So, you’re in High School, or maybe still in Grade School, and your parents are religious. The problem is… you’re not so much into it. Maybe you dread having to take part in prayers and other religious activities. Maybe you feel pressured to attend bible study or church services or attend a parochial school. Maybe you are ready to erupt at the next comment praising the glory of god or the next critical remark about someone who does not share your family faith.
It is really a tough situation when you’re struggling with reconciling your doubts about god and religion with your love and respect for your parents and family. If you’re wrestling with the urge to make your feelings known to your parents and others, this article is for you.
Having to “play along” with what you consider to be a whole lot of nonsense is not only hard to do, but it feels insincere, deceitful, and even cowardly. We all naturally want to be respected for our own ideas about things. But at the same time, we don’t want to offend, worry, or hurt those closest to us, especially our parents.
So here’s the first thing to understand: you’re not a bad person if you don’t believe in a god. Faith in something that isn’t real doesn’t make you a good person. What you do and how you treat others is all that really matters. Whether or not you believe in some story you are told by people is unimportant, even if they are convinced it is really essential and important.
Second, you should know that you’re not alone or unusual. While most kids do adopt their parents’ views on religion and other things, some just don’t. For whatever reason, they form their own ideas that may or may not align with those of their parents. Many atheists are born and raised in religious families. I was. Some never really buy into their family religion or any religion for that matter. I didn’t. Others grow to reject faith and religion at some point, usually starting around the age of 13 or so when kids start to form their own conclusions about the world around them.
Here is the hard one. Admit to yourself at least that your parents can be wrong. Yes, they are your parents, and you hopefully love and respect them, but anyone can be wrong about anything. When it comes to assessing the validity of a proposition, especially a highly fanciful one, you should respect evidence not people. And unfortunately when it comes to matters of faith even the smartest and wisest and kindest of people are often simply wrong.
Although this may sound a bit harsh, you don’t have any obligation to adopt the beliefs of your parents. While your parents naturally hope that you’ll embrace their deeply held beliefs, you do not need to do so just to please them. No more than you need to embrace their obsession with 70’s rock music. They frankly need to be mature enough to accept that you are an individual and that you are free to make your own decisions about these things. This can be hard for parents, but if they cannot do so, it is their problem.
But realize that if you make your doubts known, there may be repercussions. You may cause hurt feelings. Those who love you may sincerely fear for your soul and redouble their efforts to show you the light. They may communicate their disappointment and worry in a thousand ways, big and small. With the best of intentions, they may impose real restrictions about who you can see and what you can do in an effort to save you from a life of atheism and possibly eternal damnation.
If your family does some of these things, how can and should you respond? Maybe it would be wisest to not even take the risk and just play along to avoid these repercussions and the difficult emotions that “coming out” might invoke.
That of course has to be your decision and yours alone. And the wise choice will depend on both the depth of your feelings and your particular circumstance. Here are some general kinds of situations. One of these might be similar to your own:
- I don’t really believe in all the same stuff my parents do, and they will respect and accept my own beliefs. I’ll talk to them about it because it would be far more disrespectful and damaging trying to pretend. In fact, my openness might bring us closer in the end.
- I don’t really believe in all the same stuff my parents do, but it really doesn’t bother me too much. On the other hand, voicing my lack of belief would really upset them. I’ll be content to just play along because it makes them happy and that makes my life easier.
- I feel very strongly that it’s wrong to pretend I believe in something when I don’t. I can’t live like that. My parents will never be able to accept my rejection of their beliefs, but even if it makes my life more difficult I’d prefer to bear any repercussions than be untrue to myself.
All of these are perfectly reasonable scenarios. The worst situations are when you feel strongly that you are being untrue to yourself by going along with religion or other “new age” kinds of beliefs, but are too fearful to make your feelings known. Or when you do make them known and your family goes to extremes to force you to come around.
In these cases, all you can do is to do your best. Accept that life will be hard and complicated either way, but trust that letting them know your true feelings is probably the better alternative in the end. Many of us have been “black sheep” and we have survived. I did and you will too. And if you’re true to yourself you’ll come out of the experience a stronger, prouder, and better person rather than a weaker and more resentful one.
If and when you do talk to your parents about your lack of faith, remember to be calm, confident, articulate, and resolute. Don’t let them see any doubt as that will only send the message that they must try harder to help bring you around. Remember that your rejection of their beliefs will implicitly reject them, attack their core values, and make them feel that they have failed. But presentation is everything. Remind them how much you love them and respect them even though you do not share their beliefs. No matter what, communicate with love and kindness and respect and they will hopefully reach an easier peace and acceptance of your atheism.