Ask Richard: Teen Atheist Faces Pressure to Attend Confirmation June 14, 2010

Ask Richard: Teen Atheist Faces Pressure to Attend Confirmation

Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.

Dear Richard,

I am thirteen, almost fourteen years old, and recently my parents have been bugging me about confirmation.

At the church that I attend (for social reasons), children are confirmed during their freshman year of high-school. Both of my parents are aware that I am an atheist, and my mother is in fact agnostic, but, again, they both are insistent that I be confirmed into the Christian church.

My mother’s argument is that it’s just a ritual, and something that must be done when you’re young, and that if I want I can consider it entirely meaningless. She already made me get baptized last year, and I found even that to be degrading and opposed to my morals.

My father wants me to go along with the confirmation classes and to not get confirmed. My stepmother is actually strongly opposed to me getting confirmed, as she considers it an insult to her religion. However, it feels like there is an ulterior motive to them wanting me to go through the classes. It feels like, even after all this time, my dad and step mom are trying to convert me.

I don’t want to waste time on confirmation, but at the same time I don’t want to disappoint my parents. Also, even if I only go through with my dad’s course of action, there is always the possibility that my mother will make me go through with the actual confirmation anyway, if only to spite my father, which will be insulting and degrading.

It would pain me deeply to be forced into accepting a deity that I have specifically stated that I do not believe in, more than I can describe, and more than anything I do not want to give up my pride as an atheist. How do I convince my parents that under no circumstances will I indoctrinate myself into this religion?

Pluck: courage and resolution in the face of difficulties; spirit.

Dear Bernadette,

I admire your pluck.

I have received letters from several people your age who are facing pressure to do religious things that they don’t believe in, but seldom have I met one who has so clear and strong a commitment to holding to her principles.

I want to encourage that, but I also don’t want this family to split worse than it is now. There may be a way for you to remain true to your values, yet do it in a way that increases mutual respect in this family rather than decreases it.

Ironically, your religious stepmother has given the best argument against going through with the confirmation; it is an insult to her religion. It’s also the most honest reason as well.

Your mother’s argument for just doing it, that it’s “just a ritual,” is a good argument against doing it. That seems to be about keeping up appearances in order to please social expectations, and has nothing to do with genuine devotion.

Your father’s and stepmother’s suggestion of attending the confirmation classes but not the ritual itself makes no sense. Yes, it does sound like a setup, a manipulation to either try to convert you during the classes, or to increase the social pressure from your peers in the classes, or, as you suspect of your mother, once you have completed the class requirement, to simply force you to fulfill the ceremony. You’re clearly too smart to fall for any of that.

One encouraging thing is that all three of them seem to be bargaining or negotiating with you. None of them have simply said that you will do this, period, and there will be no further discussion. So use that latitude to help them understand the ethical conflict that they are proposing. Read what I suggest here, pick what is true for you and tell them in your own words, either spoken or written:

    Tell them that they have always raised you to be an honest, ethical and moral person, and you are very grateful for that, and you have every intention of continuing to be honest, ethical and moral.

    BUT for you to attend the confirmation classes would require you to pretend that you are accepting and believing what is taught there. That would be phony and dishonest. If you were to be forthright and tell them how you see things, it would be upsetting to the other attendees in the class. That would be unkind. The time spent on you in this would be disruptive and would take time away from the others. That would be selfish.

    So making you take the classes would force you to either be phony and dishonest, or unkind and selfish.

    Then, to go through the confirmation itself would be to stand up in public and tell a lie. It would make a sham and a mockery of something that other people take seriously. The only way that you could make that right that would be to loudly announce right there during the ceremony that you don’t believe in any of this, and you are being coerced by your parents into doing it. So this would force you to either be a public liar and a fraud, or to humiliate and disgrace your parents and to upset everyone there. You would never do any of these things voluntarily. You would have to be forced under severe duress. So to give in to whatever that coercion would be would be cowardly.

    So going through with the ceremony would involve dishonesty, fraud, disrespect, unkindness, and cowardice.

    In short, they want you to do several immoral things, but to be true to the way they raised you, to honor your parents in the deepest, most sincere way possible, you must not do those things.

Bernadette, this is a lot to say, and you’d probably be interrupted. It’s essential that you remain calm and rational in your discussions with them. That isn’t easy.

