Ask Richard: Teen Atheist Suffers Her Parents’ Fear and Prejudice

Note to readers: The letter writer did not sign a name. To facilitate comments about her, I have given her the name Alice. It means truthful and noble. Just call her Alice without quotation marks. The name fits.

Dear Richard,
I’m a female high school senior living with my parents. Earlier this year I became an Atheist. At the time I had a very Christian boyfriend and I held off telling him out of selfishness, I didn’t want to lose him. Obviously that didn’t work, I’m a terrible liar, and he figured it out and we broke up. Afterwards I told him flat out, as a gesture of trust, since we resolved to stay good friends.

All seemed well until a month of so later when he called me to tell me that he was canceling his visit to my house (he lives in another state) because he didn’t feel like he could trust me anymore. I was extremely upset and I told him that I would have to tell my parents something different, a thought he did not enjoy. I hung up on him and started to cry. My dad saw me and gave me a big hug. I explained that my friend would not be visiting but not why.

After I calmed down I went for a walk. During that time, my friend called my mom, and told her that I was an atheist. When I got back, my mom was near tears. I was still crying about my friend. My parents are not particularly enthusiastic Christians, but my mom broke down crying about my being an Atheist. I had planned on telling them on my own time, I was going to write it down and read it to them. Now that plan was out the window.

Instead of being there for me, my family sat me down on the couch and grilled me. When I cried, it was because I was hysterical, when I was angry it was because I couldn’t stand to be around the word of god. My friend became the victim of the situation, I had done something terrible to him by being an atheist. I gave terrible answers to hurtful questions. My ten year old sister was the only voice of reason who saw how upset I was and suggested we talk about it another time. No one listened to her. My mom threw one of my books down a garbage chute.

Over the next two days my dad burst into tears whenever he talked to me, my mom called me demon possessed and refused to let me drive. I posted some stuff under pictures of my friend out of anger that set his family off on me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I told my mom it was all a mistake, and that I was a Christian again. She dropped it and things went back to normal. I got in touch with my friend and he apologized and he ended up visiting me anyway.

Everything that happened is in the past. I’ve even told most of my friends at school about my atheism, and found other likeminded friends. But I can’t let go of what happened. I’m especially angry with my mom for how she treated me, and I think about it every time she tells me she loves me. I don’t talk to my friend much any more because I can’t forgive his family for the things they said to me. I can’t recount the story without crying.

I want to be honest with my parents, there’s a reason that I’m a bad liar- I hate lies, but I know what they’ll do if I tell them. I bring up the book sometimes to my mom, she snaps at me to let it go.

I can’t move on at all. My younger sisters know how I feel and some of my friends. I just want to get over it. It doesn’t seem healthy to dwell on something that happened months ago. I try to avoid my parents when I can. I can’t live associating every ‘I love you’ every ‘I’m proud of you’ every agreement, disagreement and moment spent with my parents with what happened. Am I being an idiot? What do I do?

Alice

Dear Alice,

Your parents do love you and they are proud of you. That part of their view of you is truthful and correct. The fact that they panicked because they have ridiculous misconceptions of what your atheism means does not take away from the fact that they do love you and they are proud of you.

Associating this awful experience with their expressions of love and esteem for you is going to bring you a lot of unnecessary pain. Let’s see if we can separate things out.

Even though they may be “not particularly enthusiastic Christians,” if they have had a typical Christian upbringing, then they probably have been told lies about atheists all their lives. They were taught those lies by the very same people who taught them to believe in God. So in their minds those lies took on just as great an importance to believe as believing in God. It is likely they do not personally know anyone who is an “out” atheist. They only know the scary stories, and so they were scared.

If your mom said that you’re “demon possessed,” then both of your parents probably believe the slightly less ludicrous things often said about atheists, that they are evil, immoral, criminal, dangerous, selfish, hateful, cowardly, un-American, rebellious, self-indulgent, and depressed, to name just some of the nonsensical slander. In short, they think atheists are the boogeyman. Children are afraid of the boogeyman.

And even though they are probably quite grown up in most situations, their reaction to this was nothing less than childish. As adults, they should have carefully and quietly asked you about what atheism means to you, instead of only drawing upon the preposterous propaganda they’ve been fed. But they were raised with religion, and from childhood on, religion does not encourage people to stop, think and find out certain things. It encourages them to believe what they’re told and to not question. Your parents were taught to remain childish about some things, and this is one of them.

So there are two areas where otherwise sensible and clear-headed parents will have a ballistic reaction: a threat to their religion and a threat to their children. The first is learned and the second is natural. In this case those were combined into one big, fat, scary threat.

Now it’s important for me to stop and clarify something.

I’m not offering any of this as an “excuse” for their behavior. It is an explanation. I’m hoping that you will be able to rise above your present villain/victim thinking, and to salvage the nurturing part of your relationship with them from out of this mess. Understanding the motives of a person with whom you are in a conflict helps you to find positive and constructive ways to live together, rather than slipping into the trap of becoming just as reactionary as they are in the opposite direction. You’ve described some angry responses of your own that have backfired. You can free yourself from that kind of impulse.

I’m hoping that you will be able to reach into your youthful self, and draw out the burgeoning adult. I’m hoping that you will be able to supply the fortitude, patience, understanding and forgiveness that your parents have not been able to summon when faced with this particular challenge.

I know I am asking a great deal of someone so young, but the time has come, even though it was forced upon you sooner than you had planned. This can either be the time in your life when your continuing adolescence keeps you stuck in bitterness and hurt, or when your newly begun adulthood brings you into self confidence and healing. You’re right on the boundary. It’s within your reach.

You’ll probably remain living with your parents for some time, to finish high school, then find work or to go to college, and so you will need to get along with them. You have been browbeaten into telling them the lie that they want to hear, that it was all a mistake, that you’re a Christian again. They immediately relaxed and resumed their adult behavior.

I don’t blame you at all for keeping up this pretense. At this time, it is not in your own personal interest to be honest with them on the subject of your atheism. They have shown themselves to be incapable of handling it as adults. Maybe some day you can have a sane adult-to-adult conversation with them about it, but not while you are still financially and physically dependent on them. Yes, it’s sad that you have to lie, and I’m glad that you are not good at it. I hope you never have to become good at it. But they have not honored your truthfulness on this issue. They have squelched it. Be honest with them about everything else, so that resentment and distrust does not spread like a cancer through your relationship. Try to accept that this is a limitation of theirs. We all have our limitations, and we have to find ways to live with each other’s, not just with our own.

Now for yourself.

You need allies. You need confidants, trustworthy friends with whom you can be frank and open, with whom you can let off steam. You have already mentioned several you have begun to develop, like-minded friends at school. On that topic, go for quality rather than quantity. Don’t indiscriminately tell any and all of your friends about your atheism. Often young people lack the maturity to understand the sanctity of a confidence, as you have painfully discovered. While you are still living at home, be discreet with your friends. Share your thoughts and feelings around your atheism just with a few highly dependable friends.

