Ask Richard: Atheist Teen Endures Mocking and Yelling from Parents

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

Richard,

I am 16 years old and an atheist. I was raised Catholic, my father is a Catholic, my mother a Lutheran, and I went to Sunday School, all of that, for quite some time. My great-uncle is even a Catholic priest. For a time, I was happy being Catholic. My brother always enjoyed it, and it’s just the religion most of the people in our small town practice. But, I always had my doubts. It wasn’t until age 12 that I really started to lose faith in it. I never told my parents; I thought it wasn’t a big deal.

About two years ago, I was to be confirmed in the Catholic church. That was when things started going downhill. I didn’t want to lie; it was disrespectful to the religion, myself and my family. I knew my father wasn’t the person to consult about religious matters; he’s a very single-minded man. Instead, I went to my mom. I told her I didn’t want to be confirmed in my father’s church, and she asked me why. I told her I did not believe in any of it, and she kind of started to poke fun at it. She tried negotiating with me! At first, she asked me if I would at least believe in some sort of god. Then she offered to let me be a Lutheran…completely missing my point. When I asked her to be serious, she just said that we would talk about after I was confirmed. I tried dropping the topic on my father…it didn’t really get anywhere. The priest in confession was more open-minded than they were, but he still only suggested I talk to my parents about it. In the end, I had to lie to the church and get confirmed, and now, some people will not believe me when I say I’m an atheist because I was confirmed. It felt forced, and I felt terrible.

I understand they may think it’s just a phase. I get that. It’s been almost four years since I’ve reached these conclusions. I believe this. I’m fine with my parents having different beliefs. What I’m not fine with is when they yell at me for not knowing certain terms I was supposed to learn in Sunday School and getting upset when they ask me to go to church. I go for Easter and Christmas out of respect, but I can’t stand going any other time. It just doesn’t feel right.

They make fun of me. They yell at me. They don’t accept me. I’m comfortable with what I believe in; my friends all accept it, and they know it’s not a phase because they accept me, even the Christian ones. The way things are going with my parents, especially my father, just doesn’t feel good for our relationship. Every time they poke fun at me, I feel myself getting farther and farther away from them. They won’t accept who I am, and it’s beginning to make me feel like they don’t care about me. Sometimes, and I don’t want to sound sensitive, it makes me cry in private. I want to be an open-minded, accepting person. They’re just making me resent the Christian religion and…well, people in general. That’s not what I want. That doesn’t make me happy, and I’m not happy. Yet, they do not notice. One of my teachers noticed how it was impacting me, and she’s been comforting to a degree; she’s just not my mom. They don’t even see that I’m upset; they don’t even notice when they’ve gone too far or say anything when I feel like crying. If they do, then that just makes me feel like they hate me. What should I do? How do I make them understand? At the very least, how do make myself happy? I can’t take this.

I really need this advice from someone who knows what they are saying. Thank you; this is greatly appreciated.
-Laurie

Dear Laurie,

My first concern is for your safety and well-being.

You’re expressing a level of frustration and unhappiness that sounds like it borders on despair. Young people who think that their families not only don’t understand them but also don’t care about them are sometimes at risk for depression and for self-harming actions or suicide.

Please forgive me if that is not what is in your mind. As a therapist, my instinct is to respond directly to that possibility first. I’d rather err on the side of caution than overlook signs of danger. If you have any thoughts about harming yourself, or wishing to die, or if you have made any plans or attempts to harm yourself, PLEASE immediately tell the caring teacher whom you mentioned, and/or a school counselor, or a doctor. Let them help you get out of danger. If you are referred to a counselor, insist that you have a regular, secular counselor, not a pastoral counselor or a priest. Make sure that you are safe and sound first, then we can sort out how you can make your situation better. You deserve a chance to make your situation better, and you can.

If that issue is taken care of or is not pertinent, then let’s move on:

Firstly, I admire your honesty and integrity. It’s sad and ironic how most parents will agree that honesty and integrity are important virtues that they want their children to have, yet when those qualities bring their children into disagreement with them, some parents will berate and punish their children instead of praising and rewarding them.

I think your parents do love you and they do care about you, but they simply don’t know how to properly respond to what you’re telling them. Their making fun of you or yelling at you probably comes from fear rather than from anger or meanness. They’re afraid, and like children, they don’t want to believe or accept it. I’m not making excuses for them or condoning their behavior, but if you understand their emotional motives correctly, you will not make the mistake of concluding that they don’t love you or care about you.

That conclusion would only make your situation worse.

I think at this point you should do two things. The first is to find a way to communicate with your parents about this topic that does not escalate the tension into a yelling match. I get the impression that when you speak to each other about this, it bounces back and forth in a kind of feedback loop, getting more tense, louder, and more hurtful, because it’s getting more scary. Remember, if you see this as coming from fear, both theirs and yours, you can respond more constructively than if you assume it’s all about anger or meanness.

Try a different method of communication to break up the verbal feedback loop. When they make fun of you, be completely silent and write on a small piece of paper something like, “Making fun of me only pushes me further away,” or “I’m not making fun of you, don’t make fun of me.” When they yell at you, remain silent and write something like “Yelling at me means you’re afraid. You don’t need to be,” or “Yelling does not make you more convincing,” or “Yelling at me does not make Christianity attractive.”