But you write well. If what I have suggested makes sense and is true for you, perhaps you could write it down in your own words in a letter, and give them all a copy simultaneously. Tell them that you are writing it so that you can really make clear to them what is in your heart, along with the great love that you have for them.

Now there are some side issues that bear some consideration:

You said that you don’t want to disappoint your parents. They may be disappointed, but in what exactly? Perhaps they will be disappointed in not getting their way rather than disappointed in you. They might even be privately impressed by your strength of character, although they might not admit it right away.

You remarked that your mother might make you go through with the confirmation just to spite your father. Sadly, some divorced parents use their kids as weapons or leverage against each other. As parents, their duty is to your well being, and they must not indulge their spite for each other at your expense. It’s a touchy issue, but if you think you can risk it, ask them gently to not put you in the middle, to not use you to get at the other.

You said that you attend the church “for social reasons.” I’m not sure if that means you benefit by having friends there, or if that means your parents benefit from keeping up appearances in the community, or some combination. Either way, if you forego confirmation, that might begin to single you out as not belonging. It depends on how rigid and demanding for conformity the social structure is at the church. So be prepared that you might eventually have to stop church attendance. However, as you continue in high school, you’ll probably have a variety of other sources and venues for social interaction.

Even if you end up having to go through this charade, you cannot be “forced into accepting a deity.” You can only be forced into participating in their ritual, which because of compulsion has become a ridiculous travesty. It’s not the ruining of your principles. It is the ruining of theirs. You’ll be angry, but it doesn’t have to be a deep humiliation for you. Your pride is still safe deep inside, because that is about what you do, not what someone makes you do. After a time, for your sake rather than theirs, forgive them. They know not what they do.

And remember, although most of us are a little older than you, you now have several friends and admirers here at Friendly Atheist.

I wish you and your family the very best possible of outcomes, as unpredictable as it is, and as imperfect as it will probably be. I know if you were my daughter, even if the selfish part of me was frustrated by your disagreement, I would also be very proud of your principles, your pride, and your pluck.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • littlejohn

    My parents (also agnostics) forced me to go to confirmation classes. I griped, but went.
    Here’s what I wish I had done: I should have (privately) told the pastor who taught the class that I was an atheist and had no interest in being confirmed. I would have asked him to explain to my parents what a waste of time my going to class was. It might have worked.

  • Solitas

    Very well aid.

    And this here, “you cannot be “forced into accepting a deity.” You can only be forced into participating in their ritual”, is very important. 🙂

  • Eliza

    I agreed to Confirmation on the contigency that I never attend youth group or Bible study ever again or Mass after turning 18. My parents reluctantly agreed. When we had our meeting with the coordinator, I told her I was an atheist only being confirmed to appease my parents, and she really didn’t care. She took no offense at my lip service or coercion, nor did she try one last time to convert me.

    I volunteered to provide meals to the eldery and build an addition to a domestic violence shelter. I’ve always enjoyed stories of the saints and chose the name of a monk who rescued a library from pirates. The name was grotesquely feminized, but I participated to the best of my humanist values.

    Perhaps you could work out a similar arrangement.

  • Erp

    What does the minister think? My guess is that under Episcopalian or Roman Catholic rules you are possibly not validly baptized since you were of an age to have intent about whether to be validly baptized and you didn’t have that intent. The same would hold true in confirmation. The minister might be an ally but that would depend on the minister.

  • Bing

    I’m and atheist but i went through confirmation because as a boyscout i needed a religious leader to sign off that I’m religious. (it’s a requirement in the boy scouts, note that it doesn’t matter which religion but you must believe in one, which by the was is bs). I treated it just like a school class i hate, i sat there paid no attention but didn’t disturb the class. Even though the ceremony disgusted me it was all worth it when i got a scholarship for college just for being an eagle scout(highest rank in the boyscouts)

  • Claudia

    “Bernadette” if your convictions and your capacity to express yourself is any indication, you’re going to be just fine in the long run. Good for you for taking a stand on your principles at an age most kids would be intimidated into obedience.

    I think Richard’s advice is spot on, and can’t really add to it. I would like to emphasize his last point. If you end up having to get confirmed because pressure gets to unbearable, as long as you let your family know that they are going to force you to lie in public and you’re doing it ONLY because they’re making you, you can hold your head up high, becsause you won’t be the one doing a shameful thing. I hope it doesn’t come to that though.

