MRZ

Religious Festivals/Greetings

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In India, where I live, that a person is not religious/does not believe in God is considered impossible and atheism a disease or something you'll "grow out of someday". While I usually keep a low profile, I cannot avoid situations that naturally arise in such an environment. For example, I get wished "Happy XYZ" all day long if XYZ happens to be an occasion my family would celebrate. I usually go "Thank you" to avoid making a show but with two recent exceptions:

1. My supervisor SMSd me "Happy XYZ" and since I am more comfortable writing than speaking face-to-face I wrote back "I'm not religious and do not celebrate religious occasions. Thanks anyway :wacko:". I could have avoided doing so and having let him (and other people) continue to think that I follow religion A and that I'm thankful that they are so kind as to wish me on the occasion of XYZ.

2. My sister, although religious, knows that I am an atheist and does not push me to "grow up". She sent me the following link. What should I make of it?

I have taken some really bad decisions in the past and am growing more and more scared of making the wrong decision. I would really like to learn the principle to follow in situations like this so that I can apply it whenever they arise.

Thanks.

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My sister, although religious, knows that I am an atheist and does not push me to "grow up". She sent me the following link.. What should I make of it?

As the short article so nicely makes clear, Christmas is primarily a benevolent commercial holiday, not a religious one. The Speichers really enjoy their (beautifully artificial) Christmas tree every year, a wonderful place for presents to accumulate during the Christmas day countdown. (But note that we do not celebrate Easter. :wacko: )

As to the way you handle your acquainances and co-workers, I think that is fine. When acquaintances wish me well on religious holidays, I usually say something along the line of what you so nicely said to your supervisor. But, for me, these are rather infrequent occasions. If like you I were confronted with this so often by so many people, it would get tedious having to tell a story each time, and I might just smile and move on. If I understood you correctly, that seems to be pretty much your situation, and that seems to be what you often do.

As far as the guiding principle, I think one must always judge evil, but this is more a matter of social etiquette and there is nothing wrong with smiling and going on your way. But, perhaps I have misunderstood your concerns. If so, please let me know.

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That is exactly what I was looking for. I would agree that responding to everybody would be very tedious and it would be best just to smile and go one's own way, which is what I usually do. I think I understand the difference between Christmas (in America) and the occasion I had in mind. There are a number of occasions here too that would qualify as

a benevolent commercial holiday, not a religious one
and yes, I do make the most of them. :wacko:

Thank you.

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... and yes, I do make the most of them. :wacko:

Good for you! I would imagine growing up in India might be a particularly difficult circumstance for a young Objectivist.

Thank you.

You're welcome. Merry Christmas! :blink:

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2. My sister, although religious, knows that I am an atheist and does not push me to "grow up". She sent me the following link.. What should I make of it?

You must have a wonderful sister.

  I have taken some really bad decisions in the past and am growing more and more scared of making the wrong decision. I would really like to learn the principle to follow in situations like this so that I can apply it whenever they arise.

When you say "scared", do you mean physically threatened, or something less serious?

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My sister, although religious, knows that I am an atheist and does not push me to "grow up". She sent me the following link.. What should I make of it?

I think your sister is trying to tell you to lighten up.

You don't have to be religious to enjoy holiday good will, greetings, gifts, celebrations, foods, and music. Enjoy the parts you like and ignore the religious parts.

I have taken some really bad decisions in the past and am growing more and more scared of making the wrong decision. I would really like to learn the principle to follow in situations like this so that I can apply it whenever they arise.

Everyone makes bad decisions, and you are no exception. It is not a sin as long as you try to learn from your mistakes. The idea is not to avoid all errors but to avoid making the same mistake over and over.

A real Objectivist would not hold an honest error of knowledge against someone so please don't do it to yourself.

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You're welcome. Merry Christmas!  :wacko:

Thank you! A Merry Christmas to you too :blink: !

When you say "scared", do you mean physically threatened, or something less serious?

NO, not physically threatened :lol: . I've actually made quite a fool of myself on a number of occasions (of course, I wasn't a member of THE FORUM then ;) ), which is what I was scared of. I have a LOT to learn and my actions were not justified, which is why I have chosen to keep a low profile and LEARN, LEARN, LEARN.

You must have a wonderful sister.

Yes, I would agree :) .

I would imagine growing up in India might be a particularly difficult circumstance for a young Objectivist.

Since you mention it, India is (and shall most probably continue to be) full of what Ayn Rand called "mystic muck". This (often) makes it a dangerous place to live in. While not a totalitarian state like Iraq or Iran, for example, it is home to the most extreme fundamentalists you can imagine. People who, to give a few horrible examples, would not think twice before murdering you and your family, raping the women before burning them all (the Gujarat Massacre, 2001). I do not wish to go into more detail since THE FORUM is a place of benevolence and rationality.

