Ask Richard: Young Atheist and His Family Speak Different Languages

Greetings Richard,

I am 17 years old. I have been professing Atheism for about 3-4 years now but have only recently ‘come out of the closet’ to my family, who are Protestant Christians. Even as a child, I remember distinctly my questioning of the faith was met with repression for not obeying god’s word. I seriously questioned the usual phrase “God’s ways are mysterious” on the grounds that not knowing the ways of the god you profess belief in is rather nonsensical. Four years ago, reading the Bible thoroughly in a linear fashion finally crushed my faith. Through rationality and research on the Bible and on many other religious scriptures, I have come to my position.

When I formally announced my position to my family based upon rationality, it was a particular shock. My brother made the comment “you are lost” and yet could not substantiate his claims when I questioned his reasoning. My mother is most disturbed, making the claim that I will “see the light” again some day. My father, which I find extremely surprising, appears to be the most accepting, and yet still feels that I am doing this for rebellion and attention.

My question here is: how do I convince my family of my legitimacy? When they raise questions about Atheism, I must answer them in a rational manner. When they question my thinking, I try to address them in a rational manner. I am constantly interrupted during my speech and bullied afterwards by both parents and brother.

Why do they believe that I am threatening them? Both my brother and mother have raised claims that I am forcing my opinion upon them by merely talking about Atheism when they attack my opinion. They feel persecuted and threatened when I talk about Atheism; any mention of a religion other than their flavor of Protestant Christianity sets their alarms off.

How do I deal with these people? I tend to use words which they consider “bloated” or “large.” These are the only words which I feel able to efficiently express my ideas. Could this be the reason they feel uncomfortable?

I am going to college this year. I seriously consider absolutely cutting contact with them while there, and absolutely ‘disappearing’ when finished. Is this necessary? How do I tell my family about myself, adequately defend myself from ridicule, convince them that I am not assaulting them, and tell them that I am most certainly not forcing my beliefs upon them? Are they doing this out of malice, intending to provoke a reaction, or am I misinterpreting their actions?

Many thanks for your time,
Rational and Frustrated

Dear Rational and Frustrated,

You make rational arguments to them, and they make emotional arguments back. You attack their view rationally and they attack your view emotionally. You defend your rationality with rationality, and they defend their emotionality with emotionality.

It is important for rational people to look for any repetitive mistakes that they might be making, and I think you’re continuing to make the same one. After so many frustrated attempts, you keep expecting rationality from them.

As an old Chinese proverb says, “It is a mistake to go to Buddhist monastery to borrow a comb.”

Most people are capable of both rational and emotional responses to life, but some are far more specialized to one than the other. It looks like there is a strong mismatch between you and your family in these two ways of responding. It’s as if you and they are speaking completely different languages. No matter how well you speak your own language, communication is just not happening.

You seem to be an extraordinarily rational person, and it sounds like you have been that way since early childhood, but clearly you’re not a robot. You do have your emotions, and to a certain extent I think they are at play here. Otherwise it would not matter to you that your family misunderstands or ridicules you. This is the “Frustrated” part of your name, “Rational and Frustrated.”

You can bridge this gap between your language and your family’s language by developing your empathy. With empathy, you can accurately imagine the emotions of another person even though you are not caught up in those emotions yourself. I think you can increase your empathy with practice.

The point of improving your skills of empathy is not to argue more effectively. The point is to be able to live peacefully but still respectfully with them, and to not have to entirely cut off contact with them as you are considering. That would be a very hurtful, spiteful and unnecessary action. Only in extreme circumstances should that ever be considered.

Shift your emphasis away from making sure they understand you, to making sure that they know you understand them. Understanding does not imply or require agreement, but it can greatly improve the relationship between people who disagree.

Talk with your ears much more than with your mouth. This means to listen for how your words will be heard by them. As you gradually gain more awareness of their feelings during a conversation, imagine how your particular words or statements would affect a person who is feeling that way. Then you can soften your tone, simplify your vocabulary or even change the entire direction of your remarks for a more positive outcome.

