Help my niece free her mind
July 28, 2008 9:33 AM   Subscribe

What are good techniques to deprogram a Christian fundamentalist?

My niece was heavily indoctrinated with Christianity as a child, and she is now 20. As an adult, she is intelligent enough to escape the vise of religion, but I would like to help her do so in a kind manner and not just give her a copy of Dawkins' or Harris' books.
posted by plexi to Religion & Philosophy (53 answers total)
Let her figure it out on her own. If she's intelligent enough, she'll figure things out eventually.
posted by yort at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2008

Perhaps she wants to continue to hold beliefs different than yours?
posted by xmutex at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Many fundamentalists consider their minds perfectly free already. Don't proselytize her, just as you don't want her to proselytize you. "Do unto others..." and such.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 9:42 AM on July 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Give her a copy of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong. Better read it yourself first.
posted by RussHy at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2008

This isn't your decision to make. If she is looking for an out she will ask you. Otherwise, leave it.

Imagine how offended you would be if she started to proselytize to you (Even 'in a kind manner')
posted by TheOtherGuy at 9:46 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Talk to her like a normal human being. If the mood strikes, bring up topics of interest regarding fundamentalism without brow beating her. Overtly trying to un-convert her will more than likely make her more steadfast in holding on.
posted by jmd82 at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2008

You can't force something like that on someone. The most you can do is ask someone to question what they don't question.
posted by cellphone at 9:55 AM on July 28, 2008

Are you trying to change her religious views or change her fundamentalist approach to her views? I don't think they are the same.
posted by sandpine at 9:55 AM on July 28, 2008

Has she expressed a desire to no longer be a fundamentalist? I'm not sure from your post that this is the case.

If she hasn't, then there's nothing for you to do, other than engage with her normally, and present yourself as someone who will accept her no matter who she is. If she ends up wanting to leave fundamentalism behind, she will likely turn to the people who have made it clear to her that they will support her no matter what. It would be presumptuous to initiate anything, I think. And I say this as someone who was raised Pentecostal and fought hard to leave that religion and community.

If she has expressed this desire, I can't recommend books on the subject as I have not ready any, but I can say that when I was going through this, a sympathetic ear would have been very welcome. Also, someone to explain to me, in a rational manner, that I wasn't a terrible person for not believing the things I was expected to believe. Having a non-judgmental shoulder to lean on, especially someone without any kind of biases for or against Pentecostalism, would have been very helpful because what I needed most was reason, not someone who was pushing me in the direction they thought I should be taking.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

It would help enormously if you could specify exactly what beliefs she has that are harming her or anyone else so that we would know what resources to offer.
posted by mattholomew at 9:58 AM on July 28, 2008

What 20 year old wants her aunt or uncle stepping in to tell her how she was raised with the wrong belief system, what she should now think, and what books to read?
posted by iamkimiam at 10:01 AM on July 28, 2008 [5 favorites]

Plexi, is the issue that you don't agree with her faith, or that she is in a faith group that is unnecessarily rigid and unhealthy? (Yes, I know they are out there.)

PM me, or go into more detail here, if the latter. If the former, I'm afraid that other posters are correct-she is an adult and entitled to her own beliefs, just as you are.
posted by konolia at 10:02 AM on July 28, 2008

Encourage her to embrace those things that every 20 year old needs: experiences outside their own culture, world, and head. Teach her to embrace new experiences, to interact daily with societies and people that look and act differently than her; encourage her to study abroad, learn a new language, move to a large city. Tell her to apply for the peace core, to do charity work in a developing country, etc. etc.

