Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Are Fugitives from Fundamentalism in Self-Exile?

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on July 14, 2008

This brief essay was written in response to a Christian who wrote the following:

I’ve seen a lot of posting about atheists/agnostics “coming out” to your parents and the ensuing fallout. While reading all of these statements, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of this parent-child tension could possibly be self-imposed. I fully recognize the fact that it causes the parents distress, but on the other hand, I think it is important to be open to the possibility that at least some of this tension could be a result of projecting your own thoughts and feelings onto them, sort of like saying “I know they would think or act this way, because that’s how I would react if I were them.” I care about my son and daughter more than I do about any other human beings on this ball of dirt, and there is no way in hell that I would disown them or even distance myself from them for rejecting my faith. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shaking my finger at anybody or saying that you’re doing this to yourself. I just want to urge you all to do two things:

1. Be consciously aware of the possibility of creating a self-imposed exile from the parents.

2. Reach out to them (as opposed to waiting for their affirmation) and be honest, even if in a tactful way. Keep the communication lines open.

If there is still a chasm that cannot be bridged, then you can at least give yourselves credit for trying. I’m not saying any of this because I pretend to be an expert in anything, but rather because this is what I would want my kids to do in such a situation.”

I appreciate the advice you have given, since I think it is sound. In fact, it is advice I have already followed. I understand that, as a Christian, it is difficult to comprehend the tension that results from Christianity’s intolerance for disbelief. When you are standing firmly planted in the position of “I know Truth,” it is difficult not to adopt the position of, “Well, those people who choose to reject Truth are bringing any tension onto themselves.” It is true that becoming a Christian would eliminate any tension, but that is not an option. I should be able to have a relationship with my parents without any tension, despite a difference in beliefs. When religious belief is involved, since it claims to be right while all others are wrong, that is not possible.

Let me create a scenario that might help to illustrate this from a Christian’s point of view. Let’s say I am a Christian parent who has two small children. One day, I go over to my Hindu parents’ house to visit. Since they are very devout Hindu missionaries, their conversation is peppered with references to Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, etc., and the many miracles and blessings they have provided for them during the past week. My father asks me if I remember a Hindu family we once knew when I was a child. After I reply yes, he tells me about their oldest daughter who converted to Islam and the distress this has been causing her parents. I wonder why he thinks this story would be of any interest to me and can’t help but see it as a thinly veiled allegory for our own relationship. While I talk to my father, my mother is talking to my wife. She asks her if she has thought about taking the kids to a Hindu temple for a “kid’s school service,” since it would be nice for the kids to go even if we aren’t interested. My wife squirms uncomfortably as she tells her that we already have the kids in a Christian preschool, and have no plans to take them to any Hindu services.

Later that week, I drop my kids off to spend time with their grandparents. When I pick them up later that day, my Hindu mother tells me about all of the fun they had. She says, “We learned stories from the Vedas and sang songs of worship to Ganesh. Look at these pictures your son drew of Shiva. Isn’t he talented! You know, your son is so spiritual. He showed so much curiosity and asked so many questions when we were learning stories from the sacred Vedas.” Now, it seems to me that I have two choices: 1) I can go home and tell my wife, “Every time we let my parents spend time with the kids they are going to be indoctrinated into Hinduism. Hope you don’t mind.” 2) I can ask my mother to keep her Hindu beliefs to herself, since I do not want my children indoctrinated into the Hindu faith.

So I ask you, my fellow Christian, would you allow your children to be indoctrinated into Hinduism? Or, would this be a source of tension for you? Would you find the constant conversations about Ganesh to be tiring and irksome, or would it make you even more excited to talk to your parents and visit them more often for even more doses of it?

It seems to me that the suggestion of a “self-imposed exile” is reflective of an attitude that thinks only people who believe the same Truth as you are deserving of respect. I deserve to be able to have a relationship with my parents without constantly being harassed, as do you. I deserve to be able to have a normal relationship with my family members without having to undergo guerrilla-style evangelism efforts.

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4 Responses to “Are Fugitives from Fundamentalism in Self-Exile?”

  1. Matt said

    Great post! I am a PK and quasi-MK and have gone through some of the same experiences as you guys.

    If you have time, there is a really good NYT article, Darwin’s God which goes into the evolutionary rationale of religion.

  2. notsilent said

    If a child’s christian faith is something they can be indoctrinated out of, then how can it be “the truth”? Only by seeing the real world, and chosing your path, can you be a TRUE follower of whatever faith you select.

  3. Charity said

    “I should be able to have a relationship with my parents without any tension, despite a difference in beliefs. When religious belief is involved, since it claims to be right while all others are wrong, that is not possible.”

    Maybe militant atheism applies here as well?

    “It seems to me that the suggestion of a “self-imposed exile” is reflective of an attitude that thinks only people who believe the same Truth as you are deserving of respect. I deserve to be able to have a relationship with my parents without constantly being harassed, as do you. I deserve to be able to have a normal relationship with my family members without having to undergo guerrilla-style evangelism efforts.”

    I agree with you here.

    • Ann said

      The primary difference between militant atheism and all religious belief: atheism is evidence based, no religious belief system is evidence based. So, although it may seem arrogant, a militant atheist can legitimately state without doubt that all religions are false and that atheism is true (without a capital t). It’s not a subjective perspective (although you can argue that even science is influenced by human limitations). It’s simply the truth. We don’t go around imposing reality on others. But religious people are constantly imposing their false beliefs on us. Shameful.

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