Ask Richard: Atheist 8th Grader Wants to Confide to Someone in the Family

Update: The letter writer has written a follow-up letter four years later.

Dear Richard,

I’m in 8th grade and have been “officially” Atheist since the beginning of 7th grade. I think I’ve been subconsciously Atheist since about third grade, though. It was then that I started thinking “How do I know this is true and not Hinduism, Islam, etc?” As I grew older I would avoid any quizzes that my friends would see that asked anything about religion because I have one very religious friend. Her dad’s a pastor and she got mad at me once for skipping her youth group. I had been to it before and all it did was bash other religions (“Buddhism/Hinduism/Islam/Judaism/Mormonism is stupid because the Bible says so.”). I didn’t agree with any of it and convinced my mom not to make me go. She made me start searching for another. It was around this time that I officially became Atheist.

I tried to deny it because I knew how my mom would react. She’s a very religious Methodist. She has almost 20 books on Christianity and God and hates it when we miss church. When I asked her religious questions she got suspicious and asked me if I was Atheist, but she avoided using the word like it was a bad word so I said no. She once said “No child of mine will not go to church” and I knew she meant, “No child of mine will be Atheist.” After this she said something about how Atheists are miserable, intolerant people without morals and I knew I couldn’t tell her that I was Atheist any time soon.

My dad’s a different story. He’s not religious at all and will skip church any time we do go. One time he said to me “If there is a God and there is a heaven and hell, he wouldn’t care if you went to church because there are so many countries that don’t have churches.” I think he might be Atheist or Agnostic, but he was raised by a devout Catholic. If he’s still Christian, he’s probably Methodist. I’m not sure. Once while on a tour, the tour guide was talking about ghosts and he said “If you believe in God, why shouldn’t you believe in ghosts?” On the other hand, one time I asked him why he didn’t say I was 11 to get a cheaper meal like he would sometimes do and he said “If there’s a heaven and hell I don’t want to go there for a few dollars because we don’t know if there is a heaven, hell or even a God, right?” I said yes to this, but when he said “In fact there’s no God at all,” I said nothing because I didn’t know if he’s joking. Whatever he is, he’ll probably be the one of my parents that will accept me being an Atheist best.

I want to tell someone in my family that I’m Atheist, but I don’t know how they’ll react. My siblings probably don’t believe in God either so I could tell them without them going all “Ooooooh, you’re going to hell,” but I’m worried they won’t be able to keep it a secret. I have the same concern about my dad. If my mom finds out, I’ll probably be forced to go to church more. At the same time, I want to tell someone. Right now only one person knows and that’s because she has no contact with anyone at my school. For a while I was hoping to wait until I was in college, but I don’t want to wait five years. At the same time, I don’t want to have the tension I know I’ll feel for five years. I don’t know what to do.

Alone

Dear Alone,

You are very articulate for an 8th grader. You observe people carefully, and you seem to assess them quite accurately. You appear to have a mostly grown-up mind, but being so young, you have to submit to doing what is expected of a child. That has to be a very frustrating position. Even though you are intellectually ahead of your years, you may not have the patience that comes with physical age. So it is very understandable that you are so eager to have at least one ally in your family, someone with whom you can release your frustration.

Your dad sounds like most likely candidate, but it is certainly not a sure thing. He could be the most unbelieving in your family besides yourself, but even if he is, he has divided loyalties. Keeping a secret between his child and his wife can be an uncomfortable quandary. His remarks about not knowing if there is a god or heaven or hell, followed by his statement “In fact there is no God at all” sound inviting, but you’re not sure. It’s just a hunch, but I don’t think he was just joking. He might have been trying to express himself honestly to you, or he might have been fishing to find out what you believe. Is he as frustrated and eager as you are to have a confidant in the family, or was he told by his wife to find out what you believe? Even if he is ambivalent in his own beliefs, he has to find ways to get along with her.

In face-to-face conversations, there are thousands of non-verbal cues that go back and forth between people as they talk. Their tone, their facial expressions, their meaningful pauses, their eye contact, their body posture, even their pattern of breathing and many other things add enormous extra meanings to the words that they are saying. A tiny raising of the eyebrow can add emphasis to a person’s statement, or it can be a signal trying to say that he doesn’t really believe it at all. To understand all these extra messages, you have to listen with your eyes as much as with your ears. It takes practice, but you seem to already be a keen observer of people.