Now here’s the part that will be the most challenging for you: You must remain calm, cool and collected. I know this is asking much from a normal, intelligent, and passionate 16-year-old, but since your parents’ reactions are basically child-like, you must be the adult in the room.

Write your note calmly, and gently place it in their hands without any angry or aggressive body language. Then either calmly walk out if you can, or wait with patient composure for their response. If you resume talking, then speak softly, slowly, and carefully, as if you are the patient, loving parent, helping her children to calm down and behave like little ladies and gentlemen. If they persist in their mockery or yelling, write one more note saying, “This is abusive and unhelpful. I will not talk with you if you continue this.”

The second thing to do is to expand and improve upon your support system, including that sympathetic teacher and your accepting friends. You need people who listen to you and accept you openly and easily. Also, find supportive groups online, but be careful to protect your own privacy. Use a pseudonym, and never write anything on Facebook or other such places that you don’t want the world to read. It gets out.

Laurie, I commend you for wanting to restore a loving and respectful relationship with your parents while keeping your integrity. You can keep your heart open to that possibility even though you’re not accepting any more of their childish scorn or browbeating. Forgiveness is not about going back to the old ways. It’s about moving on with love and respect when their treatment of you becomes acceptable. We teach people how to treat us, and we teach best by example. So keep your treatment of them respectful, even as you demand respectful treatment from them. You’re growing up. Parents have to grow up too, and accept their children as newly minted grownups. It can be difficult for them.

I also commend you for wanting to be an open-minded, accepting person, and wanting to keep your resentment of your parents’ application of religion from expanding into resentment of people in general. Cynicism and misanthropy would be a tragic handicap for someone like you, who has so much positivism to offer the world.

Please feel free to write again, and keep us appraised of how things are going. You have a larger “family” surrounding you in all directions who respect, accept, and care about you.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

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

  • DavidM

    “In the end I had to lie to the Church and get confirmed…” – yeah, right! Or they would have stretched you on the rack, I suppose?

    • Annie

      It can be very difficult to stand out and go against your parents, teachers, priest and oftentimes friends.  I went through with confirmation when I was 13, even though I didn’t want to.  I have mild regret over it, but I was a child at the time, and the pressure to do so was too great.  I too expressed my lack of desire to be confirmed to my parents and teacher, but was “gently” convinced to follow through. As an adult, that “lie” to the church does not seem like a big deal to me, but during that ceremony, it certainly did.

      Good luck to you Laurie.  If there is no possible way for you to get out of being confirmed, it may not end up being such a big thing later in life (as is the case for me).  And, if you must, try to have a little fun with it.  I would recommend choosing a confirmation name that belongs to a saint that has been excommunicated… and see if it slips through the cracks. ;-)

      • DavidM

        Interesting – you seem to have missed the fact that this happened a couple of years ago. You should try to read more carefully. Did you ever have this problem that people wouldn’t believe you were an atheist because you were pressured to be confirmed and went through with it? Sorry, but my BS-detector is flashing on this little sob-story. If this story is true, it took place in a culture that is very alien to my own.

        • Annie

          Well would you look at that?  I did indeed miss an important part of this story.  I learned a valuable lesson: do not make internet comments after mega-dosing on benadryl.  But, it appears that you found a bit of pleasure in pointing out my faux pas, so it wasn’t a complete waste.  You’re welcome!

          Now to your question:  For me, it was never about what other people would think of me.  It was about agreeing to confirm my baptism, which I didn’t want to do.  I was (obviously) not consulted about my baptism, and the sacrament of confirmation is intended for a person to confirm that initial sacrament.  It is also a time when one is “more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (According to the Introduction of the Rite of Confirmation).    I certainly didn’t want to agree to this, as even after eight years in Catholic school, I managed to not be bitten by the bug of indoctrination.

          As for your comment about the “sob story”, you didn’t make it clear whether you were referring to my story or Laurie’s, so I’ll refrain from commenting.  But it is important to remember that just because something doesn’t occur in the little bubble in which you live, it doesn’t mean it never never happens. 

          • DavidM

            “it is important to remember that just because something doesn’t occur in the little bubble in which you live, it doesn’t mean it never never happens.” Amen to that girl (more than a few atheists need to ponder this point) – and remember, one of the things that often happens in this little bubble of the blog world is that people make unlikely sounding claims, the veracity of which we ought to think critically about. All the best to you.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      She was 13 or 14 at the time. Are you saying that at that age she should have had the self-confidence, determination, and pluck to face down her parents and refuse to take confirmation after you’ve (presumably) read how they treat her when there is a disagreement? 

      It’s easy to talk bravely when you’re not the one who’s going to take the consequences, and you’re also armed with the confidence of greater age.

      • James

        Even if Laurie were willing to go against her parents on the issue, there may be other circumstances we don’t know about.  I was in a similar situation at that age, having to go through with a Confirmation despite not believing in Catholicism, because my very-Catholic parents sent me to a Catholic middle school and being confirmed was a requirement for graduating.

        Another non-Catholic guy I knew went through with his confirmation because his whole extended family was Catholic and he didn’t want to cause trouble in the family by not being confirmed after all of his older siblings and cousins had been.  He was willing to face down his parents, but not his parents plus his grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

        Bottom line, plenty of people feel like they have to go through with confirmation and other religious rituals or be subject to religious or familial backlash, and without being in Laurie’s shoes we’re not really in a position to judge her decision.

