I'm an atheist and a skeptic. She's been dabbling with a kooky New Age church. This bothers me. How do I approach this situation?
Some background on the relationship, which is a little unusual: we've been friends for almost ten years, but we started dating (casually, but monogamously) about nine months ago. We've been aware all along that our long-term potential is questionable (for example, she wants children, and I don't)—but have seen fit to continue dating as long as it's good for both of us. I hestitate to call it a fling—that sounds so trivial, and we've become quite close and important to each other—but it's not quite a full-blown relationship, either. (We also live an hour and a half apart, which is another reason we've kept things relatively casual—we're really only able to see each other on the weekends.) Neither of us are particularly social, so this still means that we spend more time with each other than we do with other people. Maybe we're really close
friends with benefits?
So, to the issue at hand. She has a work friend who attends a New Age church, and has lately attended herself a few times. She's told me a little about the sermons, and I've looked at their web site.
It's fruity as hell—total B-grade hucksterism. There's a photo of the swami on their Web site, with a circular halo over his chest, which is very obviously a speck of dust on the camera lens. The text accompanying the photo claims that the halo is actually his heart chakra, revealed on film. (They're really
into chakras.) The site goes on at length about how spiritual, wise, and enlightened the church leaders are, stopping just short of proclaiming them demigods. Reincarnation, hypnotherapy, alternate planes of reality, pictures of the platinum-blonde swami in his dopey swami costume with a totally creepy smile on his face—you get the idea.
Now, as I said, I'm a skeptic. I believe, very strongly, that the world would be better off without this kind of thing. I'm having trouble reconciling the respect and admiration I have for this wonderful lady, with her involvement in something that is, to me, so ugly and offensive.
Here is what puzzles me: she's by no means unintelligent or lacking in critical thinking skills. She's very bright, actually—highly educated (and employed) in a firmly evidence-based, scientific field. She keeps Origin of Species
on the mantel, and subscribes to scientific journals. She has no more time for the nonsense in (for example) Christian dogma than I do. She regularly impresses me with her knowledge and insights.
And yet here she is, spending her free time watching charlatans and self-appointed gurus babble about spirit energy and cosmic vibration. Not just woo-woo, but full-blown, off-the-deep-end, pyramid-power woo-woo.
I don't know how seriously she takes the supernatural content of the sermons. She's been going through a big and difficult transition in her life—in which I've done my best to support her, in a manner appropriate to our relationship—and perhaps she's just interested in the social and emotional dimensions of the church. If that's the case, though, I can't understand how she can just disregard the bullshit and take the rest. To me, that's like getting a plate of spaghetti with a big turd nestled on top. Not exactly appetizing, you know? And not exactly the kind of thing that inspires confidence in the integrity of the spaghetti itself.
It's worth noting that her mother is very into New Age (and in fact makes a living as a huckster, performing magic rituals for money—sorry to put it that way, but that's what it is). Her sister, with whom she's very close, works in herbal medicine (which I admit can be effective in some specific cases, but it's nonetheless a field overflowing with woo). I don't hide my feelings about that, but neither do I make a big deal out of it—we've only brushed on it in conversation, and she freely volunteers that her mother is "crazy".
(She's also mentioned the idea of going on a detox diet, and has afforded credence to ear candling—which further cements my concern that she's a little more credulous than she thinks she is. And perplexes me even futher—given the field in which she works, she really, really
ought to know that these things have no basis in reality.)
So I'm wondering:
- Is there any point in trying to convince her that this church is kooky? She isn't yet a regular member, and (as far as I know) hasn't started giving them money—yet. On the one hand, I know that it's not my place to try to change her—but on the other, I feel obligated to say something when I see a friend mistaken about something. If she were thinking about joining a pyramid scheme, or responding to a Nigerian scam email, I'd warn her that those things are confidence games and frauds. In my view, this church is also a confidence game and a fraud.
But I've tried every approach I know to reason with believers in pseudoscience and religion, and have pretty much concluded that it's not possible. The only effective approach I've found is to distance myself from the believer. I don't want to do that with this person.
- If there is a point, how do I approach that conversation?
- If there isn't a point, how do I proceed? If we were expecting our romance to be a long-term thing, I'd probably consider that a deal-breaker. But neither of us are expecting it to last forever. We're definitely friends, though, and want to stay that way after the romance ends. Even though I'm obviously conflicted on this issue, I do have a lot of respect and affection for her.
Given that we don't expect to marry each other, or anything like that: can we agree to ignore our differences on this subject, and avoid the topic? Will that work? She's pretty awesome otherwise—and I'd hate to spoil our romance, or our friendship, over this.
Sorry for the length—it's difficult to explain things like this concisely. Your thoughts will be appreciated.