Twice a year since I have stopped being christian, I face a dilemma. Being the daughter of two christian/ex-catholic parents, the you can probably guess what two days those are: Easter and Christmas. Since I am still at the age where I spend my holidays with my family, and my parents feel it is necessary to go to church on these days, I usually get dragged along. Every holiday I am torn: do I go or not? And with Easter just around the bend, this question is once again on my mind. Oh yeah, keep in mind my parents do not know I am atheist.

So here are the arguments for both sides:

1. Don't go
Well obviously, I don't want to be anywhere near a church any time of the year, so why would I want to go on Easter. Also, I feel the whole "its Easter we HAVE" to go is such a disgusting attitude for christians to have (though my parents pretty much go every Sunday). I feel that I am old enough that I shouldn't be expected to tag along, and that my parents should ask if I want to go. Finally, I feel like I am not being true to myself. Every churchy act I am forced to mime my way through is painful. I practically rolled my eyes the entire way through my cousin's recent catholic wedding...

2. Go
Not going would involve coming out to my parents. Which would only cause drama and probably involve my mom crying and calling someone from my churchy past to talk to me and "get me back on track." Then the whole holiday would be awkward and my extended family would hear about it at the grandma's house and my mostly christian family would quietly tut behind my back and wonder "what went wrong." Also, with both me and my brother at college, Easter is one of the few times that the family is together all day, and I know that is important to my parents. It makes me feel a bit selfish that I can't suffer through one hour of church to make a nice day for my parents.

So there is the problem. I am torn between being true to myself and self-sacrifice for my parents.

Anyone got any advice or similar experiences?

Views: 74

Comment by Sniz on March 7, 2009 at 2:11pm
I want to thank everyone for their responses and advice! Its great to have so many people reading.
Comment by CJoe on March 7, 2009 at 11:19pm
Ack... I feel your pain. I even , in defense of myself, said to my mother, "You don't think I'm NOT saved, do you?" They keep sending my sh*t in the mail... books and pamphlets. I'm, like, their new project. I used to be the one clearing the path for Christians... now I'm, like, "Dude. Go back."

My little brother's wedding is coming up. My mom wants to "talk" sometime while I'm in town... about my "faith issue". I haven't had to bow my head in prayer since my conversion, but now... I must fake for the first time in my life because... is it really fair to make an issue of my atheism before his wedding? No. But it's never a good time. Never. And all you who suggest compromise... obviously you don't have extremely religious families. There is no compromise. There is only faking or being pelted with all the reasons why Jesus loves me.
Comment by Jean Bodie on March 8, 2009 at 1:32am
I cannot bear to go to church anymore. I cannot hear what they are saying without a big bubbling volcano rising up in my chest. When I left the LDS church I told my husband I would go with him, just for the sake of togetherness, but then the volcano would erupt when we got home. He and I both realized that it wasn't going to work, so every week he goes alone after 35 years of marriage to a 'good Mormon wife'.
I don't think that we would have gotten to this point of understanding with one another if I had continued on living an inauthentic life and we are talking about a marriage here. I'm sure that the best way is to be upfront but really loving and the suggestion about telling them how long you have been an atheist/non-believer is a really good one, so that they can see you haven't changed. I would suggest that at the beginning you leave off the word atheist and use a milder form that means the same thing. People think that atheists hate god, and they rise up to defend him. If you just say "I'm not a believer any longer, you guys go off and enjoy your time at church and I'll start dinner cooking." Perhaps that would be an offer they couldn't refuse. Hope so.
Comment by Ashkara on March 8, 2009 at 5:08am
I'd suggest that you go to their Easter thing, then at some point in the near future you come out to them on a date which isn't going to coincide with any of their holidays. That way you don't spoil the holiday for them.

You will have to come out sooner or later, simply to avoid putting yourself through the whole church-going thing. I'm assuming you'd rather not lie to them for the rest of your life... When you do decide to come out, make sure your family understands that you're happier this way and that you aren't going to change your mind.
Comment by mcash1 on March 8, 2009 at 8:58am
Just for the convenience reasons (sleeping in, watching a movie) I wouldn't go to the church. I personally wouldn't object on ideological reasons, not really a big deal, churches, the old kind, are pretty neat looking in side and at best its a social experience. I dated a girl a while back, she was pretty indifferent towards belief, her mom was very catholic. So on easter I went to their mass, why? Well the relationship was new and I was clearly trying to be in the good books, but I definitely had a purpose to go there. If you want to make your family happy then go. If it makes them upset if you choose not to go, well that is their reaction and you can't change that.

