AI: Family Issues


Coming from a Catholic family, I have first-hand knowledge of what it feels like to disagree with your entire family on almost any subject. And while I handle my arguments well in any other situation, when it comes to my parents or my sister, I’m always awkwardly giving in or shutting up just to avoid confrontations.

Sometimes, I feel like I shouldn’t – especially regarding their tendency towards alt-med and alt-med-like scams – but these are people I love and intend to maintain a relationship with for the rest of my life, regardless of their flawed belief systems, so I mostly stay quiet and do nothing. (Sometimes I even do the unthinkable and ask myself “what’s the harm?”).

So, I turn to you:

Is your family skeptic of your skepticism? Do you think it’s worth it to confront it sometimes or all times? How would you confront them without harming the relationship? Do you think you could ever get them to listen?

The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays at 3pm ET.

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  1. Certain members of my family are more in-line with skeptical thinking than others. For example, when I got a horribad case of strep throat right after New Year’s, I happened to be visiting my parents. My mom, bless her heart, drove me to the doctor and back to their house and wanted to take care of me. But instead of buying some Chloraseptic, she bought me some homeopathic cold spray.

    I was in such pain and had such a high fever that I couldn’t do anything but collapse in bed and brood over it in my fevered state. I did complain about it to my dad the next day, and I told my mom what homeopathy is and her response was, “well it works for me.” She had no interest in hearing about placebo affect or anything about the claimed mechanisms of homeopathy–all she knew is it worked for her.

    There’s always lots of arguing in my family, though, so it’s never really come down to shame or ostracizing (thankfully).

  2. Fortunately my family tends to actually give a damn about what science has to say about things. One time my mother came back from the doctor’s after going there for a cold (I think she was after a doctor’s certificate to get some time off work) with a prescription for antibiotics. I’d say I couldn’t believe a GP being quite so slack, but patients these days always seem to expect some treatment, regardless of whether they’ll do anything. However, I explained to my mother how antibiotics don’t actually work on colds because they are caused by rhinoviruses and she basically said “oh, okay, I won’t bother then”. So she’s open to some ideas, but she also spent several years going to a chiropractor and managed to get me to go as well (I was a teenager at the time, forgive me). On the plus side, my railing against bullshit treatments has never been met with “you’re wrong, go away” so I can’t really complain.

  3. I feel the best incident that illustrates some of my family’s attitude to my skepticism happened yesterday. My cousin posted a facebook status about wanting to see a psychic. My first comment was something to the effect of, “Give me an hour of research and I’ll be as good as any psychic!” Later, I noticed that my comment had been deleted. The other comments also expressed excitement, one of them declaring that they could do tarot card readings. I commented again that I could also read tea leaves and coffee grounds. Again, this comment was deleted. I’m tempted to go for a trifecta of deleted comments now.

    That being said, not all of my family is quite so anti-skeptic. My Mum, whilst a bit religious and woo-believing, is happy to let me be as skeptical as I like. An interesting twist is that, while coming out as a woman-loving queer was met with a huge amount of enthusiasm, I feel that coming out as an atheist would be met with mostly the opposite feeling.

  4. My mom is pretty open about my skepticism and atheism. We were having a laugh the other week about people asking me what I was giving up for Lent. I said, “uh, nothing, atheists don’t give up anything for Lent.” Even when we were religious we were Methodist, so it was just a buildup to Easter, when it was all about the chocolate. Yay, Jesus roes from the dead, so I get a chocolate bunny and Cadbury cream eggs! My sister and her family are charismatic Christians or something, so I try to avoid the subject with them. I call out my friends on woo. One of them mentioned wanting to try ear candling the other day, so I debunked it for her.

  5. I had pretty good luck with my parents, actually. They were both vaguely and culturally religious when I was born, and I was raised as a generic Christian (they were of different branches, and so compromised). I became an atheist in my early teens (mostly through just outgrowing religion; I honestly don’t have a better story to tell than that), and a skeptic in my late teens.

    My parents didn’t have any objections to me being an atheist, but they didn’t like me talking about it. They likened criticizing faith claims to proselytizing, though it didn’t really do much to dissuade me. Over time, they’ve both shifted closer to my own viewpoints. When I met them a few months ago, I found myself explaining to my father that the fact that he doesn’t believe in any god means he’s actually an atheist.

    The situation with skepticism has been even easier, as it doesn’t have the same cultural baggage that atheism does. It may seem like every individual battle is a loss, but long-term change may still occur. People simply don’t like to admit when they’re wrong, but that fact doesn’t mean they’re beyond convincing.

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