The governement of India has, to give again a few examples, been actively considering "guaranteed" employment to one member of each household "below the poverty line", provided "reserved" seats (about a quarter of them) in all government funded universities and goverment departments for people traditionally "oppressed", and added a VAT (Value Added Tax) to all business transactions to fund its other hair-brained schemes. Politics and business (unfortunately) are rife with violence and nepotism. Schools and universities are breeding grounds for altruists. My own alma mater has "minority status" and continues to breed mystics of the worst kind as well.

I think your sister is trying to tell you to lighten up.

You don't have to be religious to enjoy holiday good will, greetings, gifts, celebrations, foods, and music. Enjoy the parts you like and ignore the religious parts.

I think you're right. I do need to lighten up a bit. :):)

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The Speichers really enjoy their (beautifully artificial) Christmas tree every year, a wonderful place for presents to accumulate during the Christmas day countdown. (But note that we do not celebrate Easter.  )

Indeed and if you take the giving of gifts to be a representation of shared values, and realize the fact that you give for yourself, and the value(pleasure) you gain out of their happiness, and not for them. It seems to integrate perfectly with Objectivist values.

It is not a sin

I do hope you're joking... :)

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Well the Christians hijacked Christmas from Pagans, so I see no reason why Objectivists can't hijack it off Christians :).

I personally love Christmas - returned to the country home, warm log fire, smell of pine needles from the tree, all the seasonal foods...and lots and lots of mulled wine & mince pies. For me its a time of year for family and food - for enjoying the home enviroment and putting work aside for a few days :)

On another note...we are actually having a cold winter here in the UK - which hasn't happened for quite some years. Snow & Blizzards in November is a first for me - and Im just about to go on an army cadets excercise for the weekend (-10C wind chill, storm on Sat - great!).

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On another note...we are actually having a cold winter here in the UK - which hasn't happened for quite some years. Snow & Blizzards in November is a first for me ...

We've been toughing out winter here too in Southern California. After a couple of weeks where the temps were in the high 80s, low 90s, it has gotten positively freezing now. I doubt we will even reach 80 degrees today! :):)

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I think you are very lucky to have snow during the holidays, Charles. That's one thing I miss terribly, but I don't miss driving on ice.

The whole holiday season is such a good time of year for us. We catch up with friends and family, eat good food (probably a little too much), and holiday decorating is so much fun! :)

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MRZ,

I have taken some really bad decisions in the past and am growing more and more scared of making the wrong decision. I would really like to learn the principle to follow in situations like this so that I can apply it whenever they arise.

I can relate with you on this. I too, have made some bad decisions in the past, and am doing everything in my power to be the best I can, in every way.

Because of those past mistakes, I am also (somewhat overly) afraid of making mistakes.

Although, I have realized something very important. Now, the way to make fewer mistakes, and to know what principle to act on, is, like you said, to learn. But, because of your fear to make an error, that might backfire on you and actually stifle your learning process (with doubt, and worry that you may have made a mistake).

What I do now, is understand to the best of my abilty, what it is I am studying. I realize that yes, I may make a mistake, but I will deal with it when I see the mistake. I won't worry about a mistake I haven't made yet.

And if I do make a mistake, I will analyze it, figure where I went wrong, correct it and be that much more confident because I have learned something new. :)

In regards to christmas, I just adore it!! I love how beautifully everything is decorated. The bright lights, the lush greens, luxurious reds, rich golds. I love the abundance of delicious foods, the smell of cinnamon, chocolate, pine, and clemintines. I also think some of the christmas music is delightful!

I personally love spoiling the people whom I value. I get so excited when I wrap the gifts to perfection, thinking of how much they will love it!!

I also love the feeling of anticipation when opening a gift, wondering what's inside!

Growing up with snow at christmas, I feel that snow completes christmas. The luxurious, rich decorations are complemented wonderfully with big, soft, white flakes slowly coming down.

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In India, where I live, that a person is not religious/does not believe in God is considered impossible and atheism a disease or something you'll "grow out of someday". While I usually keep a low profile, I cannot avoid situations that naturally arise in such an environment. For example, I get wished "Happy XYZ" all day long if XYZ happens to be an occasion my family would celebrate. I usually go "Thank you" to avoid making a show but with two recent exceptions:

1. My supervisor SMSd me "Happy XYZ" and since I am more comfortable writing than speaking face-to-face I wrote back "I'm not religious and do not celebrate religious occasions. Thanks anyway :)". I could have avoided doing so and having let him (and other people) continue to think that I follow religion A and that I'm thankful that they are so kind as to wish me on the occasion of XYZ.

