Cranky Old Atheists Helping Bright-eyed Younger Atheists

I love that Atheist Nexus exists as a resource and community for atheists, and I would like to make sure that we maximize that with very real support for each other. As a 41 year old, I guess I'm an "older atheist," and I would like to offer my experience and support to younger atheists who may have a question or two about what it's like "later in life" as an atheist.

I would also add that I'm a father of three girls, so for those who are wanting to start families but are unsure of what it will be like as an atheist in a religious country, feel free to ask me or my peers about that, as well.

Tags: community, help, knowledge, parenting, support

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So is this like an inter-age support group? :D Because that's awesome and if any of you like listening to whiny adolescent rants, have at it!

I'm a 17-year-old girl (no, really) with 4 atheist older brothers, one "agnostic" older brother, and 1 atheist older sister. The problem? My mother is very religious. I know I can't convince her, and really I don't want to. She's in her 50s, had an array of terrible health problems this past year, her mom has passed, and two exceptionally good friends died just this past year. Losing her religion would crush her, as her daughter I've come to know her sensitivity and I share a lot of it. However, even getting her to accept my nontheism is a distant dream. I'll be 18 next spring. An adult. I plan to live my life how I want to. That does not include drugs, alcohol, and stupid friends... But it does involve shirts that may not have sleeves, and tea. Yes, these things have been forbidden. And to my mother's dismay, it does not include church, frilly aprons, or marrying any buzzcutted young Mormon missionary. Well... maybe one or two aprons. Every time my mother and I discuss religion or my beliefs, I depress her. She thinks she has failed as a mother, and claims we're all taking years off of her life-- That stings... I couldn't live without my mom. And don't get me wrong, I do not describe myself as an Atheist in her presence, as she thinks we're the scum of the earth. I'm shy and antisocial and not sure how to launch as an individual... I don't even have my driver's license yet. I want to be with my family but I can't stand this environment, Utah is... a hole. I want greater things; I want knowledge, respect, and understanding. I feel like this is the ultimate turning point in my life and I have no idea where to go or how to do it. Did anyone else have this problem? How do you start your life, especially when you don't fit in... yet don't know where else to be?

Hmm. On a lighter note, if I did settle down, maybe 10 years down the road, what are the problems I can expect from religious neighbors?
Hey Jezzy, us old farts are here for ya! 10 years down the rd.?? I know you have too many dreams and too many goals for 10 years down the road. You will only be what 26?? You will be just starting on your Phd.
So hows the one other atheist kid in your school? You befriend him yet?
Jezzy, if your siblings are any guide, it sounds like you're not going to have any religious neighbors when you get older. OK, that's not really likely, but I'm quite hopeful that extreme religiosity will basically just age out of the system. Younger people seem a whole lot less interested in religion. And once people get used to really having Sundays off, they don't want to give that up.

It's tough to have parents that you don't want to upset by abandoning the faith they hoped to instill in you. I dealt with that as well, and I tended to muzzle myself while they were still alive. Not completely (I finally had to draw the line when they asked me to say grace at meals--I just couldn't do it in good conscience), but we never really openly discussed the issue. Of course, they were upset with my loss of faith anyhow, so I probably should have just been more up-front about it. Still, I wasn't going to change their worldview, and they weren't going to change mine, so it seemed like a pointless and painful debate, best avoided.

I do recommend drinking tea in front of your mom, though. I mean, c'mon. Tea? A prohibition as ridiculous as that needs to be confronted head on. Unless you meant snorting tea. That's probably going too far to make a point.
College was the great transitional experience for me. It is a wonderful place where you are independent of thought and lifestyle, but you are shielded from many of the responsibilities of life.
First off Jezzy, how on earth did your very religious mother end up with a gaggle of atheist/agnostic offspring? Considering that religion also stipulates that all credit/fault goes to the parents, she's gotta be feeling the Xian guilt over this.

But, kudos to you and your siblings for indeed breaking free of the religious bonds. I am especially amazed/impressed/awed by seeing younger people do this. Not just kids trying to rebel and fit in with the goths at school, but younger folk who are grounded in themselves, articulate and take belief/non-belief seriously. I bow deeply to your integrity and wish I was that brave when I was your age. Know that your views will evolve over the years. Part of being grounded is knowing that the ground moves and your foundation will move and remold with it.

On future religious neighbors, they come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of religious-freedom-applies-only-to-me. The one bit of housing harassment I've been subject to that I think might be due to my paganism/atheism, I can't prove or be sure. I did have some neighbors come to my door once to invite me to the block's prayer group or at least fill out their little prayer card so they can pray for my concerns for me. I wrote something like, "Dear god, please help us to open our minds and seek not what we want you to be, but what you truly are. Even if what you are is non-existent."

I'm fairly certain that prayer didn't make it into the little ritual.

There. I can't believe that at 41 I too fit into the 'older' category (when did I pass 25? I don't remember!).
Ah the maternal guilt-trip "your lack of faith in my wackadoo claims is killing me/ giving me gray hair/ sending me to the hospital". My matriarch family has gotten maternal guilt down to an art and a science.