Atheist blogs and discussion forums for young people are another outlet for you. I have found a few by simply using search engines, but I’m hoping that young readers commenting here will have specific places to suggest, based on their own experience.

As for your younger sisters, a sister can be the best ally you can have. However, be sure to not burden them with a responsibility that they are too young to bear well. They may not fully share your views about religion, which might begin to put them into a conflict. Even if they are okay with that, being younger, they are more susceptible to the pressures your parents can put upon them. They love you and they love Mom and Dad too. They should not be put in a position to be pulled in two directions. Share your thoughts and feelings on this subject with them at levels that are appropriate for their age and their ability to deal with it discreetly.

Finally, it may be hard to hear, but I think you should consider the possibility that your former boyfriend may not be worthy of your trust, ever. You say you’re mad at his family for the things they said to you. It’s one thing to act from the vicious falsehoods about atheists that they and he believe, but he betrayed your trust, he broke the confidence of a friend. He took the initiative to expose your private thoughts to your parents when he didn’t have to at all, and that selfish, spiteful act caused you and your family terrible pain and strife. That is not just ignorance and prejudice, that is treachery. Take a long, clear-eyed look at him.

Alice, your inborn free-thinking nature has brought you to question the things you were forbidden to question. Your inborn honest nature has made it difficult for you as you struggle to protect yourself from the superstition and bigotry of people you love. These inborn qualities are signs of an innately mature person, a person who could become more grown up, more adult than sadly, many people will ever be. Let that maturity help you to let go of your bitterness, to forgive your parents’ specialized immaturity because doing so will strengthen maturity in you, and because you can see their other qualities: their worthiness of love, their caring for you, their endearing protectiveness, their primal, passionate desire for your well being and your success in life. They gave you your life, and now you will begin to make it entirely your own, by way of your intelligence, your courage, your patience, and your willingness to rise above anger and hurt.

Richard

Note to readers: Tuesday there will be a post about the other side of this kind of situation, a letter from a mother (not the same one) who is very worried because her teenage daughter has just told her she is an atheist. I am thankful in advance for your helpful comments to both of these people who need and deserve respectful and compassionate advice.

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://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    Sorry, Richard – I couldn’t read your reply…I was too busy cyber-stalking Alice so I could poopsenders her friend, his parents, and her parents (at their jobs so she or her sister don’t open it by mistake).

    Ugh.

    Alice, I’m so sorry you went through this. My anger for you is like the heat of the sun (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but yes, I’m PISSED for you). No one deserves to be treated like this especially by people who are supposed to “love thy neighbour”.

    Hypocrisy sucks.
    I’m sending you a virtual hug (because you need an unconditional one) and strength to get through the difficult times ahead. Good luck.

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    ps – your former boyfriend is an ass.

  • littlejohn

    Bullshit. Alice’s parents are horrible people. Just because they’re her parents doesn’t change that. Horrible people, like nice people, often have children. This sort of thing happens.
    My parents were horrible people. My father is dead and my mother is a decade into Alzheirmer’s and hasn’t recognized me for 7 or 8 years. She can’t die soon enough as far as I’m concerned.
    Alice’s parents are 100 percent in the wrong, and her ex-boyfriend is an asshole. She needs to face those facts and determine to have a good, useful life in spite of those people.
    I managed, and so can she. If she gets lucky, her parents will eventually figure out they were wrong.
    I just hope Alice doesn’t rebel and go completely crazy self-destructive with irresponsible personal decisions about sex, drugs and so forth. I’ve seen children of overly conservative parents do that.
    She should just get on with her life and ignore the jerks as much as possible.

  • Darlene

    Personally, I’d wait until I was 18 and then leave. I find the actions of the parents abusive, and I cannot tolerate accomodating abusive behavior.

    Yes, it would have been better if they found out from Alice instead of a third party, but the reaction was over-the-top. Just because someone is related by blood is no reason maintain a harmful relationship. If the parents cannot respect her as an individual then they don’t deserve her.

    Get out. It’s better to be true to yourself, even if it means working your way through college or living in a dump. At least you would made your life honestly and through your own efforts, without lies and mental abuse.

    But then, my dad would never pull anything like this. My mom tried once–not about religion, but still this type of emotional manipulation and abuse–and I told her that I would not tolerate it, and if she tried again I would cease contact.

    We didn’t speak for over ten years, and those were very good years! Life is to short and too precious to allow people- even if they are family-to bring such negativity to our lives.

    I know it sounds cold, and maybe it is, but then, finding happiness and honesty in our lives is hard enough without those closest trying to force masks on us.

  • Tom Woolf

    This one gets a “wtf”. No, more like “WTF?!?”

    Are her parents insane? Evil? Malicious? (I think the answer to the last one is obvious.) Poor Alice makes a life decision. Alice’s former boyfriend goes nutso (he qualifies for both evil and malicious). Her parents overreact, but don’t bother to THINK about what they are doing to their poor daughter.

    Just as I cannot comprehend the thought process behind child molesters, I cannot comprehend the thought process behind “You’re a christian? That’s good. You’re a Jew? Well, you just need to be perfected. You say you’re an atheist? SATANIST!!!!”

  • http://themousesnest.blogspot.com Mouse

    This is another example that illustrates, I think, the commonalities of any coming out. It is particularly unfair that Alice was robbed of the chance to choose her own time and place for the discussion with her parents. Given that she’s a senior in high school, I think the best thing may be to drop any further discussion until she has some physical distance from her parents (with the hope that her post-high-school plans involve moving on and out). Then she needs to get herself to a place where any conversation will not be heated or overly-emotional from her side.

    There’s a decent chance her parents will come around. Most of my gay friends manage to find some sort of peace with their parents eventually, although the relationship may never be exactly what they want. I find that I can talk about legal discrimination against GLBT people with most of my extended family and my in-laws, but I’ve learned that having my mother speak matter-of-factly about my partner of nearly two decades is the most I can hope for there.

  • http://twitter.com/bjorntipling Bjorn

    I don’t agree with the advice given to Alice. Fuck her bigoted and ignorant parents. If they love her, it doesn’t show. And what a conditional horrid type of love it would be. Better free yourself from that world Alice and don’t look back.

  • Karen

    “my mom called me demon possessed and refused to let me drive.”

    I know that’s not funny, but…

  • Tyro

    Another case of DUDP (Driving Under Demonic Possession) averted!

  • http://www.function13online.com josh.f13

    Richard,

    You’re calling the boyfriend treacherous. I can see why you said that.

    However, I believe that he thought he was doing the right thing. I bet he rationalized the situation; something like him calling her parents if he was concerned about her using drugs, or was concerned that she showed signs of mental illness. These are examples, of course.

    I’d be curious to hear your opinion, Richard.

