The Ethical Dilemma: My Son Sends Me E-Mails Signed With a Religious Message. Can I Include a Secular One on Mine?

Experiencing an ethical dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

Send your questions to The Ethical Dilemma at (subject line: Ethical Dilemma).

All inquiries are kept confidential.

Secular Sign-off: A year ago, to be near two precious grandsons, we moved to the Bible Belt. Surprisingly, we love it here and have attended some local humanist organization’s meetings. We consider ourselves agnostic/atheist/humanist/secularist/non-believers.

We interact with our grandsons frequently. Their dad, our 52-year-old son, became a very conservative right-wing born-again Christian. About two years ago, he was in tears because he said he “loved me so much” and was concerned that I would not go to heaven since I did not believe in god.

In the interest of the relationship, I have chosen to be very low key. I wear my Humanist pin often and we have printed secularist “statements” before meals at our home, which the grandchildren love to read. Of course, at our son’s home they say a conventional “loaded” religious grace, and both he and our daughter-in-law frequently introduce God, Jesus and religion into their discussions, Facebook postings, etc.

Our major reason for being here is so that our grandsons can benefit from whatever cultural and nurturing influence we may provide, staying away from religion, which is why I have chosen to remain low key. Obviously, we secularists are not proselytizers, and in no way do either my wife or I challenge or denigrate their religious beliefs; if it works for them, that is okay with us as long as they don’t try and change our beliefs.  My wife tells me that their religious faith “requires” them continually to attempt to “save” us.

I am writing because of the religious, usually biblical, closing statements which accompany all the e-mails we receive from both our son and daughter-in-law. We assume they append their religious statement to every e-mail. My dilemma is that I would like to append a secular statement to my e-mails to them. However, my wife has dissuaded me from doing this unless I append such a statement to every email I send.

—You’ve Got Propaganda

Dear Propaganda,

Lately I’ve been receiving snail mail inserted with little reprints from the New Testament, from a sweet elderly lady who seems compelled to bring me to Jesus. I’m not sure whether she thinks I’m coming from humanism or Judaism, nor do I think it would make much difference. Thanks to you, I now realize that her belief system probably instructs her to do this.

But yours and mine doesn’t, so there’s no earthly reason (our only kind of reason) to play by their rules and attach secular slogans to each and every e-mail. It would actually be inconsistent and illogical (not to mention irritating) for you to pepper everyone with such messages when you only wish to target those targeting you. Conversely, it would be consistent and logical for you to respond to all proselytizing prose with a secular sentiment, if that’s what you’d like to do.

I personally don’t care for e-mails that automatically sign off with words of wisdom, regardless of how wise (and secular) they may be. They’re okay the first time, but not so much the 50th time, especially with a frequent correspondent. If you care to share a profound thought, great, but it doesn’t have to be part of every message. If you want people to pay attention to your every word, don’t attach unnecessary or repetitious ones.

E-mails are supposed to be for communicating, not for playing ideological tit-for-tat. So I’m not sure what your godless counter-messages will accomplish. But if that’s your game, enjoy it—but play it only with those who prayed for it.

Church or Jail for Prostitution Offenses: This isn’t really an ethical dilemma question because it seems really obvious that this is unethical (and illegal), but I just can’t resist bringing it up: There’s a proposal to force people arrested for prostitution-related offenses to participate in a church program or go to jail. Imagine how the church would be filled with hookers, pimps and johns—and the jails wouldn’t!

—Who Needs A Red-Light District When There’s A Church Nearby?

Dear Red-Light,

Actually, churches are probably filled with their share of johns already.

It is pretty hilarious. And I wonder how many people would opt for jail vs. church. I suspect most, regardless of faith or lack thereof, would prefer faking it in pews over chilling behind bars if they had the choice—which just shows how this proposal wouldn’t truly accomplish its mission to steer people from sin to sanctity.

But it’s as outrageous as it is ridiculous. What about non-Christian perps? Wouldn’t it be necessary to set up parallel programs in synagogues, mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and I don’t know what for non-believers (perhaps a friendly local pub or Starbucks)? You really have to wonder what these people are thinking, or whether they are thinking at all. I had to double-check to make sure that news story didn’t come out on April 1st. Nope, it really didn’t.