Category: Advice

Oh No! My Child is an Atheist!

Reading the BibleAtheists are a fast-growing segment of the American population, and that means many parents will face the terrifying news that their son or daughter is an A-word. It’s not what any God-fearing parent wants to hear, but it’s what awaits those unfortunate few who obviously neglected their Hail Marys. Don’t bother pulling out the rosary now. Not even God in all his non-existent power can save your family. It’s a condition that you’ll have to learn to live with, and hopefully this post can help you with finding out your son or daughter is an atheist.

There are many real dangers involved with being an atheist mutation in a religious family. Children may be mocked to the point of depression by their “loved ones”, kicked out of the home at a young age, sent away to Jesus camp or beaten to death for lying about their Bible homework.

Know What Atheism Is

What is an Atheist?

Google has more answers than God.

Few things are as misunderstood as atheism. Even the above definition from the almighty Google doesn’t quite get it right. Some atheists may agree with the definition, but some will say that atheism is not an active belief against God but rather a passive disbelief in any gods. The point is there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to atheism, and it can be a complicated thing to define.

My sister was the first family member that I told about my atheism. We were driving in my car somewhere, and she was very upset about how our mom had been judging her over some of her recent behavior. Her frustration was that she would constantly be compared to me, the “perfect” child, and that our mom was too harsh with her. In order to show my sister that I wasn’t perfect, I told her then that I don’t believe in God. That would have horrified our mom, a lifelong Catholic. More importantly, I tried to explain that our mom doesn’t necessarily know what is good and what is bad, and so her moral judgments shouldn’t be given so much weight. It’s okay to live outside of our parents’ views of morality.

Now, maybe my sister told my mom or maybe it just became obvious by how many Jesus jokes I’d make. Either way, my mom had figured it out. Moms may not always be right, but they know everything. So, one day on a long drive to somewhere in Texas, my mom asks me if I’m an atheist. I hadn’t been actively hiding my atheism, but I hadn’t told her before because I didn’t feel I needed to upset her over it. But now she asked, so I answered. “Yes.” There was an odd silence for a while. I thought she was too mad to talk anymore. Instead she asked, “Does that mean you hate God?”

I laughed slightly when I heard that. It was completely unexpected. I thought she’d start into how ashamed or hurt she was, classic mom guilt trip stuff. But no, she asked me if I hated God, a god I didn’t believe existed. It was like asking if I’m friends with Yoda. I explained that it meant I didn’t believe he existed. Her only response was “Oh.” We didn’t talk about it anymore that day.

That’s when I really learned just how misunderstood atheism is. My Catholic mother thought that atheists hated God. It’s likely that Christian propaganda makes us out to be God-haters, even Satanists. However, the truth is that atheists simply don’t believe in any gods. That’s all it is at its core. After that, what an atheist does choose to believe or think varies greatly. There’s far more to atheism than Stalin and the War on Christmas.

The first thing you should do is talk to your child about their beliefs, or lack of beliefs.

Don’t Blame Yourself

It’s not your fault. It’s their fault. People come to atheism for a variety of reasons, but ultimately it’s that not believing in any gods makes the most sense to them. Maybe it’s purely logical and scientific. Maybe they dislike religion and all the evil it does. Maybe they just don’t care. Whatever the reason, it’s their choice what they believe and don’t believe.

Tom Cruise Oprah Couch

At least you didn’t raise a Scientologist.

You may have tried long and hard to indoctrinate your child into your religion, but don’t think that you failed at being a parent just because it didn’t stick. Trust that your child knows what they’re doing. Hopefully along with all the religious nonsense, you let your child learn real things too like science and reasoning. If so, then they’re fully capable of coming to their own conclusions about philosophical quandaries.

No child wants to deal with the guilt of causing all of their parent’s self-loathing. So, stop hating yourself for your kid’s decision. It’s theirs to make. Be glad you raised someone brave enough to explore complicated questions instead of settling for the way of thinking given to them by birth. You raised a thoughtful individual. Congratulations!

Don’t Expect Participation in Religious Rituals

Seriously, stop trying. You know they don’t believe, so that just makes the rituals all for show if they do follow through. Nothing more. The act of going to church is a complete waste of time for an atheist. Even if you’re saying grace, it doesn’t mean your atheist child is doing so too or cares in the least about whatever you’re telling your imaginary friend.

