Do You Clash with Your Parents Over Religion? February 23, 2009

Do You Clash with Your Parents Over Religion?

MTV’s documentary series True Life is seeking out young people who may have converted to a different religion from their parents. I’m guessing most of you would fit that bill (if not the age requirement).

Here’s the information:

TRUE LIFE: I’m Clashing With My Parents
Are you clashing with your parents? Going against their wishes? Defying them even? Are you an Americanized teen growing up in a household with immigrant parents whose conservative cultural values are at odds with your modern viewpoints and lifestyle? Perhaps your religious beliefs are setting you and your parents at odds. Are you abandoning the beliefs they instilled in you as a child? Or is your deepening passion for faith and religion concerning your more secular-leaning parents? Maybe the conflict between you and your parents is a classic old disagreement over the guy or girl you’re dating.

If you’re personally living through any of these scenarios, or an equally compelling conflict with your mother & father, we’d like to hear from you. MTV is working on a new episode of “True Life” that will explore the impact on young adults, and their families, when grown children challenge their upbringing and defy their parents.

If you appear to be between the ages of 14-25 we’d like to hear your story. Email us at and please include your name, phone number and a recent photo of yourself.

Not sure if the show is any good — I’ve never seen it — but if it’s your thing, it might be worth a shot.

You could be the next Wife-Swap-er or 30-Days-er!

While we’re at it, has any reader only begun to have problems with the parents over religion? Not something that’s been festering for a long while, but a “fight” that’s only started in the past few months.

How are you dealing with it?

(Thanks to Ashley for the link!)

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  • Derek

    I am 23, so probably a little beyond the age range MTV is looking for, but I have recently come out to my parents as an atheist. The argument began as a conversation about evolution on a family road trip and grew from there. My parents were unwilling to admit that they didn’t believe in evolution, but they said they have doubts. They are perfectly happy to just write it off as “one of God’s many mysteries”

    I come from a very religious family, and grew up as a devout Catholic. We were actually lived more as evangelicals than as typical Catholics. My parents are great people, but I was still nervous for our discussions about religion, because religion is the one thing that can cause good people to do evil things.

    Fortunately for me, they have not rejected me in anyway, but they think I am “lost” and just “not feeling the presence of the Lord” and they are praying for me.

    They have asked that I keep my ideas to myself though, and not bring it up to my younger siblings. I have agreed to that for now, but I refuse to be dishonest either.

    After I left for college, my parents became aware that I was not as religious as they had hoped, and was not interested in going to church. They seemed to have come to accept the fact that I was not as religious as them, but still thought I believed. Now that they know that I do not have any belief in anything supernatural, things have changed.I am happy to finally have this out in the open, but it is really unfortunate that I can feel their judgment whenever I am around. We used to have such a close relationship and it has now become cordial, but certainly not intimate.

  • matt

    I occasionally will prod my stepmom, little sister, or dad a bit about secularism and the inconsistencies of christianity, but I always tried to pretend like I was still a catholic doing it (they’re presbyterian). but the other day, my stepmom asked, “do you have something against GOD?”. I still haven’t confessed to atheism for fear of being separated too much from my siblings and dad (It’s bad enough being away at college and growing up with my mom and not them), but I had to reply “I’m agnostic and when I decide if the Abrahamic god exists I’ll decide his morality.”
    I’m kind of being about 3 years behind in what I admit to them, but I don’t want to be alienated from them.

  • I’m 27 — just outside the deomgraphic. I recently came out to my father who isn’t terribly religious himself, but I still keep it a secret from my more religious family members.

    I’ve seen a couple episodes of the show and I actually find it kind of dumbed-down. It’s presented as a raw, honest look into people’s lives but it’s clear it’s being catered to the same kind of people who like watching the Real World.

  • Wendy

    I’m 35 so WAY out of the demo, but I’m an evangelical preacher’s kid. I haven’t “come out” officially, but my parents know I do not go to church. I think they “know” but don’t want to face it. For my sanity I don’t think I will tell them yet, they don’t need to know.

  • Lauren

    I was actually quite lucky in that, while they were raised Presbyterian and Catholic respectively, neither my mother or my father sought to indoctrinate me or persuade me to follow any religion. They didn’t even have me baptized (for which I am eternally grateful), and always told me I could choose my own religion when I was old enough to make the decision for themselves.