  • Peregrine

    I was confirmed in 8th grade. What I remember of it was mostly sitting through the classes, with the promise that the classes were leading up to this, and once it’s over, I wouldn’t have to go to the classes anymore. An appealing prospect to me, so I went through with it. What I remember is memorizing prayers, going though the motions of the ceremony, and supposedly memorizing the seven “gifts” that were supposedly bestowed on those who were confirmed. I don’t even remember what they are anymore. But I bet my mom does.

    The following year, I was enrolled in another religion class, against my will. This class was also going through their confirmation, but since I’d already been confirmed, I just sat in on the class. What I remember from that class was more vivid; at baptism, you are welcomed into the faith, but typically, this is done when you are an infant, and don’t have the capacity to speak for yourself. So your godparents speak on your behalf. But confirmation is supposed to be your say. It’s supposed to be your opportunity to speak for yourself, to affirm your faith. This was probably mentioned the first time I went through the class, but being younger, and so mind-set on not having to take religion classes anymore, that I just brushed it off, and went through with it. It was also a stressed-out near retirement school teacher, who’d been teaching the class for decades, and went through it so mechanically that it was pretty much automatic.

    This time, the class was taught by someone who had come to the church in his adulthood, and so it was reiterated that confirmation is about you, and your decision. You are coming of age, and are beginning to take on more and more responsibilities, and with it, more capability to choose for yourself. It’s your life. Your beliefs. Your faith. your choice. That’s the whole point of the confirmation.

    There’s nothing wrong with sitting through the classes, and learning about other people’s faith without the intention of going through the ceremony. In fact, I would encourage it, if it’s an option, and the organizers allow it. We need atheists and Christians who are willing to make the effort to better understand one another, and sitting in on classes might help you towards that end.

    But actually going through the confirmation ceremony is entirely up to you. That’s the whole point of the ceremony, and I’d commend the church for having such a mechanism for allowing people the opportunity to affirm their own choices, if they weren’t so often manipulated into the process at such a young and impressionable age, as I was, and as you could be, if you’re not careful.

    And I’ve never heard anything suggesting that it can’t be differed until later in life if you wanted to. There’s no rules I’m aware of that dictate that it must be done now.

    I wouldn’t suggest “just going through with it” just to keep the peace within your family, unless you feel the dynamics of your family make it impossible to avoid. It might make sense to “just go through with it” if you wanted some kind of connection to your heritage, but even that might be a little too dishonest for your liking.

    Ultimately, though, I would encourage you, or anyone else in your situation to assert your right, your duty, to decide for yourself. Gently remind your family that it is your choice. And if you go through with it, it will be at the time of your choosing, and because you want to. It’s about your life, and your beliefs, and that makes it your choice. Affirm your choice.

    I wish I had, when I had my chance.

  • Tom

    I was in a similar situation, though my confirmation was at 17. The classes required before confirmation at my church lasted at least a year, but most kids went for two years. After endless arguing with my Mom over me not believing any of it and her being determined to keep thinking that I was just being lazy and didn’t want to go to class but I still believed, we came to an agreement.

    I had to go to all the classes and retreats and confessions and meetings because it was her responsibility as a mother to make sure I do. Then, since the entire point of confirmation is the child claiming their own beliefs rather than just going with what their parents believe, I could decide whether or not to get confirmed when the time came.

    The time came, and for weeks leading up to the actual ceremony I said I didn’t believe and didn’t want to get confirmed, and she insisted we talk another time. The morning of the day I was supposed to get confirmed arrived, and when I said I didn’t want to go she just broke down in tears crying about her failure as a mother. I went to the ceremony because of that, and haven’t been to a church except for funerals or weddings since. I no longer discuss religion with her, and she has stopped asking me to go to church.

  • SickoftheUS

    At the Catholic grade school I went to, confirmation happened in 7th or 8th grade, and for baptism they nailed you (no pun intended) shortly after birth, of course. At the time of confirmation I was deeply skeptical, but I wasn’t personally confident enough to make a stand against school and parents – which I regret now. But 12- or 13-year-olds are still very dependent on their parents, and thus very vulnerable.

