I Wouldn’t Mind Telling the World I’m an Atheist… Except my Dad is a Preacher.

Jun 11, 2013

Discussion by: TorrentGamer

I'm a fourteen year old that lives down here in Texas, and my father is a Baptist preacher for a 'cowboy church'. (Basically, it's a church where rednecks go to learn about god.) My mother, on the other hand, has trouble understanding what an atheist actually is. I'm not joking when I say that she believes Atheists are "devil worshipers" because they are "anti-christ".

 I have no trouble with telling people I'm an Atheist, and I'd love to discuss religious issues with them about it all day. If they hate my guts because I'm an Atheist, it doesn't bother me at all. The problem is, I have to live with my parents. And the second I try to tell them anything like this, my life becomes a living hell.

Wanting to tell people I'm an Atheist is not the only reason why I want to break the news to them, but it's also becuase I need to show them I'm a person that can make their own opinions. I recently pulled an experiment by going to the local library and checking out a copy of The God Delusion (which I had already listened to in audio form. Ironically, it was usually before and after church). I placed the book on the kitchen table, and eventually, they found it. They basically gave a long rant on how I couldn't read this because it was "from an atheist". I guess the message they want to send is that people with different opinions can't possibly have anything good to say? It just burns me up to think they can restrict information and knowledge from me because "I'm their son". I guess I can be glad to have parents that don't understand a single thing about the internet so I still have the opportunity to learn.

Now that I'm done whining about my parents, let's get down to the topic of discussion. Simply put, how would I tell my parents that I'm an Atheists? They aren't the average parents that occasionally go to church, they run the church.

45 comments on “I Wouldn’t Mind Telling the World I’m an Atheist… Except my Dad is a Preacher.

  •   I'm not sure we are past the question, "should I?". Is there a meaningful chance you'll be kicked out of the house? Can you live on your own? Consider the "risk to reward ration" as I like to say.  If the risk is being thrown out and becoming a street person...and the reward is being able to express your viewpoint, you may want to reconsider. Or not. Your choice, but go into the decision with eyes wide open and a plan as to how you will deal with the repercussions.  Others in your circumstance have found themselves literally thrown out of their homes. 
     If you are confident your parents will merely hate your position and not take it out on you, I don't know how you could approach it other than in a sit-down, adult conversation with them, explaining that you have something serious to talk about and then as deferentially as possible, laying out your beliefs. 
    You may know that one of them might be more able to "hear" you and you may want to talk with that parent first. 
    Be prepared for punishment, ie "you're coming to church every day for 18 hours a day for the next 10 years" or some such nonsense. 
    This is a huge thing that could adversely affect your life in so many ways. I would caution you to not do it until you have thought carefully about the consequences and know how you will handle/cope with them. At your age it is normal to be ready to assert yourself. We all come to that point sooner or later, but many young lives have been badly affected by kids asserting themselves before they were financially able to be independent. The first step in asserting yourself might be to get a job and save enough money so you -can- safely assert your independence. 

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  • Parents get the notion they own you or that you are a little robotic clone spin off, who is supposed to do just what they want you to do, even if they could never get themselves to do that. But is also true that parents love you much more than you love them. (Darwin could explain why).

    You have to reassure them you are not doing anything dangerous. You have looked into this much more deeply than they have, and after much thought have decided they are wrong, and you are not going to make the same mistake. You are the same lovable boy you always were. Be firm. Let them fume. Their love for you is stronger than their hatred of atheists. It is not as though you are doing anything wicked. You are not stealing, taking drugs, killing Muslims or smashing up cars. Dad’s biggest concern is public shaming. Reassure him you will not rub his nose in this publicly. Mom’s biggest concern is that God is going to get you for your impudence.

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  • 3
    Tribforce says:

    The Futility of Atheism: The Argument atheists fail to address
    Atheism is a futile belief. Atheists boast that there is no god of any kind. They rebuke and mock theists, i.e. Christians, for their faith because of alleged lack of evidence for god. Atheists accuse Christians of adhering to a blind faith. But I say that I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist because atheists are the ones who are living a blind faith. Even though confirmed atheists don’t admit to it, in order to be consistent in their faith they must implicitly admit to possessing omniscience. Why ? In order to say there is no god anywhere they must possess all knowledge. However, I don’t know any human even one as eminent as Richard Dawkins, the poster boy of atheism today, admit to having all knowledge. Therefore the possibility exists of God existing beyond the scope of human knowledge.
    What’s really telling about the futility of atheism is the atheist’s attitude about atheism at the end of their lives. For example Sartre called atheism “cruel”, Camus called it “dreadful”, and the iconic Nietzsche called it “maddening”. Many atheists who try to live consistently without God become suicidal or go insane. According to Norman Geisler in Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, page 282, writes “ those (atheists) who are inconsistent live on the ethical or aesthetic shadow of Christian truth while they deny the reality that made the shadow”.

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  • My own mom was quite violent. It is a wonder she did not kill or disable one of us kids. What we should have known is we did not have to deal with her on our own. We could have called child protective services. We tried neighbours, but they did not believe us. We tried our dad, but he just advocated patience. If you think your dad might go ballistic, make sure you have the phone number for child services, and 911 (I joke not, in the panic you can ask yourself, “Damn I can’t remember the number for 911). They can remind him he is not free to beat you to death, despite what the OT says.

    I counted the days until I was old enough to leave home and had enough saved up. My mom was so surprised when that day came.
    I lived in a very fortunate time, the late 60s, when by living frugally I could put myself through university, and come out the end debt free.

