Ask Richard: Atheist Teen Endures an Oppressive, Cultish Family

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

Dear Richard,

I’m a 17 year old atheist who came out to his parents about 6 months ago. My parents were shocked to hear it. They didn’t know what to do. My parents are extremely fundamentalist Christians. Its more of a cultish Christianity. Women must wear skirts to the ankles, stay quiet, etc.. My parents don’t listen to anything I have to say anymore because I’m an atheist and they think I’m just pushing an agenda.

In response to telling them I was an atheist, they started bringing me to a stricter church where I go twice Sunday and once Wednesday. They are getting counseling from the pastor there, who said they should force as much Christianity on me as possible. It’s painful to even be there. The few people I know there, know that I’m an atheist and judge me for it. If there is a heaven, I hope I go to hell just to get away from people like that. I don’t know what to do with church. I have done what most people recommend, which is go and ask questions. That doesn’t work for me because it ends in getting grounded or being sent to the pastors office. I skipped church once, and my parents had a serious talk with me about kicking me out. They can’t legally do it since I’m 17 and I don’t think they will anyways.

I should also note that I am homeschooled. I have a regular Bible class and a “creationist science” class everyday. Everyday throughout those classes, my mom makes remarks telling me that I need to pay close attention. This usually ends into an argument when I explain the flaws in the logic used. I hate to argue but my mom always escalates a debate. So I should stay clear of that. My parents are very condescending towards me. They don’t do it to my brother because he is a Christian. It is impossible for me to respect someone who brings so much pain into my life and holds me back from the real world. Ironically my mom makes most of the decisions at home. She is very unapologetic with the house rules when it comes to church and Christianity.

As for friends, its hard to make new ones because I’m homeschooled. Also my parents won’t let me make new friends without their approval. So getting an atheist friend is not even an option. I’ve never even met an atheist in real life. The friends I do have accept me, but criticize my unbelief all of the time. I doubt I can go a day with one of them without an atheist joke being brought up.

I would move out but my family would not help me through college if I did. I also need to finish high school. I know you said to be concise but I must thank you for your lectures and books. They were one of the many sources which lead to my atheism. I appreciate the help.

Brandon

Dear Brandon,

Your very last remark about my “lectures and books” sounds like you may have mistaken me for the luminary Richard Dawkins. I’m Richard Wade, a very minor player in the atheist movement. This has happened on several occasions. If that is the case, I’m very glad that you have had access to Dr. Dawkins’ wonderful lectures and books, especially given the risky and restrictive situation you are in. Keep reading and listening to them, and carefully protect your access to them.

I usually have to receive several letters from young atheists to find as many of the difficulties that are contained in this one. I’m considering writing a book for the religious families of young atheists, and this letter will fill most of the chapter on what not to do.

Forcing much more religious indoctrination down your throat will only backfire. Coercing you with disapproval, derision, retraction of love, browbeating, belittling, insulting, grounding, taking away privileges, forbidding contact with friends, isolating, threats of abandonment, threats of withdrawing support for college, and even worse things that fortunately you have not described don’t work. They never have and never will produce a sincere, deeply-held belief. It’s idiotic to think that they would. The only thing that coercion, blackmail or intimidation ever produce is a false compliance with the outward appearance of belief. Anyone with an IQ of 50 or higher would realize this, so the appearance of compliance is what your parents want.

So give them what they want.

Your parents and their pastor have repeatedly demonstrated that they are incapable of listening to you, and they are intractably entrenched in authoritarianism. They are very reactionary, and you are in a very vulnerable position. Don’t make the mistake that Galileo made. He thought that reason should persuade, but he was up against powerful people who thought that authority must dominate. After threatening him with torture, they “grounded” him in his home for the last nine years of his life.

Your honest expressions of your feelings are answered with punishment. Your reasoned differences of opinion are answered with punishment. Your asking earnest questions are answered with punishment. So just as you’re doing with the futile and abusive “debates” that your mother keeps trying to start, steer clear of all of that.

Give them the appearance of compliance. Pay attention during your creationism classes enough to not provoke your mother. Avoid head-to-head confrontations that accomplish nothing except to get you more punishment. Give non-provocative, noncommittal, minimal, apparently compliant responses to your parents’ questions. Give them nothing to argue with, nothing to feed the fire of their fear and authoritarianism. Do not be sullen, or surly, or impolite. Just be bland in your interactions with them so they’ll relax and back off of you.