I can’t say with confidence where I think your dad stands on this because I wasn’t there to see all those non-verbal cues. You weren’t sure if he was joking or not. I’m not sure either. So I can’t definitely suggest whether or not you should confide in him.

However, perhaps you can get him to confide in you.

If you get into another one of these conversations with your dad, you do the fishing. Ask him about his beliefs, rather than trying to read his ambiguous signals, trying to figure out if you are safe to tell him your beliefs. He’s the adult. Let him take the first risk to be open with you. Your own non-verbal cues can tell him that you will keep this between the two of you, or you can overtly say so.

For example, if you were to re-live that tête-à-tête with him where he ended with “In fact there’s no God at all,” instead of remaining silent because you didn’t know if he was joking, you could say, “I don’t know if you’re joking or not, Dad, and I’d really like to know.” That is an honest statement about yourself at that exact moment, but it does not put you at risk. It puts the responsibility to be clear and frank onto his shoulders, where, as an adult and a parent, the responsibility belongs.

If he tries to turn it around and fish for your answers first before revealing his, you can finally take advantage of your role as “the kid” and say that you don’t know, you’re just thinking about it, and ask him again, seeking your father’s wisdom and guidance, “I’m not sure, so that’s why I’m asking you. What do you think about all that stuff, Dad?”

That may be putting him on the spot, when he has pressures from his wife and pressures from society to “say the right thing” about religion and faith being important virtues and so on, even though privately he may not believe it himself. But as I said, he’s the adult. It’s his job to deal with tough situations to help his kids. You should not have to keep taking upon yourself the risky and perplexing duties of an adult long before society finally grants you the autonomy that goes along with those duties.

This “feeling him out” may take longer than you wish, so in the meantime, I suggest that you expand your contacts with other young people who have similar views and predicaments, so that you have some source of companionship. There are some discussion groups for young atheists that might help you feel not so alone. I’m suggesting one below. I hope that the readers commenting here can recommend other resources that they have found valuable. Hey you young lurkers out there, speak up!

Atheist Nexus is a social site for adult atheists. “Young Atheists” is an Atheist Nexus group for people 20 and younger, and it looks very positive.

Although I’m sure that you are savvy enough to know, I feel obligated to remind you to be very careful while sharing personal information online. There are predatory impostors who prowl the internet, extremely skilled at manipulation. Do not arrange to meet them in person, and do not reveal any clues to your identity or location.

I also want to recommend a website, About Dot Com. It has many very well written articles that I have found useful. On the particular page I’m linking are several articles pertaining to situations that many young people face, such as those you have described. Take the time to peruse them, and you may find better advice than I’ve offered you.

Alone, I wish that I had a simple and easy solution to your dilemma, but I don’t. Your isolation is painful, but there are risks for “coming out” to your family, or even one member at this time, because you just don’t know with much certainty how they will respond. Approaching your dad may result in a much better situation, a worse situation, or no appreciable change at all.

Rational people who live surrounded by others who would be very harsh on them if they revealed their disbelief, face these dilemmas their whole lives. Some tough, bold ones are completely open about their atheism, and while they don’t have to tiptoe around, they sometimes face difficult consequences. Others keep their views a secret to all, and suffer the loneliness that you are experiencing. Many are discrete with their beliefs, confiding in a few trusted friends.

My point is that there is no single “right” solution, no approach that is somehow superior or more virtuous than others. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. You have to find what works for you. Your solutions will probably change as you move through your life stages. Just consider that once you take a step to reveal your atheism to someone, there is no going back, and you must depend on that person’s discretion. So be as patient and as circumspect as you can, weighing the pressure from within you against the likelihood of benefit that you will receive.

I wish you the very best of outcomes. Please write to me again when something new develops. I’m sure that we would all like to know, and that you and we would benefit from the sharing.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    On a completely unrelated note (I had to say this before I even read the post, sorry), you’ve got a Dianetics ad on the top of your page. That’s relatively hilarious.

