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Ask Teen Atheist, #2 May 15, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in anecdotes, Ask Teen Atheist, friends, issues, teen angst.
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Hi. My name’s Emily and I’m 14. I’ve been athiest for about a year. I haven’t told my parents, and I still go to church with them. I don’t have the heart to tell them. Anyway, I’ve found one other atheist, my best friend. All of my other friends are very religious. I’m afraid to tell them, because a few will probably dump me right off, but I really want to keep them as friends. I want to tell them, but it will get spread around school, and I see what happens to others. I always stay out of religous discussions. What should I do?

Well, Emily, you might be asking the wrong person about this, because I’m not one of those very vocal, “I’m an atheist and everyone knows it!” types. But since you asked, I’ll give you my perspective.

As I’ve mentioned before, I follow a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to my atheism, except when the person is very close to me and I can feel that he or she wouldn’t turn on me upon finding out. I’m not ashamed of my atheism, mind you, it’s just very annoying to have to be armed with counters to various inane arguments all the time (“Then where did the universe come from?” “That’s just a phase, right?” “Why is this world that we live in so beautiful?” and other fun crap). There’s also the risk of making your relationship awkward with whoever it is you’re talking to. Even with people you’ve just met, like what happened with me a week ago at a movie premiere:

TA: “I think this movie would appeal to all denominations. I mean, I’m an atheist and I’m totally interested in seeing this.”

Elderly Woman: “Ah.”

TA: “And what did you say your job was again?”

Elderly Woman: “I’m an organizer at our local parish.”

TA: “I see. Cool.”

[awkward silence ensues; TA and Elderly Woman eventually excuse themselves to go talk to other people]

Let me tell you, though, it’s very liberating to be open about your beliefs, which is why I’m slowly becoming more confident in discussing my atheism with others. I think that’s what you could do, too. You don’t have to have a big “Coming Out” party or anything, just try to work your way into becoming more comfortable about your beliefs.

If you feel like your friends will reject you for being an atheist, you don’t have to tell them just yet. You can approach the friends you feel closer to and try to get a feel of how they might react; for example, you could start by asking them about their thoughts on religion and atheism. This is actually what I did with my religious friend, Martha (“How do you feel about atheists?”), and that went pretty well. I also told my friends from school about my atheism after a long discussion on religion (I had a post here, around November 2007, but I deleted it by accident. *cries*).

I don’t want to resort to cliches here, but I do believe you’ll know the right time when it comes. It’s when you feel like there are a million things you’d rather do with your sixty minutes than go to Mass with your parents. It’s when your upper lip starts to twitch when your friends all agree that “all fags should go to hell.”

It’s all a matter of priorities, Emily. If you feel like preserving your friendships at the expense of keeping your beliefs hidden is the better idea, no one’s stopping you. If you can’t stand it anymore and you feel like you need to speak up, that’s okay, too. There is no right or wrong answer here, it’s completely dependent on what you feel would be better for you.

Let me know how it turns out! And if you feel like my advice isn’t enough, feel free to browse through the comments section, because my readers usually have better ideas than I do. πŸ™‚

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Comments»

1. Comanche - May 15, 2008

Emily,

I’m going to go ahead and come out of lurking to give a little parallel advice, also being 14 and all.

I agree that you might try a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Don’t make a big deal out of your atheism, but don’t lie about it if anyone asks. I’m a bit more outspoken, but I know when to shut up. However, you should probably tell your parents. You don’t have to come out and say you’re an atheist right away – when I was first having doubts, I pretended I was Jewish!

As far as your friends go, maybe lightly touch on the subject with a question or two to see how they react to a more objective analysis. If they react well, you might try confiding in them about your atheism, or, if you think straight-out atheism might disturb them, a softer term to introduce the idea – freethinker or humanist tends to be received better, from what I’ve seen.

In my case, I’m already “out” to most people who know me – most of them assume it without me even telling them. If you want to come out to the world, remember: in a majority, you have many friends. In a minority, you have less, but they’re much more important to you. Quality over quantity.

