I was at home last week, and I had to put up with a bunch of my family’s weird friends. I stayed silent the whole time, because I’ve never told them what I really believe, and I really wished I could speak out.

My brother was there—let’s call him “Bob”—along with his girlfriend, his other friends, and one of those friend’s fiancée. All of them, like my family, believe in a 6,000-year-old earth, that evolution is an assault against Christianity, and in speaking in tongues.

The fiancée talked about this great book she was reading—it’s an allegory where a man marries a prostitute and ‘saves’ her. He shows her her worth, rescues her from the sex trade, etc. It’s based on the book of Hosea. It really didn’t sound like the kind of story that would make sense in a modern context, especially when she said the man married the prostitute practically against her will.

Then the other friend kept talking in this over-spiritualized language, that made him sound incredibly fake. But I don’t think he was being fake. I think he’s just studied pastoring and spirituality at his college so much that he doesn’t know how else to talk.

He asked the other friend’s fiancée about how she “operates within the gift of prophecy.” The fiancée said she does in fact have the gift of prophecy. She doesn’t tell the future, though. Instead, prophecy is giving a message from God to God’s people. It can be a word of encouragement, a word of correction, anything like that.

This definition of prophet is actually pretty common in some evangelical circles. It has great advantages for the practitioners—it feels really good to believe God is speaking to you through prophecies, but you don’t have that pesky “check to see if the prophecies come true” requirement given in the Bible. (Deut. 18:22).

For this woman, prophecy means she’s not afraid to say the “hard truths” that need to be said. The example she gave was, she’s from an atheist family. When she was alone with her atheist uncle’s young kids, she started telling them all about how Jesus came to save them, how everyone lives in sin, how they’ll go to hell without Jesus and what hell means. She terrified those kids and they went back to their atheist dad scared of hell. And I didn’t say anything about this.

The fiancée has another friend who’s a prophet, and this prophet does in fact tell the future. Or rather, God reveals the future to her; she usually doesn’t say it until it’s the right time to reveal it. In other words, when something happens, she says ‘I knew this was going to happen, but I couldn’t tell you.’ Even the fiancée said this makes her incredulous, but apparently she trusts her friend.

The example she gave of it working was, this friend knew the fiancee’s boyfriend was going to propose. She called him up and asked if he had bought the ring yet, right as he was praying and wondering who he should take ring shopping with him. It’s a very cool coincidence, and I would have called it God at work when I was a Christian, but it seems awfully empty compared to the other claims being made here.

They talked about speaking in tongues. They know of some church where the pastor speaks in tongues and then ‘interprets’ what the Holy Spirit said through him. The fiancée was incredulous at first, but they encouraged her to believe that we don’t know how the Holy Spirit works, so that could be true.

My brother mentioned a story my dad tells about a pastor who did that same thing. Dad says the message turned out to be basically the same every time, centering on a few of his favorite themes. The people didn’t seem to think this had any repercussions for the other pastor who does it.

Some of those things would have made sense to me, back when I was a believer. But now as I look at them I’m a bit shocked. Was I really like that? Are believers really out of their minds? It seems like they shut down all critical thinking when it comes to anything with the word “God” attached to it.

I really wished I could speak up, and say anything. It feels unnatural to stay silent. When I was a Christian, I would have shared my own experiences with prophecy, or my own insights on gifts of the spirit. I would probably have questioned the self-interpreting pastor, and maybe questioned the retroactive prophet, even as a Christian. I may have cautioned the fiancée to be loving and respectful, even as she shares the truth. As a Christian, I could have spoken out without fear, knowing that we both still believed in Jesus so if we got in an argument, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Now as an atheist I feel I have to stay silent for fear they’ll figure me out.

And then afterwards, some of us went up to the church and jammed. We played those worship songs I grew up with and I still love. I love playing bass, but I never get the chance except in church, and playing with these guys was so high-energy. All my frustration at the rest of the evening just evaporated.

Why is playing music so wonderful? Where could I go to play music like that if I was an atheist? They wouldn’t invite me along to their worship sessions. I don’t currently have any non-believer friends, much less friends who would get together and just jam for a while. Plus, worship music still means so much to me.

I feel like I’ve lost a lot by becoming an atheist.

How do you guys react? Do you have places in your real life where you are able to argue respectfully with Christians? Do you ever have to sit through and shut up with your religious family?

