One of the things I find to be so destructive about Christianity (or any other belief system that orders that you must believe in order to get something once dead) is its ability to use fear to tear apart families in the name of love. Some parents get angry when their kids tell them they’re atheists because they honestly believe that their kid will burn in hell for eternity and they’re trying to protect them by kicking them out. They may hope this forces them to be a Christian again. They may not know how to react. They may have been raised to believe that atheists are immoral. They may be afraid of what their congregation, friends, family or social network will think about their child being an atheist.
True, not every Christian family goes through this. Many kids have understanding parents, which makes ‘coming out’ a lot easier. They may accept and respect your decision to be an atheist. That’s definetely a good thing.
When writing this article, I typed in both ‘parents kick atheist out’ and ‘parent kick Christian out’ and both results showed the same thing – pages upon pages of kids being kicked out for their non-belief. Most of those kids (teens mostly) came out in a fit of pique or because they felt pressured by their parents. Some did it in a public venue and some in the privacy of their homes. Many of them were kicked out of the house and sought refuge on the Internet.
Here are a few examples:
“My parents are divorced, and my stepdad, who has been living with my mom for 3 years, recently found out that im an atheist. He is telling my mom that im a bad example for my little sister and has taken all of my books that have anything to do with science/evolution and is trying to make my mom send me to live with my dad, who is a d*** to me. Im not sure if he can do that or not, what should i do. I’ve discussed this with my mom and I think shes scared of him so shes agreeing with him.
“So I was just kicked out of my home by my parents because of my Atheism. I now have no place to go or any idea what to do from here. I am posting this from my Nexus 7 at a local Starbucks, in case you were wondering. Only one hour left until the battery dies so I thought I would reach out to the most generous and helping community I know
“Every Sunday my family (strict Catholics) would go to church at 6:00AM, however I spent most of Saturday night sitting up watching Breaking bad. and hence I was too tired to get up for the usual church service. After being berated by my parents for not getting up on time, I finally snapped and told them that I will NOT go to church and that’s final. Their faces went pale and they stormed out of the room and off to church they went.
“When they returned at about 7:30 they stormed into my room, grabbed a suitcase and stuffed a bunch of my clothes and toiletries into a bag and chucked it on the front veranda. Dad physically pulled my from my bed and dragged me until I got up. After a brief shouting match my mum told me to get out and never come back. Dad was behind her fully and despite my pleas they wouldn’t budge. I tried to apologise but they were having none of it.
“So now I’m in a youth hostel just outside of the CBD, sharing a room with a couple of French tourists (who are constantly complaining about the heat). So please r/atheism, what can I do to help convince my parents to change their mind? Or is it not worth going back?
If you’re pondering coming out to your parents, some people might advise you to do so right away. After all, isn’t this a free society? Don’t we have freedom of speech?
The sad reality is that we live in a throwaway society. We throw away everything, which unfortunately, sometimes includes our kids for the simple act of speaking their minds.
You should be careful. You can be kicked from your house. Lose friends. Lose your job. In some countries, you can lose your life. If you have strong fundamentalist parents, you should probably wait until you move out. This might seem to some to be a form of dishonesty, but getting kicked out at the age of 12 isn’t something to hope for. Your safety is important.
Parents might accept your coming out, but there is also the extended family to consider. They can certainly make your life uncomfortable. You should also keep in mind that using email, texting or social media to come out can make things worse. If you decide to come out, a face-to-face is preferable. You don’t want a distant relative seeing it on your blog or Facebook page, and then telling your parents before you have a chance too.
It can be pretty hard to come out as an atheist, but here are a few things that I found to be helpful:
Stay calm: It may be tough, but try to remain calm. Avoid the temptation to argue. State your case, be honest but don’t get angry.
Actively listen: There’s a good chance the person you tell will make it about them. They may hit you with emotional pleas and may even attack your character. Keep in mind that this is an emotional time for them, but don’t let them take over the conversation by making it about them. It’s about you. If you’re not sure what is meant by active listening, you can visit this link: Active Listening
Watch your body language: Try to be aware of your body language. You may feel yourself getting angry and start clenching your fists or find yourself giving them the Darth Vader stare. Try to avoid these things. Also, standing up can cause tensions to rise.
Take a break if needed: Like I said above, this is probably an emotional subject. If you need a break, simply say so. Get a drink of water; ask to reconvene in a few minutes etc. You can also ask to take a break if the other person seems to be getting overly agitated.
Mediation or bring a friend: In some cases, bringing your significant other or a sympathetic friend may help the situation. It might also help the other person maintain control.
Time: Like it or not, some people just won’t accept your atheism. You might have to ask them to think about it for a while and get back to you when they feel comfortable to do so. They may simply need some time to reflect and absorb the information. Some people may need a few minutes or a few days or even a few years.
Unfortunately, many kids are kicked out of their homes for their non-belief. There are very few resources to help. There are teen shelters in most major cities and depending on your age, you could probably seek out the child services in your region. You could also try the parents’ pastor. They may be able to convince your parents to take you back in. It might not work, but it’s worth a shot.
Here’s a few more links that might be useful as information sources:
– Coming Out (discussion about coming out)
– We’re Telling Them They’re Wrong: Why Coming Out Atheist Is Inherently Oppositional (very thought provoking post)
Every family and every circumstance is different. Hopefully, the future holds less stories about atheists being ostracized for their non-belief.