Kids Saying Grace

Praying away the vegetables.

Religious parents for some reason still feel the need to push all these little superficial extras onto their atheist children. It doesn’t make any sense and is only going to come off as ignorant and annoying. Aside from that, it unnecessarily creates a point of contention. So, leave it be. If you still have to do your religious duties, go ahead, but don’t make it so apparent that you’re hoping they’ll join in. They won’t, and even if they did, it would be an empty gesture.

We don’t mind Christmas presents, though.

Stop Trying to Save Their Soul

Your son is going to burn in Hell for eternity. Deal with it. That’s the god you choose to worship. I don’t make the rules.

This is one of my favorite points for atheism, at least when faced with Christianity (and probably a few others apply here too). Let’s say I’m right. No big deal. No God. I die. It’s all over. The end. Let’s say I’m wrong. Now I’m thrown into a pit of fire and tortured forever because I didn’t worship God. Not only that, but he throws my mom up in Heaven with him and she must know I’m suffering, but it’s Heaven so she can’t feel pain….so I guess God just makes it so she doesn’t care that I’m eternally suffering at his will. There is no way I’d want to worship that god. So, if Christians are right, I’m still good with my choice.

If you believe in that literal interpretation, then it’s just unfortunate. Your god is evil, and you should be ashamed.

But maybe you don’t take it quite so literally. You just want your kid to live a happy life, one that only comes with spiritual fulfillment. Well, as it turns out there are plenty of spiritually fulfilling things that an atheist can enjoy. There’s no need to save their soul. Their soul can have plenty of chicken soup without God serving it.

Atheists can find pleasure, beauty and purpose in life. For some, maybe it’s material things like money, video games, boobs or good food. Or maybe it’s the more abstract like philosophy or helping others. Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on fulfillment. With atheism, the individual gets to find their own personal fulfillment, and perhaps that can be more rewarding to them than one dictated by ancient mythology.

The Jerk - Steve Martin

Find your Special Purpose

Don’t Murder Them

Seriously. Murder is always bad parenting, whatever the reason. Having a child who thinks differently than you is no reason to punish them.

Aside from the fact that any kind of punishment over a person’s beliefs is immoral, it simply isn’t very practical. You can’t force beliefs on people. No amount of grounding will convince them God exists. So, don’t punish them because they don’t believe what you want them to believe. If you do, they might just pretend in order to escape the punishment, but they’ll also grow to resent you. Plus they’ll have to repress their feelings in order to live harmoniously with you. Everyone is better off if you choose to live and let live. Would you rather your kid not believe in God or not believe in God and hate you too?

Remember They’re Still Human

There’s really no reason your relationship with your child should change just because they stop believing in your god. Maybe you don’t see them in church as often, but surely your relationship is predicated on more than religiously mandated routines. Didn’t you ever play catch with your son? God had nothing to do with that. It turns out atheists can catch baseballs. So, keep treating them like you had been. They didn’t turn into some unfamiliar monster. They’re the same creature you’ve known and loved all of their life.

Hulk Yelling at Sky

ATHEIST SMASH!

Atheism doesn’t drastically change a person. It is change, yes, and change is a part of growing up, whether it’s a change in beliefs or not. Your atheist child is still the same person. They have the same childhood memories they’ve always had, hopefully with you in them. Atheists have hopes, dreams, fears and problems just like anyone else. So, when dealing with your kid remember that they’re not just an atheist; they’re a human being. If they screw up, it’s not because they don’t believe in God. It’s because they’re human, and humans screw up. Your atheist child probably doesn’t want you thinking of them as your “atheist child”.

Don’t Be Ashamed

Even though atheists are hated by most Americans, they’re not that horrible. This goes back to the first point about knowing what atheism is. There is a ton of misunderstanding, and as a result there is a lot of anger, resentment and hatred toward atheists. You are doing your child a disservice by being ashamed. Don’t hide the fact from your friends and co-workers. Remember, you read the first point and learned what being an atheist really means. So, you should know there’s absolutely nothing wrong, sick or immoral with atheists.

If someone has a problem with you having an atheist child, then that’s your opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding. If you do so and they still have a problem with it, then why do you want that person’s approval? Your child is part of one of the most under-represented and hated minorities in the country. Don’t be ashamed. They need your support. They need people who aren’t atheists standing up for their rights so that they can be seen as individuals and not automatically assigned the negative connotations from ignorant minds.

