I was raised in a very religious family. My father grew up in a Catholic neighborhood, attending Catholic school with his ten brothers and sisters. His Irish immigrant parents thanked their god at every meal for letting them escape their family farms in the Homeland to make a better life in America. My mom grew up solidly middle-class, whose parents met at their Lutheran League youth club and saw church more as a battleground for neighborhood politics than a place of worship. Of course, to be married, my parents had to sign an agreement that their future family would be raised Catholic. We were.

By nine years old I knew that there was no way the frightening stories I heard on Sundays were real. My beloved "Science for Kids" books left no question unanswered, while my inquisitive spirit merited stern looks and glossed-over explanations in Sunday school. When I asked my religious ed. teacher in the fourth grade, "On which day did the Big Bang happen?" I was sent to the priest's office and got a stern talking-to. I've been a freethinker ever since.

I knew my parents would be horrified if they found out their primary school-aged daughter was a "godless heathen," so I kept to myself, and found solace in literature. Darwin, Watson and Crick, Einstein, Volitaire, Hemingway -- these men were my priests, my ministers, my rabbis and imams and Fathers and Sons and Holy Spirits. Amen.

Last year, I thought that it would be okay to mention to my parents that no, thank you, I would not be joining them for services. After all, we live in a secular nation with millions of freethinking individuals, with intellectual atheists like me writing books and speaking on the radio and making it in life. In America, surely I would not be rejected for my opinions. In America, my community would accept me for who I am, and encourage questioning and independent thought. In America, I could practice any religion I wanted -- or none at all.

But all I got was shocked silence and slack jaws, then laughter. Cold, biting laughter that I swear I can still hear echoing around me in the quiet night. And, much later, my father begging my mother to tell him what he had done wrong, why he failed as a father, how he could make it up to his god to save his daughter's soul.

I got parents who didn't want their children associating with "that atheist girl," and relatives who looked down their noses at me whenever I passed by during family parties. I got a stereotype that I didn't want or deserve, lumped together with misunderstood Wiccans, Satanists, and spiritualists. I got the same unmentionable status as the girl down the block, pregnant at fourteen, or the boy who was suspended from school for dealing meth out of his locker. I got a church who now includes me in their benediction to those who need to be saved.

But I'm not the one that needs saving. I'm not a trouble maker, an attention-seeker, a rebel or radical or freak.

I am an atheist, and I am proud.

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Replies to This Discussion

Ugh I had a similar Irish catholic experience but it was one of absolute denial. My mom kept saying, "I don't accept it". Still refuses to acknowledge I'm an atheist.
My parents have reverted to that strategy, as well. Maybe it's an Irish Catholic thing?!
Wow... great story... Amanda... just glad you had the courage of your own convictions... how long has it been since you told your folks, and are they "lightening up" any?
Thanks very much. It's been about a year, but they steadfastly ignore my opinions and make pointed comments ("Pray for them, everyone" after we pass a car crash, or "Thank god for this!" after something good happens), to a greater extent than before my admission.

In contrast, I have met some wonderful friends through atheist groups and websites, and grown closer to like-minded peers at school.
Yeah, i remember the first time i told my mom... she responded with, "No you are not!"
I feel fortunate in that my own mother was as much an atheist as I am...she just wasn't ready to let go of the way she was raised for a long time. She raised me to think like a scientist, in spite of the fact that we occasionally went to Sunday service, and she let her sister take me to Sunday school with her kids...so, when no one could answer my questions in a way that made sense, I just kept asking. Somehow, it was easier to let people think they were saving an uncertain rather than admit I thought their reasoning was poor...I did keep giving them the benefit of the doubt, that someone else had the answers and that they were following their lead.

Oh, well. Other than my mom and the handful who really don't care if I worship their god, my family doesn't really know...living three states away makes it easier to keep them in the dark, though.


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