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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 11:26amSanction this postReply
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Condolences, Luke.

As for cousins like this, or for any kind of individual like this, if it's possible, use humor.  You did just that.

Your cousin didn't (doesn't) even see you, he's only looking at opportunities to reaffirm himself.


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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 11:49amSanction this postReply
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Luke, tell them you belong to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
 
Also, my condolences to you.


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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 12:36pmSanction this postReply
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You did fine, Luke.  You did not owe him anything special one way or the other. 

My family was always fairly secular ever since my grandparents came to America.  My parents were divorced, a bit unusual for Catholics in the 50s, but my Mom was an unusual person.  She made us sit through a couple of Catholic masses just to see how we would like it, knowing full well that there is nothing likeable in that.  A few years later, an old woman on our street was rouding up kids for her church's two-week Bible School and my brother and I went for three summers.  She was Evangelical Luthern.  (The church cornerstone was in German.)  So, you and I probably know many of the same hymns.  My wife's family is still very Catholic.  At her father's funeral, when they said the Our Father, I kept going...  for thine is the king...  (ooops)  ...

So...  my sister havng been raised without any religion at all decides that she wants to be born again in Jesus OK.... and she marries a nice guy -- admittedly, a nice guy -- lacking about 20 IQ points and she lets HIM be "the head of the household."  It was pretty interesting last Christmas, my brother and I at the Museum store, picking out rocks for the kids.  "Not that one: it says it's 20 million years old... "  Did you know that the reason that there are no dinosaurs is that they starved to death when Babylonians built walls around their gardens to prevent them from eating the vegetables? 

You know, there is no profit in upsetting people.  And no profit in denying your own values.  You said the right thing.  I would grant that he was just concerned for your immortal soul.  You expressed some concern for his rational mind.  It was a fair exchange.

My Mom worked at City Hall when she died.  They all came to the funeral.  My brother used the opportunity to say that Mom taught us to play the piano and he loved those old World War II popular songs like "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.  Praise the Lord, we don't need no politiicians...."  I cringed, but it drew a laugh, so that was OK, too...


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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 5:28pmSanction this postReply
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Condolences to you, Luke. 

As for handling future situations, handle them like you did.  Never bring up the topic.  Make it known that you don't wish to discuss the matter, and then change the subject.  If someone really corners you and they seem to be doing it in good faith, don't get into an argument or debate.  Simply give them a very quick outline of how you changed from being a Lutheran to where you are now along with some of your main reasons for doing so, and then assure them you're not out to change their mind.  Tell them you respect their right to think differently.  Then change the subject or get out of the conversation altogether.  I too was raised in a Lutheran household and continue to have very religious family members, and this approach has served me well.   


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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 7:48pmSanction this postReply
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Condolences, Luke.

I think your wife is a great adviser.
I agree with her that your cousin meant well. 
 
You could have just said you felt quite secure in church."
What a nice way to put it, you should consult with this lady more often! :-))

Ciro


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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 7:55pmSanction this postReply
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oh! I forgot, for future situations just smile and say that you had a bad indigestion that day. :-)

(Edited by Ciro D'Agostino on 3/23, 7:57pm)


Post 6

Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 8:32pmSanction this postReply
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Luke,
I sincerely feel sorry for people like your husbands cousin and I do not mock them. I try to explain as best I can what I believe and let them make of it what they can. I explain that it has been observed that there are around 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe averaging around 100 billion stars apiece, that organic molecules can be detected and are quite common in the visible universe, that the chances that life exists in every galaxy are so good that it is a virtual certainty. I explain the the laws of nature appear to be uniform throughout the known universe and all of the phenomenon we observe, including life itself, is explainable using these laws and cause and effect. No supernatural forces are necessary. The complexity of the universe is very large so the process of explaining it all is still a work in progress. But, in a nutshell, I believe in natural laws and cause and effect. I explain that believing in the supernatural is a cheat, an attempt to bypass the effort of understanding the complexity of natural law. I generally get a polite but muted response but no further attempts to proselytize.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008 - 9:06pmSanction this postReply
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Luke, you handled this very very well (though your wife had great advice, too!).

:-)

Teresa really hit this one on the head, though -- this cousin-in-law is not in a position to be able to love you (or perhaps, to be able to love anyone at all). This guy's timing was poor, but from his view he was thinking about getting you into that psycho-epistemological comfort zone that someone else had gotten him into (whether it was a person, the authors of the Bible, etc). From his view, the timing was perfect.

Catch 'em when they're down and out, that's when they'll eagerly listen to your sermon. That's when they'll be ready to "believe." It's highly-manipulative but that is the mystic mindset (and the mindset of many secular shysters and hypocrites, too). In my own dealings with similar "thinkers" I take a different approach (though I don't preach what I practice). My practice is to steer the discussion toward ethical individualism as much as is possible. This just happened to me today:

My aunt is a Christian Fundamentalist. She was ranting about how the world's problems would be solved if all humans just took 2 steps:

(1) Follow the 10 Commandments as if they were from God, himself
(2) Accept the Lord, Jesus Christ, as your Savior

At one point, she directed the discussion at me (her sister was there, too -- but she addressed me, personally):

"Eddie" [my relatives call me Eddie], she said, "don't you also agree that the answers are right there in those 2 things?"

