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I  recently became an atheist in the last few weeks after reading several books and doing some critical thinking. I live in a home where my sister is a devout evangelic christian and my parents are strong Christians. So my questions are, how do I explain my lack of belief to my parents and to my sister?

I also attend a school that is affiliated with a church, but the majority of the students believe that religion is very much indeed bullshit. However, chapel attendance is mandatory. Do you have any tips on enduring 30 minutes of nonsense a week?

Finally how do I explain atheism to people i meet?

Thanks

Answer
Hi, Patrick.  Congratulations on your critical thinking skills.  And good luck dealing with the world.

You're certainly not in an enviable situation.  I wish I could tell you exactly what to do, but of course, I can't.  One thing I will put to you, though, is this question: how necessary is it that others know you're an atheist?

I know that when one first "discovers" atheism, the urge is strong to just point out the bullshit.  However, that's not always the most prudent thing to do.

I don't know how old you are or how many more years you have of living in your current situation and going to your current school.  I'm not generally an advocate of staying "in the closet" with one's beliefs, but I also believe that one's religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are a very personal matter.  Keeping them to oneself is often the better thing to do, if only for one's peace of mind.

What you need to do is ask yourself this:  If I tell my family I'm an atheist, will that ruin my relationship with them?  Will my life be better or worse until the time I move out on my own?  If you truly think it's vital that you tell them your views, then I can only suggest you do it in a calm, loving fashion.  I can't guarantee that you'll receive much kindness or love in return, but it's important that you hold that attitude. Be more "Christian" than the Christians, in other words. (It's not hard, usually.)

As for your 30 minutes of nonsense... well... 30 minutes a week isn't much time.  Just tune out, maybe?  Let your mind wander?  I don't know what your chapel time is like, so I don't know how feasible that is.  

And of course, explaining atheism (on those rare occasions when it's necessary) can be pretty simple.  There are many approaches, and what you say depends on the person you're talking to. It could be as simple as saying, "I've seen the evidence presented, but I'm not convinced."  Or you could say, "Look, you don't believe in Zeus, do you?  Lots of people did for a long, long time. How about Odin? [Fill in your list of other deities.]" And when they say, "Of course not!" you just say, "Me, neither.  I just believe in one less god than you do."

In my experience, very little is ever served by being confrontational about faith. In fact, the only time it's truly necessary is when religion is being imposed on others in violation of the First Amendment. But in dealing with everyday people, sometimes you're just better off just smiling and nodding.  Life is stressful enough without beating your head against the wall of others' ignorance.

Good luck!

Vincent M. Wales
Author of One Nation Under God
www.onenationundergod.info

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Vincent M. Wales

Expertise

Skeptic and atheist for more than three decades.

Experience

Living as a non-believer in an increasingly religious nation... and writing about it.

Organizations
Atheists and Other Freethinkers (Sacramento)
Freedom from Religion Foundation
(founder of) Freethought Society of Northern Utah

Education/Credentials
Not really applicable.

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