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Getting older March 9, 2013

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, family, friends, issues.
3 comments

All throughout my youth, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote all the time, about everything. I watched TV shows and ranted along with the curmudgeons on Television Without Pity about what each show did wrong, convincing myself that I could do a better job. I flew to America with a dream in my pocket: I’d study Dramatic Writing at NYU (because Philip Seymour Hoffman went there!) and become a television writer. I knew I could do it; all I had to do was want it badly enough.

Then I got to America, and found that there were millions of other people who were better writers than me. I realized I wasn’t a great writer after all, just an OK one. So I stopped writing.

It sounds a little sad — I’m sure it’d break the heart and hubris of my 17-year-old self — but I’m okay with it. It’s part of getting older. I’m thankful to be able to both recognize my limitations and accept them. Sure, it’s a little scary to suddenly not have a clear idea of what I want to do anymore, but part of growing up is learning about myself through experience.

I reread old blog entries on occasion, and I cringe a little (so much anger and drama and rambling in my teenage heart!), but I’m still proud of it. I’m glad I managed to capture the emotions in the eye of the storm, to document every moment of rejection from my parents. I’m only sorry I ran out of things to say, and sorry that I still have letters from teenage atheists out there that I haven’t responded to. When I stopped writing, I also stopped writing back.

So, teens and teens-at-heart who still check this dead blog, I’d like to tell you a bit of I learned in the process of getting older. I’m not much older, at 23, but I’m old enough to finally understand that there’s not really a point in life where I will be right about everything. (Don’t tell my 17-year-old self that.)

Things I Know Now:

  1. I can’t tell you if you should come out to your parents or not. But if you suspect your parents will lose their shit, there’s no shame in waiting until you’ve moved out to tell them. You’re not a coward, you’re their child and you shouldn’t have to deal with that conflict and potential abuse if you don’t feel prepared to handle it. Besides, it’s not like you were honest with them about your discovery of porn.
  2. If you’ve already told them, or if they found out, and they’re not handling it well, stay calm. If they try to throw every argument in the book at you, keep this response handy and repeat as necessary: “I’ve made my decision, and I am happy with it.”  If they object right away, say, “That is your opinion. But I’ve made my decision, and I’m happy with it.” The calmer you are when you say this, the more effective it’ll be.
  3. Google is a useful tool. Read more about atheism. Look up forums and discussion groups where you can talk with and befriend fellow atheists, and laugh with them about how shitty your parents are being. Sometimes it helps just knowing you’re not alone.
  4. Being part of the atheist online community is a great way to befriend people of all age groups, which is an experience I recommend for all teens. Now, a lot of older people will either insist or imply that they know better than you. They’re not all right, but they’re not all wrong either.
  5. Telling your friends can be nerve-wracking, but that first time you find a friend who reacts with just, “OK” — it’s a pretty awesome moment.  (And “Me too!” is even better!)
  6. Sometimes you’ll have friends who don’t agree with you. That’s fine — it’s pretty hard to make friends if you refuse to talk to anyone who isn’t an atheist. Just appreciate what you have in common with them, and accept that even if they’re wrong, they will never let you convince them that they’re wrong. I had a Republican roommate for a year, and the reason we got along well is because we never talked about politics. (Also, she owned the apartment, and cut me a HUGE break on rent. Good people.)
  7. That said, you can be a little choosier when it comes to who you date. I’ve found OKCupid to be a great way to meet fellow atheists, but don’t make an account if you’re not 18 yet!
  8. If you really have to, here are some questions you can ask a believer if you feel like being a smartass.
  9. In your teens it feels like your atheism is the biggest part of your identity because you have to defend it so often, but there will come a day where it’s just another part of your life. It gets better.
  10. You don’t know everything. You will never know everything. But keep learning anyway.
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Ask Teen Atheist #6 September 4, 2010

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, family, issues.
5 comments

Chadwell writes:

I’m a 16 year old in highschool and I guess my natural cynicism lead me to question the dogma and ignorance of religion. I was a christian but I just figured that why would god send the only salvation to man kind to a single area and practically turn his all-mighty back on the rest of the isolated world. More issues built up and I questioned more until I reached the point of atheism. I have been a self proclaimed atheist for a while now. However, I should just get to the problem I’m having. So my parents are relatively religious and always turn a blind eye to anything negative about religion. I “came out” to them two days ago and they literally laughed at me. They took nothing seriously and they said I would need to rely on my faith in god one day.

