How Religion Ruins Relationships

March 25, 2009 at 8:32 pm 32 comments

Max knows that he will be dead before the end of the year – probably no later than October. That’s about the time that doctors expect his cancer-riddled body to lose the fight for life. Max, who is not a Christian, is the manager at the branch office of a Christian business. His boss, Mr. Stanley is deeply concerned about the fate of Max’s eternal soul. In addition to soliciting prayers for Max (particularly his soul) from other employees, Mr. Stanley sometimes visits Max at his office. They chat about business, life in general and, eventually, Max’s “need for salvation.” Last week, Mr. Stanley took a chaplain, a fellow named Raymond, along with him to visit Max.

Max shared with me a few things about last week’s pastoral visit. He began by saying, “I love Raymond. He’s a really great guy. So is Mr. Stanley. But, sometimes I don’t hold my tongue very well when they start talking about religion. I just don’t want to talk about it. And Mr. Stanley doesn’t always hold his tongue very well, either, so our conversations can get heated.”

After we chatted some more, Max said, “Mr. Stanley wants me to fly out west to spend time with my sister. I said I’d take a couple of days for that. Mr. Stanley said, ‘No, I want you to really take time and be with your sister.’ I don’t want to do that. I haven’t told her how bad my condition is because she’ll get on the religious stuff even worse than Mr. Stanley and Raymond. A couple of days of it is all I’ll be able to stand.”

As we wound down our conversation, Max said, “Mr. Stanley keeps telling me that he’s praying for a miracle for me. I just tell him it’s not likely to happen. I enjoy visiting with Mr. Stanley and Raymond, but I wish that sometimes they’d come over just to chat and joke with me.”

That last sentence makes me want to cry. It’s haunted me for two days. Max has six months to live and all he wants is for the people around him to accept him. He wants friendship, not evangelism. How often do Christians become so concerned about someone’s soul that they overlook all of the stuff that comprises a person’s life and personality? Mr. Stanley and Raymond genuinely like Max, but he’s also something of a project for them. Their primary concern is to get him saved before he dies. Their prayer requests on Max’s behalf invariably include the idea that “Max needs to come to know the Lord before he dies.” I don’t want to denigrate their concerns, because I understand all too well how deeply felt and sincere they are. But, their passion for Max’s soul is robbing them of the opportunities to appreciate Max just as he is and to enjoy his company in its own right. They’re so busy focusing on what they see as his eternal future that they are shortchanging the present. Max’s sister is making the same mistake and the consequence is heartbreaking: Max can hardly stand the thought of spending more than a token amount of time with his only living relative. Mr. Stanley, Raymond and Max’s sister all believe they have relationships with a god. What they don’t realize is that their belief that Max needs a similar experience is seriously straining their relationships with him. Religion is ruining, or, at the very least, damaging, precious human bonds. I find that very sad.

— the chaplain

Entry filed under: thechaplain. Tags: , , .

Dear God, Some problems with calling the Bible God’s Word

32 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Luke  |  March 25, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    religion by the numbers is not religion no matter how you cut it.

    yet another example of people trying to do God’s work for God, instead of getting out of the way. instead of helping a dude enjoy the last few weeks of life, they allow their defense mechanism to kick in a ruin it… the defense being “let’s try to save him that way we don’t have to contemplate our mortality!”

  • 2. Luke  |  March 25, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    i guess we could call this Spiritual McCarthyism. “Spiritual McCarthyism…encourages people to orchestrate their lives to avoid censure and minimize risk. In short, it teaches people to live in fear – to put up and shut up. I don’t know. I guess I’m just not sure that fear, intimidation and control should be the defining hallmarks of Christianity.”

    this was taken from James McGrath’s website:

  • 3. Beth  |  March 26, 2009 at 12:40 am

    This is timely and hits close to home. My father has been fighting esophageal cancer for the last 2 months. One of my ‘well meaning’ Christian friends asked what she could pray for. My mom stated, “That my husband and I make the right decision regarding his treatment plan so that he can be comfortable.” The Christian’s response? “Hmmm… I think I’ll pray that he gets saved.”

    Then why in the world did you ask in the first place!? Neither my mom nor I have been to church since. (About a month and a half ago). And I for one don’t plan on going back. This site has been a godsend, (ha ha – for lack of a better cliche), and has been more of a support for me during this time than my ‘Christian’ friends have been. (Since no one has bothered to be in touch). I have read Josh’s post, “Becoming free from the conditional love of Christian friendships”, about 5 times today; and then the Chaplain comes along with this post. Timely, very timely.

    Thanks all.

  • 4. Joe  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    – the chaplain. wow wonderful story.
    Max, when you die, present your deeds before this GOD. If he really is a great father, he can not but feel proud of who you are and what you have done. If he sends you to hell for not accepting the christian proposition then he is not a great father, nor someone you want to spend the rest of eternity with for even the coldest of fathers on earth would open his arms, cheer you up and applaud your failures and successes for giving life your best shot.

