Being a teen is hard. Sometimes just being is hard.

Question from Anonymous:
Hi, I’m a six on the Dawkins scale, I’m lesbian, I’m 15 and I have religious fundamentalist parents. I am forced to go to church, my parents always force me to do things I don’t want to do. My mom tells me that when I grow up and get married to a woman, she will object to it, and I will be disowned. Currently I’m going to be a junior in high school, and this past year I took the SAT for fun (something a nerd would do, I know, I know). I turned out to score 2300 on the SAT. When I showed my mom the results she quickly dismissed it, and said the following:
“Are you sure you scored that much? Are you sure that a lesbian who is also a heathen can be that smart? You know what, you begged Satan for that score didn’t you?”
She also says I pray to Satan for my weight loss (in the past year and a half I lost 90 lbs after being diagnosed with PCOS). My mother is still waddling around at a hundred lbs overweight. I just got five pounds to lose. She says “God told me to diet using (starchy) soups and (overly drenched in ranch) salads!” She turns around at me and says, “You little devil worshipper! That’s why you have that damn PCOS!”

Recently, she got diagnosed with type two diabetes.

My question is, is why does my mom do this? Why does she deny my SAT score, deny my realistic weightloss, and yet she is nowhere in life? Why? I never went into arguments with my mom about the existence of an upper phenomena. I just say “Well, we have a difference of opinions, Mom. I respect yours though I don’t agree with it. And let’s just agree to disagree.”

In her reply: “Its not an opinion, it’s fact, it’s proven in the Bible!”

Now, most of my friends are Christians, and we just never eat into the debate of religion or spirituality.

So why does my mom?

Answer by SmartLX:
Firstly, that’s all pretty awful, and I feel for you. It’s not fun when you’re fundamentally and irreconcilably at odds with your parents while still officially in their care. I regularly hear from people in such circumstances, and it’s never a happy description. I’m reassured by your academic aptitude and your taking the initiative to test yourself; your circumstances aren’t seriously interfering with your ability to learn and to focus, and that will get you far along whatever path you choose to take in life. (On a side note, my wife has PCOS and I know that’s not much fun either, but there are treatments.)

Think of your mother’s worldview (which is probably even more simplified internally than the doctrine which was initially preached to her). In that view, God is the source of all goodness, all strength and all ability, and not only are all things possible with Him but nothing good is possible without Him. Prayer is a prerequisite for literally everything, because humans are worthless and hopeless without their Lord. There may be some sexism in there too, adding the idea that a woman needs both God and a man to function.

And then there’s you. Smart, capable, independent and getting steadily healthier and more confident despite a chronic condition, while consciously denying God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and having sworn off men for good. If she were to accept that at face value she would have to admit that there is a flaw somewhere in her worldview since it does not reflect reality, and examine the principles upon which she bases her whole life. Some of those principles are held as sacred by her congregation, so she feels a threat to her place in the community as well as her own identity. (How the congregation would actually react to some doubt on her part depends on the type of church, so you’d know better than me.)

So what does she do? She clings to the idea that you’re managing without God with help from the one entity with any power to challenge God. People have attributed abilities they did not understand to Satan for centuries, which for instance has led to many people being burned as witches. The devil is like a bucket into which Christians can throw anything they don’t comprehend rather than leave their comfort zone…and some will throw in a lit match too. It’s a simple coping mechanism that not every Christian uses but is nevertheless available to every Christian. Your mother seems quite fond of using it, sadly.

Some of your friends might possibly indulge in this behind your back, depending on how devout they are and how old-fashioned their theology, but they have the luxury of not thinking about you when you’re not around them for long periods of time. You’re a big part of your mother’s life on the other hand, so you’re there as a constant challenge to her worldview that she feels she needs to combat for her own peace of mind. That’s why she’s the one who accuses you openly.