  • http://fictionalworldsofannagladue.blogspot.com/ unique.smile.within

    Oh Alice! That’s the shitbags of situations – and you are strong, remember that! If a person or persons can’t except you for you, then they are not worthy of you. I hope your parents will come around, but if they don’t, you did nothing wrong. It is them, not you.

  • 5ive

    “I posted some stuff under pictures of my friend out of anger”
    Alice, While it may feel good to bad mouth those who wronged you, that ALWAYS comes back to bite you in the ass. Even though those you are dealing with are being childish, you don’t have to stoop to their level. Resist the urge to publicly defame or be hurtful to these people. Write it all down and tear it up if you have to. Just don’t give them any ammo for you being and “evil atheist”.
    ANd while it sucks, I agree with Richard that you wait til you can be financially independent or at least live a distance away to bring this up again since your parents have proven themselves to be immature in this situation.
    I encourage you to write out every thing you would want to say to them and responses to questions/statements you think they would have. Just to help you organise your thoughts. You never have to give them your letter, it can just be for you to revise and read.
    I personally have a letter like that to my in-laws that I am afraid to give them just yet, and I am 38 :) But I like reading it every now and then and revising it in the hopes that I will have the opportunity to discuss these things with them in a reasonable manner some day.
    Godo luck, girl. You will need it…

  • http://purpletempest.blogspot.com purpletempest

    Hey Alice

    I’m not pleased with some of the other commenters’ statements. They seem just as judgemental as your parents were. Not everyone is happy to be estranged from their parents; not everyone can just run off into the sunset, happily leaving their family behind. Some can, but I can’t, and from the tone of your letter I don’t think that’s what you want. As a parent myself, I know I don’t ever want to be estranged from my kids. From what little your letter reveals I do believe they love you and want what’s best for you, however misguided their belief about “what’s best” is (and it’s definitely misguided). So Richard’s advice is spot on. I’m sorry you have to lie–I hate lying myself and am also terrible at it–but it’s not a lie you have to keep forever.

    Senior year goes by in the twinkling of an eye, and college will open new doors to you. As long as you’re not being forced to go to some kind of Bible college where the curriculum and student groups are excessively strict, you will find lots of people and lots of groups with different views and many will match yours. It’ll be awesome. Keep in mind, though, that even “freethinkers” can be jerks, so be careful. Alternately, don’t dismiss all Christians cause some of them are also awesome and tend to agree with many of us atheists about almost everything…except the God thing. It’s surprising how little the God thing matters with really good friends. Those kind of friends will support you no matter how divergent your views. You might still have to pretend to be Christian to your parents during this time unless you can finance college by yourself, but it will only be on holidays and vacations. Hopefully they don’t grill you about your church-going habits during this time, that way you can just keep mum on the subject temporarily.

    After you are on your own and supporting yourself, then you can choose whether to be honest or whether to leave well enough alone…but it might come up anyway, especially if you have children and decide not to baptize them. Those will be your decisions that your parents will have to accept. Try your best at that future date to remain respectful and civil when you tell the truth. Show them by words and example that what they believe about atheists is wrong…most of us are regular folks with jobs and kids and worries just like them. It will not be easy, but you can do it. You wouldn’t be the only one. I like the LGBT analogy, here. The only way for atheism to be accepted is for us atheists to be out demonstrating how normal and average we are, then it will slowly become accepted.

    A possible alternative might be the Unitarian Universalist church or something similar. Each UU church is different, so it might be hard to find a good fit. In general, though, they are very welcoming to agnostics and atheists because of their humanist approach. Then you can tell your folks that you are going to church, even if you can’t tell them everything, and maybe that will smooth the way for your eventual coming-out-as-atheist-for-good.

  • AxeGrrl

    Darlene wrote:

    Just because someone is related by blood is no reason maintain a harmful relationship. If the parents cannot respect her as an individual then they don’t deserve her.

    Nicely said. If someone close to me doesn’t respect me, they’re not ‘family’ to me. It’s as simple a that.

  • Wayne Dunlap

    Interesting. Many years ago, when I was dating my now wife, I was Christian and she sat me down and told me that she was an agnostic. That pretty much threw me for a loop. However, after giving it some thought, I decided that I would be a hypocite if I broke off our getting married because, in spite of her not being religious, she was, I felt, a nicer person than me. So, I chose to not let that be a deciding factor and ended up marrying her. Turned out to be a very good decision. She is not only wife, but best friend and we do everything together such as hiking and biking. Well, after a bit, I had a number of questions like why was Jesus fervently preaching to the people to prepare for the coming kingdom if it wasn’t going to happen for millenniums later. Religious sources had no plausible answers. Well, I happened upon college lectures on tape titled The Historic Jesus by Bart Erhman. Well, it turns out that Jesus told his disciples that there would be some of them still standing when God arrived in glory in his kingdom, i.e., it was supposed to happen then. I have since done a whole lot more research and am convinced that that was the case. Since it did not happen, I can only come to the conclusion that Jesus was another failed prophet. I am also convinced that the Bible is man inspired and not God inspired. So, it is ironic that years ago I decided to marry my wife anyway even though she wasn’t a believing Chrisitian like me. Thank Gaud!!!! :-)

    BTW, she did try to become a Christian and we even went to Church and brought our son. Now we are both agnostics. Funny, we let our son decide what he believed, and he chose to be an agnostic even before I had decided to be one and to leave the church.

  • http://mimi-n-moe.blogspot.com/ Karen

    I agree with Richard on this one.

    College and some distance will help.

    The letter reads like she is the oldest child. I think parents freak out a bit when the oldest one is getting ready to take on the world…

    Also, I think if you are a happy content person it sends the message something is right in your world. This may take time for the parents to absorb and accept.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Alice,

    I agree with Richard that you should probably just “play along” for as long as you are financially dependent on your parents. You have your whole life ahead of you to assert yourself and develop your own views in life. You can afford to do a little game playing right now just to have a more enjoyable time until you are out on your own.

    As time goes on, at the appropriate time (for you) you will need to start to define some demarcations between who you are and who your parents are. And as some others have said, things like this can tend to work out better over time so don’t automatically assume that your parents will always have the same attitudes they do now (about atheism) for all time. You can educate them over time (that atheists are OK) by being a good mature person.

  • JulietEcho

    I’m about six years older than you are, and I completely empathize with your situation. When I was a freshman in high school, my parents reacted horribly to my developing an eating disorder – they didn’t know how to deal with it, they saw it as a threat to their reputation as “good” parents, they were furious at me for lying about my weight and food intake (normal parts of a serious disorder) and they got me a horrible Christian counselor who tried to solve the problem by getting me closer to Jesus. It was a nightmare, and there was lots of angry shouting and crying on both sides. I ended up needing hospitalization twice, and it took me almost eight years to really recover.

    Almost a year ago, I had a similar experience. I told my family that I’m in a non-traditional relationship (I live with two people, instead of one, and we’d been together for three years when I told them). I was hoping that they could learn to love and accept my partner the way our other families have. They were horrible to us. They told me that my actions were as unethical as those of a pedophile and that they were the “victims” of my behavior. They were “hurt” and yelled and cried and generally threw an enormous tantrum.

