Our Easter Dilemma

I will soon be faced with a religious decision: Should we go to church for Easter.

I am not a Christian, though I will attend churches occasionally out of anthropological interests.  And since I don’t buy the whole salvation package (though I once did), I typically find church services boring and the sermons unbearably annoying.  My children hate going to church worse than I do — even if they have only been twice.  Just yesterday, for instance, when on a daughter-father evening, my 9-year-old daughter asked me, “Dad, explain to me why Jesus had to die.”  And after I explained, she rolled her eyes and said, “Seriously?  That is ridiculous.”

So, with that background:  This Easter we will be visiting my brother (an atheist) and his delightful wife, my sister-in-law, who is a church-going Christian and we will be invited to attend church.    My brother has informed me that he will be going to church with his wife this Easter — not his usual habit but he wants to “show support for his wife” this Easter.

After hearing about this, my wife pondered, “I think I will go to church with your sister-in-law.” I responded with the rhetorical question, “If it were a Buddhist holiday and she were visiting us, and I invited her to go to temple with us for a couple of hours, do you think she would go?”

Anyway, I am undecided.  So, when debating choices, listing the pros and cons can be helpful:

  • Makes sister-in-law (SIL) happy
  • Makes brother happy and avoid strife
  • Kids get to see a church again and learn more about another culture.
  • Will teach kids that we can be flexible & thoughtful to the religions of others
  • Will teach my children how to hide their beliefs for a higher cause — pleasing family and friends.
  • Will give a shared, bonding activity for the extended family
  • SIL may not do the same for us and so we enable her one-way salvation ideology
  • It will re-enforce SIL’s notion that Christianity is the default religion and good people should go to church
  • Will set false expectations for the future
  • Will be avoiding potentially healthy honest exchanges
  • I will have to wear a false smile while shaking hands with church members who have been praying with SIL for years to get her husband and family to turn to Jesus
  • Will reinforce to my kids that they don’t belong to the default religion.
  • Kids hate going to church and don’t want to go
  • Will teach children to hide their beliefs

Another technique I use when making decisions is to triangulate off of the opinions of friends.  So, what are your thoughts — any new pros or cons?  What would you do?  Do you face similar dilemmas?


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

21 responses to “Our Easter Dilemma

  1. I am finding myself in a similar situation, yet different.

    I live in Japan, we are fostering my wife’s niece (11y/o). She is 100% born and raised in Japan, and not Chrisitian, but we want to share some of my culture with her while keeping the religious part out of it – which is impossible. We mentioned hiding eggs and chocolate bunnies for her new friends at the grade school to come and help find. Of course there were many WTF? questions, but she checked Japanese wikipedia, and while I have not checked myself, so don’t quote me, according to her it apparently says that easter is when Jesus’ friends found him still alive on the cross and rescued him. Not exactly what I learned in bible school. (not that I care to teach that)

    I have also have a friend from my high-school days (Lutheran Christian High-school) who has expressed interest in sending her daughter to live with us, in order to expose her to a new, different environment.

    I am all for it, but I was honest about my current views on my beliefs and my (non) church-going habits and how we will raise our daughter, which will inevitably influence her daughter.

    I am actually fine to go to church with her daughter if it is “needed”. It will be good community building for me as well, and I will meet people that will be good for my business, and I am used to spending hours in church, (though a bit rusty by now) but we can not tell our daughter that “gay is not a sin”, then turn around and tell the friend’s daughter “gay is a sin”. Or our when she is old enough, to my daughter “Hey This is what sex is. Be careful – emotionally and physically, and look to us for advice.” but tell her daughter “If you have sex you will rot in hell forever.”

    Not sure what the outcome will be. But I understand the dilemma.

    Also I am godfather to one of my sister’s twins. Where I come from “godfather” is not mafia, it is the person who will take care of the spiritual well-being of the child in the case that the parents die in a terrible plane crash. I agreed, but I didn’t tell her that I can’t really do that. I feel bad about it every time I see them, but…

  2. Your cons all make sense, except for the one about reinforcing to your kids that they do not belong to the default religion. Surly that is not a bad thing in itself. I suppose that their age and sensitivity have to do with how negative it might be, but this can turn into a positive thing.