Based on what I’ve written so far, I’m inclined to think that your mother will be less hard on you after you move out some years from now. It will give her long breaks from having to internally justify her dependence on God in the face of your independence, so there won’t be that constant struggle that reignites when she sees you, and she’ll be able to just see her daughter again. This is purely a guess on my part, but I think one of my better-made guesses. And to address one thing specifically, it’s one thing to be revolted by the very idea of a same-sex partner, and another entirely to get to know the actual person. The mother of my best friend referred to my friend’s girlfriend as “it” from afar for a long time before finally building a relationship with her.

In the meantime, the onus is not on you to hide who you are and how you live for your mother’s sake. She needs to come to terms with the woman her daughter has become. That’s hard for many parents, but the focal point of religion will figure heavily in her process and you both may suffer for it. Be patient with her, answer any honest questions she has, engage whenever you feel it’s right to. Don’t feel you’re alone, like-minded company can be found locally and globally if you know where to look. These are your particular challenges in growing up – everyone gets some – and I think you’re as well-equipped as any to handle them.

Generation Gaps: Advice for an Atheist Granny

Question from Niki:
A very strong atheist granny here.

My son was an atheist before he got caught in the religious net of this backwards, in the backyard of Europe, society and his overly religious wife, or he pretends he has become religious.
He and his wife have two children and the wife is in charge of everything religious. Disgustingly so. He just lets her do whatever she wants to do, for the sake of his peace, or else…

My question is, what will I say when one day one of my grand children asks me why I do not go to church?
I was thinking of ‘I DO NOT LIKE IT IN THERE, TOO DARK,’ or something to this effect. But this can work only until the kids are small.
Have you got any other, better idea, something that will not cause the little one to report to his mum what granny says, but still something which would satisfy me more as an answer near to my the essence. Something like
‘THERE IS NO GOD, THAT’S WHY!!!’

Answer by SmartLX:
You assume, correctly I think, a strong chance that your daughter-in-law will not want your grandchildren exposed to the simple idea that there are people who do not believe in God. She would be right to fear this. It means the difference between never even thinking to question the idea of God and eventually realising that no one has the answers for sure. (I think it’s ultimately responsible for my own deconversion.) They will be exposed in the end of course, but the question is how strongly indoctrinated they will be by then.

Taking your scenario at face value, you could say something like, “I don’t think it’s necessary to go to church.” This is true, but they are free to assume that you mean you don’t think God takes church attendance as seriously as their mother and the church think He does. One variation could be, “I think I’ve gone to church enough already.”

Consider, though, that if the kids register that you’re not going to church it will probably happen at church, or in the car going to or from church, and you won’t be there. In this case they’ll probably ask their parents about you first. So if I were you I would go talk to your son about what he will, and what his wife might, say about you. You’re doing your best to protect the family from a rift, and that’s best handled as a family.

Whatever happens (and do let us know in a comment), good luck.

Tonight on Maury: “Suddenly Atheist in a Strict Jewish Family!”

Question from Josh:
Hey Guys,

Firstly, thanks for wasting hours of my time and robbing me of any sort of productivity 🙂

I’m 30 years old and grew up in an ultra-orthodox, Jewish home. While I always had my doubts and skepticism, I did not make the leap to accepting there is no God till the past few months.

My wife is of course religious, and there are a ton of things we gotta work through now. My question to you is: Is there anything redeeming you can find in raising your kids to be religious?

Of course we will make sure they have a great education, and view everyone as equals, but is it morally or ethically wrong to raise your child with the burden of religious dogmas and beliefs you know to be false? (when I write out the question, it kind of answers itself. I guess I’m asking you to throw me a bone.)

Thanks.

