I read your column with interest, as many of the issues pertain to my family situation.
Immersed in Catholicism until age 19 when I quit the seminary and joined the US Navy, I left behind a thoroughly delusional extended family of Catholics, none of whom have ever doubted the world view they were indoctrinated into, and therefore never tested the waters of more worldly philosophic alternatives. That was 50 years ago.
As a result, to this day they are all still firmly in the camp of the holy see (except possibly for the rhythm method); and their political proclivities are completely predictable. They would be overjoyed that our supreme court now has a plurality “on their side,” if indeed they were aware of such esoteric details.
I have tried to avoid provoking, insulting, or disparaging their unsubstantiated beliefs; but have made it clear that I had long ago been deconverted to a rational, humanistic, and progressive Weltanshauung, shortly after leaving the hollowed halls of the seminary and the family nest. Of course, “leaving” was my moment of lucidity that enabled deconversion.
Here’s my question:
Can you suggest one or more starter books which I could send to siblings who might have a hidden spark of curiosity about the natural world, if only they could get over their damned fear of eternal damnation?
In recent years I have expounded with several of my siblings, including the monk, on the absurdity of this malevolent doctrine central to two of the three Abrahamic cults; but I was met only with rolling of the eyes and shaking of the head, no doubt gestures of pity for me.
So they clearly are not ready for Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, or Hitchens (all of whom I highly esteem). But maybe there is an author I have not yet read, who could worm her way past this monumental hurdle, and allay their fears.
It really is an insidious trump card that Christianity and Islam have played on humanity. I suspect Daniel Dennet is on target… Let the old folks live out their lives in the comfort of their illusions… or words to that effect.
god free in Seattle
Dear god free,
Perhaps you’re not fully god free until you are also free of the importance of getting others to be god free, at least so that the mere fact that they still have god beliefs does not disturb your personal serenity.
You’re about 69 years old, and so I assume your siblings are roughly the same age. By your description, they are not just deeply indoctrinated in Catholicism, they’re deeply entrenched in it, and they have shown no interest in matters that would distract them from that focus.
You’re hoping that something they read will get them past their “damned fear of eternal damnation.” I doubt that they want to get past it. In many years as a counselor, I have worked with thousands of people and their fears. Telling me about their fear didn’t necessarily mean they wanted to be free of it, and if they didn’t want to let it go, I couldn’t take it away.
For some people, lifelong, deeply engrained fears are familiar, orienting, and reassuring walls of containment. Think of the difference between claustrophobia and agoraphobia. You felt in a sense claustrophobic, stifled and imprisoned by the Catholic dogma, and so you went out into the wide world, (and in the Navy, you’re as out in the open as you can get.)
Your siblings are in a sense agoraphobic, feeling exposed in the wide world, intimidated by the countless possibilities and risks radiating out from them in all directions. Boundless freedom means boundless responsibility and boundless jeopardy. It’s too large, too cold, and too chaotic for them. They want a smaller, warmer, more predictable habitat, hemmed in by fearful fantasies on one side and reassuring fantasies on the other. With fewer options, they know exactly what is expected of them, and they feel confident that they can deliver.
God free, some of the commenters here may have some excellent books to suggest, but there are no magic books. The reader must be already open to change for any book to facilitate change. Just as reading the Bible now would not likely reconvert you back into its boundaries, so any book that even suggests looking outside those boundaries will not likely be accepted by your siblings, unless they have as you say, a hidden spark of curiosity, and they are already peeking outside.
Atheism is a hard sell. One basically has to say, “Hey, all you nice folks huddled inside that cozy little dogma yurt! Come outside! Sure, it’s cold and windy, but there’s lots of room! Alright, we have to accept that we’re orphans in a hostile, dangerous universe that not only doesn’t care about us, it isn’t even aware of our existence. But the complex, deadly, mindless immensity of it all is breathtakingly beautiful! Okay, yes, we have to use our own judgment to make every decision, and make them based on incomplete information, and we have to accept responsibility for the consequences. But by golly, we’re free to think our own thoughts and be true adults! You’ll like it once you get used to it! …Hello?”
If a person is going through an adjustment of belief or even a deconversion, I’ll do what I can to inform and comfort them, but it has to be their decision, their ordeal, their emancipation. I will not interfere with their leaving their beliefs or returning to them. I will accept their development as it unfolds. I’ll agree or disagree with them honestly, but I only manage my own mind. That’s hard enough.
Your peace of mind must not depend on what’s inside someone else’s mind. Try to accept your brothers and sisters just as they are, living within the accustomed confines of their fears and hopes. Their thoughts are their own, but their actions are a different matter. If they try to pull us in, to force that confinement upon us, yes, we must resist and even fight. But if they simply want to stay inside, then leave them be. We have our work to do out here. We have to keep vigil on the wide, dangerous, beautiful world.
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