Giving the gift of dogma.
December 27, 2005 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Fundy-In-Law-Filter: My husband's sister and her husband are hard-core evangelical fundamentalists. We are liberal Episcopalians. This causes a problem every Christmas. What do you say when you get a gift that was clearly meant to make a point?

They live across the country from us, with their 2 kids. Every year we exchange gifts via mail and every year they go out of their way to give us some proseletyzing in the guise of a present. James Dobson books, parenting guides that advocate "biblical chastisement," New Testment stories for my Jewish stepkids etc. Last year we sent them homemade fleece scarves, hats and shawls plus some toys for the kids. They sent us a book on "christian manhood" meant to help us with our marriage. (which needs no help) My husband told sis to back off, and she responded by saying that she thinks we are "lost" and she wants to save us. Husband explained that we're happy and strong in our faith and that she's barking up the wrong tree.

This year, we send them a basket of Wolferman's english muffins and some Legos. In return, we get a DVD about Intelligent Design. WTF???

Do we say something? Do we respond in kind the next time a birthday rolls around and send a copy of the Book of Common Prayer? The Gospel of the FSM? A membership to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State?

Or do we just ignore it?
posted by Biblio to Human Relations (83 answers total)
Smile, thank them, and chuck that garbage in the trash as soon as their back is turned. And definitely don't waste your time knitting stuff for them by hand-- send them a $20 gift card from Amazon and be done with it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:48 PM on December 27, 2005

Ignore it - a "dogmatic arms race" is silly - as we all learned, two wrongs don't make a right. Instead, practice the patience, love and tolerance that you wish they'd show you. Counter their judgement with your serenity.
posted by gregariousrecluse at 1:50 PM on December 27, 2005

I would say donate in their name to some charity that they'd hate, but that would really just feed their (presumably huge) martyrdom complex. Send a $20 gift card to their local drugstore.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:51 PM on December 27, 2005

Depending on how much you actually care about maintaing contact with them, you could just send the stuff back. Of course, I have the type of family where any religious gift beyond something like a Bible would be completely out of line, so I can imagine my family snatching people like this back into line ASAP. There are some things that Are Just Not Done. Being an ass of this caliber is one of them.

Alternatively, just throw it out and start asking specifically for gift cards or whatever. "Kid X is so picky these days blah blah blah." The excuse doesn't matter because she already thinks your family is on the road to hell, right? Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:54 PM on December 27, 2005

Why not just send them some secular stuff in return? It shouldn't be too difficult to get them something that is thoughtful but equally noxious to their sensibilities - a DVD of Sex andThe City? Maybe just write a letter telling them thanks, and you've donated their gifts to a local Church group.
posted by docpops at 1:57 PM on December 27, 2005

What do you say when you get a gift that was clearly meant to make a point?

I, too, got some gifts like that this year. My aunt gave me a Jesus book with an inscription that implies she thinks I'm desperately lonely and depressed in NYC (which I'm not). She called last night, and I chatted with her for awhile- mentioned a few times I'm very happy in NYC, and thanked her when she said she would "keep praying for me".
In their own way, your family is trying to show you that they care about you, so I'd say just let it drop. Keep sending them nice gifts, but don't knock yourself out or try to make any sort of counter-point with their gifts.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Or the other idea is revel in the anticipation of the stupid shit coming your way and see if one year can top the last. It would be different if you had to actually share oxygen with these freaks.
posted by docpops at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2005

Buy them a subscription to the Watchtower. Alternatively, if it really bugs you, start distancing yourselves from them. My father lost a brother for 30 years because my uncle couldn't resist "callinging the family to repentance", once he mellowed out they became close again.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:59 PM on December 27, 2005

You might ask them how they would feel if you decided they were "lost" and started trying to convert them and their children to another religion. Other than that I think anything else would be lowering yourself to their level.
posted by Carbolic at 2:00 PM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: You all are fast!

Most of you are saying what I guess I knew deep down inside. Grin, bear it and revel in the weirdness.

Next year they get Target cards!
posted by Biblio at 2:01 PM on December 27, 2005

Definitely keep the moral high ground here. Don't send them gifts to annoy them, but also I wouldn't waste a lot of time being overly thoughtful. They aren't considerate to you. Maybe donations to the Red Cross (or some equally non-inflammatory organization) in their name?
posted by gaspode at 2:02 PM on December 27, 2005

If it were me, I'd ask "What is the point, precisely, of exchanging Christmas gifts all the way across the country with people that don't respect your beliefs?" Then I'd either (1) lay the groundwork to scale back on gifts by sending out a note in the summer ("gosh, we're a little broke this year and would like to scale back come December") or if you don't want to be that radican, (2) donate in their name to some impeachable, unpolitical cause (Katrina, American Cancer Society, Red Cross). That way at least something good is coming from your association with them.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 2:02 PM on December 27, 2005

Dang. You would probably consider me a fundy but I doubt I'd be sending you those things.

May I suggest you donate the items to a local church of the same denomination as your relatives? That way the gifts would go to someone who would appreciate them.