Answer by SmartLX:
Think of it in more general terms: as a parenting team, what do you teach your kids about a subject where you disagree with each other? You hold off on the subject until it’s settled between you, if possible, but if it’s unavoidable then you’re honest about it at an age when you think they’ll understand the truth – “This is what Mum thinks, and this is what Dad thinks.” It’s a perfect introduction to critical thinking, and in the case of religion it often ends up favouring irreligion. I speak from experience, because the discovery of the mere fact of my father’s disbelief drove home to me that I had some investigating to do. There’s a good reason why many dogmatic religions have specific instructions against questioning them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t go ahead and raise them in the Jewish tradition. For many branches of Judaism belief is one of the less important aspects of the Jewish identity, and simply teaching all the rituals, customs, Israeli history and so on will suffice. A “secular Jew” is a common thing, whereas you’d be hard-pressed to find a self-proclaimed “secular Christian”. Maybe it’s different in your family, but you can work with that: “This is what Mum and Grandma think, and it’s very very important to them so make sure you remember it, okay?”

As you can tell, I’m not okay with indoctrinating children into faith at the best of times, let alone when you don’t share that faith. If every voice they trust either tells them a thing is true or says nothing, they may believe it for the rest of their lives, or else have a very hard time shedding it later in life. That said, learning in my teens that my father was an atheist had a huge impact over time, so even if you do stay silent for years it may ultimately be for nothing in your family’s eyes once your real position slips out. Better to be straight with them at the start, and teach them to do what the family requires of them while knowing the truth of the situation.


I’ve got the same situation coming up in a couple of years when my son’s old enough to understand the concept of God, but it won’t be so difficult compared to your situation. My wife’s religious but liberal, and both sides of the family are a patchwork in terms of religiosity, so Junior will be exposed to a variety of viewpoints regardless of what I tell him, and therefore there’s no point pretending I agree with his mother.

The Preacher’s Wife

Question from Jeannette:
Hello. In short, I have been thinking a lot about the logic of atheism and find myself resonating with the ideas. I have made religious searches before, always theistic. But in atheism I seem to get the questions answered that I have had all along.

So, the problem is that I am married to a Baptist preacher who told me, the last time I was “searching”, that he would divorce me for going outside of Christianity. But when I went back to the faith he didn’t.

I really don’t want a divorce. But if I told him about my atheistic leanings he would no doubt feel that he needs to protect the children from me. Maybe he would bring up divorce again.

So it seems like keeping my thoughts to myself is the best way to do this. But it kind of feels like a lie. I don’t mind keeping the truth to myself. But I feel like my husband would feel betrayed and like I didn’t really love him, if, say I told him several years down the road.

But I have two small children and I don’t feel like a divorce is a good thing.

Any thoughts?

Answer by SmartLX:
Sounds pretty simple, though tragic: if your husband has threatened to end the marriage if you cease to be a Christian and you take him at his word, you must lie about your beliefs to stay in the marriage. Not knowing which country you’re in I don’t know how divorce and custody laws would treat the two of you given that he has stated his intent to shield your children from your influence, but it’s an ugly battle in any environment and I’m sure you want to avoid it if possible.

The part about taking him at his word is important though. Would he really shut you out immediately if you admitted you were struggling in your faith? He’s a preacher, he’s supposed to be qualified to help people in your situation. If you said you wouldn’t try to deconvert your children or anyone in his congregation, and that you would continue to attend services, surely the two of you could engage in some kind of ongoing dialogue wherein you tell him exactly what your concerns are, instead of simply giving him the vague and frightening idea that you might suddenly turn heathen and corrupt everything around you.

That sounds a bit silly, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that atheism can be really scary to someone like your husband. Its very existence flies in the face of Scripture as interpreted by some. (Specifically, Romans 1:18 and onwards appears to say that God has shown evidence of Himself to everyone, therefore everyone supposedly believes deep down.) He likely has a rough but extremely negative idea of what atheists are like in general (i.e. a prejudice), and he’ll probably need some time to get used to the idea that your inability to justify continued belief in God doesn’t make you evil or dangerous. He just needs to see things from your point of view, and for that to happen the two of you will need to talk. After that I can’t say what will happen, but at least you’ll have treated each other like adults.

However you decide to approach him, or not, good luck and all the best to your whole family.

