Tough, somewhat embarrassing situation for me; time to share...

BACKGROUND

As I have mentioned in many, many posts I am an "out of the closet" atheist, and have been since my mid teens. I have been married for 27 years, and have five great kids - 2 of whom are adults. I also have a grandson. When I was dating my wife, and we were beginning to get serious, we had the religious discussion. I knew she came from a very strict Catholic upbringing, but through our discussions over the years I also knew that she wasn't a Christian, much less a Catholic. She still believed there was something that connected us all (I think it was because she had trouble coming to grips with there being NOTHING), but she definitely didn't believe in anything around xianity, or a "granddaddy in the sky" of any type. There is one thing, however, that is important to know about my wife. She HATES discussing religions, especially with me. I am very non-confrontational, especially with her, but she definitely knows my feelings about certain xians and especially hypocritical fundies. She's just the type of person who has a deep aversion to discussing religion or politics, at all.

When we began having kids, we decided to raise them Unitarian Universalist. It was a great way to give a sense of community (church is VERY BIG down here in the Deep South, and there is a huge stigma if you don't go somewhere), and UUs teach a very objective approach towards religions, their histories, rituals, etc. (Incidentally, I still consider myself a UU and I love it.) We have always raised our kids to be respectful of others' beliefs as you would want your beliefs to be respected, and that it is OK - and quite natural - to ask questions, research, and explore different religions. I also explained to them that discovering your answers to spirituality (or no spirituality) is a journey, not a destination - and that you will adjust and refine your thoughts and beliefs throughout your life. It's even quite natural to completely change your mind about parts of it. As they embarked on this exploration my only requirement was that IF you believed something you must be able to explain WHY you believe it, and HOW you arrived at your beliefs.

So far, so good. My eldest is "generically spiritual", more in tune with the human spirit (love one another, etc.) than any deity. She is married to an atheist. My second eldest is also generically spiritual, but even less so than her older sister. She is definitely a "live and let live" type. My third kid, my eldest son, is a died-in-the-wool atheist. My fourth, who is my youngest daughter, is generically spiritual as well. And then there's my youngest - and we arrive at my dilemma.

HERE AND NOW

My youngest, who is a teenage young man, is a very good athlete. He's a middle distance runner (fastest in our county in middle school in the 800m, averages 2:05), and his first love is football. Down here many, many of his friends are xians - and most of them attend what I refer to as the "scary church" - Freechapel, which is one of the U.S. "megachurches". He knows about religions, flavors of xianity, their tenets, etc., so he understands this church; but he's decided he wants to attend church there, and his mom - my wife - is attending with him. They seem to enjoy it. My wife is still defensive around me, but she also knows that I am more knowledgeable about the Bible and xianity in general than anyone else she knows, so she has been asking me questions. I have been answering them, and have gone out of my way to be non-confrontational, because I want to keep the dialogue open between us. My son doesn't really like to talk about it right now, and I think it is because he wants to enjoy it with his mom and friends and not confront the things he's learned from me and his UU education.

SIGH....

So, now you understand my situation. I don't know if I'm asking for advice, as much as I'm just wanting to vent, get this off my chest, tell someone who understands my point-of-view, etc. My eldest son (also an atheist) and I just don't know what to do - if anything - and I just don't know where this may go. I think it may be what I've said before - it is (hopefully?) just a phase he's going through, and a step in his exploration of his feelings and thoughts, and eventually he'll come back around.

I guess I'm willing to accept that this may take awhile - even until he gets to college - but I just don't know what to do until then, if anything. I also don't know if anyone else has gone through something like this. If so, what happened? How have you handled it? What worked? What didn't? What was the outcome? I'm also really not sure of where this is going with my wife. We've had quite a few hardships in our lives lately, and I think this may be a reaction to these hardships, since it is going back to something familiar (somewhat) to her childhood. She still swears up and down she's not a xian, and never will be, but I dunno. Anyway, you get the idea. Right now I feel like I have more questions and trepidation than answers.

Any thoughts you have would be welcome.

Views: 514

Tags: Family, Kids, Spirituality

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on April 1, 2012 at 3:09pm

I had a look at the video for the man 2 man gathering with Reggie Dabbs. I like his name but that is about it. The rallying speech about finding Jesus is typical evangelical rhetoric. It pleases the crowd and gets them hyped up. I suppose it gives them a sense of community and bonds them together which is common to many religions and often is something that new Atheists claim to miss. I think that to many people the feeling of elation and kinship is why the really attend even more so that any spiritual reason.
This may be the case for you son especially as his friends attend. Where I would be concerned is that most people define this feeling of belonging as a religious and spiritual experience and like anything that gives this high it becomes addictive. Then someone with a collection plate comes along and looks at you as if to say “What you expect to keep getting this high with Jesus for free while everyone else is paying?” Ok maybe I am a bit too cynical and that may not be your main concern.

However your son may still be impressionable so concern is warranted. I would not try to prevent anyone from attending. It may be just a passing phase.

You could discuss the concepts of the addictive feel good nature of the church with your wife and tell her that you are glad that she attends with him so that she can keep an eye on him. This might also be a good move as it might make her more critical of what is going on there too. If she watches out for him it may make her aware of the effect it has on her too. Ask her to be wary of requests for money however indirect they may be. People get planted in these groups to “let slip” how much they like to donate. Even if it is not happening there it will change the mindset a bit and set off the alarm bells when the plate is rattled.
Reminding him of what he has achieved for himself through his own actions may help give him a sense of empowerment that will fill any gaps that the church will try to fill. Successful churches are very good at that finding those “gaps” and claiming that the spirit will fill them (once you pay of course). Listen to a few of Dabbs speeches and that becomes obvious. I call it exploitation by snake oil sellers while others call it being saved.
I would ask him in a non confrontational way why he thinks the grown men in the video feel the need to get so emotional at these gathering. What does he think may be missing in their lives? Drawing the similarities between it and a rock concert may be a good intro to the subject. Get them to think of the reasons rather than giving your opinion. That way it should remain open fro future debate. Ok.hope you get something out of that. I think I was venting a little bit too.