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  • 5
    Stephen Mynett says:

    I realise this is an awful time for you but can you be sure your parents wont overreact and do something harmful to you, either violently, throwing you out the house or putting so many restrictions on you that it messes up your education. The most important thing is that you come out the other end as unscathed as possible and if you can hang in until you can get away to university it might be the best option. I think you have to ask yourself, is it really worth trying to debate this with your parents? If your dad is as hellfire as you say the answer may be no. Look at the Tribforce post, which was a cut and paste from another thread, and that shows you the sort of people you have to deal with, narrow-minded and refusing to accept an alternate view to the point they will say anything they like whether there is any evidence or not.

    You will always have friends on forums such as this and I am sure there will be people who can put you in touch with some good groups in the USA (I am in England so no use there). I feel for you and hope you can find a solution but, for the moment, have a good chat with us and, hopefully, you will find a few friends you can feel really free with.

    The main thing, ask as many questions of us as you want, none of us can promise answers but we can try to answer them and we can promise to listen. You have more friends than you probably think, it is just a shame we are all so far away.

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  • 6
    SurLaffaLot says:

    Perhaps you need to frame it as a loss of faith – or a process of losing faith. Don’t call yourself an atheist at first, just express some specific doubts. Obviously your parents will try to guide you back onto (their) right track. If your atheism is based on good reasoning, you will be able to counter these attempts by your parents, to get you back into ‘The Jesus Way‘. But you can keep on discussing religion, and not being swayed by what they say.

    You need to develop yourself as a person, and not submit to the ideas of others, unless of course you agree with them. Neither your parents, nor anyone else, should be allowed to impose any ideas onto you, and you can tell them so; all very politely of course.

    If your parents don’t convert you back to the so called ‘True Path‘, and you stay atheist, the ground will have been prepared. After quite a time of discussion about doubting aspects of religion, you could begin to come out with: “You know, it makes no sense to me, the existence of a god; I’m think I’m trending towards atheism”. Later it might be: “I realise that I really don’t believe in the existence of your ‘God‘, or any god for that matter, so I really am atheist.”

    If you are going to engage with anyone in discussion, that pits their theism against your atheism, you need to know what you’re talking about. Engage with, and ask other atheists to help you understand and express the answers they have, to religious questions and problems. There are quite a few internet based forums for doing this, (eg. this one ~ RDFRS, is one). There are plenty of YouTube videos which present the ideas of atheists. If you need help with finding those videos, ask for help on that, from people on this or other atheist based forums.

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  • 7
    QuestioningKat says:

    Just remember – Their house, their rules. When you own your own home, it will be the same way. They can kick you out at 18. You need to start thinking about one or two plans now while you have a chance. Start building strong friendships and saving your money. Maybe see if you can get some sort of small job. Consider going to a state college and declaring your independence when you can. You might want to search out liberal relatives and apply to colleges near them for a safety net. Yes you have several years before you graduation, but don’t pull anything stupid. If anything, really really learn the Bible and start finding it’s inconsistencies, flaws, historical inaccuracies, abuses, etc. and then question it. You will never win an argument by dropping a Richard Dawkin’s book on the table. Start looking into biblical characters and ask intelligent questions.

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  • First I wanted to say that reading this story inspired me to create an account specifically to comment, so my thanks to the author for that. It’s hard to say exactly what you should do or how you should handle fully coming out to your parents, not knowing how extreme they are in their beliefs/faith, so taking any advice here in regards to the “coming out” aspect I would take carefully or at face value as they say, no way of knowing for sure how someone’s family will react or how parents will handle questioning faith. Also very unlikely that using any kind of logic, or reason, will shake a parent’s faith, especially those who run a church, even if your only hope is to have them understand why you are an atheist.

    You could throw all the old standards that atheism uses at them, and it may only make your life harder, or cause your parents to become more forceful or more strict in their ways. Or it can have the opposite effect, the only person to really know is you, you are the person in your family, so careful judgement on your part is important. Remember, hard to use logic and reason arguments regarding atheism or religion, to people who were taught religion in a way where logic and reason were not used. As many have said being able to reach that point in your life where you are no longer dependent on your parents and simply waiting it out is an option, an option many take. Whether the issue is religion or homosexuality, etc, coming out fully and having honest open discussion with family who are completely opposed to who you are or what you believe is always going to be difficult, and hard to predict. As you mentioned you have the internet, something your parents are unfamiliar with, be sure to keep it that way.

    With the internet comes lots of support especially for something like atheism. From forums, to podcasts (the Thinking Atheist for example), to twitter (with atheist news/people to follow), there are so many great places to find atheist views and entertainment if the world in which you live just happens to be filled with the opposite. Oh and of course keep reading, Dawkins along with people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and heck even Penn Jillette, have books worth looking into on atheism if it’s something you are interested in reading more about. By the sound of it your parents seem to want to limit information and knowledge you are exposed to, nothing new for religion, but many if not all books nowadays are available online as PDFs now or like you mentioned as audio books, so sounds like you are doing well to expose yourself to things regardless of what your parents want. Keep pursuing.

    I must admit I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where religion was never talked about (outside of a jewish grandmother), and neither was atheism, when I was old enough to make my own choice and reason for myself I learned about the religions and the gods, and in my search for truth atheism is just where I wound up. So I can’t relate to this given situation, but I do hope the words and support you find here in all our comments and wherever else you can find it help in some way.

    Know that I’ll be thinking for ya.