The best thing a religious parent can do for their atheist kid is be proud of them anyway.

By on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013 at 9:32 pm | + = this post

  • r.holmgren

    “Atheists are a fast-growing segment of the American population,”

    No they aren’t. The “no religion” is the fastest growing segment. Those who tick atheist stay stuck around 6%. There is a huge gap between not caring whether Creator God exists and putting your brain on the shelf and saying that a material universe does not need an external Cause in order to exist.

    • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

      This gets back to the first point, knowing what atheism is. It depends on how you choose to define atheism. Is it all people who don’t believe in a god or religion? Is it only the people who say they “know” god doesn’t exist? Furthermore, the numbers are likely smaller than what they actually are. As an oppressed minority, people are cautious to self-identify as a full-blown atheist. Also, it’s worth noting that a small percentage of self-identified Christians also self-identify as not believing in God. So, where do they fall?

      • Hugo Ratiney

        “atheist” generally refers to people who think there is no creator, nothing above, and no reason why the world goes round.
        “agnostic” is used to qualify those who don’t have any belief about it.

        I would call me an agnostic because, as though I think odds are very small that there is “something above”, I do not hold it as a total certainty, for there is no proof of that.
        I don’t need to settle on this to live a fulfilling life, to differenciate evil from good, or to have values and ideals.

        (also, sorry if I made English mistakes, I’m not a native speaker).

        • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

          That’s probably the strictest definition. You could still be an atheist because you don’t actively believe in any gods. Merely accepting the possibility isn’t enough to make you a “believer”. By your definition, most atheists would be agnostic since there’s no way of knowing that something doesn’t exist.

        • Thrasymachus

          Incorrect. An agnostic is one who does not claim to know. ‘gnos’ is a Greek root pertaining to possession of knowledge. An agnostic is one who does not have knowledge, not one who does not have faith. The opposite of an agnostic is a gnostic, who claims to have knowledge. A theist is one who has faith. An atheist is one who does not have faith.

          You could set up a little 2×2 matrix, if you like. A gnostic theist is one who knows there is a god. An agnostic theist is one who merely has faith there is a god. A gnostic atheist knows there is no god. An agnostic atheist merely has no faith in a god.

          The meaning of the words are simple. Everyone should be able to fall into one of these four groups. The lines are solid, even if someone isn’t entirely sure what they believe or know. You believe in a god (or gods) or you do not. If you believe in something supernatural, but you do not call it a god, and believe in no god, then you would be an atheist, insofar as the question of gods are concerned. If you are willing to admit even the slightest possibility that your belief is wrong, you are an agnostic.

          The agnostic label is one which most people fall under, even if they don’t know it. The meaning of these words will not change just because someone doesn’t like the label. That being said, there are those agnostics who choose to act as if their belief were absolutely correct, to the same lengths as a gnostic, and there are those agnostics who choose to act as if any belief has equal chance of being correct. It’s a broad spectrum, but it has a very definite border.

          Similarly, a theist is anyone who believes in a god. They needn’t believe in any specific god; only that there is at least one god. It’s entirely possible for someone to know that there is a god, but not have any faith about the nature of this god. The nature of what a god is like is not a question which is pertinent to the terms (whenever gnostic/agnostic is being used in relation to the existence of a god. The words are not limited to this question and may be used in non-religious terms, though theism/atheism is strictly religious.)

        • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

          Hm. I’m in the same boat. I think that there is a non-zero possibility that some intelligence created everything. I think this because I cannot prove otherwise.

          I also think there is a non-zero chance that Elves exist. Just out of the sight of humans. I can’t prove that Elves do NOT exist, I haven’t looked everywhere, have I?

          So I’m technically agnostic about Elves too.

          But I don’t spend any part of my day wondering about what the Elves are doing right now. I don’t spend any part of my day hoping that Elves think good thoughts about me. Unless I’m watching “Lord of the Rings”, I don’t think about them at all.

          My actions, and thoughts toward Elves are atheistic, aren’t they? The same could be said about any sort of deity you could define. And honestly, I have lots of fun defining deities that no one can disprove.

          So you see, being atheist AND agnostic at the same time isn’t so difficult. Theism deals with belief, and Gnosticism deals with knowledge. I lack a belief in deities, and I actually have an active disbelief about several deities as they are commonly defined. That makes me atheist.