    I think that the Catholics especially induce children to go through these rituals at that age precisely because they are still too powerless to make an assertive stand. All the more reason to admire the letter writer here, in regard to her mixed-up family’s mixed-up religion.

    And with Catholics, again, I think altar-boying, or whatever the hell they like to call it, is a similar ritual – they nail you with it about 6th grade, when you’re old enough to hold golden bells and shake them on cue during the Big Show, but not old enough to stand up for yourself.

  • Although raised Catholic, I was never confirmed (not due to any moral angle, but we just stopped going to church). However, my understanding of confirmation that of an adult accepting that the Catholic Church and the church’s teachings are the way to salvation (

    As such, I cannot imagine somebody in good conscience going through that rite unless they truly believed in it. I would consider it an insult to the individual, and to the church, if somebody just went through the motions (I am an atheist – but I do respect others’ rituals).

    Bernadette – I think you are strong and honest enough to say to your parents that you would feel wrong to participate in a rite that others hold as holy if you yourself do not feel that.

    Attending classes is another thing entirely – that is between you and your parents (as long as the teacher has no problems with somebody who is uncommitted to the rite attend). Attending class is not a blasphemy.

  • DGKnipfer

    Just say, “No.” Then don’t go. Don’t argue. Don’t fight. Don’t debate or even explain it to them. Just tell them, “No.” Then don’t go. Leave them no option but physical force or trickery. At your age I find it unlikely that they’ll try physical force. If they try trickery, be prepared to walk home from the church. Just don’t go. It’s that easy. If your parents can’t accept that at 14 you all ready have some idea about what you believe and won’t respect your beliefs then they are the ones who have problems.

  • JulietEcho

    I’m a little disturbed by parts of Richard’s answer that come off like false dichotomies (I’m having C.S. Lewis flashbacks, actually) – and also a bit like ultimatums. “If you make me do this, I’ll do this,” kind of thing. As some others have already pointed out, Bernadette could take the classes without making any sort of promise about the ritual.

    I do admire her for wanting to forgo the ritual (and what it represents) and I agree that her best argument and best chance at success lie with her step-mom.

    Of course, if she doesn’t want to attend the classes at all, she shouldn’t be forced. I think it differs from church to church, but there can be some dishonest tricks and strong pressure to convert in such classes, and I wouldn’t want her to break down in a hard emotional situation and regret it. I feel for Tom, from the comments above, because in his situation (with his mother in tears) the “right” thing to do isn’t clear, and someone is going to get hurt no matter what. Making sure you’re not put in his position might be the best option. I wouldn’t use threats to accomplish that, though.

  • inomniaparatus


    I was also raised Catholic- very Catholic. I have two great aunts who are nuns (one was a Mother Superior), and a great uncle who was a priest. I was confirmed at the end of 8th grade, like most Catholics. Looking back, I am furious. As a thirteen-year-old, I was not in a position to make up my mind on an issue as important as my religious views. I had never been exposed to any other viewpoints. Being confirmed just increased the guilt I felt when I finally began questioning my faith when I was around 18. Now, as an atheist, I am angry at the young age that the Catholic church persuades children to PROMISE to GOD that they will continue their life as a Catholic. Part of the point is to be considered an “adult” in the church, why not wait until these kids hit actual legal adult age? I am not completely out to my family, but I recently expressed my opinions to my family about this, because my sister (13 years old) was about to be confirmed. Of course, she was still confirmed.

  • Sgstuck

    Like many people here I actually went through with confirmation as a 15 year old boy for all the wrong reasons. (I had a crush on one girl in my class and I was aware I would get a summers worth of money for a painless ceremony)

    Looking back, half of me wishes that I had the backbone and pride in my
    beliefs that Bernadette has here, but I also learned quite a bit from the process and there aren’t many people who mistake me for a Catholic today because of that ceremony.

  • It sounds like this is a mainstream Protestant denomination of some sort. If so, I would recommend approaching the minister. Surely any minister who really believes what he or she is preaching would not want a young person to lie about these matters. In my understanding, confirmation is truly supposed to be a free choice, not the result of parental coercion. The minister might be an ally in this situation. Best case scenario: he or she might even refuse to confirm you.

