Christian treacle
November 24, 2007 11:16 AM   Subscribe

How should I respond to syrupy Christian emails?

I am in my immediate family's address books and they like to forward syrupy sweet Christian emails to me even though they know I am an atheist. They also send me personalized ecards with Christian platitudes because they think I "know the truth but choose not to believe it," if that's even logically possible. I've ignored this for the longest time but I'm finding it more and more disrespectful. I do not send them atheist ecards. Should I start? I figured just go the direct route: I appreciate the card but not the motivation behind it...? Maybe I should diffuse the situation with humor? All ideas welcome.
posted by levijk to Human Relations (53 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are they forwarding them to everyone or just you? In this situation I usually just ignore it. Delete the messages.
posted by pravit at 11:20 AM on November 24, 2007

Since I have anger issues :-) I would be direct and ask them to please stop. You don't push atheism on them, they shouldn't push religion on you. Or you could just block their emails!
posted by WaterSprite at 11:21 AM on November 24, 2007

Request them to stop once, politely. Beyond that, spam filter.
posted by Asherah at 11:22 AM on November 24, 2007

I don't know.

I would find it very hard to ignore, too. I mean, at first, sure, I could delete them, but after awhile I think I would be itching to respond somehow - some people wouldn't feel this way, obviously, but I think my personality is just such that I would have to do something.

Maybe it's not a good idea. I mean, it's probably not a good idea, and will inevitably lead to conflict and tension, but hell, sometimes you have to take a stand.

So, sure, I'm sure Richard Dawkins has a website... and maybe even a mailing list!

I say send them some of your own friendly mails. :)
posted by kbanas at 11:23 AM on November 24, 2007

Send them one of these.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:25 AM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of sending Atheist cards in return, although I suppose that could be deemed as passive-aggressive behavior. But it sure would be funny! Your family probably means well in their actions. If it were me, I would just delete their e-mails or block their e-mail address.
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2007

Any hostile action would be a bad idea, because you are not going to be able to change their minds and you might hurt their feelings.

Personally, I would focus less on the Christian aspect and more on the annoying email aspect. Just tell them that you get tons of email every day and that they shouldn't forward you things that are not important because you have a hard time sorting through everything.

If nothing works and they keep sending you junk, just ignore them like you ignore the other spam that you get. Setup a rule in your email program to move any email from their addresses that starts with FW to your trash. There are also plenty of spam filtering apps like SpamAssassin and POPFile that you can train to recognize the kind of emails that they send.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2007

I've never looked into atheist e-cards until now, but this is great.

As for what to do, what are you comfortable doing? If you don't wish to stir the pot, so to speak, then ask that they refrain from sending these greetings. Tell them a simple email would be fine.

I tend to just ignore the religious tones to things people give or say to me and simply thank them for and appreciate the sentiment.

However, it seems like they are being stubborn and not respecting who you are. So perhaps asking them to stop sending is the best policy. Be gentle, but assert that this is who you are and that you don't want to feel imposed upon.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2007

Certain people I know do this. I've somewhat steered their behavior by responding to the stuff that interests me, and completely ignoring the content that doesn't. It's been about 2-3 years now, and they think I'm a lost cause when it comes to converting me to their religion. It gets tiring for them to consistently put effort into something that has absolutely zero ROI.

Basically, it just takes time, and all the effort that is required of you is exercising restraint and taking responsibility for your part of this–which is to say, controlling your own behavior and reaction, since you can do nothing about theirs.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:38 AM on November 24, 2007

don't be passive-aggressive about it. i agree with the above--just ask them to stop sending you forwarded emails, jokes, etc. because you get too much email as it is.

as for the birthday cards, just say thanks and move on. evangelicals don't take rejection as rejection--they take it as a sign that you're listening and that they should keep at it. the best thing to do is ignore it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:41 AM on November 24, 2007

Response by poster: I've already tried ignoring them and I can't exactly block my own family, though filtering is a good idea. Signing them up to Dawkins' mailing list or sending them cards are both realistic options: points for creativity! I haven't decided my comfort level, cmgonzalez. In person I have told them that their comments to me are offensive and they dismiss my grievances because they say they didn't intend to offend, therefore there was no offense. It's possible they will only listen to a firm response.

