What is a divorced father with a devout Evangelical Christian daughter to do when his anti-religious beliefs come between his daughter and his visitation? If you are mainstream media advice columnist from Slate.com he should discuss his views about science and homosexuality; even though he never mentioned that he had such views.
In addition to furthering her "open minded" views on religion and homosexuality the columnist quips with the typical broad brushed generalization of how rude these religious people can really be; “I get a disturbing number of letters from nonreligious relatives of religiously raised children saying that the kids have been warning them of eternal damnation, and even threatening to stop seeing them, unless the relatives repent their Godless ways. Isn't it rather devilish, however, to raise children to be rude, and cruel, to loving family members?”
Here is the letter received by Dear Prudie.
I am the father of a 13-year-old daughter whose mother has been taking her to an evangelical Christian church her whole life. I'm not a Christian and think that organized religion is harmful to her development into a rational adult. Her mother and I split up right before she was born, but I've been a very active parent and have her every other weekend. As my daughter has gotten older, she has become fearful that because I'm not a Christian, I'm going to hell. When I try to explain my beliefs (that I don't believe in God or a higher power), she cries. I'm not trying to deny her mother the right to take her to church, but I don't want to cut my two weekends a month short to take her back to her mother's to attend church. When I even try to broach the subject of religion (mentioning my belief in evolution or that homosexuals are not sinners), it upsets her greatly. This isn't what I want, but I do want to be able to communicate to her what I believe. Her mom thinks I'm denying her freedom by not taking her to church when I have her, but I'm just trying to help her to see that other people believe other things, and that having an open mind is a good thing. What should I do? And how can I talk to my daughter about this without making her cry?
As you can see all the cards are on the table up front. The daughter has been raised as an Evangelical Christian her whole life, the parents were divorced before she was born, the father believes organized religion is harmful and the daughter fears that her father, whom she obviously loves, is going to hell.
These facts as put forth in the father's letter provide the perfect set up for the Slate columnist to advance her agenda by bashing religion and promoting homosexuality to a child who would view it as a sin.
I get a disturbing number of letters from nonreligious relatives of religiously raised children saying that the kids have been warning them of eternal damnation, and even threatening to stop seeing them, unless the relatives repent their Godless ways. Isn't it rather devilish, however, to raise children to be rude, and cruel, to loving family members? Of course you should be able to freely express your beliefs to your daughter, but your larger goal right now has to be to maintain a healthy relationship with her. At 13, she's old enough to understand the concept of "agreeing to disagree." There are many things a father and teenage girl can discuss besides religion. Certainly you don't have to hide your views about science and homosexuality, but you're only alienating her if you use your time together to give her a crash course in the Enlightenment. When these issues come up naturally, you can talk about how your views are different from hers and her mother's, but emphasize how important it is for people to be courteous to those they disagree with. Consider trying some rationalist jujitsu with her. You want to demonstrate what it means to be open-minded, so occasionally offer to take her to church. Explain that since you know it's important to her, you respect her right to her beliefs, even if you don't share them.
I wonder what kind of crash course in enlightenment Dear Prudie is talking about.
Thankfully not all media columnists are dishing out the same horrendous advice. The exact same letter found its way to Salon.com a few weeks earlier. Here is a snippet of the advice given to the father by Salon's Cary Tennis.
What I am trying to say is, the way to help your daughter grow is not to debate the existence of God. It is to go to church with your daughter and experience what she is experiencing.
You can argue about who is winning and who is losing. But at least watch the game.
Her problem is not that she believes in God. It's that she believes you are going to burn in hell when you die. It's her concern for you, and her fear for you, that are the problem. She wants to believe otherwise but has no solid grounds on which to place any hope. If you go to church with her, you will make it possible for her to believe that there is at least a chance that you will not burn in hell. From this she will derive great benefit. It will give her some peace of mind. The peace of mind she derives from it will help her in her schoolwork and in her relationships with others. It will help her sleep at night and it will improve her attitude toward you. It will be one less complaint she has against you. It will be one less wedge her mother can use between you. And it will be the only way you will ever be able to argue with her about religion with any credibility, should you choose to do so when she gets older.
Now is not the time to argue with her about religion. Now is the time to strengthen your bond with your daughter by participating in things that matter to her, by showing her that you respect the way she lives her life and by showing her that you have an open mind.
The letter may or may not be real. Perhaps the father is shopping for advice or perhaps someone wants to see how certain media outlets deal with such topics. The responses however are real and is a perfect example of how some view religion and let their bias seep into the mainstream that they represent.
Terry Trippany is the editor and publisher of Webloggin.