The Ethical Dilemma: I’m Fourteen. Should I Come Out to My Parents as an Atheist?

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Should Atheist Teen Come Out To Parents? I’m fourteen, and I began questioning my faith a little over a year ago. I am now an atheist. I feel guilty about it but at the same time incredibly proud. It’s hard to explain. I love knowing that humans are alone, that we only have ourselves and one another. That’s an incredible feeling for me. Is that weird, to love being an atheist? It amazes me how much humans have done and that we didn’t need any divine master to guide us.

Now for the guilty part. My family members are not all church-going religious fanatics, but they are very certain of their faith. Every Christmas and birthday for me meant a new Bible or some preacher’s book on my bookshelf with what felt like an interrogation of what I thought of it a month later. This Christmas was no different, so I suppose I’ll have to read the stupid thing, unless of course I own up to being an atheist. I have no idea of what I should do. I’ve already come out as an atheist to my sister, who thought at first I was joking and then started to just stare at me, which wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for.

What should I do? I can’t go back to religion; I just don’t believe in it anymore at all. A lot of my school friends know that I am an atheist and they have been on the most part really cool about it. I worry that one of them might inadvertently say something that might tip my parents off. I would much rather my family hear it from me than find out on their own. What do you think about all this?

Sorry for the length of this thing. When I started I swear I thought it would have been much shorter.

—Secret Atheist

Dear Secret,

A great writer once said, “I would have written a shorter letter but I didn’t have the time.” No problem. You are working through your thoughts and feelings, and sometimes we have to just allow them to tumble out however they do, then sort them out.

From my perspective as an arms-length reader, however, I see your answer clearly in your question. You say you’ve lost your faith, can’t get it back and don’t want to, and would prefer to tell your parents yourself than have them hear it from one of the many people who already know—including not only friends, but also your sister. You don’t say anything to the effect that your parents would punish you in any way if they learned of your atheism, but you need to consider that possibility. Would there be some kind of backlash beyond their anticipated disappointment?

If you are pretty confident of no serious negative consequences, I see only the upside of letting your parents in on your secret. You would be demonstrating the courage of your convictions, your maturity in thinking for yourself, your confidence that your position deserves respect. You will feel free to be yourself without pretense, and without fear of someone spilling your beans. You’d also be putting your parents on notice that if they continue to give you religious tracts as gifts, either you will not read them, or you’ll give your honest feedback, which they might prefer to avoid. Maybe they’ll opt to give you a gift card instead and let you select your own literature.

And you might be pleasantly surprised. In contrast to your sister’s speechless reaction, your parents may actually be impressed with your intellectual rigor, courage, and honesty, even if they don’t immediately (or ever) agree with your views. Very likely they already know or suspect, at least on a subconscious level, so the only thing you should be feeling guilty about is not coming clean with them. Instead of continuing to carry on the charade and putting your parents in the embarrassing position of being the last to know, embody that Frozen song and “Let It Go”. Afterwards you may wonder why you waited so long.

And no, it isn’t weird to revel in being an atheist. It’s very liberating and exhilarating, especially for those of us who are able to announce it without substantial persecution—and often worth it even if there is some cost involved. As you have experienced, once you break out of the religious box, you really cannot force your mind or spirit back in.