Would You Accept a Gift From a Fundamentalist Christian? December 24, 2008

Would You Accept a Gift From a Fundamentalist Christian?

***Update***: Olivia provides an update to this interaction in the comments.

Reader Olivia has a minor dilemma. She has an Amazon wishlist (as do I!) and people are able to purchase the items for the listmaker. Kind of like a wedding registry.

Olivia recently received one of her wishlist books in the mail. She was surprised to discover who had sent her the gift:

The person who sent it is someone I have only [spoken to] online and rarely in good terms.

The person is a very conservative Christian mother who actively goes out of her way to tell people how bad and wrong homosexuality is, most commonly by sending emails/posting on their blogs.

The last time we had an encounter, she described me as an evil snake and follower of Satan.

Olivia appreciates the book but wonders about the appropriate response:

Should I return the gift?

Accept it graciously and send something in return?

Should I look for an ulterior motive?

Am I being too paranoid?

In case it matters, the book has nothing to do with religion.

What would you do?

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  • Accept it and say thank you.

  • Matt

    I’ve been in this situation before, where someone I had serious disagreement with sent me a present for my birthday. The last communication was pretty vehement. And then a few weeks later a gift appeared from that person. No explanatory note, just a happy birthday. I decided to keep the present and thank the person. Bear in mind, I had an in-person relationship with this person – we worked together. A couple months later we had one of our disagreements, and the giving of the present was thrown in my face – essentially I should be more agreeable with the person because he sent me a present and I accepted it. I reminded him a gift is freely given with no strings or it’s not a gift but a bribe. We didn’t speak again after that, and work communication was via email. I ended up leaving soon after for other reasons.

    My point is this: this isn’t a friend you’ve had a disagreement with who’s trying to make it up. This is a person who thinks you’re vile at your core and wants some leverage over you. I’d send it back with a thanks-but-no-thanks note.

  • Richard Wade

    Calling someone “an evil snake and follower of Satan” seems to me something that should have some kind of consequence. The woman needs to learn that she does not have license for such behavior. Accepting the book would be like condoning a slap in the face followed by a box of candy. It reminds me of an abusive spouse’s pattern.

    The woman’s being a fundamentalist is not the issue, but the opprobrious way she has treated Olivia would be the reason I would suggest that she should return the gift, along with a polite but crystal clear statement of how that kind of treatment is not acceptable, and so neither is the gift.

    An unambiguous apology from the woman first might make such gifts something to consider.

  • I would have to return it. Accepting a gift can create a kind of obligation. I really don’t want to deal with a fundie on those terms.

  • I almost broke off my friendship with my yoga teacher because she told me that she was a fan of Sarah Palin (after backing Hillary Clinton in the D primary).

    We are on speaking terms and I’d still accept a gift from her.

  • Tufty

    I’d return it. I can’t see why they’d want a gift from someone who openly expresses their atheophobia (fear/hatred of atheists) by calling them “an evil snake and follower of Satan.”

  • Being a gaytheist I couldn’t accept it (particularly after the pattern of behavior the giver has shown). I’d be too worried that strings were attached and/or that ulterior motives were behind it. I may be too suspicious but when it comes to RRRW fundies I’ve learned I have to be….

  • The gift may have been given as an apology or peace offering to make up for the nasty things this person said in the past. Accept it in that spirit.

    In the event that it is intended as some kind of manipulation, to prove the generosity of Christians and opposed to atheists or to be thrown in your face during some future confrontation, you will have the advantage of your atheist paranoia to help you guard yourself against such a plot.

  • Sock

    I agree with others. I would send it back. More often than not, “gifts” are a form of leverage. Especially from fundies. “Do unto others so that you can force them to do unto you.”

  • Zar

    Return it, maybe with a brief (but polite) thanks-but-no-thanks note.

  • Beowulff

    I assume it was already ruled out that this isn’t from somebody else pulling a prank? Somebody thinking it was funny to send you something under the name of a person who’d never do such a thing? Because that was the first thing going through my mind.

    The thing I’d probably do is ask her what the gift was for. Especially, why did she send a gift to someone that she clearly doesn’t consider a friend (or a full human being, for that matter)?

    The answer should be quite telling. If it’s an apology or something like that, by all means accept it.

    However, if there is no satisfactory answer, you should probably return the gift. You could also decide to keep it, but with the clear message that you feel you are under no obligations from accepting the gift.

    I don’t think that suspecting an ulterior motive is paranoid here. It is technically possible that she just wanted to apologize with this gift, but if so, why didn’t she just say so in the message that Amazon allows you to enter for each gift?