    They were, oddly, equally mad that I had “deceived” them for the past few years, telling them my partner was just a housemate. In reality, I was trying to be considerate by not telling them something I feared would upset them if there was a chance it might not work out anyway. I waited until I knew it would last before putting them through what I knew would – at best – be a challenging emotional process. I still don’t know if there’s even enough hope to ever try bringing up the subject again – I wrote to Richard, and he gave me some good advice, but all the warning signs are still there and I’ve been too wary to risk the fragile peace I’ve achieved with them.

    Maybe your parents will change if you act maturely and get some distance. But maybe they won’t. Mine haven’t. Anything that upsets their Normal Rockwell-esque, Evangelical Christianity-centered lives is something they’ll rail against and attack. We can only stay in touch because we’ve agreed that we won’t discuss my atheism or acknowledge my relationship at all. They can only accept me as a daughter by ignoring major parts of who I am. You should know that this is a possibility. For every non-traditional kid who comes out of the closet and finds that their angry parents eventually come around, there’s probably at least one kid with parents who will judge them and treat them poorly as long as they live.

    I hope my parents are the type who’ll fall into that first group, but I’ve steeled myself for the possibility that they won’t. It doesn’t mean I’ll cut them out of my life completely, but it does mean that I’ve had to find surrogate family and good friends to support me. I hope you’re able to do that, and that through college or work or whatever you do, that you’ll meet people who’ll love you and accept you for who you are.

    I wish you the best of luck – you’ve still got some rough road ahead, and there’s no guarantee that your parents will change, but Richard’s advice is good, and fortunately you’re old enough that you can (hopefully) get out from under their roof soon.

  • sc0tt

    I hope Alice won’t mind a little humor – modifying an old joke for her situation:

    Dear Mom and Dad;

    I told you I was an atheist but what I didn’t tell you was that I met a new guy who’s really great and as soon as he gets out of prison he’s going to divorce his wife and take me to Mexico with him where he has a marijuana farm. He’s up for parole in June which is when our baby’s due (oh yeah – I’m pregnant!) so it should work out perfectly. I did have a little problem with hepatitis from the tattoo guy but I think it’s under control and the infection from the nipple piercing is almost gone.

    Love, Alice.

    OBTW, none of this is true… except I *AM* still an atheist.

  • monkeymind

    Alice, I demand 100% perfection and instant understanding from all my relationships, and so should you! Also, I can tell that your parents were just like my horrible parents, based on this short letter. Just try to be exactly like me, it’s the only way!!!

    Seriously, Alice, I hope you take those sorts of comments with a grain of salt. I’m sure you can work towards a more authentic relationship with your parents with some patience. A lot of their fears may come from simple ignorance as Richard points out.

  • tonya

    Alice,
    My heart goes out to you! I can understand how uncomfortable you are with lying, but think of it in terms of your lying being in self-defense. If you were being attacked (you were) and lying would preserve your life (in this case, your emotional and mental well-being), then you would lie to protect yourself. You have done nothing wrong in going with your instinct of self-preservation. From your letter it is evident you are strong and a survivor and I agree whole-heartedly that you should do what necessary while under the legal/financial restraints of your parents to “get through this.” A belief lies in our heart of hearts and what goes on around you on the outside does not have to threaten what you accept as true on the inside. Go through the motions until such time that you’re capable of standing on your own two feet. I agree with everything Richard said, find like-minded friends, keep your cards close to your chest for now, learn, grow, bloom.

  • Vas

    Alright I give up… Yes Alice you should lie to make your life more comfortable and easier. And if you do go to college you can lie there too and cheat while you are at it, it will make your life easier. Then when you enter the work force you can keep on lying if it seems like that will make your life easier and you can get ahead by lying. I think this is great advice, Lie about anything you want if it is in your own best interest to lie. Never stand on principle as this is often inconvenient, just “be true to yourself” in secret but never speak it to anyone. Pretend to be a good sheep, it is what people want from you. Shut up, and sit down, it is the only way, get used to it. I would like to thank Richard for opening my eyes and offering such sound advice.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    We have different terminology but isn’t a high school senior 17 or 18 years old? Alice can vote at 18, marry if she wants, drive, own a gun, get a job, a loan, a mortgage. She is (or is very nearly) an adult. She must be treated like one and her parents are treating her like a child.

    I have young teenage daughters and I know how easy it is not to think of them as decision making human beings with thoughts, opinions and desires of there own. It is a mistake not to treat someone who is an adult as if they were not responsible for their own decisions. Alice’s parents think of her as a child who cannot make adult decisions. They think they can control her and correct her when she makes a bad decision. Sorry but they don’t have that degree of control anymore. If they push they will lose their daughter.

    The sad thing is that they are only doing what they think is right and are not acting maliciously. They are wrong and they lack respect. I’m afraid that Alice needs to expect to be treated like an adult and needs to make it clear who is in charge of her life. It isn’t her parents. They have done their job and raised her to be the woman she is. They have to live with that. ;)

    The parents get a chance because they are trying to help but have gotten mixed up with their role in Alice’s life. Ex-boyfriend doesn’t get this free pass. A relationship like this is supposed to be about equals. He is acting like some busybody who is trying to fit the role of a parent. It is not his role to take. He is wrong to assume it and Alice is wrong to let him.

    Another point that I think is important is that Alice should acknowledge that she was wrong to put the silly pictures up. She is also wrong to lie. Just admit it, say sorry and then move on. She may have done already but it isn’t clear. Doing so displays a level of maturity and makes the road to assuming control of her own life that little bit easier.

    I think that Alice should now take the stance on atheism that she wanted to take with her family. It has been made more difficult but if she doesn’t get it out in the open it will continue to poison her relationships.

  • http://mimi-n-moe.blogspot.com/ Karen

    Um, Vas…She is a high school senior. I think that is a factor that requires some consideration.

    We don’t know some specifics here. What if her parents kick her out or cut her off (emotionally and financially)?

    It is always easier to tell someone else to take a bold stand. Things are not always black and white.

    Being “true to oneself” does not mean announcing your beliefs to every person you meet.

  • http://www.shadowmanor.com/blog/ Cobwebs

    Wow, Vas. It’s apparently been a while since you were completely dependent on somebody else. Try to think back to being a young teen, with your parents having final veto over virtually every aspect of your life. Nobody is encouraging Alice to spend the rest of her life hiding; we’re simply suggesting that until she’s self-sufficient it might be in her best interest if she isn’t blatant about her atheism.

    I’m curious, too: If you were working for an employer who was extremely religious, would you flaunt your atheism in the workplace, or would you tend to keep quiet about it in order to stay employed? (And don’t respond that you’d simply sue for religous discrimination if you were fired; just let us know if balls-out atheism is your defining trait or if you think there might be wisdom in occasionally keeping a low profile.)