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  • It’s hard to go in opposite to parents, for you as well as for your parents. My oldest son is just 11, but when he is going to have opposite positions – I’m getting somehow nervous – but I also know, that this behaviour is “normal”. If the “philosophic” conflict is pretty fundamental – it can become even harder…
    So what can I suggest: Please think about your feelings and how your parents would feel, if you tell them about your view ? Very often religious leaders tell the story how bad atheism is, so maybe your parents feel bad about the term “atheism”. Some of my americans collegeus prefer the term “agnostic” just to avoid the “bad” term. There are a few fundamental differencies between “agnostic” and “atheist” – but both positions mean “I (not a god) take care of my life”. Together with some positions, which are shared by many christians (e.g. tolerance, “help youself so does god help”) – your parents probably find a way to accept your different thinking.. BTW: if they feel better – they might pray for you – it doesn’t hurt ;-)) – Have you ever heard, that one of the latest statements of the pope have been:, that there are even good people – who do not believe in god…
    One of my collegues I work pretty close every day serves the congratual council in his church after hours. I have lots of discussions with him – and we learned pretty fast to accept (not to adopt !) each others view…

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  • 10
    Uriel-238 says:

    TorrentGamer, my first concern is for your well being. Of course we want a world in which atheists are not even regarded differently let alone can step out of the closet in safety, but I would certainly worry about their reaction to your coming out. I wouldn’t want to see you evicted from your own home or subject to domestic abuse, and it sounds like your parents would be inclined to do either or both.

    I applaud you for your insight into your own motivations: It is natural and proper to want to establish your own identity, to demonstrate you are capable of the kind of critical judgement necessary to navigate your way through the complex issues of the real world. But your parents might still regard you as a child, and not be ready to let go of your childhood, even when you are eager to move on and forward. Furthermore, many radical denominations of Christianity (such as the SBC, the largest Christian church in the US) prize obedience and conformity above all other things, so it may not be safe for you to express disagreement or discontent until you are well out of the house and on your own.

    Of course, you will know your parents better than I. So it really depends on the family. In my case it took a couple of years without contact before my parents realized they’d rather know me as a separate individual than not know me at all.

    In the meantime, find outlets in which you can express yourself (blogging is excellent) and places in which you can hone your ability to form, clarify and assert your opinions and see them challenged intellectually, rather than by appeals to authority, or appeals to force. Philosophy and debate are good starts, and look damn good on your academic transcripts, no matter whether you are a religious apologist or an opinionated naturalist. You might have to keep your studies into unapproved topics clandestine, but no information is dangerous no matter how challenged it is.

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  • 11
    Seraphor says:

    I would take heed of the warnings given to not rush into anything. You may feel like you need to stand up for your beliefs and make a point of it somehow, that you don’t want to be a coward or stay quiet, but you are only 14. If your coming out as an atheist backfires you will have at least 4 more years to put up- with whatever your parents throw at you, and possibly risk being thrown out entirely at 18.
    We can’t tell you how likely any of this is, and even as their child you cannot be completely sure of their reaction yourself, so be careful.
    Also, given your age, if you come on too strong or aggressive they will just put it down to typical teenage reballion and will not respect a word you have to say on the subject.

    As others have said, make some plans in regards to college, and where you could go if you’re no longer able to stay at home, and then ease your parents into your way of thinking. Stay away from the tern ‘atheist’ and swot up on the bible and it’s faults so you can counter any arguments they might present. Learn all the philisophical arguments and religious fallacies so you’re prepared to out smart them, but don’t instigate any arguments yourself or come on too arrogant and certainly do not infer that you think they are stupid for having their beliefs.
    Be polite, helpful and responsible, maybe even help out at church with things that don’t cause you to violate your principles, so that they can respect you as a person, even if they can’t respect you as an atheist.

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  • 12
    Alan4discussion says:

    I recently pulled an experiment by going to the local library and checking out a copy of The God Delusion (which I had already listened to in audio form. Ironically, it was usually before and after church). I placed the book on the kitchen table, and eventually, they found it. They basically gave a long rant on how I couldn’t read this because it was “from an atheist”. I guess the message they want to send is that people with different opinions can’t possibly have anything good to say?

    This is part of the “Red-neck evanlgeigal ignoramus know-it-all culture. It is based on group reinforcement of its dogmas, and confirmation bias. Their understanding of the world is simplistic and weak.

    Any well presented knowledge is a threat to it – hence the constant reassertion of creeds in regular church meetings.

    Their demand that you only read information from their fundie sources, and nothing from atheists, scientists or from other religions, is their way of defending and propping up, their very vulnerable views, based on biblical and preached fictions.

    My mother, on the other hand, has trouble understanding what an atheist actually is. I’m not joking when I say that she believes Atheists are “devil worshipers” because they are “anti-christ”.

    Like the threat of “Hell”, demonising information and people who challenge their pathetically simplistic thinking, is a psychological defence of their weak view. Essentially they have no understanding of the world or the universe. Everything is personified as “black and white” – “good or evil”. The concept of scientific laws which just work as part of nature, is beyond them It is all “God-did-it-by-magic-in-mysterious-ways” – so we know-it-all!

    It is what psychologists describe as:-

    The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when incompetent people not only perform a task poorly or incompetently, but lack the competence to realize their own incompetence at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. Put more crudely, they’re too stupid to realize they’re stupid.

    I recently pulled an experiment by going to the local library and checking out a copy of The God Delusion

    If you have not read it yet, I would suggest you go to the library to read the simpler but beautifully presented;- The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True

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  • 13
    Pauly01 says:

    Your still a young guy and are really dependent on your parents , family , friends , social peers , etc. It could be just too much agro at this stage. Why not give it a while before you put this all out in the open.

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  • 14
    SaganTheCat says:

    my advice to a 14 year old….

    live your life as a lie until you’re old enough to live without your parents. on the plus side, a 14 year old in this day and age has access to the internet. your social life may have to exist online if you want to hang out with like-minded people.

    reading TGD you’ll understand that you’re not alone, lots of people live in fear of their parents belief. many parents are simply not mature enough to cope with a young human being who doesn’t think like they do. it’s not thier fault, they’re products of their upbringing too.

