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damage control

My brother is married to a religious woman and her life is rooted in the word of God. She seems like straight out of the 18th century, though she’s attractive and dresses nicely. She goes online daily to consume spiritual talk. My brother is totally different. He reads and is a bibliophile. Very incompatible. For her, the Bible meets all her expectations. Meanwhile, his reading is boundless. Any thoughts?

Hmm, I should probably say right off the bat, so you’ll take whatever I say with a grain of salt, that I too am one of those anachronistic oddballs who actually believes in God.

It’s just a feeling I have. It’s not something I’d care to debate with, say, Christopher Hitchens, the late, giant-brained author of the seminal atheistic book God Is Not Great, among many other millions of words.

I’ve seen him, on TV, a classic “public intellectual,” run oratorical circles around theologists, Talmudic scholars, you name it.

Me he’d slice, dice, flash-fry and fillet, all at once, like some kind of demented British Benihana chef.

The only “evidence” I’d try to offer (in a shaky voice, almost a whisper, sweating under the hot TV lights), is that even Einstein, so vigorously anti-religion, would grudgingly concede from time to time that the more he pried into the mysteries of the universe, the more it seemed to him there might be some sort of vast intelligence behind it.

(At which point Hitch would smile and lean back in his chair before delivering numerous rapier-like bon mots and coups de grâce, leaving my so-called arguments in tatters at my feet.)

I even wear a symbol of my belief system around my neck, which I clutch as I pray (and which I tuck inside my shirt when my wife and I socialize, for fear of embarrassing her in front of friends), as I do every day.

Sometimes to ask for stuff, true (that’s okay apparently). Sometimes just to say “thanks,” e.g. “Nice day, God. I love your work! You are so freakin’ talented. Amen, yours truly, Dave.”

You may think I’m messing around, but that’s not far off what I do say.

Forget Hitch. Try saying any or all of the above to a gathering of urban intellectuals, as I have. You will be treated as thick, a bit of a rube. You will be subject to incredulous stares, and ad hominem attacks – like the soigne sophisticate at a downtown dinner party who said, when I spoke of my belief system: “Maybe your brain just doesn’t work right.”

We should all just live and let live, I think. Especially you, sir or madam, it seems to me. By contrasting your brother’s bibliophilia with your sister-in-law’s religious inclinations, you are treading perilously close to calling her dumb and unworthy of your brother’s (small c) catholic range of intellectual interests.

But have you ever entertained the notion that you might be seeing her though a haze of “confirmation bias” (i.e. everyone you know agrees with you on everything)?

When you look at your sister-in-law, maybe you see a woman in a broad-brimmed hat, sitting in a horse and buggy with corncobs and handmade sausages in the back, on her way “to market.” But maybe your brother sees her as a soulful modern woman, and appreciates her spiritual side.

Anyway, what do you care? As far as I can tell, you have no skin whatsoever in this game. I haven’t heard you mentioning anything about your brother uttering a word of complaint.

So why do you attempt to insert your proboscis into his marriage? No one can ever know what makes a marriage tick, behind closed doors.

(Example: My wife thinks it’s “lights out” when we die. But we make it work.)

What I’m trying to say is: butt out. I’d go even further: Religious you may not be, but could perhaps use a soupçon of spiritual growth yourself.

Stop judging. Look upon your sister-in-law with love, compassion and tolerance – and as, sounds like, someone who makes your brother happy.

Save your breath for cooling your porridge, and your judgments for the person you see in the mirror every morning.

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