  • 5. Quester  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Ah, Beth. That’s got to be tough.

  • 6. Quester  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:07 am

    Thank-you for sharing this, Chaplain.

  • 7. MY LIFE » Blog Archive » On death and dying  |  March 26, 2009 at 9:59 am

    […] then this morning, I saw this posting How Religion Ruins Relationships, touching on a similar […]

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Luke put in the right perspective. If their deity is so great, he can take care of Max; reach him, save him, whatever. Those christians can just say their prayers and let their god do his voodoo.
    That done, those christians could then focus on Max. Just shoot the bull with him. Take a walk. Go bowling, if he’s still strong enough. Treat him like a person in need of love, not like a project with a deadline.
    I recall reading “Where is God When It Hurts” years ago. Yancey made it quite clear that showing up at a death bed, or visiting someone badly injured, and reading them Psalms about pretty rivers and flowers, was no help. In fact it was sickening. Yancey talked to hurt and dying people and he found out that almost all of them just didn’t care for the Psalms and I’m=praying approach. All of them did want people to just talk, just listen, just tell them the news from Lake Wobegone, just tell the latest joke, just be a friend.

    Chaplain: If you get the chance, tell those folks to say one more prayer, then leave it in God’s hands. AFter that, tell them to be Max’s friends and cease being his tormentors (or his personal army of mini-savior).

    Thanks for this post chaplain. Really good.

  • 9. LeoPardus  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:06 am


    Very sorry for your Dad, and for your family. There isn’t much any of us can do, but how about this: When next you talk to your Dad, could you tell him there are some folks online -not religious or anything, just some folks- and they’d like you to give your Dad a hug, just to let him know that we care that a fellow human is suffering.

  • 10. Beth  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Quester –

    It is tough. Mostly for my dad who is suffering so much physically. And then there is the emotional toll on all of us. Thank you for recognizing that.

  • 11. Beth  |  March 26, 2009 at 11:52 am

    LeoPardus –

    Thank you for your kind words. And what a wonderful sentiment and great idea. Such a seemingly simple thing – to let a fellow human know that someone cares – no strings, (or proselytizing), attached.

  • 12. orDover  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Luke put in the right perspective. If their deity is so great, he can take care of Max; reach him, save him, whatever. Those christians can just say their prayers and let their god do his voodoo.

    I agree, but doesn’t that contradict contemporary church teachings? I remember being told that because of the sticky situation of free will, God’s only option was to work through the actions of believers. Wasn’t it our old friend Joe who was always saying that God uses people to accomplish miracles? I can’t see a devoted Christian, as silly as this might seem, sitting back and saying, “God will take care of it.” They basically think that he can’t, because that interferes with free will. THEY have to do it. THEY have the charge. THEY were given the great commission.

  • 13. atimetorend  |  March 26, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    OrDover: Yes, and I think the sentiment in contemporary christianity is the legalistic, obligation model of serving God.

    But it is at this point when it really does matter to just care for someone that they should be able to let it go and just do what they know is right in caring for a person, rather than what they think they are obligated to do. That’s just me of course. There should be some way of communicating that to christians. I just don’t know what it is…

  • 14. LeoPardus  |  March 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Maybe an appeal to bumper stickers would reach them a little better. You know, ‘simple things for simple minds’. Try telling them to “let do and let God” or “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” or may tell them to use “Friendship evangelism” which ‘has been shown’ to be more effective than blah-blah evangelism.

    But in any case, getting through to superstitious people who live in the 21st century but think in the 12th, is never going to be easy.

  • 15. freestyleroadtrip  |  March 26, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I agree with Luke completely. I grew up in fundamentalism thinking that if I didn’t go out and reach “lost souls” for God, they were doomed. Of course I was on the “right” side and on my way to heaven for sure. Now outside of fundamentalism but still retaining a belief in God, I see how I was just in the way, how I did scourge my relationships with the same kind of junk the Chaplain describes. I detest the way Christianity as a whole invalidates all of the other truths that everyone else carries. To a large extent, it just sticks its head in the sand. Thanks for the reminder.

  • 16. Joshua  |  March 26, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Great post.

    This last Christmas my family all new I was an atheist. The entire week I was there was fabulous. We enjoyed each other’s company and only had a few “run-ins” about religion…

    10 minutes before I left…

    My brother sat me down and started the whole “what if you were to lose everything… what if you were to lose your family and friends… what if you were to die…” talk.

    It almost ruined the entire vacation.

    On top of it, while I was there my six year old sister calls me in and tells me mommy and daddy said I do not believe any more. You know what this means!

    I started chatting with her casually about how I studied and found out it wasn’t true. She started to really think about it and finally called mom in. Mom spent the next hour plus talking to her about god-knows-what.

