My Evangelical Parents Respond To My Atheism

I am a product of the evangelical right. My childhood was a uniquely American experience filled with good ol' midwestern values, Elvis on the reel-to-reel, and an abiding love for Jesus. My parents thought Carl Sagan was a tool of the Devil (possibly the Anti-christ himself!) and that computer technology was something to fear. Of course they also believed that the Smurfs were satanic, so... Anyway, some time ago I 'came-out' as an atheist and have been waiting for my parents reply. Frankly, my expectations were rather low. Their eventual response was quite surprising and an excellent reminder that even the most committed religious mind is not always immune to rational argument. While never diminishing their commitment to their own faith, my folks expressed genuine support for any honest quest for the truth, wherever that journey may lead; moreover, they admit to sharing many of the same concerns I have expressed about religion's capacity to encourage in-group/out-group animosity and violence. Shockingly, they even conceded numerous points I shared about the non-biblical nature of morality, something I could never have expected of them! Clearly they are aware of entertaining some level of cognitive dissonance and are honest enough to discuss it. I suspect they will never abandon their faith, yet their openness to engage in such subject matter shows a level of willingness I find more than merely encouraging. Their misunderstanding and mistrust of science remains as deeply ingrained as ever, but I am beginning to see possible in-roads there as well. Most surprising, however, was the sincere parental love expressed in their letter. Even if rational argument ultimately proves insufficient to sway their thinking, it seems that their capacity for genuine affection is not contingent upon our degree of like-mindedness.

If you are conflicted about sharing your atheism with religious family members, it might be encouraging to know that not all coming-out stories end in divisiveness and conflict. If my parents had reacted poorly that would have been OK too, they are entitled to their feelings and opinions; however, I suspect that the majority of religious parents are motivated more by their love for their children than by any commitment to dogma.

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Comment by Sophia Kousiakis on October 18, 2010 at 8:03am
Thx for this post! I'm lucky that I came from a family that was pretty much atheist or rather agnostic and never had the worry as to how they might respond when I told them my point of view. I was never baptized for example, because my parents felt I should make up my own mind-something I seriously appreciate now.

Interesting how we assume the response from religious people will be negative. I never spoke about my beliefs openly with friends. I sat like a good girl and listened to how god made them feel safe and sympathised and practiced good listening skills. :) When someone showed me that being open does not go hand in hand with being cut off from society I started listening a little less and speaking a tad more. It's liberating and I'm still surprised how they still come over for a beer even though they know I'm atheist. :) hehe. This is not to say they all feel the same, but I'm so glad that your parents reacted in this way. -Do you think it could be because deep down they have the same doubt? It's just that the have never known anything else and therefore will never leave their faith, but see you as brave for asking questions?
Comment by Petra Polovina on October 18, 2010 at 11:25pm
Wow, I'm amazed. I also come from an evangelical family, complete with demon exorcisms, tongue-speaking, head-scarf-wearing, etcetc. I still haven't come out to them and am scared to do so, mostly because it would really agonize them. To believe what they believe and "know" that your daughter is forever lost in hell is emotionally traumatizing. I want to be honest with them and recently sort of "introduced" ideas of questioning but was immediately shot down for "entertaining demonic thoughts." So happy for you though, you can never really predict these kinds of things...
Comment by Venus Lovejam on November 11, 2010 at 8:48am
I'm not sure if I'll ever come out to them. I have a hard time sharing my sexuality with the 3 members already, never-mind being an atheist.


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