    I hate to give the advice so live a lie but I don’t think there’s much option. where you have a religious community parents can treat their kids quite badly with full support of their peers. you don’t want to become a victim (I dunno how it is where you are, maybe not so bad but maybe the sort of place people gather round and start casting out demons etc).

    it’s worth considering there’s always someone a bit worse off (a boy your age was recently killed for not believeing in god). if you want to engage with your parents on issues that matter, maybe that’s a place to start? should a teenage boy be shot in the face for disbelief? if so would he have been better off living a lie, even though his god would presumibly know? what’s the right way to treat other people? does it depend on their religion?

    you’ll know where the line is not to cross but it’s important to be able to talk to your parents about things that matter to you, at the same time, we’ve all had to lie to them to make their lives easier. atheism is the act of growing up. 4 years isn’t as long as it seems, concentrate on your schoolwork, try to get into college, then live a good life. it’ll make it easier to forgive your parents in the long run

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  • If your parents are willing to “lie for Jesus”, you can just “lie for you”. It’s only 4 more years, maybe even less if you make it a goal and work towards it, before you can leave the house. Plan, study, find friends (even online ones) and pretend you’re still a Xtian. Then get the heck out of there. Be prepared, though, to lose your parents and close family when you do it. You won’t change their beliefs; it would be like trying to change their DNA. All in all, know that you’re not alone, you’re not the first one to go through this kind of struggle and you’ll find plenty of support along the way.

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  • 16
    papa lazaru says:

    Yeah, you don’t have to do that teen angst thing if you don’t want to. I know, it’s cool to be an atheist, hang out with the cool kids, party with girls, listen to heavy metal, but you don’t have to antagonise your parents 🙂 Keep it light, if they keep it light. I don’t know your particular situation, but if they don’t cause you any problem, it’s just a few church duties and so on, compromise and be cool.

    Or go all righteous on them, but don’t be surprised if they hit back. I know it can suck, but hey you don’t choose your parents.

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  • In your situation, how about going half way? Instead of telling them outright that you’re completely against religion, tell them you’re agnostic (although from the sounds of it you’ll probably have to to explain to them what this means. Whenever the topic comes up just could tell them you don’t know if it’s true or not but that you have no interest in it, because there are other things to spend your time on, like schoolwork and sports and friends and music and books and …etc. I don’t see how they can get mad at you for not knowing if something is true or not, and having no interest in it.

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  • 18
    humanistguy says:

    I live in a city in the Houston, Texas metroplex and in driving around Texas my wife and I have come across Cowboy Churches. Always thought it was kind of strange.If someone asks me what my religion or philosophy is my answer would be “Humanist”. Am I an atheist? In the eyes of a believer in some kind of a god yes I am an atheist. But this is a word invented to describe someone who does not believe what they believe.The word ‘atheism’ does not specify any particular god or gods. There are thousands of gods and I’m fairly sure your parents only believe in what is commonly known as the Judeo-Christian god. When it comes to all the other gods your parents are atheists (SURPRISE). Now – I would not point this out to them unless you have a couple of ambulances standing by!
    If I was in your situation I would not confront your parents about your atheism until you are out of their house and independent – it just is
    not worth it and as you pointed out yours is not the typical situation.
    I mention Humanism because it provides a great foundation for your life. Here is my short definition of it:
    “Humanism is a Method of Inquiry, an Ethical and Spiritual philosophy, a Life Stance and a positive, politically progressive, socially
    cooperative and scientifically sound Cosmic World View, based on and informed by Naturalism and Materialism”.
    Look up the websites for American Humanist Association and The Council for Secular Humanism, I’m a member of both organizations and there is a lot of information.
    A very good book on Humanism is “Embracing the Power of Humanism” by Paul Kurtz the founder of The Council for Secular Humanism.
    Humanism is informed by Naturalism and an excellent website with loads of information is naturalism.org.
    Hope this will be helpful and wishes for all the best from a fellow Texan.

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  • I was 17 when I realized fundamental religion wasn’t for me.
    I kept my silence, went to church, didn’t make waves. When I was 20 I joined the Air Force and was away from home for 4 years.
    I stopped going to church but never said I was an atheist. That would have really hurt my mother and I saw no need to do that.

    At your age, 4 years seems like an eternity. When you get older it becomes insignificant.

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  • 20
    DocWebster says:

    One thing I would do is talk to a lawyer. In my own state the laws governing children are actually quite liberal in that parenthood is considered a responsibility and not a right. There are provisions for emancipation without consent for people as young as 15 and also very liberal interpretations of what constitutes abuse. One young woman, a few years older than I, emancipated from her Mor(m)on parents on the grounds that they were trying to marry her off to an elder. Her dad had a rather large debt to the elder and you can guess the rest. Anyway, the idea here is find out what exactly your parent’s rights and responsibilities are towards you. That kind of information should help you greatly as you have to make decisions going forward.

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  • 21
    Phineas says:

    Hi TorrentGamer,

    My heart goes out to you; it must be tough.

    As has already been mentioned, I would strongly consider biding your time until you are an adult and financially independent with some well-established supportive relationships outside the family.

    This is based on the psychological observations that most people’s belief systems are not easily shakeable, and tension arises when we feel that others are not on the same page as us. “Coming Out” at this point in time may well spark an endless argument that does nothing to serve you (or your parents).

    I admire that you have no trouble telling others that you are an Atheist given the position you are in. But please we wary of the fact that family are different to others we disagree – it is not so easy to walk away.

    A person demonstrates their cleverness through argument, but their wisdom (or perhaps more accurately, their social savvy) through staying silent. Rather than engaging in a fruitless debate, express yourself away from the family circle (as you are doing here, online, for example).