When you defend your point of view, I think the feeling of threat they express comes from within them, not from you. It could be that their faith is not very strong, and so when anyone expresses skepticism, they feel how fragile and threadbare their faith is. Very often what looks like anger is actually fear or hurt. They’re not doing this out of malice, but fear. If you see that, you won’t react with your own anger, fear or hurt. You can respond with compassion.

You don’t actually need to defend your point of view anyway. It will still be there, just as unchanged as theirs, after the talking is over. Instead, listen to them with the intention of wanting to understand their feelings. Show your sincere interest and caring for their feelings by asking about them rather than arguing about them. Respond to them without any condescension or contempt in your tone:

Brother: “You’re lost.”
You: “Sounds like you’re worried about me. I appreciate that, brother, but I have to find my own way.”

Mother: “You’ll see the light again some day.”
You: “You always hope for the best for me, Mom. I love you too.”

Father: “Well you’re entitled to your opinion, but I still feel like you’re doing this for rebellion and attention.”
You: “Thank you for accepting that I can have my own opinion, Dad. If it’s just for rebellion, then I guess time will tell, so we can wait and see. As for attention, well I’d much rather have you pay attention to the things that you like, such as my good grades, my going into college, and the things I do to help our family.”

When any of them interrupt, bully or ridicule you, say: “I don’t think that interrupting, bullying or ridiculing is going to help us understand each other. So let’s stop now, and maybe we can talk later when things cool down.” Then walk away. You don’t have to passively take their abuse, but you also don’t have continue the futile quarrelling. This is like a rock fight with only one rock. Stop throwing it back to them, and the fight is over.

Responses like these are rational, but they address the needs, desires and fears of the real person in front of you, rather than the rarified intellectual points of a dispute. You don’t have to choose between winning a debate and losing your family, and you don’t have to lose a debate in order to keep your family. Those two things should not be in the same arena. The college debating hall is for debates, and the family home is for love.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All 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.

  • Dave B

    I’d like to thank you both for such a good question and answer. As a 20 year old atheist who has had trouble talking with emotionally dominant people, I can certainly take this advice to heart.

  • Siamang

    I love all the high-road stuff here… but does any of it really work to establish peace at all?

    I mean, why automatically assume that a peaceful resolution is always possible? Aren’t some people just going to be pig-headed bullies no matter what?

    Some people get off on bullying. Some people are so fucked up personally that it doesn’t matter that your in the room at all, they’re just going to attack the dog or the lamp or the table leg.

    Some bullies don’t stop hitting until you hit back, then they go crying for mommy.

    Not saying that this is your situation, and I don’t want to take away anything from excellent, reasonable, mature advice from Richard.

    I’d say escape would be my priority.

  • JulietEcho

    Siaming – escape is imminent, clearly, as the writer is going to college fairly soon.

    Even a bullying, angry family can be salvageable, but it depends on whether you think it’s worth it. Most people do want their families to be part of their lives, even if the families can be problematic. Once you don’t live at home, you can keep them at a distance and interact on your own terms – not theirs.

    I think Richard’s advice was excellent. I got some similar advice from him about dealing with my own family, and my patience has been paying off very slowly. It helps that I live a few hundred miles away from them, so I can control when (and if) we visit or talk on the phone.

    I had been considering giving my family an ultimatum – “love me the way I am, or lose me” because they’d been so hurtful and bullying. Instead, I simply stepped back and realized that I can keep a comfortable distance without losing them completely. If I wait long enough and handle them with sensitivity, they might slowly improve and change their attitudes.

    I think that people who write to Richard about families like mine and this author’s don’t really want to ditch their families, cut ties, or give ultimatums. Those are easy paths to take, in a way, but they involve a lot of loss. Richard (in my experience) is spot-on in his advice about dealing with bullying families.