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It's true, that you do lose quite a bit when you make the shift into thinking for yourself, and requiring evidence before believing something. The trick is to try and find something that explains things you worry about, look for philosophical, scientific, etc. explanations.

For instance, I use to worry about death, especially when Christians who found out about my Atheism would ask me the "Lottery" question. You know, "What happens if you die not believing in god and you meet him?" As if you have a choice of picking 6 numbers or not playing. I explain that we've all been dead before, we've all been dead since the beginning of time, until we were born. The difference between unbirth and death is that after your death, you leave behind a memory, and the better you live your life, the better your memory is. It may only last a little while in respect to the scale of the cosmos, but you were here, and you did something with that short time. This is what eases my mind about death. It may not ease yours, but there's plenty of philosophers and tons of worthwhile explanations for those more spiritual questions.

The point of being an Atheist is valuing what makes human beings special. Our ability to assimilate knowledge. It is important to discover as much as we can, and enlighten others so that they can discover more. Tacking "God did it" onto a question, and calling it solved is not only lazy, but it's distasteful too. You've just become more interested in the truth, and that is part of why being around enthusiastic theists makes you uncomfortable.

Music on the other hand, is a different language all together. It reeks of so much truth, no matter what the lyrics say. It speaks to a part of the brain that analyzes everything, and can trigger every single different emotion you are capable of feeling even if you can't express even half of them. Especially if you grow up listening to, or, more importantly, playing certain types of music, then it will always carry a special meaning for you, even if its lyrics no longer have anything for you. I myself still get a little sleepy every time I hear "Amazing Grace" because I grew up with my mother using it as a lullaby. I find the lyrics repulsive now, but the pudding's in the mix, or in this case, the melody.

As for your question of where could an Atheist go to play music like that, That's a matter for exploration. But I do have this wonderful image in my head of a weekly class for Atheists, not held on Atheism itself, but on all of the fascinating aspects of the world, using a public space like a park as a meeting place. This image involves, classes on the poetry of mathematics and the way numbers affect the world around us, Physics and how the world blends together in to the mass of things that we miss all day because we're not looking at them, Art, be it painting, sculpting or what have you, Music, or interesting combinations of them all. It would be amazing if a class like this could pop up in every city in the world, at a public park, with everyone being free to join, and encouraged to participate.

Knowledge, and the indiscriminate pursuit and dissemination of knowledge is what I feel to be the most beautiful, and worthwhile activity in the world. After all, two hands working can do more for the world than a thousand hands that are clasped in prayer.

I work for my family business. Everyone in my family is a Christian. My parents are more conservative, Evangelical. But my Aunt, Uncle, & their family are Charismatic. So they're all about prosperity preaching, getting slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, and all-around acting a fool (my opinion). 

I'm still a new deconvert & my family has NEVER put the "fun" in dysfunctional, if you know what I mean. Everyone closetly despises each other, but we "love" each other because Jesus told us to. And everyone's super into "telling the truth in love," kind of like the way the Fiancée in your story is celebrated for telling the hard truths, because supposedly God told her to share them. It's really phucking messed up, basically. 

This past Wednesday, my cousin got a stack of evangelizing tracts as a tip from a client. She explained that, "We believers have to stick together." Everyone was tickled pink with this tip but I piped up, "I'd tell her next time to send cash." For these little comments, I've been labeled negative & sarcastic. I don't respond all the time, & I often try to cover my ass by using humor. 

I tried once to talk to my mom about the validity of the Bible. She got extremely angry with me. I learned very quickly that there was never going to be any respectful disagreements voiced. So I dropped it. For now. It isn't worth it for me to be miserable with my family AND in my workplace. So they crank up the praise music in the office & I'm at my desk with my earbuds in, listening to "The Thinking Atheist" podcast or a Hitchens debate on YouTube. 

Why is playing music so wonderful? Where could I go to play music like that if I was an atheist? They wouldn’t invite me along to their worship sessions. I don’t currently have any non-believer friends, much less friends who would get together and just jam for a while. Plus, worship music still means so much to me.

I totally understand where you're coming from with this. I love to sing, and I've been singing on praise teams, choirs, and with praise bands since I was a child. Nowadays, the only time I sing is in the car or the shower. I'll probably never get to sing with a community of fellow music lovers again like that. And yeah, it is really sad. So there is a feeling of loss there for sure.