          But do I know there are no deities? No, I lack that knowledge. Just as I lack the knowledge that Elves don’t exist.

    • Carl Fischer

      I would submit that re-thinking your relationship to the world in the absence of theology takes quite a bit more thought than following a well defined religion.

    • Thrasymachus

      I know this is going to seem entirely sophomoric, but I’ve never really gotten a firm understanding on this aspect of Aquinian logic: If you say that one would be a fool for not believing in a prime mover, how can you honestly say that the belief in a prime mover isn’t foolish as well? Let’s call it God and ask the question: Where did God come from? The only answer I’ve gotten to this is “God has always existed”, which is plausible if you throw out all the laws of nature, but then, anything is if you do that. It’s the metaphysical equivalent of not knowing what the hell is going on and throwing up your hands and shouting ‘it’s magic!”. The belief in a prime mover is founded on nothing. The logic required to support the assumption requires throwing away the rulebook. I honestly don’t understand the jump here, or how any thinking could possibly be involved in an active belief. What is required is that which is called by some ‘faith’ and by others ‘superstition’ (often with colorful modifiers).

      Why not be honest admit to not knowing how this whole thing started? Why must people claim knowledge when it is not to be had? Why claim to have logic pointing toward a prime mover, yet not have a satisfying logical chain? The non-believers must account for how everything started, but the believers must account for how God happened. And they don’t. They say ‘it’s magic’.

      I have met educated men whom admit to not being able to respect the intellectual capacity of anyone who does not believe in a prime mover. Though my education is more modest, I am ashamed to say that I have trouble respecting anyone who believes in a prime mover.

      Why is there this divide? Is not true logic accessible to intelligent people? If one is arrogant enough as to consider themselves to be intelligent, then what can they do but disdain those who have a different answer to a question which ought to have one answer?

      I do not know if there is or is not a prime mover. I believe there is no prime mover. One is the realm of reason, the other of faith. Why must these realms be confused?

  • mike

    Atheism isn’t growing… common sense is.

  • Jim

    It’s not that kids become atheists. They all start atheists before some bible-bashing parent either drags them into their religion or allows some other person to do so. Then common sense prevails and they turn BACK to being an atheist. Unfortunately, in these cases, a lot of psychological damage has already been done.

  • Felixthe Dill

    YAY The untied states is hitting theartetical puberty

  • Deb

    My son is an 18 year old college student and is very “science” minded. He claims to be an athiest and I was suprised but not angry. I just want him to be respectful of other peoples beliefs as well. Everyone has the right to their own ideas and beliefs, but you must also have tolerance for others.

  • Carl Fischer

    Not a bad read, but it’s written for Athiests as the audience, not Theists of Athiest children as the title suggests. It’s littered with subtle and not so subtle jabs at religion that would likely make the intended audience angry.

    • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

      This is true.

  • Craig Lee

    “There’s far more to atheism than Stalin and the War on Christmas.” — Brilliant!

  • http://www.mindi.authormeanders.com/ M.E. Anders, the Cult Slayer

    Great post for religious parents with atheist children. I wish my parents would have read this article when I was younger…I might not have struggled so hard to come out as an atheist in my 20s.

  • scott

    Misrepresented artificial. Title suggest help/understanding for a parent but it is really just a smear on religion. Come on!. you don’t really want to help anyone. you just want to slam religion. You are worse than the bible thumper. At least there agenda is not hidden or misrepresented
    .

  • psuedon

    The snarky comment and picture against scientology when you complain about atheism being misunderstood is a classic example of irony, and how much you misunderstand about others as well.

  • DesertPro

    I’m 12 and I’m starting to think that god doesn’t exist,I just can’t believe that we pray for a god which doesn’t do anything when in Africa there are starving innocent kids,and a god which watches people die everyday because of diseases that he could cure to let us live,I just think its not fair that we give him what he wants but in response he gives us nothing but hard life’s full of sadness.

  • Jake Mono

    I like this article. It’s the perfect combination of rationality and belligerence. I especially like the part where you prove that God is evil. The whole concept of “salvation or nothing” is evil, eternal punishment is evil. Fuck this “we can’t understand God” rhetoric. That’s what you say when you’re indoctrinated and want to believe in that god in the first place, but don’t really have a good explanation.

  • lora120

    Some good points overall, but the author’s maturity was thrown into question for me when he used “boobs” instead of “sex”. Kind of silly.