A couple of nights ago, I got into a discussion with a mom whose child came out as gay two years ago. Before learning her child was gay, she vehemently opposed marriage equality as a devout member of the Seventh Day Adventist church. As she told me more of her story, she explained that was sure her son was going to end up in Hell for all eternity. Her heart broke knowing she would not be spending the afterlife with him, the one person on earth who she loved more than anything.
Her immediate reaction was to plead with her child to change his mind. As one might expect, her son did not respond to this well. As he made preparations to leave his childhood home, his mother sought the advice of people she trusted.
She listened to sermon podcasts from her church, which assured her that being gay was a lifestyle choice and could be changed. She went to her local church and spoke with her pastor who suggested she seek the guidance of Coming Out Ministries. When she researched this organization, she realized it followed the conversion therapy approach to members of the LGBTQ community. Before she really understood what any of that meant, she had a nagging feeling this wasn’t right for her or her son. Her curiosity led to more research, and more research led her to the skeptic community, loudly making a case for why conversion therapy is pseudo-science. She learned that many of us consider conversion therapy to be a form of bonafide torture.
All this research led her elsewhere, though. She ended up reading informative pieces on the science behind same-sex attraction in many species, not just humans. This led her to click through to actual scientific sources where she began to understand that being gay was not a choice.
She told me,
“I let that sink in. I didn’t know how to approach my child and apologize for dismissing a real part of who he was born to be. I stopped going to church. I couldn’t do it knowing that the church was teaching people that being gay was a choice and the entire scientific community disagreed with them. I thought to myself if they’re wrong about that, what else are they wrong about?
After about a month of skipping church, my son asked me why. I broke down, explained it all and plead for his forgiveness. He said it was okay and that he loved me and he knew I’d figure it out eventually.”
The problem, now, she told me, is the intense guilt she can’t seem to shake. It’s two years later, and her reading and research never stopped. She’s an atheist, now, out and open about it. She went to pride in June with her son. But she says something between them came undone when she reacted to his coming out way back when, and she can’t seem to figure out how to put it back together. She can’t sleep at night as she replays everything she did wrong in her mind. After telling me all of this, she asked me,
“How do you cope with the guilt and embarrassment of knowing you believed something so hurtful and ridiculous?”
Of course, I have never believed in any of these things, so I thought the advice might be better coming from people who’ve been through exactly what she has. I asked everyone on my Twitter yesterday,
Former believers: what was something you used to believe that makes you cringe now?
I spoke with someone last night who is finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that she used to oppose marriage equality. Any tips on getting past the guilt?
— ���Courtney Heard (Godless Mom) (@godless_mom) August 12, 2019
You all came out in full force. Your answers were thoughtful and kind. Here are some of the best responses:
Is there some symbolic way to make amends? Eg if you were vehemently anti gay, donate to an LGBT+ charity. And also realise that indoctrination is a powerful thing, and that she’s taken immense steps to get away from it. That’s something to be proud of.
— corbyn outrider liz (@escaped_ferret) August 12, 2019
No tips. It’s a long road. Took me 15 years to get to a normal head space and 10 to admit it was all a hoax. I’m still getting over it and it’s still a secret in my community to most people. I believed all those horrible things. @C_Stroop helps me a lot
— �❄️TreeHuggerJana❄️� (@janashellbug) August 12, 2019
I used to believe that everything happened for a reason. So like if you had cancer it was just part of God's plan. Or if you lived in a poor country and your children starved to death it was because you weren't Christian.
Who I am hates who I've been.
— Zena Hooks (@ZenaHooks) August 12, 2019
You have to look at it logically. At that point in time your thinking was flawed. As long as you have corrected it going forward you shouldn't feel any guilt.
— Jon Newsted (@jonbot23) August 12, 2019
Do something directly to show support now, such as donating to an LGBTQ cause or attending a Pride event. When I attended my first one this year, I actually cried thinking of my years railing against this lovely group. Fly a rainbow flag in your yard or window.
— Wise Counsellor (@Wise_counsellor) August 12, 2019
I think the only tip needed is a reminder to forgive herself. Whatever is required to achieve that objective varies from person to person.
— Donkey Otay (@CervantesMount) August 12, 2019
Let it go!
— erinbliss (@erinbliss) August 12, 2019
If you go through the rest of that thread, you’ll see that so many people, including myself, had beliefs that were absurd, unfounded and some even harmful to others and themselves. It’s important to know that you are not alone. There are millions of ex-religious people struggling with embarrassment and guilt over the things they used to believe. Reaching out to me was a great start, but the people in that Twitter thread, who are my inspiration every single day, will welcome you with open arms. Join in on the discussion. Be loud and proud of your child. Be one of those moms giving out hugs at Pride every year or volunteer your time for a worth LGBTQ+ organization. Fight for equality for your son and others like him around the world.
Join us in our effort to promote secular, science-based humanism and make your son proud.
I’m writing a book addressing the many reasons believers distrust atheists. I’m around 40,000 words in! If you want to help me get it done, you can support me by donating here or becoming a patron here.
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay