Trying to explain my atheism to my grandparents...

I come from a Christian family. My mom is very... very religious. She cried her eyes out when I said that I didn't want to get baptized. My father, I love him. He's very understanding and open-minded about my lack of belief and has been a huge help when it comes to dealing with my mother.

But my grandparents on the other hand, they are very much a picture perfect view of christian country folk. I am made to dress up in ridiculous clothing every Sunday because we are going to 'The Lord's house and home.'. The pastor there is quite nice outside of church, but inside, it's all GOD IS YOUR GOD AND YOU WILL BELIEVE!

The people at church are... alright, but whenever I mention a word about any possibilities other than what is said in the bible, I get nasty looks and glares. Once I mentioned that abortion, in my opinion, was not murder, the shocked look on the people's faces was enough to make me want to cry.

I've never truly believed in God and Jesus, ever. The stories I was told before bed always seemed exactly that: stories. They always seemed too far fetched for me to believe. If God rose the flood waters to 20 feet above the mountains, the animals would run out of oxygen, they would attack each other, they would run out of food within a couple days. And once the waters receded, all vegetation would be gone. So there goes the herbivores, and every time a carnivore got hungry, they would wipe out an entire species.

/end ramble

I'm sorry, I'm just... I can't get out of going to church without having a huge fight with my grandmother. And I hate fighting with her. I HATE IT. She's such a sweet old woman. Plus... she makes my food...

Church just seems like a waste of time to me. I could be doing bigger and better things than sitting around a tiny, white building listening to a preacher for 3 hours. My two close friends understand my dilemma. One is an atheist as well and the other one believes in the Norse gods. I just wish my whole family could... Any help?

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Tags: explaining, family, help

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Comment by Joseph P on July 16, 2012 at 9:46pm

I haven't read the other comments yet, so I may be duplicating a little.

I had a similar situation with my parents, only involving the Catholic church.  I came out when I was 13 or 14.  I asked my mother how much longer i had to go to CCD (Catholic Sunday school, essentially), and she told me I had to go until I made my confirmation.  I flat-out told her that I had no intention of making my confirmation, since I didn't believe any of the crap the church told people ... and I don't recall exactly, but I probably wasn't much more diplomatic than that.

Same positions with my family.  My father was much more reasonable, and my mother is a religious nut.  At least she's a liberal Catholic, so we don't have much in the way of conflicts, politically.

Hmm, I hadn't really thought of the vegetation problem, with a literal flood.  There are so many other problems with the story.

The carnivore/herbivore problem isn't as serious.  There's a bit about bringing 7 of each food animal, which I assume would be partially used to feed the carnivores.  Of course, the food pyramid still wouldn't work with those numbers, but at least the writers of the myths were aware of the issue, in general.

With your grandmother, you've got a bit of a balancing act to figure out.  You've got to weigh the prolonged suffering of having to go to church against the fight.  Which end of the 14 - 17 scale are you on?  Will you have to put up with another year of this nonsense, or will you have to put up with another 4 years?

For that matter, are you going off to college out of state, where your grandmother won't be able to impose on you anymore?  Are you going off to college at all, for that matter?  I'd weigh the suffering caused by the fight up against the suffering of how much more church nonsense you'll have to sit through.

Comment by Tara on July 16, 2012 at 9:19pm

I was raised by my grandparents and a very religious aunt, so I definitely empathize with your relationships. 

In my family, I also had some arguments with my grandmother and aunt; looking back one of the reasons I never made any headway with them was because they just assumed I was "going through a phase." They thought I was just saying rebellious things to get attention or something. It never occurred to me to show them the books and magazine articles I read, so I think doing that would go a long way toward showing your family members that what you believe comes from a deeper source...in other words, that it's not just you talking.

Another way I wish I'd handled my situation differently is: I wish I'd spent more time telling them what I DO believe rather than what I don't. I would also ask them why the believe the things they do. I think doing this would have shown my family that I was serious about my identity, and that I came to my religious beliefs after deep though and careful consideration.

