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When, If Ever Should I Tell My Parents I Am No Longer A Christian?


prodromal
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I lost my Christian faith a few years ago. I am in college, but because I live with my parents, I still go to church. My family is moderately fundamentalist Christian. The church they belong to is strongly fundamentalist. Going to church is becoming more and more of a painful experience, as my values are shifting farther away from others, and the urge is strong to just leave the crazy place. Sometimes I just want to express my true thoughts and to speak against the irrationality of the religion. The thing is, it'll be a few years until I am financially and socially independent and can weather the consequences of "rebelling". I do not live in the Bible Belt or an otherwise conservative place; I live in a large and fairly liberal metropolitan area. So I am not afraid of what my peers and people outside of the church will think. I'm mostly afraid of what my parents will think or do. It is likely that I will be kicked out of the house. I am not ready for this; I have zero savings, since I am a full time student on a scholarship. Also, my father will probably try to punish me verbally and physically. My parents will emotionally blackmail ("I will never be happy again because of you" or "You're making our lives shorter"). They will spread the news to all their relatives and friends that their son is a unbeliever. I don't think it is wise to take such a risk right now. I think I am doing right by riding it out in silence, at least in the short term.

However, even in the long term, I think it might be better not to tell them (although they will know something is up when I stop going to church, which I could explain away using the excuse of work or family demands). For one, they do not handle stress well; they have heart disease, anxiety, and mood disorders. Knowing that their son is a non-Christian would be a long term stressor with which they might not be able to cope.

 

Does anyone here have any advice for someone in my situation?

Should I spare my parents and myself the stress and just not give them an explanation of my unbelief?

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Other college students on these forums have indeed been kicked out of home when they declared their lack of faith.  The relationship with at least one of your parents is abusive.

 

You don't say how far through college you are.  But, I think the best plan is to continue studying and living there for the time being.  In fact, it would be a very good plan to study VERY hard while you are living there for a few reasons.  One, you can lock yourself up to study and avoid all but the most basic church attendance.  Two, you will need to be self sufficient at the end of collecge.

 

Once you get a job, try and move to a different city so that your paths don't cross.  Then they will not be aware of whether you are attending church or not.

 

Theree are quite a few people in these forums who have felt the urge to "come out"on this issue.  For the most part, it has given them even more grief than what they had when they were in the religious closet. But, lots of other people on the forums will reply to you on this one.

 

btw, welcome to Ex-Christian!  I just noticed that this is your first post!

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Prodomal:  I like your screen name.  I would hold off, too... until you are independent financially for the reasons stated above.  At that point, it may not be an easy thing to hide and your conscience may force you to tell them.   Hang low until you can't stand it anymore, and if you suspect emotional blackmail and the news to break your parents' hearts, it may be best to formulate something that is not quite the truth... tell them you are a progressive Christian and you go to home churches or something like that.   It worked for my ex for a while until his mom caught on.  :)

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Good advice given.  If I were you, I would concentrate on my studies with long term goal and concrete plans to get a job and move out of the area (at least several hundred miles).  Distance is the answer.  I have never had that type of conversation with my fundy parents.   I could not see such knowledge doing them any good and as long as their religion is not in my face all the time, I am happy.

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Yes,probably waiting is the best...my mom is not well,either.Honestly I think I should just let her die thinking I'm still a Christian so she doesn't worry more,she already worries so much.It's hard for me,as she's very hardcore,but I've been able to avoid some things.I still live with her,and want to move out soon as possible,but am not sure when I can financially afford it.

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I lost my Christian faith a few years ago. I am in college, but because I live with my parents, I still go to church. My family is moderately fundamentalist Christian. The church they belong to is strongly fundamentalist. Going to church is becoming more and more of a painful experience, as my values are shifting farther away from others, and the urge is strong to just leave the crazy place. Sometimes I just want to express my true thoughts and to speak against the irrationality of the religion. The thing is, it'll be a few years until I am financially and socially independent and can weather the consequences of "rebelling". I do not live in the Bible Belt or an otherwise conservative place; I live in a large and fairly liberal metropolitan area. So I am not afraid of what my peers and people outside of the church will think. I'm mostly afraid of what my parents will think or do. It is likely that I will be kicked out of the house. I am not ready for this; I have zero savings, since I am a full time student on a scholarship. Also, my father will probably try to punish me verbally and physically. My parents will emotionally blackmail ("I will never be happy again because of you" or "You're making our lives shorter"). They will spread the news to all their relatives and friends that their son is a unbeliever. I don't think it is wise to take such a risk right now. I think I am doing right by riding it out in silence, at least in the short term.