I said that there is a lot of helpful wisdom in the writings of Paul (the dude who wrote the last several books of the Bible). And proceeded to bring up points in the Bible that appear to be championing ethical individualism. She cut me off. Apparently, she did not want to have to think any harder about the issue -- this issue which she preferred to believe would be solved for everyone, if only everyone took those 2 simple steps toward Grace. Knowing the Bible better than most religionists do can be helpful in those cases where you prefer to engage them in debate. Ironically, in THIS CASE, it actually turned her (the mystic) off and served as a discussion-stopper!

So, while I really think that you handled this very, very well (and that your wife's advice rocks) -- I'd personally handle it differently; and that doesn't take anything away from the way that you handled it.

Ed
(Edited by Ed Thompson on 3/23, 9:09pm)


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Monday, March 24, 2008 - 6:54amSanction this postReply
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You could follow the Ten Commandments perfectly and still be a slave-owning pedofile - I wonder if you're aunt would be comfortable with that. 

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 7:57amSanction this postReply
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It's difficult when you have to deal with a family member's religiosity.

The most tragic moment of my life was when I realized the gulf that existed between my father and I because of our beliefs. One night we were walking into the house together having just come home from seeing some science fiction movie. I was in a cheerful mood, full of thoughts about the infinite possibilities of the cosmos. I sort of threw my hands up to the beautiful starry sky and said to him- just think- billions of stars, billions of worlds, life everywhere, civilizations of thinking beings- so much to learn about, so much to explore! I was rhapsodic. The "big picture" was whizzing in my mind: Cosmic Rays! Black holes! Supernovae! The great panorama of existence from the Big Bang to the Quark and everything in between! A universe stuffed to bursting with fantastic things!

He looked at me kind of puzzled, grinned that long-suffering "there you go again" grin, and said: "But the stars are just reflections of the sun, right?".

My stomach fell, my jaw dropped. We stood looking at each other.

My father didn't know what stars were! Why? This was not accidental ignorance of some esoteric fact.  This was basic information available to any man with even the most casual curiosity about the universe.  Can a rational man truly live his whole life without hearing that stars are suns? Wouldn't a rational man look at the night sky at least once and ask- what are those? Does he have no curiosity at all?

In an instant I realized what Christianity had done to my dad. I saw his mind shackled with the tidy little manacles of revealed religion. Raised with the idea that the answers- all the answers- were there in his little book. From childhood taught not to question, but to obey. Not to ask why but to ask for forgiveness. His view of the world, his sense of where he was, his conception of existence was given to him- not earned. It was a tiny, narrow, blinkered universe of rules and magic- where one looks at heaven only when kneeling. He saw no need to be curious. He really believed he was living on one planet with one sun and that our solar system was God's little science experiment. No galaxies, no nebulae, no globular clusters or alien life existed. My space travel dreams were just fairy tales. He knew the truth: Jesus and Jehovah and one little planet that might have well been the flat-earth center of creation. That was what he had been taught. So it must be true. I was my father for a second. I felt my "big picture" Cosmos ripped away- replaced by a fishbowl universe Lorded over by a benevolent dictator/deity who periodically sprinkles manna for the little gasping things below. The Sky stopped being the Sky- and became a lid. I felt the tragedy of it, the loss.

I imagine it's the same feeling a parent has when thier child is diagnosed as deaf. Or blind. In that split second I went from exultant to ashen.

But I smiled, hugged him, and we walked inside.

When he passed away, one of the greatest sources of pain was the thought that- he lived his life in a mansion with infinite rooms but spent his years in a broom closet rather than brave the doorknob.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 8:57amSanction this postReply
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Condolences, Luke.

I agree with everyone else here who believed you handled it just fine, and that your wife's advice was good, as well.

Richard, that was an amazing post. Especially this:

When he passed away, one of the greatest sources of pain was the thought that- he lived his life in a mansion with infinite rooms but spent his years in a broom closet rather than brave the doorknob.


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Post 11

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - 6:42pmSanction this postReply
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Richard:

You have a way of expressing yourself that is truly a great talent.

Thanks

Sam


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Friday, May 23, 2008 - 4:22pmSanction this postReply
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"He looked at me kind of puzzled, grinned that long-suffering "there you go again" grin, and said: "But the stars are just reflections of the sun, right?"."

Yikes!

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Post 13

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 9:48amSanction this postReply
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Luke, I think your "bursting into flames" comment was entirely justified and right on the mark. Your cousin's initial query of your comfort level in church was probably just a conversation opener, in which case he would have proceeded to try and save your soul no matter what you had said. I cannot believe he had the nerve to approach you in that manner at your own mother's funeral. Under the circumstances I'd say you were quite diplomatic in not picking him up by his ears and throwing him out of the church. Good job.

Richard, I really enjoyed reading your post. It saddens me that your father lived his life oblivious to so many wonderful things, but it would have been cruel to disillusion him. I know this isn't exactly what you meant, but reading your mansion of infinite rooms metaphor made me think of that quote by Shakespeare: "There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy." I think in a sense we all only venture into a small section of your mansion--although most of us hope to see a good number of well-appointed rooms, instead of just a broom closet.

Sorry to borrow your metaphor, but it's such a good one. :)

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 12:49pmSanction this postReply
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Richard, thank you for your post.

(Edited by Joe Maurone on 8/10, 4:02pm)


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Tuesday, April 17 - 7:47amSanction this postReply
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The offending party at least learned to keep his mouth shut ten years later at my 90 year old father's funeral earlier this month.



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