“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.

Leaving Islam as a Teenager

Question from Ayesha:

I feel the need to clarify that I am a teenager who used to be a Muslim, until recently when I just couldn’t pretend to myself that I believed in a God. Many of my friends know, and they don’t mind. The thing is my mother is completely religious and if she knew I was an atheist… well I don’t know. I want to tell her but I don’t know how to bring my point across without flushing and ending up looking confused.

I suppose what I’m trying to ask is how does one go about trying to make others understand that your life isn’t just determined on your religion status and how to truly explain to someone – in my case, my mother – that just because you don’t believe in a God doesn’t automaticially make you a bad person? How would I tell her?

Answer by SmartLX:
If I were to take your question at face value, it would be truly tragic. Do you really think that your mother, who’s known you all your life, would suddenly and completely invert her view of you if she knew you’ve lost your faith? I hope she knows you better than that. You’re still the same person.

I’m not saying she won’t have a strong reaction, I just don’t think that’ll be it. My guess is that she’ll ultimately be afraid for you. Not only will you be inviting Allah’s wrath from her perspective, but other Muslims might become very aggressive towards you. Even “moderate” Muslims believe (and can often be made to admit) that the proper penalty for apostasy (leaving the faith) is death. Even in a country where people don’t usually follow through with that, they may feel justified in victimising quitters in other ways.

If you decide you do want to tell her, firstly it’s entirely up to you when you do it, and a lot of people roughly in your position do it after they’ve left home. Depending on the rules of your family you may not be able to leave home by yourself, but consider the timing carefully regardless.

When you get around to it, let her know you’re open to questions. She’ll have many, even if she doesn’t ask any, and foremost among them will be, “Why?” It could also be a while before she asks anything because she might have to calm down first.

She’s likely to suggest various methods of restoring your faith, for example increased mosque attendance, Muslim camps (I’m guessing) and other group activities. You know what’s available better than I do. If you don’t want to be put through this, have ready explanations of why they won’t work. This might not actually save you, but it will lessen her shock and frustration when you return unmoved.

Ultimately I’m trying to advise one person I don’t know about dealing with another person I don’t know, and there’s only so much I can predict about what will happen. (I don’t know how proper Dear Abby columnists do it every week.) I think it’ll help others if we know what happens to you, so if you go ahead with all this please let us know how you go in a comment. Best of luck.