Another suggestion? Perhaps you could tell them that next Christmas it would be more appropriate to donate to a charity with the gift money-say, one that feeds the hungry or drills wells in third world countries or something. That's something I would think both sides could agree on.
posted by konolia at 2:03 PM on December 27, 2005

Why don't you stop exchanging presents? Seems like the simplest solution to me.

Otherwise, stick with the "thank them and trash it" response, and keep getting them blandly secular and mass-produced gifts. Anything else will just reward their passive-aggressive nonsense.
posted by vetiver at 2:05 PM on December 27, 2005

No matter what, your husband may want to send his sister something nice, and you certainly couldn't blame him. And I do sort of see their point: if they're hardcore believers, they are just trying to save the ones they love from eternal dalmations or something.

But if I were you and it were up to me, not my spouse, I would send them nothing from now on, not even (or especially not) the gift certificate suggested above, because they'd just waste it on more fundy crap to shove down someone's throat (maybe yours).

It's not nice to proselytize in the family. You don't need their long-distance hectoring. If you stop sending gifts, they will stop sending gifts (I think), and it will be over.
posted by pracowity at 2:05 PM on December 27, 2005

I'm with the "ignore it" crowd. Don't retaliate, however tempting it may be. Send a thank-you card and leave it at that. Responding in kind won't change their minds, any more than they're changing yours with their pointed gifts.

Still, you might show a little extra consideration for their kids, who are innocent in this whole drama, by asking the parents what sort of gifts you should send them at birthdays and holidays -- it's a consideration they're clearly unwilling to show your kids, but that might be a subtle way of making that point. It'd also be a way of trying to ensure that they aren't just trashing your gifts upon receipt, as you presumably are doing with theirs (not that you shouldn't, just saying).
posted by Gator at 2:10 PM on December 27, 2005

Donate to Episcopal Relief and Development in their name, and send them copies of the Book of Common Prayer, with their names lovingly embossed on the cover.

(Seriously though, I think sending donations in their name to a nonoffensive organization may be the way to go here.)
posted by spinifex23 at 2:11 PM on December 27, 2005

Agree with the charity thing. Arrange (before the holidays) that both sides will make a donation to charities in the other's name as that year's gift.

Why not put this situation to good use AND keep from offending anyone's ill-conceived best intentions?
posted by jca at 2:12 PM on December 27, 2005

You have to understand that they probably don't mean anything too personal with the gifts. Evangelicals can get so deep into their own scene that they can't see straight. They probably honestly believe that the gifts are heartfelt gifts of love. The items probably have great personal meaning to them and they are just sharing the love. Yeah, it's pretty much unthinking of them, but there you are.

Just smile, chuck the gifts and get on with your life.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on December 27, 2005

ask for stuff that can at least be sold on Ebay.
posted by craniac at 2:15 PM on December 27, 2005

Aren't you supposed to forgive them and turn the other cheek?
posted by raaka at 2:26 PM on December 27, 2005

I have a similar situation, though without the religious overtones. I have a sister-in-law who frequently gives well-meaning but totally inappropriate gifts she's found at thrift stores or in bargain bins. We always send her and her husband gift cards. We and our children thank her nicely and eventually donate the items we really don't want or need to Desert Industries or someplace like that.

I agree completely with Thorzdad -- many fundamentalists are totally defined by their church and its peripheral organizations. They read no scientific or popular literature, see no non-approved films, severely restrict television, listen only to Christian music, etc. Their whole society is the church, and those who are not part of that are "other" -- at best lost and misguided, at worst the enemy. Your relatives may be gifting you from the only pool of resources they are familiar with.

I think the charitable donation route is by far the best. Consider telling them you'll give in their name to an organization such as World Vision -- an evangelical charity that provides aid without religious strings attached. Or ask what their preferred organization would be -- even groups known for strong evangelical messages can do good work with peoples' physical needs.
posted by lhauser at 2:39 PM on December 27, 2005

I get things like this all the time (Just received "Darwin's Black Box" for Christmas).

You can either ignore the gifts or retaliate in some way. If you plan to retaliate, consider your motivations for doing so.

1) You want to convert them. Don't try, it won't happen.
2) You want to show them how inappropriate they're being by sending something to them that they'd hate (a book promoting Satanism, etc). They probably won't get the hint and think you're being serious, which may result in you getting more Christian books the next year ("You must be in a very bad place to send us those books!")
3) You want to piss them off. This might work, but what's the point?

They're most likely genuinely concerned with you and your children. They probably know they're taking a chance with your friendship. This is not something to take lightly. Would you have the courage to do that if you honestly believed someone were going to hell?

It's not hard to ignore a present. People do it all the time. Be kind to them, don't retaliate and above all, be gracious.
posted by null terminated at 2:44 PM on December 27, 2005

Agree with the charity thing. Arrange (before the holidays) that both sides will make a donation to charities in the other's name as that year's gift.

