So how do you get a very zealous religious person to give you some space?

So I’m having an issue that I don’t quite know how to deal with and am seeking some input from the hivemind of many experiences.

I’m in my mid-50s and was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, but have been inactive in that faith and an atheist for almost 40 years. I’m currently staying with my 87 year old aunt to help her in her elder years and also to give myself an opportunity to recover from some health and financial problems (which I don’t want to go into at this time.)

The problem is, my aunt, like my mother, is a devout Jehovah’s Witness and has been her entire life. Now over the years I had reached a detente with my mom, accepting her literature once a year and reading it. That worked for a long time until a few years back when my mom reached an age where she doesn’t press me anymore.

The problem is my aunt. She cannot help herself. She’s a good person but her beliefs are so zealous and so absolutist that she feels obligated to try to teach “the Truth” to me (that is how the Witnesses refer to their beliefs, which gives you a bit of a sense of how zealous and absolutist they are - every other person on the Earth is a believer in falsehood but the Witnesses have “the Truth” [capital T implied]) Now I know the Witness doctrine backward and forward and also know the Bible extremely well for an atheist (I read it twice as a teen during my religious struggle years) and also spent the first couple years of undergrad academically coming to grips with my Witness experience, taking Cultural Anthropology and doing a research paper on the Witnesses, taking History of American Christianity and so forth. So I know the drill but my aunt just… keeps… on… preaching. She keeps on trying to get me to go to her religious meetings. She keeps confronting me about my beliefs, even though I’m being very polite and discrete. She keeps on lecturing me about “The Good News”. I understand this: from her POV it would be a mortal sin NOT to preach to me, and her beliefs are so zealous and so absolutist there doesn’t seem to be any leeway.

I had hoped I could reach a detente by being polite and discrete but I have to say I’m beginning to feel like this isn’t going to work. If I decide to go elsewhere, that will actually be quite bad for both me and my aunt.

So I’m wondering, what can be done?

There may be general ideas that would help. But be aware, the Witnesses have a VERY specific, VERY rigid, and VERY powerful set of beliefs, so the general advice that would apply to “mere” Evangelicals or “mere” Fundamentalists might not apply.

I can provide more info if necessary but I would place the Witness beliefs as just shy of something like the Church of Scientology. (There are many including many sexually abused former Witnesses who would put them in the same category.) They are not like the run of the mill Evangelicals or Mormons or conservative Catholics that many of you may be familiar with; they are a pretty hard step further into zealous absolutism, and that’s the problem I don’t know how to deal with.

I don’t require my aunt to be 100% respectful of my individuality and beliefs (and that’s a HUGE concession IMO) but I want some space. I’m willing to tolerate a certain amount of messaging, as in the detente I had with my mom, but this, this is untenable.

So, let’s discuss. Perhaps the wide experience of QT3 can help me.

Is there any chance of them shunning you and you losing contact entirely? I know people who have had JW family (blood related!) turn abusive in this manner.

Someone that age has their behavior ingrained into their life. Religion above all.

Learn to ignore her.

I did have a relationship with someone who was deep into Scientology, and they never brought it up to me.

Yes, that’s an outside risk, although hopefully not a substantial risk.

Yeah, that’s what I’d like to do, but today it was proving difficult. Although just writing this thread vented the pressure a bit, and she also settled back into the more quiet mode we have mostly been enjoying.

I guess in the big picture, this is going to be an ongoing process rather than something with a fixed and certain “solution”.

The absolute surety that a particular group knows “the Truth” is such a dangerous thing.

That’s really generous of you to help out your aunt, Sharpe, especially when it means you have to be subjected to the proselytization. I don’t know too much about the Witnesses, so this may be of limited value, but my best suggestion is to have a standard response for when she brings it up. Something very polite, not confrontational, not sarcastic. The points to hit might be: 1) You’re familiar with the teachings of the church, 2) you understand that spreading the good news is an important part of the faith, 3) you’re glad that her faith brings her comfort, 4) you’ve decided it’s not what you believe.

My thought is that if you say something that becomes very predictable, then the next time she’s about to talk to you about “The Truth,” she’ll know exactly what your response will be, and that might prevent her from bringing it up.

Hope that helps! Good luck with everything!

How about some nice, over-the-ear headphones?

Or maybe give her sessions of “bringing you the good news” with you playing enthousiastically along. Not every time, just the Tuesday dinner. Treat it (internally) as meaningless ritual theatre. You know the steps and the words. Play along.

My ‘solution’ was to extricate myself completely from such toxicity as it was causing me lasting harm. Though I guess you’re not quite at that stage and maybe don’t have the mobility. But it is something maybe worth clarifying; you’re there because you choose to be.

(I was tempted to become a Satanist so some of the more persistent types would get the message and leave me the fuck alone but it always seemed… overly theatrical. Plus there’s a lot of goat iconography involved and I just don’t like 'em.)

Well, there’s this:

but that’s a bit harsh, given what you’ve written. I like the “ignore and play along politely” approach really.

