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Ask Teen Atheist #5 March 27, 2010

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

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.

Act your age January 30, 2008

Posted by Teen Atheist in backstory, career, issues, rants, teen angst.
Tags: , , , , , ,

While waiting at the clinic for my pre-employment medical exam, I met Janice, a 45-year-old fellow applicant who had three kids, all older than I am. (Most of my co-workers are in their mid-20’s to mid-40’s. Am I intimidated? Naaah.)

Like many other fellow applicants, as well as a couple of the folks at HR, Janice was shocked to find that I was only 18 and hadn’t even set foot in college yet.

Janice: “What about your studies?”

TA: “I’ll probably have to put that on hold in order to fully focus on this job. I’m taking it seriously, because this is something that I think I could really flourish in.”

Janice: “Sweetie, let me offer you some advice. I’ve got three girls, and my youngest is 20, so you’re already like a daughter to me.” (TA’s note: Whoa! Overstepping the boundaries a little, aren’t we? We just met!) “I think you should quit this job and focus on your studies, because college is very, very important.”

At first I thought it was a manipulative, underhanded attempt to sway my decision (in which case: Wow, she really is like my mother! Bada-BOOM!) and eliminate the competition, although I soon realized that Janice really did mean well; it’s just that, like most adults in my life — excluding a few awesome high school teachers — she was underestimating me.

Janice: “This job is for people like me. I’m 44 years old and I don’t have a lot of other options. You, on the other hand, have so much potential. Don’t waste it by staying here.”

I appreciate that she gives a damn about my future, but she didn’t even consider the fact that I wanted to work there. It was a beautiful office, with a great working environment (think Google), and it was a huge company. Why wouldn’t I want to stay and try to work my way up?

I’m writing about Janice because I’d like to address the older readers of this blog on how to deal with teenagers. I don’t mean to get all lecture-y on your asses, and I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on this, but this is something I’ve been subject to from both my interactions in real life, and my interactions on this blog.

As whiny and bratty as some of us might be, teenagers are smart enough to recognize when they’re being patronized. If you talk down to us like we’re just kids who don’t know any better, we’d be less inclined to listen to you. For instance, I only smiled and nodded at Janice, being equally patronizing back to her, because I knew that she was making assumptions about me based solely on my age. She felt that as an older, wiser woman, it was up to her to guide me back to the right path. (Just like my mother, and you all know how I feel about her.)

On this blog, I get a few good-intentioned comments which are marred with a tone of condescension. They don’t explicitly state that “You’re just a kid going through a little teen angst,” but the sentiment is clearly there.

If you treat us like adults and talk to us like equals, on the other hand, we’d be more likely to consider your sentiments and hold them in high regard. Two of the awesome high school teachers I mentioned above, Mr. Benjamin and Ms. Vicky, treated me like I was on their level, and as a result, they became massive influences in my life and I always gave their opinions high priority.

I’m also happy that most of my older readers communicate with me the same way. Even though I’m only a teenager, they don’t condescend to me, and I in turn respect their opinions.

Basically, make us feel smart. It doesn’t matter how dumb or clueless the teenager is; if you’re addressing us with a tone of “I’m older and therefore smarter than you, so you should listen to me,” we’re going to disregard whatever it is you have to say with a wave of the hand and a “This is, like, sooo beneath me.”

So, there you have it. This PSA was brought to you by Teen Atheist. And now I’m off to hang out with my girls at the mall, get my nails done and flirt with boys. OMG, squee!

The hard part November 19, 2007

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

People who have read this blog from top to bottom may have noticed that I have a rich smorgasbord of expletives and negative adjectives with which to describe my brother Pete. You see, swearing is a way for me to release my anger, and God knows I have a lot of anger when it comes to Pete.

Before I tell you about me and Pete, let me first tell you about my father. Throughout my life, I have been the subject of constant verbal (and when I was younger, physical — in the form of corporal punishment) abuse by him. I vividly remember a lot of these episodes, like that time in second grade when he called me an idiot just because I didn’t get a perfect score on a big exam. I walked to the bathroom, and once inside, cried silently. When I was around 7 years old, I was thrown on the bed and whipped with a belt repeatedly just because I didn’t like what was for dinner. I remember crying loudly and asking him to stop, but he only hit harder. My mother was either not around to see what happened, or when she did, she turned a blind eye to it.