Personally, I wouldn't like this idea, because what would probably end up happening is that they will donate in your name to a charity which you find appalling and are completely against. That to me would be even worse than getting a lame gift. At least the lame gift effects no one other than you and your family... whereas a donation to a group you are totally against effects much more, and leaves an even larger symbolic footprint.

In other words, their choice of what charity to donate to can be used just as much as a insult to you (or to prove a point) as a gift would have.
posted by RoseovSharon at 2:51 PM on December 27, 2005

Our family is constantly doing the same kind of thing. We have very clearly communicated our non-involvement with any of their belief systems. Beyond we that choose to ignore associated gifts, emails, etc. I understand the frustration and the retaliation-oriented comments, but here's the thing: nothing you say will make them feel differently about their perceived duties and love, and any kind of retaliation involves confrontation and possibly escalation. We choose to simply not get upset; problem solved. It may also help to distance yourselves somewhat.

On preview, null terminated makes the same points much better than I have.
posted by moira at 2:58 PM on December 27, 2005

Suggesting that you both donate to an organization like World Vision would be great -- it's a perfect compromise. The organization is religious, the aid that they give is not. And everyone wants to teach their kids to think of those less fortunate, right?
posted by desuetude at 2:59 PM on December 27, 2005

Explain to them that you had a conversation with God and he told you to tell them to cut that shit out.

Religous fundamentalists are dangerous and should not be humored.
posted by bshort at 2:59 PM on December 27, 2005

Every year my family gives me a new book attacking some different aspect of my atheism. Last year's was a small Francis Schaefer book attacking existentialism, this year's was a book attacking abiogenesis. I usually read them far enough in to find a major fault, phone up my mother, and that's the central theme for that weekend's phone call. They're all pretty small, if well-written, so I never feel like I've lost real cash in the exchange.

However, one of our family's friends gives my parents LOADS of this BS every year in order to help them evangelize more effectively to people like me. By accident (actual genuine accident) I was given their gift this year and ended up pulling no less than eight different pro-intelligent design DVDs out of the package. It took a couple of minutes to straighten out the mixup, and I imagine that during that time I felt much like you do.

My advice is to do what I would have done if those had in fact been for me - politely but firmly insist on returning them, even if it means you don't get a present from them that year. Understand that if you let that gift go unreturned, you are allowing them to fund the organizations putting out these materials. I don't know about you, but I couldn't let that happen at that scale with a clean conscience. A $10 Francis Schaefer or Josh McDowell stocking stuffer is one thing - $150 in pro-ID DVDs is something else entirely.
posted by Ryvar at 3:02 PM on December 27, 2005

Sounds like they're giving you things that they personally enjoy.

Stash them in a closet, rewrap them, and send them on back next year with the gift card reversed.

You save money on your holiday shipping, they get something dogmatically inoffensive, and hey, they may get the hint after a year or two (they won't, but it's fun to pretend they will).
posted by Kellydamnit at 3:15 PM on December 27, 2005

If it doesn't show signs of stopping, and you don't want to stage a confrontation, you might consider occasionally reciprocating with Christian or religious-themed stuff that you find enlightening that doesn't have a heavy-handed bent. I am thinking of something like Parker Palmer's To Know as We are Known or Elias Chacour's Blood Brothers... progressive and philosophical stuff that examines a real spiritual world outside dogma but likely wouldn't be threatening to their faith. Or pick some good choral music that's come out the Episcopalian tradition. Or give some Madeline l'Engle fiction. There's a lot of beautiful things that may exist in spots where your faiths overlap.

Of course, there's two catches here: one is that it's possible they're sufficiently dogmatic that there really isn't much overlap, and anything that provides a different point of view or even with a different rhetorical tone will be threatening to them. The second is that it could well encourage them to continue their habit.

I guess there's a third, which may be that you don't even like the kind of stuff I'm mentioning and therefore wouldn't want to share it. :) But I figure your good judgment will figure out whether the catches apply, and it's just my job to suggest.
posted by weston at 3:17 PM on December 27, 2005

maybe you could buy them the kind of stuff they buy you. i guess maybe it's just a different spin on the whole passive agressive thing, but perhaps they'll see how odd it is and then join the dots.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:19 PM on December 27, 2005

I like the "box of shame" idea myself. Stick the presents in a box and use the items to teach your children how to behave like civilized humans. Bonus points for using the items to inoculate them against the fundy mental disease. This works by twisting the intent of the senders into something educational and thus positive for you.

Unfortunately, this type of situation has escalated in my household to the point where my wife and her mother have not been speaking for three years. The grandmother simply will not refrain from very ugly proselytization (your mother is evil because of X,Y and Z. Your dog is going to attack you because it has an ID chip and that is the mark of the beast, etc.) and will not honor her own sworn word to the contrary. Hopefully you will be more successful than we have been in fending off the ugliness of well-meaning relatives attempting to impose their fanatic beliefs on your children. It really is important to kill this early and decisively.
posted by Invoke at 3:25 PM on December 27, 2005

In their own way, your family is trying to show you that they care about you, so I'd say just let it drop. Keep sending them nice gifts, but don't knock yourself out or try to make any sort of counter-point with their gifts.

