Advice for helping my Atheist Sister

My sister admitted to me sometime ago that she had come to the conclusion that she was an atheist. I myself am an agnostic and believe that if this is the path she wishes to take, then so be it. Recently, however, she has asked for my help with coming out to the rest of our family, which while not practicing, is deeply spiritual. She also has stated that she does not wish to be given gifts or come over for Christmas Dinner, even though there is really no religious celebrations at our dinner. She keeps emphasizing the religiosity of the season, including the pagan aspects. She also has been arguing with me about disrespecting her beliefs, when in reality, it’s more I don’t think that this is healthy to cut off all ties on the holidays with your family. Any advice?

Posted: November 17th 2011


If an adult relative lives by herself and says that she does not wish to do certain things or have certain things done for her (partaking in Christmas celebrations, gift-giving), then it is quite clear to me those requests be taken graciously in stride. Often way more bizarre requests are honoured in respect of a dead person to fulfill their wishes made while alive, but when living adults ask clearly for what they want, then it is usually a different story.

I do think that you need to accept her decision and to tell other relatives that you do. Keeping with that perspective, she can only accept your own decision also, that is, to attend the family Christmas celebrations because you want to. However, I disagree with your sister if she means by support that you do what she is going to do.

If your sister wanted to cut off all relations with her family, then that would be a way more problematic situation. If your sister is greeted with acceptance of her decision (and it is fine to say if she changes her mind she is welcome to make a mad, last-minute dash to the celebrations), she may actually realize that it OK to attend Christmas gatherings because her perspective will be understood. As far as your thinking her not attending holiday festivities is not healthy for her, I am afraid if that is true she will need to find that aspect out for herself.

Most atheists are agnostic, that is, while professing no god belief, they do not know if there is a god or not. The adjective 'strong’ is use for atheists who state there are no gods. And the word 'spirituality’ is often confusing. If you mean sharing non-rational states like kindness, generosity, emotional connectivity, then perhaps, you can use those terms when explaining why you think such family gatherings are special and positive.

Posted: November 20th 2011

See all questions answered by logicel

Dave Hitt www

Some people embrace atheism with the fervor of those who convert to a new religion. They regard all believers as fools, try to “convert” other people, insist on revealing their atheism to everyone, and eschew everything religious.

This is a mistake. We have to live in a world full of religion and religious people. Most religious people are not fools – they simply believe one silly thing, which doesn’t make them bad or stupid. Religious traditions will always be part of our culture. They are unavoidable, and some of them are fun.

There is no need for her to broadcast her lack of belief. A person’s religious beliefs, or lack of them, shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. Bringing it up is annoying, and little good can come of it. Chastising people who respond to a sneeze with “god bless you,” for instance, makes a person look petty.

Atheism is freedom, and that includes the freedom to pick and choose among customs and celebrations without being overly concerned with their origins. Personally, I celebrate Christmas, Halloween, and Talk Like a Pirate Day. I don’t consider any of the religious holidays any more important than Talk Like a Pirate Day, but instead enjoy the traditions and the opportunity to get together with friends and family.

“Coming out” to everyone is giving more importance to religion than is justified and can create some nasty situations. Sometimes, quite often, in fact, going along to get along is the prudent approach.

Advise your sister to relax, take her time, and not be so eager to make such a big deal about her lack of belief. Then back off. The decision is hers, and she’ll have to live with the consequences of her actions.

And buy her a nice present for Christmas.

Posted: November 19th 2011

See all questions answered by Dave Hitt


Some people take this perspective when they decide that they are an atheist – they want to avoid anything that is related to religion at all.

I don’t think it’s common; most atheists that I know still celebrate christmas (or the winter solstice) as a fun time of year to get together. You get the day off, at least do something fun with it, and I think Saturnalia has a lot going for it.

Whether her approach is healthy or not is beside the point; I think you have to take the pragmatic view and accept that this is the way she wants it to be right now and help her to achieve that. It is likely (though not assured) that she will mellow a bit in years to come.

If you try to hard to get her to change, you reduce the chance that she will change in the future.

Posted: November 18th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK


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