  • Sellers_as_Quilty

    Just say, “No.” Then don’t go. Don’t argue. Don’t fight. Don’t debate or even explain it to them. Just tell them, “No.” Then don’t go. Leave them no option but physical force or trickery. At your age I find it unlikely that they’ll try physical force. If they try trickery, be prepared to walk home from the church. Just don’t go. It’s that easy. If your parents can’t accept that at 14 you all ready have some idea about what you believe and won’t respect your beliefs then they are the ones who have problems.

    This is better advice.

    This person is 13-going-on-14, and that’s old enough to understand one’s own beliefs, old enough to have integrity. Bernedette’s concern is not whether her family will “split worse than it is now,” rather, she’s concerned about merely “disappointing” them. She’s also concerned about her own integrity. She’s old enough to have others respect her integrity as real integrity. Bernadette does not have to endure this garbage for one minute—not one minute. She can say what many of us said at that age: “I’m not doing it. You can’t force me to. If you conspire to send me to this crap, I will make the biggest, most embarrassing scene of your life. Do to me what you will, but I am not doing this. Also, I love you very much.”

    Of course, she should also know—especially at that age—that there will likely be consequences to her taking this stand. When I was that age, I was militant enough to say “So be it. My integrity is more important.” So can she. I’m fairly sure that Bernadette does not force her beliefs on her family members. She’s entitled to the same respect, no?

  • Catinthewall

    They are the primary possibilities. Yes, there are other options besides doing the ceremony while not believing, making a disruption, and not going. None I see, however, make any sense.

    She could go and when it’s her turn, say no when asked if she believes, then quietly leave. This could cause as much disturbance as an intentional disruption, or none at all. It still means she wasted a lot of time in “classes”.

    Ultimatums are not bad things. They are a way to end negotiation, solidifying the myriad of choices to two, in exchange giving the final decision to the other party. Call things off, or continue on, accepting the price.

  • Strange – I was just talking to a friend of mine the other day. She’s married to a minister, and is a committed Christian.

    We both agreed – strangely for the same reason, but from opposite sides of the coin – that confirmation at a young age is a very bad idea. 18 is a far better age, because you can actually weigh up the arguments properly yourself.

    Any earlier, and it’s just manipulation of children.

    Although Bernadette seems to be very mature in her mind.

  • Danielle_D

    I’m sorry, but this doesn’t sound all that complicated.

    I think the “just say no” approach that people have advocated upthread is the best course of action.

    Many of us did this at that age. You just act calm and matter-of-fact and say “I simply refuse to have any further association with this stuff. I just don’t believe in it. Now, Mom & Dad, you are either going to attempt to physically force me to take part in this—which will be embarrassing for us all and which I will resist—or you are going to punish me for disobeying you. I await your decision. I love you, and I respect your beliefs even as I do not share them. I hope you can respect mine. Love ya!”

  • Christiaan Berlin

    Bernadette, you sound like a person with a great character and an independent mind who is willing to think things through.

    Luckily I was never put in the situation you face now. I have been in several moral tricky situations – where it seems like you are going to hurt someone no matter what happens.

    Looking back I found that the clearest, most consistent answers were always the best.

    I therefore think that the answer from “DGKnipfer” is the best. Say “no” and stick to it.

    I would even urge you to think about why you are going to church in the first place.

    Good luck !


  • Trace

    “It would pain me deeply to be forced into accepting a deity that I have specifically stated that I do not believe in, more than I can describe, and more than anything I do not want to give up my pride as an atheist.”

    Bernadette: complicated situation. Others have offered great advice.
    Regarding accepting a deity, not such thing if you don’t believe in it. Atheist pride? … you know where you stand, no matter what you end up doing, so not need to be ashamed. Sometimes circumstances force us to do what we wish we didn’t have to.

    Hope things workout for you. Good luck.

  • Ben


    Remember that you are NOT POWERLESS in this!

    Quite the opposite actually, you have the last say:
    Whatever people throw at you or may force you to go along with in preparation (like classes), in the end YOU will stand in front of a whole bunch of people awaiting confirmation, let’s call it a “moment of truth”.

    And if you don’t want to do it then, you can simply tell everyone, loud, clear, if you feel like it screaming at the top of your voice! You can make a total scene, if you like. You can tell everyone “There is no god, come to you senses, why would you force me to do this??!” Imagine that.

    Confronting your parents with that possibility or quietly dropping the confirmation issue, it should be an easy choice for them.

