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Tips for Atheists to Survive Christmas with Religious Family Members

December 22, 2016

Christmas is just a few days away! Are you going to be doing anything special for the holiday?

 

As an atheist, I have been in situations at various points in the past among other people, whether they be family or friends, or even strangers, where I have felt uncomfortable around the faithful for a variety of reasons.

 

This time of year a common cause for stress among atheists is being home with family members who are religious, especially if family members are aware of their disbelief in religion and openly hostile because of it. So here I have assembled some tips for getting through Christmas with your religious family members.

 

1) Prepare some deflections beforehand. If your parent, grandparent, or other family member always makes it a point to harass you about your lack of faith, then prepare some diversions ahead of time. For example, if your father asks you if you have been to church lately, you can try asking if his knee is still bothering him. The more unexpected (but avoid making it too obvious) your reply is, the more likely you are to catch the other person off guard and successfully change the course of the conversation. Also, in the example above, asking about something personal, like if someone is doing well, shows your concern and love for them. This strategy is your first line of defense. It will fail sometimes, but you have to start somewhere.

 

2) Be honest, but avoid acting too defensively. If they get past your first line of defense above, then things can spiral out-of-control quickly. This can be a very difficult situation to navigate. You want to be honest about who you are, and what you do and do not believe, but acting too defensively will cause the family member(s) you are conversing with to escalate the conflict. Believers often (irrationally) see the mere existence of nonbelievers as an attack on their faith. Combine that with the fact that many people strongly identify themselves by their faith and they can see us as an assault on who they are as people (again, as irrational as that is).

 

3) Try mindfulness tactics, especially if things start to go off the rails. If you start feeling anxious or upset then try to take a few quick moments, before doing or saying anything else, to ground yourself and take some deep breaths. In those few moments take stock of how your body feels, your emotional state, and your environment. Be in the moment for a few seconds to try and calm yourself somewhat before you proceed.

 

4) Fighting fire with fire usually works poorly with anger. If your family member is angry with you because you do not go to church or do not believe in God, then getting angry back at them is unlikely to constructively improve the situation. As hard as it may be, it usually helps more to remain calm and respectful. But do not mistake respect for being submissive. You are still a human being and you should still be respected in return.

5) Have an exit strategy ready. Depending on how things progress, you could have a real need to leave the situation. Remember that despite whatever obligations you may feel towards your family during the holiday season, your safety both mentally and physically are important, too. If the situation is getting too out-of-control, then you may need to just leave. Have that mapped out ahead of time in case it comes to that.

 

6) Drink (if you are of legal age). OK, so this one is tongue-in-cheek and should not be taken too literally, but you could always just face the uncomfortable and awkward situation by getting trashed.

 

What if your family is not aware that you do not believe in God? For some people, whether it is because they are still young and could face getting thrown out of the house, or they simply want to avoid conflict, they may be hiding their lack of faith from their family or friends.

 

Regardless of what is motivating you to keep your non-belief hidden, if you are going along with religious rituals or rites in order to keep up the illusion, then you may still feel uncomfortable at times. This is a situation where it pays to weigh your choices A) Do you continue the charade or B) Do you come out as a nonbeliever and face the consequences. While neither situation is ideal you have to decide which one is the most tolerable and healthy for you, mentally and physically.

 

If you or anyone you know needs help because the situation is too difficult at home or among friends, there are resources available. I have a few linked below. Stay safe and happy holidays.

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

The American Humanist Association

American Atheists

 

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