    So yeah, my advice would be to ask her about it, and decide based on the response.

  • Adam

    I was going to say yes, after reading just the title and the first few sentences, however when I got to the part about homosexuality, and me being bi, I would return it. In my opinion it would be like accepting a gift from a racist, and I’m sure a few of yall disagree with me on that part.

  • Kathy

    Why would you consider keeping that gift?

  • Oh hell, I’ll play devil’s advocate and make the argument to the contrary. Just call me the “unfriendly atheist” 🙂

    Do not return it.

    The argument that says accepting a gift can create an obligation is only true if you let it be true.

    If this is nothing more than a kind gesture (seems unlikely, but let’s consider the possibility) then accept it and be done with it. (How did they track your Amazon wish list down, BTW?)

    If it was intended in any nasty way to bother you, if you don’t let it bother you, they failed. (And, they obviously had too much money at their disposal.)

    If it was intended to be used to score points with others by demonstrating their superior Christian charity… donate the gift to a charity they’d hate.

    And do make sure that, in whatever forum you interact with this person, at exactly the same time you thank them, that you make sure to tell them that, with so many people in need at this time of year, you felt it more important to help others. Charity is an important thing, but it should be extended first to people in need.

    Humanist Charity 1, Christian Charity 0.

  • Two things:

    a) It’s always better to assume good faith than not, as long as you don’t allow yourself to get hurt in the process. As such, I’d accept the gift as given.

    b) The only way people can take advantage of you is if you let them. If the person sent it with strings attached and you find that unacceptable, that doesn’t mean that you have to suck it up and follow through with whatever they had in mind just to repay them. After all, that’s the definition of a gift. If the situation turns bad, you can always donate the book to a library or something if you decide you can’t stand the sight of the thing anymore.

    EDIT: Looks like Gridman had similar ideas.

  • I’d keep it. Or sell it if its something i didn’t want. But then I’m a greedy bastard.

  • timeeeee

    I’d have to agree with gridman+justin. If they’re sending it in good faith, the last thing you’d want to do is refuse it. If they try to use it as leverage in an argument later on, remember that they’re the one taking advantage of someone. Even if they’re not very understanding, at least you tried to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • Olivia

    Hello everyone. I sent her a message expressing my delight and bewilderment and this is my reply.

    Wow, and Amazon said it wouldn’t arrive until after Christmas! I’m very glad to hear you got the book before your trip! 🙂

    I do like you [username], I know I’m weird about it, but I can’t think of a single person I don’t like. When I found a link to your wish list on one of your journal entries I thought it could be an opportunity to show it. I’ll admit that I held off for a little while because I wasn’t sure how you felt about me or how you would take it…but in the end I decided that even if you didn’t like the sender you might still enjoy the book… The fact that you like it really means a lot to me. Also I have some regrets. I regret that I thwarted my chance to befriend you, and some other people, by my actions on certain websites. But that’s another letter entirely. I just hope you have a wonderful holiday and have fun in Tasmania! Have a safe trip. Drink lots of eggnog.

    [Name removed]

    I’m hoping this means I can make some headway with her. I personally believe everyone can change, so maybe if I keep showing her that I too can be good without her God, she will make some headway in growing more tolerant and accepting.
    I’ve no interest in converting her, but the idea that she can change her opinion about me feels me with hope.

    Plus I find it hard to hold a grudge. Friends are more fun than enemies c:

    Thank you

    PS. This is what I sent:


    I’m honestly very surprised and quite touched! This is very unexpected and sweet of you.
    You made my day very exciting with anticipation (the box arrived as I was going to work, so I spent all of work wondering who it could be from and concluded it must be from someone online…but this is very amazing!).

    I am sure I am going to enjoy the book very much, and I thank you from the bottom of my leetle beating heart. It’s so unexpected and delightful.

    I feel like I won a lottery.

    I thought you disliked me greatly and that we’d achieved some kind of mutual ground, but a gift? This is quite sweet c: Amazingly nice.

    May I wonder why? Or is it just one of those random “Do something exceedingly nice” moments everyone gets? c:
    Even if you don’t wish to explain reasons, thank you very much c:

    C: C:

    Have a very Happy Holiday, a Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year!


    PS. Spectacular timing too! My flight is tomorrow and I won’t be back home for a month!

  • TheDeadEye

    Keep it. Maybe she felt guilty for being such an ass.