This is wise and well said. Listen to the Pink One.
posted by languagehat at 3:38 PM on December 27, 2005

If your husband told his sister to back off, then they know that what they are doing is offensive. It is not appropriate to continue to ignore offensive behaviour, even among family.

My own sister, her husband, and their five children are fundamentalist evangelicals. Young-earth creationism, the whole shebang. They would never dream of proselytizing to me nor of sending me such gifts. Thus, not all evangelicals are pushy, passive-agressive assholes.

They can be trained. Sometimes a whack on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper will do it. My sister and I get along fine, even after I had stern words with her and her husband some years back.

My solution would be to simply box it all up and give it back to them. Giving it all to an evangelical church still implies that you consider their actions acceptable in some way. Send it back to them with a note: "Thank you, but no thank you. Please make these available to families who share your beliefs."
posted by solid-one-love at 3:53 PM on December 27, 2005

I have a lot of respect for Pinky and Hatty, but I think they're wrong here. Solid-one-love has it: Your in-laws know exactly what they're doing, and they clearly refuse to consider your feelings or beliefs. It's one thing to try to sway adults' views; sending NT tracts to Jewish kids is patently aggressive and indeed offensive. That said, I think returning the gifts with a very polite note is the best tactic. You've been on the high road all along; don't descend to their worm's-eye level.
posted by rob511 at 4:10 PM on December 27, 2005

Am I the only one who thinks:

"Hey, thanks for the gifts, it so nice to be thought of. Unfortunately, we don't think they're a great fit. Can you send me a receipt or tell me where I can return them?"

posted by filmgeek at 4:22 PM on December 27, 2005

"Hey, thanks for the ID DVD. Wow, we laughed and laughed when we watched! Hilarious."
posted by orthogonality at 4:26 PM on December 27, 2005

These people are not worth your time or expense IMO. I'm surprised that your husband is willing to put up with them (if, in fact, he is). They should be dropped from your rolls immediately. If you wouldn't let complete strangers treat you this way, then there is absolutely no reason that family members should get away with it.
posted by davidmsc at 4:46 PM on December 27, 2005

i would say...."thank you very much, but we are not born again fundamentalists",,,,"I appreciate your point of view and as many people who believe as you do, i am certian it has merits", "but we have a different point of view and we enjoy exchanging gifts with you, but, please don't send us items that represent a point of view that "you know" we object to." may not be your intention, but, we view this as not appreciating or recognizing our point of view and the way we live our lives....we always want you to be in our lives, but not in a way which is contrary to our more progressive and liberal point of view...much love....your sister in law...etc...etc...etc...
posted by jamie939 at 4:59 PM on December 27, 2005

I like the idea of asking for the receipt so you can return the gifts. This minimizes cost to you (you don't have to send it anywhere), you still get the value of the gift, and it's a totally acceptable request to make over xmas - tons and tons of gifts get a flat response from the giftee, and the gift receipt is a pretty established concept.

Filmgeek's quote would work nicely.
posted by lorrer at 5:13 PM on December 27, 2005

We have the same exact problem with members of my husband's family. (They're born-again; we're areligious.) It just seems so hostile. If I thought they were genuinely interested in giving us the "gift of salvation," I'd probably be less bothered. But I don't think they want to "save" us. I think they just want to be right and to score some points with the man (they believe to be) upstairs.

But I realized that, ultimately, that's their problem and something that I don't want to get caught up in. In return, I give gifts that are respectful of their faith--a book of prayers, a photo album with a bible quote about family, etc. My hope is that if I consistently show that I understand and respect their beliefs perhaps they'll eventually show me the same courtesy.
posted by jrossi4r at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2005

You people are all way too nice. I want to tell these people off myself, and I don't even know them.

Sure, you can just throw away their gifts and stop sending your own. But, if you do that, they can rationalize that you're selfish or lazy. Better to tell them explicitly (one time!) that you've had enough, that they must not really care about you if they insist on sending you accusations thinly disguised as gifts, and that's why they needn't expect anything in return from you going forward.

There is a lot of asking 'What good will it really do to argue?' Well, the good it will do is that if you do it effectively, these annoying people will leave you alone. Sure, you can tolerate annoying can tolerate lots of things in life that you don't have to. But that doesn't mean you should.
posted by bingo at 5:42 PM on December 27, 2005

Obviously they are "lost", admitedly I would *love* to pick an alternative and start sending Islamic/Muslim or Jewish materials.

