The Great Courses

Dear Mom and Dad (a letter to a religious family)

The Thinking Atheist
Nov 29, 2011 at 4:25 PM
5 years ago

You’ve failed as a parent.  That’s what you’re thinking, I’m sure. 

If only you’d attended church more regularly.  If only you’d prayed more and emphatically taught your child the power of prayer.  If only you’d have opened the bible more instead of leaving it so often on the nightstand.  If only you’d demonstrated God’s love in a meaningful way.  If only you’d been a better mentor…a better example…a better Christian.  If only.


It’s imperative that you understand; I am a mature, thoughtful, reasonable adult, and my worldview is mine and mine alone.  While I understand your desire to imprint upon me the beliefs you hold dear, I’ve simply determined to seek truth on my own terms.  I don’t want to merely inhabit an inherited skin, blindly echoing the voices of my family and culture.  I’ve determined to examine my mind, my world and my universe with fresh eyes…vigorously, passionately, ruthlessly.  And the only satisfactory answers I've received have come from science, reason and common sense.

I’m no longer afraid to ask questions, to challenge, to be skeptical and to demand evidence.  It is empowering.  It is fulfilling.  It is wonderful. 

This should not bring you shame, but instead should be a source of pride for any parent who truly cherishes a child’s individuality.  What kind of father only abides a son that thinks like him?  What kind of mother only accepts a daughter who agrees with her? 

And we are talking about acceptance.  Sure, time and again, you’ve insisted that you love me and would do anything for me.  You verbally exclaim that your love knows no bounds.   Yet your tone is distant, your interactions infrequent, your messages cold, your heart and mind unable to completely bridge the gap between you and your unbelieving child. 

You whisper to family about the prodigal, the rebel, the disappointment.  You lament to friends about the lamb gone astray.  You awkwardly drop asides about your faith into conversations completely unrelated to it.  You punish yourself.  You punish me.  You punish those around me.  With every gesture, with every action (or inaction), you declare that your love is conditional and that I must adhere to your scriptures, your prayers, your doctrines and your deity before I may earn the full depth and breadth of your heart.

It saddens and angers me that a parent would give such goodwill to an invisible deity in the sky while committing emotional blackmail in regards to a flesh-and-blood human being.  If God exists, certainly even he would consider this a travesty.

No one would be more grateful than me to see our family ties restored and to have us treat each other as individuals worthy of respect.  And as loved ones often disagree on the other complex topics around us – politics, social issues, tradition and culture – we could learn to simply, kindly, respectfully disagree on the subject of religion, celebrate the good things and be a family.

Ultimately, you should know that I am your child, but I’m no longer just a child.  And as I make my own choices, I can and do accept responsibility for them without apology. 

I am not my mother or father.  I am no one else.  I am my own person.  And I am content.


Editor's note:  Perhaps you can relate to these words.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps you'd like to send something like this to your own family (of course, you're welcome to copy/paste any portion of this letter).  I so often hear from apostate children estranged from their families, I wanted to attempt to articulate what they might be thinking and feeling and in some way express my own attitude toward the hard lines drawn by religious parents.  Families should be reminded that an invisible, intangible deity is no substitute for a real connection with another human being.  -Seth  

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