  • marco

    I keep my fingers crossed for you, that you can eventually be honest and have a good relationship with your parents again – when you had time to prepare that written statement and anticipate some of there misconceptions. Just know that this is a problem on your parents side.
    But even if that takes you a few years – the good thing of being an atheist is that you do not have to feel guilty about denying the existence of your atheism ;)

  • georgie

    Her parents need to realize that she is still the same person that they raised and love. Nothing is different about who she is, nothing about her has changed except a belief. If they raised her to be a kind, loving, intelligent person, then they need to realize that she is still that person and all the things they love about their daughter are still there. Being truthful is something they taught her to value and they should appreciate the honesty. If they base their love for her on belief in god alone, then that is their issue and not hers. She then is the only one truly hurt and should be disappointed in them. Perhaps they need time to realize that she is still her, no demons or devils have taken over, she is just being her own person. They need to have faith in their daughter.

    My best to Alice, hang in there.

  • Ron in Houston

    Over the next two days my dad burst into tears whenever he talked to me, my mom called me demon possessed and refused to let me drive.

    Sorry, but those are way, way over the top reactions. I’d be willing to bet that the parents have some serious psychiatric issues.

    What I’d say to Alice is that she’s not the one with a problem. She’s just being who she is. It’s the folks around her that have the problem.

    I think parents sometimes create a picture in their minds of how their children are. They then will never accept things that fall outside of their mental image. The problem then becomes that some parents will then do horrible things to try to resolve their case of cognitive dissonance.

    In any event, that’s their problem. It will only become Alice’s problem to the extent she allows it to become her problem.

    I do agree with Richard that you need to find some way to create some distance and give yourself the emotional distance from what are your parents problems.

    Best of luck Alice. BTW, don’t worry, a “functional” family is a myth. All families are dysfunctional. It’s just a question of degrees.

  • Vas

    Karen and Cobwebs,
    Yeah it has been a while since I was completely dependent on someone else, I was 16 years old. I had similar conflicts and I set up house on my own because of it. Flaunting atheism is different than admitting to it, I can say I’m an atheist without flaunting it. I also don’t tell everyone I meet I’m an atheist however everyone who knows me well knows I’m an atheist and when questioned about it would have never in the past occurred to me to deny it, although now if it seems convenient I will do just that. As to the employer question, I have taken steps to avoid this situation by being self employed, however if I were in that situation I would seek employment elsewhere, (and really I just never put myself in that position, I went out of my way my entire life to be sure I was never in that position, sure it made things a little harder but I managed and think it was worth the extra effort) and I would not sue anyone as it is a long difficult and unpleasant proposition in my opinion. Besides this is all irrelevant as I have been swayed by all your, (posters and Richards) arguments, and now advocate lying for convenience sake, particularly if you are a young person.

  • Vas

    let us know if balls-out atheism is your defining trait or if you think there might be wisdom in occasionally keeping a low profile.

    Sorry Cobweb I failed to answer your direct question. No balls out atheism is not my defining trait, (although if someone who knew me were to set out a list of my most notable traits it would probably make the list) I’d say my defining trait, if I had to pick one, would be my skill as a designer as that is what comes up most often and is what I do with most of my time. There may in fact be some wisdom in occasionally keeping a low profile, but I still would not,(in the past) advocate lying, even to save my own ass. All that has changed now however.

  • andrew

    Alice’s story makes me so sad(my eyes are watering). :(

  • Colin

    Great advice from Richard, as usual. I think your top priority is planning to be as independent as possible from your parents shortly after you graduate high school.

    I would also second the recommendation to explore the atheist blogosphere, this blog is a great start. But clear your browser history if your parents have access to the same computer.

  • Ron in Houston

    We have different terminology but isn’t a high school senior 17 or 18 years old? Alice can vote at 18, marry if she wants, drive, own a gun, get a job, a loan, a mortgage. She is (or is very nearly) an adult. She must be treated like one and her parents are treating her like a child.

    Geez, I’m nearly 50 and my 78 year old mother still treats me like a child. Sure it’s annoying, but there is no “must” in human behavior.

    It would be nice if my mother would change. However, the cold brutal reality is that she will likely go to her grave behaving the way she does.

    To the extent that I create the fiction in my brain that she “must” treat me a certain way, I’m only causing my own suffering.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given the same advice to people in their 20′s and 30′s – stop trying to change your parents. They are the way they are and only they can change themselves.

    You’ve just got to accept your reality and deal with it how you see fit.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    So hang on, he says that he can’t trust her, but immediately turns around and betrays her trust!

    If you look up “projection” in the dictionary, there will be a picture of this guy.

  • Frank Moorman

    I was fortunate in that my parents believed that their children should find their own path in their own way. They loved us unconditionally and took joy in our triumphs and felt sorrow at our failures, setbacks, and fears. Religion was not a part of our lives. The result is that I became an atheist, while my sister, who lives within five minutes from me, is a faithful church member and believer. We love and respect each other, have wonderful conversations, and have an equal disdain of intolerant people on any side of the belief spectrum.

    It’s very sad that Alice’s parents have reacted with the intolerance and fear that they have shown. It is on a par with some of the reactions I’ve had from christians when they learn that I’m an atheist. They seem like the ones possessed. I ultimately disconnected from somebody on Facebook because he was so rude and insulting whenever I posted something on religion.

    Yet this seems like a tremendous opportunity for Alice, provided she can navigate these waters with strength and calm. One of my friends and co-workers was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness; when he read the bible from cover to cover as a teenager, he decided it was a fairy tale. He had to wait, though, till his 18th birthday to tell his parents, because he knew he would be on his own. I have a tremendous respect for what he has achieved, both in his life and in his work. And I wish the same for Alice.

    Deception is not always the best path, but it does have its value. Just don’t let it consume your life entirely.

  • sc0tt

    Can you imagine the reverse situation?

    Alice’s parents are retired and have little income, Alice’s siblings are not as responsible as she. Alice tells her parents… “You can come live in my house with me and I’ll take care of you IFF you renounce God and fill out these debaptism certificates. What? You refuse? Then get out of my life you ungrateful hateful fools!”

  • llewelly

    You’re calling the boyfriend treacherous. I can see why you said that.

    However, I believe that he thought he was doing the right thing.

    The conclusion is nonetheless the same: He can’t be trusted. People who do harmful things because they are deluded are still harmful.

  • llewelly

    If they push they will lose their daughter.

    And they will deserve it. Hell, they deserve it already.

  • Greg

    Hopefully Alice can survive until college. Her parents will likely come to terms with it but it takes time.

    Being not under the same roof changed the dynamic of my relationship with my parents all those years ago. They were completely annoyed with my political affiliation but eventually came around from conservative to liberal over years of discussion. Minds don’t change easily. Hopefully her parents will listen to reason, they don’t have to adopt her views but at least accept them. We’re good people too, in time her parents should learn that.