  • Emily

    wow. it’s me, 6 years ago…

    Stay strong young atheist; there are others out here like you and you are not Alone. The internet is your friend and tool and the best resource available for people who know how to use it. May you find open discussion and confidantes galore. Good luck with your dad!

  • Skunque

    I’d remind “Alone” also to be careful about surfing atheist sites in your parents’ home, if the discovery of such activity would cause a firestorm. Your mom may be very religious, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she couldn’t be tech savvy and may regularly go through the browser history or cache. Take the necessary steps or use the library if you judge this a risk.

    *jeez* It feels so…underhanded…saying all that.

  • zoo

    This “feeling him out” may take longer than you wish, so in the meantime, I suggest that you expand your contacts with other young people who have similar views and predicaments, so that you have some source of companionship. There are some discussion groups for young atheists that might help you feel not so alone.

    This is a very good idea. I’m ~15 years older, but both my parents are a lot like Alone’s mom. . . through past family situations I know they would react badly to the revelation, and with complicating factors I know I can’t handle it now. Several things help me with that. Sites on the internet, especially interactive ones, for one. I also volunteer/work at a zoo, and though we almost never discuss religion (like .00000000001% of the time) I know that I’m safe with being who I am there (zoo people are very accepting, so long as you’re not a know-it-all or completely incompetent at whatever your job is :P). Maybe finding a place like that would help some; not necessarily somewhere you talk about religion, just somewhere it’s safe to be yourself. Could be a club or somewhere to volunteer or whatever.

  • Justin

    There’s no need to use the library just to browse atheist sites – though Skunque does have a point on problems that would arise should such activity being discovered.

    “Alone”, if you’re reading this, here’s an advice: Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers have something called private browsing – basically, no cookies or browser history is saved from when you turn “private mode” on till you turn it off.

    Alternatively, if installs of these browsers could raise suspicions, purchase a USB flash stick, and install a browser on the USB stick – for example, opera-usb.com has a portable version of the Opera browser. No web history or cookies remain in the PC – all of it stays in your flash drive.

    Good luck with your parents.

  • Revyloution

    Wow, it’s interesting seeing how people have to deal with this stuff. I suddenly feel very lucky to have grown up with secular parents. Good luck, and keep the anti-faith.

    One minor thing I wanted to point out, dont capitalize atheist. Its not a proper noun like Christian, Hindu or Humanist. Atheism is just a rejection of, or lack of belief. Once you abandon that philosophy, it’s very important to find a new philosophy to fill that void.

  • http://examancer.com/ Carl

    Alone, I think one thing you should do if you are going to share your views with anyone is prepare for the possibility that your mom will find out. Really, even if you are not going to share your views your mom could find out.

    You need to prepare yourself to alleviate her worst fear. She isn’t afraid of Atheism so much as she is afraid of the things she (falsely) assumes Atheism would cause. Mostly she is afraid of you becoming intolerant, immoral, etc. You should be prepared to show her WHAT you believe in as Atheism is a statement of what you don’t believe in. This will help her understand that Atheists (or at least you) are not immoral. We are ethical, thoughtful, and tolerant… often more so than our theistic counterparts.

    To that end I recommend you read up on things like Secular Humanism and the Humanist philosophy. Religious people don’t understand where Atheists can get their morals from and its philosophies like that which can provide clear guidance for being a decent ethical person without the fear of god. “Being good for goodness’ sake.” Simpler moral compasses can be found in things often taught by religion which stand up well even when you remove god from the lesson. One example is the ‘golden rule’: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Religious adherents like to claim that religion is the source of morality and good, but that’s simply false. You don’t have to attack that assumption head on and make people defensive, you can instead just point out that there are other sources of morals that allow Atheists to live meaningful, ethical, moral, and tolerant lives.

  • http://falterer.blogspot.com falterer

    I really liked this letter and Richard’s response. Following on from Skunque, some browsers (Firefox, Safari) have a “Private” mode (Tools > Start Private Browsing in my Firefox menu): while it’s activated, the browser doesn’t record any cookies, history, or cache.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Alone,

    You mentioned that your father doesn’t normally go to church. Perhaps you two could start some kind of Sunday morning tradition together where you two engage in some cultural activity together. You could even follow in Hemant’s footsteps and visit some other churches together. That might pacify your mother if you were at least “exploring” other churches. It might be fun and get you off the hook on going to and being involved with the Methodist church and you could bond with your father about comparative religion. If you live in a larger city, you might not have to visit the same church twice :) It might be fun to see which denomination is more nuts. Just an idea…

  • JJR

    This was around the age I quit going to my Presbyterian church.