Meanwhile, in your high school classes and any classes that will actually be important to your getting into college and possibly getting a scholarship, work your ass off. Apply yourself as if your life depends on it. It does. Good grades are keys to your freedom. Collect as many as you can.

Privately read good books on evolution and whatever science and history has been poorly taught in your homeschooling. Get Hemant Mehta’s The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide, perhaps in digital form if that is easier to conceal from snooping family members. The internet is your window on the real world. Don’t give your parents reason to clamp down on that. You must protect your access to things that inspire and inform you, such as Dawkins’s lectures and books. Do not reveal anything about your lack of belief on Facebook. That is a privacy destroyer, an outing device. Set your browsing history to “off” or “private.” Visit the excellent blog, Godless Teens and start making online friends.

About your current friends: You’re clearly a very articulate and intelligent young man, but you cannot entirely avoid the emotional challenges that come with your youth. For most 17-year-olds, friends are extremely important. The need to fit in and be accepted drives much of their behavior. It’s a natural part of their social and psychological development. Sometimes young people can become desperate for friends, so they lower their standards for what is acceptable treatment from their friends.

You say the friends you have “accept” you. If they constantly criticize your unbelief, and you can’t go a day without one of them making a joke against you, then they don’t accept you as you are.

If and only if you feel comfortable doing it, confront your friends one at a time when they’re doing these things to you. In a cool, calm tone, tell them that this is not what friends do. The criticism and derisive joking must stop. Make it clear that the topic of your belief or unbelief is closed. About that, you will be bland and blank. Talk about the things that 17-year-olds usually like to talk about.

I don’t suggest this lightly, as if any 17-year-old should easily be able to assert himself like that. If you’re not ready, that’s perfectly understandable. Just let the empowering idea grow in you that you should not have to put up with unkind treatment from friends just to maintain an illusion of being “accepted.”

Although you think you have “never even met an atheist in real life,” it’s likely that you have, but they’re being more cautious than you. They’re biding their time for when they can express themselves openly without the kind of absurd and useless penalties you have been receiving.

When you get to college, you will be astonished by the new world that will open up to you. You’ll encounter new ideas, new friends, including atheists who are frank about it and who will understand what you have been going through. See if there is an atheist club, such as the Secular Student Alliance. Find part-time work and save your money, but keep your grades your top priority. Patiently build your freedom and success.

Do not indulge in heavy drinking or drugs to soothe the pain of your anger. You must stay healthy, and you need every brain cell working at full capacity. Try to let go of your bitterness toward your parents. It does nothing but sap your strength. Get counseling if your pain is too great.

The time will finally come when you are independent. Your long-prepared escape will be accomplished. You can fully be yourself. If your family ever gains the maturity to accept you as you are, wonderful, and if not, that’s a sad loss for them, but not for you. You have your own life to live and your own family to create. Flourish.

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.

About Richard Wade

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

  • Houndentenor

    Dear Brandon,

    I’m basing my advice on what sex-advice columnist Dan Savage advises young gay people. I know that you are probably not gay and yes I know that being gay is not the same as being an atheist, but culturally young nonbelievers and young gay people face the same problems in families like yours. You say you are 17. That means you aren’t that far from being an adult, going off to college and being able to leave home. Since it’s not that far off, my advice is to study hard, apply to state universities, and keep your mouth shut (there’s really no point arguing with fundamentalists about religion). A year seems like a long time but it’s not. It sucks that I don’t have anything better to offer you, but you can get out of there very soon and associate with whoever you wish. I’m not sure what the home school equivalent is to grades but spend your time doing whatever it takes to prepare yourself for life after you get away from this home.

    • ReadsInTrees

      Also: find an atheist club online if you can’t find one in “real life”. If nothing else, it gives you a place to vent, and you might end up finding others your age in your area that are also atheists.

      • http://twitter.com/ylaenna M. Elaine

        Also, I don’t know if the cultish environment leaves you any room for online gaming, but on the off chance… Godless [gdls] is a Guild Wars 2 guild with members who also play other games. http://godless.guildlaunch.com/

    • Santiago

      As far as I know there is no equivalent to grades in HS (unless you test in school, wich most Fundamental Christian HS do not do). However, most HSchoolers can take credit classes in college as soon as they can handle them (not unusual to start at 15 or 16 for HS kids). That will provide some record to show admission offices and departments what they can accomplish academically. I would imagine B’s parents are not necesarily planning a religious college for him, so perhaps a Community College is a good idea to start taking classes and so on, even if they are not for credit (cheaper too), plus that way he can always ask for references from faculty members later on a he moves into college education. Again, best of luck.