The corporal punishment stopped when I was older, but the memories lingered like scars. The verbal abuse became more frequent, though, because when he would pick me up from the dormitory, he did it by himself, so Mom wouldn’t be around to witness him calling me a bitch, just because I overslept at the dorm. It felt a lot like emotional rape, really — wait until Mom is gone, then take all his rage out on me. I have a feeling he felt a sick satisfaction in watching me crumble.

The most hilarious part about this is that Dad can’t understand why we’re not best friends. Why I’m not Daddy’s Little Girl like all the other girls my age. In fact, he asked me once: “Why do you hate me so much? What have I done to deserve this?” He thinks that just because he says sorry after every time he verbally abuses me, means that what he did should be forgiven. When I admitted that I couldn’t forgive him (how could you forgive someone who will never stop hurting you?), he blamed me for being “weak of faith,” and suggested that I start going back to Church (I was still a Catholic at that time).

Readers, this is not an easy topic to talk about. I usually am able to go about my days feeling fine because I choose to block these memories, but when I think about what my father’s done to fuck up my childhood, I break down every time. In fact, in the middle of typing the first few paragraphs of this blog entry, I actually burst into tears. I’m still crying, actually. But, I carry on, because you have to understand that my angst isn’t just silly teenage angst, or emo-ness. It really did come from somewhere.

There are times when I wonder if the problem is just with me, and I’m the one who’s dysfunctional, because on the outside, we all look like good, normal people.

So, what does this have to do with Pete? I sometimes get into verbal altercations with Pete, and in those altercations I might call him an “asshole,” and whenever I do, I think, “Oh, shit, I’m turning into my father,” which is the last thing I ever, ever want to do.

Pete was also important to me because while I hated my remorseless father and controlling mother, I felt that Pete was the only person in the family I could trust and depend on. I’d told him once that when we had enough money to live on our own, we’d break away from our parents and split the rent on an apartment in New York. He could try to break into the music industry while I tried to get a job as a writer or a nurse. I honestly did see him as my best friend, and I know this sounds cheesy, but I wouldn’t think twice about giving up my own life to save his. If he ever needed a new liver, kidney, or even a heart, he wouldn’t even have had to ask. I was glad that even if I got stuck with a mostly crappy family, I had a good, kind and dependable brother.

Which is why when we had that fight and he finally revealed that he despised me, I lost it. See, with Dad, I knew what was coming, so I could at least prepare myself for it. With Pete, I was completely blindsided. Could you imagine the one person you thought you could rely on telling you the following? Verbatim:

Pete: “I’m done wasting my time on you.”

TA: “Oh? What have you done for me?”

Pete: “I listened when you had problems and no one to talk to. And listening to you whine and whine is wasting my time when I could talk to people who listen to me.”

TA: “Bullshit! My FRIENDS have heard more of my problems than you.”

Pete: “At least I did, and you didn’t even say thanks.”

TA: “I listened to all your problems, too, and you didn’t thank me either. Know what the difference was? I didn’t EXPECT any thank you. Because you’re my brother, and I’d always be there for you without you having to ask. I guess I was nothing but a burden to you, after all.”

Pete: “Indeed, you are a burden to me.”

TA: “You were never a burden to me! I cared about you!”

Pete: “Right. You telling me about care. Hell has frozen over.”

TA: “How could you be so heartless?”

Pete: “To have no heart is better than a rotten one. I curse God for being so cruel as to stick me with a horrible sister like you.”

(It’s hard to type through the tears, guys. Sorry.)

When I reached home after that exchange, I fell to the floor, sobbing because there’s nothing more painful than finding out that someone you loved very much had hated you all along. I crawled to the phone and, still in hysterics, I dialed my friend Tyler‘s number. Some of the readers of this blog ask me why I insist on keeping Tyler as a friend, even though he’s a less-than-open-minded fundamentalist. Well, here’s why (sent via text message after the emotional phone conversation I had with him):

“Just so you know, I have faith in you. Know that there will always be one person in this world who is on your side, and who believes in you with all of his heart. Please take care of yourself. And I’ll always be here whenever you need me.”

