Not too long ago, I left the world of theism for good. My most recently religion was Mormonism - not the casual kind of theism, and I was not a casual practitioner of it, let me assure you. I was a member in a young-adult (18-30 age group) ward, most of whose members are pretty laid back, non-judgemental, and haven't given me any grief about leaving (at least the ones I've met since departing). My old Bishop had the attitude that people need to make decisions for themselves, and once they've heard the basic message, they should be left to their own devices... so, thankfully, I've had no crazy missionaries or home teachers barging in on me.
The problem I'm having is with one particular Aunt who has nosiness issues. (Other family members have also reported moments of aggravation caused by said aunt). Even when I was a member, she was often calling me up to complain about my practice of the faith, or social life, etc., and even showed up at my house on some occasions (namely after I told her to leave the topic be, over the phone). I reported her once to my bishop, who asked her husband (my uncle was an assistant to him) to educate her about nosing into adults personal lives. She continued on with that behavior on other occasions, but I got pretty tough with her once and she seemed to just leave my personal matters alone after that.
Recently she learned of my atheism. Of course her response was to go scripture ballistic and try to convince me to return; I let he know very plainly that I was not interested and to drop it. She called twice more to lecture me fervently... only to receive the same reply; the second time she called she started off on other topics first; she let me know that a certain young lady friend was having a tough time because of a boyfriend in prison, and she wanted me to come over so she could arrange for us to hang out a bit, you know, to help said friend out... but then she brought up religion again.
Soon after she realized that I would not even listen to her on the phone anymore, my aunt started visiting our house more often, and of course would always visit my bedroom/office. The first time she visited, she just burst out about religion as though she had just received the news of my atheist status. She got a bit of an education and once again notified that I was not interested. The second time she visited, I asked her if she was going to talk about religion before I would let her in my room to talk. She said "no" and I allowed her in. She asked about my coming over to help my friend, asked about my sister and stuff... and then of course, after that, brought up religion again... I let my aunt know that I don't have any questions regarding religion, that I was not interested (and if I was, would go to an actual authority on topics thereof), and to leave me alone.
Since she (must have) realized she will no longer have access to me via. the phone or via. personal visits, she started writing letters. The first one had photographs of myself with certain family members, but the letter component was no so nice, talking about how wonderfully I was doing in church, then complaining that I was being a bad fellow, basically, and that I was pushing "people's" buttons, being arrogant by "not listening" to her (funny, I thought I heard every word she said). Her second letter contained scriptures (the testament of John) with highlighted passages (I guess she thinks I haven't read them [five dozen times] or didn't understand them). The scriptures were prefaced with a picture of a turkey and a thanksgiving invitation to her house. I ripped both letters up and plan on ripping future ones up without reading them.
I am very aware that the two invitations mentioned above would likely be used to get me in a place/situation where I would be inclined to stick around for more religious bombardment, a captive audience. This is where things are going to become a problem. I have a bit of a social anxiety problem, and struggle to speak up for myself when I am in groups. When I am cornered and attacked by my aunt, my heart starts pounding and I really struggle to keep my anger down, or from having an attack. She darn well knows that I would have a problem defending myself if she gets me in a situation surrounded by Mormon—and other christian—friends or family members. What can I do about those things besides not attend them... and aggravate other family members who expect me to participate in Thanksgiving with them?
In addition, school and work related things get me stressed out enough without coming home to find a letter from aunt-crazy, or find her at my house or other events and know that I have to lock myself in my room, or find some place to avoid her for the rest of her or my stay. My heart rate and blood pressure rise every time these things happen, despite trying to keep my cool.
My question is, what can I do to stop her letters and make sure she leaves me be when I inevitably end up in other situations where she is present, short of violence, pressing charges, or getting other family members involved and possibly upset at me for being mean to her? How do I deal with her?
P.S. I should mention that I have more secular family up north that would have me, but I am going to school down here (In SoCalifornia), cannot afford my own place, and am on grant money. I am not sure that moving is an option (since Calif. pays 3/4 of tuition, would the Feds appreciate my moving to a state where school cost way more?)
Two words, 'Return Refuse!' writen on her letters.
You could consider calling the police and making an harasment charge.
You could thank her for her deep concern about your spiritual welfare, and suggest to her that 'god and I will take it from here, aunte Maim!'