    My husband and I do occasionally have discussions with his extended family with religious undercurrents (politics, stem cells, Obama-is-a-Muslim) but they know that we are heathens and we try to stay away from charged topics entirely.

    His parents, too, did not baptize him and raised him without religion, so we don’t have to clash with our closest family members about such nonsense, thankfully.

  • vivian

    I live in a small community in Ohio and discovered they have an online forum for people in our county. So I signed up and tried to join in discussions, but get bashed and called angry because they are all muslim hating conservatives (and they think I support islam because I compared christianity to islam. What?!).

    I’ve finally gave up trying to have a civil conversation, and it makes me even more afraid to tell people in my community that my husband and I are atheist. I know my parents will love me no matter what I believe in, but man, the people in my area don’t care who they bash (as long as it’s not christianity).

  • I did for years before my mom and I had a talk and got to an understanding that regardless of what religion or no religion I belonged to, I was still her son and all that she had taught me growing up was more important than where I went on Sunday for 3 hours.

    Once we had that talk, I knew in the back of her mind that she wished I would change my mind and come back to church, but at least we didn’t clash anymore. We were able to communicate on a much better level.

  • Eowyn

    My parents don’t seem to care that I’m an atheist (they both believe in god but are pretty secular and not at all pushy about it). My boyfriend’s parents, on the other hand, are utterly insane.
    Over winter break, he decided that he didn’t want to lie to them anymore and told them that he doesn’t believe in god. They decided that he was possessed by the devil and tried to prevent him from returning to college this semester because clearly that’s where the devil’s influence was coming from. Thank goodness he doesn’t depend on them financially or he’d be back home getting “christian counseling” instead of at school getting a real education.

  • Kayla

    My abandoning of any faith I had as a kid (I become atheist at 10 or 11) seemed to really unsettle my very religious mom. So much so, it had her questioning her own faith for a few years, which drove her into depression.

    She’s gotten out of that, though, thankfully.

    My dad, he never cared. When I was growing up, he seemed agnostic to me, but now, I think he’s more of an atheist himself.

    I have a feeling, though, when I start having children, my fella and I are going to have a lot of conflicts with extended family on both sides about the religion or lack of the kids will be raised in. His mom, his grandparents, his dad, stepmother, my grandparents, my mother (not my mom, two different people) will all likely give us grief over it, if not actively try and convert our kids.

  • My mom told me years ago she was an Atheist, but I think she was just mad at the god she grew up with. I was brought up Catholic, VERY “pagan” I must say.

    My parents saw me go through many “stages” and my religious path never really concerned them….I would of been thrown out most-likely if my parents were fundies…seeing as I am gay, I knew a few people back than that were threaten constantly by their parents because they claimed to be gay…I am supposing they felt that way because of their religious upbringing, but I believe telling your child your are going to stop paying for their college if they don’t change their life, I think that would be not only cruel, but motivted by religion.

  • Sandra

    I don’t clash with my mom, I deconverted her *lol* however the rest of my family are ‘borderline fundies’ so I just haven’t broached the subject with most of them. I am not even hiding my views, I just don’t go around saying “Hey, I’m an atheist and think you are all insane”. My life is made easier by their blind faith, because they ‘assume’ I must be a christian since I am a ‘good person’.

    I so can’t wait to burst that bubble!
    Hmmm… perhaps when grandma is on her death bed *evil grin*.

  • Mary

    I’ve never had a clash. My parents were always more philosophically oriented and so they were always atheists with regard to Yahweh. However, they were always agnostic with regard to abstract non-anthropomorphic concepts like Brahman or Plotinus’ monad.

  • I came out as an atheist about 3 months ago. Before then, I was agnostic/not very religious/very liberal. My very conservative parents have refused to speak with me about religion for a year, ever since I started to “fall away,” so I have not officially “come out” to them, but I think they know. Or at least have the basic idea. Because they refuse to speak to me about it, it is not so much a clash as it is just shoved to the side so that all we can talk about are very surface things. (Religion is VERY VERY VERY VERY important to my parents!)

    I am 25, but don’t think I’d be good for a tv show. My parents would refuse to cooperate, I think! 🙂

  • I’m older than Yoda. That dang MTV plays it’s dang music too loud I tell ya. If’n they’re trying to get some con-tro-versy about religion with these dang kids they c’n just think agin. There ain’t no family feud over religion wi’ my kin. No sirree.

