/ ask / How do I get my parents to stop dragging me to church?

Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
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Dear Darrel,

My parents know that I am an atheist, but they keep dragging me to church with them every week anyway despite my protests and frustration. Listening to the sermon makes me want to stand up on my pew and shout at everyone about how wrong they are. What should I do?

From Dr. Ray

I can really sympathize with you. My parents dragged me to church 2-4 times a week until I was 18. It is hard to escape sometimes, but there are some things you can do.

Go to a friend’s church from a different religion or faith. It is great for getting away from your parent’s religion and doing some of your own research. Start by going with a friend to a similar church, though not the same denomination. It won’t scare your parents as much. If you are Baptist, go with a friend to a Nazarene or Pentecostal church. It can be great fun for both of you. If your parents object, ask them what the difference is and why they think going to the other church is wrong? If they won’t let you, ask them to go with you. That might get them to loosen up a little as they probably won’t want to go.

Visit a few different churches for a while, but stay with churches similar to your own, then step a little farther away and go to a Catholic Mass or a Unitarian Church. Once you have opened the door it will be harder for your parents to say no. You might be able to do a different church each week if you work at it.

Another thing you can do is sign up for charitable fund raising or community improvement events that takes place on Sunday Morning. It is hard for parents to say “No” when you are doing something to raise money for charity.

Finally, if there is no escape and you feel adventuresome, you might go to Sunday School armed with some interesting questions about the lesson for the day. Look up the scriptures for that week’s lesson in advance, then research the verses at The Skeptics Annotated Bible.

There is hardly a chapter in the bible without glaring contradictions and problems. Kids Without God has a whole page on biblical contradictions. These things drive Sunday school teachers crazy. Don’t be too pushy, but have some fun with it. If you have to go, you might as well learn something about the bible… and maybe teach the teacher something as well.

Take a Book of Mormon or Koran to church and ask the Sunday School teacher if the class can talk about other holy books besides the Bible for a few weeks. Your pastor, priest, or teacher will have many arguments in favor of religion, and will not be concerned that those arguments are logical fallacies and wishful thinking, or based on nebulous concepts like  “knowing something in your heart,” but even a true believer may be at a loss to articulate how they know their religion is superior to a similar, older or more recent one. The more you know about all the religions involved in your debate, the more fun you can have playing “devil’s advocate.”

Religions don’t want curious people asking too many questions. These strategies might get you kicked out of Sunday School; not for being unruly or disrespectful, but for being curious and simply asking questions. They might also get you in trouble with your parents, so go easy and be respectful, but be persistent. Who knows, you might even inspire your classmates to start asking questions too.

Finally, parents only have so much patience. I know, I am a parent of two children. Don’t get yourself in any serious trouble, but keep letting them know that you don’t want to go, and you have better things to do with your time. They may eventually give in or compromise. I even volunteered to clean my room and the kitchen one Sunday when I knew we were having company. My mom jumped at that idea, and I got out of church. I did that several times with great success.

Every teenager has time taken away from them by their parents to be used in a way the teen doesn’t like. I do truly sympathize with you for having to use your Sunday mornings listening to sermons and lessons you know are untrue; but you will be 18 soon enough, and until then you may simply have to make the best of a bad situation.  Keep learning and keep finding healthy ways to express yourself.

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