If you're near a large city, look for singing groups, get involved in theater--even if it's just volunteering with stage setup, try ushering at concerts. What about a karaoke night with some new friends? There's a whole community of musicians whose interests lie in more diverse music genres. If I ever get a job with decent hours, I might end up joining a group too. We don't have to lose music too--music transcends religion!

How do you guys react? Do you have places in your real life where you are able to argue respectfully with Christians? Do you ever have to sit through and shut up with your religious family?

Do you see any similarities between your family's behavior and the description of a delusional disorder provided below? (Note: The psychiatric community grants religion a privileged exemption in #7, just as it has a privileged place in so many other aspects of society.)

I've come to accept that my religious family members are delusional. Just as an addiction is a disease,  they too are hopeless junkies, and religion is the drug that has damaged their minds beyond hope of recovery. They have lost the ability to think and reason clearly where religion is concerned and lash out angrily at the slightest attempt to call their attention to it.

When I was young I depended on my family for survival. My acceptance of the situation kept a roof over my head and my belly full, so aside from some indirect rebellion I kept quiet. When I was 17 I joined the military and have been on my own ever since. After that, there was no need to hold my tongue. When I went back home, I could say whatever I liked.

After many arguments with my family over religion-- where they always got extremely upset and angry at me--  it came down to this: they insisted I be "respectfully silent" when they jabbered prayers or spouted the kind of crap written in the OP above. Shut up when we spark the crack pipe and blow the smoke in your face, Gallup, otherwise you're being disrespectful.

In so many words, I said a muzzle and my silent, unwilling participation in their religion is not respectful, and if it's a condition for seeing me, then they were essentially saying they did not want to see me. That eventually made the silence mutual on the subject of religion. If they avoid it, I'll avoid it too. If they bring it up, anything they say is fair game, no matter where we are or who is listening.

It's an uneasy ceasefire, but it has held for many years with an occasional exchange of shots over the DMZ. When I see them, we talk about all sorts of things, but we avoid religion. It helps that I live in another state now and see them only a few times a year.

----------------------------------

Delusional Disorder

Delusional disorder is an uncommon psychiatric condition in which patients present with non-bizarre delusions, but with no accompanying prominent hallucinations, thought disorder, mood disorder, or significant flattening of affect. Delusions are a type of psychotic symptom. Apart from their delusions, people with delusional disorder may continue to socialize and function in a normal manner and their behaviour does not generally seem odd or bizarre. [...] A person with delusional disorder may be high functioning in daily life, and this disorder bears no relation to one's IQ. According to German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin, patients with delusional disorder remain coherent, sensible and reasonable.

Indicators of a Delusion:

  1. The patient expresses an idea or belief with unusual persistence or force.
  2. That idea appears to exert an undue influence on the patient's life, and the way of life is often altered to an inexplicable extent.
  3. Despite his/her profound conviction, there is often a quality of secretiveness or suspicion when the patient is questioned about it.
  4. The individual tends to be humorless and oversensitive, especially about the belief.
  5. There is a quality of centrality: no matter how unlikely it is that these strange things are happening to him, the patient accepts them relatively unquestioningly.
  6. An attempt to contradict the belief is likely to arouse an inappropriately strong emotional reaction, often with irritability and hostility.
  7. The belief is, at the least, unlikely, and out of keeping with the patient's social, cultural and religious background.
  8. The patient is emotionally over-invested in the idea and it overwhelms other elements of their psyche.
  9. The delusion, if acted out, often leads to behaviors which are abnormal and/or out of character, although perhaps understandable in the light of the delusional beliefs.
  10. Individuals who know the patient observe that the belief and behavior are uncharacteristic and alien.

Features of a Delusion:

  1. It is a primary disorder.
  2. It is a stable disorder characterized by the presence of delusions to which the patient clings with extraordinary tenacity.
  3. The illness is chronic and frequently lifelong.
  4. The delusions are logically constructed and internally consistent.
  5. The delusions do not interfere with general logical reasoning (although within the delusional system the logic is perverted) and there is usually no general disturbance of behavior. If disturbed behavior does occur, it is directly related to the delusional beliefs.
  6. The individual experiences a heightened sense of self-reference. Events which, to others, are nonsignificant are of enormous significance to him or her, and the atmosphere surrounding the delusions is highly charged.