Wrong forum for a religious based thread. That being said you know that you really only have two options dont you? Either put up with it or put a stop to it. Option one is the easy path of least resistance. Just ignore her. Option 2 is a more permanent solution. You have to prove to her that your conviction is stronger than hers and that will involve levels of family tension that affects more than just you and her. Since its a personal situation there is no “one size fits all” answer here. Only you can determine which path to walk and whether the blowback from option 2 is worth it. I have this exact situation in my life. I am a wussy who chose option one. But I also have kept peace within the family by doing so. So my one piece of advice? Earbuds are your friend.

I can’t think of an elegant solution here. As you say, she thinks she’s helping you. And the more you help her, the nicer you are to her, the more she probably feels like she ‘owes’ you in gratitude and probably puts even more effort into saving your soul. The incentives are terrible. (On the upside, she must have plenty of energy and wit at 87 to be this relentless.)

Only thing that comes to mind are long shot silly ideas. I would guess at 87 this is her main ‘hobby’ and the main thing she does every day. If she wasn’t preaching to you, is there something else she would probably be doing? Can you get her to spend more energy on that? If it’s all preaching all the time, maybe even set her up with a YouTube channel so she can direct her preaching energy somewhere other than the one person in the same house with her. Silly long shots, all I got.

At the very least, can you timeblock it? Like if you you say “I need 10 hours of quiet to focus on work/study/whatever” does she respect that? (using noise blocking headphones if needed…)

I don’t suppose you could write her a note? Or read from one?


“I know how important your religion is to you, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it’s making me uncomfortable being preached to so much. Can we keep our discussions away from religion please - for my own piece of mind”?

Put a pillow over her head while she’s sleeping.

Seriously, that’s the only way to stop a Witness her age from spreading the word (err, Truth). Although, if having you there does benefit her, maybe make it clear that you will leave (for your sanity, as Jpinard kinda said, though not sure, he may be alluding to Return of the Living Dead zombie acts) if she doesn’t at least tone it down some.

Let her know you’ve given religion plenty of thought and study over the years and that she should respect your position, as you do hers, and that is a key to peace in your relationship and living situation.

The issue of a formulaic approach, or a written note, versus a more organic verbal response, is a tricky one. For now, I’m going to stick with the polite discretionary response. I feel like more formulaic responses are an escalation.

I do think there are some lines to be drawn though such as attending religious meetings.

This thread has helped me think this through and really the big picture is that this is an ongoing relationship/process and there’s not going to be a specific “peace treaty/final resolution” at least in the near term. But maintaining enough poise and flexibility to avoid being browbeaten while avoiding a big escalation is going to be my approach, for now. I just have to accept there will be no stable resolution in the short term.

You could go the cold mechanical route. When she comes over for a visit, give her an enthusiastic five minutes to witness to you, and ask that after that, she waits for the next visit. “I know you have to do this, and I want to support you, so here’s a compromise.”

Thanks for bringing up the subject, Sharpe, it’s an interesting one. I don’t have much to add about your situation beyond what’s already been said - let her say her piece, do your best to ignore it, when possible direct the conversation elsewhere.

I’m glad to see the conversation happening, though, as I have a somewhat similar situation with my parents. I was brought up evangelical Christian and have since moved to the Lutheran church (specifically the ELCA), largely to escape the intolerance and judgemental attitudes of the modern evangelical movement. My parents stayed there, and when visiting them there’s often an uncomfortable conversation or two when my dad starts talking about some aspect of “the world’s culture” that his church condemns. I do my best to ignore it and move the conversation to other topics, but that doesn’t always work, and I know from experience that trying to argue with dad in this area is a losing proposition.

My only experience with JW has been very mild and incidental so feel free to ignore this if it doesn’t fit. Can you treat it as unimportant small talk? Nod along, give enough feedback to show you are listening but don’t engage. Obviously set limits such as not going to meetings or anything but otherwise sort of agree with her verbally even if that isn’t what you really believe.

Basically @rshetts option 1 but without the negative thoughts about it being the wussy way out.

I’m glad you brought this up. I’ve had similar experiences with my evangelical Christian family. It’s a boundary issue. It sounds like you’ve been able to set good boundaries, but sometimes your aunt doesn’t respect them. When that happens to me with my folks, I try to be sympathetic but firm. So, I try to understand that my folks have (in their mind) my best interest at heart. But I’m the captain of my ship, so I get to decide what I’m going to believe in. I just don’t engage. It takes practice and a little trial and error. I also found it was important to develop a willingness to let them be themselves, even if they are someone or something I feel strongly isn’t something I want for myself. I would always find myself tempted to engage on some level. Once I rooted this out, it got a lot easier for me to not allow myself to get hauled into drama. Not saying that’s what you’re doing, but just that it was happening to me, and once I recognized it, things went a little smoother for me.

I think that’s a good impulse. I would get invitations from my folks to go places I had no business going and I would always look at my calendar before declining as if maybe I might go if I had the free time. But nope. I was never free. Always respectful and polite, but also firm and nonjudgmental.

Just throwing a peer support resource out there: Dare to Doubt is a hub for people who are questioning their beliefs, are leaving or have left their religion, and who want support in healing.