-Com

2. probabilityzero - May 15, 2008

I agree with you about your “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Basically, the worst thing you can do is go around telling everyone “I’m an atheist now,” because not only will that make you look like an idiot, it makes atheists in general look bad. I’ve never met anyone who would do something like that, but I’ve heard stories via the internet. I don’t know why people advocate this, but it’s stupid. Atheism isn’t a life style. Other than asking if you can stay home from church and answering direct questions, there’s no real reason you ever need to mention that you’re an atheist.

Certainly, once you’re a bit older, you’ll occasionally join in philosophical debates or arguments about the subject, but at your age that probably isn’t a good idea.

3. Teen Atheist - May 15, 2008

If you want to come out to the world, remember: in a majority, you have many friends. In a minority, you have less, but they’re much more important to you. Quality over quantity.

Excellent point, Com. I agree wholeheartedly.

4. Stresshead - May 15, 2008

I’m in agreement with Comanche
If a friend would ditch you over a differance in opinion… they are not your friend.You’re definatly better off without people like that.

5. elyt - May 15, 2008

Personally, I feel if you’re not bold enough to stand up for what you believe in amongst your friends and family, thus hiding what makes you unique, you don’t deserve the luxury of disbelief.

6. Leroy Glinchy - May 15, 2008

I used to be atheist until I started reading text from Eastern religions. Now I realized that it things are beyond me, and I can never know things about God and so on. One of the biggest tenents of the theistic religions tends to be humility. Therefore, I often tell people that I feel that my beliefs are not important. That nobody really cares too much what I think.

I mean if God is real then he has to be real whether or not I believe in him. Who is so insecure who goes around asking people, “do you bevieve in me? I created you. Do you believe? Just checking.”?

If I created people, I’d walk around like them all the time. I would never say anything to piss them off because I made them so I know what they like and dislike. I wouldn’t play peek a boo games with them: hiding and hoping they’d still believe without seeing me and torturing those who don’t. If I did that, I’d be afriad that they would think I was an asshole.

Anyway, if you just let people know that you think you are too insignificant to matter that your beliefs are not important I don’t know what they would say to you. Usually they start to tell me that I am important and that my beliefs matter.

Then I start to ask them some Really Hard QuestionsTM like the above. At this point, they start to get insecure and upset. Once they start to get defensive, I remind them that I had told them previously that my beliefs were not important. At this point, they can either agree with what I had all ready said and leave me alone. Or if my beliefs really are important then they have a lot of questions to deal with.

Either way, they leave me alone which was what I wanted from the start. Questions of religion are like sexual questions. They are really, really personal and someone really close to you should be the only one discussing them. It should be done in an environment where everyone feels safe to say whatever they feel realizing that they would still like one another. It’s rude to talk to people in public about religion.

7. thisorder - May 16, 2008

Yeah, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is probably easiest. At least when your 14.
That said, I think other things such as personal chemistry and everyday interest are far more important in relations with people than any abstract belifes. At least as long as people are openminded enough to agree to disagree.
I have friends who are christian, atheist, wiccan, some satanists and even a buddist and they all get along just quite well anyway. There are other rewarding things people can do togheter apart from debating opinions of philosophy after all…
Then again I’m close to 30 so age could be important as well.

8. GDad - May 16, 2008

elyt,

I respectfully disagree with your assertion that “you don’t deserve the luxury of disbelief” in this particular situation. While Emily is a minor, and presumably dependent on her parents or guardians, her option to buck the system may be limited. It could be the case that her parents may make life very difficult for her.

If we’re talking about an independent adult, though, I’d be more likely to appreciate your sentiment.

9. Teen Atheist - May 16, 2008

elyt,

Gotta agree with GDad here. That’s pretty much how life’s gone for me so far, although now that I’ve turned 18, I got a job and I’m already in the process of finding a place of my own, and I’m real excited about it.

That aside, I don’t think anybody “does not deserve the luxury of disbelief.” Does a boy not deserve to be gay because his father is a violent homophobe? We all deserve to live and think the way we want to. We can’t control the system, but we can control our own lives.