In the end though, Michael R is very right that the practice of going to church is emotionally driven...no matter how calmly and eloquently you explain rational decisions, you are going up against the gigantic emotional blockade that is religious faith. I don't think it's likely that you will ever get out of going to church (I never managed it, anyways). Your beliefs (yours and your family's) about religion are irreconcilable, so I think your goal should be opening discussion with your family rather than arguing with them. As a dependent, you may never have the final say in the situation, but I think it's worth trying to get them to understand and respect your decisions if even just a little. Best of luck.

Comment by Meredith Tarkington on July 16, 2012 at 12:43am

Thank you Micheal R, you are very kind. And your help is much appreciated. I will take your advice into account and see what I can do. :)

Comment by Michael R on July 15, 2012 at 10:19pm

You're young and the desire to be rid of stupid beliefs and rituals is very strong for someone with intelligence like yourself. But then you acknowledge the conflicting desire to get along with your extended family. But three hours listening to a preacher, whoa, that's tough! So what to do ...?
Well, first I would not attempt to argue further with religious people, because religion is an emotional/cultural decision, not a rational one. People get their identity and standards and "truth" from their culture and if you start raising questions you shatter people's culture and "truth". So leave them be, you cannot reason against a position that was arrived at emotionally.
That said, belonging and being accepted in your community is important for your health, so I would try to go along with whatever standards of dress and behaviour is expected of you. Humans, and all tribal animals, are biologically geared for conformity, it is a very strong urge. So do your best to fit it.
When your grandparents and parents generation are gone maybe the community will be more favourable to raise your kids the way you would like to be raised. But until then, don't rock the boat too much.
But what to do about those three hour sermons? Maybe you could use the time to learn from religion's positive aspects. Religion is far better than atheism/humanism in its organising and educating of followers. If humanism is to thrive in the future it will need to copy some of those aspects of religion (hopefully without the oppression and 3 hour sermons!), so maybe use the time to think about what a humanist community would look like, because we will need to build humanist communities in the future if our movement is to thrive.
For example, this video of philosopher Alain de Botton says that Atheism 2.0 has a few things to learn from religion's structure:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Oe6HUgrRlQ
Good luck with those sermons and I hope that you can smooth out your family and community relations. Do your best to fit in, and save your venting for your close friends who understand you.

Comment by Meredith Tarkington on July 15, 2012 at 9:51pm

Thank you Annet. <3

@James: Oddly enough she did. When I brought it up to her that it would probably be heresay, she said "Eh, it's just a movie." 

Comment by James Yount on July 15, 2012 at 7:16pm

Your other friend must have loved the Thor movie. ;)

Comment by annet on July 15, 2012 at 6:12pm

Glen's idea certainly has merit. Have you considered not discussing religion with them or as little as possible? If other aspects of your home life are okay, maybe you can smile and nod and go the the obligatory functions for the food and companionship? You know, "play the game."   You might have to bite your tongue at times  but at a young age sometimes it is not feasible to be very outspoken. Maybe writing in a journal about it, and talking to your atheist friend would be good outlets for your frustration.  Once you are out of the house you can be as outspoken as you want to be.  Good luck and keep us posted on how its going. 

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 15, 2012 at 10:54am

I aint no mister on account of it makes me feel old! And the way I exercise I aint old. Okay Lady Tarkington. Good luck.

Comment by Meredith Tarkington on July 15, 2012 at 8:58am

Thank you ever so much, Mr. Rosenberg. I'll be sure to try it.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 15, 2012 at 8:46am

If you do not wish to hide there are two ways to go. One is to make the arguments atheists make. The other is to use their beliefs in such a way that your explanation is consistent with their mythology. This is god's will. Part of the divine plan. The more you attempt to persuade me the greater my hostility will be. My faith is being tested and one day I may land back in the lap of righteous goodness but for the time being and forseeable future I do not believe and will not play along.

Liberation is within view. Go Meredith.

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