    One last thing to remember: In these cases, it’s really not about who’s right and who’s wrong (or even who has the high moral ground). Even though I know my family has behaved horribly towards me, and even though I think their beliefs are both wrong and hurtful, if my goal is to keep them in my life in a way that doesn’t hurt me, what matters is how I respond to them and what attitude I take towards the problem.

  • Kiera

    @Siamang

    It may not be possible for some people (although hopefully it is for this young atheist who wrote in), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

  • http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1580421.Fringe Silent Service

    Richard,

    Your imagined dialog sounds like a badly written 1960s Sit-Com. Almost like what if The Beaver came out as an atheist. I very much doubt a conversation like what you hypothesize is even remotely close to how reality will unfold. I’m pretty sure that’ll just piss his family off.

  • Richard Wade

    Siamang,
    Your point about the nature of bullies is well taken. My point is that there is a logical order in which to try different responses.

    Unless we assume that a peaceful resolution is possible, there will certainly be no peace. If it has not been attempted, we can’t know ahead of time. We have to try sincerely and give it a fair chance. If, after a reasonable amount of time the bullying continues, then fight or flight are the next logical steps. Fighting back may work, and it doesn’t eliminate the possibility for the other option, escape. That one eliminates the possibility for either making peace or fighting back, so it should be the last resort.

    Time and absence might allow bullies to mature and change their ways, but by leaving we have made ourselves completely dependent on them changing in order for things to get better. I have seen families eventually reconcile with a member who had to escape, but just as often I’ve seen the estrangement become habituated.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/andrea.m.semler The Nerd

    “I love all the high-road stuff here… but does any of it really work to establish peace at all?”

    This is a personal choice. If R&F loves his family and wants a relationship, he HAS to assume that peace is possible. There is no other option.

    Thanks, Richard, for sharing your good advice. :)

  • Richard Wade

    Silent Service,
    I agree that my suggested responses could sound stilted and artificial if they were used verbatim. I wrote them that way to be brief and to the point. It’s the spirit and intention of responding to the family’s feelings that I am trying to illustrate. The letter writer probably wouldn’t talk just that way. He would use his own words and would probably take longer to say it.

    The point is to stop doing what hasn’t worked, and instead to earnestly reach out to his family with a warm heart rather than a cold, logical argument.

    Put the idea into your own words, of course. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried.

  • Miki

    This is wonderful, well-reasoned advice. I think it’s worthwhile for the Young Atheist to attempt empathy and compassion before he abandons his family outright. I’m glad I made the effort with my family.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    I would suggest to consider the following premises:

    1. Your family behaves that way to you because they care about your lack of belief and fear their time of being able to influence you is drawing to a close. They are starting to panic and are over-reacting with the evangelical bullying.
    2. They also behave that way towards you because they are getting a reaction out of you.
    3. You are frustrated because you care what your parents think of you and you don’t like the bullying behavior.

    I would agree with Richard that your goal should be to preserve the family relationship. I would recommend a strategy of diffusing the emotional stress everybody is feeling. Try to keep a calm even temperament when they start to bully you. Don’t feed the bullies. Tell them you are a “seeker”. You seek the truth about things and right now that search has led you to atheism. Tell them you are interested, though, in their deepest religious thoughts. Without belittling them, you can willingly listen to what they really think about God. Ask questions. Be curious. Put yourself in the frame of mind of a cultural anthropologist. You may find that if they are talking and you are listening, that the tension will greatly subside. You don’t have to believe the religious things they are saying. Just believe that they believe what they are saying. It will make everybody closer together and they will feel that they at least had their saying. If they repeat themselves, politely remind them that they have already said that and ask a question that probes the issue in more dept.

  • Jim H

    A long time ago I took a week-long course called “the Successful Negotiator.” The very first point the instructor mad was: Logic is not persuasive. And that’s true, or we never would have spent months debating and debunking “death panels.” (And everyone would be an atheist. Also.)