    • LutherW

      I would add and emphasize what others have said. Try to avoid going to a Evangelical Christian college. There are some colleges that might look Christian but are not really or are very tolerant, so that might be an option if your parents only back a religious school. In any case the farther from home the better. One extreme example is Moravian College…they would be out of business in a wink if they had to fill any significant part of it with Moravians. I understand many Catholic Universities are relatively liberal in practice, but that might be more difficult for your parents to take.

  • Pedro Lemos

    Study hard. You are gonna need all the knowledge you can get to get into a good college and have a good job. It´s the only way to be fully independent, which is the only way you´re gonna be able to be true to your feelings and beliefs (or lack of them in this case).

  • Puddin

    Brandon, I echo the excellent advice you’ve been given. I would add one thing that I learned to do with my own family, sadly, quite late in the game. Whenever tempers would flare, I would refuse to continue conversation in a kind way. I simply said “I love you too much to have this conversation in anger.” Then *physically* leave the room. This simple statement will go a long way to giving you a more peaceful life and a little more control over your happiness.

    • ReadsInTrees

      Great tip.

    • Luke Bailey

      Fantastic tip! I had to do that a number of times.

  • Themsen

    How the hell is this legal? Cant he go to the police about this? I know the mood would be sour at home, but this is nothing short of child abuse, its just mental, not physical.

    • Randomfactor

      It’s religion. They’ll get a pass.

    • Houndentenor

      In theory yes, but it seems unlikely and in the meantime such an effort would cause him problems. He’s coming up on 18 at which time he can get the heck out of there. I’m not suggesting he cut off contact but it’s easier when you aren’t living under their roof any more.

    • Mario Strada

      Being a 18 yo young man in this economy without college prospects (or vocational school) is a terrifying prospective. I agree this is child abuse. I’d call it “Dependent minor abuse” since he is not a child, but it abuse nevertheless.
      One of the places where that abuse starts is home schooling. In the wrong hands home schooling is a tool for despotic parents to keep their children under their thumb.

      I am starting to think that they are right in many industrialized countries to have laws that make home schooling a seldom used option.

  • Yukimi

    Brandon, I don’t know if it’s the same kind of fundamentalism, but perhaps you could find Libby anne’s blog here in patheos interesting. She is a woman who escaped the trappings of fundamentalist christian patriarchy and became an atheist in college after realising all the lies she had been told about evolution and more.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/

    • Kristen White

      I agree! I was about to suggest that blog myself.

  • Kalex

    Let’s just hope Brandon is able to go to a real university and isn’t limited to say Liberty U or Oral Roberts!

  • ggsillars

    Even Wheaton College would expose him only to other Christians, although he might be more likely to run into students who are having doubts…

  • ReadsInTrees

    Argh! Letters like this make me want FOLLOW UP letters so badly! I want to know how these kids are doing in the months/years after writing to Richard!

  • Mario Strada

    What a compelling letter. Even though I have been an atheist for most of my 50 years on this planet and I have never suffered the kind of ostracism young “Brandon” is experiencing I totally sympathize with him.

    I agree 100% with Richard that his best bet is to dial down the atheism thing during family interactions. His parents obviously live in a Topsy turvy reality where up is down and left is right. There is no convincing them otherwise and even sadder there is no way that they will leave him alone. Their magical thinking probably extend to the ability of their god to intervene in Brandon;s own beliefs and eventually guide him back to the fold. After all they believe in a god that’s all powerful so a feat like that, in their yes, should be child’s play.

    I have a couple of points I want to make:

    1) I know how Richard operates and I know he has already alerted “Brandon” that his answer is live on the site. I would beg Richard to make sure that “Brandon” has access to the answer. Given that he confused Richard for the “other” Richard, it’s possible that his only connection to Friendly Atheist is the “ask Richard” email address. He may not know to come here to read it so either, carefully, send it to him via email, or send him a link and ask for confirmation. I’d hate for “Brandon” to miss out on this vital advice.

    2) Brandon, there is not much more I can add to what Richard has already said. I wish there was something I could do to help, but there isn’t. The most I could do is become a pen pal for you but I figure you’d prefer someone your age or at least closer to it.

