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?)
Have you checked out exmormon.org? Its a decent source for dealing with Mormon families. I've dealt with a lot of Mormons in school and at my old work ( I'm in Mesa AZ which is Mormonville) and the biggest thing I've noticed is that they don't give up easily when it comes to trying to keep you in the fold or trying to get you to join. You are lucky she hasn't told the Missionaries about you and even more lucky you have a laid back bishop at your ward. I've known some people who were leaving that were being pestered non-stop by missionaries, the bishop and even the stake president in one persons case. It got to the point for one where they were demanding they come to the court of love like they had power over them still. I have a feeling that your aunt may never really accept your choice.
Dang, she certainly sounds like she couldn't take a hint if it smacked her square in the face.
It sounds like she'll be a tough one to get through to, but there are some things you can try.
1) Sit down with her one-on-one and have an open and honest discussion on the topic. Let her see that your Atheism was no snap judgement, but rather a reasoned and informed decision. Also point out that you aren't trying to tell her what to think. You know she means well, but you are following your own road and would like your non-pushing returned in kind.
2) Talk to another family member about the problems you're having with her. Pick someone who will sympathize with you, but also has some pull with her.
3) Disassociate from her. Don't answer her calls, answer the door, toss the letters (on better yet mark them return to sender and let them go back to her), etc. Or have fun by returning her letters with nasty bits from the Bible or with the scientific facts of the Big Bang, evolution, impossibility of the flood, etc. But be careful with that latter bit. If you reply to her letters in that way, you won't be able to tell her that you're not proselytizing, while she is.
4) If she's going to be at a family gathering, and you know you'll have trouble speaking up on the spot, then take along some form of prepared statement. Mention what you've had to deal with from her and mark down any other specifics you think are pertinent or might come up.
5) The most extreme route would be to charge her with harassment. If you decide to do this, be sure to document everything, and I mean everything. But be warned, this should be a last ditch move. If she's playing that much havoc in your life it may be warranted, but be warned that its a one way road that may leave you looking bad to more than just her.
Cheers, and good luck!
I would suggest you meet her head on. Call her up and suggest a meeting between just you and her in a neutral place. Coffee shop, library. Explain to her that you understand her concern but you have the right to live as you see fit. Tell her you very much want to have a relationship but only on your conditions.... ie no religion. Then explain to her that if she persists in annoying you with returning to religion then you have no choice but to completely sever your relationship. Try to remain calm. Tell her if she cannot accept your atheism then this is the last time we shall ever meet.
If she refuses to accept your conditions and continues berating you then you should try being rude. If rude doesn't work escalate your behavior to obscene and offensive.
Don't ever be rude, to anyone. Let's not stoop down to the level of those who are rude to us. We may disagree with the theists on many things and they may be crazy as all hell but they are still human beings. There is too much hatred in the world today; let's be the one's to stop contributing to that. We are all rationalists, right?
I agree - no arms race. After all, she's the one with the nuclear button. And I also agree - lead by example.
Social Media to the rescue!!!
Start making records of your contact with her, Get a video of her being the crazy, obnoxious Church Lady and you being the polite, uninterested atheist. Take pics or make transcripts of the letters. Post them on Facebook or wherever you do your thing. Make sure the rest of your family sees it all. Make sure she sees it. Make her very aware of what an insufferable ass she is. Explain to her that being polite & firm isn't working, so if she continues, you'll have to move on to rude and adamant. Stand your ground, and don't allow her to ruin your life with her anti-social behavior.
Write "REFUSED" on the envelope and drop it in the mail so she knows you are not reading them. If she shows up at your door, tell her she is no longer welcome. If she calls, immediately hang up. If you must attend a family gathering, make a note to hand to each member of the gathering saying: "My beliefs or non-beliefs are my business and ONLY my business. If any of you tries to engage me on this subject, I shall immediately leave." If anyone dares to talk to you about it, make good on your word and leave. They will soon learn not to discuss this with you, or risk losing you.
I have not experienced social anxiety, Dave, and none of my relatives are a pain in the ass in that particular way, so I feel rather limited in what useful advice I can give you. The most important thing I want to tell you is that no person, no matter how related to you, has any right to treat you in this manner. You do not deserve this, and you have no duty whatsoever to put up with this. I am stressing this because your background may have conditioned you to "respect your elders" even when they are disrespecting you. I do not advocate insulting your aunt. I do advocate paying her no respect, no attention, no importance in your life.