        • DavidM

          Obviously that’s all true and I understand that. However, none of that adds up to “I was forced to go through with it.” It sounds like she could have talked to the priest again and had him talk to her parents. It sounds to me like her integrity was just not that important to her in the end. I understand that facing her parents alone may not have been feasible, but the priest could have helped. Maybe not, you the rest of you are in no position to make categorical claims that she has no responsibility, that she was undergoing psychological torture, etc. You know no more than I do.

      • DavidM

        Dear Richard, 
        Presumably you read the letter, so you should know that Laurie’s parents are not monsters, they’re just jerks who are not good at dialogue on certain issues. In addition you should know that she can and has faced down her parents – she only goes to services/mass with them at Christmas and Easter. They don’t force her to go every week and she chooses to go at C&E out of respect. They have problems, but there’s no need to exaggerate them or pretend that you have evidence of horrific psychological impression all based on the one-sided account given in this letter. Evidence, people. You need to recognize when you have very little and what its nature is (one-sided).

        • DavidM

          correction: “oppression,” – not “impression”

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          I don’t know whose writing you’re reading, but it’s not mine. I have not characterized her parents as “monsters,” nor their treatment of her as “horrific psychological oppression.” Perhaps you’re responding to someone else’s reaction to the letter.

          As for Laurie facing down her parents, you continue to imply that since she’s doing that now, she should have been able to do that four years ago on the issue of her confirmation.  Your stance that she held the same burden of self-responsibility then as she does now shows a lack of understanding of child personality development. There’s a huge difference between what a 12-year-old is capable of mustering, and what a 16-year-old is capable of mustering. Integrity gradually develops in a person as a stronger sense of their independent self gradually develops.  The younger they are, the less that is a relevant issue. A 3-year-old is not showing a shameful lack of integrity if he does what his parents tell him even though he doesn’t want to.

          As a 12-year-old, Laurie’s doubts about gods and religion were already working in her intellectual mind, but that does not mean that her emotional development was even close to being strong enough to stand up to her parents. She did try to appeal to them and to the priest, but they basically refused to listen or to take her seriously. 

          Despite her frustration and sense of being alone, she’s now showing more mettle and pluck than I would expect from most 16-year-olds, and she deserves praise and encouragement, not belittlement.

          • DavidM

            Dear Richard,
            I’ve been reading your writing and that of others here. It seems to me that 16 minus two is 14, and that speaking of 3-year-olds is not really relevant at all. I think you have very low expectations of a typical 16-year-old’s ‘mettle and pluck.’ Isn’t it perfectly ordinary for 16-year-olds (and indeed, 13- or 14-year-olds) to quarrel with their parents? ‘Teenage rebellion’ some call it. There’s nothing extraordinary and commendable about it. I really think it’s not easy being a teenager or a parent of teenagers. I think your perspective on this is very biased. On what do you base your claim that the priest was unsupportive? It sounds like she talked to the guy once and he was pretty reasonable. It sounds like she could have come back to him and explained her problems in communicating with her parents… who knows? It seems that your presumptions on the matter are all very biased.

            • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

              And it seems to me that your presumptions on the matter are biased. I err on the side of allowing for the uneven and inconsistent development that teens must go through, and you seem to expect teens to produce the same kind of responses as 30-year-olds. So perhaps we’re both biased, since that is extremely difficult to avoid when assessing the merits of a person’s behaviors from afar though a letter.

              The difference between the effect of my bias and yours is that your passing judgment on Laurie essentially belittles and invalidates her just as her parents are doing in their own way. What you keep insisting that, according to you,  she would have done, could>/em have done, and should have done does not offer any help at all with what actually is happening  now in her life.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       Considering the living hell they’ve made her life even though she did?  I’d say it’s pretty safe to say that they would have gone out of their way to make her life miserable.  My parents were laid back, but I had friends whose parents would have happily just “marched” their teenager to the car, shoved them in, drove them to church, and threatened them the whole way in order to get the kid to do whatever church crap the parents wanted.  Since these parents have no qualms about bargaining for faith or putting their own child down, do you really think it’s a huge stretch to guess they’d probably have marched her to the car and done just what I described above?

      I think not.

      • DavidM

        Living hell? Can you say ‘drama queen’?

        • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

          Says someone that was never a teenage girl. Here’s a tip: Most teen girls are drama queens to some degree. It’s part of growing up.

          Can you say ‘snarky douche with no frame of reference’?

        • http://twitter.com/chanceofrainne Rainne Cassidy

          Clearly spoken by someone who was never an underdeveloped teenage girl with a physically and psychologically abusive parent.

    • Wrich

       They did put her on a Rack. Just psychological, rather than physical.

  • ortcutt

    Laurie,

    It’s good if you are learning to resent Christianity, because Christianity is definitely something that ought to be resented. 

    Here’s my advice.  Challenge them with logic and evidence.  Put them on the defensive and make them understand that they are the ones that have no evidence for their claims.  Watch some Atheist Experience and listen to Matt Dillahunty if you want to see how it’s done.  They are the ones that have the problem, not you.  Turn the questions and the mockery back on them.  You’ll learn a lot about making arguments in the process.  Being an atheist makes you better than them, because unlike them, you don’t believe things for which you have no evidence.   Enjoy it and understand that they are the ones with the problem. 