    As for the problem of re-enforcing her mutually exclusive salvation, it seems that this is more her problem than yours, no? As long as it is made clear that you are going out of social grace (i.e. for your brother, because her spiritual life means a lot to her, etc.), it is her responsibility to understand that. Atheists have no gods, and so they have no gods to offend. As an atheist, you can easily afford to go to a church on spiritual grounds, and to be around people you love. Hell, during football season I do this every Sunday afternoon watching games at my parent’s house. Football is boring, but my mom likes it and it is kind of exciting/fun to be around is and to visit, etc. Your biggest problem is the boredom and family politics, it seems. Going to a temple might actually cause her stress on an emotional and spiritual level. If her religious dogma would prevent her from extending the same social grace to your family re. the temple invitation, then the best you can hope for is that she’ll see how her faith implicitly creates that double standard.

  3. Good points Brandon!

    Pecked out quickly on my DROID phone !

  4. atimetorend

    I will have to wear a false smile while shaking hands with church members who have been praying with SIL for years to get her husband and family to turn to Jesus

    That’s generally the deal breaker for me, the other cons I can live with. Too bad it is that kind of church. I think if at some level the SIL knows you are going for social grace, that mitigates things. But even then, if conservative evangelical, she will be expecting some of her beliefs to magically rub off on you through your church visit.

    Tough call! Hope there is a follow up post…

  5. Forgive my not knowing anything about this but isn’t there a buddhist holiday this weekend? I thought I heard the buddhist new year was this weekend.

  6. Earnest

    Sabio, maybe it’s time for your oldest child to start reading Kierkegaard. That would be quite a 6th grade book report! I have been listening to some commentary about him as my celebration of Easter Saturday. I am still wondering if I have the mental capacity to bulldoze my way through any of his tomes.

    If your family shared an interest in what Kierkegaard felt a Christian needed to go through to be a true believer, maybe they would stop being Christians themselves!

  7. Such familiar territory! For me this dilemma arrives each Xmas Eve. Whole family wants to go to evening services at the liberal Protestant church in town. I can’t add much to your Pro/Con list but I’d like to offer a practice that helps me get through those “services.”

    If I go along I try to recall the many times my family has shown forbearance with regard to my interest in Buddhism. Beyond that, to the best of my ability, I keep my mouth shut and my body language neutral.

  8. I have come to the conclusion that when I am being faced with an ethical dilema try to relax and see if this is one dilema where not matter what you do it will be the right thing to do rather than worry that no matter what you do it will be a wrong thing to do.
    That should fall within your triangulation parameters.

  9. Just relax and flip a coin. If you decide to go, Having your kids see you being polite and tactful, yet not compromising your belief, is good practice for the rest of their lives. I still go to Buddhist temple a few times a year, and our kids are frequently exposed to atheist, Muslim, and Hindu evangelists. Learning how to rebuff them politely and firmly is great practice for dealing with annoying multilevel marketing salespeople, boyfriends/girlfriends who have problems with boundaries, bosses with unreasonable expectations, Jehova’s witnesses, etc.

    Dealing gracefully with annoying and pushy people is an important life skill, and it’s never too early to get good at it.

  10. albert maas

    On the pro side of the list I would explain to the children that sometimes it is hard to do the right thing despite the consequences

  11. johnl

    Pros: gospel music, say, or sacred music of the classical tradition, pipe organ
    Cons: praise bands
    My tactic for dealing with church is to spend as much time as possible in a meditative state. Sometimes the music and architecture support that. You will be in a good mood to greet everyone in a sincerely friendly fashion, but still turn aside any suggestions of conversion.

  12. I am faced with a very similar situation. I am agnostic and don’t believe in organized religion. My wife is baptist and attends church faithfully along with our 4 children. I have respected her for that and never discourage them from attending what they believe in. Me on the other hand, can’t stand the services. I’ve made attempts to go, but they are always the same message over and over again and frankly, I find it extremely unfulfilling in every aspect. In years past, I have attended Easter Sunday service with my family in show of support…. but I am tired of the fake smiles and attending something that I do not believe in. Personally, I don’t believe in using the unexplained to explain the unexplained. I am perfectly ok “not knowing” that certain things are unexplained. Anyways, my wife is upset with me this morning because I expressed my desire not to go. I feel that asking me to go to a Christian Baptist church service would like asking her to attend a Catholic or Jehovah’s Witness service. So now I feel like I am in the dog house and I know meeting her at her inlaws later is going to be a bit tense. Perhaps I should have just sucked it up and went like every other year…… would it look stupid to have my ear buds in during service? haa haa

  13. Possibly it being a one-off decision makes it harder. If you regularly have the invitation to go to church with family, you can sometimes go and sometimes not. That reinforces that your motivation differs from theirs: that you regard it as a choice and social grace rather than religious duty.

