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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.

Dear Darrel,

I am a teenager living with my parents and two siblings. My older brother and I have decided that we are both atheists. We told our very religious mother and now she will not allow us to talk to our younger sister for fear that we will corrupt her. What should we do?

From Dr. Ray

I am sorry to hear you parents are trying to cut you off from your sister. It sounds like you love her and enjoy being her brother. While this hurts right now, you might just lay low for a while and do your own reading and studying. Talk between yourself and your brother. The worst thing you can do is argue with your mother or tell her that her religion is wrong, as that just makes religious people more stubborn about their convictions.

Avoid trying to convince your sister or even your mother that your atheism is right. Just be yourself, enjoy life and show your mother and sister that you love them and respect them. You do not need to actively try to seek out your sister, but do not try and avoid her either; it is important that your sister does not feel like you are rejecting her. The fact is, sooner or later, your mother will not be able to keep you separated. The more she tries to keep your sister away from you, the more your sister may actually want to be with you. It is almost impossible to keep people separated when they live in the same house.

Try to understand where your mother is coming from. A parent who believes in heaven and hell is also a frightened person: they are afraid that their children will suffer in the afterlife; and they are afraid that they will be condemned for not raising their children properly. Even though religion is irrational to you, try to understand that she is concerned for you and for your sister and is doing what she thinks is best.

I am pretty sure you will be able to talk with your sister again soon and interact with her as you did before. It may be a few months, but stay calm and chill out. If the subject of religion comes up around your mother, feel free to be vague about your beliefs, or keep them private entirely. Sooner or later, your mother will relax and be less guarded.

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