The Humanist Dilemma: How Can a 15-Year-Old Get out of Religion Classes?

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Sacrificial Lamb: I’m fifteen years old and I don’t believe in my parent’s religion. They make me to go to church as well as participate in various church activities. They forced me to go to a church class during the school day throughout my freshman year of high school and now I have to make up two classes during the summer to have enough credits. I’ve told them this and they responded that I need to make “sacrifices” for what I believe. The problem is I don’t believe. They tell me I have to take the church class again next year, but I have absolutely no room in my schedule. What should I do? They constantly shut me down whenever I try to express anything on this subject.

–I Feel Like Abraham’s Child

Dear Child,

Unfortunately, sacrifices have a tendency not to be anything those being sacrificed would choose for themselves. From your perspective, this sacrifice requires enduring the situation until you can escape it. While at your age, putting up with forced religion for several more years may seem unbearable, keep in mind the bigger picture—that in a few years you’ll be old enough and independent enough to put this behind you and live your life according to your own worldview.

It sounds like arguing head-on with your parents is futile. But perhaps there are other ways to come at this. For instance, you could make the case that you need more time for your school work, which is very important to you. If you can’t get out of the church class, perhaps you have chores and other things you help out with that could be removed from your responsibilities. Maybe you can work on school homework during church class (try sitting in the back). You may be able to ask your school principal or teachers to speak with your parents about how important it is for you to have more time for your secular classes.

When my older brother was going to religious school, my mom and I would drop him off, then return in a few hours to pick him up. One time as we were driving around running errands, I saw him hanging out a few blocks from where he was supposed to be. It turned out he hadn’t been going in the door where we left him. He would just wander around town for the duration and then show up in front of where he was supposed to be when it was time for us to retrieve him. He got in a little trouble, but no big deal (and I was in awe of his self-determination). When it was my turn, I put up a huge fuss every week, pretending to be sick or just crying and screaming about how much I hated it. When that didn’t work, I offered a sort of “deal with the devil” to my mom: Instead of going to Sunday school, I would spend those hours every week doing the family’s ironing (that was a thing in those days). She actually took me up on it, probably because I’d worn her down with my histrionics and because she really hated ironing (don’t we all?). I thought our deal would end at the time I would have gone through my confirmation, but I ended up continuing the ironing servitude until I left for college (which was my mom’s idea of the end of our deal). Totally worth it!

Speaking of college: make that, or trade school, or a stable job, the beacon that keeps you going through this ordeal. Do everything you can to figure out how you can move out of your parent’s home, how you’ll finance that move, or just how to start earning enough money to liberate you from relying on your parents. That’s the key to winning your “religious freedom.”

Meanwhile, try to find and focus on the things you can enjoy about the church class. Maybe there are some other kids who share your perspective. Absorb what you can about what the class is trying to teach you—the people who know the most about religion tend to be atheists, and knowledge of scripture is a good thing to be able to brandish no matter what you end up doing. Maybe you can get a kick out of challenging the church class teacher—even (or especially) if that gets you kicked out of class. Just don’t do anything that will cause your parents to punish you or withhold support until you’re ready to launch.

Hang in there. In a short time, this will all be history.