    Poor girl.

    That made me want to cry. My brother left me on a plane after being nice to me for a week and I felt all he wanted to do was “get an opportunity” to witness to me. My little sister believes I’m going to hell and I don’t get much of a chance with her to explain my position and of course she is going to take what mommy and daddy say over what I say.

    Its one of the things that keeps me fighting against Christianity.

  • 17. exrelayman  |  March 26, 2009 at 5:58 pm


    Touching post. That’s why it is time for us to set aside Christianity. It puts distance between Max and the others of the story. Sadly, what they are doing is for them the most loving thing. If indeed there were an eternal hell, nothing at all could be more important than avoiding it and steering others away from it. The little speck of life we have here, and the possibility of your ‘witness’ being unwelcome, dwindle to insignificance in the face of that awful prospect. What a shame!

    Of course the other side of that coin, how ludicrous it would be for a God who loves us more than we love our children to torment us forever and ever because of a thought crime committed in this wee speck of time doesn’t seem efficacious in penetrating minds conditioned by fear of death and hell. Yet some of us escape to mental freedom – witness this site and similar ones. To any newcomer here, HeIsSailing has some nice posts about Hell in the archives.


    I commiserate with your situation. It is easy to see why some need a crutch in such trying times, and I applaud the strength of your family for disdaining imaginary help. But do seek all that can be done for pain management. Some doctors don’t do enough about pain.

  • 18. truthwalker  |  March 26, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    I don’t have many friends, so when my door bell rings, I am usually excited. “Yeah! Someone wants to be my friend.” Then it someone who doesn’t care about me at all, but is very interested in putting another notch on the ole spiritual bed post. It makes me feel dirty and used.

    I was never comfortable witnessing to other people when I was a fundie.

  • 19. Beth  |  March 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    exrelayman –

    Thank you. And you are right on about doctors not doing enough about pain. We will make sure to find out all we can about controlling his pain.

  • 20. ArchangelChuck  |  March 27, 2009 at 9:49 am


    What a terrible thing to have to go through, my condolences to you and your family. Though I have no real advice to give on that subject — everybody deals with death and dying differently — I can certainly empathize. I’ve gone through something similar, and those experiences have convinced me of the following: that Christianity is a moral vacuum; a belief which trades its soul — humanity and compassion — for the idols of dead gods and childish superstitions. It is nothing more than a death cult whose believers place the value of death far above that of life. (To its credit, it isn’t Islam…)

    I remember at my mother’s funeral, in the line of hundreds of people, I could literally tell which people were the fundamentalist and conservative Christians. Their eyes were empty and comatose, as if they were already dead. Have you ever heard a roomful of charlatans try to act profound? It’s absolutely hilarious. Some of their so-called consolations included doozies such as: “Jesus is coming soon,” and “She’s in a better place.” (Bullshit!, Jesus hasn’t shown his cowardly face in over two millennia. Bullshit!, there exists no better place than where she was.)

    While it’s enough to pop blood vessels, especially when emotions are already volatile, my best advice in that regard is simply not to let it get to you. Deep breaths. Remember that these “god-bots,” as I like to call them, have no souls. It is not an exercise of their own free will, as they’re doing exactly what they’ve been programmed to do.

  • 21. ArchangelChuck  |  March 27, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Oh crap. Let me apologize.

    I re-read your comment, and saw that you didn’t mention your father was dying, only that he was fighting cancer. I certainly hope that doesn’t become the case, and I’m sure your family will make the right decisions with his health care.

    Talk about feeling like a horse’s ass…

  • 22. LeoPardus  |  March 27, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Remember that these “god-bots,” as I like to call them, have no souls. It is not an exercise of their own free will, as they’re doing exactly what they’ve been programmed to do.

    Quote of the week award!

  • 23. Luke  |  March 27, 2009 at 11:23 am


    best. comment. ever.

  • 24. Beth  |  March 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    ArchangelChuck –

    No need to apologize. Even though I didn’t say it in my post, his prognosis isn’t good. He is finishing 6 weeks of chemo and radiation treatments. So far he isn’t able to swallow anything, which can be an indication that the tumor hasn’t shrunk. (He has a feeding tube). Esophageal cancer recurs frequently and in his case grew quickly, so it’s not looking good. Don’t feel bad.

    Thanks you for your condolences. That truly means more to me than the meaningless absurdities I have heard. People sharing their personal stories and realities with each other is so much more comforting at a time like this than the trivial consolations from the god-bots. (LOVE that – it sums them up very well. And thanks for your advice on how to deal with them. Now I’ll also be able to laugh when I think of them being a god-bot). I hope they get the message and STAY AWAY from his funeral. That really sucks that you had to go through that at your mom’s funeral. (My condolences to you).

