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Ask Teen Atheist #5 March 27, 2010

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, backstory, family.
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Michael asks:

I am 14.  I was raised Catholic, and until about a week ago I was a firm believer.  But last week I began to think.  And the more I thought, the more it didn’t make sense.  I’m pretty confident at this point that I don’t believe in God, and I’m pretty sure I’m an Atheist.  However, I haven’t had the guts to tell anybody. There is a sort of silent understanding between me, a friend who seems to be in a similar situation, and his atheist girlfriend.  Anyway, I feel safe in my belief that my friends will be tolerant if I tell them.

My real concern is in my mom. My dad not so much.  He’s extremely Liberal, and in no way seems like he would be angry about this.  I’m not sure how my mom will react though.  She was raised heavily Catholic and is still pretty Catholic herself.  I’m worried how she will react.  I also have two younger sisters, and I’m not sure how they’ll react either.  Worst of all are my grandparents,who have a strong hold on my mom and are devoutly Catholic.  I worry their reaction would climb into the extremes.

I’m supposed to be confirmed in May, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to bare that huge a lie.  I need to get this off my chest before then.

What do you think would be the best way to come out to my mom to minimize her alarm?

First of all, it’s great that you’re applying critical thinking to your religious beliefs. I encourage you to read more about atheism in order to strengthen your beliefs, because down the road you will come across people who will try desperately to change your mind, and it helps to be equipped with a strong foundation and appropriate counter-arguments.

I was confirmed back when I was 12, although I was still Catholic then so it wasn’t a big problem at the time. I understand how hard it is to lie; even though I was outed to my parents against my own will, I don’t think I could’ve kept my beliefs a secret for very long.

I would recommend that you start by telling the truth about your atheism to the people you believe won’t have a problem with it, like your friends and your dad. In a situation like this, it’s important to have a support system to fall back on, and knowing that your friends and your dad will be there for you will really help in case your mom rejects your beliefs. I didn’t have that luxury when I was outed, so it was completely awful for me; I was sequestered in a house with a family who refused to talk to me, and friends who didn’t know what was going on. I cried almost every other week. When I told the truth to some of my close friends, though, I felt much better.

Once you’ve set up that support system for yourself, talk to your dad about how you feel about the upcoming confirmation. Ask him for advice and let him know you trust him. This way, at least you’re sure one parent understands where you’re coming from, even if the other doesn’t.

As for the actual conversation with your mom, wait until she’s in a reasonably good mood before you sit her down and talk to her. Start with the positive: let her know you appreciate the moral values she’s taught you, etc. Emphasize that your decision to become an atheist had nothing to do with the way she raised you — it’s more than likely that parents will blame themselves and see it as a mistake when a child deviates from the religion s/he was indoctrinated in, so it helps to let them know early on that nobody’s at fault. Tell her that you’re growing up and learning to think for yourself, which is a good thing. But be firm about your decision not to be confirmed and your need for her to understand that confirmation is a very personal thing; no ritual or sacrament can change what you believe in, because belief comes from within.

Whether or not to tell your grandparents is up to you. Like I said, religion is a personal issue, so I don’t feel the need to broadcast my atheism to everyone I meet (if I did, I’d waste time on many, many more circular arguments, and those are never fun). Of my extended family, only one cousin knows I’m an atheist, and that’s only because he discovered it by accident while borrowing my laptop. I don’t feel all that affected by it, honestly — I doubt telling my relatives would help or improve my relationship with them.

Best wishes, and no matter what happens, the most important thing is that you maintain a firm grasp on your own identity. Don’t let fear, intimidation or guilt change that.

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Comments»

1. Hildegard - March 28, 2010

It’s a tough place to be but well, even if you upset your mother, you’re still her kid & she didn’t raise you to be her, but to be yourself so my guess is that she’ll come around eventually, even if it remains something she finds sad or even worrying. I don’t know anyone from a mainstream Xian background who’s wound up getting shunned after losing their faith, though sadly, it’s one of the means of control & discipline favoured by a number of the more outré denominations. Emotionally blackmailing someone to accept a sacrament is weird territory though – how keen on casuistry are your grandparents? ;)

If you went through with the confirmation as a purely social/ cultural event, I for one couldn’t think badly of you. Clearly there are people in your family who have been looking forward to this for a long time & for whom the absence of your confirmation photo on the mantlepiece would be troubling. I understand perfectly if your filial peity, if not the religious sort, makes it hard to refuse confirmation.

However, if you feel it’s important not to be counted a member of the Church in the fullest sense, that’s both admirable & understandable. Admirable because it’s not the easy path & understandable because it’s always galling when religious hierarchies claim specific figures for practicing members of their denomination based on nothing better than the number of minors who go through rituals like confirmation or baptism.

I’m guessing that you’re in the States based on nothing more than your writing style, but it’s worth noting that the twentieth century gave rise to some unhelpful confusions between being religious & being American, to the point where atheism often seems to be represented as “un-American”. That makes decisions like yours all the harder. Project Reason have some interesting short videos on their website – their recent competition winner might even help your mother to understand that you’re not rejecting all her values, just her metaphysics.

Good luck!

2. Edward T. Babinski - March 28, 2010

I was baptized and confirmed Catholic, but then headed into the born again Protestant experience in high school and college and for some years after college, and now am agnostic. I edited a book of testimonies by ex-conservative Protestants, titled, Leaving the Fold.