Thank you to everyone who has responded so far. Keep 'em coming.
posted by levijk at 11:45 AM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: "Dear Cousin Betty: Please don't send me this type of message. I do not send you spam messages about my religious or political beliefs and I ask the same measure of respect from you. I value our family connection and I hope that you do as well. Love, xx"

If you get more spam after that:

"Dear Cousin Betty: I am so sorry that you chose to continue to send me messages that I find offensive. I have added your email address to my spam filter so I will not be receiving any further emails from you. If you need to get in touch you can do so through my sister. See you at Christmas! Love, xx"
posted by LarryC at 11:55 AM on November 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

ouch, LarryC, that seems too aggressive to me. Why alienate a family member over such trivial nonsense?

I get these. Syrupy is too kind of a word. I don't care what kind of message you are trying to deliver, with that much sugar even the willing are choking. I usually just ask them to stop and then respond to future such emails with a string of question marks - "????" Might work for you, might not.
posted by caddis at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

My family sends this shit. They are well aware of my personal leanings. I just delete it without even looking, it's always obvious whether the email in question is something of importance or if it's just another bunch of crap about my guardian angel, and please send your cousin the missionary some money or whatever.

It's their personal belief system, and part of that is that they're obligated to bring others to it. Part of mine, though, is to let them believe what and how they please, whatever my opinion on the matter. Being a nice respectful little godless heathen will catch more flies than vinegar.
posted by padraigin at 12:12 PM on November 24, 2007 [4 favorites]

"they dismiss my grievances because they say they didn't intend to offend"

wow... how arrogant!

I would block the e/mail address at that point, if they need to contact you in an emergency they can phone you.

or, like LarryC said....
posted by HuronBob at 12:14 PM on November 24, 2007

Simply ask them to stop. If they don't, let them know that they are going to be added to your spam filter and any email sent from them is going to be ignored. And THEN actually follow through on that thread if they send you more emails.

You can ignore family; You can put the things they say into a different corner of your brain that you choose to ignore and not get stressed out about. If you think that they're going to stop their behavior if you respond with atheism ideals or a dawkins mailing list or whatever, you're being waaay too emotional. Just tell them to stop and stick by what you say.
posted by Stynxno at 12:17 PM on November 24, 2007

Don't make it a religious issue at all... just tell them you don't like receiving generic chain mail. That's what I do. I'm Neo-pagan and not overly fond of the syrupy Christian emails that the occasional friend sends me. But I'm also not fond of just about any chain mail I get unless it's something really funny every so often.

If I wanted warm and fuzzy yet highly non-personal messages, secular or otherwise, I'd go find them myself. And I'd have the common courtesy not to email them to everyone I know.
posted by purelibertine at 12:25 PM on November 24, 2007

There was a similar thread. Just send stuff back to them.

Stuff I liked:
...And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day." (II Chronicles 21:14-15)

Drink, get drunk and vomit, and fall to rise no more" - Jeremiah 25:27

many more gems in that thread.
posted by special-k at 12:38 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd argue against antagonizing them -- they're doing what they're doing because they think it's right. If you respond in anger/vengeance (however mild a form), it'll just hurt things unnecessarily. I like the suggestion to set up a heuristic/filter to trash forwards from their addresses -- you already know what they believe and why, and if they want to address you directly to update your understanding they probably won't use a forward. For the specifically-addressed-to-you ecards, just smile and understand it means they care, even if you can't agree with the sentiment.
posted by Alterscape at 12:49 PM on November 24, 2007

Best answer: As a former recipient of FW'd religious and secular e-mail shmaltz, I put a stop to it by (nicely) telling the serial forwarders about the computer security and privacy issues involved. Having one's address in a list of CC recipients vs. BCC opens the floodgates to more spam, some e-cards contain viruses or trojans, etc. A few didn't quit until my virus scanner caught some of the nonsense, I alerted the sender(s), and I fixed the damage done to their computers.

On a related note, a few links from kills OMG PANIC urban legend nonsense, too.