    R&F, as you noted, your logical arguements are galling on deaf ears. Richard’s advice to develop your empathy is spot on.

    @Siamang: as others have said, your point is well-taken, but cutting off one’s family is just too drastic and too final.

  • Parse

    One thing that has worked for me in the past is calling them out on their behavior – although in a polite way. People rarely recognize their verbal bad habits, even if they know what they are. I have the bad habit of trying to finish other people’s sentences, but unless I’m actively paying attention to it, I don’t catch myself doing it until it’s too late.

    After your mom, dad, or brother interrupt you, let them finish, then follow with a simple, polite, “Can I finish?” – and wait for a response. Then, continue from where you were interrupted. Finally, once you’ve finished saying what you originally wanted to, respond to what they said in the interruption. Ideally, this has a twofold effect – it gets them to recognize that they interrupted you, and should hopefully let you finish what you were originally saying.

    There’s a pretty good chance this will royally tick them off the first time or three – nobody likes being called on their faux pas. But from what you’ve said, any discussion with them will result in their flipping out. So long as you remain calm and respectful when asking it, it should come across as an effort to decrease the tensions; decreasing tensions means that your rational arguments will find fertile ground – and you might even get some back.

    I also wanted to reiterate something Richard said: “soften your tone, simplify your vocabulary“. If you couldn’t guess, I tend towards larger and more obscure words in writing. It helps me express exactly what I want to say, giving only the connotations I want to express. It also means that people tend to reach for the dictionary when I write, to find out what all those words mean. It can come across pretty elitist, or “I’m smarter than you, and look at all these big words I’m using.” Compare that to what Richard wrote: nothing too complex, and using phrases and sentences to add nuance. You want to come across as Richard, not as me.

    And one final note: as Richard said, “The point of improving your skills of empathy is not to argue more effectively. The point is to be able to live peacefully but still respectfully with them, and to not have to entirely cut off contact with them.” I can’t really add anything more to that.

  • Mel

    I think the advice is fantastic for a young atheist with a conservative family, but after so many years of taking the “high road”, it gets tiresome!

    I don’t go around trying to convince religious people to give up their beliefs. I don’t ridicule their ideals to their faces (although I may do so in my head). Why do they feel the need to convert or evangelize atheists? Why should we feel that we are “coming out”?

    Since I’m ranting, we really need a strong lobby out there, in Washington and elsewhere. I’m sick and tired of religion interfering with politics. Dawkins says it over and over, and I can’t help but wonder where to begin… how to get organized.

    Enough, sorry about that. Thanks for sharing his story, we need more of these out there.

  • Chris Jones

    I’m always astounded when I read these “Ask Richard” segments. Richard continues to offer some of the most practical, well-thought, balanced, reasonable advice I’ve seen. It really is a nice contrast to the most hardcore activists who will always advise the reader/listener to come out of the closet at all costs, to broadcast one’s viewpoints as loudly as possible all the time and tell anyone who disagrees to bugger off, and to stick by one’s guns even if it means severing existing relationships.

    I’ve been bothered by those kinds of one-size-fits-all advice givers, and continue to be pleased to see advice from someone who sees the value in interpersonal relationships and family ties and keeping peace at work and elsewhere, while carefully balancing that with personal integrity to the best of one’s ability. Again, the practical nature of the advice and the value on those things is what sets apart this column from others.

    I realize I’m not commenting specifically on the content of this post, but it is worth sprinkling a bit of praise every now and then just for the sake of encouraging the continuation of those things that are interesting.

  • Chris Jones

    Siamang,

    Nothing in the young man’s letter especially seems to indicate to me that bullying is a factor here. I think Richard’s advice is spot on and more apt to yield an outcome that is favorable in the long run than the alternatives which very well could burn the bridges for years to come. A confrontational response is warranted under the right circumstances but I don’t believe this is it.

  • dartigen

    My solution would be to just not argue. As soon as they bring up religion, change the subject or say ‘I don’t want to talk about this right now, can we talk about something else?’