But don't expect her Christian faith to disapear; you'll be amazed at how sympathizing and encountering world suffering can make a person more Christian than before.
posted by Stynxno at 10:03 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

You know what's awesome? A free exchange of ideas that treats people coming to the table as equals, not as things to be "converted." Maybe try having discussions with her, done with an attitude towards finding truth for mutual benefit (perhaps over a nice warm drink by the fireplace). Pretentious "I've got it all figured out and you're wrong" attitudes do nothing but stifle true learning.
posted by Benevolent Space Robot at 10:03 AM on July 28, 2008

'Deprogram' is really the wrong word to use here. It comes with a strong undercurrent of coercion.

If you would like to promote your own beliefs (secular? Christian narrative as metaphor?), giving her some literature on the Gospel of Thomas might weaken any attachment she may have to fundamentalist dogma. Don't think that it has to cover the probable dependence of the other Gospels on Q and Thomas. If it is introduced as one of the most reliable sources we have for Jesus of Nazareth's actual words, the text itself can do plenty to change belief. It may also be of genuine interest to her, in which case, it will face less resistance.
posted by BigSky at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2008

My suggestion would be to simply hold onto your beliefs and live a good and just life. Some of the most influential people in my life that made me consider integrating their worldview into my own simply led good lives and never brought up what religion/philosophy unless explicitly asked. And even then, it was with the view to strictly answer a question, not to proselytize.
posted by perpetualstroll at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Who cares? Very religious people are, on the whole, happier anyway. If someone gave me the choice to forget all I know now and become a fundamentalist religious practitioner, devout in my belief, it would not be an easy choice at all. Let her be.
posted by decoherence at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2008

You might consider "deprogramming" yourself before you try it on your niece.

Mind your own damn business.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

Mod note: A couple comments removed. This is obviously a pretty charged topic, but please aim more for addressing the question and stay away from hectoring or general religious sidebars or arguments.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:29 AM on July 28, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you for all the answers; maybe I wasn't clear. She was home schooled, and believes that, for example, the earth is 6000 years old, when something like the COBE background radiation clearly shows this is not the case. There are many other examples, all of which can be shown to be false through even a cursory glance at science or rational thought.

She didn't go to religion because she wants to see a loved one in heaven, or because she is under duress, or because of the hope of religious love after an abusive life. She was indoctrinated by fanatics, and it is terribly sad. She's out on her own, and going to a good private University, so things will turn out ok. I've known people who went through a similar experience, but it took them 10 years or more to shake off what they were force fed for 20 years - I'd hate for her to have to go through such a long trauma as well.
posted by plexi at 10:31 AM on July 28, 2008

instead of dawkins or something aggressively atheistic like that, you might want to look for writings of non-fundamentalist christian denominations.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:35 AM on July 28, 2008

@sandpine Are you trying to change her religious views or change her fundamentalist approach to her views? I don't think they are the same.


Also... define 'fundamentalism'. If fundamentalism in this case is not harmful to her or those around her, who are you to pass improper actions onto her?

As a (raised Southern Baptist, and still of that mindset) Christian, I fully support many fundamental beliefs... and I'm perfectly normal (or so I think ;) ).

@decoherence Very religious people are, on the whole, happier anyway.

Great point. 'Religious' people live longer ad are happier than those with no "higher focus".
posted by bamassippi at 10:40 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reading some Greek philosophy might get her mind, you know, 'thinking about stuff'. That's all you can do-- show her that there's lots of 'stuff to think about'.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:44 AM on July 28, 2008

nthing all who have encouraged you to walk softly here.

The best thing you can do is encourage her to be a free, open-minded, and tolerant thinker. As long as she doesn't cross over into the distrust and hatred that zealots so often feel towards others, let her find her own way. Love, patience, and setting the example of a life well-lived will do more for her than anything else.