Unpleasant Family Discussions

Question from Chance:
I grew up Christian, I’m not anymore. I don’t consider myself anything, just a human.

My question is how can I deal with my family that is all Christian and talk down to me? It’s starting to piss me off, but I’m always the bigger person. I’m kind when we debate ideas and religion, but they are the total opposites. Any opinions?

Answer by SmartLX:
There’s not a lot to go on here. If your family sees you as lesser or inferior as a result of your apostasy, it’s likely because of their underlying assumptions about the nature of believers and non-believers. You may wish to go beyond a discussion of the religious topic at hand and question their treatment of you directly, because it will very quickly lead back to the topics of faith and reason.

Comment with some extra information if you like. How do these exchanges begin, and how do they usually end? How do you go about being the “bigger person”? In what ways are they unkind, and what triggers this behaviour?

I Don’t Get No Respect, No Respect At All

Question from Patrick:
I’m fifteen years old, so obviously, living in their house, I still have to do as they say. Because of this, I still go to church with them and all that, although I do tell them that singing and dancing and all that are things that I’m uncomfortable with. In church, if I sit down, my mom waves for me to stand up, and if I don’t she grabs my arm and pulls me up. She’ll try to dance with me and stuff, and it just gets annoying. Now I do understand that she’s taking my best interest at heart and stuff, and I do understand that she doesn’t want me to go to hell and crap, but seriously? How can I show her my views and prove my views to her so maybe she’ll take me more seriously?

Last week, my mom, my sister and I all visited our cousins, and when I told my Aunt I was an atheist, my mom rolled her eyes and shook her head at my Aunt. I don’t speak out against my mom because she’s extremely religious, but I would like at least a little bit of respect! I told her I was uncomfortable with standing and singing and stuff because I’ve been pretending all my life and I don’t want to pretend anymore.

If I ask if I can stay home from church, she tells me that that is not something a good ‘Christian’ should do. If I hint anything on not believing in her god, she threatens to call the pastor to come and pray for me and talk to me and stuff. IT DRIVES ME NUTS!

So basically, how do I get her to see how serious I am about this?

Answer by SmartLX:
Remember that your mother is under a LOT of peer pressure to “raise you in the church”, especially if it’s the kind of church where they dance in the pews. Clearly she knows that you don’t believe, or at least that you’ve lost your enthusiasm for the whole thing, but this fact reflects badly on her from the perspective of her friends in the congregation, her pastor and possibly other members of your family. That’s not to say that she isn’t also genuinely concerned for the welfare of your soul, but even if she wasn’t she couldn’t easily let you out of the flock without what she would see as serious social consequences.

The usual assumption among churchgoers is that church attendance raises religiosity. That’s often true if you’re religious to begin with, but if you’ve already rejected the core claims of the religion then church can have the opposite effect. If you think your mother really thinks that dragging you to church will bring you back to the faith, talk to her after a service and ask her what specific parts of that service she thought would have done that. (Churches are all about spreading the Word, but many are at a loss when faced with the idea that the Word might not stick.) If you think she’s primarily “keeping up appearances”, point out that a sullen, reluctant teenager in the midst of all that forced joy stands out a lot more than an absent teenager.

I don’t know your pastor of course, but it might actually be worth escalating to him, whether you contact him directly or your mother brings him in. If he thinks he can roll out one of the Great Big Arguments and bamboozle you into believing after a few minutes, he’s in for a surprise. If he thinks your skepticism could spread to others in the church, he might even ask your mother not to bring you for a while. If he prays for you, it won’t do anything, so what do you care?

If the pastor can’t make any headway himself, he may tell your mother to redouble her own efforts to restore your faith, which at least will force her to confront the issue, respect that your position is sincere and open a dialogue with you. Once you’re at that stage, you’ll probably solve the problem just by being honest. As I’ve said to others on this site, the religious can become far less eager to engage with doubters if they think they themselves may be made to doubt or question. If you’ve read any of the “New Atheist” material from the last six years, you’ve got some idea how to turn religious apologetic back onto itself. If you need help with anything specific, comment and ask or search the site.