So whithout further ado, what should I do? (lol that rhymed) What should I say/do to prove to them I’m serious?

Though not all atheists had to go through the same thing I did (thankfully), I’ve been through enough to say this: it’s very, very difficult to make the religulous see our side of things. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s not worth the effort — at best, you get a fair debate, at worst you worsen the rift between yourself and the people you’re talking to.

In a situation like yours, I think the issue isn’t so much about how to convince them as it is about how to deal with them. Religious parents react in different ways upon finding out about their child’s atheism; I think you’re actually lucky your parents went for denial instead of anger, like my (estranged) parents did, but I understand how frustrating it is when your parents don’t take you seriously.

And this sounds stupidly simplistic of me, but: the best way to prove you’re serious is to be serious. As many a writing teacher would tell you, “Show, don’t tell.” You already know that your parents are likely to turn a deaf ear to anything you have to say in defense of your non-belief, so instead, be a living example of how you can be a sane, good and kind person even without God or Christianity in your life. Refine your motivations and your values system. Donate to charity because you like helping others. Study hard because you want to succeed. Don’t hurt or steal because you genuinely believe that such acts are wrong because they violate basic human rights. Be nice to other people, including your parents. That way, if your parents ever start coming at you with attacks on your beliefs, you can defend it through real-life examples.

It’s still possible that no matter how well you live your life, your parents will still refuse to show any modicum of respect or tolerance for your beliefs. My estranged parents still see my atheism as a personal failure on their part. (They failed me in countless ways, but atheism wasn’t one of those.) But if you have a life you’re proud of and a belief system and values system you’re secure in, their approval won’t (and shouldn’t) matter to you anymore. You’ve risen above them. You take yourself seriously. And that’s what’s really important.

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.

Ask Teen Atheist, #4 September 22, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, issues.
Tags: , , , ,
8 comments

Curt asks:

When you say you like Unicorns, are you refering to unicorns in the mythical sense or the IPU?

I’m referring to unicorns primarily in the “cute cuddly illustrations you find on little girls’ pink Lisa Frank lunchboxes” sense. How can somebody not like unicorns? They’re so darn pretty! I’d always listed unicorns as my favorite animal. (Bunnies are a close second. EEE BUNNIES) I also like unicorns in the “Neil Patrick Harris’ shroom dream” sense. I can certainly appreciate the invisible pink variety, as well. They’re all beautiful!

Unicorns rock!

Unicorns rock!


[Credit: Perry Bible Fellowship]

Ask Teen Atheist, #3 July 16, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, family, issues, teen angst.
Tags: , , , , ,
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!

Ask Teen Atheist, #2 May 15, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in anecdotes, Ask Teen Atheist, friends, issues, teen angst.
Tags: , , , , ,
25 comments

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. 🙂

Ask Teen Atheist, #1 April 13, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in Ask Teen Atheist, friends, issues, school, teen angst.
Tags: , , , , ,
22 comments

Hooray, somebody finally wrote in to ask me for advice!

I would have answered this sooner, but my PC frickin’ ate my thousand-word response. Spurred on by the promise of a love letter (yay!), I finally got my lazy ass around to writing a new one. Feel free to give your own input to help Luke out.

Hello, My name is Luke(Kinda obvious). I’m 17, and I currently live in the USA. I guess this fits under personal problems. I’ve been an atheist for awhile now…about 4 months I believe. Before I became an atheist I was a Lutheran, and basically attended church every Sunday. One day I realized that “God” is hurting this world, people fight wars over Religion ect. I finally came out to my mom about a month ago, funny thing is, she said as she grows older she’s been having some atheistic thoughts as well. She basically agrees with most of my ideas and beleifs on religion. I don’t care to tell my dad, since he’s a Lutheran yet he never attends church. I guess my family life is ok, it’s school that is a bitch.