    The easiest way to end an argument is to not get into one in the first place. Though if they continue to drag it up, sterner words are in order.

  • Mike

    I would add that you emphasize that you respect their Christian beliefs and that you in no way believe that they are dumb or stupid. Any Christian, and especially a parent, becomes very defensive about their own beliefs when you explain. When you declare your lack of belief in god, you are implying that their belief is wrong.

    I also find it helpful to explain that you really cannot help how you belief. It is just how you are. You can’t change just because they try and make you be something different. For whatever reason, you have looked at the evidence and decided that your parents’ religion is not valid from your perspective. I find that “faith requires faith” and once your faith is gone, all of the other evidence no longer makes sense.

  • Siamang

    Chris Jones wrote:

    “Nothing in the young man’s letter especially seems to indicate to me that bullying is a factor here.”

    The following quoted from the questioner’s letter:

    “I am constantly interrupted during my speech and bullied afterwards by both parents and brother.”

    “…adequately defend myself from ridicule”

    “…Are they doing this out of malice, intending to provoke a reaction”

  • Slider33

    Dear Rational and Frustrated,

    Well, one good thing is that you are certainly not alone. You’ve got some good things going for you. There are some pro’s and con’s coming out at your age.

    The drawback, as you have stated, may lead to your family not taking you as seriously as they should.

    However, since you are still young, you have a lot of things to look forward to. You are well ahead of some people that may only discover who they are much later in life (me, for example).

    But take heart, I’m 31 years old and still going through the coming-out process, and it certainly seems like no one is really listening to me (even though I’ve graduated college and have a successful professional career).

    They may “hear” what you are saying, may even lose debates with you, and even admit that you have good points and good arguments that they cannot defend. But if your family is like mine, their beliefs go very, very deep and it will take a lot of time for them to come around and consider your viewpoints as valid and acceptable. It will take them some time before they start to really question their own beliefs.

    It helps to put yourself in their shoes for a bit. Something as earth-shaking as shedding often life-long indoctrination/religion doesn’t come easy, and it doesn’t come overnight. It took years for me to accept those realizations, shed superstition and FEAR, and embrace rationale, it will be the same for them too.

  • Siamang

    …. all of which leads me to believe that these people are bullies as a behavior, and the religion thing is just what they happened to be fixated on.

    Not saying that any course of action is superior to what Richard has said. All I’m saying is that it helps, I think, to recognize that you can’t fix people. And I’m sorry, but if you’ve got mom, dad and brother all in the same household, they’re gonna gang up, and you can’t fix them all at once. The bad behavior of the three mutually reinforces. It creates a room dynamic, and I think you cannot swim against that tide.

    dartigen’s advice is good, I think. Just refuse to talk about it, and get out soon. “Fix” the relationship, as well as you can, when YOU can control the interactions.

  • http://www.yangandcampion.com margaret y.

    I always find Richard Wade’s advice valuable. This will be helpful to me in the future if I’m ever in a similar situation.

  • medussa

    @Richard: Damn, Richard, really good advice.
    @R&F: I’d add to what Mike said a few posts above. Even though you are certain your views are correct (and I agree they are), censor any contempt or ridicule from your voice and vocabulary when referring to their religious beliefs. They are already defensive, and will only become more so. You don’t need to go so far as to respect their beliefs, but you do want to respect your family members if you intend to have a continued relationship. I have mormons and evangelical christians in my family, and I walk this thin line a lot…

  • Paul Zimmerle

    My own mother would refuse to let me walk away from discussions that were not productive, and would literally follow me through the house even after I locked myself in the bathroom or (on a couple occasions) held the door of my room shut while she tried to force her way in. How do you address something like that?

  • Laura

    Richard gives some good advice, but I think he’s being a little too nice here.