However, even in the long term, I think it might be better not to tell them (although they will know something is up when I stop going to church, which I could explain away using the excuse of work or family demands). For one, they do not handle stress well; they have heart disease, anxiety, and mood disorders. Knowing that their son is a non-Christian would be a long term stressor with which they might not be able to cope.

 

Does anyone here have any advice for someone in my situation?

Should I spare my parents and myself the stress and just not give them an explanation of my unbelief?

 

Seems that in the short term you only need to stop going to church to make yourself feel better, right?  Get a part time job where you have to work Sunday. Maybe move in with a friend then they will never know what you are doing and you can lie your way out of church easier. "Mom, I'm going to a different church now.." haha.

 

Brainstorm ways to get out on your own sooner. Some people work full time and go to school full time. It may suck but if you're young you can do it and it may be worth it.

 

If church is just a minor irritation once a week and life is good other than that, then just suck it up and enjoy the free ride during college. There ARE worse things than going to church.

 

In the long term, you are not responsible for what your parents feel or how they behave. You are your own person. If they wont shut up about Jesus after you are out on your own and you feel you need to tell them you dont believe then do it. You don't owe them loyalty, real or pretend, to their belief system. But if you only see them once or twice a year do they need to know your religious beliefs? Probably not.

 

And no, you are not required to share your beliefs with anyone. It's a private matter. :-)

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 The thing is, it'll be a few years until I am financially and socially independent and can weather the consequences of "rebelling". I do not live in the Bible Belt or an otherwise conservative place; I live in a large and fairly liberal metropolitan area. I'm mostly afraid of what my parents will think or do. It is likely that I will be kicked out of the house. I am not ready for this; I have zero savings, since I am a full time student on a scholarship. Also, my father will probably try to punish me verbally and physically. My parents will emotionally blackmail ("I will never be happy again because of you" or "You're making our lives shorter"). They will spread the news to all their relatives and friends that their son is a unbeliever. I don't think it is wise to take such a risk right now. I think I am doing right by riding it out in silence, at least in the short term.

However, even in the long term, I think it might be better not to tell them (although they will know something is up when I stop going to church, which I could explain away using the excuse of work or family demands). For one, they do not handle stress well; they have heart disease, anxiety, and mood disorders. Knowing that their son is a non-Christian would be a long term stressor with which they might not be able to cope.

 

Should I spare my parents and myself the stress and just not give them an explanation of my unbelief?

 

pro.....welcome to EX-c! Sounds to me as if you are a very smart young man. Personally, I think you answered your own question above. This would be the road I would be taking. Sometimes, silence is golden.

 

I'm glad you are here with us!! Best wishes!!

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Thanks everyone for your replies.

What makes it harder to keep quiet is that I have to lie a lot and make myself look very passive agressive. For example, people ask me why I haven't taken water baptism when most of my peers have, I just say something like "umm...I'm not ready". I don't want to pretend to be a Christian and take it, but because I don't give a clear answer like, "I'm not part of your cult" I keep getting asked about it. I guess I'll just have to put up with this. Oh well.

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I haven't attended a church service in 37 years, but I never said anything to my parents. Being kind is often better than being right.

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You NEED to find a way to become independent when you finish college. That might mean living with roommates while working an undesirable job in a place with lower cost of living, but I do not see any way that living with your parents and pretending to be a Christian is not going to become more and more stressful until you're ready to snap and you barely know which you is the real person and which is the lie.

 

IMO, the time to come out is when the lies become so stressful that they're deteriorating your life. I was in a similar position where my parents and other people I'd grown up with were very invested in my "Christian life" and so I always had to lie for them not to find out. And it became so I dreaded talking to them, I hated and resented them and hated and resented myself. It also depends on how intrusive your parents are going to be - if you move away and they rarely ask you about Christianity again, there's probably no need to say anything but if the situation is between telling the truth, making everything you say to them a lie, or cutting them off preemptively, IMO telling the truth is the best choice.

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HI Prodromal.  Glad to see you like astronomy.

 

I'm probably not the best one to give advice since my family has never been Christian.  But I'd agree with the majority opinion here that not telling your parents is probably the best option for you.  I do have a few Christian friends from college and grad school, and I haven't told any of them that I'm no longer a Christian.  Heck, when one of them calls or emails me I make up stories about what Jesus is doing in my life.  I do this because it would be terribly hurtful for them to know the truth.  We're talking about people who believe you'll burn for all eternity if you cease to believe in Jesus.  You and I know that this belief is patently false.  But if it were true, then leaving Christianity would be quite literally the worst thing in the world.  I sometimes point out to my Christian friends the obvious problems with the Christian faith and try to get them to think about things, but I never outright tell them I'm not a Christian anymore.  Since I see them so infrequently, it's simply not worth it.  I don't know if this is the "right" decision, but it's the one I've made for now.  Maybe at some point in the future I will tell them, but certainly not now.