    You said that, “Christianity is a moral vacuum; a belief which trades its soul – humanity and compassion…whose believers place the value of death far above that of life…”. I can’t agree more. You have hit the nail on the head for me. I have wondered why people I went to church with were some of the most unkind people I’d ever met in my life. And you just solved it for me.

    I said it before, this site has been great for me to discover now. It is very ironic to me that doubting my faith and reading about others who have left Christianity has provided me comfort at a time like this. I’m supposed to “go to God” for my comfort and strength. That just hasn’t worked. Perhaps knowing that I’m not alone in my doubts is why this site has helped. But I think it is even more than that – and I’m looking forward to reading more from you all.

  • 25. Joshua  |  March 27, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    God-bot. lol

    Quick, someone make the documentary…

  • 26. ArchangelChuck  |  March 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Beth, at the risk of being presumptuous, it seems to me that you’re already beginning to make peace with the fact. Of course when it happens, it will be devastating — given a healthy relationship, it always is regardless of the circumstances — but I have a feeling you’ll stay strong. Even if some of those god-bots do manage to make their way in, it seems to me that you will not fall prey to their false hopes and promises (if you think like they do, of course); it may even serve as a source of amusement on such a sad day. That’s better than being angry as well as sad. 🙂

    Hold on to those precious memories and make the best of the time you have together. That’s the best you can ever do. If you so choose to hope that you will be reunited with those you loved after death, that’s perfectly fine. My stepfather chooses to believe that, and that helps him both to sleep at night and to continue living his life. All that matters is that we who survive keep living.


    Given the insensitivity of my statement on Christianity, I’d like to make some things clear. As true as it may be, I know that there are Christians who visit here, who say that their faith is not only retained, but even reinforced, through rational inquiry. They say that those words do not reflect the kind of faith to which they subscribe, or the kind of god in which they believe. I hope that it’s very clear to those people that I speak of the kind of Christianity for which most (if not all) of us share a mutual contempt.

    If you find that those words don’t describe you as a Christian or as a believer in a loving God, then I wish you only the best; chances are, instead of blindly accepting dogmas on authority of a priest, you have instead reached into the very soul of that religion and derived your beliefs from that.

  • 27. Beth  |  March 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Chuck –
    I believe I have started to make peace with this situation. It is undoubtedly a very sad time, but it is amazing how we are able to get used to things that seem so devastating at first. One day at a time is how we are all dealing with this.

    Also, I concur. While I have met more than a few unkind Christians, I have also met kind and sincere folks who profess Christianity. In my post I am referring to those who are so focused on heaven that they forget how to live well while here on earth – and in the process leave so many wounded in their wake.

  • 28. Eve's Apple  |  March 28, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Beth’s comment reminded me of the last line in Pearl Buck’s “Fighting Angel”, about her missionary father–“And so he died, and never knew he lived.” It’s a powerful story, written in sorrow and compassion, about a man who was so focused on heaven yet behaved in a totally insensitive way towards his family.

    What a sad epitath–“and so he died, and never knew he lived.”

  • 29. Joshua  |  March 28, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    ”and so he died, and never knew he lived.”

    How sad. This is one of the reasons I let myself de-convert so quickly. I didn’t want to waste my life on something I could one day find out is not true. Then I would have wasted my only life…

  • 30. Don Hubbard  |  March 31, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    This story is very dear to me. I’ve recently lost both of my parents to cancer. The time I had with both of the, about two years apart, has helped me to focus on life and focus on my non-belief. That may sound kind of weird but so many of my family, most of whom are devout christians, have died from the same ailment. There where many prayers said and no miracles happened.

    This has make me come to the realization that the small amount of “miracle cures” that happen are by happenstance and not because of prayer.

    It is better to be, as I’m sure Beth will attest to, kind to people who are dying. I’m sure that is what I am going to want, not someone pushing their beliefs down my throat. We , each of us, need to let the milk of human kindness flow from us in situations such as these. What would we want people to treat us like? Are we still not, even with the horrible disease of cancer, still humans with the need to be listened to and spoken to with dignity? We all may not pass from life by way of cancer but we all will surely pass.

    Treat others as you would like to be treated.


  • 31. Dawn  |  March 31, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    I also have a close family member suffering from cancer. I”m a Christian and I do believe in prayer. But I will pray for comfort for my family member and those close to him. I will pray for compassionate caregivers and the strength…knowledge…whatever we need to make decisions that will make the time he has left with us as comfortable and as pleasant as possible.

    I certainly agree that people who are terminally ill should be treated with respect and dignity. As a Christian, that is how I would like to share the love of Christ with others.

  • 32. A bit of rambling on the AWARE saga « Tipped Ear Clan  |  April 28, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    […] on the naive and the weak in the name of their god or think the world must live by their creed. How Religion Ruins Relationships so: why can’t people jsut accept people for what they are instead of trying to mould others […]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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