    My Dad sounds a lot like your dad; he never went to church either; He was a science teacher (now retired). He taught me early on about the scientific method, we watched COSMOS together in the 1980s and taped every episode. He also took me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and NASA as a kid.

    I could *never* take any of the miracle stories seriously in the bible and eventually I just got bored of church. Seemed like one big giant game of make believe to me. Never really used the term atheist until I got to high school, though.
    I always just said “I’m not religious.” My dad never called himself an atheist, but I think he was/is.

    I think the Dad in this story would be the best one to open up to first, then maybe get Dad’s advice on how to handle Mom.

  • Tizzle

    8th grade is probably too young to come out. Atheism produces similar reactions as coming out as gay. They are going to say you don’t know what you are talking about, you are too young to know. You’ll end up defending your age and intelligence instead of your actual beliefs.

    Wait until you are a senior (or so), but in the meantime, be making plans for how to go forward with your life, especially in the case where your parents could kick you out of the house as soon as you are 18. Ok, I have not heard of this happening to atheists, but it certainly happens to gay youth in the bible belt.

    Here is a link to Dan Savage’s advice to teenagers:
    http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=532280

    I had numerous conversations with my mom, but not until I moved out in my early 20s. These conversations were hard, and I would not have been able to handle them emotionally while a) I was a teenager and b) I lived in her house, where her rules were what I had to live by.

    I do think coming out is important, but not necessarily right now. I’m only reading your words in type, but it sounds like your mother might be too volatile to deal with this. One thing I would do right now is say over and over ‘one can be ethical without going to church’. Rather than ‘without god’, which is the next step, of course.

  • JJR

    Maybe check out the Unitarian Universalists, too, if there are any in your area. There are likely at least one or two open atheists in the congregation….

  • Claudia

    Alone, first I’d like to congratulate you on your new road of rationality, as well as commend you for being, if the letter is any clue, a very bright young person.

    In being an atheist you can get many clues from what being gay is like still in the closet. Each individual case is different, and some people can come out, as gay or as atheist, sooner than others. I’d be willing to bet that your mother has a problem quite common to (conservative religious) parents; a fear of being seen as a “failure” as a parent. Your mother almost certainly loves you very much, but she’s been taught that atheism=immorality and so a child of hers being an atheist may make her feel that she’s failed as a mother to raise you properly.

    I say this because eventually she will have to find out. You can maybe keep up the fiction for a time, but eventually you should tell her, because both you and her deserve to have a relationship without lies. One thing you have to assure her of when it DOES happen is that you love her very much, that you’re no different from before and that you think she’s a great mom, you just came to some different conclusions as her. You may have to spell out for her that your atheism doesn’t mean you hate god, and much less that you hate her or think she’s stupid. Personally I’d avoid discussions on god’s existence at least for a time, until she’s gotten used to you.

    One last thing. Does your mother hold sway over the family money? I ask this because I assume you’ll want to go to college. If your mother has the capacity to deny you college as punishment for “rebelling” you should think very carefully about who you come out to and when. If however it’s your more tolerant father who’s in charge or at least has as much of a say, you can possibly relax more.

    Good luck to you!

  • http://Greatadviceallaround!Iwouldliketoadd,asachildthatgrewupwithdevoutfundamentalistparents,thatoneofthebiggestobstaclesthatyouwillhavetoovercomeisthefactthatyourparentswillfeellikeyouarerebelingaga T Mackiewicz

    Great advice all around! One of the biggest obstacles you may face is that your mom may look at your atheism as nothing but teenage rebellion. To this day, as a 30 something adult, my fundamentalist parents still feel that I am a unbeliever simply because I am rebeling. They cling to the hope that I will one day outgrow my decisions. Sometimes their is no solution and that may be something you will have face for the rest of your life.

  • Luther

    Alone,

    I am one possible version of your father.

    I married a strong Catholic and signed an agreement that our children would be raised Catholic. (She told her mother I was Methodist as I was raised, understanding I was not but probably hoping I was not that serious an atheist.)

