/ ask / What do I do when I’ve been kicked out of the house for being an atheist?

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 recently came out to my extremely religious parents about my atheism. They didn’t take it well at all – in fact, they told me to pack a bag and leave and not to come back until I realized how wrong I was. They didn’t even try to talk to me about it, they said I was “in the grip of Satan” and told me to get out. I’m staying at a friend’s house for now, but are there resources for teens like me who might have nowhere safe to go?

From Dr. Ray

I am so sorry to hear of your plight. We see far too many teens being forced from their homes by religious parents. While these parents often say it is an act of love, it is anything but loving. It says that they love their gods more than their own family. They are fearful of their god and want to save you from their imaginary enemy, Satan.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of resources for teens in your situation. Depending on the part of the world or US that you live in, I would first go to the Human Services department in your area. Most states and governments have agencies that are designed to help people in difficult situations. They are in a position to help you. You are not a “runaway” so the real issue is one of child abandonment. When parents refuse to care for their under age children, the law may have something to say about that. Be prepared for them to place you in a foster home. Be very clear when you talk with the social worker that you do not want to be placed in a home that pushes religion.

There is also a patchwork of nonprofit organizations throughout the country that offer shelter and assistance to homeless or displaced teenagers, and you may be able to find a good, secular or non-proselytizing organization to help you in the short term. Consider contacting CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and seeing what assistance they can offer.

I wish I could say “contact your local atheist community,” but most of these groups are not set up to do this kind of help. It can’t hurt to contact them. Someone may be in a position to provide you assistance or go with you to the social services office. You can find an atheist group in your area by searching on Meetup.com or just type in your cities name and the word “atheist”, “humanist”, “Freethinker.” You will very likely find a group and someone to at least talk with.

If you can continue staying with your friend, and their parents are ok with it, that might be a good short-term option. In any event, try to keep in mind that your friend’s parents or foster parents are making a big sacrifice to help you, and make it as easy on them as possible. Take responsibility for your life as much as you can. That is what atheists and humanists do. We know we are the main person responsible for our lives. Get to school, study, do your homework, relax and enjoy yourself responsibly, thank those who help you and help them in return when you can.

It is very important that you not allow your parents mistakes to ruin your future. Find a way to finish high school (even if your only option is to get a G.E.D.), and start working on a plan to attend a trade school, community college or four year university. There are people who can help you plan for shouldering the costs of your education, understand your options and advise which loans to take out (government loans are good, private loans are less desirable). Community colleges are an affordable option to start with, and often give good, free advice. Be careful not to get suckered in by ineffective for-profit schools or unaccredited institutions. You have a bright and wonderful future ahead of you if you make the right choices for yourself in the present.

Someday, your parents may come to their senses and ask you to come back, but be careful to make sure they understand that they must let you find your own way. Don’t return with religious conditions like, “You must go to church every Sunday.”  Either they love for who you are, or they don’t. It’s a tough thing to face at your age. At the same time, you have shown maturity beyond your years by making a decision against religion and sticking to it. I am in great admiration and wish you the best.

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