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.