    I stuck with the agreement, even insisting that our two children go to church with my wife. Never hiding my atheism. When they were in high school, I started reading intensely on atheism and evolution to really understand and confirm my lack of belief.

    Soon my son acknowledged he was an atheist.

    My daughter, partially as a surprise to her mother, became a Eucharistic Minister while a freshman in college. But a few years later confirmed to me that she was an Atheist and became one later in college.

    I am very proud of my children.

    And my wife, still Catholic, fully accepts me and our children. She is becoming more and more open as she sees our ethics and the inconsistencies of the church and its participants. She is long past amazement at our values and ethics without belief. (We are talking 36 years of marriage.)

    Hang in there. As for your parents and friends, there is still plenty of time! Love them for their good intentions.

  • Spurs Fan

    Damn Richard. You are very good at this…ever think about going into some sort of Skepitcal Psychiatry? Oh wait, that doesn’t sound right. Humanist Psychiatry? Perhaps you could get published in some tolerant media market (not where I live).

    Good luck Alone. Many of us have been there!

  • The Other Tom

    @MikeTheInfidel: I emailed with Hemant about the dianetics ads, and he said he knows but can’t really do much about it.

    On the other hand, I observe to you that if you click the ad, scientology will have to pay google for the click, and google will give most of that money to Hemant. Which seems like progress to me.

  • jemand

    Alone: be careful you don’t get sent to a really fundamentalist unaccredited boarding school to “get right with god again”

    that would… seriously be bad news.

  • The Other Tom

    Dear Alone,

    I’d like to talk to you about two things that Richard mentioned. The first is patience.

    Richard mentioned that you seem wise beyond your years but might not have the patience of someone older. I know that may sound like a bit of an insult. So, I wanted to talk about what patience is, to help you understand.

    I always thought I was a highly impatient person. When stuck in boring or tedious situations, I get very frustrated and annoyed about it. But, in my late 20′s I learned that people around me had this bizarre idea that I’m an incredibly patient person. I thought they must simply not understand, that they didn’t know about the incredible impatience going on in my head. But eventually I came to learn that patience is not the ability to sit through something tedious and not be annoyed; patience is the ability to sit through something tedious and remain composed and outwardly calm while you keep that huge irritation inside you under control, and perhaps try to use the time to think about something else you care about more. So, if I was stuck in church, I wouldn’t be happy about it, I would be annoyed about it, but I’d be thinking about the novel I’m reading or what I want to cook to bring to the party on thursday evening.

    A very few kids have this sort of patience. Richard isn’t trying to insult you by saying that perhaps you don’t, he’s just assuming that you’re a healthy normal kid. Consider it calmly: you’re clearly one of the few kids who I suspect can honestly assess your own patience. You may not have that kind of patience, and that’s okay. It really does come with age. That’s because you get more practice at having to act patient. :-)

    The other thing I wanted to talk about was “coming out”. Athiests have taken to discussing the process of revealing one’s atheism to others as “coming out of the closet”, as if it’s equivalent to being gay and having to come out of the closet about that. Well, speaking as a gay man, please let me tell you, it really is equivalent. It gives us just as much anxiety, and for exactly the same reason – the knowledge that our friends and family might not accept us after we tell them.

    I can’t tell you whether or not you should “come out” to your parents about your atheism. Ultimately, nobody can make that decision but you. Richard described some very valid considerations. I would say that keeping peace with your mother when you’re 9 is a hugely important consideration. Another one is whether you can stand to live with the current situation or not. I know as a teen I was just DYING to tell someone I was gay, but I felt that it was so unsafe to do so that I waited until I turned 18 and moved 350 miles away. That was a logical decision, and while it was painful to me, it did ensure my safety. On the other hand, I’ve learned since that it was also essentially wrong: while it may have been a bad idea to tell some people I knew, it turns out that my father (my only parent) is just fine with me being gay, and also, it turns out that half my friends in high school were gay and I could have even been dating if I’d only had the guts to come out. So, my point is, don’t assume the worst either.

    I really like Richard’s idea of asking your father about his beliefs and using it as an opportunity to assess whether you feel you could safely discuss your own with him.