I know it’s a rotten spot to be in, but remember it won’t last because you won’t be fifteen forever. When you’re an adult, your mother will have far less power over your weekly routine. That said, if you can deal with this now you can enjoy your teenage years more without this adversarial aspect of your relationship with your mother. That’s a good reason for her to cut it out too, if you can get it across.

Responding to Christians

“I have handled what I felt was their ridiculous religiosity in many ways and some have panned out, while others brought me lasting condemnation.”

Question from Patricia:
Most of my family are born again christians, and have been for at least 34 years now. I would like a good response to my father and brother especially,when they answer their phone with Praise God! I have been listening to their ignorant rants for far too long! I would appreciate whatever help you could give. Thanks.

Answer by Andrea:
As a child brought up in a born-again Christian family, and now a proud born-again atheist (after all we’re all born atheist until the culture we’re born into gets their mitts on us), I just want to say, I feel your pain.
I have been maligned by many family members, including my (now) ex-husband, simply because I didn’t subscribe to their delusions.

I have handled what I felt was their ridiculous religiosity in many ways and some have panned out, while others brought me lasting condemnation.

You don’t say how old you are, but when I was in my early 20s, I declined their offers of a Bible as present, my aunts never forgave me for it.

Another aunt now knows that I will not pray to a god for my food at her dinner table (who would I pray to? I once asked her), but she and I are still good friends to this day and get along great provided we don’t talk religion.

When I told my dad I didn’t think there was a god he shook his finger in my face and told me in a quavering fire-and-brimstone voice that I could “rest assured” there was a god. We also never discuss religion anymore. I also don’t want him to spend his old age worrying that I’ll be frying in hell for eternity.
My mom and sister and other family members, in the mean time, are becoming increasingly unreligious, so at least there’s balance.

I could make this into a very long post but to spare you, I’ll just make a few points:

1) If you start trying to talk to people into not believing, you run the risk of turning out to be as obnoxious as born-again Christians and missionaries and anyone else who claims to be privy to “the truth.”
2) Also, maybe your dad and brother don’t have much else in their lives or even hate their lives, and the thought of a heaven is the one thing that keeps them from the depths of depression.
3) The way you approach it should depend on your knowledge of what the person can handle, and approach it with compassion and sensitivity. I have often explained to friends my reasons for my disbelief and at least three of them plunged back into their addictions with drugs and alcohol, so I do feel guilty about that, even though a majority of born-agains seem to be somewhat unstable anyway, so many of my friends say those friends who went back off the deep end would have likely ended up there regardless of what I said about their belief systems.
4) Always be courteous and polite and don’t let yourself be drawn into arguments. You are the more critical thinker, you are the bigger person.
5) There are up to 17% nonreligious in this country, and atheism is the fastest growing ideology in not only the US, but globally, so you’re in good company.

You are a true critical thinker, and that counts a lot in this world.

Answer by SmartLX:
If you are in the mood for confrontation and you’re just looking for straight comebacks, they’re endless, though they’re not all terribly good.

“Praise God!”
“Which one?”

“Praise God!”
“Oh, sorry Praise, must have a wrong number, I was trying to call my brother.”

“Praise God!”
“Why, does he still have low self-esteem after all this time?”

“Praise God!”
“Okay…He’s so loving and good that the whole thing with Jephthah burning his own daughter as a sacrifice was probably a BIG misunderstanding.” (Much is made of the fact that in the other story God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son. Jephthah wasn’t so lucky.)

Atheism and Parents

There’s a theological compromise that a lot of religious people eventually reach when faced with the prospect of loved ones who will never come around to their way of thinking: that God will forgive them (you) for the error.

Question from Andrew:
Since I was a small child I have been taken to church nearly every Sunday of my life. My mother and father being very religious people. They have attended many different denominations but the belief that the Bible is not only infallible but that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old remains.