    You are not without power,
    Ben // (from Germany, where children age 14 are entitled by law to act in religious questions as they see fit, even against the wishes of their parents or legal guardians)

    P.S.: If you can negotiate a good solution with them, great! Then, everybody wins! But if you cannot, if they corner you, if they don’t listen – you can take it in your own hands.

  • LW: I was not as sure of my position as you are so I was just a horrible bitch at all religious things I had to go to and was constantly asking those pesky questions that everyone hates and no one has an answer to. I guess I was just unnecessarily catty, but what I would say is that if they try to make you go through with the confirmation you should threaten to simply denounce it at the ceremony and that’d be much worse than letting you not do it. Especially because teenagers love a rebel, so you’d probably gain some admirers.

    If they have any respect for the thing they’re trying to foist on you, they’d recognize that forcing someone to do it is the exact opposite of the point of a confirmation.

  • I was one of the people who successfully refused to get confirmed. It was years before I deconverted, but I didn’t consider myself particularly religious at the time. Confirmation was supposed to be about teenagers affirming their faith in a way that babies cannot when they are baptized. I could clearly see that confirmation was being made into a ritual that parents forced their kids through. I refused to take part in that, and I figured I could do it later if I ever became more religious.

    I have no regrets about it, though I suppose I don’t really know what I missed. My parents weren’t particularly insistent, so I never got any crying mothers or anything like that.

    I don’t think you should worry about causing your parents grief. It’s either grief now, or grief later when they realize that your atheism is not a phase.

    And if you want to attend confirmation classes just so you can learn more about your parent’s religion (whatever denomination that happens to be), sure, go ahead. You can always do that when you’re older too.

  • Richard P.

    Bernadette, Here is a plan.

    Tell your parents that you will agree to the whole shebang, classes, confirmation, the whole lot.
    Tell them you thought about it a lot, and although it goes against your principles, That you will do it for them. Then mention that after making this decision to please them, to make “them” happy, you are now feeling very depressed.

    Tell them that you have heard recreational drug use is a great way to get rid of depression. Ask if they agree to letting use recreational drugs to make you happy. It is a small sacrifice to make for one you care about to be happy.

    Do this with a straight face and then just go somewhere alone and wait for a reply.

    Whatever you do, don’t argue with them. If they say no just shrug your shoulders and go about life.
    It won’t take long for them to reconsider.

    Hopefully they will get the point. If this is anything less than them trying to manipulate you against one another. If not then you know where you stand, as they make you the reluctant pawn on the board.
    good luck.

  • The Other Tom

    Hi Bernadette,

    It sounds from what you say like it’s not extremely important to anyone in your family that you actually believe in religion, they are just trying to get you to go, or not go, for other reasons. So, in light of that I think Richard’s advice is great: you can afford to push back a bit, because it doesn’t sound like you’re going to be kicked out of the house or disowned if you refuse.

    Richard suggested threatening – not necessarily doing, but threatening – what I would personally come up with in the situation: if anyone had tried to make me get confirmed, I would stand up in front of everyone, denounce religion, blame it all on the parent who forced me to be there, and make as big a scene of it as possible. But then, I was and am a brat. 🙂

    And I think it’s important to reiterate: any disappointment either of your parents feels about your religious beliefs and choices is their problem, not yours, so you should feel no guilt about it. I hope they taught you to be an honest person… if so, then in being honest about your beliefs and refusing to go against them, you are respecting what they have taught you better than they actually are.

    Finally, I particularly note that you describe your baptism as “degrading”… I think it’s important that you say that to your mother. Tell her you found the baptism to be degrading and felt humiliated by it. Explain to her that you find the idea of attending confirmation classes to be degrading and an actual confirmation to be more so, and that if she loves you she would not mistreat you by trying to make you be degraded in that manner again, and that if she tries to do so, it would make you lose respect for her and trust in her… but only say that if it’s honest and true. I suspect it is.

  • Richard P.

    Hey Other Tom,
    If you mean me, by saying Richard suggested threatening…

    That is not the plan at all, I did not mean for her to threaten to go use drugs.

    I was suggesting a comparison of compromising beliefs to make one happy.