2. My sister, although religious, knows that I am an atheist and does not push me to "grow up". She sent me the following link.. What should I make of it?

I have taken some really bad decisions in the past and am growing more and more scared of making the wrong decision. I would really like to learn the principle to follow in situations like this so that I can apply it whenever they arise.

Thanks.

I had a similar situation last weekend, during Thanksgiving. I went to visit my mom, and her husband is quite religious. Normally, if I am eating dinner at someone's house, and the host wants to say a prayer first, I have no problem just remaining silent and letting them say their prayer, because remaining silent doesn't reveal anything about me. But it turns out that my mom's husband practices the peculiar and repugnant custom of joining hands with everyone at the table during the prayer! So the first time it happened (which was in their home), I was caught by surprise, and didn't want to make a scene, so I just took his hand (yuck!!) and suffered through it.

The next day, however, we all went out to a restaurant to eat. And again he wanted to join hands and pray. Abiding by his custom in his house with no time to think about it was one thing, but doing it in public was out of the question. So this time I raised my hand in a "no thank you" gesture, smiled, and said, "I think I'll sit this one out". Of course, then after they finished praying, I had to explain that I was an atheist, and we got into a whole theological/philosophical discussion, which I would have rather avoided. But I was very much opposed to helping him to display his religion in public and/or giving people the impression that I was religious too! It not only made me uncomfortable, but I thought it would also have been dishonest! So I was obligated to politely refuse.

Also note that if he had known I was an atheist, and expected me to pray with him anyway, I would have been offended! I don't think any religious person has the right to impose their beliefs on others. So the joining hands idea seems really stupid to me - whoever came up with that custom apparently didn't consider that it might make non-believers uncomfortable and force them to reveal personal information that they would rather not have shared.

Anyway, MRZ, to respond to your post more directly, I'd like to offer a few thoughts:

1.) Wishing someone a "happy XYZ" doesn't necessarily mean you believe in XYZ, it only means that you hope that person enjoys their XYZ. You don't have to agree with their irrational beliefs to genuinely hope they get some enjoyment out of them. So exchanging holiday greetings does not reveal anything about your personal beliefs.

2.) However, if the holiday greetings make you uncomfortable, then you have every right to avoid using them. I think your polite response to your supervisor was perfectly appropriate and honest. He has no right to expect you to believe in his religion or practice his customs.

3.) I think you should not be afraid to declare your atheism and be proud of it. Maybe when your coworkers and relatives see that a well-adjusted, honest, benevolent, intelligent person can be an atheist, it will help to dispel the myth that atheism is a disease or a mental illness. Who knows, maybe your honesty will have a small part in helping other people to realize the irrationality of their ways, or at least make them think about it for one brief moment, instead of blindly accepting the social norm. And if anyone thinks less of you for being an atheist, then that person is irrational, and who cares what an irrational person thinks? Unless they are threatening you with physical violence or the loss of your job, you have nothing to be afraid of.

I actually think we are too polite to religious people in general. I for one am sick of tolerating their nonsense. If a person genuinely believed in Santa Claus or leprechauns or Zeus, others would either make fun of him, or try to get him into some professional psychological care. Yet we don't say anything when intelligent people admit that they believe in fairy tales or talk to an invisible man in the sky. Why should we show these people any respect? I think more people should make fun of religion. I have a hard time showing any respect to a religious person at all.

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I can relate with you on this. I too, have made some bad decisions in the past, and am doing everything in my power to be the best I can, in every way.

Because of those past mistakes, I am also (somewhat overly) afraid of making mistakes.

Although, I have realized something very important. Now, the way to make fewer mistakes, and to know what principle to act on, is, like you said, to learn. But, because of your fear to make an error, that might backfire on you and actually stifle your learning process (with doubt, and worry that you may have made a mistake).

What I do now, is understand to the best of my abilty, what it is I am studying. I realize that yes, I may make a mistake, but I will deal with it when I see the mistake. I won't worry about a mistake I haven't made yet.

And if I do make a mistake, I will analyze it, figure where I went wrong, correct it and be that much more confident because I have learned something new.

Anyway, MRZ, to respond to your post more directly, I'd like to offer a few thoughts:

1.) Wishing someone a "happy XYZ" doesn't necessarily mean you believe in XYZ, it only means that you hope that person enjoys their XYZ. You don't have to agree with their irrational beliefs to genuinely hope they get some enjoyment out of them. So exchanging holiday greetings does not reveal anything about your personal beliefs.