Good luck!
posted by bonobo at 12:51 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't send them any anti-religious messages. That's just doing the same to them as they're doing to you. Try to be the better person in it all. Set up a filter with keywords you often find in those sorts of emails and direct them either to a special folder (if you want to be safe in case of a false positive) or to the trash.
posted by fishmasta at 12:54 PM on November 24, 2007

Almost forgot another point that worked with some of the fiends--virtual greeting cards are free for a reason: address harvesting for spamming. The gift that keeps on giving!
posted by bonobo at 12:58 PM on November 24, 2007

I'm a graduate from a Christian college, but am not a Christian. Almost every person we knew from that time in our lives would send us similar sappy mails, and when we didn't put a stop to it, it escalated to us being asked to act on political issues that we were fundamentally opposed to. So I'd say put an active stop to it before it gets worse.

Don't be passive aggressive about this. They won't pick up on it, and may not attribute the anti-religious stuff to you. Instead, just tell them point blank what LarryC says - "please stop sending me these emails, while I value our friendship (or relationship), yadda yadda yadda..." We lost one or two friends who were really hard core, but we also have family members who just don't email us anymore. It worked, save for two people we eventually just spam blocked.
posted by librarianamy at 1:01 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Thank you for your email! I and Professor Dawkins had a great laugh!"
posted by orthogonality at 1:02 PM on November 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm very unforgiving about this sort of thing. Anyone forwarding anything or including me in a mass mail gets one warning. After that, everything from them is filtered right into the trash.
posted by jjb at 1:59 PM on November 24, 2007

2nding Asherah. Don't be curt, just ask not to be forwarded anything that isn't family business. I did it to my Aunt-in-law and everything worked out fine.
posted by cowbellemoo at 2:12 PM on November 24, 2007

Set up a filter (keywords: syrup, Jesus, etc.) on your email which automatically emails a copy back to the sender with a fake looking bounce message attached. Then explain that your email account doesn't accept spam.

Alternatively, Mailwasher, a free utility, allows you to preview messages on the server and, if it's spam, you can block the sender and/or delete it and/or bounce it back to the sender.

I had a friend who'd send me 'guardian angel' stuff which I ignored, and it then escalated to pro-Bush stuff (even though I'm not American), followed by anti-abortion, rants on immigration, etc. After several of these were bounced back to the sender they stopped.

By being able to preview the text of the mail on the server via Mailwasher, you can tell if it's spam or not and can uncheck the delete/block/bounce boxes to let it through.
posted by essexjan at 3:00 PM on November 24, 2007

Well, I'm a Christian but I am also a daughter who gets email glurge from her mom so I can at least relate at some point to your annoyance suggestion is to tell them that God can get thru to you if He wishes without the annoying spam, and that once you have heard the Gospel once, once is enough and God is big enough to take it from there. I'm certain you know that they send this stuff out of concern for you-they need to know that it's okay WITH GOD that they stop, and that ultimately salvation is God's work. From what you say they have communicated what they need to communicate, and it really is okay-in fact I'd say recommended-that they stop.
posted by konolia at 3:05 PM on November 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I vote for ignore, delete and selectively reading the emails for the sake of preserving family harmony. I have many family members who do this with conservative religious and political crap. I try to be pretty gentle with them. Many of my fundamentalist relatives really believe that my soul is going to rot in hell and they are quite concerned. I do think it is nice that they care, but I know that responding with my own brand of godless, liberal email propaganda will ensure that future face to face interactions are going to be really uncomfortable, bordering on the confrontational.

Also, consider that others in your family may be receiving these same emails and cards, it might not be a campaign that is concentrated solely on you.
posted by pluckysparrow at 3:06 PM on November 24, 2007

When aunty sends religious messages, respond with something like "You know I'm not religious, aunty. Why do you send me these things? I know you mean well, but put yourself in my place. Would you want me to send atheist messages to you? Would you mind if I tried to convert [you or your kids or whatever applies] to atheism? And if I did send such messages, don't you think it would be a complete waste of my good time and yours? Let's not waste any more time on this stuff."