  • MV

    I think I would fit there. I am 17 and I live in a very conservative Catholic house(gays are evil, technology is evil, follow Jesus, blah, blah, blah).

    The only problem is thay my parents do not know. I have never told them. I am probably better off this way right now though. They are paying for my college tuition and it would cause many problems that are honestly not worth it. I do not need my parents starting a Crusade against me.

    I will tell them after I get my first job, but while I am living under their roof, I will pretend to follow their rules. It can actually be quite frustrating because I consider myself a conservative(political, not social), but I cannot support them because they base their arguements on religion.

    I would not want the pulicity that came with MTV either.

  • I’m 19, so age-wise, I would fit right in. Unfortunately, I just found out my mom’s an atheist too. Darn. 😛


    I didn’t know MTV still plays music. Seems to me like they abandoned that a loooong time ago, back when reality tv was born.

    Also, “if you appear to be between the ages of 14-25″? Wtf?

  • Well, I know I’m not part of the demographic you’re looking for Hermant, I’ll take it as an open invite anyway 😀

    I was brought up without religion. When I became a Christian at 17, both my mother and her boyfriend at the time took the piss out of me for months and told me it was ‘phase’ that would not last (I didn’t have a good relationship with my mum). The rest of my family distanced themselves from me, they refused to come to my baptism.

    My mum eventually came to respect my faith, Jesus even helped to repair the broken relationship I had with her. The rest of the family came round to accepting me, but I keep them at a distance now!

    I guess the experience of the American atheist with their religious family, echo’s the experience of the British Christian with their atheist family.

  • Anonymous

    Now that they know that I do not have any belief in anything supernatural, things have changed.I am happy to finally have this out in the open, but it is really unfortunate that I can feel their judgment whenever I am around. We used to have such a close relationship and it has now become cordial, but certainly not intimate.

    I never could understand why atheists are supposed to sacrifice our tangible quality of life (strained relationships with parents, spouses, siblings, friends, or worse, employers) for something abstract that makes no difference to our day-to-day lives like atheist solidarity. What’s the point? So that Richard Dawkins can add another notch marking the number of atheists he’s encouraged to out or something? Seriously, what’s the argument? How does outing ourselves individually make any real difference, except negatively for oneself?

    Telling religious folk that you’re an atheist is a lot like telling your girlfriend that you masturbate when you know she’s just going to get all pissy about it like that’s cheating on her. But if it helps masturbator solidarity, I guess it’s worth the shit you’ll have to put up with 😉

    Some things are better left kept to oneself or lied about, if you ask me. Most people don’t want to know the details of their parents sex life, but I don’t see anyone pushing for “a place at the table” for parents who want to shout those details from the rooftops…

  • I am a little older than the demographic, but my folks still wonder about me. My dad is anti-religion and worries that I am still sypathetic to faith traditions; while my mom is a spiritual agnostic who worries my choice of out-atheism is a little strident.

    Oh, the discussions we *don’t* have at the table. The weird thing is, when I would tag along with friends when I was much younger to their “Take your heathen friend to Sunday school” events, my parents were pretty positive. I think they knew I’d never buy in, and hoped my exposure to religion would disappoint.

    (Um, if the lights are dim, I can kind of *appear* to be in their demographic. I’m “gently used.”)

  • Kelsey

    Wow, what great timing. I am 20 and fully realized that I no longer believed in Christianity when I was about 18. My conflict with my mother has been festering for a while now, but has really blown up over the last few months. Sorry this is so long, but I think it’s a good representation of how religion can make some (not all) people unbearably intolerant.

    So my mother is so completely set in her faith that she is willing to give up a relationship with her own children instead of reconciling what her religion says about nonbelievers. I only thought that happened to Mormon or Evangelical families, not my mom who hardly ever goes to church and who, in 8th grade, made fun of me for wanting to go to church after a week-long bible camp.

    Ever since I came out to her as an atheist, she has been getting increasingly worse. At first she seemed open to talking about it, so I thought maybe she wouldn’t mind talking with me about the evolution of my worldview. However, last November she told me that she didn’t like what I believe, and said not to talk about it anymore. I obliged.