No one can or should force Emily to become a theist just because she can’t live on her own just yet.

10. Teen Atheist - May 16, 2008

Well said, Leroy Glinchy.

Questions of religion are like sexual questions. They are really, really personal and someone really close to you should be the only one discussing them. It should be done in an environment where everyone feels safe to say whatever they feel realizing that they would still like one another.

Absolutely. Part of why I follow the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is because I don’t think my beliefs are really anyone’s business but my own, and they certainly shouldn’t affect my relationships with other people.

11. Ubiquitous Che - May 16, 2008

Emily:

Assuming you’re reading this, here’s something you might like to try. Pick a time when no-one’s around to hear you, find a mirror, and look yourself dead in the eye, all fire and defiance. And say out loud, “I don’t believe in God.”

The louder the better – but once again, if you’re worried about parents and such it might be a good idea not to say it too loud.

But the idea is that in a suppressive environment like the one you’re in, you have to spend a lot of your time pretending to believe something you don’t. That can get tense. Looking yourself in the mirror and announcing to yourself that you don’t believe in God is a really good way of letting down a bit of tension, and it can even build up your self assurance.

When you spend so long pretending to be someone you’re not, taking a few moments of your day out to be true to yourself can be very rewarding.

Best of luck.

12. shidemn - May 16, 2008

Emily,
I figured i would give you a perspective from an outspoken atheist, seeing how it seems to be lacking here. The thing is this Emily your friends won’t leave you unless they aren’t really worth having anyway. Chances are you are a very nice young woman to your peers. I wonder why it is often the case that many atheists are quiet, yes there are assholes out there, this is something you will have to face. Now as for your atheism, and you perhaps telling you parents, this is a majorly different issue, i would suggest that you play with the subject a bit, perhaps just to get their opinion on other atheists. But is your parents are majorly religious i would SERIOUSLY not reccomend telling them, my parents were slightly pissed off when i told them, but i have been an independent person since i was 13, so i haven;t really relied on them for support. I would however like to leave you with three things. 1. Remember that if you do decide to tell situations are everything, and once you do tell it may be a little awkward at first but i promise that it passes with time. 2. You can trust what i am saying i know where you are comming from I myself am only 15 years old, i am far more mature than my age but still I am 15. And finally 3. if youhave further questions you may also come to my blog to talk with me, we atheists should commune it strenthens us. http://shidemn.wordpress.com

13. Why are some atheist’s afraid to “come out”? (Twelfth Question to Christians?) « Thoughts of a Friendly Atheist - May 16, 2008

[…] Why are some atheist’s afraid to “come out”? (Twelfth Question to Christians?) Posted on May 15, 2008 by shidemn I was just roaming around wordpress looking for a good read when i slipped across this wondrous article written by Teen Atheist (Find in Blogroll) and the article’s address is https://teenatheist.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/ask-teen-atheist-2/Β  […]

14. Emily - May 17, 2008

GDad, you are right. I don’t want to do anything to cause my parents to do something radical. I need them. I’m not old enough to live on my own, and I don’t want to be kicked out of the family or anything like that. In fact, all of the advice from all of you is really helping. I’m still planning how I want to tell my friends, because I think they deserve to know, because they are my friends. I plan on starting with just one friend, but she is probably going to be the hardest. I figure if I can tell her, I can tell my other very close friends. Thank you, everyone, for the advice!

15. Colin M - May 17, 2008

In my experience, people in college will be much more accepting of your beliefs. Or at least, it seemed easier for me to find friends who weren’t hard-core Christians. Do what you will now (I’ll also agree with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” advice) but to be honest, waiting a few years until you’re independent and have a greater variety of people to make friends with.

Also, don’t tell friends unless you’re OK with potentially having a confrontation with your parents. Friends may “tell on you” if they think they’re saving your soul.

16. GDad - May 18, 2008

Emily,

You are in my thoughts. Chin up, and all that.