I do think it is interesting that you are rolling your eyes during the service and also the feeling of not being true to yourself. Those are pretty powerful feelings, but it might make sense to take a look inside yourself to see why you are reacting that way. At this point I'm pretty indifferent (probably because I've only been asked to go to church around 4-5 times in my life) about the whole church/religion thing. A good example, during my grandfathers funeral, his widow (he remarried, he was also a soft athiest) put quite a bit of religion into the ceremony. But you know what? Didn't matter to me in the least, I was there to pay my respects to him, that's all that mattered to me, and I didn't care otherwise.

davesnothome: your Sam Harris quote got me thinking, for some reason I (personal opinion) don't find that quote relevant for this specific situation, cant' really figure out why though :)
Comment by VeganAtheist on March 8, 2009 at 12:01pm
I like the suggestion of mentioning that you have not been a believer for a while. Everyone is giving great advice.

What if you went to church this next Easter, but set up a time to chat with your parents after? "Mom, Dad, can we chat for a sec when we get home?" This way you can have the discussion when the experience is fresh on the mind. For you, it will remind you why you don't want to go. For them it will it will seem less like a rebellious act and more like a decision. Just a thought. But I can see why you wouldn't want to go at all.

I did a similar thing with my parents during christmas. I found out they only wanted to do it because it was a family thing. I think if the experience wasn't fresh on their minds they would have said they go because of god. But having just gotten back, they responded by saying they went because of the family. I responded by creating our own traditions focused around the family which weren't religious in nature. My parents are rather liberal though. ;-)

Yes, we need to be heard as atheists in a world suffering from religion. Open dialogue is our biggest weapon. Saying the simple words, "I am an atheist" is had to say to loved ones. Start, if you haven't already, with friends. Once you get the hang of it and you feel more confident it will make the chat a bit easier.

Good luck, and remember, you are not responsible for their beliefs or reactions. You are only responsible for your own voice and what you do with it.
Comment by Karen Davis on March 8, 2009 at 2:13pm
I fortunately don't have this dilemma, since my husband and I only go for dinner (and a nephew's birthday) at Easter at my in-laws, after his family has attended their various services. When I was your age and coming home for holidays, I was expected to attend Christmas, but my college spring break never fell at Easter so I simply had to stay at school that weekend. :) I went anyway at Christmas just because it was what the family did, and I was dependent enough on them to want to avoid a fuss. Hubby and I have also attended a few services over the past decade to be kind to family, but Easter hasn't come up.

Recently, my dad happened to notice on Facebook that I was a member of this group. I thought he knew I wasn't a believer, but he was quite troubled that I would actually associate myself with the word atheist. It didn't become a big deal, but I was surprised by his reaction since I thought I had been pretty open about not believing. Looking back, I wonder if I ever really did; having been raised Episcopalian, I took great pride in my participation and knowledge of the ritual, but when it came to "belief" I never connected.

As advice, I'd suggest holding off until you are out of college before you step away from attending holiday services, particularly if it would become a big scene. That's always tough when you don't have anyplace to go to get away from the drama. When you're living elsewhere, you'll also have far more flexibility to attend the non-religious parts of the holiday or not as you choose without you being at their home to draw attention to your absence from church. I also like the idea of not bringing it up immediately before the holiday, but perhaps at some point after.

Is there one family member (perhaps a sibling) who you can trust as an ally?
Comment by April on March 9, 2009 at 8:43pm
I really understand what you are going through, it's taken a long time to come out of the "atheist closet" with my family. I kinda took the easy way out for years, I got a job that I worked every holiday so I conveniently got out of going to church with the family. I would definitely take it at your own pace.
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on March 14, 2009 at 3:57am
Sorry for your troubles. I'm not always a fan of disclosure. Remember when religion was something personal that wasn't discussed at the dinner table? (I don't. I'm too young. ~le sigh~)
Only you know your parents. Only you can guess how they will react. I hate the term 'coming out Atheist' because it is a totally different thing. When you're gay, the level of acting you have to keep up is at a whole different level, let alone the questions of who you are dating. The real issues is when there is someone special in your life and you want your family to meet them. As conflicting or non religious, we don't know what that is like. You ain't never going to be caught in bed or have a civil ceremony you'd like them to attend.
I defend my right to express my beliefs but I also defend my right to keep them to myself. Depending on how old you and your parents are, it might not be a good thing to tell them. While it's true no one knows how much time we have in life, consideration should be kept to those that are statistically nearer death's door. Why? Because it makes them happy. That's it. Not because you are ashamed, not because you have anything to hide, but because you love your family and you don't want to upset them (depending on the level of upset they might face) If you think now is a good time, there aren't a lot of other stressful variables and there will be a long enough future to heal the gap it will cause, then yeah.. come out. There are a lot of great suggestions above from people.
If you have any doubt, why cause the crisis? Make excuses from year to year until they get the hint. Even better, find something to distract yourself with. "I'm actually going to sit this year out. I'm making a special dessert for dinner and have to be here all day" or something that will benefit the family just a tad while giving you a break. Compromising is another great tip.... or how about this: You know how much they want you there. Consider your presence a holiday gift to the people that love you. :) Either way, I hope it works out for you!!
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on March 14, 2009 at 3:59am
D'oh. Sorry. Had to give the cat medicine and sort of lost my train of thought on that first paragraph. I'm sure you understand what I'm getting at, even if it sounds garbled.


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