However, outside of the cynical, evil portion of my mind, I would simply smile, accept and either trash, or file away (yes, I am a packrat - besides, you never know when a book might be handily used as firestarter)...
posted by jkaczor at 5:45 PM on December 27, 2005

bingo, bingo.
posted by bshort at 5:45 PM on December 27, 2005

Thank them for their concern and tell them that your salvation is really between you and Jesus Christ and that only he can know what you hold your hearts.
posted by Good Brain at 5:47 PM on December 27, 2005

When people try to slam their beliefs down my throat, I smile and repeat as many times as necessary: "Sorry, I'm not allowed to discuss my beliefs with non-family-members/ those-not-of-the-order / people-without-green-hair / whatever". Works by making you out to be a bigger whacko than they are.
posted by signal at 5:58 PM on December 27, 2005

When I was a wee bairn, I had a neener helmet. It was a fireman's helmet, because it said so, and it had a flashing light of approximately a billion candlepower on the top and a siren that would screech NEEEEE-NER NEEEEE-NER NEEEEEE-NER at about 300 decibels, and I would get hopped up on chocolate frosted sugar bombs and run around the house screaming NEEEE-NER NEEEE-NER with my neener helmet on to the delight of all within 30 blocks. It made me utterly ecstatic.

Perhaps their kids ought to receive gifts that they would deeply enjoy, along with food products that might be, well, energizing. I wouldn't be surprised to find that one could still obtain neener helmets from somewhere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:55 PM on December 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, to echo a few sentiments above: why on earth go through the pretense and trouble to agree to make donations in each other's names to charities? Jeesh -- if it gets to that point, seriously -- wouldn't you be better off simply saying "screw it" and forget about them?
posted by davidmsc at 7:00 PM on December 27, 2005

Do we respond in kind... Or do we just ignore it?
I'm going to presume you're not stupid and that you understand you're asking, "Should we sink to their level?" The answer should be obvious.
posted by cribcage at 7:08 PM on December 27, 2005

Send them the book "When God Becomes a Drug" by Leo Booth.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:16 PM on December 27, 2005

I'd just send them something that conflicts with their religion and see how they feel about it...

In all seriousness: I would not exchange gifts with them anymore, plain and simple. Their passive aggressive and immature way of trying to shove their beliefs down your family's throat is unacceptable behavior, and should not be tolerated. You don't have to get in a shouting match or debate over it (debate won't be productive, or ever really happen) - so I'd suggest you just stop exchanging gifts with them. If they send you something and you don't send them anything .. oh well. It's not like theirs was a real gift anyway.
posted by twiggy at 7:22 PM on December 27, 2005

All this talk of cutting them off seems a little harsh. If its only holiday and birthday gifts and that's all, I say again to let it drop. If this is part of a bigger year-roung thing, however, then I think you can think seriously about setting some sort of strict boundries with them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:57 PM on December 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

You've done the polite step; telling them that their gifts are unwelcome. Since they are continuing to be rude, now it's time for the impolite step. You have to call and tell them that your two families aren't going to exchange gifts any more, and mention the previous conversation. This phone call should be chilly, firm, and short.

There's no point in tolerating ugly, rude people, even if you're related to them in some way. Life is short. Retaliating with some suitable gift, while superficially enticing, isn't really the adult thing to do.
posted by jellicle at 8:08 PM on December 27, 2005

There's always the "Make up a really funny story and sell the crap on eBay" route. :-)

A DVD on Intelligent Design. hah. That would have fetched at least $2 on eBay, which you could donate to the church of your choice.
posted by drstein at 8:16 PM on December 27, 2005

sending NT tracts to Jewish kids is patently aggressive

Yes. My god, how do the kids feel about this nonsense?

All this talk of cutting them off seems a little harsh.

No. These people are attacking your children. Stop them quickly.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: Hmmm, good points all around. I really appreciate the level of thought that's gone into this discussion.

Yes, the problem is that they KNOW we find their religious gifts offensive because the undelying message is that our faith isn't good enough. I mean, if we were athiests or Jews or Muslims I could almost understand where they are coming from. I wouldn't condone it, mind you! But my husband and I and our 2 children are active, committed Christians. We tithe, we serve on the vestry and sing in the choir and serve as delegates to dioscesan convention. For heaven's sake, I delivered lay sermon on stewardship a few weeks ago. My son is an altar boy!

So yeah, I guess the issue is "do we sink to their level?" and no, that's not the Jesus-y thing to do, is it? The Jesus-y thing, and the human thing to do is keep sending them gifts they will enjoy and suck it up. But it's hard.

As far as the kids go, we have unwrapped and examined things sent to them in the past to make sure they were appropriate. Usually there is something we can give them that is ok, and we toss the rest. But the kids even laugh at the cards they get and the inscriptions in books they've been sent. They compare them to the Flanders family on the Simpsons! My 10 year old was able to articulate why he thought Harry Potter was appropriate for Christian audiences and not something to freak out about like my sister in law.

One thing I didn't mention is the rest of the family. She does the same thing to their other sister, who is incidently married to a Jewish man. She usually just blows it off. Their folks are dead but they have an elderly aunt and grandma who would be devastated if there was a rift in the family. So cutting ties isn't really an option, as tempting as it is.

All in all, it's my husband's call. We haven't had much of a chance to talk about this lastest volley, since we've been busy you know, celebrating Christmas and all, but when we do I'll have a lot of points of view to discuss with him thanks to this thread.