    Listen to what Richard said. He is a very wise man with a lot of experience in these matters. Get Hemant’s book. I haven’t read it yet, but I heard great things.

    I would even suggest you go back to your parents and tell them that you have changed your mind, if that means you’ll have a better life. Your teens will pass all too fast and you have an entire life in front of you. There is no point in ruining your future chances at happiness to make a point with people that obviously care more about their invisible god than they do about your mental sanity.

    Like Richard said, study and get good grades. Try choosing a college away from home. I don’t know what your parents do for a living (goat herding on the Sinai maybe? Sorry, bad joke.) and how wealthy they are, but if they will let you go to college far away from home, take the chance. You’ll be able to be your own person.

    Create an alternate identity on Facebook, twitter and so forth, and use that to remain in touch with the rest of us. Believe it or not, many of us care deeply for you and for the injustice you are suffering. We want, actually, we need your input in our movement because if we are to win our battle in our lifetime, we need all the reasonable, talented and intelligent people we can. Given your background and the way you express yourself I believe you will be an asset to our movement. We need you.

    Richard, I am starting to think that, as a movement, we need to start thinking about a scholarship program for young atheists. I am sure there are many more young adults in the same situation as “Brandon”. Having to live a lie in order to be able to attend college and live a normal life.

    Maybe Brandon wouldn’t be the ideal candidate, but there are people like Brandon that would greatly benefit from a chance to study and better themselves away from the negative influence of their family.

    Of course, we wouldn’t be able to make but a small dent in it. And I know how hard it would be to vet the application to assign merit and eligibility but I believe it would be a giant step toward making things better for at least some of these cult-children, trapped in fundamentalist families.

    Both you and I gave “Brandon” the same advice, but I remember how I felt when I was 17 and I felt trapped and misunderstood in my family. My father was no fundie, and in fact later in life he was an agnostic, but he was suffering himself from his traditional catholic upbringing. He was often confused about how to raise me and what values to employ.

    I’ll never forget when he once sat me down and read me the riot act after he found Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving” in my room and mistook it for an erotic novel. Nothing I told him would convince him otherwise and rarely I can remember a similar fury coming from him. The episode remained with me as the most out of character incident I have ever had with my father and I often wonder what caused it. Not the book I gather.

    Things got even more absurd about 15 years later, when he came to visit me in the USA (for the last time as it turned out) and in conversation he told me about this great book he read on the plane. Erich Fromm “The Art Of Loving”. He had no recollection of our earlier fight about it. I recall feeling an out of body experience, but since we were in the company of others I was never able to remind him about it.

    What to me was a seminal moment in my life, to him was but a footnote quickly forgotten, maybe never even connected. Yet that incident contributed to me leaving the home as soon as I could and cut ties with my family for many years.

    Of course, my Erich Fromm incident doesn’t even compare with what Brandon and so many other kids go through with their fundie families. But partly because of it I can understand what it means to feel stifled, oppressed, gasping for air. Feeling like you are not in control of your own life.

    Good Luck to you Brandon. Take a new identity and come visit in these pages.

  • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

    I hate reading stuff like this, simply because it simultaneously enrages and saddens me that a parent would put their child through that kind of treatment. It makes me want to find this teen and take them out of that kind of oppressive environment. It makes me want to find these parents and scream at them how they are miserable examples of humanity that don’t deserve to be responsible for a ficus, let alone a thinking, breathing person. It makes me want to scream at the impossibility of helping this individual teenager and the knowledge that there are many more out there suffering the same fate – or worse.

    Brandon, if you read these comments, I can’t imagine that kind of environment, so all I can say is this: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Prove to them that you are stronger than their attempts to break your spirit. Do whatever you need to in order to survive. Let that be your revenge. And the minute you can, leave them behind and do better, greater things with your existence. The world needs more people like you in it.

  • WallofSleep

    This is just plain sad. I swear, if I ever win the lottery, I’m gonna set up a “half-way house” type thing for young adults transitioning out of these kinds of situations.

    In the meantime, all I can offer are condolences and best wishes. Good luck, Brandon.

    • Themsen

      This halfway house thing seriously needs to happen, so that these kids can give their tyrannical parents the finger and call their bluff on the whole “kicked out” thing. If they go through with it, fine, kids got a place to stay where like minded people will actually treat him well. This place should also have a lawyer full time who can look into getting the authorities involved in the really bad cases for the young kids who cant wait til they become 18. For alot of them, a well stocked library and a form of study group would be a boon so they can study to get good grades and get the hell away from Christian colleges. Ideally it could even be tied to a scholarship deal. Finally, if all goes well, have the possibility of letting kids stay long term if their home environment really goes south and the parents wont change.