I’m the kind of person who is known as the strong one among my friends. When everybody else is weak and emotional, I am usually the one who keeps a cool, level-headed front, and I talk with them through their problems. This is why I never cry or show my weak side to them — because they need someone to lean on. So when I start feeling unstable myself, I only have two people who know what I’m going through. One of them is Fred, but we’re not friends anymore (and you really don’t want to go seeking advice from someone with a plethora of personality disorders). The other is Tyler, and say what you will about his beliefs, but he has always been there for me, and I need someone like that in my life.

I got the idea to write this blog entry as I was sitting on the couch, tearing up at this scene of an early episode of Brothers & Sisters: Tommy has pulled some strings to get a job for his ne’er-do-well younger brother, Justin, and is understandably upset when Justin gets stoned on the job.

Tommy: “Look, everyone else might sit around and feel bad for you, but I won’t.”

Justin: “I didn’t ask for your sympathy, and I certainly didn’t ask for your help!”

Tommy: “When are you gonna grow up?”

Justin: “You’re just like Dad!”

Tommy: “I’m not like him. Dad never stopped caring about what you did with your life. I do. I stop right now. I stop today.”

I always cry when watching Brothers & Sisters, because it reminds me so much of my own life. When Tommy uttered those last words, I knew exactly how he felt. Sure, “fundamentalist” =/= “drug addict,” but when you love your brother that much and he just keeps on pushing you away repeatedly, well, one day you’re finally going to walk away.

I would say that the hard part about being an atheist is dealing with a narrow-minded family like mine, and losing a brother, and losing Christmas, but maybe I’m better off knowing how they truly feel about me. At least now I feel more justified in hating them.

I realize that blood is thicker than water and all that, but I’m tired of crying. And the day I stop caring about Pete is the day I stop crying over losing him.

I’m done, Pete. I’m through with you.

Free magic show after the service! October 20, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in anecdotes, backstory, family, friends.
Tags: , , , , ,

Remember when I mentioned how I went with a friend to their Protestant worship service and enjoyed it? And how, afterwards, my parents had banned me from ever visiting a Protestant mass again, in fear of my possible conversion? That happened about five years ago, and I’d always been secretly resentful of their narrow-mindedness with regards to that issue.

“I don’t care if you had a good time!” Dad had asserted. “The Holy Mass is not supposed to be a party!” (Yeah, because God forbid we actually enjoy praising Jesus. Singing and clapping is far too sinful, and don’t even think about air-conditioning. Air-conditioners are a work of the devil.)

Fast-forward three years, when I was still a believer, but increasingly unhappy with being a Roman Catholic. I’d finally mustered up the determination to have another whack at Protestantism, although I wasn’t ballsy enough to tell my parents. Instead, I went on a movie outing with some friends one Saturday, and then secretly accompanied one Protestant friend to their worship service.

Once again, I had a much better time there than I did in Catholic mass, and I even got a little teary-eyed while singing (damn you, Christian rock!), because I was going through this whole angsty “God loves me more than my parents do” phase. After all, when you’re starved for affection, your imaginary friend will never let you down.

That wasn’t the interesting part, however. The good stuff happened after the service, when the pastor/facilitator/whatchamacall’em asked the “newcomers” to stand up. I did, along with five or so other people who were within my age range, and we were all herded into a white room in the back where we were served refreshments. (Insert appropriate “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid!” joke here.)

We gathered in a circle as the pastor prayed to welcome the new sheep to the flock, or something like that. After the prayer, he notices a girl sitting sadly in the corner. He draws attention to her, all “Hello, and you are?” with a big ol’ smile, and asks her what’s wrong. She tells us about a condition that had rendered her legs useless since childhood.

Now here’s the good part: a couple of men prop the paralyzed girl up and hold her by the arms while the pastor lays a hand on her forehead and mumbles some unintelligible hocus-pocus. The girl starts sobbing and praying too, and then the pastor takes both her hands and oh my God she’s jumping up and down with him! Just like they do on television!