  • littlejohn

    Reading these various comments, some agreeing with Richard, most not, it occurs to me that if “Alice” is reading this, it might be to her benefit to ask her parents to read it. All of it – including the assorted comments. It might help them see themselves from a more objective perspective, something that’s never easy to do. At the very least, it might remind them that their daughter is nearly grown and that they – the parents – are being a little heavy-handed. The parents might also learn that there are significant numbers of atheists out there, and plenty of atheist websites. It might open up a new world to them.

  • Vas

    Ya know my last few posts on this were kind of snarky. I’ve given it some thought since then and decided to add something more, (and not more snarky).

    Alice I feel for you, you are in a terrible situation and the people who are supposed to love you are treating you badly, (even though they may still love you). It’s a difficult thing you are going through and being young your emotions, (if you are like most) tend to run a little on the extreme side. Life will not always be lived at the force of the will of others unless you allow it. You will come into your own and be able to live the life you see fit very soon. You have pulled back the curtain and seen the horrid truth and it stings to see such a thing. The bitter taste of a lie will linger for longer than you might think and really you are doing no one a favor by lying, and you have indicated you already know this. Trust yourself on this one. Pretending to believe will not fool anyone, the cat is already out of the bag. Remember how your secret was exposed and so to shall your lies be exposed. Stick to your guns girl, it will be a tough road ahead but you can travel that road. I’ll bet you can do many things that are difficult, don’t just give up and roll over. Being an adult is hard work Alice but that is no reason to hang on to your childhood, move forward in your life and face the difficulties that lie ahead with dignity and resolve. There may be more tears and sadness along the path but this is common even if it sucks while you are in it. While there is no reason to flaunt your atheism you shouldn’t have to hide it either, your parents already know, reaffirm this fact about yourself and be done with it. Don’t press the subject or initiate a discussion, just let it be what it is and let everyone drop the subject, as I suspect everyone may want to. Don’t hold the book incident against your parents, let it go, it’s just a lead in for a confrontation you don’t want or need. You’re going to be alright in the end, trust yourself and know that there are many of us, (millions) who support you and your choice to stand proud and refuse to hide in the shadows. Keep hold of your integrity it is a valuable thing and you will be needing it in the future, don’t throw it away to make others or yourself comfortable.
    Sorry to hear thing are so tough for you right now, I know it sucks I’ve been there, but I made it through to the other side and I suspect you will too.

  • llewelly

    Another case of DUDP (Driving Under Demonic Possession) averted!

    Don’t joke like that. It’s extremely serious. No-one can drive safely when their head is spinning round and round!

  • Darlene

    It comes to mind that maybe we need an Atheist safe house–or a number of local homes willing to take someone in–where young people can find safety and shelter without having to submit to the irrational and frightening demands of their parents.

  • Tony

    So hang on, he says that he can’t trust her, but immediately turns around and betrays her trust!

    If you look up “projection” in the dictionary, there will be a picture of this guy.

    I looked in the dictionary because I wanted to see what he looked like and there were no pictures! Such treachery!

  • plublesnork

    Good advice.

    For those advocating for Alice to speak up and deal with the consequences, I think there’s been a rather large oversight.

    That advice is a lot more reasonable for an only child, but Alice has a sister. A sister who is going to be with her parents for many more years. Maintaining a relationship with her might become rather difficult if she’s exiled by her parents.

    Also, to me, her parents seem rather loopy and unstable. Kids benefit from having a big brother or big sister to look out for them. Given what we already know of her parents, I’d hate to see her sister left to deal with them all by herself.

  • Kudzuma

    Alice,

    Make a plan, and when you are able…..go. If your parents choose at some point that they want to be a part of your life, it will be on your terms.

    Go.

    Good luck, kiddo.

  • Jim H

    Alice has gotten some good advice here (and some not so good).

    Of paramount importance, and immediately useful, is that atheist blogs are a great resource. Alice, you might even start one (anonymously).

    If you haven’t already, take a look at Hemant’s “welcome lurkers” post from Monday 4 Jan. I read through the first hundred-plus comments there, and felt privileged to be part of such a warm, open community.

    Best of luck, Alice, with your temporary white lie, with the rest of high school, and with what lies beyond.

  • AxeGrrl

    Ron in Houston wrote:

    To the extent that I create the fiction in my brain that she “must” treat me a certain way, I’m only causing my own suffering.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given the same advice to people in their 20’s and 30’s – stop trying to change your parents. They are the way they are and only they can change themselves.

    I think that’s really wise advice Ron. It’s very definitely sad on a certain level, and it might be too much for Alice to think about/accept right now, but if the behaviour has been going on for years and, as you said, shows no sign of changing, then I think it’s the best advice to save someone endless hurt.

    I think the most important thing is to not let such emotional blackmail on the part of a parent wear you down and cause you to compromise your values/beliefs. Don’t be unnecessarily confrontational, but don’t acquiese either. It’s a delicate balancing act (especially for someone Alice’s age)

    Alice (if you’re reading this), you found the right place :) I think you’ll find a lot of support and compassion from the regular contributors here. Even if this doesn’t ‘do’ much to help you in your physical situation, I hope it helps you just to know you have many sympathetic ears here should you need them :)

    Take care…I hope things gradually change for the better for you

  • Pingback: Patience – our kids need it | Parenting Help in Olkahoma

  • Bob

    As a parent this situation brought tears to my eyes as well. Richard your response as usual was kind, considerate and thorough.

    One aspect I think you didn’t explore, from the parents perspective, is their fear that if their daughter is an atheist then she will not be able to go to heaven. I know to us atheists this is a childish concept, but to many religous people is is real.

    I will give the parents the benefit of the doubt and believe that the driving force for their inappropriate reaction was their love and fear for their child, and it therefore falls on Alice to be the adult here and gently and over time, demonstrate to her parents that being an atheist is a rational, intelligent thing and has no dire consequences.

    Her knowledge that she is right should sustain her over this challenging journey.

  • jemand

    trying to hide who you are in your own living space is AWFUL. It can seriously mess you up and probably can give you a mental health disorder eventually. That said, there are a lot of bad options here, Alice will just have to choose the least bad.

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    So, no one is with me on the poopsenders thing, eh? Pity.

    Alice, obviously you’re in a hard spot seeing as a bunch of atheists can’t agree (…wait a minute…), but I hope that you can find some way to educate your parents about what atheism is (just a simple lack of belief in god) and who atheists are (a wackadoo motley crue who are diverse and don’t, actually, like to eat babies).
    Their response was based in their own ignorance.
    My mom sent me a b-day card last month in which she told me that the biggest gift I ever gave her was knowledge about things she’d been ignorant of before. Hopefully, one day you’ll get a similar card (just remember to have tissues handy).

  • BlueRidgeLady

    I’m 25 and I am still afraid of hurting my mom’s feelings! You aren’t alone!