      • CJ

        Those are brilliant ideas! I love seeing great minds at work.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    As sad as this is, there is a silver lining in that people in this situation can find Richards, be they Dawkins or Wade.

  • Santiago

    Richard has given you great advice. The only thing I would disagree with is the part where you may want to comfront your friends. My experience with HSchoolers that educate for religious reasons is that their social network is very tight, limited, and exclusive so no, I would not encourage confrontation with members of your cohort. I know of parents who willmrestrict free interaction between their kids and kids who are ideologically/religiously suspect.

    Most HS I know are big into apprenticeships and volunteering. Any chance you could do some of those at the local library or another “neutral” environment where you are not surrounded by Fundamental Christian homeschoolers? Any other area of interest that you could explore as an apprentice that would perhaps materialize in an eventual job once you have gained experience and reached the age of consent? Once you are independent economically you can play by your rules and continue in that line of work or save for college or do both part time.

    My thoughts are with you. 18 is around the corner. Patience and best of luck.

  • Tak

    Apply for financial assistance to a real college. your parents will probably insist you go to a Christian ‘college’ and if you want a real education you’ll probably end up having to fund it yourself.

  • Andrew L

    Brandon should probably also know most states allow teens to seek legal emancipation from their parents. This is a legal process to end legal ties between parents and child. I’m not saying he needs to break family relations in actuality but having the legal right to live apart from parents who are so clearly abusing their parental power might be called for. In all likelihood, Brandon can get substantial financial aid for college and associated living expenses soon. While it’s a high wall Brandon will have to climb, better to deal with what is rather than what the loss of what could have been.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Good point. In addition, even if he does’t seek legal emancipation, the requirement for parents to contribute to education can be waived in cases like this.

      And if you happen to live in California Brandon, tuition at Stanford is free for students from families earning < $75K/year. Granted, other expenses are substantial, but if you have the will and the work ethic, the other parts can come together.

  • advancedatheist

    I would advise these atheist teens to keep their apostasy to themselves for practical financial reasons, until they can finish school, find jobs, get out of debt and save up some F-U money (equal to a year’s worth of living expenses) so they won’t have to move back in with their religiously obsessed parents in case they lose their jobs.

    With that financial protection in place, then they can tell their parents that they don’t believe in the family’s deity any more.

  • ecolt

    Brandon, I recently had a conversation with my 12-year old stepdaughter in which I said, “I’m not saying I’m proud of you for calling your mother crazy, but I am proud of you for thinking for yourself and standing up for what you believe in.” You’re a bit older than her, but still young. And as you get older you will learn from experience how to stand up for yourself and your beliefs. It would appear as though you already have the “thinking for yourself” bit down.

    As usual, Richard’s advice is spot on. The one thing I would add, though, is that as a 17-year old you’re only obliged to put up with this behavior from your family until your next birthday. Yes, you want to have their support through college and I completely understand that. But from the sounds of things, your family and their community will continue to assert their “authority” in your life well beyond your 18th birthday if you allow them to. If you want to attend a secular school and be free to study what you want, it might be possible that you won’t be able to with your parents footing the bill.

    So, in addition to Richard’s advise about working your butt off in your current studies, I would start to think about your options if your parents do refuse to pay for your education, or if they try to force you into a far-right Christian college against your beliefs and wishes. There are a lot of great scholarship programs that you may qualify for, and you might be eligible for student loans with someone other than a parent co-signing. Maybe you should look into going to a community college for a year or two, not only to save money but also to start to fill in the gaps that your homeschooling has left in your education. From there you can transfer to a four-year school when you’re ready.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your best to pacify your parents right now. However, I do think it’s wise to explore your options and plan ahead for the possibility that your parents might try to use your educational future as their last trump card in the battle for your obedience. If you can make peace in your family and convince your parents that a non-Christian college is the best fit for you, then that’s wonderful and I applaud you. But if that’s not a possibility, you don’t want to be caught totally unprepared if they do try to cut you off.

    I hope things turn out the best for you, and that some day your parents will recognize you as the intelligent and thoughtful young man you obviously are. And to steal the quote, IT GETS BETTER. Once you are out of your family’s complete control a whole new world will open up for you. It might not always be an easy world, but it will be one you can feel more comfortable and free in. And just think, you already have a great story for your college admissions essays!