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      This is setting off my DANGER Will Robinson! alarm.  If you think you have the fortitude for it, ok.  But there’s a lot of emotional baggage and history here.  I’m already not very good at debating in person, but when it comes to my mother, it doesn’t matter how strong my argument and position is.  I’m a mess.  She knows how to push my buttons like nobody else.

      I’ve even tried Richard’s “note” idea, which in general is fantastic, but depends on your own ability to remain calm in the face of a troll like no other.

      Yes, Yes, I did just compare my mother to a troll.

      Thankfully I’m old enough now that I set the boundaries on our relationship.

      • ortcutt

        I just don’t think there’s anything positive about sitting quietly while our loved ones rationalize nonsense.  I used to hold my tongue when my mother talked about her parents, my grandparents, being in heaven, but eventually I just said, “Why do you believe that?”  She’s a biologist.  She should know better than to believe in souls and an afterlife, and I really think that the belief that her parents were in heaven was keeping her from getting closure on their deaths.  So, I said, “C’mon.  You’re a scientific person, and you’re smart enough to understand that they don’t exist anymore.”  We had a long discussion after that.  We had a long car ride after that, but she really does seem to have more closure now.  

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          We had a long car ride after that

          And you didn’t throw yourself from the moving car?

    • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

      Not reason to resent the Church, but churches like that are not Christ centered and clearly don’t teach from the New Testement.  Most people with your opinion are simply ignorant to what true Christianity is and most of the time it’s because of situations like this one.

      • http://yetanotheratheist.com/ TerranRich

        Ah, the “no true Christian church” argument, eh?

        • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

          It’s actually not an argument, it’s a matter of fact.  I experienced what I’m telling you first hand.  My bad church experience push me away too.  I was also very narrow in my thinking that all churches were the same.  Couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Sometimes you just have to find the right church.  Other times, it will have no impact, but there is no reason a 16 year old should give up based on her Catholic and Lutheran experience.  She has seen a very small picture of the church and hasn’t experienced a true Christian experience, IMHO.

          • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

            Which Christian churches are particularly welcoming homes for atheists?

            • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

              The 3 I’ve attended over the last 11 years are.  We actually had an atheist attend an apoligetics class.  That was awesome during the discussion times.  He brought his identical twin brother (also atheist) to the final class to watch the video debate. 

              He also showed up to a service with his family once.  Everyone was very respectful and he spoke his mind respectfully as well.  In the end, he is still an atheist.  I see him around sometime and we exchange pleasantries.  He’s a really nice guy, not one of the angry slanderous atheist.  Of coarse he got to see an pretty accurate picture of Christianity though, IMHO

              • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                Based on the way you acted in the last thread, I find that surprising.  I do hope that was just an incorrect first impression.

                • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

                  I’m sorry you had a bad impression of me.  I find that a lot of people stereotype me with what there experience has been with Christians.  I admit that I’m blunt and tell it the way I see it (painful truth), but it’s done without judgement, insults and slander (or atleast I feel like I am).

                  Look I agree with your side regarding a lot of Christians, but that truely is NOT me.  I’m very tolerant to everyone.  Just because I think a behavior is wrong as long as it’s 2 consenting adults there is no reason to be hateful or judgemental.  You have never seen me say that anyone is going to hell (“don’t judge lest you will be judged”).  I’m frequently viewed as hateful because of my opinions.  Those actions I see as bad behavior between 2 consenting adults is between them and God IMHO, but I will still call it the way I see it.  No judging or condemning, just my opinion. 

                  Like I have said, I have family, friends and clients who are gay and I get along with them very well.  We also have very civil conversations from time to time.

                  Honestly the reason I’m here is because of the mis-information and stereotyping of Christians.  Things like “God hates gays” and this post for that matter with the way that poor girls parents are treating her.  God does NOT hate gays and they will NOT all be going to hell.  I can’t stand it when self proclaiming Christians behave that way.

                • Patterrssonn

                  Of course they’re not going to hell HP, no one’s going to hell.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  My impression doesn’t have anything to do with your brand of Christian.  Your theology sounds very similar to a good friend of mine’s.  We cordially discussion religion frequently.  Although, he doesn’t think gay people are doing anything wrong period, and that hell doesn’t even exist.  But I digress.

                  The issue is that you pulled all the standard classic troll moves. I don’t mean “I disagree with you troll”, I mean the “I have no interested in the actual answer, I just want to push peoples’ buttons and get a reaction troll”.

                  I dare say most of us know Christians we like and respect.  It’s not like we think all Christians are Hell Mongering Gay Haters.  We may talk that way here in our barber shop, but I think we all have our moments of frustrated hyperbole.

                • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

                  I don’t mean to come across that way either.  I just disagree with what people are saying a lot of the time and a lot of the time I find it to be untrue and slanderous.

                  I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to be un-wanted here.  I’ll will speak my mind and ignore (I’ll try my best, but I’m far from perfect) the slander directed at me.  But, if there is a response that I find to be untrue thats a differen story.