And then continue the letter with other family topics, chat about your trip to the zoo or the dentist, as if this ecard thing wasn't the only reason you wrote. You want to stay on friendly terms, right? So give the relatives a chance to remain friendly and not feel as if they just got a scolding from the heathen in the family.

But now if aunty sends you that stuff, you'll be able to respond in kind knowing that she understands exactly what you're saying to her by sending her such messages.
posted by pracowity at 3:15 PM on November 24, 2007

Send them a link to
posted by WCityMike at 3:37 PM on November 24, 2007

Trying to compare it with you sending them atheist things won't work. They don't think of atheism as worthy viewpoint. Christianity is "Truth" to them and nothing else is.

I agree with those who say ignore it or create a filter in your email. Or, tell them that you're having virus issues and to please not forward you emails at all anymore.

Whenever I get urban legend ones, though, I "reply all" and put a link to Snopes because some of those urban legends could be harmful or dangerous to believe.
posted by fructose at 3:50 PM on November 24, 2007

FWIW, I am a devout Christian and I really hate those things too (and get them all too often from my several of my extended family members)

Are you sure they're trying to specifically target you? In my experience, the people that send these types of things copy everyone in their list of contacts. Doesn't make it less annoying in your inbox, but it might make a difference to you if they are simply examples of how your family has poor email etiquette, not my family is passive/aggressively trying to convert you.

Perhaps you might suggest to them that if they really wanted to talk to you about faith/religion/God, you would be willing to have a real conversation, but that the topic is too important for sappy email forwards. This allows you to tell them that you really dislike the emails without disrespecting their beliefs.
posted by jpdoane at 4:19 PM on November 24, 2007

My family sends me the same e-shit and it drives me batty. I haven't told my family I'm an atheist, but I have told my family that I find Jesus-y stuff off-putting and obnoxious. That didn't stop them.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:57 PM on November 24, 2007

I try to remind myself that they only want to save me from burning in fire 'n' brimstone for the rest of eternity. It should make me feel good that they actually care about me, but their approach is just so offensive and patronizing.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:59 PM on November 24, 2007

It's just mass email spamming, most likely. Ask them(politely, as above) to stop a couple times and they usually will.

If not, start your filtering.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:07 PM on November 24, 2007

Agreed. I have put an aunt and a cousin on my spam list after ever-so-politely requesting they stop sending me multiple forwards daily. My spam mailbox automatically returns the emails to their sender- which I find somehow satisfying.

After a year or so, my aunt asked for my "new" email so she could keep me up to date with family events, and after kindly reiterating my request that she not send me unsolicited spam, I took her off the spam list. Worked brilliantly, and I have a better relationship with her- I feel less like gritting my teeth when I see her at the holidays.
posted by stewiethegreat at 5:32 PM on November 24, 2007

This is probably no help for these emails, but in conversations, I have fun with fundamentalists by seeing their Christianity and raising them one. Something like this happened in 2003...

Her: "we saw this [un-chaste] woman the other day and it was so sad to watch how she was acting. There is just so much un-righteousness in this world."

Me: "I know! Did you hear that Bush passed an exemption to minimum wage down in New Orleans? As IF the people of New Orleans whose houses were destroyed don't really NEED to be earning a full $5.65 per hour right now! Didn't Jesus say something about the most important thing to do was to help the poor? Can you believe that guy calls himself a Christian?"
posted by salvia at 6:06 PM on November 24, 2007

goatse is the anti-christ.
posted by bruce at 6:48 PM on November 24, 2007

seems to me like getting cards from people who love you is always a good thing, no matter any ulterior motive.


that's just my opinion from living in my empty, cold, house in the woods.

wish i had any holiday cards.

just sayin'.
posted by mr_book at 7:07 PM on November 24, 2007

I am an evengelical agnostic. Fighting converts just strengthens their resolve. I have my spam filter set to incerpt the word god when it's capitalized. Normally only fantatics

They'll never respect you. But you can save your sanity by sending their pablum to ciber purgatory.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:09 PM on November 24, 2007

Damn. Normally only fantaticsthe faithful capitalize god.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:10 PM on November 24, 2007

They'll never respect you.