    Finally, you yourself know your situation, your parents, and the resources available to you better than anyone else. A few imaginative visits to the scene as it plays out may be useful: What will life be like for you if you told your parents tomorrow? Would this change in a week? In a month? In 2 years? What would the consequences be if you stayed silent – would this be too much to bear (and if so, could this be overcome in other ways?)?

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  • As a fellow fourteen year old, I suppose I may be a bit naive in my perspective of the world. However, the question is not should you, ( the truth may hurt but it is important to tell it) it is how will you handle the accusation that you are a satanist or other assertions than you are demonic. Consider the options, you wait until you are out of high school, then you can leave, go to university if you want and never look back. Or, you can say it now, and not have to have the guilt of not telling your parents anymore whilst simultaneously being prosecuted. Can you handle 3-4 years of enduring as-is or being accused? There are probably other ( and better) answers but I wish you the best of luck

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  • This one is a bit like coming out as gay while still at home, unless you are sure of a positive or at least neutral reaction it may be advisable to not do it as you still have to live with your parents who may for reasons they think entirely appropriate, make your life miserable. Also, if your father is a preacher it is not a good look for him if he cannot keep his own house in order so to speak. Having said this you seem to be quite a thoughtful individual for a 14 year old, this deserves respect, also living a lie is never easy and that is what you’d have to do. Perhaps a back-up plan might be in order if things go pear shaped.

    If your parents start with the emotional blackmail or start ranting you might reply, “Is that the best you can do? Is that seriously the best argument you can make to prove me wrong and you right? No wonder you can’t stand contrary ideas you have nothing but emotion (faith) to refute them.” Also, remind them you are aware that truth is not necessarily whatever one has crammed down ones throat from the moment you flop out of the womb, if it were the muslims would be right too i.e. some research on your part is appropriate as you require a bit more than your parents word to prove the bible true.

    Also, you might ask them to subject their belief system to the same standards of proof they demand of evolutionary theory etc i.e. perform a miracle or raise a dead person… until they do insist on your right as a thinkig human being to form your own opinions.

    Very best of luck!

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  • 25
    SilverWun says:

    Since you’re 14 there is a wonderful opportunity to study, study, study History, the Bible and other ancient writings. Study Science in every aspect that you find to be interesting. Study your own intuitions about all of these things. Study Psychology and Anthropology. You are already by definition a person disposed to independent thinking and it is your creature legacy. For those who believe in gods, it is their divine gift; meant for use.
    Ignore an be as non-committal as you can in the meantime. If you must show others that you are a thinker, pose provocative questions at church or during classes meant to indoctrinate. The more you learn, the more provocative and (passively innocent) the questions will appear. One needn’t directly challenge a crazy notion by pronouncing it as unbelievable when merely considering it, in context to be true when placed with another ‘truth’ with which it is in conflict.
    Play them. It is fun. When you are old enough to transition to an ‘adult’ existence, you’ll be well prepared to set an admirable example of a fine, loving, courteous, non-believing citizen of the World.

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  • 26
    Stevehill says:

    You’re pushing water uphill here, your parents are not going to change and a “don’t mess with Texas,”, redneck kind of response is quite possible. Quite apart from faith issues, your parents have an economic stake in this: the church is their business, their income, their pension plan. Having you running around town saying it’s all a crock of shit is bad for business. And they are not qualified to do anything else.

    I know when you’re 14 being 18 or 19 seems to be a lifetime away, but as others have said I would seriously hold your peace on this for a few years, till you maybe go to university or are otherwise capable of standing on your own two feet and if needs be living independently from your parents. You obviously have access to the internet, and this site and others are a good place to, in the interim, get some reassuring fixes of rationalism.

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  • At 14 I was already pulling away from the catholic church. One Sunday I refused to go to mass and my dad thew me against the wall and said, You think so? So I just played along until I was allowed to make up my own mind about going to church. My older siblings did the same thing. Most kids my age at that time (1970s) were disillusioned with religion and saw church and god-speak as just more of the weird shit weird parents dump on their kids. I didn’t know what an atheist was back then or that there was a choice not to believe in a god. It was more about instinct, like something doesn’t feel right… You have tons more insight and knowledge than I did at that age!

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  • 28
    Alan4discussion says:

    If you look at it from your father’s point of view:- Evangelical preachers get Brownie points (status, and expanding “empires”) for recruiting new converts, so a de-convert in his own family is a bit of an embarrassment!

    Having said that, many years ago, some of my school mates were a bit weird as a result of being the children of clergy, – and they were only sons of Church of England vicars!

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  • 29
    Thylacinidae says:

    As others have said, the most important thing is YOUR safety. Honesty is almost always the best solution, but not if it is going to jeopardize your personal safety and well-being. Your parents may love you, but that could change the moment they get a hint of ‘betrayal” about your beliefs and with them running the church it becomes doubly personal. Wait it out. Parroting back what they expect to hear and keep your thoughts to yourself (well, around any ‘believers.’) Keep a roof over your head until you can support yourself. Then put several states distance between you and them when you get around to mentioning that you are an atheist…

    When it comes to social contact, there are many communities online (including this one) who will welcome you with open arms. Its not the same as being able to communicate in person but its at least a place to talk with others, vent frustrations, and have people who understand you. If you have any concern about your parents looking your shoulder, make sure to clear browser history, the cache, and anything else that leaves a trail as to where you have been online. Also, be wary of checking out books at a library where people know you as it might come back to your parents or have a REALLY good excuse to check them out.

    Be intelligent, be careful, be safe.

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  • Howdy, former ex-preacher here. I figured I might hopefully have some experiences to help you.

    I was a preacher, my father is a preacher. I was an atheist while still preaching. I have a wasted degree in theology, and my father still doesn’t know I am an atheist. While I can’t give you specifics on how to ‘come out’, I can give you some helpful questions to ask yourself, as well as some… tactics that help along the way.

