Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.
I am 17 years old and I was raised in an extremely religious Hindu family. It has been about a year since I managed to discard my faith and all its superstitions. I am an atheist now but I find my findings, discoveries and my scientific and evolutionary approach to religion and its myths constantly challenged by my family. They do allow me to express my take on religion but when it comes to performing rituals and fasting, I seem to have no choice but to do them to keep my mother happy and sometimes I end up questioning myself. Whenever I deem religion as an invention and say that the existence of God has highly irregular evidences, she smiles and plays the ‘you are angry at god right now. you will come around soon enough–’ card.
The amount of time, money and energy my mother spends on performing rituals to impress the gods is laughable– and there are just so many gods!! No wonder we’re so poor at this part of the world. Moreover my mother has branched to Buddhism where they believe we’re all incarnations of someone else.
So my question is, as an atheist child, what do I do my parents’ religion? Do I make ways to make them lose their faith? Or do I play along until I move out. The sane and clearly-thinking part of me wants to challenge their faith as well but the do-good-son part of me wants to play along because they really are happy with their faith and their rituals.
Thank you for your time.
You have more options than the two you are giving yourself, either working to stop your parents from believing in their religion or passively going along with supporting their beliefs until you can move out. To see other options, first consider the positive and negative factors in your present situation:
You have some advantages over millions of young atheists who live in very religious families: You have been able to “come out” as an atheist to them apparently without facing harsh punishment or censure, and they allow you to openly express your contrary views.
You said that your conclusions about religion and its myths are constantly challenged by your family. That only seems fair, since you are constantly challenging their beliefs. The encouraging thing is that it seems to be a basically open, free, and respectful process between you and them.
One negative is that you feel obligated to keep your mother happy by participating in rituals that are meaningless to you. Given that you are still financially dependent on them, and I’m assuming that in your country you’re also still legally under their authority, it’s certainly understandable and even prudent for you to compromise a bit and indulge her desire to have you participate in some of her rituals.
Her dismissal of your newfound freedom from religious belief as nothing more than a teenager’s phase is a very common reaction for parents around the world. Conversely, annoyance at not being taken seriously by their parents is the very common reaction for teenagers around the world.
Parents often view their children as merely children long after they’ve reached adulthood and have achieved independence. Paradoxically, they’ll probably start taking you seriously some time after you stop caring whether or not they do. When you no longer need their validation that you’re an adult, you’ll interact with them in subtly different ways, and they’ll start giving you that validation.
Your atheism is still new to you. You are not just exploring rational ideas, you’re still learning how your own rational mind works. It can take years to become confident in your views and skilled in articulating your opinions. So when you have to do religious things to please your parents, I’m not surprised that you might sometimes end up questioning yourself. That might mean questioning your own position of disbelief, and/or it might mean questioning whether or not the compromises you make are worth it.
That’s all healthy. Develop the habit of always welcoming questioning into your mind. Question your intellectual assumptions as well as the ways you are handling relationships. Too much certainty can lead to a rigid, automatic mind that cannot creatively respond to new challenges. Even if old age stiffens your joints, welcoming questions can keep your mind supple, flexible, and agile.
So given your present situation, this is what I suggest:
Leave your parent’s religious beliefs up to them. Express your views when the conversation invites you to, but don’t try to “make them lose their faith.” It probably wouldn’t work anyway, and would only cause unnecessary tension and unhappiness between you and them. Apply the golden rule: Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you. If you wouldn’t want them trying very hard to bend you to their views, don’t do the same thing to them.
Shift your remarks from trying to show them how they are wrong to simply explaining to them why you think the way you do. If you’re just talking about yourself, you’re not attacking them, and so they won’t feel the need to defend themselves or counterattack. Agreeing on these things is not important. Mutually understanding each other is what is important.
When your mother says, “You’re just angry at god right now,” it is essential that you not react with anger. She will see your anger as proof that she’s right, and that will be all the more infuriating. Either ignore it, or calmly and briefly explain that you cannot be angry at something that you don’t believe exists. I often use the example of leprechauns to illustrate this, but I don’t know if that will translate well into your culture. Pick some harmless thing that you know she doesn’t believe in, and then ask her if she disbelieves it because she’s angry at it, or because she sees no reason to believe in it.
If she ever concedes a point that you are making, don’t crow or look smug. Just say sincerely, “I’m glad you understand me, and I love you.”
Gradually negotiate less and less of you participating in your parents’ rituals, just a small step at a time. Keep plenty of genuine love and respectful treatment in all of your speech with them. Keep your school grades up and your behavior respectable so they will not be able to use your failings as a reason to force you to do more religious things.
These suggestions are not the two extremes of either aggressively trying to destroy their beliefs or passively playing along as a submissive servant to their beliefs. You can assertively increase your freedom to follow your own path in small increments, yet still maintain a level of peace and good will in your family.
I wish you and your family happiness and prosperity. Please write again to let us know how things develop.
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