2.) However, if the holiday greetings make you uncomfortable, then you have every right to avoid using them. I think your polite response to your supervisor was perfectly appropriate and honest. He has no right to expect you to believe in his religion or practice his customs.

3.) I think you should not be afraid to declare your atheism and be proud of it. Maybe when your coworkers and relatives see that a well-adjusted, honest, benevolent, intelligent person can be an atheist, it will help to dispel the myth that atheism is a disease or a mental illness. Who knows, maybe your honesty will have a small part in helping other people to realize the irrationality of their ways, or at least make them think about it for one brief moment, instead of blindly accepting the social norm. And if anyone thinks less of you for being an atheist, then that person is irrational, and who cares what an irrational person thinks? Unless they are threatening you with physical violence or the loss of your job, you have nothing to be afraid of.

I actually think we are too polite to religious people in general. I for one am sick of tolerating their nonsense. If a person genuinely believed in Santa Claus or leprechauns or Zeus, others would either make fun of him, or try to get him into some professional psychological care. Yet we don't say anything when intelligent people admit that they believe in fairy tales or talk to an invisible man in the sky. Why should we show these people any respect? I think more people should make fun of religion. I have a hard time showing any respect to a religious person at all.

Thank you both of you :) . I'm sorry I won't be able to respond in detail right now but the both of you have really helped. Thanks :)

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I actually think we are too polite to religious people in general.  I for one am sick of tolerating their nonsense.  If a person genuinely believed in Santa Claus or leprechauns or Zeus, others would either make fun of him, or try to get him into some professional psychological care.  Yet we don't say anything when intelligent people admit that they believe in fairy tales or talk to an invisible man in the sky.  Why should we show these people any respect?  I think more people should make fun of religion.  I have a hard time showing any respect to a religious person at all.

I think it is wise to be polite to everyone we choose to deal with. It is especially important with difficult or unpleasant people.

If someone has no value to me, I just avoid him. If they do have value in an indirect way -- let's say they have mixed premises or are a relative or an associate of someone I value -- I am distant but very polite. If they want to involve me in activities I don't approve of (like praying), I just say "No, thank you" or "I'd rather not."

When I am among my fellow Objectivists, that's different. As you can see on our R+R Forum thread on religious humor, we do treat the subject with all the levity and ridicule it deserves.

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I think it is wise to be polite to everyone we choose to deal with.  It is especially important with difficult or unpleasant people.

If someone has no value to me, I just avoid him.  If they do have value in an indirect way -- let's say they have mixed premises or are a relative or an associate of someone I value -- I am distant but very polite.  If they want to involve me in activities I don't approve of (like praying), I just say "No, thank you" or "I'd rather not."

I do agree with you, Betsy. That last paragraph of mine may have been a bit too blunt. I am actually very polite to everyone I meet, and I would certainly not advocate going around making fun of relatives and associates because of their beliefs - that would just be childish and serve no purpose other than making people angry. My comments were meant more in the general sense - regarding the overall attitude of society towards religion. I'm just frustrated that it's the 21st century, and it's still perfectly socially acceptable to believe in fairy tales, and it's still taboo to make disparaging remarks about religion in general. Although maybe this is changing. I know of several famous comedians who do openly make fun of religion - Adam Carolla, David Cross, George Carlin, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman.

But personally, the older I get, I do find it harder and harder to show respect to religious people during the one-on-one encounters. I feel very disingenuous when I find myself saying something like, "Well, you're free to believe whatever you want to - everyone has their own beliefs, and there's nothing wrong with that." What I really want to do is shake my head, frown at them, and say, "What's wrong with you?" Of course I don't, but it's hard not to.

Plus, I used to enjoy debating with religious people, asking them why they believe in it, trying to reason with them. But now, I have no patience for that anymore - when I find out someone I know is religious, my internal reaction is just disappointment and disgust. My external reaction is just, like you said, to avoid him, or remain distant and polite.

I find it difficult, as a rational person, to live in an irrational society. There are definitely times when some resentment, disappointment, or depression build up inside me because of the way most people are. I think this world could be so much better if it were left to the rational people - why are there so many irrational people screwing everything up? Why can't everyone be as rational as me? I just have a very low tolerance for irrationality. I don't think I could survive in the particularly irrational society in India that MRZ described! MRZ must be a very patient person.

But are patience and tolerance really virtues when it comes to irrationality? I do agree with you, Betsy, that we should be polite to everyone. But is it possible that too much patience and tolerance are what allow a society like MRZ described to exist? Is it possible that some brutal honesty on some occasions could actually help society overall, even if it means alienating a few relatives or associates?