    Good luck one way or the other, and remember, you will be an adult someday and can make all your own decisions then.

    Tom

  • Kaylya

    Just because your mom is very insistent on going to church regularly doesn’t mean that her reaction is necessarily going to be a horrible one. Does she hate it when you miss church because of God, or because of the community at church?

    I think that a good talk with your dad is probably a good way to begin. You don’t have to bring out the word “Atheist” just yet, but talk about your beliefs and the reasons behind them, and also his beliefs and why he doesn’t go to church. Starting with his beliefs may be the way to go.

    When it does come time to talk to your mom, one thing you can say is that you feel that you are old enough to be able to decide for yourself whether or not you go on a weekly basis – and if she doesn’t agree, get her to say when she thinks you would be. If she still insists,(assuming this is the case for you) you can say that the more she forces you to go to church, the less likely you ever are to want to go willingly. I can honestly attest to this – I feel strongly about not going, and the last several times I have gone to church are surrounded by so much negativity as to drown out any positive feelings I might have had. Do be prepared to compromise a bit at this point though.

    Ideally speaking, you get your dad on your side and start working it out such that you are at least dragged to church less.

    I also encourage looking up Humanism and being educated on where morality comes from without religion, since that seems to be one issue that your mom has difficulty with. Being able to engage in discussion on this points is a strong asset and makes it clear that the reason you don’t want to go to church isn’t that you just want to sleep in.

  • mikespeir

    My suspicion is that Alone isn’t quite ready to set his belief or nonbelief in stone yet. At his age there’s a good chance his reasons are less rational and more simply rebellion against authority. But, of course, I’m guessing according to how I was then. He may be more precocious than I was.

  • Zippy

    Maybe you could use reverse psychology – check out the skeptics annotated bible website where it lists all of the ridiculous stuff the Bible says, and then instead of trying to share your distaste for such barbaric nonsense try talking about how you intend to follow it to the letter when you become an adult, and get visibly happy about all the inhumane standards that God actually allows you in comparison to modern civillisation’s moral standards, which will hopefully be similar to your mum’s moral standards even though she thinks it comes from the Bible. Hopefully even your mum will learn to recognise that Biblical doctrine contains terrible guidance and will gradually reverse her support for it. When she says its wrong to do A, B or C use Biblical evidence to support your argument – eventually she will detest Biblical verses that defend bad behaviour. One sensitive spot in America could be to innocently ask if God hated the men who built the World Trade Centre because in the Bible ‘God’ was angry at the men who built the tower of Babel for trying to reach ‘heaven’ and punished them for it. She may say that Bible story ‘shouldn’t be taken literally’ (dont they always) but it may plant a seed of doubt in her mind about how advisable it is to get your morals directly from the Bible rather than using our brains to avoid making choices that will harm others.
    Maybe ask less controversial questions like ‘if someone is good without believing in heaven and hell, is ‘God’ more impressed by their moral strength for not needing bribery or threats to make them do good, when believers say they cant possibly be good without them?’.

  • http://redbubble.com/people/gord gordon anderson

    I was just so impressed to read both the original letter and the response..

    You’ve restored my faith in humanity [well, at least until I watch the news again, sigh]

    Just imagine how courageous you are to take this on, to think for yourself, ask questions and search for the truth – Id be immensely proud if I was a parent of such a youth.

    You shouldn’t feel this is a battle you have to win right now – enjoy growing up at your own pace. After all, its not your fault that you happen to be born under the particular religious social surroundings that you find yourself in.

    You might find all sorts of avenues where questioning is a huge advantage – science, art, music, literature, math .. and often with those interests come interesting people with open questioning minds who are looking for smart friends to ‘jam’ with.

  • Becky

    This 13-year-old (I’m guessing) is smarter than 80% of the United States. I hope all ends up well. I’d love to give “Alone” a great, big hug!

  • aditya

    what an incredible young man….articulate, thoughtful and courageous.

    Hope it all goes well for you. This is one of the best resources for help.

  • Becky

    aditya, I’m curious.. what leads you to believe “alone” is a male? I am just curious as I saw no gender cues, and maybe I am just unobservant.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    All the advice given would be applicable whether Alone is male or female. I assumed that Alone was female because the friend mentioned in the letter was female and kids that age tend to have friends with the same gender. But all the advice is gender neutral. Good luck Alone! There mere fact that you are asking these questions suggests that you are someone special.