For what it’s worth, my 13 year old son is pretty matter-of-fact about his atheism. Of course, he and I have discussed our common (non)beliefs, so there’s not much danger that I’ll make life difficult for him. Now, if he came out as a fan of American Idol, on the other hand….

17. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

Glad we were able to contribute somehow, Emily! I hope it goes well for you. πŸ™‚

18. Teen Atheist - May 18, 2008

Good foresight, Colin! I hadn’t thought about the possibility of friends ratting Emily out to her parents.

Emily, do keep Colin’s advice in mind, as well. There is a pretty big chance of that happening, so you should be prepared in case it does.

19. Emily - May 20, 2008

Thanks, Colin. I hadn’t though about that one. I do plan on telling my parents, but i was thinking I’d do it once I got through medical school and college. I mean, they want to help me as much as they can with that. I don’t mean to sound selfish or anything, but college is important, and if I don’t have their help, going is unlikely. The friend I really want to tell…she may or may not tell. I’m not sure.

Rain - January 8, 2015

I found just what I was needed, and it was eninttarnieg!

20. Laura - August 4, 2008

Here’s the thing, I’m an atheist, true and proud, but I don’t have much of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. I mean, I don’t go out, shouting “Hey, y’all, I’m an atheist!” But if the subject comes up, I’ll usually bring it up, probably ’cause…heh…Well, I actually sort of like the “Doncha know you’re going to hell?” and “Oh…So you worship Satan?” questions. I’m just twisted, I love confrontation.
Okay, take this instance at school a few months ago. (I just graduated middle school, I’m going to HS this fall) So I was talking with a few people I knew fairly well, but wasn’t reall close with. My memory sucks, so I can’t remember HOW this came up, but the conversation sort of went like this:

Guy: La, La, La, Something About Morals, I Can’t Quite Remember, La La La
Me: It’s funny, when you look at the bible, how some of them are pretty insignifigant. I mean, “Thou Shall Not Take The Lord’s Name In Vain” and “Thou Shall Respect The Lord’s Holy Day” blah blah blah, however that last one goes…
Girl: *Is Impressed* You can recite the Ten Commandments from memory?
Me: *Is Confused* Um…yeah. It’s not big deal, they’re pretty simple. I mean, I know all of them, but I don’t know all of them word-by-word, just some of them…*Doesn’t Like Looks They’re Giving Me* I mean, I was Catholic for, like, eleven years…
Girl: *Also Confused* Was?
Me: *Swearing Under My Breath* Uh, yeah, I’m an atheist.
Everyone: *Edges away slowly*

My friends and my family have been pretty cool about my (lack of) beliefs, I haven’t had to deal with much crap about it. But I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to “Come Out” if my mom wasn’t an atheist like me. So, I’ve been lucky. Emily, I think I’d stick with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

21. Dawn - October 24, 2008

I’m in the same situation, pretty much. I’m in 8th grade at my (catholic) school and I’ve been wanting to tell my friends at that school that I’m athiest at the end of the year. By then I won’t care about what they think and what people say. my non-catholic friends know and it’s made my friendship with them a lot better. so go ahead πŸ˜€

22. Struggling Atheist - February 23, 2009

To anybody who posted advice for Emily and to Emily as well, thank you. I myself am a teen atheist and find myself struggling to find ways to vent about it. Your opinions and advice have given me a lot to consider, and hopefully someday soon I’ll find a way to open up to my friends and family the way most of you have. Thanks again, for showing me I’m not alone

23. Emily - March 28, 2009

I haven’t looked here in awhile…I suppose I’ll give a bit of an update.

I’m pretty open with my friends (most of them know that I don’t believe in god, never mentioned atheist) and they seem okay with that. I’ve actually discovered one friend who is agnostic and we have nice conversations. But one friend keeps asking questions…she says why, why, why. It’s quite annoying but I am trying to at least answer some…I mean, she’s curious and maybe she’ll understand me a little better.

Not one family member knows yet. And I’ve decided that they won’t, at least for now.

24. Teen Atheist - April 21, 2009

Glad you’re making progress, Emily. Baby steps! πŸ™‚


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