 

With parents its a bit more complicated.  They did, after all, raise you for 18 years, right?  Not sure what your personal feelings towards them are, but speaking practically I'd point out that you are financially dependent on them, and telling them the truth could be very harmful to you.  I agree with the others: get a job, move out, and then you can enjoy life without ever having to go to church again.  At that point you can decide whether or not to tell them the truth.  I think that as you make more non-Christian friends, perhaps get married, and so forth, perhaps you will get emotionally divested from them to the point that if they do cut ties with you for some length of time, you can deal with it.  Fortunately my parents would never kick me out of the house or stop talking to me over a matter so small as religion.  But when I converted to Christianity I did have to deal with this to some small extent (OK, very small extent), and even that was not pleasant.  The idea of the truth setting you free is a Christian concept, and should thus be subject to immediate suspicion.  Sometimes a good relationship based on falsehood is more tolerable.  Honest living is of course preferable, but only if your family can react calmly to it.  From what you're saying it sounds like they can't.

 

Oh, as a college graduate myself and as someone who teaches undergrads, may I offer a small unsolicited suggestion?  Whatever your degree program is, make sure you're majoring in something that can lead to a good job.  After all, you want to position yourself so that you can financially survive being cut off from your parents should you ever decide to come out to them.  I know way too many people who majored in business or English who are now working fast food.  No offense to anyone who majored in these subjects, but the fact is that stuff like engineering is more employable.  In case you're wondering, astronomy is also pretty good if you're trying to be financially independent from your parents.

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Oh, as a college graduate myself and as someone who teaches undergrads, may I offer a small unsolicited suggestion?  Whatever your degree program is, make sure you're majoring in something that can lead to a good job.  After all, you want to position yourself so that you can financially survive being cut off from your parents should you ever decide to come out to them.  I know way too many people who majored in business or English who are now working fast food.  No offense to anyone who majored in these subjects, but the fact is that stuff like engineering is more employable.  In case you're wondering, astronomy is also pretty good if you're trying to be financially independent from your parents.

Thanks for the suggestion. Actually, I am not in a liberal arts major. It is a quantitative and in-demand major, so I should have a good middle class income right out of college. Until then I pretty much have to live with my parents and put on a mask.

I am actually trying to get a summer job or internship right now, so I might be able to move out earlier. I don't know yet.

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Over the past few days, people from church have been asking me questions like "do you even read the bible?", "do you feel god's love?", "are you even a Christian?". I actually get sweaty and scared when they ask me these questions, because I guess from an evolutionary perspective, I feel like someone from a different tribe and in danger of social rejection.

After college, I will probably move to a different city and tell people that it's for a better job. That way, I wont be subject to proselytization and "I'm praying for you" messages. It sucks that I will have to wait that long before freedom.

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Over the past few days, people from church have been asking me questions like "do you even read the bible?", "do you feel god's love?", "are you even a Christian?". I actually get sweaty and scared when they ask me these questions, because I guess from an evolutionary perspective, I feel like someone from a different tribe and in danger of social rejection.

After college, I will probably move to a different city and tell people that it's for a better job. That way, I wont be subject to proselytization and "I'm praying for you" messages. It sucks that I will have to wait that long before freedom.

 

Q: "Are you even a Christian?"

 

A: "My friends, I feel I have been given a great commission and been filled with an important purpose for my life and right now I am so overwhelmed that I am just trying to take it all in. This great commission occurred during church service today and I feel I know my path in life. Thank you all for surrounding me with your wonderful love and fellowship." You didn't say your purpose had anything to do with Jesus, but they'll think it does. :-) Enjoy the murmurs of "Praise God and Hallelujia..." lol.

 

Q: "Do you feel God's love?"

 

A: "I find it difficult to express the feeling of love I get from God." Non-existent love is hard to describe. :-) Try to produce a tear or hang your head and pretend to weep.

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I watched the film Boycott a few days ago.  It's a film about Rosa Parks and the bus boycott that kicked off the black civil rights movement.  In the film there is a scene where a young man is tired of the boycott and threatens to ride the bus.  In order to get support, he asks an old man "aren't you tired old man?"  To which the old man replied: "The soles of my feet are weary, but my soul is finally getting a rest."

 

I think this is a perfect metaphor for those who deconvert, but who go to church to avoid upsetting their loved ones.  The soul cannot rest while pretending to go along with that which one can no longer believe. 

