This coming Christmas will be my first Christmas as an "out" atheist. My very religious parents have taken it fairly well. We've had a few calm discussions about religion, the only issue being that they occasionally try to guilt me into going to church to them. However, as I was thinking about the upcoming holiday I realised another problem.

For as long as I can remember, it's been a tradition in my family to go to the midnight Christmas Eve service at church. I know that my mother will be very upset if I opt out of the tradition this year, but I'm not sure if I can bring myself to go to a church service. And if I do go, should I say the prayers? Should I sing the hymns? Should I just sit there quietly and think blasphemous thoughts?

Ideally, my parents would accept my atheism and stop trying to change me, but I know that's not going to happen. Now I just need to decide whether I'm going to stand my ground (and feel guilty) or give in (and be pissed at both my parents and myself). Any advice?

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It depends on if you live with your parents or not in my opinion. If you don't, obviously you would have an easier time getting out of it than if you do. If you do, I recommend going so that you can keep the peace around your house. Even if you are rolling your eyes the whole time, it is better for your overall tranquility in the home to grit your teeth and make it through the hour or so of nonsense. If you go, you're going to have to go through the motions, like standing with everyone and etc, but you shouldn't feel obligated to sing or pray or take communion or whatever else the particular brand of christianity dictates. Just my two cents, hope it makes it easier for you.
I've been dealing with something similar for roughly the past 12 years. I live several hours away from my parents, yet they still try to force a certain degree of participation on me. More recently they started sending gifts to my older sister, and getting her to take pictures of ny husband and I opening gifts for them. To put it plainly we're too damned old for this, it's kinda creepy and they've been hanging this "if you don't do this you'll hurt everyone's feelings" crap over my head. Thing is, I'm not responsible for anyone else's emotions, and neither are you.

Respect goes both ways. It's a complete double standard to be expected to participate in something that flies in the face of your beliefs out of respect for your parents. Going along with it is essentially saying that your views are inferior, and not worthy of respect. I see from your profile that you're young and I assume living at home. Depnding on your living situation now may or may not be the time, but at some point you'll have to stand your ground. If you don't put your foot down and re-establish boundaries with your parents they'll keep hanging the emotional blackmail over your head through the duration of your adult life.
I think I pretty much agree with you here and it's not just religion where this issue occurs with parents.

The entire "you will hurt our feelings " thing is often just an excuse in human narcissism. Does it cross their minds that YOUR feelings might be hurt, when they won't accept YOU for who You are?

If it's an attempt at conversion, I'd probably say no. If it's just a nice family tradition and they'd be disappointed because they like the tradition but don't push it, I'd probably actually go. A few hours of boredom is okay if it really is just a nice gesture.

I guess it just dpends on how much respect you are recieving for being who you are :)
I say don't go. Instead tell them that you will spend that time doing something good (like going to a soup kitchen earlier in the evening, or staying home to wrap presents for kids that you can take to your local women's shelter Christmas morning, ect.). This way you can respect your own beliefs and do some good in the world, and when your parents are asked about your whereabouts they can respond that you are out "doing the lord's work". No you won't be at the service, but they can still look good in the eyes of those who judge them.
I would not say the prayers. But I might sing the songs because I really like singing... although skip the Amen?

And then, if you find you are uncomfortable, I would work towards making next year's Christmas experience different. Find something else to do. Or, you can make a trade. You will go to the Christmas service if they will attend something non religious with you...

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