Dear Mom and Dad (a letter to a religious family)The Thinking Atheist Nov 29, 2011 4:25:56 PM | Date Modified: Sep 5, 2012 3:52:20 AM
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
Comment: Absolutely brilliant, your ability to articulate always leaves me amazed (and feeling like a stammering idiot). Thanks for writing and sharing this.
Comment: Fantastic!. I could not have said this any better.
Comment: This letter makes me wish I had someone to send it to. Luckily (I think) I was brought up by atheist parents, so no one for me to send it to, but I think it's very well said and will be hopefully be used by others.
Comment: Well done. I recently also wrote a similar, but perhaps but less confrontational, letter to my parents. I will be posting the letter on blog after my parents have had a chance to read it. It certainly is a difficult topic to discuss with family. Emotions can easily run high. That's why I chose to write a letter and take my time with it so I could choose my words carefully and ensure they were clear, and could be re-read once the emotions settle down.
Comment: Not gonna lie, that made me tear up a little.
Comment: So many parts of this letter echoed what I had said to my mom when I came out to her. She was angry at me, but I kept telling her that I'm still the same person, that she brought me up to think for myself and by coming out as an atheist I am thinking for myself. I would love to modify this to send to an aunt that has been hostile towards my husband and I since she found out. Thank you for putting into words everything I wanted to say to my mother!
Comment: You HAVE failed as parents. Not because I have rejected your religion but because you have hardened your hearts against me, because I choose to exercise my own judgment. I still love you and your rejection of me hurts.
Comment: This letter is good, but how to deal with the parent who accepts you as a person, likes you, loves you, but still believes with all their heart you will spend eternity in hell unless you see the error of your ways?
Comment: Well said, Jamie. I am in the same situation.