In my experience living in Tampa, a fairly religious city but heterogeneous (muslims, catholics, and protestants oh my!) I haven't had problems. Everyone knows I'm an atheist and most people don't care. Of course most of my neighbors are stoned or drunk... No really, um, people butt out. You may have one or two people who want to invite you to church with them, but there are ways around that (from the polite to confrontational). Outside of fairly closed communities like Utah, and where lots of different religions compete on the free market, the idea that you're not interested is a lot more acceptable to your neighbors. I don't think any five families in my complex go to the same church as each other, even though most probably attend some kind of weekly religious service. (PS I'm 26 so that "ten years later" thing probably fits.)
I think going to college out of state would be a great option for you if you could swing it. It's a natural transition, even for many Mormons, but at the same time it gives you distance and independence.

I think that, for all the casual religiousness in the US, the overt kind of religiousness that makes "fitting in" difficult is rare. I live in Texas, which is plenty religious, and religion is mostly a non-factor in practically all my interactions--at work, at my kids' school, with my neighbors. The real issue for me would be family as my relatives are fairly religious. But I live 1200 miles from them, so it is also a non-issue.
I'm a younger atheist (26) but have only BEEN an atheist for a year, so I find I tend to talk with other former-theists more than atheists-for-lifers. I ask the always-atheists about what their childhood was like (to model with my son) and ask former-theist-atheists how they got past the mind control. The actual AGE doesn't seem to matter much. Most of my IRL peers my age don't have children, and I find that defines my life more than my age. (Example: I can't just decide it's bar night and leave the house on a whim. I must plan, acquire a sitter, pack an overnight bag, etc. etc. etc.)
Ah! This thread has morphed into a discussion about one of my favorite topics, differences between generations. I'll spare all of you the essay and a half response that I would like to devote to this thread and instead I'll just offer a few observations and opinions.

I strongly oppose the idea that it is just the natural order of things that young people remain a-political and focused on our own shallow pursuit of instant gratification. This is simply a justification for prolonging adolescence into the late twenties which is harmful to both society and the individual. Besides, isn't it "conventional wisdom" that the youthful are supposed to be a bunch of naive idealists who want to change the world? Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against a good time. My generation is one of the pot-smokinest, hard-drinkinest, demographics since the baby boomers. In fact, the unreformed hippie parent of a friend of mine once expressed concern that maybe the cultural changes of the 1960's have gone too far. While it's true that we are (as a whole) are having more, kinkier sex than previous generations I'm personally not too worried about our "moral decay" so long as it is coupled with maturity, moderation, and a commitment to improving the lives of others and not just yourself. The only thing that unnerves me is the young age at which many of us are loosing our virginity (am I old fashioned for thinking 14 is too soon?)

Jezzy, college is going to be everything you hoped it would be as long as you have the confidence to seek out the right kinds of people. I'd recommend going to a larger urban college as opposed to a smaller one, and live on campus your first year, it's not easy rebuilding your social life from the ground up.

And Mayokitty, if you don't consider yourself smart right now don't feel bad. I think the intellectual courage that it takes to live a life without a god in it, makes you much more mature than several adults I know.

As for the older members in this thread I ask you this. Were young people always cynical and narcissistic as they are now or is this a more contemporary phenomenon? I'm not asking for sociological data, just your lived experience.
mothreau, I think people will always have sex at an obscenely young age. It has not change and will not change. The idea that it was better before does not exist. Before people married when they were 14, they were considered grown-ups. See how things are changing?

It is not strange at all I think that people have their sexual/alcohol/tobacco/younameit debuts around early teens, I actually think it is natural. It is a way for them to seperate themselves from their parents, to create their own identities. Teenagers do like and want to try things out, the only difference in attitude which has changed is that 100 years ago older men might even encourage boys to start drinking at the age of 13, now we consider it a heinous sin.
Anyway, derailing :)
mthoreau: As for the older members in this thread I ask you this. Were young people always cynical and narcissistic as they are now or is this a more contemporary phenomenon? I'm not asking for sociological data, just your lived experience.

I'll confine my observations to the last half century. The young are here to horrify and appal the old. Lets look at music in this instance - anybody who says music does not force great social and political change isn't very observant.

50's - Rock-n-Roll, of course
60's - hippies
70's - punk, and by punk I include Stooges and New York Dolls revolting against hippies
80's - American hardcore rebelling against punk into uncharted extremism

All of these caused a seismic shift in society as we knew it. But what exactly has happened since then ? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Gangsta Rap doesn't count - that's a factory production line that does more to sell sneakers and idiot brand fashions than produce any social change.

In this respect - yes, kids have lost something. The ability to terrify us with radical change or rebellion. And that is sad.

Hear that you kids ? Pull your fingers out and do something that puts cracks in our foundations again.
Yes, I'd be disappointed if my daughters' generation didn't piss me off in some way or another.

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