    Unfortunately for you, we live in a culture where it’s often expected that atheists have to actively defend their lack of belief. It’s just flat-out inconsiderate to go up to anyone unprompted and badger him/her about why he/she’s a (Muslim/Libertarian/Baptist/pro-choicer/what-have-you), and hopefully someday everyone will accept that this is also true for atheists. Until then, you’re going to have to put up with this, even from people who care about you. (Especially from people who care about you.)

    An austere-and-unflinching rational approach is probably the best way to look at big philosophical questions, but it will only get you so far in family disagreements. Take a look at what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it, the next time you respond to,”Oh, he’s just calling himself an atheist to get attention,” with some sharp anti-religious logic. For newly-minted atheists, it’s really tempting to respond to the incredulity of “HOW does everyone I know believe this stuff?” by being a bit of an arrogant prick.

    Even if you think they’re position is foolish, even if you think their criticisms have no logical basis, even if you think you’re smarter than they are in general, never let on. Accept that, if your parents are set in their beliefs, you won’t be able to change them with logic. When you respond, be pleasant. Be vague. Use “it wasn’t for me” and “I disagree with you, but I still respect you.” Change the subject. Learn to catch yourself if you’re about to say something that sounds condescending. If they’re teasing or ridiculing you, be the bigger person and don’t ridicule them back. Tell them you’re confident in your position, but don’t go into detail as to why.

    Stress the morals and values you still have in common. Live a respectable life, donate blood, and support charities so that nobody can tell you being an atheist makes you immoral.

    This is going to put some distance between you and your parents, but keep in mind that you’ll see a lot less of them once college starts. Limit contact, and if you feel the need try to find a job/internship/volunteer position that’s outside of your hometown in the summer. Cutting off all contact with family should be a last resort in the case of abuse or a major betrayal. Once they see that your atheism isn’t a rebellious phase, and that you’re growing up into a good person, they’ll hopefully ease up on you.

  • muggle

    Let me weigh in in the middle while also admitting that I once again love Richard’s advice.

    I disowned my parents when I grew up. Because they were abusive. Beat you up abusive, verbally abusive. So I obviously wound up on the escape side of the equation. As Richard says more often than not, estrangement is forever. I never reconciled with my parents and I likewise haven’t with siblings who fell off one by one for various reasons from belittling to things nowhere near so benign.

    One sister actually tried to encourage my daughter to run away. My daughter and I are still trying to figure out why as there was utterly no reason for her to wish to do so. We have decided her aunt was batshit crazy. (Based on other things plus this.)

    My parents are now dead and all I feel is relief because now I have absolutely no fear of their showing up on my doorstep and my having to call the cops to get rid of them.

    All that said, I think anyone that has a halfway decent family should be grateful for their good fortune. Family is a good thing to have. Love and support and people you can definitely turn to in time of trouble (you’d be surprised how friends you thought you could disappear if you actually need something from them). That is not something that you should lightly throw away over differences of opinion even when the relationship takes work.

    Also, the letter writer does express feeling bullied but he also expresses reluctance to part. Jeff’s analysis above seems to be most probably accurate. He cares about them and they care about him.

    Given these two things, Richard’s sound advice is worth a try. It may not work. The relationship may deterioate but he should probably make an honest attempt to salvage it first before throwing away something so strong and such a positive thing to have as family.

    It’s a tough, tough thing to go it alone in this world. I’m sure it’s been noticed that I’m a tad (to put it lightly) rough around the edges. Why do you think that is? Because I’ve had to fight my own battles, make my way all alone with no one having my back. I’ve made and lost friends; they come and go — family is ideally forever. Don’t throw that away just because they’re freaked out about you losing your faith, which is the natural reaction given what they think that means.

    If you try and it can’t be salvaged or if they’re genuinely abusive then, yeah, escape. But only throw your family away if they’re worse than having no family at all.

    And by that, I do mean being all alone in the world. Which sounds fine in the good times but take it from someone who knows it definitely is not. Yes, not even in the good times. It sucks more than you know. If you have family, hold them tight if at all possible.