Mutual disrespect isn't going to help anyone.
posted by jpdoane at 8:14 PM on November 24, 2007

I occasionally get stuff like this from family, usually of the "touching/outraging story from a Christian perspective that is transparently fake" variety. I recommend responding to these with a link to rebutting the story, nothing more. At best you will enlighten them and teach them to be more skeptical and critical, and at worst you'll scare them away from ever bothering you with such tripe in the future.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:07 PM on November 24, 2007

If it's any consolation, I'm a Christian who used to get spam and religious messages forwarded to me from my mother...who was a Pagan. Yes, she'd send me Pagan inspirational emails and stories. A reverse prostelyzation, of sorts. I was the envy of my Pagan/Wiccan/'seeking' friends, but still - having religious messages sent to you uninvited that don't jibe with your own beliefs is insensitive, whether you worship Jesus or Horus or Thor.

I never got her to stop sending them, either, so I just put them into a filter that I checked once a week or so. If anything important was going on, she'd call anyways.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:18 AM on November 25, 2007

Thunderbird, or any other email client with a trainable spam filter, should easily adapt to treating these things the same way as any other spam. Just keep marking them as junk as they come in. After a while they will all be going into your Junk Mail folder and disappearing after thirty days without any need for action from you.

If you're using Thunderbird, put the addresses of everybody who sends you these things into Collected Addresses instead of Personal Address Book, so that you can continue to let Thunderbird assume that stuff coming from people in your Personal Address Book is definitely not spam.

Don't bother confronting anybody about this. Doing so is the same as trying to teach a pig to sing: it wastes your time, and annoys the pig.
posted by flabdablet at 3:09 AM on November 25, 2007

Someone up in the thread mentioned sending stuff from scripture back to them, which reminded of the oh-so-hilarious Russell's teapot webcomic. Its cute and irreverent without being (too) insulting.

More to the point, the site has a know your bible section with juicy inappropriate quotes from the bible in nice Despair-style posters. Collect a few of those, make you own email forward and give them a taste of their own medicine!
posted by arungoodboy at 4:13 AM on November 25, 2007

and they dismiss my grievances because they say they didn't intend to offend, therefore there was no offense.

How about sending them a DIY e-card "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? You don't play with hell ;)
posted by ersatz at 4:58 AM on November 25, 2007

Slightly off-topic, but relevant: Does marking e-mails from relatives (particularly in GMail) as "spam" increase the likelihood of false positives in the rare instance that legitimate messages will come through?
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:20 AM on November 25, 2007

Saucy Intruder: "Slightly off-topic, but relevant: Does marking e-mails from relatives (particularly in GMail) as "spam" increase the likelihood of false positives in the rare instance that legitimate messages will come through?"

Yes, most certainly.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:19 PM on November 25, 2007

That is, if by positive you mean positively identified as spam.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:20 PM on November 25, 2007

I'm a Christian raised in a Christian family. My family forwards me the sappy emails and the "if you don't send this to 47 people, something bad will happen".

When I was younger, my parents occasionally received chain letters. Whenever that happened, my father would go burn the letters for whatever reason.

After my mother sent me one the "pass this on to 10 people to receive luck", I confronted her about why she sends those things, and what's the difference between that and a chain letter.

That stopped those emails for a few months. For everyone else, they would get a reply with a link to this flash movie.
posted by coreb at 7:48 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I rarely get emails like this - partly because my family mostly finds them as obnoxious as I do, and partly because I've crafted a great response when I get them.

Dear Whoever,

I don't read email forwards. If you are interested in finding out how I am doing or telling me how you are, I would be overjoyed to hear from you.

*then I go into whatever is happening in my life*

The truth is that email forwards are obnoxious no matter the content - puppies dressed up for Halloween, urban legends, phishing, or religious stuff. The content isn't (or shouldn't necessarily be) the issue.

If you are truly having a hard time with the content of these emails, I'd suggest emailing back with my email, but suggesting that if they are ever interested in talking to you about religious issues that you value civil discourse and would love to hear from them specifically about their belief system and you would be happy to share yours. But remind them that you do not read email forwards.
posted by greekphilosophy at 6:30 AM on November 26, 2007

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