When I was 12 I had to start to attend confirmation classes at the Lutheran church my parents were attending at the time. After hearing verse after verse I started questioning Christianity and the Bible all together and accepted Atheism by the end of that year. (In this particular church confirmation took three years) I remained a closeted Atheist until I was 16 and finally admitted to my parents that I was an Atheist (Other than a couple of Girlfriends I had never admitted that I was an Atheist) They were shocked and kicked me out of the house for about a day and then came looking for me. My mother said that she would always love me but I would have to repent or spend eternity burning in Hades.

Well, I’m still an Atheist and my parents still make me attend their church (I am 17 right now) They have never come to terms with my Atheism and whenever I question a facet of their religion they simply refuse to talk about it (My mother and father have both said that I will either repent or spend eternity burning in Hades). I will go to college next year, My question is: Even though I will leave their home and hopefully have a decent relationship with them will they ever come to terms with my Atheism?

Thank you very much.

Answer:
If you and they maintain a relationship, they will probably come to terms with it. The difficulty may be in maintaining that relationship.

There’s a theological compromise that a lot of religious people eventually reach when faced with the prospect of loved ones who will never come around to their way of thinking: that God will forgive them (you) for the error. This is denied by the evangelical doctrine that everyone must personally accept Christ, but it’s an easy thing to believe given that God’s supposed to be able to forgive anything. Given enough time, it’s bound to occur to your parents.

Unfortunately if it does and they mention it to those in their church community, it will be flatly denied. They may end up having to keep your atheism a secret from their congregation in order to reconcile it for themselves, or be peer-pressured to keep witnessing to you.

That aside, I think it’s worth getting across to them that simply getting you into church won’t win you back to the flock. The Word isn’t much good to someone who’s already rejected it, without a bit of actual persuasion to make it stick. They must risk analysis of their own beliefs by opening an actual dialogue, because they’ve got no way to force it in.

Honestly, once you move out they’re not likely to cut you off entirely. That’s the time when they’ll miss you the most. And given time, and love which I’m sure is there, they will find a way to accept who you are and what you don’t believe. Just keep the lines open.

SmartLX

Christianity the way to go?

“Everyone needs to recognise that belief or non-belief is not a choice as such, and people all have their own ideas about God or other gods.”

Question from Omar:
I’ve considered myself an atheist all my life. I don’t believe a god exists, I believe there’s a greater force beyond our understanding, a force that has made evolution possible, that has made things fit into place but do not be mistaken I speak of a force, don’t quite know how to put it, let’s say a great coincidence that everything is the way it is, something perinormal like James Randi says. Well it doesn’t matter much since it’s got nothing to do with my question.

I’m from Mexico, I live on the border with the USA. I’ve been with my girlfriend for the past 2 years and she’s christian. I’ve been going to church with her ever since just because she asks me to. While living with her and spending time with her family I’ve seen that they firmly believe that being christian is the way of life that will bring them salvation(salvation from what?).

Before they were christian they were catholic and when the subject of religion arises(which is often) they say how wrong other poeple’s beliefs are and stuff like that, they sound really extremist?. My family is catholic and honestly i’ve never heard them or any other catholic friend speak like that of people(christian specifically) that do not share their beliefs. I do not know how well informed you are of how religion is seen in my country since from what i’ve read christianity seems different from what I have seen here(Mexico)and seen in other places and that 90% of the population in my country is catholic.

Now all these situations(my disbelief and lack of faith and catholic family) cause a lot of problems in our relationship if you could give me some advice on how to manage the situation. i’ve considered converting into christianity just so that the issues are solved but haven’t because i still believe that i can speak sense into her(but haven’t really tried to be honest it scares me)

Answer:
Catholics are Christians too, you know. It’s still all about Christ. Your girlfriend and her family obviously belong to another denomination, or to a group of evangelicals that considers itself beyond denominations. If they have some special vitriol for Catholicism, it’s probably at least based on Protestantism.