My school is basically very stereotypical. Almost every student in my high school is either a “Red neck” or an extremely religious teenager. Since I don’t care much for trucks or country music I tend to befriend the religious types. I’ve came out about my atheistism to my best friend, he accepted it, didn’t think less of me, told my other two close friends, and they accept it just fine. It’s everyone else that I tend to care about that is a problem. A few days ago I was talking on AIM in a buddy chat room with a few other friends. We were all talking for awhile, and some how Gay Marriage and Religion came up. Of course, all the people were against it, I for one, am for it. I gave them my reason which mainly came out something like this. “You’re against gay marriage because the bible says it’s a sin? Well, the Bible also says a parent is allowed to stone their child if he disobeys, maybe the bible doesn’t have all the answers”.Not sure if that whole stoning thing is actually in the bible, my mom told me, so eh. After a few more statements, they asked if I was an atheist. And being the honest bastard that I am, said I was. Every since then, they’ve all been ignoring me, seeming to look down on me. One ever said I was going to hell, to bad it doesn’t exist eh? They all seem to think I’m a bastard who has no morals what so ever.

So, I’m kinda stuck, basically the whole group of people who I used to consider friends (Besides the 3 I mentioned earlier) Think I’m “evil” or a “satanist” of some sorts. Funny thing is I used to respect a lot of these people and thought they were more intelligent then this. The one person who doesn’t think this way is this one girl, who says she doesn’t hate me or anything for me being an atheist, but she acts like it so the rest of her friends don’t ignore her. I guess I can’t blame her . So I guess this is my real problem, do you think I should just fake being religious again. It would probably be a lot easier on myself if my school didn’t look down upon me. And my best friend’s girlfriend lumps in this crowd, so it’d probably be easier on him since he’s whipped as hell. Or do you think I should just stand up to beliefs, and fuck them all. Funny thing is, I don’t hate or look down upon them for their beliefs. I don’t try to shove my atheistic ways down their throats. I don’t talk behind their back either. Even if I did become their friends again, I’d probably wouldn’t ever respect them the same way again. Damn, looks I’ve rambled. Well, thanks for reading.

First of all, Luke, I admire you for being so honest about your beliefs, even when faced with consequences like that. It definitely takes balls. Hell, you’re more forthcoming than I am — I wouldn’t lie to people and say I’m still Catholic, and I do sign the “Religion” portion of application forms with “Atheist” (that might be technically inaccurate because atheism is not a religion, but whatever), but I practice a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and I tend to avoid joining in discussions when they turn to religion. So, good on you for being out and proud.

Being in an environment like that is definitely tough, and I hate that prejudice is still so prevalent, even among young Americans. You say that you like these people despite how they’ve treated you, and that’s all well and good, but…are they really worth keeping as friends? Because if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t bother trying to pander to people who don’t like me anyway. Why would I want to be friends with someone if it meant that I’d always be wondering in the back of my mind if he secretly hates me? Things would be great if you got to be friends with everybody, but real life doesn’t work that way (at least judging from my experience).

Faking being religious may seem like a good idea at first; I did consider it myself for when I go to college. But the more I thought about it, the worse it seemed. If you’ve read even a few entries on this blog, you’d know how little I think of my family, and how my atheism changed their perspective of me. I could have pretended to “find Jesus” again to get back in their good graces (or just get Mother Dearest to stop bitching). But I didn’t, because I realized it would have been pure torture for me, and it became clearer and clearer to me that it just wasn’t worth it. What I did instead was seek solace in my friends, who, no matter what their religions were, accepted me for who I am. I learned to stop caring about what my family thought of me, and once I did that, I finally felt happy with myself. That’s the key question, Luke: What is more important, that they like you, or that you like yourself?

Stop caring, I say, and find better friends. Even that chick who only pretends to hate you isn’t worth hanging around, because she clearly values her reputation over her friendship with you. How popular we were in high school doesn’t matter in the long run, anyway, at least from what I can tell. I’ve got co-workers who used to be high school cheerleaders, and are now just bitter, pizza-faced hags, having retained only their rancid personalities. The totally-out-of-it stoner dude who always zoned out in class and was made fun of by the other, “smarter” kids? He’s now my boss, Mr. McKenzie, well put-together, smart, and hella sexy, with ladies all falling over themselves just to get to talk to him. (Not me, though. I’d do him, but only when offered. :P)

If you really want to repair your friendships with these people, though, don’t lie to them. That shit will get tired, eventually. Instead, try to prove that despite your differences in beliefs, you are still a good and compassionate person. As they would say, “Turn the other cheek.” Hopefully, they’ll warm up to you and figure out that not all atheists are vicious, ill-intentioned demons.

I hope that despite everything that’s happened, you’re still doing well in school and in your personal life. Always keep in mind that what they say doesn’t dictate who you are. You’re still awesome!