  • Hilary

    Alice,

    I’m guessing that you would probably also identify as a humanist. Given your parents beliefs that atheists are bad/evil people, it may be useful, when the time comes, to focus on what you are and how you get your morals rather than on what you don’t believe. Perhaps when you go to college, you will be able to find a humanist group on campus. Talking about volunteer work that you and your non-theistic friends do would be a way to start the conversation that could help break down your parents’ preconceived notions about non-religious people.

  • muggle

    Holy freaking “God”! What a prick that ex was to begin with! What a total freaking asshole to end with outing her to her parents like that! I’d like to join Lagunatic in offering a cyber hug before I talk turkey. (Hopefully, it’ll soften my words up a bit since it’s sincerely offered anyway; I feel for you, girl.)

    That advice is a lot more reasonable for an only child, but Alice has a sister. A sister who is going to be with her parents for many more years. Maintaining a relationship with her might become rather difficult if she’s exiled by her parents.

    Also, to me, her parents seem rather loopy and unstable. Kids benefit from having a big brother or big sister to look out for them. Given what we already know of her parents, I’d hate to see her sister left to deal with them all by herself.

    This is an excellent point and precisely the reason I didn’t disown my nutso mother until my youngest sister was safely out of the house. But I knew I was going to.

    I stopped believing in Jesus at 17 but not “God”. Just figured out that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah because, well, he didn’t do everything the Messiah was supposed to like world peace and bringing the Jews back to Israel. And, no, I couldn’t buy the Christian standard b.s. that it’s gonna happen with the second coming. Hell, maybe he’ll decide then to put it off for a 3rd or 4th coming? /sarcasm

    I didn’t dare tell my mother because, well, she’s rather akin to the mother in Stephen King’s “Carrie” but she knew. She didn’t have the guts to ask me directly but she’d say to my three little sisters, I think she’s going Jewish. (These days after she called Simon and Garfunkel heathens for being Jewish; hell, maybe she wasn’t smart, maybe she was wisecracking on my liking two Jews.) I think she thinks she’s smarter than Jesus. She knew I was reading the Buybull for an hour a day and she’d say things like you’re reading it (something I doubt she ever did despite — her one positive — encouraging reading) but are you thinking about it? LOL! The problem was that I was.

    Anyway, I refused to take the bait. I just laid low on the issue until I got out on my own. I was suicidal until I did. Once I got out on my own, that disappeared entirely. I knew I wanted her out of my life then and decided to disown her but I was worried about my little sisters so waited until they were also free from her then did just that.

    But I’ve been judged for it, am judged for it and will be judged for it. People who don’t come from such horrid family just don’t dig how you can do this. Sure, every family’s dysfunctional to some extent since perfection is an impossibility but there’s dysfunctional and then there Dysfunctional with a capital D.

    I mostly agree with Vas. Lay low until you and sis are good to go then lay it on the line. This is me, take it or leave it. Then put the ball squarely in her ball park.

    However, get out as soon as you can because, hon, your parents are beyond demanding. The whole demon thing was horribly familiar. I don’t know if your parents are abusive but, if they are, get out now! Tell some adult. Do you have a friend whose parents would be willing to take you in? To this day (and I turn 52 next month), I envy the one sister who had the guts to call up Social Services and got placed in a foster home. I admit she got lucky and got placed with people who virtually adopted her into adulthood, gave her a wedding and everything like she was their own.

    I also have a friend who not only split at 17 but got custody of her sister. Of course, that was extreme, blatant abuse situation and is not usual.

    Despite saying lay low until you can escape, I have to agree with what jemand said above. Lying can mess you up in ways you can’t even imagine. So can feeling oppressed day in and day out by living with people who control your life and demand you be who they demand. (Did I mention that I was suicidal in my mother’s house?) You really do need to think about if you want to keep them in your life. The sad truth is sometimes the family you have is worse than the awfulness of not having any family at all.

    All in all, snarky or not, I think Vas had the best advice.

  • tonya

    I think Vas’ snarky did come out a bit thick at first, though I appreciate his additional comments trying to clarify his position. I don’t think anyone is advocating lying throughout life. Or cheating in college. Not sure of the leap it takes to go from laying low (which I called lying) to get through a potentially harmful situation on to cheating your way through life. It’s unlikely Alice can become immediately independent, which I think means taking the path of least resistance for the time being. It gives her time to plan her actions so she can deal with this from an intelligent, reasonable standpoint and not the strictly emotional one that she was cornered into with her “outing” and feeling ganged up on (on top of being a teenager.)

    Agreed she should accept responsibility for the things she posted as that is one more way to show her maturity.

  • Taazie

    Good luck Alice. Now would be a good time to read some feminist theory and articles about dismantling cycles of oppression.

    As a woman in a Christian household I assume you weren’t taught to stand up for what you believe in and to embrace your power. Challenging your parents isn’t a sin, it’s the most liberating act you can take and the only one that can set you free. Be strong, be confident, be rational and you’ll do great.

    Good luck with everything, hope you find your fighting spirit!

  • Lilith

    It sounds to me like the most of this problem has been caused by the ex-boyfriend. Who knows what he told Alice’s parents when he contacted them? I’ll bet that was what got them so stirred up. He’s definitely no friend and should be cut out of Alice’s life completely.

    Other than that, I can only echo what many posters have said: for Alice to keep up the pretence until she she is financially free of her parents and has the real power to make choices about how she wants to handle things for the future. And to find a few good trustworthy people for ongoing emotional support.

    It is going to take a while before the pain of her parents actions lessens to the point that she can begin to forgive them and let go of her anger. Down the track there will be a time to sit down with them and have an adult discussion with them about how they have made her feel, but that is in the future. Maybe that will involve going through a period of no contact with them to get the message across. Or maybe she won’t need that because other life events will lead them to understand, in the interim, that their behaviour was not loving, not supportive, and very harmful to someone they profess to love. They need to take a long hard look at themselves and begin make amends.

  • Richard Wade

    josh.f13, you asked:

    Richard,
    You’re calling the boyfriend treacherous. I can see why you said that.
    However, I believe that he thought he was doing the right thing. I bet he rationalized the situation; something like him calling her parents if he was concerned about her using drugs, or was concerned that she showed signs of mental illness. These are examples, of course.
    I’d be curious to hear your opinion, Richard.

    The possibility of his having a well-meaning motive occurred to me, as I have dealt with people who were faced with friends who were addicted to drugs. They had to risk the friendship in order to possibly save the addict’s life. However the motive, good or bad, does not change the fact that agreements were betrayed. It only helps to facilitate forgiveness, maybe, maybe.

    The way the events are laid out in the letter, I don’t think that concern for Alice was a genuine motive in the former boyfriend’s mind. He broke up with her when he first discovered her non-belief, but did not tell her parents at that time. If he was so concerned about her, why didn’t he tell them right then? Instead, they made an agreement to remain friends. That was the agreement that he later broke.