  • I’d keep it, thank them (looks like you did both already) and send a cash donation to your local food shelf equal to or greater than the value of the gift in that person’s name and let them know that you did that.

    It “evens out” any perceived reciprocity problem, eliminates the possibility of self-righteousness on their part (i.e. “As a Christian, I can forgive my enemies. That makes me better than athiests.”) and helps some people in need.

    I have made it a deliberate effort since my own de-conversion to live a life that is by all measures a *more* moral and *more* ethical life than the one I was living while a Christian.

    That’s due in large part to the 20+ years of indoctrination that claimed that without the threat of God’s punishment and the “guidance” of the Bible, the inevitable outcome is a 100% selfish life of unconstrained hedonism.

  • Spork

    How about you just stop over-thinking it and say “thank you?”

    Seriously, I wonder at you nitwits sometimes. You’d not only look a gift horse in the mouth, but you’d check to make sure an olive branch being offered you came from an organic farm without a copy of the ten commandments on the wall of the farmhouse at the orchard…

  • I think that if the gift was given without explanation then the proper thing would be to inquire as to her motivations. Do it gently, it could honestly be that she feels bad about how she behaved and wanted to make amends. If that’s the case keeping the gift with a thank-you would be fine. However if the motivations are of some other passive-aggressive nature, then returning the gift with the message that you’d rather be respected than given gifts would be the way to go.

  • I didn’t say why i would take the gift and feel that I need to explain.

    I believe that it is important to take the intentions of another in the most positive light you can where ever there is room for interpretation. If someone spills a drink on you then it was most likely an accident, if someone thanks you then it is most likely that they are sincere in their gratitude, if someone sends you a gift it is because they want to give you something. Looking for ulterior motives just makes you seem suspicious.

    This person sent you a gift therefore they want you to have a gift. Why is down to them, I’m not going to worry about intent or motives because they don’t concern me. Instead I’d just be grateful for a surprise present and thank them. I like to thank people who send me gifts because I like to acknowledge receipt and return some of that good feeling back to a person. Gratitude costs very little and does no obligate me to any future commitment.

  • Looks like it was sincerely offered, and as it was something on your Wish List you presumably wanted it anyway. If it had been something like “Why You’re Going to Hell” or some such junk I’d refuse it, but the note looks genuine enough.

    It’s a nice holiday gesture, so I see absolutely nothing wrong with accepting the gift. Random acts of kindness and so forth. Merry Mythmas, everyone.

  • I’d say: “Lighten up, it’s Xmas!”

  • Awwww-what a nice gesture. I’m glad it worked out okay!

    My dad is the master of assuming everyone in the world is kind and generous and has something interesting to add to life. Again and again, I see him diffuse tension by paying an honest compliment at a time when anyone else would get their back up and probably come to blows. Nobody wants to be the jerk who abuses someone for saying they’re cool.

    My favorite was the time Dad expressed admiration for spinners on a minivan. The guys in the van noticed us noticing their wheels, and at the next stoplight opened their windows and started blustering at us, insinuating that we were racist and probably in need of a good whupping. Dad had never seen spinners before in his life, and when these guys figured out that his compliments were for real, we learned all about where to get some cheap ones of our very own for Mom & Dad’s ancient Volkswagen Jetta.

    Assuming the best of people gives an opportunity to connect, whereas assuming the worst pretty much rejects all comers. You may not really want to put spinners on your Volkswagen, but who in their right mind would pass up an opportunity to imagine the possibility?

  • If you would want them to accept a gift from you, then I would accept the gift from them.

  • I’m with Wade on this one. Not to sound completely misanthropic, but if she’s the way you describe, she’s probably invoking “love thy enemies” and thinking of using the gift as leverage in the future.

  • Lexi

    I don’t think the issue is whether or not she is a fundamentalist christian. I think the issue is whether or not she is a bitch.

    I would accept a gift from a relgious person, if that person and I were friends. I would not accept a gift from someone, even an atheist, who was a bitch and a name caller.

  • I would accept it and send a thank you card.

    People only have as much power over you as you give them. If the giver brings up the gift in the future feel free to say “And it was a lovely gift. Now, back to the subject we were talking about….

  • Calvin

    Am I the only one who thinks being friendly is the way to go here? I would say get a small something in return (maybe something her kids would like) and send it with a short note thanking her for the gift and expressing kind wishes and sincere hopes for interpersonal harmony and civility in the future in spite of any differences of belief.

    Yes, it’s likely she’s just sending it as leverage. But it’s also possible she feels bad. When in doubt, give people the benefit of the doubt.

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