Tell her once that you will not talk to her again. Then do not repeat yourself. If you have told her already that you will not talk to her any more, don't tell her again. Do not look at her letters even long enough to tear them up. Toss them in the recycle bin with the junk mail. If she phones you, hang up without speaking.
Do, as others have recommended, talk to whoever you consider the most rational members of your family. Tell them plainly that your aunt has been harassing you, that this aggravates your anxiety condition, and that you will not put up with it any further. You are not being cruel to your aunt by refusing to let her abuse you. Any family member who takes it that way does not qualify as rational.
Ask them to use whatever influence they have with your aunt. Give them advance warning that, at family functions, you will not speak to or go near your aunt; ask them to back you up and keep her away from you. Every family has two or more relatives that everybody knows should always be kept at opposite ends of the room, or maybe I'm just assuming that because mine certainly does.
Talk to friends about this, too. Just venting about a problem person helps, in my experience.
Dude, you're screwed. Coming from a batshit crazy mormon household I know exactly what you're going through.
You know mormons have no boundaries, you know that she will never let up on her own, you know what you gotta do. She has taken it upon herself to save you from the clutches of Satan and she'll never qiut.
You have to man up and do the unpleasantaries. You gotta get mean. You need to let her know in no uncertain terms that you are not going to take this bullshit any longer.
Nietzchi said " no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself".
There will be no change in her behavior until you take no-nonsense steps to curtail it.
Hi Dave, I'm sorry to hear about your situation. Let me start off by saying I too have struggled social anxiety. I've been free of panic attacks for four years now. It took a lot of hard work, but it was well worth it. If you ever feel like you need someone who understands, feel free to shoot me a message.
Now, when it comes to your aunt, I think the suggestions from others to write a letter is an excellent idea. Not too long ago, I was having difficulty getting my parents to understand how their actions were affecting me. I'd ignore it and then explode, which wasn't good for anyone. I finally decided to use an intervention letter to express my concerns and feelings and ask for a resolution. You can find tips and a template for this sort of a letter here: Intervention Letter. I know it seems a little silly to use a letter template that's traditionally meant for a drug addict, but the principles are the same. This template can be used for any situation when you feel like you're not being heard. It helps you take care to avoid offending the other party and putting them on the defensive (people do not listen when they are in this state), it helps you remain specific and objective in order to minimize rebuttals and corrections, and it helps you give the other party a choice in the matter. You'll need to adapt the drug references to your situation, but this can be done easily. For example, your care and concern section can be that you care about your relationship with her and your family and you're concerned that her actions are affecting these relationships negatively. Instead of suggesting treatment at the end, you can suggest mutual respect or (if you're generous) give her certain less annoying and less personal ways to share her religion with you (e.g. the weekly newsletter from church) because you understand how important it is to her. Your bottom line could be something about how you will choose to limit interactions or get other family members involved should she continue.
In the meantime, remember that her words are just that - words. Her fervor in saving you has more to do with her and what she believes than it does you. When you feel angry, remind yourself that she is not doing this to hurt you or belittle you. Keep your wits and confidence about you. You deserve to make your own decisions, and you deserve respect.
This sounds really horrible for you. This woman isn't going to hear anything you say or write to her, as she will simply interpret it as a challenge to try harder. It doesn't sound as if it is going to be possible for you and her to have an ongoing relationship of any kind that will keep you feeling calm. A rational solution might sound viable, but if she isn't listening to reason, then I have doubts that one would work.
Do you have an ipod or mp3 player with earbuds? if so, perhaps you could wear it around your neck and tell her very coldly and clearly that the minute she mentions religion to you, you will stick the earbuds in your ear and hit the play music button. Notify your family of this plan, and tell her once, very clearly, that that is your intention. Then actually do it - do it whenever she speaks of religion - and smile as your favourite band plays. You can't reason with her, and you don't want to hear her. If you let the rest of your family know your plan, you can freely attend Thanksgiving and pop the buds in as soon as she starts.
I know its not a very nice thing to do, but actions do speak louder than words sometimes.
If you're going to tear up her letters, why let all that effort go to waste? Put the ripped up letters in an envelope and mail them back to her!
If that doesn't get the message across, try to put her in a home.