Question: How should a doctor respond to questions about her religious beliefs? My wife recently told me about a colleague of hers – a physician and an atheist – being caught off guard when asked by the parents of one of her cancer patients in the hospital if she believed in God. These parents wanted their son treated only by a doctor who believes in God, and my wife's friend did not qualify. How should she have answered their question?
Question: How can I help my father understand that I respect him, even when I disagree with him? I generally value experience for its ability to provide helpful insights, but I am suspicious of people who fall back on appeals to authority in an attempt to win arguments. My father often does that during our debates on various subjects, as we do not see eye-to-eye on many important issues. When I reject his appeals on the grounds that they are logically fallacious, he takes personal offense and accuses me of disrespecting him. I respect my father, and I try to convey my appreciation for his experience in other ways. But I want to have civil discourse with him that doesn't dead-end in this uncomfortable way someday. My father and I have been estranged for the last five years, in large part due to his tendency toward communicating in this and other manipulative ways, and my current attempt at reconciliation is failing again because of these communication issues. This is a shame because I truly feel that the makings of a good father-daughter relationship are in place, but my father cannot seem to stop predicating our ability to love and respect each other on my willingness to constantly agree with him simply because he is my father. What advice can you give on how best to halt this unhealthy pattern, so that I can save my relationship with my dad?
Question: Should I end my friendship with a persistent and devout Christian? I am an atheist who has been befriended by a very devout Christian (read: an ex-missionary). I often find that our philosophical differences prevent me from expressing myself the way I would like. However, this friend has been very devoted to pursuing a deeper friendship with me despite my attempts to keep the relationship very casual. She calls me her "best friend" to others and goes out of her way to forge a deeper bond by regularly telling me how "special" I am to her and reiterating how close to me she feels. She will often say that she regards me as a "sister." I am puzzled by her persistence, given that she has so many friendship options within her Church and the rest of the Christian community. I am also increasingly uncomfortable with our interactions, given their necessarily narrow breadth and depth: we tend to focus our discussions mainly on a shared hobby we enjoy that has nothing to do with religion or philosophy. I really value time spent engaging in philosophical discussions with my other friends, and this is simply not possible with her. The dilemma is that she has been admirably non-judgmental toward my lifestyle, at least outwardly. She does not proselytize or try to "convert" me. (I have made it clear to her that this is not possible.) Still, our friendship feels vacant to me. I have tried to express my concerns to her at various times but her response is always that she loves me and accepts me "no matter what." I think she is being sincere, but it feels like a manipulation or, at least, an evasion of our many differences. Still, I always end up feeling guilty for keeping her at a distance while she works so hard to be my friend. Should I end this friendship once and for all?
Question: How should a young adult manage persistent differences with his family? As I grew up, I turned out radically different from what my family expected. They think college is necessary for success in life. I didn't, and I dropped out. They eat the Standard American Diet and hate fat. I eat Paleo, and I glorify fat. And so on. Basically, we diverge on many points. I've never committed the mistake of attempting to preach to my family in order to persuade them, but many of them grew unduly concerned with these differences between us. They would argue with me on the subject for months, if not years, no matter what good results I had to show them. Assuming that the relationship is otherwise worth maintaining, how should an older child or young adult handle such contentious differences with his family? How can he best communicate his point of view to them – for example, on the question of college, after they've saved for two decades for his college education?
Question: How much generosity is too much? Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don't think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won't – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she's backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?
Question: How can I help my partner accept my doing risky activities? I would describe my partner as modestly adventurous. He's willing to try things now and then, but there are lots of things that I'd like to do that he not only refuses to do but forbids me to do as well. For example, I saw a deal to take a beginner pilot lesson on LivingSocial. I have no interest in getting my pilot's license, but I think it would be fun to sit in the seat with a teacher and learn a little something about how it's done. To my mind, this is perfectly safe. My partner, however, says, "No way." Also, I want to go swimming with sharks (with supervision, inside a cage). Yes, there's some risk, but I think that sounds like a lot of fun. My boyfriend disagrees. I did talk him into going skydiving with me once, but he refuses to go again. He bought me a gift certificate so I could do another tandem dive. But I loved it enough that I would consider getting certified to jump on my own. Yet he forbids it. People do these kinds of activities all the time without injury or any other harm. Plus, I want to do them with all proper supervision and safety precautions. I'm certain that my boyfriend understands these mandates of his carry little to no weight with me, but I wish he would be a little more reasonable about the way he assesses these risks. I definitely wish he'd find a better way of expressing his concern for my safety than just issuing commands about what I will and will not do. What should I do?
Question: Is it wrong for an atheist to patronize religious businesses? Is it an endorsement of religion or failure of integrity for an atheist to buy goods or services from a religious business, such as hiring an explicitly religious (and advertised as such) plumber or joining the local YMCA?
Question: Is it wrong to discipline other people's children when they refuse to do so? I was eating lunch at an outdoor market. A woman and her son stopped near me, and the boy (who was probably around 8 years old) leaned over my table and stuck his finger in my food. Then he started laughing and ran around in circles. The mom looked at me and dismissively said, "He's autistic." Then she walked away. How should I have responded? Is there a respectful way to tell a stranger that her son's behavior is unacceptable in a public setting? Would it be wrong to speak to the boy directly?
Summary: I introduce myself, discuss the new Atlas Shrugged Reading Groups sponsored by Front Range Objectivism, and offer my advice on an ethical question about a no-show at a wedding.