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Interview with Teen Atheist July 20, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in anecdotes, issues.
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6 comments

I’ve been interviewed by The Pakistani Spectator! Granted, I feel slightly less special because the questions were canned (take a gander at the other interviews and you’ll see what I mean), but it’s nice to be interviewed anyway.

Go check it out!

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Ask Teen Atheist, #3 July 16, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, family, issues, teen angst.
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15 comments

Alissa writes:

Hey. Okay, so I recently found your website and was reading around and I really want to talk to you. I’m 13 years old and I’m in the 9th grade. I know, some may think thats really young but I know that I don’t believe in god and I think I may be an atheist. I went to church for a couple of years with my father and believed strongly in the Roman Catholic religion. I live with my mother and she is Christian but we don’t go to church and during that time period (when I believed in God), I asked my mom if we could go to church, but we never went. I started thinking more about the religion. It just doesn’t make sense at all and I disagree with just about everything in the religion. I recently told my mom and my 18 year old sister how I feel and they we’re shocked and confused. Naturally they wanted me to go to church A.S.A.P. It’s not going to help though. I have a friend that goes to church every Sunday, takes religion classes every Monday, and is going to a catholic school next year, but doesn’t believe in God. I took it to offense that they didn’t try and accept it and they tried to convert me instead. It turned into a fight. They are not taking me seriously, they think I don’t know enough about the religion to not believe in it. I would just like your help as to what to say to them or what ever you think will help me.

Thank you.

I think it’s wonderful that at such a young age, you’ve found the intellectual bravery to question the religion you’d been indoctrinated in. It’s very rare, even among adults — they can question anything else (their credit card bill, their boyfriend, their college professor, their salary), but religion tends to be the “untouchable” topic for most people. So kudos, Alissa!

Sadly, your family’s reaction is very common, at least in my experience. I pretty much had to go through the same thing that you did, and even now, after almost a year, they still don’t really accept it. Even if your family is not the most devout, they’ll go on “You heathen! Repent nowwww” autopilot once they’ve discovered a threat to the foundation of their beliefs (read: your newfound atheism). The first thing they’re going to want to try to do is to convert you back in order to “correct” your “mistake.”

Of anybody you’re going to have to deal with about your atheism, your parents will be the most difficult hurdle because they will always see that part of you as a disappointment, as a failure on their part. The best that you can do is to reaffirm your belief in yourself. Don’t let what they say affect you. Don’t put so much power in their words. I know they’re your parents and they’re an important part of your life, but they can’t dictate who you are and what you can and can’t do. You already have a strong sense of self, Alissa — hold on to that.

“They think [you] don’t know enough about the religion to not believe in it” is one of the first arguments my parents tried to throw my way. I directed them to an About.com page on atheism. It didn’t work, and beyond that, it got ugly. They’re really never going to listen, at least mine didn’t; the best I could hope for is their silence about it. Hopefully you’ll be luckier, and they’ll learn to accept your beliefs over time.

I also regret to inform you that since both you and I are teenagers, there are going to be a hell of a lot of people who won’t take us seriously, especially when it comes to things like this. Remind yourself: it’s NOT “just a phase.” You’re an individual, too, free to believe in whatever you want to believe. Surround yourself with friends who accept you for who you are, and adults who actually do take you seriously (perhaps a freethinking and openminded teacher, if you have one?). Also, the atheist web community is full of friendly, accepting people who would be more than glad to talk to you about your problems, and share their knowledge about atheism with you. When I was going through that big fight with my family after being outed by my brother as an atheist, a lot of the online atheists dropped by my blog and left encouraging words. Not only did I feel accepted, but I also learned a lot about my beliefs.

As for what to say to your family, I don’t think anything can change their mind about this, but you can at least assure them that nothing they say or do will convert you back, but despite your lack of belief in a god, you are still fundamentally a good person, and that you hope they still accept and love you as a daughter despite your differences.

I hope it turns out well! More power to you!

Wordy ruminations July 9, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in career, family, friends, issues, teen angst.
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4 comments

T.A. – sleep + unlimited internet access + 1 week paid leave = tedious, lengthy diatribe on “my thoughts, let me show you them.”

Taken from an e-mail exchange with Holy Prepuce:

If at some point in your upbringing you bought into the Catholic idea of a heaven or resurrection (i.e. that our conscious selves survive death and perhaps even live forever), was it difficult to come to terms with the loss of this belief?

It wasn’t difficult for me, I found it to be a breath of fresh air. I’ve always been a very inquisitive and imaginative child, so even at a very young age, I’d read the Bible (Revelations was my favorite part; I’m weird that way) and think, “What if this is just really tedious fiction?” The more I thought about it over the years, the more absurd I found the whole concept. Virgin births, talking bushes, life after death? Really?

I remember going through a very difficult time when nobody in the house would even speak to me, and I thought, “Well, at least God’s there for me. If I just keep praying, He’ll help me through this.” I realized much, much later on that God wasn’t doing shit, because what help did he provide, other than maybe sitting there, hearing my prayer and going “Mm-hmm”? I pray, and nothing happens. Nothing’s ever happened my whole life that was a result of a strong faith. It wasn’t God that helped me through that time, it was my own imagination.

Religious leaders scare people into remaining faithful with talk of eternal damnation and other horrific consequences. And the more you devote to the religion, the more you want it to be real, because you grow increasingly reliant on it, and it does seem like such a nice concept. So, despite a lack of evidence that what they believe in is real, religious people don’t want to question it because they don’t want to open up another can of worms when the alternative, turning a blind eye, is so much easier, especially when everyone around you is just as blind as you are.

As for my Predominantly Catholic Country in general, most atheists here come to that realization in college (I have yet to meet anyone who was raised atheist over here!). For instance, Carl became an atheist in the middle of a college course dissecting creation versus evolution. I think this trend exists because in college, the power of influence shifts from the parents to the peers and teachers, so people start to consider all sorts of options — beliefs, orientations, what-have-you.

The whole “college self-discovery” thing is a transition I never experienced or had to experience, probably as a result of my poor relationship with my parents, my natural inquisitiveness, my rebellious nature, and a hefty dose of introspection.

In short, I’m really weird.

But it’s always seemed to me that denial of mortality was one of the primary motivators for religious belief, even in the face of strong contrary evidence for the claims made–so finally accepting that we are not immortal has to be one of the defining moments of a a theist’s “conversion” to atheism.

That’s definitely true for a lot of Catholics. My philosophy about it has always been, I want to live in the now, and live the way I want to. Why would I be banished to hell or thought of as an evil person or a bad follower if I decided to eat a cheeseburger in Lent? It’s my life, and that cheeseburger looks pretty damn tasty!

I find it to be a terrible waste of life not to enjoy yourself because you’re waiting for the next life, which God promises will be much better. I see my life the same way I see my job, I suppose: I don’t ever want to fall out of love with it. I don’t want to settle just because there’s going to be something better later on, because I don’t want to be looking for something better in the first place.

I found this wonderful quote from Lance Armstrongย that sums it up pretty nicely: “Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whther I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn’t say, ‘But you were never a Christian, so you’re going the other way from heaven.’ If so, I was going to reply, ‘You know what? You’re right. Fine.'”

Also, tell me about life as a teenage atheist in your country…

I’m getting more comfortable with it now, as compared to back in September when I started the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t proclaim my godlessness to everyone, but I can reply honestly to anyone who asks without even batting an eyelash. Reactions vary (it’s usually a polite smile, followed by a change of topic), though thankfully none as violent as my parents’ reaction. It’ll always be the pink elephant in the room with them. I wonder what it’ll be like when my brother goes to college… ๐Ÿ˜‰