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Ask Teen Atheist #5 March 27, 2010

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, backstory, family.
13 comments

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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