Does Grandma’s feeling trump parents decision?

Question from Val:

My wife and are atheists and my mother is constantly speaking with our 3 and 5 year olds about God. I don’t know how to approach it with her. She tried to read them a creation story book once and we told her no. She got very upset and said that her beliefs were a part of her and we were trying to suppress who she was with her grandchildren. I don’t want to alienate her but this has to stop. I feel our children can learn on their own and make their own decisions when they are older.

 

Answer from Erick:

Although I’m sure her heart is in the right place, she’s not being completely genuine. If she really wanted to share her beliefs with her grandchildren she would wait until they are old enough to not only understand what she’s talking about, but also old enough to be able to discern fact from fantasy.

That being said, the best approach is always a direct one. Having raised a child myself, I understand how it can be difficult dealing with family members who think it’s their mission to keep my kid from going to hell. My approach has always been the same. I ask them to stop and make it clear that if they don’t, they are risking not only their relationship with my child but with me as well. This is usually met with either anger or apologies. When met with anger the key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to get dragged into a theological debate. The discussion isn’t about the value of their religion. The discussion is about how you want your child raised. Stay firm. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their concern and that you’ve got everything under control in this area. If they still remain angry, then let them be angry. At that point there’s nothing you can do but allow them the space to move past their anger.

For me raising my child was more important then having family or friends upset that I wouldn’t let them take my kid to church. If they choose to get upset, then that is their choice. Their feeling don’t trump my child being raised to think for herself. You’re responsibility is to your child, not to others feelings.

Hope that helps. Let us know in the comment section bellow.

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.

How do I “come out” as an atheist?

“Ultimately your parents will come to some form of understanding. That understanding could be anything from complete tolerance to the idea that you’re the devil incarnate.”

Question from Jarod:
My parents take me to church and expect me to believe in whatever they tell me to. I have had a limited say in anything regarding religion. After many months of questioning and doubt, I have finally come to terms with the fact that there is no god. A lot of my friends know and they don’t mind (in fact, a lot of my friends are atheists), but now I’m contemplating coming out to my parents. I am extremely nervous about telling them because they expect me to be a Christian. How do I approach them, and is now a good time? I’m only 14, by the way. Thanks.

Answer:
It’s never a good time for something like this, from your parents’ perspective. It’s got to be done sometime though, because (among other things) if they still think you believe when you grow up and have kids of your own, they’ll expect you to indoctrinate the kids too.

I’m sure you realise that if you do it at 14 they have the ability to make your life hell for 4 years, whether or not they actually would. That said, if you think the situation will improve after you get this out in the open, or you don’t relish another 4 years of pretending, go for it and best of luck to you.

To soften the blow, say that you don’t believe in God anymore. The word “atheist” over and above that would probably be more shocking as the first thing out of your mouth, as if you came in and said, “Mum, Dad, I’m a Communist/Nazi/anarchist.” Sad in this day and age, but true. Not believing in God is a personal conclusion you’ve come to which they’ll need to deal with, whereas atheism might seem more like a bad crowd you’ve fallen in with and need shielding from. (That’s enough phrases ended with prepositions for today.)

There’s a chance, especially if they think your disbelief is a form of rebellion, that they’ll threaten you with punishment. Speak the simple truth: that it wouldn’t make you believe again. It might coerce you to pretend to believe, but an all-powerful god would see right through that. No, something would actually have to convince you to believe again.

They may subject you to some form of apologetics: a book, a video, a private session with a local preacher, or they might try their own hand. Look at it as an opportunity to crash-test your atheism. (That’s exactly why I started at ATA.) If they come up with an argument you haven’t already considered and dismissed, you can probably find a reply to it on this site. If they come up with something this site hasn’t answered, I want to know about it.

Ultimately your parents will come to some form of understanding. That understanding could be anything from complete tolerance to the idea that you’re the devil incarnate. Sorry, I can only predict the thoughts and actions of strangers up to a point. Regardless, you’ll have done it, you’ll have been honest and you won’t have to lie anymore.

Let us know how you go, if you like.

SmartLX

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