  • ecolt

    Brandon, I recently had a conversation with my 12-year old stepdaughter in which I said, “I’m not saying I’m proud of you for calling your mother crazy, but I am proud of you for thinking for yourself and standing up for what you believe in.” You’re a bit older than her, but still young. And as you get older you will learn from experience how to stand up for yourself and your beliefs. It would appear as though you already have the “thinking for yourself” bit down.

    As usual, Richard’s advice is spot on. The one thing I would add, though, is that as a 17-year old you’re only obliged to put up with this behavior from your family until your next birthday. Yes, you want to have their support through college and I completely understand that. But from the sounds of things, your family and their community will continue to assert their “authority” in your life well beyond your 18th birthday if you allow them to. If you want to attend a secular school and be free to study what you want, it might be possible that you won’t be able to with your parents footing the bill.

    So, in addition to Richard’s advise about working your butt off in your current studies, I would start to think about your options if your parents do refuse to pay for your education, or if they try to force you into a far-right Christian college against your beliefs and wishes. There are a lot of great scholarship programs that you may qualify for, and you might be eligible for student loans with someone other than a parent co-signing. Maybe you should look into going to a community college for a year or two, not only to save money but also to start to fill in the gaps that your homeschooling has left in your education. From there you can transfer to a four-year school when you’re ready.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your best to pacify your parents right now. However, I do think it’s wise to explore your options and plan ahead for the possibility that your parents might try to use your educational future as their last trump card in the battle for your obedience. If you can make peace in your family and convince your parents that a non-Christian college is the best fit for you, then that’s wonderful and I applaud you. But if that’s not a possibility, you don’t want to be caught totally unprepared if they do try to cut you off.

    I hope things turn out the best for you, and that some day your parents will recognize you as the intelligent and thoughtful young man you obviously are. And to steal the quote, IT GETS BETTER. Once you are out of your family’s complete control a whole new world will open up for you. It might not always be an easy world, but it will be one you can feel more comfortable and free in. And just think, you already have a great story for your college admissions essays!

  • Dantes

    Why not leaving the country and study abroad, in Europe ? Much much less fundamentalists and it would be much harder for your parents to have a real grip on you. You could go to Norway for example the cost for an Education is much much lower than in the states.

    • Hanna

      Much MUCH lower; education os free here in Norway :P You only need to pay like 50 dollars per semester for paper, and if you are not from Norway you need have money on a bank account when you apply to prove that you’ll be able to support yourself in case you don’t get a job right away.

  • Thackerie

    I’m tremendously impressed that a home-schooled teenager from a cultish fundie family has seen his way clear to atheism. That means this kid is really mature and intelligent — and that there is hope for others raised in similar circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WalrusInc Ted Thompson

    Silly question, but does anyone live near this kid that could take him in when he turns 18? If I knew of somebody in this situation in my area, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  • onamission5

    I left home at 17 to get away from an oppressive religious environment which was not nearly as bad as the one you’re living under, Brandon, and even occasional bouts of homelessness were better than staying where I was. I say this to you because there might come a time when you can’t stand it any longer, where the call of freedom outweighs your desire to have college paid for, and I want you to know that’s okay. The price of admission might be too high in that regard. Only you know if it is or it isn’t, only you know if you need to get out or if you can handle staying put. Me, I would not have been able to do what Richard recommends, it simply was not and is not in my character to acquiesce to personal injury and injustice, and if you’re not able to either you have options.
    Option: get a part time job, start socking away cash, as much as you can. Secretly look for apartments, houseshares, jobs, preferably in a different town other than the one your family is in. I have had friends who stayed in youth hostels doing part time work for trade on room rent while they looked for more permanent accomodations and employment, other friends went in on apartments together, me, I lied about my age, worked as a dishwasher at a dive diner and rented a cheap room in a quad. This was 25 years ago, the hours sucked, sharing bathrooms and a kitchen with strangers sucked, and it was still 1000 times better than staying at home with people who expected me to be an obedient and silent reflection of them rather than have thoughts and needs of my own.
    Option: re: college: apply for all the scholarships and grants you possibly can, take out loans rather than be beholden to the emotional blackmail of your parents for college funding, apply for work study. You may feel at this time that your only choices are to submit or flee, you may feel that neither are good choices, but the choice of going blank in the face of your parents’ bullshittery may be more tolerable when you think of it as a short term solution of months rather than one you’ve got to endure for as many as five more years. Scholarships and grants for college can help shorten your dependency on your parents and relieve you of the burden their financial assistance puts on your shoulders. As can getting a job. Working while going to college can suck, but it can suck a lot less than being obligated to stoic obedience in order to further your education.
    I am *not* recommending that you leave home and go live on the streets. I am recommending that you start exploring your exit strategy options sooner rather than later so that you’ll know what to do should it ever become to overwhelming to bear. Make copies of your important papers, stash them somewhere that only you can find them. Make money, hide money, and above all remember two things: it is okay to divorce yourself from your family of origin, and it. gets. better.