I didn’t know what to think, but I was scared shitless. Even though at that point, I was still pretty sure that there was a God (or hoping there was one, anyway), I already had my doubts about the genuineness of the “miracle” I’d just witnessed. The whole thing gave off a huge “Lookie what we can do! Aren’t we awesome and powerful?” vibe to me, and I remember thinking, “Good Lord, do they orchestrate this shit every time new people show up?”

Hell, even my fundie brother Pete, who is the kind of guy who would remind me endlessly about “Don’t use God’s name in vain” whenever I went “OMGZ,” didn’t buy it. Back then, we used to be best friends (yeah, rejection still hurts, y’all), so I told him about my Finding Jesus adventure and the girl who could walk again, and he was all, “They’re probably faking it to impress the new people.”

If I ever consider trying Protestantism again, I’m going to show up in a wheelchair.

From Point A to Point B, and how I got there September 18, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in backstory, issues, rants.
Tags: , , ,

Let’s get one thing straight: I wasn’t born this way. I was actually born and raised Roman Catholic, but my family isn’t one of those incredibly controlling types that make children want to rebel. Atheism was a choice I made for myself. I didn’t stop believing in God just to spite my parents; come on, I’m not that shallow.

There was a time when I used to believe, when I used to turn to God for everything. This was, of course, was when I was much younger and more naive. Slowly, I realized that leaving my fate to some unseen deity was kind of foolish (to me, anyway), and I began to doubt. It wasn’t just one defining moment when I decided “Bam! I’m atheist!” — a long thought process was involved.

My family used to go to Church a lot when I was younger, but a few years ago those visits stopped altogether, although we would still pray before meals and celebrate Catholic holidays. I’m not sure I could give you a straight answer if you asked me whether or not my family had something to do with my decision to become Atheist. They probably had some influence. I’d give more credit to Bill Maher, though. I worship the guy, and I agree with most of what he says. Hell, he could tell me that the world was made entirely of fire and I’d be inclined to believe him.

There were a lot of things about my former religion that I was unhappy with. (more…)

My “coming out” story September 17, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in backstory, family, school, teen angst.
Tags: , , ,

The first person I told was my (very religious) brother, Pete*.

We were in a bookstore, and I can’t remember what triggered the discussion, but I just lay it out on the line:

“I’m atheist.”

And without batting an eyelash, Pete went, “Eww,” which sent me into a long tirade on how bigoted he was being about it. I doubt anything I said made an impact, though — he was all “fine, whatever you say.”

Fast-forwarding a couple of months into the future, Pete and I are in the middle of a huge fight. It’s always serious when money is involved, because my brother is a greedy, materialistic bitch. At that point, however, the money didn’t matter anymore. What did matter were the words exchanged in our altercation. Through our argument, his true feelings towards me were revealed: he hated the fact that I was an atheist. He called me a “rotten-heart Satanist” and pretty much cursed God for sticking him with a horrible, evil sister. I, in turn, retorted that he was being a sanctimonious fuck who hid his selfish nature behind his religion.

The sad thing is, this whole argument, which was the biggest fight of our lives seeing as we’re still not speaking to each other (and I have no intention of forgiving that ungrateful prick), took place entirely over text messaging.

In any case, my parents got to read the whole thing on my brother’s cellphone, and one of the text messages I sent said something along the lines of I may be an atheist, but I do follow a moral code!” (I have a feeling he showed it to my parents because he knew they would side with him once they found out that I was no longer a Catholic like the rest of them.)

This was brought up by the parental units themselves as the three of us had a serious talk in the dining room. (Note that I’m on bad terms with both my verbally abusive father and my elitist, self-absorbed mother, so yeah, I’ve got nobody on my side. I hate this family.) They asked me about it.

“Yes,” I replied. “I am an atheist.”

My statement was met by a derisive sneer and exchanged looks of incredulity between them. Look, despite my utter resentment for the both of them, I am trying my best to avoid villainizing them and to narrate as truthfully as I can, and I’m telling you, that’s how they reacted.

Anyway, Father brought up my Dream College and, while still laughing at me like I was some idiot, asked how the hell I expected to fit in when Dream College has a great emphasis on religion and is headed by Fr. So-and-So. I had no answers for him; I was crying too hard to say anything. (For what it’s worth: I’m probably going to pretend that I’m a Catholic. Doesn’t matter, I really think Dream College is worth the trouble. And from what I’ve heard, they’re actually pretty liberal at Dream College, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.)

