May 30th, 2023

ChatGPT Offers Some Advice

The ChatGPT craze isn’t dying down, is it? Gang, it just gets clicks. AI sounds all sci-fi and cool, and the average person isn’t tech savvy enough to understand it, so the unknown generates clicks. We now have writer strikes, audiobook narrators panicking, and a whole bunch of things that history will likely show to be overreactions (I could be wrong, but I for sure think the timeframe of the panic is way too short of a turn around). So, as a fun thought experiment, I asked ChatGPT for some tips on a topic that I could then comment on. I asked ChatGPT “what are some helpful tips for telling your family you are no longer religious.” My responses will be italicized for ease of reading and extra fanciness.

Telling your family that you are no longer religious can be a challenging and sensitive conversation (ChatGPT spitting facts so far). Here are some helpful tips to navigate this process:

    1. Choose the Right Timing: Find an appropriate time and place to have the conversation. Avoid sharing this news during emotionally charged situations or family gatherings where tensions may already be high. Opt for a calm and private setting where everyone can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Good start, a little basic (a theme we will return to with ChatGPT). I talk a lot about space being important for having effective communication, and I generally like to highlight both physical space as well as planning to have enough time for a conversation. In a “coming out” type talk, I think it is good to have plans for a short, sweet conversation that you exit early if it goes poorly, as well as a longer timeframe if the conversation unfolds in a beneficial way. Depending on the context of your family, choosing a public place like a restaurant may be better than a private place if safety is at all a concern. What you definitely want to avoid is being stuck in a space or conversation that you have no exit from. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, somewhere in the middle is typically what happens. 

    1. Be Honest and Respectful: Approach the conversation with honesty and respect for your family’s beliefs. Clearly communicate your own journey and reasons for no longer identifying as religious. Emphasize that your decision is personal and does not diminish your love and respect for them.

I mean, yes and no. Respect them as you would any human being, but religion typically has held a privileged space, but it doesn’t actually require any sort of special respect. The church of the flying spaghetti monster is a totally made up church that is federally recognized as a church, so the idea that you need to be respectful of something ludicrous I think is just pro-religion bias. I think there is open and honest communication that does not veer into disrespect, but if you find a religious teaching or dogma to have been harmful to you, you can call it out and not have to worry about proper respect. I don’t respect religions or religious leaders who defend child abuse, and there is no need to respect harmful ideas.

    1. Show Empathy and Understanding: Understand that your family members may have strong emotional reactions to your revelation. Be prepared for a range of responses, from confusion to disappointment or even anger. Offer empathy and reassurance that you are still the same person they know and love, and that your decision is not a reflection of their own beliefs or values.

Sure, but again, other people’s emotions are up to them and them alone, not yours to be concerned with or try to control. It can be good to be aware that this could be heated or go poorly, but there is no excuse for poor or abusive responses. Their belief system is not more important than yours, and if this conversation devolves into your family putting their own beliefs over yours, or over you as a person, then it’s time to step away from the conversation and set new boundaries. You are not required to offer empathy or reassurance, you are not required to do anything at all. This is a courtesy that you are offering in order to move forward to build a healthy, genuine relationship. They are not on some moral high ground, and your job is not to offer them comfort. The goal is setting clear expectations and having healthy boundaries. 

    1. Provide Information and Resources: If your family is open to learning more about your perspective, offer resources such as books, articles, or videos that can help them understand your journey. Encourage open-mindedness and the willingness to engage in respectful discussions and dialogues.

Good info here, be prepared and share any resources that you found particularly helpful in your own journey. This can be really helpful and create new connections.

    1. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding religious discussions. Let your family know that you respect their beliefs, but you also expect the same respect for your choices. Encourage a mutual understanding that religious conversations should be approached with sensitivity and openness.

See, this should have been point 3. Boundaries come before respect. Respect is a mutual process, not a given. Telling your family you’re no longer religious is not a requirement, but usually comes up due to needing to set new boundaries (not going to church for holidays, no indoctrinating kids/grandkids, etc).

    1. Seek Support Outside the Family: If the conversation becomes challenging or overwhelming, seek support from trusted friends, support groups, or therapists who can provide guidance and understanding. They can offer a safe space for you to express your emotions and navigate the complexities of family dynamics.

Yes, I’m going to highlight therapists here, and suggest that support groups or trusted friends be neutral and not religiously affiliated. Again, religion holds a privileged space in our society, and so there is often an imbalanced power dynamic already at play here, so bringing in outside support can tip the scales. If a priest or religious leader is trying to offer “counseling” then that is just code for proselytization, not about actual support. Even be wary of therapists who may be religiously affiliated, or may allow one set of beliefs to take precedence over another.

    1. Give It Time: Remember that acceptance and understanding may not happen overnight. It may take time for your family to process and come to terms with your decision. Be patient and give them space to adjust to the new information. Continuing to foster open communication and demonstrating your love and respect for them can help facilitate acceptance over time.

Sure, but it’s kind of shitty if they only want to treat you well, or even as a human being, if you ascribe to their preferred beliefs. That isn’t loving or supportive, that’s selfish. If they need to grieve or whatever, that needs to be their active process, I think it’s unhealthy for them to try to foist their own emotional process onto you. This is a tricky thing, I get it, but also where something like ChatGPT is woefully inadequate at offering nuance. 

    1. Focus on Shared Values: Emphasize the values you still share with your family, such as love, kindness, and compassion. Highlight the aspects of your character and life that have remained consistent, despite your change in religious beliefs. This can help bridge the gap and maintain a sense of connection.

Yeah, this is important. Not being religious doesn’t usually change people’s values. Society has kind of confused religious beliefs as morals or values, but actually that is just dogmatic thinking. If you were a religious person who preached love for everyone, that’s still there, it’s likely the religion that doesn’t align. Religion is based on in-group/out-group biases, so leaving a religion is less about your morals or values changing and more about being aware of the bias and how limiting and short-sighted it is. Most people have good, clear values and that is solely why they leave religion, not the other way around.

Remember that every family dynamic is unique, and these tips may need to be adapted to suit your specific situation. The key is to approach the conversation with honesty, empathy, and a willingness to maintain healthy relationships with your loved ones, even if you hold different beliefs.

Ditto for your family. You don’t owe them anything here, and you are not required to bend over backwards or create extra time or space for their emotions. If they don’t want to have empathy or a willingness to work on a healthy relationship with you, that’s on them. It isn’t incumbent on you to meet their needs if they are unwilling or unable to meet yours. 

Well this was fun. Longer post by nature of needing to comment on everything. But kind of two posts at once, how to talk to your family about leaving a religion, and the shortcomings of AI. It’s just a fancy web-crawler, it isn’t “thinking” or problem-solving, it is just gathering and processing information that already exists very quickly, sometimes erroneously. It can be a good jumping off point though, a fancy web-crawler certainly has some utility, just not enough to start replacing huge swaths of the workforce. Maybe in the future, but for sure not yet.