                  Btw, I don’t understand the Troll analogy. Please explain why you call people like me that.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  #2 or #3 here 
                  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=internet%20troll

                  More in-depth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

                  Unfortunately ‘troll’ has come to also mean ‘minority position in the discussion’ and I didn’t mean that.  Just being a Christian on an atheist blog, or vice versa, doesn’t make you a troll.  

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  If someone directs slander at you, then absolutely call them on it.  We don’t tend to turn cheeks here.

                  It does help to have a thick skin though.

          • ortcutt

            Christianity has a bad attitude to evidence.  Where is there a church that is testing the claims of Christianity against the evidence?  Nowhere, and that’s a dealbreaker.

          • Marylynne7

            Wow. 

            First of all, your experiences don’t make something a fact.   Do you know anything about how perception and the brain works?    We experience lots of things that are dependent on our interpretation of past experiences, brain chemicals, and random electrical charges that are different from any objective observation.  For example, ask two victims of a car accident or mugging to write a police report.  They will write exactly what they experience, and they will be very different and neither would be what a nearby camera would have caught.  

            Second, I’ve done what you suggest.   When I started questioning, I started a 10 year exploration that started with a rather desperate attempt to keep any kind of god.  I left Catholicism and was at the last Billy Graham Cincinnati rally, I attended my sister’s Bible-based Church of Christ, was at Unity, and went through lots of other beliefs, pitching each one as I found it didn’t make sense either.   I’m now at UU as an out atheist (with lots of company – the minister apologizes if she mentions Jesus at the pulpit). 

            Third, the reason a 16 year old might give up on religion is because SHE DOESN’T SEE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO BELIEVE THERE IS A GOD.   Not because she hasn’t found the right one.    And suggesting a Bible-based church to someone who is not a person of faith is bizarre, really.   If I doubt that there is any higher being with personality and opinion that is aware of us, I’m not going to believe he told us that women shouldn’t preach or I should attend 3 hours of services. 

            Imagine this:  You just told me you don’t believe in Santa Claus.  Hey, Truth, you just haven’t found the right Santa.  Those mall Santas are not real, don’t give up.  Don’t let one bad mall Santa push you away from Santa belief.  In Norway, Santa wears a gown instead of those bloomer things, and in Sweden he has a sleigh with horses instead of reindeer.   Try believing in a different Santa, and you will find love and presents in your life.   

            • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

              Mary,

              1.  It is a matter of fact.  Churches have different doctrine and agendas.  I prefer a church with the bible being the agenda, not human behavior.

              2. I also said, “Sometimes you just have to find the right church. Other times, it will have no impact…” which was the case for you.

              3. Her experience is enough to make many not believe in God or resent God.  I was just suggesting that a completely different experience with a bible based church and her parents behaving differently would be a good idea.  16 year olds don’t usually have a lot of life experience so they need to try different things.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Monotheism 2.0.  “We didn’t like the rotten bits so we tried to whitewash over them.”

          As opposed to 3.0 “We liked the rotten bits so much we decided to create a new main character and write some more” and

          4.0 “We liked it all so much we decided to write some fan fiction”

  • T-Rex

    Stories like this pis me off. Adults, nay parents, should know better but they’ere blinded by their irratinoal beliefs and dangerous superstitions. Do your best to stick it out until you are old enough/financially able to get the hell out of there.
    Indoctrination is child abuse and this is a perfect example of the abusive behavior religion leads to. Good luck and know there are many people out there that will support you through these trying times. It will get better.

  • Glasofruix

    Just tell them that in the end it’s you who’ll decide in what kind of home they’ll be living in when they get old ^^

  • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

    I read this and thought “Oh my, that could have been me at 16″ when Laurie first started writing about her family make up.  My great-aunt was on her way to becoming a nun, but a familial obligation (ailing mother) took precedence in her life, but she’s still ridiculously devout.  As I kept reading though I saw where my life went to a totally different direction because my parents acted like parents about it.  You seriously have my sympathy.  I don’t even want to imagine how hard it is right now in your household for you.  *big hugs*  It can get better though!

    Laurie, Richard’s advice is spot on.  Don’t let yourself get sucked into despair and don’t ever think your parents hate you.  Like Richard said, they’re scared.  When I came out as pagan as a teenager (I’ve since become atheist), my great-aunt was terrified for my soul.  She did the bargaining thing your mom tried.  She wasn’t happy until she found out that I believed in *something*.  For some reason the idea that I might not believe in anything scared her more than a rabid badger coming at her.  I won’t lie, I feared she’d call up some older gentleman in the church she knows and perform an exorcism if I didn’t give her the answers she wanted to hear.  I shudder to think how she’ll react when she finds out that I’m now an atheist (we don’t talk much) because I refuse to pretend otherwise.  I don’t pretend to understand the motivation or the fear, but it’s real and your parents are feeling it.  Like Richard said, be calm.  Be the chill, composed, mature person in the conversation.  It’s not easy, especially if you’re a very passionate or emotional speaker (like myself), but it can be done and I have nothing but faith (*grin*) that you can do it.  Lead your conversations with your parents by example: Your calm, rational example.

    I will suggest another approach that works well for my husband and I when we’re having disagreements:  We have “The Yoda.”  The Yoda is a bobble head of Yoda, which seems silly and childish, but hear me out! 