    When I went home for winter break this past December, one of the first days I was home I asked her what time she was going to church on Christmas Eve (a tradition…). She said, “Why do you care, you’re an atheist?” I told her that regardless of my beliefs, one of my favorite parts about Christmas was going to church with my family, lighting candles, and singing Christmas carols. Apparently the thought of an atheist going to church was extremely offensive to her, and that simple question (and some other unrelated topics that came up) turned into a huge argument, which culminated into her kicking me out, two days before Christmas. THEN, on Christmas Eve, she kicked her boyfriend and my 11-year-old sister out of the house as well.

    That’s a completely different story…

    Anyway, after all of that I returned to Minnesota. Since then, there have only been a handful of fights between us for various reasons, including a card I sent my little sister telling her it’s okay to think for herself (since my mom had sent her to a Christian school and she asked me about some of the creationist bs that appeared in her science textbook) and a response I made to an article about science and religion that my mom sent to me.

    This email is the last in a long back-and-forth spat that we had over the weekend. I had decided that fighting wasn’t going to get us anywhere, so I wrote her this:

    “Well, I’m sorry that you can’t agree that this fighting needs to end. I’m trying to resolve this, but you obviously can’t stop arguing until you get your way and I’m not going to put up with it anymore. It is unreasonable to think that I should have to change my beliefs in order for us to have a decent relationship again. If you can ever get over thinking that I’m such a terrible person because I’m an atheist, just let me know. I am not asking for your acceptance of what I believe, and I’m certainly not saying that you should believe it, it would just be really nice if we could get along again.”

    Not too bad, right? I want to stop fighting with her because unlike her, I don’t think I’m going to get to spend eternity with her. I believe that I only have this life to live, and I really don’t want to spend the last 25-30 years of her life fighting with her, when differences in religious beliefs are easily resolved. This was her lovely response, sent to me last night:

    “I don’t see that happening anytime soon Kelsey. I have no intention of spending time with you until you #1 are no longer an atheist #2 you can show some respect for me #3 you can totally quit trying to influence Haley You have done #3 thankfully. I don’t think YOU realize how fully I understand atheism. I DO NOT want to be around you or Aaron or Matt very much because of it. Matt knows enough to keep his mouth shut. Acting like everything is fine and continuing to love and adore you kids is just hypocritical. I love you because you are my children. I hate the fact that you denounce your faith and continue to mock Jesus and God and worship the likes of the atheists you listen to. That is extremely sinful. I can only handle you breaking one commandment at a time…….not 3 or 4. You were raised as a Christian and hopefully you will find your way back to that. If not, you have made your choices. I see this as a darkness that has poisoned you. Christ is about love and joy and forgiveness and peace. You try to tell me that the Bible means hatred and anger… mock God. You have the nerve to preach at me that it is my fault……….I know it is and I won’t quit fighting for your soul. I won’t give in and act like I accept any of this because I don’t.”

    Umm, so yeah.

  • Vincent

    “appear” to be between 14 and 25?

    So if you’re 30 but you look young, or if you’re 10 but look old…
    what? will they lie?

  • telling religious folk that you’re an atheist is a lot like telling your girlfriend that you masturbate when you know she’s just going to get all pissy about it like that’s cheating on her. But if it helps masturbator solidarity, I guess it’s worth the shit you’ll have to put up with

    You mean to tell me you can’t tell the difference between an ethical position and jerking off? If even that distinction escapes you, why should we even try to explain the point?

  • absent sway

    No current clash here, but I expect a significant future one. My parents have always been very loving and accepting of me but also very religious. I think I was the most devout one in my family before my doubts, though. My siblings know all about my doubts and my parents know that I’ve stopped attending church and that my excuses for not looking for a new one are pretty thin and halfhearted these days. My parents don’t know about the disbelief, though, and I can’t bring myself to tell them till I have to, which I’ll have to face in a few years’ time when I start planning to have children. I won’t be able to avoid this when children are in the picture and I want to be well prepared for how to present this and how to navigate their potential responses. My family (including extended family) is evangelical, as in the actively evangelical, converting folks type, so there is the potential for great conflict when raising children and there’s no way it won’t come up and even when I spill the beans that probably wouldn’t convince them not to preach to my future kids. No doubt they’ll feel compelled to save them if I don’t take on that role.