As one who was raised in a strictly and fundamentally christian home, and whose faith has since moderated and (in some ways) expanded, allow me to remind you of the beauty of an unwavering belief in an afterlife: If you're wrong, you never know it.
posted by dinger at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2008

it's her choice, you know. I'd simply let her know that, for example, a strictly literal reading of Scripture that leads to, for example, Creationism, is simply disproven by a mountain of evidence, the fossil record, etc -- there are many books she can read that disprove Creationism. same thing for how Scripture came to be -- it's been at this point figured out with some precision how the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were put together using different sources -- for the Hebrew Bible I suggest Richard Elliott Friedman's "Who Wrote the Bible?", a nice and quite easy to read explanation of the documentary hypothesis plus some research by Friedman. for the New Testament I'd suggest something like Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why" or his Historical Jesus book, they're all very good.

this is stuff that explains essentially hjow the books she considers inerrant have ben written, edited and put together. beyond that, if she wants to believe literally that men walk on water, come back from the dead after three days then actually fly out to heaven, there's nothing much you can do.
posted by matteo at 10:54 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Why not just allow the college experience to open her mind, the way it does for millions of kids each year who walk on campus with a myriad of experiences.

Even with your explanation, I still see no need for the deprogramming you speak of. Won't she take earth science and "rocks for jocks" and the like? Won't she interact with students whose views are different from her own and engage in interesting discussions about those views? Might she study abroad and learn to see the world differently? You said she's smart. I'm thinking she'll expand her mind on her own .... Or, she might decide that she likes being a person of faith and doesn't care of others think it's irrational.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:56 AM on July 28, 2008

If she's intelligent and going to a good private university, she'll probably figure things out on her own. If not, don't sweat it; she's perfectly capable of deciding whether she wants to remain a fundamentalist. Don't push her, just be available if she wants to talk about it.
posted by Koko at 10:58 AM on July 28, 2008

Mod note: Again, this thread is not the place for detailed science/religious arguments. Take it to Metatalk is you need to.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:08 AM on July 28, 2008

I sympathise: a lot of the respondents here would not hesitate to recommend a deprogrammer for things they were against (Moonies, being gay, etc), but become bristly when you're talking about their beliefs. For good or ill, Western society isn't at at the level of development that supports intervention over irrational beliefs, even if those beliefs cause harm (rejection of blood transfusion on religious or racial grounds, for example).

Instead, I would take a page out of the religious believer's own handbook. Proselytizing, fire-and-brimstone (or quarks-and-4K-background-radiation, in your case) sermons only tend to work on the poor, the meek, and the desperate, and your niece sounds like she is none of those things.

Instead, do as the best (to my mind) religious believers do: inspire by example. Demonstrate that care and consideration for your fellow man does not require threats and punishments of hell. Show her that you can appreciate the wondrous grandeur of the universe (museums, planetariums, and the like - anything to do with science without attempting to rub her face in it) without seeing, or needing, the invisible guiding hand of God behind it. In essence, show her that "good" and "Godless" can go together, in a way that can be fulfilling and joyful.

Respond to her inquiries, and try not to lecture. She's likely been sermonized at enough, and it's unlikely that you want to take on the role of secular humanist preacher. If she seems open to it (and it may take years), suggest some books, without forcing them into her hand.

Most of all, be patient, kind, loving, and supportive. Gently lead, but also walk beside her. Changing worldviews is hard, arduous, often emotionally painful work. Recognise that she may stay in her religion not because of belief, but due to a sense of familial piety, or a fear of shaming and rejection. Encourage independent thought and introspection. Gently debate her, as questions come up. Give her the sense that you'll support whatever conclusion she comes to, so long as she has been honest in her exploration of the question, irregardless of whether you agree with it.

The best of luck to you, and her.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:10 AM on July 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

She was home schooled, and believes that, for example, the earth is 6000 years old, when something like the COBE background radiation clearly shows this is not the case. There are many other examples, all of which can be shown to be false through even a cursory glance at science or rational thought.

While these beliefs may be incorrect, how do you think they are harming her daily life?
posted by desjardins at 11:21 AM on July 28, 2008

Just one more addition on my part and then I'm out.

I would recommend a copy of "The Portable World Bible." I will take her a while to read but the main objective is to expose her to different 'projections' (?) of the same concepts and values.

