The Humanist Dilemma: A Young Atheist Just Wants to Be Herself, but Her Family Isn’t Listening

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Can We Talk—Really? I’m a seventh grader who’s lost. My parents tell me I can tell them anything, but I know that’s not true. I tried to tell my mom that I don’t believe in God, but she kept making excuses like, “As you get older, your perspective might change” or “You have to believe in God because you need a superior being to look up to, so maybe you just haven’t experienced anything dark enough to make you fully commit to God.” She’ll never let me be an atheist, and I have no one to talk to because my grandma is a die-hard Catholic, and my siblings think they have to believe in God. I don’t know what to do.

—No One Lets Me Be an Atheist


Dear Atheist,

You may feel lost, but you found us here at the American Humanist Association and that means you’ve opened a door to a world of people like you, ready to encourage you and your doubts about God and your identity as an atheist. You’re at just the age when many young people begin questioning what they’ve been taught but need encouragement and support to pursue those questions—and they might not get it from the people closest to them.

Your mom is right that “as you get older, your perspective might change.” But it might not change the way she hopes (toward believing in a god). More likely, your inclination toward atheism will grow as you learn more about the world. And no one, not your parents or grandmother or anyone else, can stop you from being an atheist if that’s how you see things. Your family may make you reluctant to talk to them about not believing, but that doesn’t change what you hold to be true.

Although your parents say they want you to be able to tell them anything, and they may mean that sincerely, your mom doesn’t seem ready to listen to talk of atheism. You could try delicately revisiting the topic now and then, and perhaps with your siblings (and who knows, maybe one day even your grandmother will have a change of heart). But be prepared for the possibility that none of these people will ever be able to understand or accept your perspective. If that’s the case, don’t push it with them.

But you can and should keep seeking kindred souls all around you, beyond your immediate family. Not only are there plenty of online connections to nonbelievers like this one, but there are surely people all around you right where you are who share your disenchantment with religious doctrine. Look for secular groups in your community (they don’t have to be atheist groups, just not affiliated with any religions). If you keep your eyes open, you may see such people on sports teams, at the swimming pool, when you volunteer to clean up a park or do a car wash for your school—really, anywhere and everywhere. Those who identify as “nones” (people who check “none” on forms that ask what religion they identify with) are increasing rapidly, especially among young people like you. So while it’s hard feeling alone among your closest family members, you will find you’re part of a vast group as your focus broadens beyond that tiny speck to the wider universe. Give yourself permission to be who you are and to find others like you. You don’t need anyone else’s permission. You’re not lost; you’re just at the beginning of a journey.