    You put “avoiding potentially healthy honest exchanges” in the con list, but you could go and still have a healthy, honest exchange. Although, on the other hand, healthy honest exchanges are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth – in the sense that you end up playing the same game of trying to convert someone to your point of view.


  14. So? What did you decide to do?

  15. See my last twitter –> right hand column widget

    Pecked out quickly on my DROID phone !

  16. atimetorend

    Hi Geoff, same decision for me, same # of kids, I went with my wife to my sister in laws church this year, we were out of town. Neither of us liked the service! But I wish I hadn’t had to go, it was beautiful outside, and crowded and hot inside. ;^(

  17. Sabio –
    I like your decision (as noted in the Twitter feed)!
    Thoughts on the matter:
    – Often it is not what you do, but how you do it. With social/emotional dynamics involved, however, it can be very difficult to plan a “how.” “Oh, I’ll just bow out gracefully,” might be the plan, but then the reality sets up differently.
    – What I personally aim to do these days when confronted with conflicted desires is to maintain an attitude and social stance of continuing to love significant others while acting with personal integrity. “Yes, I love you, I really do, but no, I won’t party with you late into the night on your birthday.” Etc.
    – The “religion problem” largely boils down to ideas and feelings of the sacred. To this non-believer, it brings to mind a child’s tea-party, with imaginary friends and no real tea or biscuits involved. To play nice you mustn’t point out that not only is there no tea in the cups, but you mustn’t remark that the exalted high guest is nowhere to be seen. So don’t rock the tea party! Yes, weird. In this sense, I am convinced that growth and progress cannot be achieved without rocking the boat, at least a little.

  18. i support your decision to head to the science museum. good call. although i did get a kick out of “Kids get to see a church again and learn more about another culture.” as i thought culture doesn’t exist 😉

    i wish i had more encouraging words or some method of positive engagement with your sister in-law, but i am at a loss. sorry dawg. the only thing i can offer is be who you are in a nonviolent, non-combative way and hopefully she will honor that.

  19. @ atimetorend :
    Yeah, relations with others who are just waiting and praying for you to joing their camp seem sort of silly.

    @ William:
    Not sure if there was. Buddhists in different countries/sects (like Christians) often celebrate stuff at different times. So it might have been sometime, somewhere. Besides, I don’t celebrate Buddhist stuff anyway.

    @ Dan :
    Gettin’ through services is something I am now good at — my kids don’t have any of those skills yet. 🙂

    @ Curt:
    Yeah, relaxing into wuwei is good triangulations too.

    @ JS Allen:
    Fortunately we weren’t invited. The coin was flipped for us.

    @ albert maas:
    Yep, good point. But I’d imagine they have figured that out already — hell, they have parents (poor souls), smile.

    @ johnl:
    con:pipe organ –> give me the praise bands.

    @ Rin’dzin:
    Yeah, not a regular thing. Good points, you made.

    @ Andrew :
    Thanx. I liked your suggestions. Rocking the boat after everyone already know each other sometimes is not useful.

    @ Luke:
    Culture has many meanings and uses. I was trying not to use it in the deluded monolithic sense. 🙂

  20. Your daughter has it exactly right. It is ridiculous. Funny how we don’t see it when we’re on the inside though.

  21. atheistbelievers

    And here comes Easter again… Or as I like to call it, Ishtar.
    It seems more respectful for me to not go to a church. If I don’t bow my head in prayer, sing along while changing the words, biting my cheek at every supernatural storyline… It’s more respectful to myself and more respectful for the people in the church who don’t want their trance challenged by outsiders.
    But I do like a good, silly fertility festival, and will be hiding some treats around the yard. Going to a science museum sounds fabulous as well!

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