In my view, it would appear all major religions (you get to define major...) attempt to deal with the same issues but their response appears to be strongly influenced by the geography, culture, and society from which they speak.

There aren't too many new problems but the solution can vary a great deal by circumstance.

posted by sandpine at 11:21 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

You say she's intelligent, so treat her like the intelligent person she is.

Don't talk down to her and don't short-change her by filtering your end of the conversation. If you treat her with the respect you expect for yourself, then conversation will get around to various topics that have been informed by her upbringing (or better yet, have been informed by your upbringing).

Think of it this way ... ever have one of those really good discussions about music? You know the kind I'm talking about, where you start talking about the songs you like and the songs you don't like and along the way you start to realize that there are points where your tastes intersect? In the end, you tell the other person that you've got something they've just got to hear, that you'll be bringing them a mix CD or some such. Well, you can have the same kind of discussion about literature or comic books or movies or even religion.

(Heck, given the attitudes she might have about modern music, maybe a mix CD is a really good first step to strive for. Show her kindly that the secular world has some beauty in it.)

But please, for the love of everything and nothing, do not pummel her from orbit with copies of The God Delusion. For one thing, Dawkins is not the least bit kind to fundamentalists, dismissing them outright as not even deserving of consideration, discounted entirely anything that might've motivated a person to seek answers in a church setting. For another more important thing, it is incredibly fundamentalist in technique to throw down a tome and tell someone that all the answers they need are right there in The Book.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:24 AM on July 28, 2008

I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, and I was one until late high school/ college. I began to pull away after an incident involving my best friend, and watching the other JW's pulling away from and isolating her (it's a long story). And college. If I had to summarize the core of my separation, it would be that I was finally able to question what I had always believed as true.
I had always been a good student, and it was likely my dad's commitment to college, despite the stance of the JW's at the time (even though he's still a JW and we are estranged) that allowed me the freedom to think, on my own. It was as if my brain had a walled-off section - this is where my faith and all its supporting beliefs lived - and they were untouched by even my own sense of curiosity and questioning. The incident with my best friend gave me enough of an emotional jolt to start questioning the explanations I'd been given as certain.
For example, I didn't believe in celebrating birthdays because 1) there is no such commandment and mandate; 2) Jesus said the day of one's death is more important than the day of one's birth; and 3) the two birthday celebrations mentioned in the Bible are described in negative terms. Thus, JW's don't celebrate birthdays. Until I was 15 or 16 I had never, ever questioned whether this explanation actually made sense to me or not. It just was true. Someone asks me, why don't you celebrate birthdays? and my automatic response was the above.
JW's believed that they had taken up the mantle of the early Christians. They also were proud of their studies. I found, looking back, that there's an odd duality: on one hand, they talk of their commitment to study and research, and on the other, those research topics were quite narrow. I learned about the writings of Josephus, but nothing about the other Gospels, or any of the scholarly debate regarding the accuracy of not only the contents of the Bible but its development. One of my main tasks, coming out of the JW's, was to go back and learn about all sorts of things that I thought I already knew.
After having grown up reading the creationism book, it was really astonishing and satisfying to actually go back and learn what evolution really is. Here I was certain I knew all about evolution but I didn't, not at all. For that exquisite moment of astonishment I would recommend The Blind Watchmaker by Dawkins. I thought his tone was just great - I loved the little asides about going to tend his garden - not pedantic but didactic, and effectively so. I would also encourage her to look for websites for people like her; those "apostate" websites offered a lot of information I had been wholly ignorant of.
I hope that your niece still has a relationship with her family. I lost the majority of mine after my parents' bitter divorce and my falling away from the faith (and of course the entirety of the congregation I had grown up with, as contact with a disfellowshipped (read: excommunicated) person is not encouraged). This was a very painful loss, and I fought for several years for a relationship with my father before realizing it would never happen.
Losing one's illusions can be shattering, and I would echo what others have said, that simply being there is central. I'm sure you know her well enough to help her in her quest for information without being pushy. Keep yourself accessible. If I can be of any help, please let me know.
(Sorry for such a long post.) I sincerely wish you and your niece the best.
posted by queseyo at 11:27 AM on July 28, 2008 [4 favorites]

... when something like the COBE background radiation clearly shows this is not the case ...