Perhaps rather than ripping her letters up, write "Return to Sender" on them and send them back to her so she understands you never read them. You can also complain to the post office about being harrassed. I believe they will tell her she should stop trying to contact you on pain of being prosecuted.
Oh, I just read James Cox's suggestion, very similar to mine. Mine is how it would be done in the United States.
RE: "You can also complain to the post office about being harrassed. I believe they will tell her she should stop trying to contact you on pain of being prosecuted."
That's not their job.
Ripping the letters and sending them back in a fresh envelope doesn't imply you've read them, but definitely sends the message that you will not welcome future correspondence.
Or, you can follow Unseen's advice and involve outside authorities that, if they do anything, which I doubt, will only further estrange you from your family. I have an idea, maybe Unseen will take you in --
That's not their job.
True. I was thinking of their policy regarding sexually objectionable mail. It doesn't work for any other sort of harassment unless you're ready to say there's something about her mails YOU find sexually provocative. There are two levels, apparently. In one, the Post Office will simply not deliver mail from that party. In the other, They will actually send a warning to the other party as well.
Yes, a mental health holiday! I think I would take it!
Most of my family is either nonreligious or are VERY aware of my stance on religion (much like Douglas Adams, I am a "Radical Atheist"). When people decide to confront me about my position on religion, I just explain why my position is as it is. I tend to attack the core, blowing off out-of-context specific quotes in lieu of the grander view. I explain that the bible is useless as a source of any meaning information, considering that it contains hundreds of contradiction, inconsistencies, and logical fallacies. I explain how the Great Flood couldn't possibly have happened, how the story of Babel is completely erroneous, and how it is impossible for morals to have come from a single source, much less from an immoral being such as yhwh. The trick to getting people to stop talking to you about their delusional superstition is to get them to the point where they can't justify it anymore. Once they are painted into that corner, they tend to shut up and about it. People HATE feeling like idiots, so if they are in a position that they are unable to justify, such as some really immoral act of god, like slaughtering children for calling someone "baldie", or trying to justify the belief in a story that can't possibly be true, even if it doesn't change their mind, they tend to keep quit about it.
It sounds like you might just need to prepare for an intense, one-time conversation with her that will get it across that you will not be intimidated into believing something that can't be proven and that you have ample evidence that xianity is false. Most of my friends tend to be very religious. The way we maintain friendship is that they don't try to convince me that their religion is valid, and, in exchange, I don't bother to go through the effort of explaining how they are so completely wrong. After a single conversation with me regarding their religion (I just simply attack the Old Testament and when they try to focus on Jesus, I explain that the New Testament is nothing without the OT, since that is what the NT is based on).
One other tact that I have used is to explain that there is no evidence that Jesus ever actually existed and is just a character that was created from a compilation of other religions' myths about man-gods and how the circumstances around the character are so similar to other fairy tale characters such as Horus, Mithra and Buddha. When I say there is not a single instance where jesus is mentioned in any writings except the bible, sometimes it will be brought up Josephus Flavius, but then when it's explained that, first he was borne in 37CE, so there is no way he witnessed jesus' existence, and second, the page where he mentions jesus was fraudulent added by Eusebius (the proof is that this page is ONLY in copies that the church has had control of, but is missing from any copies of his manuscripts that were not in church control), and combine that with the fact that the OT is useless as a source of valid information as well, this tends to shut them up really quickly.
My advantage is that I'm pretty boisterous and passionate about how utterly destructive religion is to civilized society, so people have a tendency to want to avoid these conversations with me rather than actively try to engage. Sometimes that a good thing, but, as my wife will attest, sometimes its a bit of a bummer, since I actually enjoy engaging xians in debate, just to watch them squirm. :-)
Fight fire with fire. Find some scripture that shows she's in the wrong and use it against her. We all know there is scripture to support every possible argument. If that doesn't work show her you have no time for the disrespectful and tell her to Fµck off.
If that doesn't work a restraining order followed by arrest for breaching it usually gets the point across. If you wouldn't tolerate her behaviour from a friend there's no reason to tolerate it from a relative. Tolerating bad behaviour is tantamount to support of it.
