Note: I responded to this letter by email, offering the kind of caution and encouragement that I usually give to young people who are in very vulnerable positions. The advice itself is not remarkable; what you might expect for this situation. I decided to publish it to raise awareness about atheists in developing countries, where sometimes poverty combines with inducements by missionaries to create unique social pressures, and conflicts between native culture and imported religions complicate things even more. I think we usually picture atheists struggling with the challenges found in developed countries, but this person apparently comes from a place utterly different from what most of us have experienced.
Subject: Help. I cant sleep.
I am not very literate in writing. But I need some advice.
I come from a very poor family. They are all mormons. I myself am a mormon but something in my heart tells me there is more to life then being a ‘mormon’.
There is 24 members in our small house here where I live. We live next to the sea. However it is full of pollutants. My mother is having an affair with the Priest of our church. And at dinner time she prays like she is a holy mormon. The father of this household is very strange, he goes to work early and comes back smelling of acid.
I have caught him once wearing womens high heels. My other friends say that he is a poofta that works for money in Town.
Sir. I am very how do I say, Disheartened at this life. My family all together makes only 50 US dollars per week.
I Come to school and use the internet and I have found that atheism seems to have all the answers using science and fact. I want to become a atheist. However. This place where I live is very strict on Mormonism.
I AM AFRAID TO TELL MY Family that I don’t believe in the Holy prophet Joseph smith, may his soul rest in peace.
I Want to prove to everyone that I am a atheist!
Can you help Richard?
I think that you should keep your atheism private for now. Do not tell your family, and do not tell anyone who might tell your family. If they find out, they will probably be very upset. If Mormonism is very strict there, they might treat you badly. Until you are living on your own, and until you have your own job and your own money, keep this to yourself. You do not need to prove anything to anybody, and you do not need to bring trouble onto yourself.
You can still be helpful to your family without believing what they believe. Believing or not believing something does not make you good or bad. You are a good person because you do good things. Be good to others just because it helps your family, your friends and your community. Give people love and help even though they are not perfect.
Leave your mother’s and your father’s problems to them. What they do is their business, not yours. What they do makes them what they are, and what you do makes you what you are. You can still keep being a good person no matter what they do.
The best thing for you to do is to stay healthy and strong. Keep your mind clear by staying away from alcohol and drugs, and go to school as much as you can. Study hard like you were a hungry man, hungry for knowledge. Use the internet and read books as much as you can. Learn everything you can about science and the real world around you.
If the school or the church teaches you religious things that you don’t believe, just listen quietly and wait for the day when you can stand up on your own. Then you will be able to tell people what you think. But when you do, be ready for some of them to be angry. There are other people around you who are atheists too, but they are also being careful. You will slowly find them, and then you can have friends who think the way you do.
Believe in your own ability to learn and grow and be successful. Do not be disheartened by your difficulties. Life is difficult, but you can make a good difference. Many great and wonderful people have come from poor families, and some of them were atheists too. Study hard, work hard, don’t drink alcohol or use drugs, be an honest and kind person, and you will be able to help make things a little better. Maybe even much better.
I wish you all the very best and I hope that you are able to make your life and the lives of others better.
With deep respect,
You may send your questions for Richard to . Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.