The Ethical Dilemma: My Family Has Become More Religious Than Ever. Help!

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Westernized Away From Home Religion: I grew up in what you could say is a moderately religious household in a religious country. I’ve always been a bit questioning of my religion and I absolutely avoid talking religion when I can. Recently I went to the US to study and after I came back for a vacation I realized that my family had become even more religious than when I left and not just the ones that still live there but also those who went abroad to western countries to study as well. Meanwhile, I became more and more distant from religion in general. I haven’t abandoned it (I identify as being a member of the religion but am not religious whatsoever).

Recently I was talking to one of my parents and I accidentally let slip out some opinions I knew would be met with immediate hostility and shock. While I’ve always thought this way, to make it easier on myself, I avoided voicing my real opinions.

Now I’m faced with the dilemma of should I keep agreeing for the little time I spend here or should I let my opinions be known to all those around me. I feel like I’m being persecuted for having an opinion. Help!

—Religiously Un-religious

Dear Un-religious,

You’re not being persecuted for having an opinion, but rather for having a different opinion from the prevailing one in your homeland. Without knowing what country you are from, how much time you spend there, and whether you might ever want to return for more than vacations, I can’t offer an informed opinion on whether it would be a good idea, or even downright dangerous, to share your thoughts.

As Hippocrates advised, “First do no harm.” Don’t do anything that will land you in trouble you aren’t prepared to deal with, whether it’s as extreme as execution or jail, or “just” disapproval and ostracism from your family and friends in your native land. The course of least resistance is to continue to avoid the subject of your religious beliefs. Once you let one person know you’re not a believer, you can’t retrieve it and you can’t control who else finds out.

That said, if the penalties for breaking away from the faith are something you are willing and able to accept now and in the future, and you feel it’s worth it to share your insights with your family and beyond, by all means do so. You will be providing the service of explaining your reasoning and setting an example for others (or emboldening them to speak up if they already secretly agree). I suspect your friends who became more religious after exposure to western ideas are reacting in a defensive effort to keep their beliefs from unraveling as yours did—kind of like putting their fingers in their ears and yelling nonsense so they don’t learn something they don’t want to know.

Don’t be surprised if people choose to reject you rather than the faith they were brought up with. Over time some of them may soften or even come around to your perspective, while others may become even more hostile to the perceived attacks you represent. In the meantime, when you’re back in the west, savor the culture that fits you better than the one you were raised in.