  • Eddie

    I cannot give you any advice as no matter what you do it will affect someone.
    I know it is only a ritual but going through with it would be living a lie.
    I personally did not have your courage to challenge my parents when I was confirmed, I just sighed and went ahead with it as it was expected of us back then.
    I just want to say that I admire you for your courage and your consideration for your family’s wellbeing. I think you are a better person in every way than me or my classmates were nearly 50 years ago.
    Parents may be stupid and selfish and anxious to conform to society. I am one myself.
    But I am proud there are people like you around to show us a better side.
    Hope it works out for all of you.

  • Dan W

    I agree with the “just say no” method suggested above. I also think 13-14 is a tad young to be considering someone enough of an adult to have committed oneself to particular religious beliefs. While some people, like “Bernadette”, may have already looked at religion and chosen to be atheists, there are many others who only start thinking about this sort of thing after they start high school or even into their college years. 18 might be a better age for that. Then again, when I was 13-going-on-14 I had become an atheist.

    I was apparently baptised (based on pictures I’ve seen of my baptism), though of course I don’t remember that event. I never went through confirmation though. My family had stopped going to church by that time.

  • littlejohn

    Many of you are giving the “just say no” advice, but I’m not sure that’s realistic for a kid of 12 or 13.
    My father never hit me, but I sure wouldn’t have dared him to. He scared me.
    If a young kid wants to resist confirmation classes, she really needs to enlist the help of an understanding adult.
    Even gentle parents can be overbearing and frightening at that age. A tween can’t be expected to stand up to them.

  • Even though I’m a life-long atheist, I did attend my niece’s confirmation at their Episcopal church. Even though I wasn’t disruptive in the ceremony, I did delight in informing my sister-in-law that the Baptists I knew from the church I used to attend didn’t think Episcopalians were real Christians and that they were all going to hell. (FYI, Catholics are also going to hell). I then proceeded to go on up to the front along with everybody else to get a little wine and a bite of bread because I was a little board, thirsty, and hungry. There was something that we were expected to mumble to the person dispensing the treats (or to the person behind us) but I’m not sure I got that right. I was amused all during the Episcopalian service when the congregation all said various things in unison like robots.

    My point being if you end up having to go through with the class and confirmation, then behave yourself but feel free to let slip an occasional irreverent thought. You can view the whole experience as something to laugh about later. Many people view confirmation that way (including many religious people).

  • fritzy


    Firstly, I admire you–I wish I had the insight you have at your age–it would have saved me a lot of future heartache. I am firmly convinced that religious belief stunted my intellectual, emotional and psychological growth by several years. I became much happier after losing my faith.

    Secondly, I must address something you stated that your mother has said: “My mother’s argument is that it’s just a ritual…”

    Like Richard said, this is not an argument for anything. Rituals are mindless, automatic actions–confirmation is not supposed to fit this definition. At any rate, she is making an argument from tradition which is an awful logical fallacy.

    “and something that must be done when you’re young…”

    There are very many young people that do not go to confirmation, so this is factually incorrect but besides this, there is very little in this life that “must be done” at any age. There are things we choose to do, and there are things we feel forced into but quite frankly, there is little in life you “must” do. I don’t “have” to go to work tomorrow, for example. I don’t want to starve, so I choose to go to work (incidentally, I go because I enjoy my work too.)

    “and that if I want I can consider it entirely meaningless.”

    Let her know you do and that is why you are not going to do it. I mean really, is she listening to herself? How many other “meaningless” things does she try to force you into?

    In other words, I agree with the suggestion that you simply refuse to go through with it. It is the decision consistent with your values and it saves you the possibility of your parents using you to spite the other.

    But be polite, calm and matter of fact. Don’t bicker, don’t argue, don’t threaten and don’t get shrill. Don’t give them any reason to claim you are being rebellious for rebellion’s sake. Don’t compromise and don’t bargain either. Simply state “I have made it clear that this is something I do not believe in and that it goes against my values to attend. I do not see the point and I do not agree with what you are asking me to do. I am sorry if this upsets you, and I really do love you but I will not be going to confirmation.”

    There may be consequences but that’s life. If you really feel as firmly about this as you have made it sound, I don’t think the consequences will be of much bother to you. Of course only you can make that decision.

    Lastly, a comment to everyone else on this thread–I have seen a lot of discussion about whether someone that is 13-14 is mature enough to make such decisions. Clearly 13-14 year olds can be mature enough as we all seem to agree that Bernadette is sufficiently mature to make this decision for herself.