I also created a “wishlist” of books titled

“Testimonies, Questioning Catholicism”
http://amzn.com/w/3R5JCKRVSE3QY

The list includes works by both “questioning” Catholics and “leavers” who became atheists.

I’m not sure that reading books can make any type of world view transition easier. But at least you don’t feel like you’re alone. And you can often contact authors on the web these days.

3. Edward T. Babinski - March 28, 2010

My own testimony is online, and also appeared as one of the chapters in Leaving the Fold:

Google:

If it wasn’t for agnosticism I wouldn’t know WHAT to believe AND Babinski

http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/leaving_the_fold/babinski_agnosticism.html

4. Alex - March 29, 2010

“I encourage you to read more about atheism in order to strengthen your beliefs, because down the road you will come across people who will try desperately to change your mind, and it helps to be equipped with a strong foundation and appropriate counter-arguments.”

That’s the kind of nonsense that atheists have been fighting this whole time. No, you should not want Michael to strengthen his “beliefs” (or lack-there-of).

Essentially what you’re telling him to do is study apologetics. You should want him to think critically. Atheism should not be a part of one’s identity. Freethought should be.

Teen Atheist - April 1, 2010

Alex: Who died and made you queen? Thanks for totally misinterpreting my statement.

5. John - March 31, 2010

Who will you vote for,in your country?(I read between the lines)

6. Holy Prepuce! - April 1, 2010

Michael, if you’re reading this, I’d be interested to know what your thought progressions were over the week it took you to go from “firm believer” to being “pretty confident at this point that [you] don’t believe in God.”

Although I like to imagine that all the arguments necessary to
instantly “deconvert” a firm believer could fit with room to spare on a sheet of notebook paper if only that person would pay attention, in reality I recognize that for many people the process takes years.

So if you don’t mind sharing, what did it for you, and how did it happen so quickly?

7. Teen Atheist - April 1, 2010

John: Not voting. I’m moving to the US (city and state undisclosed) in a few months, actually.

8. Hategod/s - June 29, 2010

I’m ex-roman catholic.during my high school,i studied in a catholic school…4 years staying there is like a hell.i hate God/s because he/she? made me a lier…the same issue with you author.I hope so, i can tell the truth to my family about my identity…

9. Agersomnia - July 2, 2010

I don’t know if it is still a good time to continue with opinions and ideas about the mailer from the original post, but surely there’s people out there who might find this later and some more ideas might be healthy.

I didn’t really mind participating on such rituals: I’ve learned to understand things as social rituals, made (in the case of marriages) out of a need to show the compromise and to represent the union of both individuals as a new family unit, but also both families as an extended tribe or clan. Remember how family feuds were ended with marriages? How resources are passed from one family to the other when people marry in India and other places?
Oh. Did I mention I am a social psychologist? It may explain my views a little, I think.

Maybe for me it is not unlike an anthropologist immersed in a different culture, participating in rites and stuff as a show or respect and openness to learning about the others. and just the same, when someone goes to the anthropologist and asks about his/her job, or belief system, when somebody asks me I will always answer with sincerity.

Going with some rites might not be right sometimes. But some others, it will work more like a show or respect and to create a bond, a “belongingness”. One should choose and pick in which we do participate, and in which we do not. I received a valid confirmation document, while I wasn’t actually confirmed, from a church who understands most people do it out of a created need rather than for a real belief in Christ and the Church.

This is a condensed version of the original one, that extended too much. I always post very long winded speeches for Teen Atheist in particular. Not sure why. Anyway, full text is at my blog. Can’t remember if I can post links here, so click my nick up there.

10. morgan - July 16, 2010

Well to tell u the truth being a teen atheist isnt the easiest thing but if your sure you shuldnt hide behind a lie. the best way to tell your mom wuld probably be to start with a simple conversation about your believes and her believes then tell her the news. she is your mom and im sure she will accept your oppinion.

11. Em Arde - July 19, 2010

The letter from Michael sounds a lot like my situation. I am in my mid-40′s now, but I can remember exactly the moment that I decided I did not believe what I had been brought up with in our Roman Catholic household. It was at a time shortly before I was to receive my first communion, and one day I had an epiphany, and I knew that I did not believe any of the religious nonsense I had been fed. I was 9 years old, and it didn’t occur to me to be worried about that people thought, and I remember coming home from school that day (I had my epiphany on the way to school that morning) and telling my parents that I did not want to go through with my first communion. When asked why, I simply told them that I did not believe the stuff I’d been told about God, Jesus and the Bible, that none of it made any sense. I held firm that I was not going to first communion, and that was that. My mom was disappointed (she still is, about my atheism, though she’s not disappointed in me, she’s disappointed in herself for being a bad Catholic, and for letting me and God down by not being better about raising me Catholic; my thanks to her for not raising me a better Catholic fall on deaf ears, but I digress…), but my dad was supportive, and I never had first communion, or confirmation, or ever went to another church service that wasn’t a wedding or a funeral. So my long winded advice is to just own up and tell them, because it’s a darn shame there’s such a social stigma on being atheist, and the only way we’re going to eliminate that is for more and more of us to be open and proud about our lack of religious delusion.

12. chadwell - August 28, 2010

hey TA I just wanted to contact you some way to tell you that this blog really helped me in “coming out” to my parents. I’ve been pretty strong in my atheistic convictions for almost a year now, but my parents don’t take me seriously & say that church is our family since most of our relatives live far away. Is there anything I could do to distance myself from this “family” church?


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