Atheists 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.