    I didn’t have a real choice. My family tears down and doesn’t build up. They hurt instead of help. It was give them up for my own sake and for my daughter’s. But I’ve felt the lack. Oh, how I wish I had had a family wherein the biggest problem I had with them was they were freaking out because they thought I was condemning myself to hell.

    Now I have an adult daughter and my grandson. I think they will always have my back. I had no one when she was growing up and I as a single mom could have really used love and support of every kind. But even now that she has and I help her with my grandson instead of needing help I wasn’t getting with her, I still feel the pain of the absence of parents, siblings and extended family. It’s irreplaceable.

  • Siamang

    Thanks for sharing that, muggle.

  • Mike

    Thank you Richard for your advice. I would also recommend that this young man GENTLY AND MEEKLY direct his family to the following verses of scripture:

    1Corinthians 13:4-7

    “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    2Timothy 2:24-25
    “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,”

    God Bless,
    Mike

  • Claudia

    R&F, when I was a teen, I found that my, lets say, complex vocabulary was not viewed well by my peers. It sounds very much like your family complaining about your “bloated” or “large” words has the same problem. Many people, and not just in your family, will take your use of formal language as arrogance, as “he thinks he’s better than me” and be predisposed against you as a result. I would suggest simplifying your vocabulary when you’re around them. It’ll make you sound less esoteric and more approachable.

    Also please consider the idea that your family, even your parents, may not have spent nearly as much time as you pondering religious faith. Plenty of people never ever question it, and never speak to a person who has. Overreaction when being confronted with someone like you is sadly common. Unlike a Democrat or a Republican, who knows to expect certain challenges to his or her beliefs, many religious people simply have never learned to defend their beliefs and therefore when they find themselves in that position they are woefully unprepared and often panic and lash out.

    Your parents have been taught that being religious is a sign of being good, and therefore when a child of theirs is not, this is a failure of theirs in raising you. Forget trying to convince them of your view. Smile and say you are happy the way you are, you are at peace. Remind them that you are still the same person you were. Endevour to get good grades and be a good citizen. Gently point out that none of your actions denote a lost person, or a bad person, and that you still hope they can be proud of you for who you are and how you act.

  • The Mad Wombat

    Man… I can’t believe all of this! People put their faith in a 2000 year old collection of middle eastern fairy tales designed to keep goat herders in line and WE have to be polite as they try to ram it down our throats?!? If my entire neighborhood believed that God was some magic purple gopher how does that mean that I’D have to take the “higher ground” and placate their fantastic delusions? My Uncle is a member of Opus Dei (as was I when I was younger), my Aunt’s a minister and my Mother is a Chaplain getting her masters degree in divinity! None of them try to “save” me because they know if they do then I’ll just bring up points like “Hey Mom? Doesn’t 1Timothy 2:12 state that women aren’t even allowed to SPEAK in a church let alone lead it?”. I suppose I COULD take the high road instead of using their own scriptures against them but I’m not the type that puts up with other people’s crap! I believe it might have been Dawkins that said “If you could reason with religious people there wouldn’t BE any religious people” which is why I just leave them to whatever silly rituals they might take comfort in. They do the same with me because they know if they press the issue then I’ll just make them look ridiculous by quoting their bible to illustrate how shallow, xenophobic and petty their God really is!I don’t tiptoe around the magic purple gopher and subsequently I’ve never had to deal with their religious bullying!

  • http://www.exnol.com Ajith

    His letter reminds me of a conversation me and my dad had a few weeks back. I am 22 and had been an atheist since 18. My family knew this and don’t have a problem with it.

    But it was only last day that I found out what he(my father) actually thought. He told me he knows that people my age tend to be rebellious and after some time I would regain my beliefs. at this point I right away told him, I am not having a rebellion and I am a skeptic and that’s why I am not religious. I also told him I can explains things with my own scientific knowledge rather than using magic as an excuse.

    He was upset for a day, but is OK after that.


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