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The real problem I can see here is not the issue but what you can turn the issue into in your mind. Sometimes we can have a problem and make it worse by assuming the worse. Whatever you decided to do base it on the facts as they are and what you can be sure of. In my experience with dealing with stuff like this, is that in the end facing it is allways less scary than doing nothing.

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Over the past few days, people from church have been asking me questions like "do you even read the bible?", "do you feel god's love?"...

 

I think that as long as there was a time that you sincerely attempted to feel god's love, answering the latter question honestly is a great way to open up a conversation while putting the burden of proof on them in a non-argumentative way. There are bound to be a number of people at church who have WANTED to feel god's love, and trying to make themselves believe that they feel it, but in their hearts, they know that they're pretending. 

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I think this is a perfect metaphor for those who deconvert, but who go to church to avoid upsetting their loved ones.  The soul cannot rest while pretending to go along with that which one can no longer believe. 

 

I agree with this 100%.

 

I can't help but wonder if getting it off your chest would be very painful in the short term but very cathartic and rewarding in the long term? In my personal experience, living a lie is not living. That's exactly why I left religion in the first place - I could no longer live the lie!

 

I do understand the practicality of your situation though. Maybe say you're "taking a break"? That's what I tell my folks. They don't like it but it explains my non-faith and I don't have to tell them it's a permanent break! :)

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My lowly 2 cent is to wait until you are completely independent where there could be no recourse. No black male no bullying etc. I would want them to know eventually. I told my closest family because I want the people closest to me to know that   I dont buy it and they know me well enough not to judge me bc of it.

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As long as you are living at home, I would do what the others have said. Just do the bare minimum, say the right things, and keep your nose in the books.

 

Does your major allow for you to do coops/internships? These can be a good way to get out of the house, get some roommates, and make some decent money.

 

 

 

I'm mostly afraid of what my parents will think or do. It is likely that I will be kicked out of the house. I am not ready for this; I have zero savings, since I am a full time student on a scholarship. Also, my father will probably try to punish me verbally and physically. My parents will emotionally blackmail ("I will never be happy again because of you" or "You're making our lives shorter").

 

This part pisses me off. Do parents not realize that this type of behavior is what turns off their kids to faith in the first place?

 

Once you are settled and on your own, I'd have a voice/phone call recorder running when you let them know. If you're dad makes any threatening comments, use them as grounds for a restraining order against him. If you really want to piss him off, have some scriptures ready that condtradict his bad behavior.

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Welcome prodromal!

 

I'll throw two pennies in your direction on this...

 

Don't tell your parents that you don't believe until you have graduated college.  Ideally, do not bring it up until you are financially independent (which hopefully will be as soon as you graduate college!)

 

And for those church people and their nosy questions - just tell them your relationship with God is personal to you and you don't feel comfortable discussing it with them. You do not owe them any explanation about whether you are reading your bible, how often, or how much 'godly wisdom' you have gleaned from it.  Although they deserve to be told where they can shove their inquiries, it is possible to do this in the most polite way.

 

Once you're on your own, I agree that you'd be better off living some distance from your parents.  When they ask if you've been attending church, you can say that "you just haven't found one yet" or you've been "so busy with the move, the new job, etc" that there just hasn't been time.  Maybe after some time (and more questioning) you could say that "it's just not a priority" for you right now.

 

When the time comes to spill the beans, just tell them.  They will probably make an emotional display to try to make you feel bad in an attempt to force your hand.  Try to remain as calm as possible.  Listen to what they have to say.  Tell them that you understand that they are concerned about you, but that you no longer share their beliefs, and you hope that they will continue to love you just as much as they always have.  Staying calm is key (though difficult!)  It will help to keep the conversation under your control.

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I agree with Deva and Margee. Unless you are virtually forced to disclose your beliefs or lack thereof to your parents, don't do it. It sounds silly, but what they don't know won't hurt them. bill

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Sounds like the majority agrees, it's probably wisest to wait until you're independent to disclose information that could lead to hostility or harm to yourself. The Friendly Atheist has written a couple of posts about the decision to "come out," as well as helpful advice for getting yourself where you want to be in the meantime. His most valuable piece of advice, to me, is "When you're in a position of strength and independence, then if it is in your own self interest, you can begin letting [them] know where you stand, but remember, you still don't have to. You don't ever have an obligation to re-educate your [parents] in what would be an arduous process." If you can eventually feel safe and ready enough to have that conversation, great, but it's entirely valid to own your own information.

