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Austin Cline

Forum Discussion: Atheism and Religious In-Laws

By January 23, 2013

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Usually conflicts between atheists and religious families involve atheist children and religious parents, but as atheism moves more widely through the population this will reverse. Increasingly, there will be cases of atheist parents coming into conflict with religious sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

Children Praying
Children Praying
Photo: Jacobsen/Hulton/Getty

In some ways, this sort of conflict might be more difficult because of how it involves children: how does an atheist handle it when a son-in-law or daughter-in-law wants to raise the grandchildren to be religious? How about when the religion is fundamentalist and intolerant?

That's a tough situation for any parent or grandparent to face, especially since there is little hope that they can interfere without making the problem worse.

A forum member writes:

I am a mother of an only child, my 33-year-old son. I am and have always been, born so, radical, proud atheist. My son is the same because I brought him up. My husband didnt interfere. He interfered in nothing... and then one day my son found this over-religious girl. She is almost a religious fanatic, Orthodox. Greece.

And then one day they got a baby son.

Now, I know mother is mother. She will make their child Orthodox fanatic Christian. This is her dream. She cant forgive me for raising my son as atheist, as if I could have done any other. Nor can I forgive her for bringing up my son's son, son of a father atheist, to be a fanatic Orthodox Christian.

What can I do, if anything to not make things even worse? I hope my son will manage somehow to not let her stupify their little boy like her parents stupified her. my son keeps low profile, I don't... how can I?! Please advise me.

Honestly, I doubt that this woman would be able to do much of anything without making the situation worse. What's more, I think that the problem may be less the "fanatic" daughter and more the passive son. You can't "keep a low profile" when it comes to raising children. A person who can't step forward and take an active role in raising a child shouldn't have children in the first place.

What this woman can do, and what would be most likely to be successful, is to actively support her son in what he chooses to do. Notice, though, that this requires that he actually do something! He needs to be able to assert himself in the marriage and assert is own interests in how his son is raised. If he doesn't, there's nothing the grandmother can do.

The grandmother seems to appreciate that her husband didn't interfere in how she raised her own son; ironically, this set an example for her son in how a father should act and that's the source of her dilemma now. Had her husband been more active, things would probably be different now.

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