    • onamission5

      Where did my paragraphs go? Effing discus.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        tsk tsk, somebody forgot to sacrifice the requisite three meatballs to The Flying Spaghetti Monster last Friday Night I see.

  • http://twitter.com/Outcast_Kyle Outcast Kyle

    I would suggest that Brandon joined the army as soon as he fishishes high school. That way he’ll get everything he needs. Over there you can get an education, bed, food, meet new people that surely are going to be let’s crazy and also you get to learn a lot of cool things. So yeah, the army is the best bet in this case. Just don’t forget to kick your parents in the crotch when you leave. They really deserve it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ash.whirt Ash Whirt

    I think that we should start a donation account, for this kid’s college fund.

  • Leah72

    In a different post he said that it was important to force atheism at kids but when the tables are turned he changes his mind. So its bad to force religion but good to force atheism? You aren’t beign consistant. It is wrong to force anyone to do anything. WHy do youthi nk God gave us free will? We should do the same with our children. And to the 17 yearold. I am sorry you are going through such a terrible time but I think you are beinga bit extreme, just becasue you disagree with your religion doesnt mean that God is nonexistant and by sayign that He is means that you are calling MILLIONS of people wrong. I don’t think that over half of the world’s population would believe in God if He wasn’t real. Good luck. I will pray for you.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      In a different post he said that it was important to force atheism at kids

      Citation please.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Leah72, welcome to Friendly Atheist.

      By “he” I assume that you are referring to me. As Rich Wilson has asked, please cite the exact post and quotation where I have said anything about “forcing atheism at kids.” That is definitely not what I ever advocate or suggest. Make sure the post has my name as the author. If you are going to come to this site and make mischaracterizations of people’s positions, you are going to be challenged, in a friendly manner, to back up what you say. That is what we expect of each other and our visitors. If you find that you have misread something, just acknowledge it and there’s no hard feelings. I always try for accurate mutual understanding with a minimum of rancor.

      Regarding your remarks to Brandon, the 17 year-old in this post, I want to help you understand him and other atheists: Young people in religious families come to non-belief because of many complex factors, but extremist family beliefs or abusive treatment are hardly ever among them. Mostly, it is an overall growing dissatisfaction with the pat, simplistic, evasive, and irrelevant answers that religion gives to their many earnest and thoughtful questions. Their minds grow far bigger and hungrier than can be satisfied by child-like responses like “just believe,” “just pray about it,” and “it’s just mysterious.” They are mentally starving even though they are physically well fed.

      They do not, as many people assume, arrive at atheism easily, casually, or from something as trivial and banal as “teenage rebellion.” No, it is a long, painful process of sincere searching, struggling heroically to try to regain their fading faith, bravely facing their doubts, and finally suffering deep grief at the eventual loss of what they once thought was so precious. Very few people ever examine their beliefs as thoroughly, honestly and nakedly as do young atheists in religious families. Only after all that will come the abusive treatment by family and friends such as that described in Brandon’s letter.

      Regarding your argument about millions of people believing: This is called “argumentum ad populum,” argument from popularity. Keep in mind that reality is not determined by a majority vote. The fact that many people believe something does not make it true or untrue. At one time, everyone believed that the world is flat. Everyone was wrong. So in this light I hope you can see why merely pointing out the large number of believers will not be persuasive to a careful thinker.

      Your caring and compassion are obvious, and I sincerely thank you for that.
      Your caring about young atheists will be more helpful when you more accurately understand them. I know it is not easy, because we are a minority and many people don’t know any atheists, or don’t realize that they do know some. Just keep asking us open-minded, information-seeking questions, and I’m confident that many of us will be happy to explain our thoughts and feelings to you.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi Leah72, welcome to Friendly Atheist.