Thanks again.
posted by Biblio at 9:08 PM on December 27, 2005

Biblio, why on earth do they think you need converting? I mean, just because you don't follow Dr Dobson?????
posted by konolia at 9:16 PM on December 27, 2005

Definitely sounds like there is little chance of resolving the issue peacefully. Hard indeed, but any other course of action may be like lighting a fuse to a powder keg.

I would, however, put the ID DVD to use by showing it to your kids and discussing it with them...
posted by juiceCake at 9:25 PM on December 27, 2005

The truly rude way to make a point would be to send an assortment of gifts next year that would include verboten items such as Tarot Cards, a book on Wica, astrology material, and similar items not blatantly satanic (which would be over-the-top).

Alternatively, you might do some careful searching to find appropriate items which, in a compassionate way, explain how they are wrong. You're Episcopalian, after all. You are in position to understand how their behavior parts from the classic 'What would Jesus do?" thing.
posted by Goofyy at 10:23 PM on December 27, 2005

How about sending 'em a copy of The Book of the SubGenius?

Every year?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:35 PM on December 27, 2005

Biblio: I mean, if we were athiests or Jews or Muslims I could almost understand where they are coming from.
According to them, you are as unsaved as atheists are. Being a 'normal' christian means nothing. You need to accept Jesus as your saviour in your heart. Clearly, you haven't done that, because if you had, you would be a born again christian too. Now, if you were a buddhist or something they could perhaps accept it. If you were an atheist, they knew you thought about it and actively rejected Jesus. The fact that you claim to be a christian, but really aren't (in their view) makes it much more painful. You are expecting to be saved, while you aren't. They need to save you!
posted by davar at 2:38 AM on December 28, 2005

I just don't understand why anyone would tolerate people like this. Why would you waste your time being nice to them, your money buying them thoughful presents, your energy not responding to their blatant disrespect? I don't get it at all. This year I bought presents for a total of five people. They were all people I love and that I wanted to buy presents for (OK, I realise that my being a student and having a family that is 50% Jehovah's Witness means that I buy fewer presents than most).

Just cut 'em off. You don't get to choose your family, but you do get to choose what kind of people you want in your life. These people don't care about you, they don't even respect you. They think you're godless heathens. They just want to preach to you and you keep giving them the opportunity to do so. So there has to be a point where you need to stop bitching and being pissed off at them and actually do something about it. They're a virus. Cut them off.
posted by speranza at 3:53 AM on December 28, 2005

There's no point in tolerating ugly, rude people, even if you're related to them in some way.

Just cut 'em off. You don't get to choose your family, but you do get to choose what kind of people you want in your life.

It's taken me a while to realize there are people who feel this way about family. (MetaFilter has certainly accelerated the process.) I was brought up to believe family is one of the few things you can count on in this world; friends and lovers can come and go, but family is always there. You don't reject your aunt because she has beliefs you don't like or your brother because he's become a Jesus freak, you deal with the annoying stuff as best you can and hope it goes away (which it did in the case of the brother, thank non-God).

My point as far as this AskMe thread is concerned is that the poster is clearly not a family-sucks type, and saying "cut 'em off" is not helpful or responsive. My larger point (just in the hope of making a few people think) is that rejecting people because they have beliefs you don't like (which leads them to, for instance, send you unwanted gifts—oh, the humanity!) is exactly the kind of narrow-minded in-group behavior I would think allegedly liberal/radical, open-minded Mefites who deplore racism and other kinds of narrow-minded in-group behavior would deplore. Is it really that hard for you to interact with people who believe, say, that there's a higher power in the universe? I've dealt amicably with people who believed far worse things than that, simply because ideology is a pretty small part of life and I'd rather share a drink with somebody who can tell a good joke (but happens to have obnoxious views) than someone who has exactly the right opinions on the betterment of mankind (but happens to be a single-minded bore). Wanting to hang out only with people who think as you do is the seedbed of intolerance and (taken to the limit) totalitarianism.
posted by languagehat at 6:08 AM on December 28, 2005

saying "cut 'em off" is not helpful or responsive.

You're wrong here, languagehat.Saying "stop hand-crafting presents for people who don't respect you," or even, "protect your children from assholes who would turn them against you" is indeed responsive.

rejecting people because they have beliefs you don't like (which leads them to, for instance, send you unwanted gifts—oh, the humanity!) is exactly the kind of narrow-minded in-group behavior I would think allegedly liberal/radical, open-minded Mefites who deplore racism and other kinds of narrow-minded in-group behavior would deplore.

You're being completely unfair, I think. These are blatantly rude, unkind and disrespectful people; keeping them away from loved ones goes way beyond your simplistic caricature of "rejecting people because they have beliefs you don't like."

Wanting to hang out only with people who think as you do is the seedbed of intolerance and (taken to the limit) totalitarianism.