Clearly? Upon further consideration, this could be another problem. Since a back-of-envelope sketch on the mechanics of cosmic microwave background radiation takes more than a handful of envelopes, maybe you're expecting her to have an equivalent amount of scientific knowledge to your own. Logic be damned, her Creation myth is a lot more straight-forward (and lyrical, particularly in the KJV) than the far more complicated truth of science.

So if you expect her to just accept the Nobel Peace Prize winning findings of COBE as (forgive me) gospel, you're going to have to be patient and find a way to show her an equivalent poetry inherent in modern physics.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:36 AM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

She's at a good private university, according to you. That tells me her parents are a little more open than you give them credit-really rabid fundies don't want their offspring, particularly girls, at secular universities, or in some sad cases, at university at all.

I think she is at an age and at a place where she will be able to examine her own beliefs herself. I'm probably fundie according to your definition, and I don't really hold to a 6 thousand year old earth theory (I won't bore you with my own interpretation) altho I am indeed one who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

There are tons of folks on this very site who shed their fundie skin as adults, and probably also quite a few who came to the Christian faith after having been unbelievers. People are generally pretty good at figuring out what they need to put their faith in. And for that matter, none of us are free from illogical beliefs of some sort in our life no matter what our category.

I have more faith in God than I do in people when it comes to wisdom, but on the other hand I believe if someone is really seeking the truth and is willing to accept it no matter what form it shows up in, they will find it.

She'll be fine.
posted by konolia at 11:37 AM on July 28, 2008

a lot of the respondents here would not hesitate to recommend a deprogrammer for things they were against (Moonies, being gay, etc), but become bristly when you're talking about their beliefs.

Funny you should read it that way. What I'm reading is a lot of people supporting OP's niece's freedom to believe whatever she wants without meddling from someone who believes something different... which to me sounds like the very definition of "free thought", unless we're using that as a euphemism for atheism these days.
posted by toomuchpete at 12:06 PM on July 28, 2008

Get her in touch with a chaplain at her school, make sure she's introduced to campus religious life by someone non-fundy.

Or you could send her Harry Potter books or To Kill a Mockingbird. I hear they corrupt the youth like you wouldn't believe.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:09 PM on July 28, 2008

I guess I'm a little confused by your question. What kind of relationship do you have with this girl? Are you close? Have you two ever had those deep discussions about Life, the Universe, and Everything? Because if you have already established that sort of dialogue in a way that you both enjoy revisiting, I don't see why you'd be posting this AskMe.

But if you don't have that sort of relationship, wouldn't it be odd to raise the topic with an agenda in mind? These conversations work best when they develop organically - as someone else said, over warm drinks beside the fire, and without browbeating. Do you plan to introduce the topic and then herd her into your corner with a fistful of cites and references? That doesn't seem terribly fair or kind. Even if you tone it down, she'd still feel ambushed.

Just become her Favorite Uncle and the rest will take care of itself. She might even teach you something.

I'd mark Perpetualstroll's answer favorite a dozen times over if I could.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:27 PM on July 28, 2008

It is very naive to think that you can simply 'help' pull someone away from a faith because you disagree with it. You should let your niece experience independent life for herself. Despite your disagreements on faith, which sound like they've been kept private, you seem to allude to a loving relationship with your niece. Why would you want to complicate that because of a compulsion to break her away from her faith? Don't do something you may regret.
posted by parmanparman at 12:35 PM on July 28, 2008

She was home schooled, and believes that, for example, the earth is 6000 years old, when something like the COBE background radiation clearly shows this is not the case. There are many other examples, all of which can be shown to be false through even a cursory glance at science or rational thought.