 

I was in a position very similar to yours until recently (last fall I transferred to a new school across the country), and I understand how difficult and awkward it can be to try to remain under the radar. It might help if you just politely refuse to engage in that kind of conversation ("I don't want to talk about that right now," "I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable discussing this,") and stick to your guns, or to simply not say anything at all. Which is hard, but sometimes it's an act of self-preservation. My family never talks about anything really significant or important, so in my case a lot of conversations that probably should have happened just never came up. Sometimes you can also find a way to tell the truth without offering extra information: on the rare occasion when someone asked me "what I learned in church today" or something similar, I answered honestly that I hadn't learned anything new in church in years, and people were always surprised, and they always moved on. Another thing that dramatically helped me was figuring out which people I could be honest with; you might have to scout them out carefully (I hardly knew anyone outside of church), but when you find them, it takes so much pressure off.

 

The other specific thing that made me feel better was using the time I had to spend in church constructively. Having had next to no experience with critical thinking, it was a good way for me to start exploring ideas privately and without fear of repercussion. I just sat there every service dissecting and examining the ideas presented, and worked and reworked my own arguments. It was usually infuriating, but it helped me strengthen my position, and I have better answers now.

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Also, my father will probably try to punish me...physically.

Buh...whaaaaa?

 

<CW_OS ver. 1.6.792 rev.B.>

<LOADING>

<READY> INIT_VBM

RUN

<VENGEFUL BASTARD MODE ON>

 

Yeah...we have a word for that. It's called "battery." If he lays a finger on you, you can have him arrested and press charges. If you want, you can have him slapped with a criminal record that will never heal and, depending on his occupation and social standing, it can majorly fuck up his career options or social support safety net. If a parent had tried "physical punishment" on me after the age of 18, I'd have taken an excessive amount of pleasure in mocking them through the bulletproof glass in the prison visiting room, reminding them of how they were a worthless convict and how they could count on me abandoning them to the streets once they'd served their time.

 

My parents will emotionally blackmail ("I will never be happy again because of you" or "You're making our lives shorter").

That one is totally on them. Don't expect it to change when you move out, but don't feel like you're actually responsible for their happiness either. You have to take care of you. It's on them to take care of them. If they're so incapable of being happy without knowing they're exerting control over you, then they need psychological help. Toss some Valium in their popcorn next time they go to the movies or something.

 

All in all, I would say that if you're experiencing a suffocating, crushing sense of stress at not being able to be open about your lack of belief, then follow some of the advice others have posted here about subtly distancing yourself or talking about having "gotten the spirit to explore faith" or some other christian weasel-word stuff that they'll swallow whole. It should give you some room to breathe, decompress, and plan.

 

But if you're NOT feeling buried...if you don't think you need to solve this 5 minutes ago...keep it under wraps. Once you're self-sufficient, pull that ripcord and watch the fireworks from a safe distance. Parents like yours, the kind who threaten violence against their children or perpetrate emotional blackmail, deserve to have the rug jerked out from under them in the harshest possible way. However, there's no sense in setting yourself up for harm in the process. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you're on your own solid ground first. Remember that unless you signed a legally-binding contract, you don't owe them anything for paying for your education, your housing, whatever. Once you know you're untouchable, once you're (as I put it when I moved into my first apartment) on the other side of a locked door that they can't open, in a place where you can call the police and THEY'LL be the ones getting arrested for trying to get in, then you can be as brutally frank as you want. And if the emotional blackmail starts in, you can just say "well if I'm going to hell, then I guess I'll just have to meet you there." And hang up.

 

The beautiful thing about self-sufficiency, the thing that school motivational speakers and career planners and other such types never mention, is that it utterly redefines the power dynamic in parent-child relationships. Suddenly, your relationship with your parents is subject to your terms and you can be as capricious and petty, or as understanding as open, as either A. you want and/or B. you think they deserve. In your early years, you're more dependent on resource support from your parents than they are on emotional affirmation from you. However, once you have your ducks in a row, they suddenly have nothing that you need and you're the one guarding the treasure that is your continued love and affection. I'm fortunate enough to have a very good relationship with my mother and father (though they don't have such a good relationship with each other), but there was a time when my mother was being influenced strongly by her new husband's religious beliefs and I finally had to crack down, over the phone from behind that aforementioned locked door of my new apartment, and threaten geometrically-expanding periods of complete communications blackout before they stepped back and realized "Holy shit, he's really serious. We actually stand to suffer from this talk of sin." and I stopped hearing about it. It's amazing what the threat of a month, then two, then four, then eight, and so on of zero contact - no phone calls, no lunch dates, not even a holiday greeting card - will do for the malleability of formerly-headstrong parents.

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