I am a 14 year old. At the age of around 12 I told my parents that I was an agnostic atheist. They were quite repulsed at first, as they saw atheism as a form of baby eating cult. I have slowly given them a more realistic approach to atheism over the years, yet it is quite annoying how they are treating me at the moment. They keep giving me all of these Christian books to read, and have obviously never read them themselves. It is quite obvious they want their ‘little boy’ back.
I humor my parents and read the books, page to page, cover to cover. They are all recommended by Christian fundie groups, and keep posing the same old theological arguments. It puzzles me why they believe these (and trying to refrain from ad hominems) scientifically illiterate people. I debunk the books, and then tell my parents my opinion on them. Most of them are too general, and allow the ideas to be positioned to any god.
These are the only books on philosophy and religion they allow me to have. I cannot have anything scientific or modern, as they don’t want me to become an ardent, non-moving, ‘evil’ atheist. They think that just because I am an agnostic atheist that they have the right to believe I am remarkably weak minded, and will eventually turn back.
I appreciate being open-minded, and I think the idea of reading Christian literature is a good one. But they are limiting my knowledge and capabilities by not allowing any elaboration on my point of view. To put it analogously, it is like not allowing a Christian to read the bible, so he can only trust the idea through third party sources (i.e. YouTube or such).
I truly hate information being limited, yet it is hard to not be ‘close-minded’ or ‘hateful’ to my parents in regard to this issue.
You haven’t asked a specific question, but I want to give you some encouragement and suggestions.
Firstly, I admire your patience, and I envy your intelligence. Plenty of 14 year-olds fancy that they’re much smarter and more sophisticated than their parents, but when that is actually so, as it seems to be in your case, it can be very frustrating for everyone in the family. Your parents seem to suffer from an anti-intellectualism that is sadly common and widespread in America. Their upbringing has engrained in them the belief that truth and virtue come from a Central Authority, rather than from investigation and personal responsibility. They struggle to live in a world that every day becomes a little more suited to you and a little less suited to them, so they are continuously defensive and reactionary.
Try not to become bitter toward your parents, even though they exasperate you. The fact that your resentment is justified will not prevent it from hurting all of you, and you the most. Like acid, resentment eats holes in everything it touches. On the other hand, I also acknowledge that the fact that they’re acting out of love does not make their restrictions any less stifling and oppressive to you. Deep, slow breaths, deep, slow breaths.
So I suggest two things. One, endure until your age brings you more autonomy, and two, in the meantime get a little sneaky. I feel a little sad to suggest that you should smuggle knowledge into your fertile mind under your parents’ radar, but like your body, your mind must be given what it needs to be nurtured now, not later. Youth, with its amazing powers of absorption, is very brief.
You seem to have enough privacy online to send me this email, and to have been visiting Friendly Atheist. So I wonder if you can find many of the things you’d like to read online. As long as you avoid possessing a book made of paper, your parents are unlikely to discover that you’re reading things outside of their narrow, Christian-centric parameters. If you’re staring at your monitor you could be reading anything as far as they are concerned. While you peruse a secular, rational work, if they walk by, one click and you’re back to a “safe and acceptable” website. I suspect that several Friendly Atheist readers are doing this very thing at their work stations right now.
I looked for online copies of a wonderful book that you might like, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, but it seems to be only downloadable through commercial software that may require either payment or involvement that might not be possible for you. I don’t really understand what is required. Perhaps someone reading this knows of a free, no-strings-attached online resource for this superb book.
I don’t want to recommend only atheist works, but there are some classic essays that I like because they’re relatively brief but very powerful, their eloquent persuasion is incomparable, and the fine art of their English is simply delicious.
Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)
The complete works of Robert Green Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s essays are profuse. Be sure to read Why I am an Agnostic, (1896) and Superstition, (1898).
Hopefully, the several supremely knowledgeable regulars who haunt this blog will have their own suggestions of broader topics for reading in untraceable, non-paper formats, or other ways to be “a little sneaky” in your self-education.
In the meantime Anon, continue your patient educating of your parents. Under your tutelage, they have progressed from seeing atheists as demonic cannibals to a teenager in a phase. Well, as annoying as it may be, that’s still progress. And we should give them credit for some good tutelage of their own. Apparently, even in their perhaps backward, controlling way, and even though their specific religious beliefs have bounced off, they have succeeded in instilling in you the essence of their best human values. You are not just an intelligent person, (which is probably painfully obvious to them), it is clear that you’re also a good, kind and loving person. By your living example, you will be able to show them that. You will be debunking the more persistent myth they may harbor that atheists cannot be so.
They will never “get their little boy back,” but once their fears have been assuaged, they will be proud of the man he has become.