In Search of Young People to Help

Question from Adrian:
Hi there, I just found this site by googling “understanding atheism”, and it is almost exactly what I’m looking for. I am an atheist, and have always identified myself as such. I’ve never believed in a deity, or any sort of supernatural event, even as a child.

What I have been looking for is a place where atheists and theists can cordially talk about beliefs. More so the beliefs of theists, as atheists don’t have a “belief system”. I wanted to find a place where I could answer questions that theists proposed out of curiousity, not out of anger or out of trying to prove me wrong (not that I mind those questions, I just want people who will actually listen to what I say). I would really like to offer my perspective to others who are willing to listen.

With that said, I would love, like really love, to get a chance to talk to kids between 13 and 25 (I am 25) about atheism and answer any questions they have. The ideal site for me would let me talk to kids who are questioning their beliefs, and do not know how to live without those beliefs, and have questions on how I do it.

Well, I know you know nothing about me, but my question to you is: do you know of a place (website) that I can do this? I’m willing to give a few hours a week to reading and answering questions. Basically I want to do what you are currently doing on this site. Except I would prefer to do it with teens, preteens, and young adults. Please let me know your thoughts.

Some background on myself, whether it is important or not. I have a bachelor’s in computer science, and I currently work as a software engineer in a liberal state in the U.S.. I have no kids, no criminal record, and have never smoked or done any drugs. I’ve had alcohol once in my life. My main passions are fantasy, health, and somewhat secretly, theism/atheism.

Thank you.

Answer by SmartLX:
I was looking for just such a place, and I found it in Ask the Atheist. I commented on some answers, started contributing officially, and eventually took over. It’s cordial (if not exactly neutral), and mostly reactive, driven as it is by visitors’ questions.

This kind of site isn’t quite what you’re after, though. You want to answer a specific type of question from a specific type of questioner, and the material we get here is a real “box of choc’lits”. And we don’t get anything like enough traffic to occupy you for several hours a week, not with me already here. (Feel free to keep commenting though.)

An organisation does exist to advise and help people who have started their journey out of religion and religious faith: Recovering from Religion. It’s a broader offshoot of the Clergy Project, which was set up to help preachers who no longer believe. They have everything from a blog to a forum to local support groups. If you present yourself and state your wish to help young people, I’m sure they can find a use for you.

If you want to try targeting youths on your own, there’s nothing like Facebook. A well-publicised free-for-all discussion there will draw them in from all around. I’m not aware of any existing groups with this particular aim, but it’s easy to search and almost as easy to start a new one.

Wherever you end up, we’ll be happy to link to you. Good luck.

An Atheist Pastor

Question from Pastor Tim:
For the last six years I have been a youth pastor at a church I grew up in. I met my wife in this church and “we” plan to raise our kids in this church as well. A year ago I enrolled in Bible college and I became extremely interested in knowing everything there is to know about Christianity, the origin of the Bible, and also other religions. This is where my current problem began.

You see, the more I learned the more I realized that the Bible is a complete fabrication. At first I just had a few doubts but now I realize just how crazy the whole thing really is. I’m on the verge of being kicked out of school for some of the questions I’ve been asking. I’m trying to save face at church but I teach dozens of kids about a God I no longer believe in. I know you’re probably getting a kick out of this but for me it is total hell (pun intended). Just the other day my senior pastor wanted to know what has gotten into me and I wanted to tell him but it would just kill my wife, her family and mine.

I feel like a robot and I dread Sunday school. It makes me wonder though if there are others at church that feel the same but keep it to themselves for fear of being socially outcast. I have no one to talk to – everyone around me is out of their minds. It’s a holy ghost charismatic church. You know – the whole speaking in tongues – slain in the spirit deal?

I have been trying to teach less about god and more historical significance of stuff in the Bible but I feel like a total fraud and I know this is not what the parents want for their kids. I want so bad to come out but I just can’t; our whole families go to this church. I think if I tell her it will lead to divorce. I love my wife and still believe strongly in a lot of the good values taught in the Bible. Something has got to give, please help!

Answer by SmartLX:
Tim, it sounds like it sucks to be you, and believe me when I say this does not make me happy. I don’t do this often, but I’ve changed your first name in your “question” so that someone in your family or congregation doesn’t stumble across this site and peg you. I’m not saying that “coming out” to your community as an atheist is necessarily the wrong thing to do, but if you go for it you should definitely wait until you’re ready.

The good news is that you are far from alone. May I introduce the Clergy Project, an online community specifically created (partly by Daniel Dennett) for members of the clergy who have lost their faith. They’ll have far better advice than me on dealing with your still-religious friends and family, telling your secret, making a living after leaving the church and so on. They’ve had a lot of good publicity lately, so you can go in with your eyes open. Importantly, they are completely confidential until you decide to go public, which you may choose not to.

I urge you to present yourself to the Clergy Project, because people in your unfortunate situation are the very reason it exists. Dennett conducted a study beforehand which found huge numbers of non-believing clergy, most of them feeling just as trapped as you. I say again, you are not alone.

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.