  • Anonymous

    You mean to tell me you can’t tell the difference between an ethical position and jerking off?

    How is abandoning or not accepting a religion an ethical position? It’s no more ethical than taking the position that the earth isn’t at the center of the universe.

    If even that distinction escapes you, why should we even try to explain the point?

    So there’s no argument to be made, eh? You’re right; it’s not worth the effort. If you had a case it could be outlined in a few sentences. I guess you don’t.

  • Anonymous

    P.S. Maybe you meant that lying is not ethical. But everybody lies, and it would be irrational not to lie in certain cases. I think the problem is that it is nearly impossible to make the case that letting people know that you hold a view which is likely to cause them to give you shit is ever a good idea. It flies in the face of rationality. (And we’re supposed to be the rational ones, right?)

    Why is it unethical to protect your own interests, at no one else’s expense, against others’ unethical behavior, by telling a white lie? It’s no one else’s business what you believe in the first place. (But if you tell them that if they ask you point blank whether you believe in God, they can figure out what you believe pretty easily and give you shit just on their suspicions.)

    Like I said before, if there was a case to be made for this sort of irrational behavior, I think we would’ve heard it already.

  • Casey

    To Kelsey,

    It’s too bad that your mother cannot come to terms with your situation. However, I applaud you for being rational and civil (it seems that most atheists are). I hope that maybe one day she will realize that no matter what you believe, you are still her daughter. Your story moved me, and I will remember it.

    I am 27 years old and was raised as an Oklahoma Southern Baptist. I was very conservative and an adamant follower of Jesus. I went to college, but by my junior year, I had done everything that a Christian shouldn’t do. Soon, I didn’t want to go to church anymore, although I still believed. A few years ago, I noticed that I didn’t even want to close my eyes during prayer, because it just didn’t make sense to me. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2008 that I even realized that I was a liberal. I was deep into politics (which I never had been before) and the election, and I wanted so badly for Obama to win. I guess I came out as a liberal to my parents when they found my Obama support on my MySpace page. I’m glad they found out that way so that I wouldn’t have to tell them directly. My mother doesn’t really care much about politics and won’t even talk to me about it. Although my father is a deeply conservative Christian, I know he still loves me.

    I have only recently (these past couple of months) really read more about atheism and would term myself right now as agnostic. I remember a few years ago when my brother told me he was agnostic and I freaked out because I thought that I wouldn’t see him in heaven! But I didn’t judge him, I just thought that he would “come back to the light”, but I still treated him like my brother. That was quite a long time ago. He and I actually had a long discussion about religion last night, and I’m so very glad that we are on the same page.

    I have absolutely no intention of telling my parents anytime soon about my beliefs. I know that they would love me no matter what, but I know that right now it might be more awkward than it’s worth. It’s already a little bit awkward with my father because I know exactly what he thinks about liberals. And I know that it would deeply hurt my mother if I told her that I’m not a Christian anymore. I don’t think we would be as close as we are now. And that would hurt. It does bother me when I flippantly mention “luck”, then she corrects me to say that there is no such thing as “luck”, it’s being “blessed”. I just want to cringe. But I guess I’ll bite my tongue and refrain for now until I absolutely have to face it. I’m sure that will come up whenever I have children…

  • Wendy

    “If you appear to be between the ages of 14-25 we’d like to hear your story.”

    …I see I’m not the only one who’s sickened by this!

  • Alex

    I’ve questioned religion since I was in 3rd grade. I became Atheist halfway through 7th grade. Then I started questioning religion around my mom. One day she told me she wasn’t going to have children that didn’t attend church and that Atheists are sad and miserable people which really made me nervous. Then she asked me “Are you still Christian or do you not have a religion?” I lied and said I was Christian because I knew she would get really mad if I told her the truth.

    My dad’s a different story. I think he’s either Agnostic or Atheist because of something that happened a few months ago. We were at a buffet and I asked him why he hadn’t said I was 11 like he sometimes did to get a reduced price. He said “Well, if there is a hell, I don’t want to go there because of a couple of bucks because we don’t know if there is or isn’t a hell or heaven. In fact we don’t know if there’s even a God, right?” I agreed with him on that then he said “In fact, there is no God, right?” I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know if he was joking or not.

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