I thought I had inadvertently dropped my sister-in-law as a Facebook friend. So I wrote an apologetic note along with a new friend request, which she accepted. The next day, she sent me this:
I have to be honest with you. I did remove you from my friends list awhile ago. And from J.'s. I don't wish to personally attack you, but some of your anti-Christian comments and especially the mocking remarks by some of your FB friends hurt me deeply and on a very personal level. My faith is who I am, my whole identity. I don't expect you to understand that because the Catholic Faith is experiencial; you cannot understand it all from a book, you have to experience it first hand.
J. on the other hand is a very impressionable young person who respects you. We are raising him to experience his Catholic Faith and are going to great lengths to instill this faith and a moral compass in him for life. I don't wish to have him reading Anti-Christian/Athiest and hateful remarks on your status updates or wall postings...of those of your friends.
So I hope you can forgive me, but I had to tell you the truth and I hope you can respect my feelings. I don't want to to feel like you have to "censor" your posts, so maybe it's best if we are just not FB friends...it's up to you. I love you no matter what, you are family and my love is unconditional. As far as I'm concerned our relationship as in-laws is the same as always.
"My faith is who I am." Wha? What a horrible thing to reduce oneself like this. By "faith," perhaps she means belief. Maybe she means the doctrines. Perhaps she means the rituals. She could be referring to the whole organization of Roman Catholicism. Maybe it's some combination of all these things. But isn't it downright creepy and sad for a person to think that her entire personal content boils down to pre-formulated, pre-packaged simulations of thinking and feeling?
The "faith is experiential" line is garbage. I've been in RC churches. I've been to the services more times than I care to recount. So she has a powerful experience in a church. Big deal. Some people experience getting abducted by aliens. Some people experience getting high on drugs and alcohol. Don't tell me I don't know or can't understand Catholicism because I've never been a Catholic and don't believe that any bit of it is true. As a medievalist, I've studied the primary texts and the formation of the church. I know the doctrines and what they say. I know the writings of the church fathers. I know what the New Testament says. I know a bit about the early church, and I know about the recent history of the church. I know Catholicism as well as she does. The only difference is that I don't ignore all the very good reasons for thinking it's hogwash.
Of course she seeks to shield her son from ideas such as atheism, from the idea that it might just be OK not to believe in Jesus or in any god or man-god. He may decide that not only is it OK not to believe but also that it's probably a more accurate view of reality.
Here is how I responded to her:
Hi M.,I hope this reply conveys a few things:
Thanks for your message.
First of all, I’m grateful for your honesty. Let me also say back to you, “I love you no matter what, you are family and my love is unconditional. As far as I'm concerned our relationship as in-laws is the same as always.” I feel exactly this way, too. In your note, you ask directly for forgiveness, and I certainly do forgive you.
I apologize if anything I have written has been, or has appeared to be, “anti-Christian” or “hateful.” While I reject the idea that gods/demigods exist, and I criticize religion generally, I consciously try not to single out particular traditions. I am also sorry that your feelings have been hurt by anything I have written or by responses others have given to posts of mine.
I genuinely appreciate that you do not wish for me to “censor” my opinions, and I respect both your feelings and your decisions regarding which ideas come into contact with your children. Like you, I work to model ethical behavior and clear reasoning for my kids. And like you I strive to help them continue developing the moral character both to make mature life choices and to exercise intellectual courage.
Whatever you choose to do regarding Facebook is absolutely fine with me. Truly. I think of Facebook as rather silly theater. Like all toys, it’s fun. But it’s certainly not worth any real-life drama.
So, no problem-o. Thanks again for talking candidly with me.
- That I am truly sorry her feelings got hurt. I am sorry, but I have not attacked her. I have criticized bad ideas and bad thinking. I'll keep doing it, too.
- That I am unapologetic for my opinions and the work it took to discover what I thought was more right.
- That being moral and being atheist are highly compatible. One doesn't need to be religious to instill a "moral compass" in his children.