Treatment:

A challenge in the treatment of delusional disorders is that most patients have limited insight, and do not acknowledge that there is a problem. Most patients are treated as out-patients, although hospitalization may be required in some cases if there is a risk of harm to self or others. Individual psychotherapy is recommended rather than group psychotherapy, as patients are often quite suspicious and sensitive.

"Coming out" to my family about my atheism was one of the most liberating things I have ever done. It felt amazing to know that I didn't have to live secretly anymore. Unfortunately my family did not react favorably. I come from an extremely christian family, my grandfather and uncle are both pastors and another uncle is a deacon in his church. Most of my family rejected me while a few like minded individuals congratulated me on my bravery before returning to the shadows. This rejection hit me hard as i have always valued family, but I would do it all over again. Since then I have found new close friends who either think like me or accept my beliefs. While I understand that it allows you to stay with people you care about, staying in the atheist closet is torture to yourself. Go out and find people who like you for who you are not for what god you worship or don't worship. Love your family but live for yourself and do what makes you happy that has always been my philosophy.

I need to hear success stories like that. That's great.

"Love your family but live for yourself" - words to live by.

"Do you ever have to sit through and shut up with your religious family?" - Nope, I've been open and honest with everyone since I was 12.

That sounds intense. I have had limited contact with Charismatic Christianity. It sounds nuts to me and would have even when I drank the Catholic cool-aid. I'm kind of stunned when confronted by this depth of "belief."

I generally don't become confrontational with my Catholic family when they go all woo but I will sometimes assert an alternative interpretation. If I agree with the emotional sentiment behind something they attribute to the supernatural, I will agree with their feelings but use secular language to do so--instead of nodding along with exclamations of "god is great/mysterious/merciful/love/etc. and whatever fits the moment." I find it to be equally as subversive to set an example of a secular person feeling wonder, awe, gratitude, relief, or joy without couching the experience in spiritual language as I do when I have the opportunity to pose a naturalistic hypothesis for a "miracle." If you do any of this with a humble, earnest tone, it is harder for them to get defensive and shut out the new ideas you're introducing to them. It also shows them that life can be just as rich and wonderful without resorting to spiritual explanations.

Now, the Fundie Family(R) members, the baptists on the other side of my family, they're another ball game. Their lack of grounding in the real world and the steep emotional investment and sense of righteousness that fairly flows off of them...it all combines to give you the sense that you've passed giant neon-yellow highway sign upon crossing the boundary to another dimension--their part of the country (Appalachia)--"Caution!" reads the sign, "You are entering a no-reality zone. Do not look behind the fundie-curtain. Smile and nod. Smile and nod! Oh, right...also watch for fallen rock." It's probably not worth it to do anything more than smile and nod when Gramps gets into his latest quack medical discovery--and did you know that certain diseases are signs of demonic possession? "wow, grandpa." Smile and nod. I have stopped praying with them though, so if they're still paying attention they might discern that there's been a disturbance in the force. Regardless, the fundie-times keep on a rollin.

Physeter,

You commented "Now as an atheist I feel I have to stay silent for fear they’ll figure me out."

If you tell them you're an atheist they will still not "figure you out." Rational thinking is not their strong suit. Your interactions with them would definitely be more lively and interesting if you were to reveal your true identity. It is your responsibility to provoke them to actually think about why they hold these stone age beliefs. I would no longer "sit through and shut up" while they pat one another on the back with religious drool.

Take a stand. Man up. 

Normally Ed, I'd agree with you 100%, and the fact that I began questioning the religious beliefs of my family at 12, would back that up, but Physeter made a good point:

"...when they go all woo but I will sometimes assert an alternative interpretation. If I agree with the emotional sentiment behind something they attribute to the supernatural, I will agree with their feelings but use secular language to do so--instead of nodding along with exclamations of "'god is great/mysterious/merciful/love/etc. and whatever fits the moment.' I find it to be equally as subversive to set an example of a secular person feeling wonder, awe, gratitude, relief, or joy without couching the experience in spiritual language as I do when I have the opportunity to pose a naturalistic hypothesis for a 'miracle.' If you do any of this with a humble, earnest tone, it is harder for them to get defensive and shut out the new ideas you're introducing to them. It also shows them that life can be just as rich and wonderful without resorting to spiritual explanations."

If he can successfully provoke them into taking a closer look at the grounds for their belief system, isn't he accomplishing more than if he came out? After that, his explanations would hold far less weight with his family, if he could get them to listen too him at all. Maybe his Trojan Horse approach could accomplish something.

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