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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.
mom talking teen

My parents are very religious. They sincerely believe that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ will go to Hell. I still live with them and don’t have the money to go live on my own.

How do I talk to them about my doubts about God?

From Dr. Ray

You are in a difficult situation, but there are thousands of other teenagers in similar situations, so you are not alone. First, be safe and avoid making things difficult for yourself.  Second, very religious parents are also very afraid. They are afraid of hell, afraid of what others at church might think, afraid that their children will be punished by god. When people are afraid, they don’t act rationally.  If you choose to talk with your parents, remember they are afraid for you and for themselves. Being confrontational, argumentative or angry, will only make them more afraid.

When exploring new ideas and finding interesting answers, you have a strong urge to talk and share your thoughts with others, especially people you are close to. In an ideal world, you would be able to talk to your parents about anything, but that doesn’t work very well when your parents are locked into a narrow religiosity. Depending on how religious they are, their response could cause you problems while you are living at home.

Consider that you may not need to talk with them about what you think. It is actually none of their business. No one can control what you do in your own head. You may have to bite your tongue a lot, but it may be worth it if it saves you a lot of grief. When you get out of your parents’ house, you will be much freer to express yourself. For now, you can share your ideas with other freethinking friends at school or other places where it is safer to be yourself.

Religion thrives on thought control. By expressing an idea in an unsafe environment, you give your parents an opportunity to try and control what you think. If you keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself, you can still maintain a relationship without harming yourself.

If you feel that you have to come out to your parents.

First, you choose the time and place, do not start such an important conversation in the kitchen while mom or dad is doing something else. Choose a time and place and let them know in advance. “Mom, I’d like to talk to you about something important, but I want to do it privately, just you and me.”

Second, only talk to one parent at a time. Fearful religious parents will feed off of one another’s fear and soon you will be overwhelmed and feel like they are ganging up on you. Choose the parent you want to talk to, then make a date with them. Ask them to meet you at a coffee shop or in the Student Union. Semipublic places often help everyone keep control of their emotions.

Third, plan on an hour or more. Turn your phone off. Ask them to turn their phone off.

Fourth, keep it simple the first time you talk. Have three or four key ideas you want to express and stick with those. Begin by thanking your parent for teaching you how to think for yourself. Let them know that you love them and know that what you may say could be upsetting. Do not criticize their religion, just express your own ideas.  You can expect that they will say things like, “You are just going through a phase, you will come back to Jesus someday. I questioned when I was your age, but I came back.”  Keep cool and just agree with them, “Yes, it may just be a phase, but it is my life and I have to find out what is right for me.”

The main thing to keep in mind is that you are a growing and independent person with a mind of your own. You have a right to develop your own view of the world.  Just as important, do not try to convince your parents that you are right or they are wrong. Trying to win them over to your way of thinking almost never works, it only makes them more convinced that they are right.

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