Don’t defend; attack! You have intelligence, knowledge, reason, science, evidence, and logic on your side. They have nothing with which to counter, other than fear, ignorance, medieval dogma, and delusional fairy tales. It’s been my experience that an informed, relentless litany of the inanities and failures of theism is sufficient to not only get them to retreat, but to keep them away. My Mormon next door neighbor NEVER brings up religion any longer. And when it inadvertently enters the corners of our conversations, he immediately seeks to extricate himself from any possible need to defend his religion. Ditto a theistic science teacher of my long acquaintance.
I love it when the J.W.’s and Mormons come a-knockin' at my door, I politely tell them they’re making a mistake. It's a friendly warning, of sorts, but I agree to converse with them for as long as they wish. This seems to please them initially, since they are so used to getting doors slammed in their faces. I then take the offensive and hit them with a barrage of questions they’ve never faced before, and which they can’t answer cogently. Funny, THEY are always the ones who break it off and slink away. They rarely return.
Here’s just one typical exchange:
“Do you have your Bible?”
“Yes.” (of course!)
“What is your opinion of the passage in II Kings, Chapter 2, verses 23 & 24?”
They usually stare at me at first, reluctant to admit they don’t know that particular passage, and embarrassed that an admitted atheist might know their Bible better than they do. Then they get busy looking it up.
“Oh yes, that one.” As if they knew it all the time.
“Well, what do you think?”
“About what?” Trying to put off the inevitable.
“Do you think that it’s a good example of your benevolent God at work?”
“Well, uh...” I can almost hear their apologetics cranking.
“...uhh, he was a holy man.”
Then they instantly realize what a lame answer that was. This is often the point at which they start to excuse themselves. At the very least, they scramble to change the subject.
Religious zealots are fond of waving the Bible around as their source of knowledge and authority; but when they’re forced to defend it in its particulars they intuit the poverty of its prurient, pusillanimous prose ( I love alliteration!).
You imply that you are familiar with the Bible. If so, you are loaded with ammunition. The contradictions, inconsistences, depradations, genocides, misogynies, etc. in that miserably ridiculous black book are virtually impossible for them to rationalize and defend with a straight face.
And that’s the point! Any discussion you have with your aunt should force HER to do the defending. If, on the other hand, you choose to be defensive, you deserve what you get.
If it were I, I would answer her letters with letters of my own. Let HER dread the next mail delivery.
I once had a local librarian try to defend her concept of the soul as being science-based. She gave me a book that purportedly proved her case. She even implied I wouldn’t read it. I not only read it, but I wrote a 50 page critique, exposing the absolute idiocy of it. I went almost page-by-page, pointing out how ludicrous and easily disproven were the claims. She never again brought up the subject.
You MUST take the offensive, if you are ever to be free of your aunt’s pious harangues.
Start selling Amway or some other program you have to sign up for to participate in... Find one she isn't interested in of course...Then every time she brings religion up start trying to sell her on the product. Call her up every day and ask if she's ready to buy it yet. Work it in to every conversation. Tell her she doesn't know what she's missing. I promise you she will begin to leave you alone.
Every time she calls bring it up! Make her buy stuff from you. Invite her to the meetings. Bug the shit out of her with it. Eventually she may get the idea.
I found over the years that the 'attack' stance is also used by many theists!
OSU(Oregon) had hosted many debates over the years between theists and the philosophy department or some science prof. What I noticed is that if the theist goes on the offensive right out of the gate, the other party gets all flustered and starts looking like an unprepaired FOOL! One time it was so embarracing that I walked out of this full auditorium, rather loudly mentioning that 'I leave this fiasco to you people!'
Over the years, during classes in philosophy, history, or the sciences, some theist of other would cross swords with the prof. I would most times try to come to the prof's aide. I have a few boxed come backs, but most times I wing it!
One thing I've learned is that religious people, especially of older generations, are impenetrable in their reasoning. Thankfully my mom doesn't push.. i remember handing my crucifix to her and she cried.. but that was it. She didn't ask again.
But when it comes to obstinate, vehement religious people, you simply need to stand up for your beliefs. I feel you on you anxiety.. I'm extremely comfortable speaking eloquently on a computer, but when it comes to speaking to these people in person.. my heart rate and blood pressure go into hyperdrive. It's unfortunate because I want to be reasonable.. but their fundamental and unreasonable views scare me.
You just have to overcome it with experience. I empathize with you. And I hope that helps a little.