Talk about nonresponsive answers. Was it really necessary to start tossing around insulting judgments like that, languagehat?
posted by mediareport at 6:18 AM on December 28, 2005

Oh, and email in profile if you want to continue your derail.
posted by mediareport at 6:29 AM on December 28, 2005

BTW, I'm no right-on leftie liberal type. Well, I'm liberal in the yay-for-gays-and-abortions sense, but I don't care much about the betterment of mankind. I do care about not being treated like a doormat for relatives who don't know how to keep their religious zeal under control. And I'm an ex-JW, so I know exactly how bloody annoying people like that are - I was one.
posted by speranza at 6:33 AM on December 28, 2005

"What would Jesus do?" is actually a reasonable question here. Personally I think Jesus would like the idea of the families deciding to donate in each other's names to mutually acceptable charities. Maintaining relationships and helping the poor are two big principles in Christian life no matter what side of the modern (and stupid) culture war you are on.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:22 AM on December 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

and what happens if their charity is something like an anti-abortion campaign, for example?
posted by andrew cooke at 7:24 AM on December 28, 2005

Next year send them series 1 of Lost on DVD.
posted by biffa at 7:27 AM on December 28, 2005

My mother is a liberal Episcopalian and I am an atheist. I get some similar behaviour from her, but it is typically a small part of whatever we are celebrating and we have a very good relationship otherwise, so I am comfortable ignoring it. I have even given a significant donation to her church when they were raising funds to build a handicapped-accessible playground next to the church. I guess it all depends on what kind of relationship your hausband and his sister have. If they are on good terms otherwise, ignore it; as others have mentioned you might even get some entertainment or education value out of the material they send you. On the other hand, if they constantly criticize your religion, parenting, lifestyle, and so on, it might be best to distance yourself from them. I know you are concerned about upseting your elderly relatives, but evidently the sister is not (or is using your good will to manipulate you into putting up with her behavior). Alternatively, you could ask the elderly aunt and/or grandma for advice or to intervene on your behalf. Many of the elderly people I know are very tolerant and resilient (wisdom;experience?). Good luck sorting this out.
posted by TedW at 7:45 AM on December 28, 2005

Response by poster: Languagehat, I'm a little surprised by the vehemence of your comment. Trust me, this is not an issue of us saying "OH NOES! TEH JEBUS!" and refusing to hang out with them because we think they're deluded fools. We have asked them to back off on trying to convert us, and she has admitted that she has an agenda with her gifts. This is not a misunderstanding. They're doing it because they think WE'RE the deluded fools. I am sure the thought process behind this year's gift was "Oh, this slick DVD narrated by John Rice Davies looks like something from that commie-lib PBS show NOVA. I can sneak it in and they'll learn all about Intelligent Design! Ha!" Not exactly the same as "ooh, tasty muffins!"
posted by Biblio at 7:48 AM on December 28, 2005

Biblio, I think languagehat's comment was directed more at the people who were advising you to just cut off your family without looking back, not at you.

I think you'd be on track to do the "Jesus-y thing" as you mentioned upthread, even though it is hard. It's always hard to "be the bigger person," but if family ties are important to you, as they seem to be, that's the way to go. If they ever really start to escalate the attempted conversion, haranguing you year-round or trying to actively interfere in how you raise your kids, you'd probably want to take steps at that point to distance yourselves, but if it's just gifts and just at the holidays? Not worth the energy, I wouldn't think.
posted by Gator at 7:57 AM on December 28, 2005

Biblio, yours is the only reaction I care about here, and I'm very sorry if I came across as attacking you in any way, which was the farthest thing from my intention. My comment was directed at people who were taking the "cut 'em off" approach, which I thought was not responsive to your concerns because you didn't want to cut your family off. If I was wrong, I apologize and withdraw my comment (though I stand by the basic idea). I completely understand your annoyance with conversion attempts, which is something I've suffered through myself.
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on December 28, 2005

In other words, their choice of what charity to donate to can be used just as much as a insult to you (or to prove a point) as a gift would have. - RoseovSharon

Yeah, but at least you could choose which you donate to in their name. Give it some balance at least.
posted by raedyn at 8:11 AM on December 28, 2005

I'm a born-again Christian from a family of same, and we wouldn't have dreamed of giving anything remotely similar to anyone back in my parents' hard-core days. I can't think of anyone in my church who would have, either.

They're giving you these things because they have insecurities and personal problems, not because they're Christians. You aren't part of their specific club, and it bugs them. But I think that (for them) the "club" could just as easily be any following or belief. This particular church/movement just happens to be what they're into now, and it's how their rudeness manifests itself. I don't mean that they don't believe what they do, but rather that the mechanism of communication has more to do with a pernicious disregard of others than it has to do with what *you* believe.

Can you ask that the family only exchange handmade presents? Or that only the kids get gifts of the toy variety? Or that you pool resources to support a poor family next year, via a charity where the family requests actual needs? This could provide a list of things to get that would (we hope) preclude religious proseletyzing of this kind.

Good luck!
posted by mdiskin at 8:38 AM on December 28, 2005

Ask for reciepts. That sends the clear message that you don't want what they're peddling, while still allowing them to give you gifts they think will save your soul and allowing you to get what you want instead. It minimizes familial strife while still being a clear, polite rebuke.