    I understand the burning desire to tell others you are an atheist. That you appreciate science, that thinking is delicious, and that you want to understand reality. It is difficult to keep that bottled up. I was a secret atheist for nearly 2 years. At the time, my parents would have kicked me out, I had no money because of putting myself through university, and the rest of my family had despised me from preaching at an evangelical-anglican church. It was not a good time to come out as an atheist.

    Ask yourself: “Is this a good time? What are the repercussions? Will my life be better, or worse?” As atheists, we don’t have to proselytize. You don’t need to constantly cause trouble with religious people – and in general, cause trouble at all with your family. Choose a time you think will benefit yourself.

    How do you come out? I haven’t had to come out to my father, mostly out of deference for him (his pastoral position would be destroyed) and as an adult I don’t have to see him every day. I suggest that with a family that effectively runs the church, the best way is how I have ‘dropped the bomb’ on others: “I am losing faith. I don’t believe there is a god out there.” The key, don’t say atheist (I know, it is SO satisfying to use the real word) as it is a very caustic word to Christians. Say you disbelieve. Say you are losing faith. Agnostic. Choose your own synonym, just try and stay away from igniting the zealous fire in your religious family.

    Be sensitive, be smart. Don’t come out to antagonize. I know that there is a philosophical or moral highground where it shouldn’t matter how or what you say, but unfortunately, to make your life better with your family, you need to be very sensitive. No matter what you say, they will be disappointed. Be prepared to have them upset. More than a week or two. It won’t be the same. Even though my mother doesn’t mind my atheism, she speaks and acts very differently with me.

    The best course of action, and my plan for coming out to my father, is allow them to make their own conclusions. When someone already expects you to be something, they are less agitated when you confirm it. Often times they are relieved not to have to stay guessing. This happened a lot with friends and distant family. Let them ease themselves into the boiling water that is your disbelief. It makes your job a tonne easier. It was one day alone with my mother that I found she, despite the appearance of being a hardhearted right-wing theocrat, was instead a humanist and deist! Sometimes, you really don’t know what people believe until they are not afraid to be brutally honest. I, with the help of her gin-ridden psyche, came out legitimately. She wasn’t surprised at all. Like you, I left my books out everywhere. It was not hard to put two and two together.

    Keep an open mind to keeping your atheism to yourself, as hard as it may be. If not, be very sensitive.

    Congratulations on being an atheist, enjoy it, and keep holding on in the midst of your current religious surroundings.

    • J

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  • 31
    jburnforti says:

    Although there’s a serious disagreement between you and your parents, I don’t get from your post that you don’t love them or they you. In which case, you ought to handle the situation as any intelligent teen in any difficult family situation should: tactfully where you can, honestly where you must and reasonably as often as possible – though there aren’t magic formulae for family problems. You’re clearly mature and since your judgement is what you’re going to be depending on from day to day, I think you should trust it as you do in other situations. You’re entitled to support here for your bravery but only embark on a crusade if it’s you who wants it. Very good luck.

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  • 32
    petermead1 says:

    I’ll attempt to give you the best advice that I can because I can truly empathize with you. Their act of attempting to restrict your education and knowledge simply because they don’t agree with or understand it should be considered child abuse, in my opinion. I was raised by parents of a similar bigoted, narrow-minded nature. Unless you really want a fight on your hands, leave it alone. Obviously, they can’t actually make you believe anything that you don’t believe. You can still be an atheist, but the sad, unfortunate truth is that you may just have to keep quiet about it around them until you’re out of the house. I know that you want to stand tall and proud, and I know that this probably isn’t the advice that you want to hear. It may be, however, the wisest advice. In the meanwhile, keep learning. Keep educating yourself. Find other atheists. It doesn’t matter if you have to keep it from your parents. You have a right to information. A human right. If anything, I encourage you to study the bible and go to church. Not only will it please your parents and keep them on your good side, (as well as fool them) it will only deepen your understanding of their religion. It will give you the tools necessary to really debate with them. Good luck. Never stop using your critical thinking skills or being an individual.

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  • 33
    Kevin_G says:

    There is a lot of good advice found throughout the many responses.

    I offer a possible method to achieve the ultimate goal of that fateful conversation.
    The following is simply an overview as there are many variables that are not addressed… a stepping stone, if you will.

    Your situation is arguably the same as many others, and they too had as much turmoil over the decision to confront their parents regarding this very important and life altering subject. I point that out to you, so you can take to heart that you are not alone regardless of how strong that loneliness may play at you now or in the future. And this is in no way taking away from the uniqueness of your individual situation, fortunately for you, and happily many others, there is this forum of like minded, and helpful, people that not only allow you to air your dilemma but are willing to assist as best they (we) can.

    Go into this with the clear idea that this may take a year or more, so make sure you keep notes and keep those notes somewhere safe.

    Two very important attitudes for you to take on are “There Is No Rush”, and “Do It Right The First Time”

    And if I may borrow words of the very wise Yoda “Do or do not, Their is no try” which means the success of your endeavor is upon your shoulders.

    If I may be so bold to start by pointing out that you may want to focus much of your energy on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘when’ factor. I strongly suggest that you consider getting an idea of how your father and mother are more open to be informed of important yet touchy matters, one method is to ask your aunts and uncles, you may even consider long term family friends. There is no rush…take as much time as needed to word each question that you will use with any of the people you feel you can get this information from in a way that won’t throw up any flags.

    This forum can be a good testing ground for those questions as we all try to exercise and hone our abilities in logic, reason and critical thinking. Not only that but your questions may be very helpful to others in your predicament.