    It was a month later that he called to cancel a visit in a very hurtful way, saying that her atheism meant he couldn’t trust her. This was out of the blue for her, so he had not put any effort into appealing to her to reject atheism if his concerns for her had become more compelling.

    No, he said that it was about him not being able to trust her. (The irony of that is thick and rich.) It was all about himself. The phone call ended with upset, and immediately, I think out of spite rather than sincere concern for her, he told her parents behind her back. He didn’t even give her any warning that he intended to “out” her. His actions were designed to produce the maximum hurt possible to both Alice and her parents. What he actually said we will never know, but it certainly resulted in tremendous upheaval.

    This on-and-off relationship concerns me that he is really into controlling her, and to a certain extent she seems to be slipping into it. After all that has happened, they have had yet another “reconciliation” based on her charade about being a Christian again. The only reason she cites for not having much contact with him lately is his family’s ugly behavior. She repeatedly forgives and forgets his ugly behavior.

    Taazie mentioned cycles of oppression in his comment here, I think referring to the pattern of abuse victims going back again and again after their abusers apologize again and again in oh so charming and disarming ways. I think that a similar pattern may be present here. If Alice does not assertively stop this with this sorta-ex-sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, even if they do drift apart, I’m concerned that she will eventually find another controlling/abusing/charming man to start it all over again. She doesn’t need to re-out herself at this time. She simply needs to finally end it with this self-serving, controlling and manipulative cad.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    @ Josh way up at the beginning somewhere–I didn’t read all of the comments, so someone has probably already replied, but please don’t compare atheism to drug abuse or mental illness. Had her “problem” been something that could potentially result in harm to her or a loved one, then by all means do the ethical thing–talk to HER, try to get her to talk to her parents, and if that fails, then talk to her parents for her. The former bf’s actions were completely unethical. It is not his place to try to “save” her from her atheism by tattling. He is spineless for going behind her back that way, and I don’t care if he thought it was the right thing or not.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    I totally didn’t see Richard’s comment right above mine, so good advice there, too. :)

    I also agree with a few of the commenters that the sister may be a priority in this one. Even though my family is almost all the way functional, if I were in a position where I might lose contact with my parents, I would still want contact with my siblings (all 7 of them!). I am very close to one sister who is 4 years younger than me, and would not want to lose my relationship with her.

    Independence is definitely also a big priority. The farther away I am from my parents, the closer we are and the less our differences seem to matter. This may be the case with Alice, too. Also, being financially/physically independent of them will be another wake-up call telling them that she is, in fact, an adult who can earn a living, go to college, and follow a belief system of her choosing.

    @ Alice–I’m sorry about your boyfriend. I agree with many of the others; he simply isn’t worth your time and has proved at least twice that he is untrustworthy. Reconsider your feelings for him.

    Best of luck!

  • Alice

    Hi, I’m Alice. Thank you all for your support and advice.

    I am planning to talk to my parents as soon as possible, but I really don’t think now is the time. I dislike lieing but I agree with the majority of posters here that have suggested I hold off until I’m out of the house- especially since college is coming up so soon for me. It just doesn’t make sense to make a bunch of waves right now. I agree with Vas that they probably already suspect that I’m lieing. My mom has always been one to jump on a reassuring lie over a difficult truth. I suspect she would be annoyed and angrier if I told her now. If I tell her later when I’m more self sufficient, I think I’ll hurt them less and make fewer problems for myself. Plus, my dad has a history of depression and business isn’t great right now. Last time he went into a slump he couldn’t get out of bed for months. I don’t think he could physically handle something new on top of it all. So yeah, I agree with most of you.

    I wouldn’t really call my relationship with my ex-boyfriend abusive, I could be wrong since my judgement isn’t objective. He’s just not very bright, never has been. Very simple, black and white sense of morality, impulsive, thrives on praise from his family who encouraged his behavior. I think what happened was a long time coming for him, something he had been mulling over for a while and that he executed in the heat of the moment. In any event, we’re not best buddies anymore. We talk maybe once a month about things like the weather. He is no longer a close friend, our relationship is basically trivial and he isn’t in a position to do any more damage.

    My friends at school are of very good quality. In fact, interestingly enough, one of our favorite inside jokes is that ‘Atheists can’t drive’, which some of you also found amusing. We also can’t fly, too darn logical.

    I also like the idea of starting a blog, if I ever get the internet to cooperate with me, I fully intend to.

    Thank you all again.

    -Alice

  • Richard Wade

    Alice,
    I wish the best of all possible outcomes for you, and given your intelligence and your forbearance, I think that outcome is likely. Your consideration for your dad’s vulnerability is very touching, and it says much about your maturity and your ability to see a wider view of things. Thank you for writing a letter that has reached beyond your particular struggle, so that we learn from you and each other, not just you learning from us. You have my warmest regard and my deepest respect. I hope to see you around here as a reader and commenter some time.

  • JulietEcho

    Thanks for the update, Alice. It’s often hard to make the right decision when there are so many factors involved – there often isn’t a “right” decision.

    I’m glad you’ve found good friends to see you through this, even if you can’t be yourself around your parents. The hardest part of living with disapproving parents can be the loneliness, and it’s going to be so much better for you to have support from your friends.

    It’s also a good sign that you’ve turned the weird/hurtful “demon” comments into a joke – which is seriously funny! Someday, in a few years, perhaps you’ll even be in the position to laugh over it with your parents. You never know. People can say very hurtful things when they’re panicking and upset, and just as you’ve regretting things you posted, they might already (or later) regret what they’ve said.

    Take care of yourself,
    Juliet

  • wendyloh

    Alice,

    I am very proud of you. I had struggled with my family’s Christianity since I was very young, but I didn’t come out to them until a few months ago (I’m 25 now), and I was similarly betrayed. I told my sister about my atheism (bad idea). She told me I should just kill myself and then went and told my parents.

    I didn’t want to tell my parents so soon because I didn’t want to put my mom through that pain of knowing her daughter was going to hell, which is exactly what has happened. My dad tells me my mom fasts and prays every night for me. This makes me sad and I wish she hadn’t found out that way. My dad is more understanding, he tends to see things rationally, but since he’s married to my mom, he just goes along with her.

    Anyway, I feel for you. My advice is to avoid discussion with your parents as long as you are dependent on them. But study your little butt off about both Christianity and the arguments against it because that will always be your best defense. I find that I know more about my family’s religion than they do… I’ve read the bible multiple times… and they can’t use their own bible against me.

    Know what it is that you are convinced of and what you DO believe, whether it be science or some other philosophy. I always tell people that “I know I may not be right, and there is a slim chance you may be right. But in the limits of my own understanding, I am simply not convinced that there is a god or gods.”

    Good luck to you and stay strong.

    Wendy

  • http://www.shadowmanor.com/blog/ Cobwebs

    Alice, I want to second what Richard said. Drop by here any time and let us know how you’re doing!


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