    When we’re having a discussion that’s heated, or a disagreement, we have a rule: The only person allowed to speak is the person in possession of The Yoda.  When the person is done speaking (we have a five minute rule, but you can make up whatever sort of rule you want here), Yoda is put back on neutral ground (like the coffee table) and someone else is permitted to pick it up and address things.  If your arguments run like most peoples’ you’re all probably butting in and shouting over each other in the end.  This might be a good way to get ALL your thoughts out before getting shouted down or made fun of with snarky remarks. 

    Just find some silly knickknack (A Buddy Jesus would probably be ideal in this situation) and institute a rule that family discussions about religion or politics will require the use of The Knickknack.  I’ve found it helps us be more calm when we finally do have a chance to address the other person’s feelings and there’s a lot less shouting because having to wait for the other person to finish can help deflate the sails of anger, hurt, and offense so that responses aren’t knee-jerk and overly emotional.

    I wish you the best of luck, honey!  I hope your parents can see the error of their ways and start acting like adults.  You seem like a pretty great kid, they’re crazy if they can’t see that they have an honest, well-spoken daughter!  Help them get over their fear.  Show them that you’re still the amazing daughter they raised and that religion doesn’t even factor into that.

    And for what it’s worth: I’d be proud to have a kid with your integrity.  Your parents *should* be proud of you.  I am.  :)

  • Onamission5

    I want to tell Laurie first that I understand what is happening to her as much as a stranger can, and second, even if her relationship with her parents doesn’t improve with time– which I dearly hope it does– her life likely will. Those supportive friends, those understanding adults outside of her birth family, there is a good chance they will become her true family, the one she needs to heal, the one she can rely on for acceptance and nurturing. Sometimes our birth families can only get us so far, and from there, we have to make the family we need.

    If it was in my power, I’d make it so that all children got the kind of families they needed to feel supported, cherished, and appreciated in life. We don’t all get that from our FOO, but we can very often find what we need in our friends and mentors.

  • TheAnalogKid

    I don’t want to say that things could be worse, because this is abusive behavior but, I’m still feeling fucked up about the story I read earlier today about the guy in India who cut off his daughter’s head then paraded it through his village, because he was upset over his daughter’s lifestyle.

    http://news.yahoo.com/indian-man-beheads-daughter-rage-over-lifestyle-132826167.html 

  • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

    I can tell you that having grown up in an Episcipal/Catholic environment I was never moved by the experience and looking back I see the denominations as the problem.  They are very condemning and don’t offer grace for sin.  Sadly I believe those denomination are not Christianity confuse a lot of people with what real Christianity is. 

    I don’t know what to offer you because I understand your position having been very turned off with the church because of those denominations.  The painless way would be to go with the flow to appease your parents.  I wonder if you would consider asking your parents to allow you to try a bible based church preferably one that is very open about grace and forgiveness without condemnation.  For me, I never really understood what Christianity was until the age of 33 through attending a church like I described.

    Good Luck.

    • Tom

      You’re not paying a great deal of attention, are you?  You’re just taking the same bargaining/its-just-a-phase/you-don’t-understand tack as this unfortunate young woman’s mother already did, trying to drag her back into any religion even if it can’t be her preferred one, and missing the point entirely.  The problem is not “how can I get back into religion,” it’s “how can I get back into my family?”

      I think this letter is quite clearly from an atheist, not a different kind of Christian, and not somebody who has any interest in becoming one.

      You said you didn’t know what to offer – maybe you might if you tried actually considering how to solve the problem for her, not for yourself.  She’s already made it clear in her response to her parents thus far that what worked for you is no good to her.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        The fact that she has Christian friends who accept her makes me think that the option has in fact occurred to her, and yet she’s still an atheist.  But that might be a PainfulTruth to some people.

      • Guest

        As with all of his other posts on this website, HighPriestOfTheCluelessNonSequitur completely misses the point, continuing to hammer home this idea that somehow *your* church is not the right one.  This is the same person who in another post denied the fact that Catholicism and Episcopalianism are Christian denominations.  Seriously, how is it that you (and presumably, the other members of your particular church/cult) get to redefine religions to fit your hermetic worldview in spite of historical evidence to the contrary (or even common sense)?  This says all we need to know about your credibility.

        I’m afraid that the real PainfulTruth is the lack of evidence for your magical friend Jesus.  I don’t know who you think you are convincing on this forum — you’d be better served preaching to your fellow lemmings in the feedback loop of some religious website. 

    • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

      Oh yea, avoid the churches that speak in tongues and handle snakes.  I really think you should try a church like this for yours self more then your parents.  Really no reason for them to pressure you or you to be afraid of a church.  Everything you are describing is an indicator to me that it is NOT a Christ centered church.  Sadly, churches and people (like your parents) are not a good representation of what Christianity really is.

      If you still refuse then my advise to your parents would be to stop pressing you as it’s not there responsibility at this point.  Unfortunately they as well as the church you have attended have created this problem.  They should be praying for you, encouraging you, and trusting God with the results.  IF they continue on this path they will not only build a bigger wall between you and Christ, but it could also have a long lasting impact on your relationship with them as well.

      • Tom

        Once again,  her relationship with her parents is the *only* problem here – it doesn’t matter a damn if there’s a “wall between [her] and Christ.”  You’re projecting your own issues onto someone else, then appending hers as an afterthought.

        • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

          Tom I believe you missed my point.  They (the parents) are making what they (the parents) see as a problem (their opinion) worse by their behavior all the while affecting their (the parents) future relationship with her.

          In other words, they (the parent) are doing the opposite of what they wanted.

    • Patterrssonn

      Why are Christians so angry?

      • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

        That’s a good question.  Perhaps the absence of the Holy Spirit.  Remember the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and selfcontrol. 

        Self proclaimed Christian that judge and spew hate are the opposite of that and doing a very poor job representing Christ.  Reading the bible and quoting bible verses does NOT make you a Christian.  Please don’t judge us all according to those.

        • amycas

           I know a few atheists who exhibit all of those things. Does that mean they are filled with the Holy Spirit?

          • HighPriestOfThePainfulTruth

            The atheist I referred to earlier also exhibited all those things.  Many don’t need help with those areas of their life, many do, that’s why I said “Perhaps.”

  • SDS_ita

    I Think Richard’s advice was terrific, specially the first part where he adresses the possibility that she might harm herself. When I read the letter this fear also came clearly to me since she really seems desperate and all alone.

    I am all grown up and have my own family now. But I remember when I was 16 and whished with all my being to be as fast as I could financially independent as to be able to move out. My parents divorced each other when I was 20 and they asked with whom I would stay. By then I was finishing college and had 2 jobs, so I said, with no one of you. I rented a bedroom with a really small toilet over top a karaoke bar - it was what I could afford. And I lived happily as hell. All I has was book and a mattress. For months all I ate was bread and juice but I never, never asked for their help. And life went on. I graduated, got better jobs, eventually was able to stay with only one well paying job, found my boyfrined which today is my husband and father of my children, and atheist too. We had a beautiful non-religious wedding on a garden in front of the beach at sunset. Years later we started plannig to have children and I got pregnant of twins! Now we have two great looking babies just learning to walk. And life is great.

    And the best of it all is that my children have me as their mom. As one day, your children will have a great fuckin’ mom, different from all other moms, because that mom will be you. And you will rule motherhood ’cause you will know how to be a great mom because you know how people can suck at it.

    Linger on, Laurie. Linger on.

    One day, you will show them all.
    And it will feel great.
    Stay with us and prove it.

  • http://twitter.com/Outcast_Kyle Edgar

    I’m going to say the straightes way possible, hope you don’t mind; your parent are a bunch of stupid A-holes who doesn’t even deserve being called parents. In your place I would wait until you turn eighteen, just ignore them meanwhile, keep a mental list of all their grievances. Then when you turn eighteen put them together in the same room and then begin the airing of grievances, after thet tell them that they can go to f*ck themselves, and if wanna make it more dramatic kick them in the crotch. Then just walk away pick up your thing and get out of there forever.

    I know it sound a bit rude but when you’re facing jerks you need to be a jerk. I had this aunt that used to mock my athism too. The day I told er that she could go f*ck herself was the the day she never did it again.

    Meanwhile just keep your head right and remember to take what stupid people say for wah it’s worth, even if the’re your “parents”.

    • Occam

       …and don’t forget to set up the Festivus Pole before the Airing of Grievances.  ;-)

  • David McNerney


    What I’m not fine with is when they yell at me for not knowing certain terms I was supposed to learn in Sunday School and getting upset when they ask me to go to church.”

    There’s a reason why atheists know more about the bible than Christians.  We have realized that it is the best weapon against them.

    I go to church with my wife on a regular basis.  While they’re all doing their jumping up and down and signing, I generally have my head buried in the bible.  It’s a fascinating insight into ancient peoples.

    And there is nothing better than when they try to mock you, you slam them back with something straight from the bible – and never, ever quote the bible directly, always just give the reference – that really makes them mad. “The Devil can quote scripture…” – damn right he can!  

    Jeremiah 10 is my favourite, especially at Christmas time. If they’ve got a Christmas tree – make sure to compliment how they’ve adorned it with Silver and Gold and how well it’s fastened with Hammer and Nails.

    Know more than they do – knowledge is power.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Laurie’s parents simply don’t see her as an autonomous person- they see her as an extension of themselves.  I went through this with one parent, thankfully, not with both.   She just has to look forward to achieving her own goals, and accepting that  even if she is wildly successful in the real, secular world, her parents will always see her “faults” before her accomplishments.

  • beatlefreak9

    “…my father is a Catholic, my mother a Lutheran, and I went to Sunday School, all of that, for quite some time. My great-uncle is even a Catholic priest. ”

    That’s exactly my situation, except I was raised Lutheran and I went through confirmation (though I made sure my parent’s knew I didn’t like it, and confirmation day itself was the worst day of my life.)

    Hang in there!

  • DavidM

    For those who have no actual experience of contemporary western Catholicism, confirmation is often regarded as a going away party. It’s the time when many parents stop taking their kids to mass. It is not an event that carries with it a presumption that all who are confirmed are sincere believers – it would be nice if they were, but only a VERY naive person would refuse to believe that someone who had been confirmed, since she had been confirmed, did not believe in God.

    • Yukimi

      I live in a pretty catholic country, Spain, and I don’t known anyone of my age or younger that is confirmed. I wouldn’t go as far as refuse to believe they are atheists of course but it is a big deal around here since most people don’t get past communion (my boyfriend is a lifelong atheist but her mother was religion teacher and his uncle a catholic priest so he had to attend religious class for years but didn’t have to get through confirmation).