See... it's faith. It may not jive with what you, I, or the peanut gallery believe, but it's hers to have.

Especially if there is no harm coming to her or others as a result of her faith. (I understand that "harm" is subjective, but I'm meaning endangering her life or that of another... doomsday cultish, etc.)

Chances are she thinks the balance of us are loonies, too. When science and faith go to battle, it's usually a stalemate: again, what if she was working on converting you? Study up and be prepared with ample reference is you challenge her.

She was indoctrinated by fanatics, and it is terribly sad. She's out on her own, and going to a good private University, so things will turn out ok.

Also, because she's in university, there's a good chance her belief system will be challenged by her peers and instructors; you can offer her your support and insight. She's adjusting to college life and adulthood; I'm guessing that her religion/values have helped to keep her grounded during a pretty exciting/stressful/awareness-raising period.

I've known people who went through a similar experience, but it took them 10 years or more to shake off what they were force fed for 20 years - I'd hate for her to have to go through such a long trauma as well.

But really, isn't it her path to travel? If it's going to be traumatic, it will be traumatic. If turning away from her established faith is in the cards, it'll come when it comes. Don't force it.

Keep in mind if the tables were turned and someone was trying to open your eyes to the errors of "reason," science, secular humanism, etc.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 12:41 PM on July 28, 2008

She was home schooled, and believes that, for example, the earth is 6000 years old,

Let's be specific about what has happened here. She wasn't born believing that the earth is 6,000 years old; she was taught that the earth is 6,000 years old. She's now at university, where presumably she needs to fill some science credits and will at some point be taught that the world is a tad older than that.

She will, along the way, twig to the fact that there are other views of life, the universe, and everything than the ones she was raised with. The most important thing that can come out of this experience is not a rejection of her parents' values or an embrace of your scientifically informed world view, but rather the development of her own independent critical thinking skills.

Given that she will have more opportunities to compare and contrast than your average college student, this actually bodes rather well for her future, which will no doubt be both interesting and intellectually lively.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:43 PM on July 28, 2008

Send her a link to the blog Thoughts From a Sandwich, particularly his "deconversion" account.

It's a well-thought series of posts by an attorney who came to realize the logical absurdities of his fundamentalist belief system.

Also, realize that proselytizing about your beliefs is one of the things that we atheists hate about the righteous believers. So, uh, don't do that.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:33 PM on July 28, 2008

I second the recommendation of Misquoting Jesus. It was written by a former fundamentalist who began his study of the Bible's provenance as a way to strengthen his faith. It didn't work out that way for him...
posted by Coventry at 2:10 PM on July 28, 2008

I have personally witnessed the complete deterioration of several families formerly close to me because of this kind of thing.

It's very sad.

I'm not sure there's much you can do.

Nobody I've known has re-converted from fundamentalist to normal.

I wish I had more encouraging advice for you.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:47 PM on July 28, 2008

COBE background radiation

By the way, I'm fairly well-educated and secular. I believe in evolution and accept the prevailing scientific views wrt to the age of the universe etc. And I have no idea what the hell this means. If you brought it up in conversation with me you'd get a blank stare. It wouldn't prove anything about anything to me because I wouldn't know what you're talking about. You might as well say "Martians told me."
posted by desjardins at 3:49 PM on July 28, 2008

I used to be a Jehovah's Witness as well (Hi queseya). What changed my mind was studying literature in high school. Learning to analyze language taught me that Biblical interpretation ain't an exact science. That's what started the process, at least. I second all of the stuff upthread about nonconfrontationally exposing her to other cultures and ideas. I don't agree with suggesting specific books intended to shake her faith (Dawkins, the Gospel of Thomas). I would have been suspicious if anyone tried to get me to read something like that, even during the throes of my conversion, and suspicious people aren't open minded.
posted by chrchr at 4:10 PM on July 28, 2008

As some others have said - opening up her world to culture and literature will enable her to free her own mind, with no heavy-handed "deprogramming" necessary. Some philosophy may encourage critical thinking. Has she read Sophie's World?
posted by idiomatika at 5:40 PM on July 28, 2008

I sympathise: a lot of the respondents here would not hesitate to recommend a deprogrammer for things they were against (Moonies, being gay, etc), but become bristly when you're talking about their beliefs.