    But that is only one part of the equation. I, as I am sure many others here can agree with a couple of points that “SaganTheCat” brought up, go to church and learn everything you can about the workings of your particular church, read the bible… in fact it is imperative that you read it from cover to cover, do not skip anything… all while doing research and cross referencing it to and/or with any other authoritative texts outside of your or any religion. This will give you two very formidable factors, one is the obvious education in matters regarding the bible and two is the respect of your parents as they will see and hear the difference in your tone and language.

    These factors will play a huge role in how successful your coming out conversation is at being final all while maintaining as loving and respectful a relationship as possible.

    Research is the backbone to any and all healthy, respectful, informative and successful conversations/debates/confrontations regarding this or any other subject.

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  • The problem with some of these responses is that they are rational. Like Sam Harris’ argument with secular humanists, who cannot imagine the danger of fanatical religious beliefs because they have no such deeply held convictions, they seem to believe that reasoned argument based on perceived contradictions in religious literature will hold sway over TorrentGamer’s parents. That is highly unlikely. How do you reason with a parent who believes that atheists are devil worshippers? It is important to understand that this is not rhetoric. She really believes this and no argument will sway her opinion. R.M. Hare called this kind of assertion a “blik.” It may be false but it is meaningful to his mother and nothing will be allowed that contradicts her assertion. It is only one step from that to the belief that her own son is one with the Enemy. Dispossession may be the least of his problems. My advice is, “Hold your peace.”

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  • 35
    warren.taylor.7 says:

    The problem with some of these responses is that they are rational. Like Sam Harris’ argument with secular humanists, who cannot imagine the danger of fanatical religious beliefs because they have no such deeply held convictions, they seem to believe that reasoned argument based on perceived contradictions in religious literature will hold sway over TorrentGamer’s parents. That is highly unlikely. How do you reason with a parent who believes that atheists are devil worshippers? It is important to understand that this is not rhetoric. She really believes this and no argument will sway her opinion. R.M. Hare called this kind of assertion a “blik.” It may be false but it is meaningful to his mother and nothing will be allowed that contradicts her assertion. It is only one step from that to the belief that her own son is one with the Enemy. Dispossession may be the least of his problems. My advice is, “Hold your peace.”

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  • One thing that should be mentioned is the economic impact of your decision. If you advertise that you are an atheist your parents will surely feel an economic impact.

    Your future will be affected also. You live in the Bible Belt and atheists are not welcome.you may find it hard to get a job.
    Be an atheist but be quiet about it
    Good luck. It would good to hear from you.

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  • 37
    ShadowMind says:

    Instead of leaving something provocative (like The God Delusion), try putting both a bible and something like a Torah, the Book Of Mormon, or Hindu Vedas on the table (the Koran is probably pushing it in this day and age). Or an open bible and a page of your own notes on the errors/contradictions for the page it’s open on. Try to get them to acknowledge that there are alternatives and problems with their religion (not saying it will work, but might create a dialogue).

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  • 38
    karton65 says:

    Lay low. Study more about the universe, physics, chemistry and biology. Open up your heart to relativity, quantum mechanics, the DNA and so on. Seek the real truth how the universe works! Just behave for next few years till you need their support. You don’t have to believe in that god racket – believe me it is the biggest business in mankind history! When you are in college or through college, won’t need their financial support, have good grades, tons of knowledge that you truly appreciate the mysticism of this wonderful universe, the world will appreciate you, recognize you. Don’t worry, world will always be full with stupid people who don’t get mathematics, probability and science. Let them be happy their own narrow way. That does not mean you cannot go on I your quest for truth – which you may have to do silently, may be next few years. Just remember there is nothing more powerful as scientific truth and certainly more powerful than god fairy tales!

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  • 39
    jburnforti says:

    Don’t know whether Kenny Rogers would rank very high on a list of philosophers but, since knowing which battles to choose is one of life’s great skills, this seems to say it:

    “You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em,

    Know when to walk away and know when to run. “

    I wish you courage and prudence.

    In reply to #35 by Nash33:

    One thing that should be mentioned is the economic impact of your decision. If you advertise that you are an atheist your parents will surely feel an economic impact.

    Your future will be affected also. You live in the Bible Belt and atheists are not welcome.you may find it hard to get a job.
    Be an…

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  • 40
    Seraphor says:

    “The problem with some of these responses is that they are rational. Like Sam Harris’ argument with secular humanists, who cannot imagine the danger of fanatical religious beliefs because they have no such deeply held convictions, they seem to believe that reasoned argument based on perceived contradictions in religious literature will hold sway over TorrentGamer’s parents. That is highly unlikely. How do you reason with a parent who believes that atheists are devil worshippers? It is important to understand that this is not rhetoric. She really believes this and no argument will sway her opinion. R.M. Hare called this kind of assertion a “blik.” It may be false but it is meaningful to his mother and nothing will be allowed that contradicts her assertion. It is only one step from that to the belief that her own son is one with the Enemy. Dispossession may be the least of his problems. My advice is, “Hold your peace.”

    You’re absolutely right, it is more than likely that no rational argument could ever change his parents beliefs. However it is entirely possitible that his relationship with his parents could change their attitude. Religious beliefs are based on emotion, and so a parents love for their child if one of the few things that has the ability to trump it.
    Which is why the best advice is to ensure he has their respect in other apspects of life, by being a responsible teenager and knowing as much as he can about Christianity, and not to antagonise them in any way.

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  • 41
    steve_hopker says:

    I would join with those urging caution, but while noting the concerns about you being open with your parents, I wonder if in effect you have already ‘outed’ yourself with the Dawkins book on the table. You say you ‘placed’ it there, from which I imagine you did not leave it there by accident – so they might be right to think you wanted them to find it. I suppose you have also shown your parents that you have access to books and views they do not approve of – and obviously, while not understanding the internet, they would have to be quite unaware not to realise that people of all ages, including teenagers, can and do access it.

    So, I’m guessing that even if they are not discussing it with you, their anxieties may well be raised. Your parents might hope that if they don’t mention it, you will somehow lose interest. They might be trying to dismiss it as teenage rebellion, or that you are immature, confused etc. But (speaking as a parent myself) I would be very surprised indeed if they will forget the book and that, if they are not thinking you are well on the road to atheism, it looks a real possibility.

    Reading between the lines, I guess they have a fairly standard evangelical take on salvation. This could mean they have strong, maybe genuinely held fears that you are not saved and will go to hell. It is (I hope) possible that your parents care for you – so from their beliefs they may be genuinely frightened for your future. And while atheists can discount fears of damnation, and even if your parents did eventually accept you, they might not be wrong to be worried about your position in that community. So they might also fear you will have a hard time, maybe have move away and they will lose touch.

    This makes me think that while as very religious people they will show anger towards atheism, for you as their son they may well also have fear. As others point out, fundamentalism is not associated with clear reasoning at the best of times, but for your parents now their reasoning might be further undermined by strong emotion – even if they do their best to hide it.

    So, echoing other advice here, I wonder if you need to be more cautious. Unless you have material, social and emotional support such that you could get through school and college etc either away from your parents or in some kind of domestic war zone / living hell having perhaps already largely revealed your hand you need to take care of yourself at home. If I am right and your parents pretty much know your atheism, or fear you are heading that way, but either deliberately or subconsciously are avoiding the subject, it might be best to go along with that. I would join with others in urging you avoid taking a stand that risks a total breakdown of relations. Of course, you know your parents and I don’t, so you might be able to gauge the risks – although having an openly atheist member of the family would be new territory for everyone, I guess, so you may not be able to forecast their reaction with much certainty.

    All the best, and hope this and other sites are helpful.

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  • 42
    johanx1 says:

    I was in a very similar situation when I was your age (living in the South African Bible Belt which makes yours look liberal). My advice is sadly to keep your views as private as possible until you are secure enough to leave home at 18. I thought of myself as a kind of atheist Clark Kent with nobody knowing my true identity (the imagination of youth is a wonderful thing).

    Leaving The God Delusion on the table is not perhaps the way you should work this as it might provoke a very negative reaction from your parents. Obviously nobody on this forum know your parents like you do. It might be safer to first say at some point that you have doubts about religion. If they react negatively to that there is an excellent comeback. Just say that you are like the disciple Thomas. Yours doubts don’t make you any less of a disciple. If your parents are understanding of your doubts then, if you are brave, come out as an agnostic. Agnostic, as Darwin discovered, is a relatively safe position (although us atheists know Darwin stated that agonistic is simply atheist written light). It means you are open to persuasion (as we should be) and it doesn’t mean you reject the beliefs of your parents.

    The most important thing to hold in mind is to take it easy. Don’t provoke or lose your temper. Don’t do anything that might jeopardise your future. Be gentle and understanding. Your parents are actually the victims. Love them regardless.

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  • 43
    fishhead says:

    Your biggest problems aren’t that easily fixed. Your age and living in Texican. Your folks are as sure that god exists, as you are that it’s senseless. The easy way would be to keep your mouth shut and wait until you’re old enough to escape. I couldn’t and didn’t go that route. Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, put down that king james weapon you’re beating me with and stop talking fantasy. Maybe you could prove to me that you actually have something other than the bible and a mountain of blind faith. Being 14 is miserable enough without instigating more issues. Also, I read a lot of the bible just so I wouldn’t appear ignorant when someone started slinging bible verses at me. Read Leviticus, it’s incredible. Virtually every chapter begins with “And god said” (he’ talking to Moses). Some of the stupidest stuff I’ve found in there. Sir Richard could certainly supply you with ‘logic’ ammo, and lots of it. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite comments from Sir Richard (paraphrasing): If you’ve got this magician that’s so awesome that he can create an entire universe in a week, how could he possibly care what I’m thinking or doing on this one little speck of sand in a universe full of little specks of sand. Keep strong young man. It will get better. They don’t generally burn nonbelievers at the stake anymore. Texican on the other hand???

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  • I’d like to commend you for being able to figure things out despite the fact that you are completely immersed in dogma. I was a bit younger than you when I started noticing that things just don’t add up when it comes to theology. I asked the pertinent questions, got the completely unsatisfactory answers (“well, the bible says…”) and decided at the age of twelve that if god actually did exist, he was horrible and I was done with him. I have a small inkling as to what you must be going through, though. “Playing along” with religion is difficult, I think, once you realize you don’t need it anymore; like you’re being untrue to yourself. My grandmother is always offering to pray for me, and I have to fight to urge to say, “good luck with that”. I guess what’s important to realize is that your parents obviously love you, and your “eternal salvation” is very important to them even if they’re missing the mark. Just remember to consider yourself lucky that you’re still young and are already figuring things out for yourself. I don’t know you, but I’d wager you have a pretty bright future in store…

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  • Hi! I am a fellow Baptist preacher’s kid… And quite a bit older than you. I understand your reservations, as I am 33 and still unable to break the news to my parents that I no longer consider myself a Christian. While I’m an Agnostic and have moved beyond the fear based belief of my youth, I have decided not to discuss this part of my life with my parents. I have no other reason than the knowledge that it would cause them to obsessively worry about my soul… What is the point of that? I have many discussions with them about things I see as oppressive to others, but why break their hearts? You will have years of adulthood where you can live as you please. You can make friends with similar beliefs so you have a place where you can be completely real. I can’t tell you what to do, but I would suggest looking at your motives for telling them. Will your life be a living “hell” if you don’t? Sometimes it is better to let them be happy…

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