  • DGKnipfer

    Alone,

    Here’s a bit of advice you might not expect. Ask your mom to get you a study Bible; one of the nice big ones with space in the margins to write notes in. Not just as a decoration or to deflect Mom’s suspicions (though that is a great bonus), but to actually read and study (remember to take notes on your thoughts as you read).

    You may ask, “Why would I want to read the Bible if I don’t believe in God?” It’s a good question. The answer is, because you should know and understand where most people are coming from. Most people believe or grew up in a religious home. Most of your life you will have to deal with them and the subject of religion will come up. Just saying, “I don’t believe” or “I’m an atheist” isn’t good enough to them. They will always question why you don’t believe with question like, “Why are you angry at God?” and “Are you just trying to excuse your immoral behavior/desires?” They can’t comprehend actually not believing in God and even make up ideas like, “All babies know God from birth, you have to choose not to believe in God, and you can simply become a Christian by deciding to quit denying God.” You will have to defend your belief and the best way to do that is to know the bible better than they do. Knowledge is Power.

    I’ve met very few Christians that have actually read the bible. Most have read from the bible in church as their Minister/Pastor/Preacher has guided them to specific passages to reinforce the beliefs that s/he wants to promote. They have been indoctrinated into their belief. Knowing the bible will let you disarm their attacks, allegations and misconceptions about atheism without offending them quite so much. You’re going to offend them just by being atheist a lot of the time so get used to the idea. It will also help you to reassure them that you are in fact a moral person that can be trusted. Site the Golden Rule often; especially when they question your morality. The biggest hurtle with most religious people is trust. They have been taught and they believe that people are naturally sinful and immoral. That we only act in a moral fashion because God (the Father) will punish us for our Sins. As such, some of them have never learned or been taught how to be moral. They have only been taught how to fear God’s punishment if they sin. Knowing the bible will help you understand those fears and help alleviate them.

    Final bit of advice, make more friends. Lots of them. Be nice to everybody and always be cheery. People are always nicer to you when you give them a smile and a friendly hello (that Golden Rule really is Golden). People are always happier to see you and be your friend if you’re happy and cheerful. Even if you really feel tired and cranky, be happy and cheerful. That’s good advice for everybody. It’s very hard to dislike or disapprove of somebody when they’re always nice to you.

  • Heidi

    Alone, you’re not alone. There are a lot of us. You just haven’t had the opportunity to connect yet. Neither of my kids (ages 20 & 17) is a believer, and they haven’t had any problems at school from it. But then I’m in Massachusetts, so your experiences may be different depending on where you are.

    I think Richard’s idea of asking your father what he believes is a great one. If you think he could take it, just come right out and ask him “Dad, do you believe in God?” If he starts hedging about “well, we don’t know…” tell him you’re not asking what he knows; you’re asking what he believes.

    If you do decide to get your own bible and actually study it, (as opposed to just reading the passages they push at you in church) ask your mom some of the hard questions. Not too many at once, just every once in a while ask something like “why did god put the tree there if he didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit?” Or try the one my dad asked me a few years ago, “were there termites on the ark?”

    And one thing about Atheist Nexus, if you’re in New England, their sign-up system won’t accept your ZIP code as valid. Apparently it has something against ZIP codes that start with zero, which mine does. So if yours does too, just make one up and then change it once it accepts you into the system.

  • Ramon Caballero

    Hey Richard,
    I wish/hope/will work on it, to be like you someday.
    Honest.

  • teammarty

    Heck, I’m 47 and my mom still wonders when my teenage rebellion is going to stop.

  • llewelly

    “Alone”, if you’re reading this, here’s an advice: Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers have something called private browsing – basically, no cookies or browser history is saved from when you turn “private mode” on till you turn it off.

    For at least 5 years, internet activity monitoring – at the very least keeping a history of sites visited – has been a standard feature on cable and dsl routers. Since the router always sits between the computer and the rest of the internet, that makes “private browsing” mode a delusion.

    Without encryption, there is no privacy on the internet. With encryption, your privacy is only as good as your discipline, which is always much worse than you think it is.


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