I don't think that's the case at all. Speaking as a liberal agnostic, I think "deprogramming" someone's religious beliefs (as long as they aren't hurting anyone) is just as bad as "deprogramming" someone's homosexuality or any other personal matter. The freedom to think and say and believe what one likes isn't limited to people I agree with.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:03 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

You don't say what her major is at college, but you should be able to encourage her to stretch academically, and take a few comparative religion classes, or a philosophy class for non-majors, or intro. to anthropology, for example. My university had some great combined philosophy and literature classes that I enjoyed thoroughly.
posted by gudrun at 6:16 PM on July 28, 2008

I'll nth the recommendations for Misquoting Jesus. Helped me get thinking during a similar time.
posted by andythebean at 10:13 PM on July 28, 2008

Essentially what you're planning to tell her is, "I'm so much smarter than you are and everything you know is BS." I remember being 20. I can't imagine being overjoyed to receive the news that my relatives thought I was an ignorant hick. If you attack her beliefs, then you'll force her to defend her them. It will make the ideas more entrenched, not less so. Allow her to learn and question on her own.

If she asks your opinion, then by all means have a respectful dialog. I appreciate that you have good intentions and want the best for your niece. However, your good intentions of proselytizing science are no more welcome than good intentions proselytizing religion.
posted by 26.2 at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2008

I'm in a very similar situation to plexi (OP) -- I'm the uncle atheist (former fundy) watching his nieces and nephews be raised as fundamentalist Christians, many of them home-schooled.

The short answer that I've arrived at is to keep your nose out of it.

The longer answer:
- People are generally happier with religion. I probably would be. (decoherence put it well.) The social benefits alone are enormous, not to mention dealing with the death of family/friends/oneself...
- Me discarding my own religion has driven a wedge between me and my still-religious family, who still from time-to-time tries to re-convert me -- out of love, for sure: my whole family firmly believes I'm going to burn in hell for all eternity and of course they want to help. Anyhow, I wouldn't wish that family discord on anybody.
- Similarly... have you considered what sort of family pariah you'd be if YOU were the one who swayed your niece from Christ, causing HER to burn in hell beside you?? From their perspective, you wouldn't be a hero (except *possibly* to your niece) -- you'd be the world's worst villain.
- Most fundamentally: Never, EVER tell parents how to raise their kids. (Except, of course in cases of abuse -- I know, this is borderline mental/emotional/social abuse, but come on...) They're doing what they think is right; it's not your place to interfere. In this case, they've put a helluva lot of effort into their child-rearing with all the homeschooling and indoctrination -- too much effort to have it all un-done by a nosey (evil!) family member.

Now, all of that said, I do believe that I, personally, am living a much richer, more fulfilling life as a result of discarding my family's religion. I'm living my life to the fullest, because I believe this is the limit of my existence. (By contrast, my parents have both verbalized a desire to end their lives so they can go to heaven -- that's just heartbreaking to me, to dismiss your life like that.) I think it's the best thing I've ever done.

I think your goals are noble, FWIW coming from a stranger on the green. It's just... nobody else will see it that way, likely not even your niece.
posted by LordSludge at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I ran across this today regarding the early Church fathers on can definitely be a Christian without believing in a literal 6 24 hour day creation.
posted by konolia at 11:07 AM on July 29, 2008

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