I've dealt with this through an uncle, and saying "I'd like a reciept for this..." worked well. (Contrasted with my girlfriend's family, who includes a reciept with EVERYTHING they give me, despite being generally pretty good at giving gifts I don't want to return).
posted by klangklangston at 10:48 AM on December 28, 2005

But the kids even laugh at the cards they get and the inscriptions in books they've been sent. They compare them to the Flanders family on the Simpsons! My 10 year old was able to articulate why he thought Harry Potter was appropriate for Christian audiences and not something to freak out about like my sister in law.

It's not in the way they intended, but it sounds like these gifts actually have been good for your kids!
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:10 PM on December 28, 2005

I'm a born-again Christian from a family of same, and we wouldn't have dreamed of giving anything remotely similar to anyone back in my parents' hard-core days. I can't think of anyone in my church who would have, either.

mdiskin nails it. This is not born-again Christian behaviour, this is boorish behaviour under the cloak of religion. None of the born-again christians I have in my family feel the need to behave like this. These people were asked politely to stop their proselytization attempts and have refused.

I would tackle the subject again with them and explain to them that I appreciate their zeal but I have religious principles too, and if they continue to send me things which denigrate my religion or relationship, then I will take some positive action in response viz. I won't send them inappropriate gifts but I will total up the value of what they have sent, and make a matching donation to a charity which supports my values- perhaps wonderful people like The Point Foundation. That way any money their proslytizing gifts give to what I would consider to be 'bad causes' (like the authors/publishers of their tracts and DVDs) is evened out.
posted by Flitcraft at 2:55 PM on December 28, 2005

My comment was directed at people who were taking the "cut 'em off" approach

Which is, it should be noted again, an approach worth thinking seriously about. It shouldn't have been a surprise that the original poster had in fact been thinking seriously enough about it to take your comment as directed at her. Your tone came out of left field, languagehat, attacking those proposing a protective cut-off as "family sucks" types, and sounded to at least one fellow member as if you were stating that some of us Weren't Raised Right. It had no place here.
posted by mediareport at 3:34 PM on December 28, 2005

It had no place here.

Bullshit. It had every bit as much place here as all the "family sucks, cut 'em off" comments. It's amazing: anything that supports the groupthink around here (Bush sucks, religion sucks, family sucks) gets a free pass; anything that questions it is shockingly inappropriate.

I have reread the original question and still see no indication that the poster was thinking about cutting off her family. And frankly, I feel as strongly about that idea as you do about the idea of getting unwanted religious chochkes in the mail. Funny how that works: different people have different ideas.
posted by languagehat at 5:14 PM on December 28, 2005

I suggested that the poster's husband call his sister and tell her that their two families are not going to exchange gifts any more. This is not exactly "cutting her off". This is refusing to interact with her in situations where she can't be civil. This is having self-respect.

Suppose you invite Uncle Fred to Christmas dinner. And Uncle Fred gets up on the dining room table, drops his trousers, and defecates on the turkey. Everyone gasps. Aunt Maude faints. You order pizza. Next year, you invite Uncle Fred again, and again, he undoes his belt, jumps up on the table, and takes a dump on the turkey. As you order pizza for the second year in a row, you tell him this isn't tolerable - he says he understands. You invite him a third year, and a third year in a row, he leaps up on the table, knocks over the gravy boat, and shits all over the Christmas turkey.

Are you going to invite him back for a fourth year? Why or why not?

Most families have an Uncle Fred. If you don't, count yourself lucky. I have friends who have relatives who raped them as children. I have friends whose parents won't speak to them, because they're gay and the parents think they're going to hell.

When you get adult enough to have self-respect, you understand it's not all about them. You are an adult, an equal, a peer, and you don't have to take rude, selfish, boorish, insulting behavior from anyone, including your husband's sister and her husband. Uncle Fred does NOT get invited back to Christmas dinner, and your two families no longer exchange gifts. Simple as that. Doesn't mean you can't talk to them, assuming they can be civil on the phone.
posted by jellicle at 8:01 PM on December 28, 2005

I'm with Languagehat on this. Life is short, and friends are hard to come by. Why not use this as a chance to get closer to them, and maybe one day draw them back into the world of reasonable people?

I'm a mild-mannered atheist, but I've been really interested in stuff like the Gospel of Thomas lately. Well, this has led to some really neat conversations with friends and future in-laws this Christmas. It has renewed my belief that most people have a basic good nature that can be reached with a little trying.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:17 AM on December 31, 2005

Next year send them series 1 of Lost on DVD.

I just thought this was particularly hilarious. Thought I would point it out again.

As for the fundies... I think you have to do what feels right to you. Tell them that it's upsetting to you, and that no matter HOW many ridiculous tracts they send you, you aren't going to be converted. Let them know that you are simply throwing/giving them away, and that they might as well avoid the middle man. Probably won't work, but something to think about at any rate.
posted by antifuse at 3:34 AM on January 3, 2006

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