      • DavidM

        Interesting. Here in N.America there’s a joke about a priest with bats in the belfry; he wanted to get rid of them so he baptized them and confirmed them and they never came back. I know not all dioceses are the same, but in any case, the point is, even where the sacrament is a ‘big deal,’ as you say, have you ever heard of someone claiming to be an atheist and people just refused to believe her because she had been confirmed? Sounds fishy to me.

    • Annie

      In the little bubble in which I lived during the time of my confirmation (midwest USA, early ’80s), Confirmation was a much bigger deal than you paint here.  Special classes began almost a year prior, and the preparations were rather extensive.  The bishop even came in to say the mass that was part of the sacrament.  It was a big, big deal, according to the nuns and priests who taught us, and was not at all viewed as a “going away party”.  It was explained to me (from what I remember) that at baptism, my godparents vowed to assist my parents in helping me grow in the church, but at Confirmation, it would be me and my sponsor. 

      The church I attended was actually rather progressive at the time.  Mass was no longer in Latin, short-haired nuns, sans habits and veils, sang “kumbaya” on their acoustic guitars to replace the dusty organ in the loft.  And, of course, this was well after Vatican II.

  • Radek

    Laurie,
    I hope you are reading the comments here. Please, rest assured that things are looking up, this will get better. There is a large number of people, fellow atheists, some pretty much your age, some a little older, who support you. Some of us have experiences similiar to yours.

    I live in Poland, still a strongly Catholic country (statistics say even up to 93% people here are Roman Catholic, but the reality is not quite as bad) and wasy raised by two parents who are religious enough to attend church every Sunday. When I came out to my parents (I was 19 then and a non-beliver for at least two years) they did not take it well, believe me. My father wanted to disown me, he said I was not his son anymore. My mother would not even talk to me, besides what was inevitable. They forced me to go to church every Sunday (otherwise they would make me move out immediately).
    I strongly recommend you heed Richard’s advice – don’t try to outyell them, write these little notes he proposed and endure for a while. I was not wise enough to do something like that – I left home for a year. When I tried to say goodbye to my mother, she pushed me away. Don’t do anything that I did. It took a year for me and my parents to start talking again. I moved back with them because I wanted to go to the university and get a degree. My only condition was that I don’t go to church and they accepted. It took us some time to adjust and it was not always easy.
    I am 27 now, starting my own family and my relationship with my parents is better than ever. They learned to accept my lack of faith. I learned to show my family respect and go to church when we have a wedding or a funeral in the family. We are all right, but we went through two years of hell, both because they could not be mature enough to accept my atheism, and because I wasn’t mature enough to make my case in a calm and patient way.

    Do this, be smarter than me. Don’t try to “win” this. Don’t make threats. Be more mature than I was and more mature than your parents are. I know you can do this.

    Take care, you can always drop me a line if you feel lonely or overwhelmed.
    Radek, Poland

    • Radek

      If you do want to write – use this e-mail address: szyroki(at)gmail.com

    • S_Daltro

       This is by far the most beautiful reply I have ever read on this blog. Much more beautiful and full of wisdom than many replies even from religious people that sometimes write here. I wish I could be your friend, radek. And I sincerely hope Laurie is reading this.

  • DavidM

    Sorry, but basically isn’t what we have here: “Teen not getting along with parents – relationship strained” – wow, major newsflash! Where is this happening? Roll in with the press! Don’t get me wrong, this girl may well be a real person who could benefit from real support, I’m not belittling her, just the melodramatic reactions of many of the ‘faithful’ here to the situation she describes. Like one dude said, she didn’t get her head cut off. This is an individual who apparently feels moral outrage that her mother would try to ‘negotiate’ with her upon being informed of her beliefs. We shouldn’t expect a 14- or 16-year-old to be particularly mature, but we should encourage it, and maturity requires attempting to see things from the other’s perspective, not just your own.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      …I’m not belittling her,…

      Yes, you are. Your comments are filled with belittlement and harsh judgment of her, even in your comment above, where you claim that you’re not belittling her. I haven’t read one single word from you that would be helpful, or encouraging, or supportive to Laurie. Nothing but more of the same crap she’s getting from her parents.

      Now you dismiss the whole thing as trivial. If it’s so unimportant in your view,  then why did you bother to comment at all? Perhaps you should pick other, more “significant” discussions where you can parade your superiority.

      • DavidM

        That’s a bunch of nonsense, Richard. Pointing out the shortcomings of someone’s perpective on a situation is not belittlement. Asking people to be reasonable and fair in assessing a one-sided presentation of a complex situation is not harsh. You are a very unbalanced man if you think otherwise. Sometimes the truth hurts, but a dose of critical thinking just might be good for you in the long run. I think that point is anything but trivial – it’s tremendously important to have a realistic sense of what is trivial and what is important. Those who can’t distinguish between the two should learn to – that is why I bother to comment. I care about people. Some people hate thinking and discourage it in others… but that doesn’t excuse their thoughtlessness.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    I can think of no better advice than that given by Richard, however i always recommend people in your situation (or similar) visit Reddit r/atheism where you will find support from people your own age & i suspect some who may have even gone through similar experiences. Good luck & i’m sure things will eventually improve.


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