Breaking The News
To Mom And Pop
I need some help because I am -- or was a Christian. I am 24 and I have been a Christian since I can remember. I have been leading up to this point for two years now that God does not exist. I find this hard not just because I am studying theology now, my family is full-on Christian types, and I have so many expectations on my life, I was even going to become a minister. Yet I have lost my faith, I don't believe the Bible has any answers, I don't go to church since I don't belong, I have enroled to study literature at University, and I have lost any reason to believe. This does not feel like a tragedy but a new awakening. If you can reply on how I should go because I don't know who to talk to. I guess I need comfort or wise words from you my "net.sage".
From: "Positive Atheism" <email@example.com>
To: "Paul Reid"
Subject: Re: hi Susan
Date: Wednesday, May 16, 2001 5:28 AM
This does not feel like a tragedy but a new awakening.
You are in good hands -- your own hands!
Your de-conversion seems to have impacted both major areas of your experience: empirical and emotional. You have rationally seen that there is no reason to believe that God exists, and you find this discovery to be emotionally fulfilling. I cannot think of a healthier way to go through this change, which some people find quite upsetting.
You can check out our De-Conversion Stories section and see how others have struggled with this. We post the De-Conversion Stories so that we can learn what mistakes not to make as well as to possibly grab a few pointers. The De-Conversion Stories section does not pretend to be a "How-To" book, but is, rather, a collection of warts-and-all stories from those of us who have been there.
The biggest problem that I see most people having is the tendency to carry the fundamentalistic thinking style into rationalism. Boning up on liberal scientific method (perhaps Jonathan Rauch's book The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought) is a good start in this respect.
I find this hard not just because I am studying theology now, my family is full-on Christian types, and I have so many expectations on my life, I was even going to become a minister.
This is a tough call, and I strongly recommend not jumping in and announcing to the world that you have lost your religious views.
For one, this will alert them to bring on the high-pressure evangelism tactics, against which very few of us know how to defend ourselves. You don't need to go through this at this point. Those who don't know you very well will not notice anything unless you bring it up -- so be careful about when and where you bring it up.
The family is a different story: Unlike casual friends or even close buddies (close enough to where your friendship would survive almost anything), your family will remain your core relationship for life. You could easily reach a point later in life where your family is all you have. I've certainly been there, and am very glad that I did nothing to seriously alienate my family.
So you will want to be very careful about breaking this news to your family. They will probably take the news of a decision not to pursue the ministry much easier than the news that you've become an atheist. Duh! But how to break it to them and when to break it to them (and whether to even break it to them at all) can be real tough calls. Some have had to pretend to their families in the face of ostracization. Others get along with their families just fine except over the religion, which is usually good for one serious "debate" at Christmastime. Only you can know the answer, and even then, you cannot guarantee the outcome of such a decision. All I can say is do not go in haste on this one, but think long and hard about which possible outcomes you are willing to live with for the rest of your life -- some people take their religion that seriously.
An interesting parallel to your situation with your family is that of gay and lesbians: when and whether to tell the family of one's homosexuality. Remember, polls show that more Americans would vote for a homosexual for President than would vote for an atheist. So, if you can imagine your parents rejecting you for being a homosexual, it is even more likely that they would reject you for being an atheist. And if you think they'd accept you as a homosexual, you're still not out of the water.
This leads to my suggestion: Either attend a meeting of the campus gay and lesbian support group or log on to a gay and lesbian forum. Explain that you are in a similar situation in that you have rejected the family religion and that your family has very strong traditions. Then ask them to describe if and how they broke the news of their homosexuality to their parents. If you want, I can ask our readers if they had to break the news of their atheism to deeply religious parents and if so, how they pulled this off.
You also might want to browse the titles in the Letters Index because most of the titles give you a good clue as to what the letter is about. We have many letters from youngsters who have had to struggle with this issue with their parents.
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