Let me tell you a little bit more about my college situation. My country has three major colleges: College That My Mother Wants for Me, which is pretty much everyone else’s dream college since only the smartest ones get in, and everyone there is on scholarship. Second is my Dream College, which has competent students as well. The students of Dream College are more upwardly mobile than the students of College That My Mother Wants for Me. Third choice is Other College, which is known for having rich but incompetent students.

I based my decision on the kind of people who graduate from these colleges. College That My Mother Wants for Me churns out brilliant people; however, these people tend to be douchey intellectual snobs who think they’re better than everybody else. (Like my mother, who is a graduate of that college.) Dream College, on the other hand, produces smart, competent people who are not only intelligent but are kind and polite as well. These are the kind of people I want to be like, and if I have to fake a religion to get into this school, then god damn it (oopsies) I’m going to do it. I don’t want to turn into an elitist like my mother!

Before I veer way too off-topic, let’s return to the story. My father told me that I’m an atheist because I have little faith, which is typical of him. This is, after all, the man who thinks I hate him because I don’t have enough God in my life, not because he had verbally and physically abused me for most of my 17 years. I had to bite back my laughter when he said, “If I were to meet my Maker right now, I could honestly tell Him that I have done nothing to deserve banishment from Heaven.” Asshole.

To their credit, they didn’t punish me or send me to Sunday school for being an atheist. However, I can feel the disdain in their eyes when they look at me and see that I’m even further removed from the kind of daughter they long to have. They think even less of me, and favor my greedy, sycophantic brother because at least he’s still Catholic.

None of this matters to me in the least, though, because I’d decided long ago that I am done trying to be who they want me to be.

* “Pete” is not my brother’s real name.

[Introductory Post] The Pitch September 16, 2007

Posted by Teen Atheist in backstory, family, school.
Tags: , ,

14 years of being a Roman Catholic. (17, really — I haven’t officially renounced my religion on documents and whatnot. Too lazy.)

3 years of flip-flopping between Catholicism and agnosticism.

This year, I’ve finally decided that there is no God.

So why have I decided to set up a blog about it? How could I possibly be interesting, when I’m a total n00b to the whole atheism thing, and on top of that, I’m just some dumb 17-year-old who doesn’t know any better? I started Diary of a Teenage Atheist because I am, most likely, just a little bit different from all the atheists you know, and I have so much to rant about. My limited knowledge of the tenets of atheism (or whatever) is extraneous to this blog; it will include little to no philosophizing. I hate philosophizing, it’s so pretentious (sorry, Martin!) it makes me look like an even bigger idiot than I already am. Diary of a Teenage Atheist, if you haven’t yet figured out from the title alone, is entirely anecdotal.

I feel like my situation is more difficult than that of most atheists because, to paraphrase director Q. Allan Brocka, my country makes America look liberal. While Americans worry about their nation becoming a theocracy (“one nation under God,” you know), my country fucking is a theocracy. Where I’m from, 94 percent of us are Christian, and 84 percent are Roman Catholic (I don’t feel like naming my country, but do a little Googling and you won’t have any trouble figuring it out). Divorce isn’t legal here because it violates the sanctity of marriage…or something like that.

My family found out a few months ago, and they were not at all happy or even accepting when they found out, an experience which I will expound on in a future post. I’m not sure whether or not to tell my friends, although a couple of them know, and they handled it pretty well.

Right now, I’m in the middle of college applications, and the college I want to go to is, tragically enough, a Catholic one. The headmaster himself is a religious leader, and the school motto pretty much means “I’m God’s bitch.” Going about this will be pretty tough — do I admit to my lack of a religion and hope they like me anyway, or do I live college life as a closet atheist? It’s quite the dilemma, but if/when I figure something out, I’ll let you know.

So stick around, if only for the schadenfreude you’ll experience reading about the difficulties and discrimination I face as a non-believer in my bigoted Catholic family, not to mention my Predominantly Christian Country (yes, that’s what I’ll be calling it from now on, unless you can think of something wittier).