“What will my parents think?”

Question from Amanda:
Well I’ve finally decided, after many years, to tell my parents I don’t believe in gods. The only problem… I have no idea how. Any ideas that will help them understand and not hate me for the rest of my life?

Answer by SmartLX:
I get asked this question a lot, or something similar. Here and here are two of my previous answers.

The problem is that everyone’s situation is different. You’ve obviously got religious parents or you wouldn’t need to ask about this, but even if I knew as much about them as you I couldn’t reliably guess how they’ll react if you tell them. Since I don’t know whether you still live with them, I can’t say what the consequences might be if they react badly. Still, you’ve already made up your mind and you’re only asking how to go about it, so I guess I can make a few suggestions.

A pretty good rule is to try to avoid the word “atheist” (or any other similar identifier like “freethinker” or “bright”). Don’t deny it if they bring it up, but don’t start off by confronting them with a bold label you’ve given yourself. That makes it sound like you’ve fallen in with a bad crowd (as if you’d gotten a gang tattoo) and you need to be isolated and “rescued” or “deprogrammed”.

Since it’s all about you, and you’re not just the victim of evil godless propagandists, put it in terms of what’s actually happened to you: if you ever believed in gods, you don’t now, and all the church in the world won’t change that because insufficient or ineffective preaching isn’t the reason you don’t believe. Once the simple fact is out there, you’ll get a pile of questions the nature of which will give you a good idea how to proceed. If they’re to do with the horrible stigma attached to non-belief, you’ll have a chance to dispel some myths about it. If they’re aimed at actually bringing you around, you can give them a taste of some straightforward counter-arguments – not to destroy them in debate there and then, but simply to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through.

Through it all, emphasise that you’re still their daughter, you’re still you, and that you don’t think any less of them for thinking differently than you do (implying, of course, that neither should they think less of you). Recognise that if they do have a strong reaction, it will be largely motivated by genuine concern for your wellbeing, stemming from fear both of God in Heaven and of the anti-atheist discrimination you’ll suffer on Earth. Reassure them as much as you can.

Only the most extreme fundamentalist parents would refuse to have any kind of relationship with a child who’s made what he or she sees as a rational decision to be open about lacking a God-belief. If you’re even hopeful that your parents can be made to see reason in your position, they’re probably not that type, so I reckon you’ll be all right. Come back and let us know how it went in a comment, if you like. It’ll be educational to others, one way or the other.

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