How to Tell Your Parents that You Are an Atheist
It can be difficult figuring out how to tell your parents that you are an atheist. You may be afraid of disappointing your parents, or of being cut off from much-needed emotional or financial support. People’s religious beliefs are often dear to their hearts, and parents may react badly upon learning that their efforts to instill their religious beliefs and convictions in their children have failed. It can also be hard for parents to accept that their child has become an atheist, as many believers take a loved one’s decision to become an atheist as an attack against their faith, best answered by repeated conversion attempts and calls to “return to the light.”
When deciding how to tell your parents that you’ve become an atheist, you first need to ask yourself why you want to tell them. In some circumstances, it may be advisable not to say anything about your lack of religious beliefs. If you are living at home, or otherwise financially dependent upon your parents, it may be best not to tell them, particularly if one or both parents have very strong religious beliefs. It is possible that you may be kicked out of your home, or cut off financially, until you ‘repent’ and admit the error of your ways. Leaving aside the issue of how conversions at the point of a sword aren’t conversions at all, I understand how difficult and painful it can be to feel as though you have to conceal parts of yourself from those that you love for fear of rejection. In a perfect world, no one would ever have to hide their religious beliefs or sexual orientation for fear of rejection. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes the best that you can do is chose the less detrimental of two thoroughly unappealing choices. Unless your parents are forcing you to become a priest or a nun, you’re probably better off with a roof over your head than coming clean to your parents and finding yourself without somewhere to live.
If, however, you have thought the decision through, and are in a position where you can be honest with your parents about your lack of religious convictions, the following are a series of tips to help the ease the discussion.
1. Be respectful and serious. Since this is a serious discussion, make sure that your tone and demeanor reflects this. You don’t have to act like someone has died, but don’t act like this is a joke to you, either. Particularly if you are in your teens or early twenties, be aware that your parents may view your atheism as a sign of rebellion. I know that it becomes difficult when people are angry, but try to remain respectful of your parents’ views. Anything hurtful that they may say is likely motivated by surprise, concern and pain that you have turned away from something that they sincerely believe to be correct.
2. Emphasize that you are still the same person you have always been. Studies have consistently shown that atheists are the least trusted minority in the United States. In my experience, people are less afraid of atheism (defined as a lack of belief in any deity or deities) than what they think atheism entails—ie. hedonistic, feckless people who go around doing whatever they want, when they want, without any discernible moral compass whatsoever. The truth is that people who have been raised with religious beliefs typically don’t wake up one day and toss everything that they have been raised to believe out the window. There are undeniably people who don’t have a moral compass beyond an all-encompassing creed of self-indulgence and self-interest, but a declaration of atheism is not tantamount to a declaration that you have no moral compass whatsoever. An atheist’s moral compass may be a bit harder to pin down than a religious believer, which unsurprisingly can be a source of consternation to those who believe that morality must stem from God, but that doesn’t mean that atheists are inherently immoral and evil people.
3. Know when to walk away. Accept that you may not be able to change your parents’ mind. Don’t force your beliefs on them, or get embroiled in a religious debate. Simply tell that this is what you believe, and that it’s important to you that they see you for who you actually are. It might also be helpful to remind your parents that you still love them, and that you would appreciate their support, but if they can’t give it, that’s okay, too. Your goal here is to preserve family relationships, not destroy them.
4. Be patient. Realize that this is difficult for your parents, and don’t expect too much of them right away. Remember, these are your parents—they love you. They may not agree with or understand you, but they do love you, and hopefully will come around eventually.
Remember, this is hard for everyone—for your parents as well as you. It’s hard to feel as though the people that you love don’t accept you, and hard for parents to accept that their children have come to reject their deeply-felt beliefs about what constitutes a good and moral life. (In the case of religion, there can be fears about the afterlife as well). Good luck, and remember that your convictions are your own—no one can force you to believe something just because it’s popular, or because they think that it’s right.