      By “he” I assume that you are referring to me. As Rich Wilson has asked, please cite the exact post and quotation where I have said anything about “forcing atheism at kids.” That is definitely not what I ever advocate or suggest. Make sure the post has my name as the author. If you are going to come to this site and make mischaracterizations of people’s positions, you are going to be challenged, in a friendly manner, to back up what you say. That is what we expect of each other and our visitors. If you find that you have misread something, just acknowledge it and there’s no hard feelings. I always try for accurate mutual understanding with a minimum of rancor.

      Regarding your remarks to Brandon, the 17 year-old in this post, I want to help you understand him and other atheists: Young people in religious families come to non-belief because of many complex factors, but extremist family beliefs or abusive treatment are hardly ever among them. Mostly, it is an overall growing dissatisfaction with the pat, simplistic, evasive, and irrelevant answers that religion gives to their many earnest and thoughtful questions. Their minds grow far bigger and hungrier than can be satisfied by child-like responses like “just believe,” “just pray about it,” and “it’s just mysterious.” They are mentally starving even though they are physically well fed.

      They do not, as many people assume, arrive at atheism easily, casually, or from something as trivial and banal as “teenage rebellion.” No, it is a long, painful process of sincere searching, struggling heroically to try to regain their fading faith, bravely facing their doubts, and finally suffering deep grief at the eventual loss of what they once thought was so precious. Very few people ever examine their beliefs as thoroughly, honestly and nakedly as do young atheists in religious families. Only after all that will come the abusive treatment by family and friends such as that described in Brandon’s letter.

      Regarding your argument about millions of people believing: This is called “argumentum ad populum,” argument from popularity. Keep in mind that reality is not determined by a majority vote. The fact that many people believe something does not make it true or untrue. At one time, everyone believed that the world is flat. Everyone was wrong. So in this light I hope you can see why merely pointing out the large number of believers will not be persuasive to a careful thinker.

      Your caring and compassion are obvious, and I sincerely thank you for that.
      Your caring about young atheists will be more helpful when you more accurately understand them. I know it is not easy, because we are a minority and many people don’t know any atheists, or don’t realize that they do know some. Just keep asking us open-minded, information-seeking questions, and I’m confident that many of us will be happy to explain our thoughts and feelings to you.

  • A Christian

    Although I am not an atheist (still a cautiously professing Christian), I feel so badly for Brandon. Even as a Christian, I understand all too well his plight. I have a blog that some find controversial because I criticize many aspects of the church and Christianity, all in light of the Bible.

    Even though I use the Bible alone, many Christians are too in love with their traditions to give them up. I have been ostracized and I know how hard that is. I have not been to church in years, and this Easter was especially hard. So many of my Christian friends and family have looked pityingly on me, as a poor, silly rebellious who needs to be brought back into the fold.

    I love my friends and family, but I won’t go back to church until it looks more like what the Bible describes, and less like pagan-Catholicism. I don’t know why I wrote all that. Just ranting, I guess.

    Here’s my blog if anyone is interested:

    http://www.myfathershouse.squarespace.com

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Thank you for your caring. I left the following comment over at your blog, on your post titled, “Why I Love Atheists.” http://myfathershouse.squarespace.com/journal/2012/3/22/why-i-love-atheists.html?lastPage=true&postSubmitted=true

      Thank you for this, and thank you for leaving on my post your good thoughts and wishes for a young atheist who is in great distress by the conflict with his religious family. As Mowgli said to Kaa, “We be of one blood, thou and I. I take my life from thee to-night. My kill shall be thy kill if ever thou art hungry, O Kaa.” The reference to “kill” sounds grim, but he’s talking about food, about what sustains them. The jungle boy and the snake are as different as two living creatures can be, yet they set aside such trivialities in favor of the enormous and precious thing that they share, life.
      Similarly, though you and I see things about deities as differently as two people can, it is clear that you are well connected to the enormous and precious thing that we share, our humanity. I very much appreciate your steadfast focus on love, which transcends all opinions and constructs, including religion. Do not be discouraged by your brothers and sisters who want you to be more narrow and selective in your love. Keep true to your integrity, just as the young man you encouraged is doing. What sustains me is yours if ever you are in need, O Christian.
      Your skeptical friend, Richard

  • Luke Bailey

    Best to you young man. Richard’s advice is spot on, take it to heart and you will do well. :)


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