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But personally, the older I get, I do find it harder and harder to show respect to religious people during the one-on-one encounters.  I feel very disingenuous when I find myself saying something like, "Well, you're free to believe whatever you want to - everyone has their own beliefs, and there's nothing wrong with that."  What I really want to do is shake my head, frown at them, and say, "What's wrong with you?"  Of course I don't, but it's hard not to.

There's no single, concrete, pat response for all such dealings. The context matters a great deal. It pays to learn to know when the context is appropriate for ignoring the person, changing the course of the conversation, challenging them, debating them, inquiring further and helping them find out the source of their desire for faith, and so on. Honesty is important, but that doesn't always require rudeness. One can disagree politely.

But are patience and tolerance really virtues when it comes to irrationality?
It depends on the context. If I were a teacher, and a student was being irrational, being patient with him while teaching him to be more rational would make him more receptive to what I have to say.

Of course, there are people out there that think one should tolerate every viewpoint, meaning that no view is better than another. Or they pose as tolerant, saying that in order to attempt to sneak in some better ideas or to proselytize. Neither is moral or practical.

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---------------

It depends on the context.  If I were a teacher, and a student was being irrational, being patient with him while teaching him to be more rational would make him more receptive to what I have to say.

------------------

It may be OK to be patient with such a student, but I think some type of show of displeasure, either emotional or intellectual, is appropriate for the teacher to express. One needs to find a way to immediately demonstrate that what the irrational student is doing is actually harmful. This way, at least the student will get the idea that what the teacher is saying has some importance and significance.

Sometimes, a simple question, asked in a stern voice, challenging the behavior of the student will get him thinking. This happened to me when I was a student in school and was behaving irrationally. The question got me thinking about my behavior and, eventually, the answer changed me. So I don't think that simply being patient is necessarily a positive thing.

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My comments were meant more in the general sense - regarding the overall attitude of society towards religion.  I'm just frustrated that it's the 21st century, and it's still perfectly socially acceptable to believe in fairy tales, and it's still taboo to make disparaging remarks about religion in general.

Frustrating?? That's an interesting choice of words.

Generally, "frustrating" means something that is an obstacle to achieving a personal value. Sure, it would be nice if others were more rational and I do what I can to encourage them to be rational, but I don't don't find the irrationality of others frustrating because I don't have any personal goals that require them to be rational. I have learned -- the hard way -- what Ayn Rand meant when she said you can't force a mind to think. Mostly I accept that they have free will, they are gonna do what they are gonna do, and it isn't up to me to change them.

But personally, the older I get, I do find it harder and harder to show respect to religious people during the one-on-one encounters.  I feel very disingenuous when I find myself saying something like, "Well, you're free to believe whatever you want to - everyone has their own beliefs, and there's nothing wrong with that."  What I really want to do is shake my head, frown at them, and say, "What's wrong with you?"  Of course I don't, but it's hard not to.

Fortunately, those aren't the only two alternatives. You really don't have to say anything when others spout nonsense. Often a polite but non-committal, "That's interesting" followed by an "Excuse me, I have to talk to Joe over there," will suffice. (Then go over to your friend Joe and have a good laugh about it all.)

I find it difficult, as a rational person, to live in an irrational society.  There are definitely times when some resentment, disappointment, or depression build up inside me because of the way most people are.  I think this world could be so much better if it were left to the rational people - why are there so many irrational people screwing everything up?

That looks like the beginnings of a classic "What can you do when you deal with people?" problem and that can be serious trouble. It destroyed Wynand and Stadler. It nearly paralyzed Ayn Rand and kept her from finishing The Fountainhead. Beware.

We all have to come to terms with, and learn to deal with, the irrationality of others and it isn't easy. What has helped me, personally, is seeing how silly, helpless, and stupid irrationality really is and seeing how strong, efficacious, and successful I have been by being rational -- even in a world where very few people share all of my values.

Another thing is doing what Ayn Rand recommended: always judging people. That has allowed me to find and fill my life to overflowing with good, rational people I value and avoid and protect myself from the rest. It is hard to be pessimistic or frustrated when I am almost always surrounded and interacting with wonderful people.

But are patience and tolerance really virtues when it comes to irrationality?  I do agree with you, Betsy, that we should be polite to everyone.  But is it possible that too much patience and tolerance are what allow a society like MRZ described to exist?  Is it possible that some brutal honesty on some occasions could actually help society overall, even if it means alienating a few relatives or associates?

Irrationality must be opposed, but it is more effective to do it wholesale rather than retail. By that I mean it better to advocate the right basic principles and to promote tham intellectually than to try to change irrational people one-by-one.

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