re worth dealing with.

    Next younger just can’t be bothered-Kind of “I’ll find out what’s true eventually” Living in Salt Lake City bred a special irritation with Mormons but I think that’s as much cultural as religious.

    My youngest brother is a bemused agnostic; The absence of god is a great joke, the presence of god would be even greater.

    I’m probably the most considered in my approach, being like a hypochondriac who’s continually checking his own pulse. I regularly search to see if a new, more compelling argument has surfaced that can prime my belief engine. As I lack any real inflammation of spirit, I probably won’t be taking any godly ibuprofen.

  37. @ Lizzy

    Very good post. The part about taking on different roles and dealing with dysfunctional families differently led me to write this.

    But going beyond “me too” I have found that my brother slings and believes every sort of woo. Drives me nuts. But my sister-in-law is worse. Not only do they both believe in ghosts, spirits, witchcraft, etc. but whenever my SIL uses my bathroom she rips into something she read in the science magazines in the rack by the toilet, like she’s the super-genius but Ph.D.s in science are idiots. It’s a magazine, not a peer review journal, so of course the evidence and proof are not in the article. But the explanation goes nowhere.

    Precisely why my brother went over to the woo side I can not tell. Maybe the belief in some better world than the one inflicted upon us caused the retreat from reality? Hard to tell.

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