It might be worth asking why is the donate button so prominent on their website – at least it was the first thing I saw.

Comment by SteveInCO on April 1, 2012 at 3:56pm

The sensation I get when reading this is like that of watching a disaster movie unfold; you see what is coming and can do nothing to stop it.  Only this is fricking real.

I don't have anything constructive to add like Reg did (he had a lot of good suggestions I would never have thought of), but I wish you the best of luck in helping your family dodge this bullet.

Comment by Dan on April 1, 2012 at 4:15pm

You, sir, are a hypocrite of the highest order.  You claim to have taught your children to be respectful of others' beliefs and "to ask questions, research, and explore different religions."  But what you really mean is that they are free to do those things as long as they come to the same conclusions as you. 

Many of the New Atheists claim that religion is brainwashing.  But here you clearly demonstrate that you've made every attempt to brainwash your family into irreligion.  You're quite proud of your four children who you successfully brainwashed.  But when one shows sign of possibly resisting your attempts and thinking for himself, rather than following your belief system, you find yourself in a "dilemma," wonder what went wrong, and turn to like-minded people to seek advice about how to bring your son back under your mind control. 

This whole thing would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. 

Comment by Steve on April 1, 2012 at 4:36pm

No, he is understandably upset that his son fell for an evangelical megachurch of all things. The kid should really know better. He should know the mind control techniques these places use and that they are ultimately nothing but scams to make the pastors rich.

He wouldn't react the same way if he had chosen some other church that has a less reprehensible business model

Comment by Mabel on April 1, 2012 at 4:40pm

@ Dan - You have got to be kidding? How in the world did you get that the OP is brainwashing his kids from his original post?

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on April 1, 2012 at 4:57pm

@ Dan - your opening comment is very christian like. Are you a member of that Church??? Did you find anything to disagree with in my reply above?? Teaching your children to respect others beliefs is not brainwashing. Reread this bit:

We have always raised our kids to be respectful of others' beliefs as you would want your beliefs to be respected, and that it is OK - and quite natural - to ask questions, research, and explore different religions. I also explained to them that discovering your answers to spirituality (or no spirituality) is a journey, not a destination - and that you will adjust and refine your thoughts and beliefs throughout your life

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on April 1, 2012 at 5:01pm

BTW Dan - If LotusGeek wanted the opinions of like minded people he would go to a church. He asked here becasue he will get different opinions. We are not part of a flock that needs a shepherd to guide it.

Comment by Diane on April 1, 2012 at 5:03pm

Dan, education is different from brainwashing.  I, like LotusGeek, provided my children with access to information from many angles, and them let them decide.  

I have been in contact with evangelical Christians, have been to their church services, and have prayed with them.  I have felt the pressure to conform, to leave behind rational thought and replace it with canned responses.  I have had them tell me the Devil is after my soul, I'm going to go to Hell if I don't follow their ways, and basically dismissed for not doing so.  They are ruthless.  

I allow myself to be subjected to some of it now in an effort to be true to myself and educate people about atheism.  I know from personal experience that it is coercion, seduction, switch-and-bait, and downright fraud.  It should be against the law.

Do I sound angry?  I am.  These are people's minds and lives evangelicals are messing with.  Real damage gets done.  I've seen the wreckage.   

Comment by Rocky Oliver (LotusGeek) on April 1, 2012 at 5:43pm

@Dan - I never, ever said that they are free to choose as long as they choose the same as me. I do respect their spiritual explorations, and have and will continue to help them by answering questions, etc. But others have hit upon the issue that you have so plainfully (willfully?) missed: I am worried that he is being sucked into this church because of the exciting, emotional draw (and yeah, maybe even a bit of brainwashing) and not because he explored their teachings and thought this through rationally.

Simply put, I fear that my 13 yr old son is being lured down the evangelical path because of all the emotional pageantry, captivating music, multimedia experience, etc., without looking at it all rationally; basically, he's buying into it for all the wrong reasons.

Furthermore I want to point out to you that I never said I was going to do anything extreme to prevent this. If I WERE a hypocrite I would raise a big fuss with my wife, forbid my son from going there, get in both of their faces to tell them how ludicrous and stupid it is to go there and get sucked into their cult, remind them that I raised them and taught them better than this, and so on.

But I haven't. And I won't - precisely because I'm NOT a hypocrite.

I believe everything I've said, and everything I've taught my kids. I do think my son needs to find his own answers, just like I did, just like the rest of my kids did. I do believe that it is a journey, not a destination - and that's why I haven't thrown down and argued with my wife, as this is another part of her journey as well.

So, Dan, I believe you failed to read my post thoroughly, and failed to see what exactly I was saying; or you're just trying to "stir the turd" as we say down here in the Deep South.

Either way, you're wrong.

Comment by Rocky Oliver (LotusGeek) on April 1, 2012 at 5:55pm

One more thing, Dan. I went to your T|A page, and found that - by and large - the responses you've posted are cynical criticisms of what others have said. Is your life so empty that you have to make yourself feel superior by making others feel inferior?

Your response history would be - how did you say it?

Oh yes - "... would be hilarious if it weren't so sad."

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