While you’re free to go along with her family’s religion to some extent (and have no God of your own to offend by doing so), there’s nothing you can do about your Catholic family short of converting them all as well. Unless your whole family caves in completely, religion will probably always be a source of conflict between the two families as long as you and your girlfriend are together. It probably won’t help much if you yourself convert outwardly.

That doesn’t mean the relationship is not worth pursuing. Since you and your girlfriend are together despite faith and not because of it, your relationship must be supported by other things you share. It just means that you’ll probably always be caught between two conflicting faiths.

The key in the end will be tolerance. Everyone needs to recognise that belief or non-belief is not a choice as such, and people all have their own ideas about God or other gods. Taking you to church won’t convert you after a set period; something actually has to convince you. Your family sees no reason to switch denominations, any more than her family does. And you mustn’t expect anyone else’s belief to evaporate in a day, without some life-changing experience.

The crucial thing, for me, is that religion is a part of our daily lives only as much as we want it to be. If religion is interfering with your family life, it’s because you two and your families are making it an issue. You’re in love right now, and you’ve got plenty of time to sort this stuff out. When people understand that, you may have less trouble.

Your situation is close to my own experience, but our religious troubles are within both my family and my wife’s, so we’re not caught in the crossfire. I have it much easier, I think.

I hope those you care about can learn to live with each other, Omar. Keep us posted if you like, via comments. If anyone else has advice, speak up.

SmartLX

Ask from the Past: Religion, Family and Children

“Given how hesitant you are to come out of the closet, are you certain you’re the only one in there?”

(When the archived ATA site was restored, a short list of unanswered questions were found in the approval queue. I’ll be answering them here in Ask from the Past.)

Question from Watcher:
I’m a deconverted ex-theist who lives in the Bible Belt. I was raised Southern Baptist and, as far as I know, all of my family is religious. I have young daughters and my mother has approached me saying that she is ‘dissapointed’ that I am not indoctrinating her grandchildren with religion. The main problem is that I have found myself unable to tell her that I am now an “atheist”.

Knowing that she does this out of love, and truly believes that they will go to Hell if I do not take steps to make them accept Jesus as their Saviour I find myself in a quandry. I’m still rather bitter at religion myself and at first thought would rather raise them to question theological claims.

This situation has the potential to create a serious rift in my family. Heck it would have been better if I was just gay. That wouldn’t create near the controversy. But now I don’t know what to do. She would probably go into a mental ward if she knew the truth about me. I work with people that don’t believe in evolution and believe in a young earth. I have no idea where to find advice for my situation where I live.

Answer:
I think you’re dead right about the potential impact of declaring yourself “atheist” in a staunch Southern Baptist family. In some places and communities the word has a really disproportionate stigma.

However, give your mother more credit. That you’re not Bible-thumping your girls and that you probably don’t go to church much will have at least made her realise that you’re not very religious anymore. (I find “not religious” to be a great euphemism for “atheist” if I don’t want a conversation to suddenly be about that.) That you no longer believe might not be such a big shock.

If you capitulated but only at a surface level, you wouldn’t be the first parent teaching your kids family traditions for the sake of their grandparents. You haven’t said how old the girls are, but what if they were in on it, so to speak? What if your stance toward them were like this? “Listen, it’s really important to Grandma that you learn this stuff, and can say it when you’re asked, but whether you believe any of it is up to you.” Even better, if your daughters are going to learn prayers and catechism anyway, why not grab some library books and make a comparative religion class out of it? They might find it fascinating to learn about Zeus and Buddha as well as Jesus.

If you’re not willing to go that far, then you probably will have an unpleasant confrontation or two on your hands. For your daughters’ sake, of course you’ll leave them well out of it until you and your family reach an understanding. Look on the bright side: you might get lucky and find kindred spirits within the family. Given how hesitant you are to come out of the closet, are you certain you’re the only one in there?

Given that this is an Ask from the Past, I hope you get this and it’s still of some use to you, and things have gone well in the meantime.

SmartLX