  • I am not an atheist. In fact, I am a minister. We recognize that when parents have their children baptized when they are infants they make some promises to raise them to understand some things about the faith. This includes going to confirmation classes. However, my colleague and I always tell young people that your parents cannot make you go through the confirmation ritual if you do not mean it. We want the event to have integrity. We tell them we’ll talk to their parents if they don’t want to be confirmed, and we respect their decision. This is to say that the minister may be an ally, as he or she wants young people who mean what they say and say what they mean. Good luck.

  • TychaBrahe

    Will someone explain the concept of attending a regular religious service for social reasons? I admit to going to a particular church now and then (maybe once or twice a year) because the priest is a particular friend of mine (longtime family friend) and I treat him to lunch afterward. But my mother is constantly harping at me to go to synagogue, if only for social reasons.

    I have no idea why. How can you be friends or claim to be friends with someone to whom you are lying about something so fundamental about your nature? It would be like hanging out with the gays and pro-gay marriage people because they throw cooler parties while secretly being homophobic.

  • plutosdad

    Maybe on the side she can study other coming of age ceremonies in different cultures, and maybe she can pick one or create a service she likes, and her family can hold that one at home. So she will go to the church one like her mother wants, if the family holds a secular/pagan/whatever ceremony at home with just them as well, that will be more meaningful to her.

    Then she’d go through a “ritual”, and it would be historically based, and everyone can learn something.

  • muggle

    I say just say no too but also employ the minister’s help if he’s the sort you might be able to. However, if he’s the sort that might side with the parents’ forcing it, don’t even go there.

    I have a secular version of the forcing to do something. When I started working at 16, my mother took it in her head that she was somehow entitled to my pay check. I said if you take it, screw it, I won’t even work. I’d have no reason to. If you don’t, I’ll be buying my own clothes and school supplies. That ended that effort to rob her own daughter.

    As others are suggesting, you might have to employ some kind of threat that you’re prepared to follow through with. (I wouldn’t use the drug one, for instance, because they’ll either see it for the bluff it is or they’ll freak out thinking you’re depressed and want to do drugs and be all the more convinced the devil’s got a hold of you.)

    Good luck, Bernadette, and, however, it goes down, you know yourself and they can’t change that.

  • Ceryle

    If you can, dont do it. I admire your ability to tell your parents that you don’t believe. At 14, I didn’t have the courage to tell my parents that I no longer believed (ironically due to what I learned in confirmation classes), so I couldn’t figure out how not to go through with it. I have regretted that for 23 years. If confirmation wasn’t held until the child was an adult, with no pressure from parents, and no dependence on them, I believe that the number of people confirmed would go way down.
    On a side note, no one told me beforehand that it was alcohol in the cup (something I have always hated the taste of), and it took every ounce of self control for me to not spit it back into the face of the pastor.

  • DGKnipfer

    I like the idea of getting the Minister at your church to help. Parents need to understand that important religious ceremonies like Confirmation have meaning to the people that participate. That you don’t believe and that you do not wish to go through Confirmation should be respected. I’d still advice to just saying, “No.” Getting your Minister to talk to your parents is a good idea too.

  • RedSonja

    I was baptized at the age of 12(? IIRC). It was a rather surreal process, as my parents were divorced and remarried; my mom and stepfather took me to a Southern Baptist church, and my stepmother took me to a Lutheran church. I wasn’t particularly interested in either, but didn’t bother to think particularly critically about any of it. Then one day my stepmom told me I was going to be baptized. And I was.

    Confirmation was much the same way. I was told I was going to confirmation class, and I never questioned it. I wasn’t particularly happy about it, as it meant sitting through Sunday school and going on retreats and stuff, but in my 14 year old mind, you did what the parents said.

    Looking back, I’m truly saddened by it. Not so much for me participating in the rituals because wev, they weren’t physically harmful and at the time I didn’t care. What strikes me as sad is that I don’t remember ANYWHERE in the process anyone ASKING me what I thought or wanted. My beliefs were never solicited, investigated, or even addressed. Truly surreal.

  • GERG


    Something else you may have to consider about your parents’ response is that they (like virtually all parents) still see you as a 13 year old girl: not an adult. Religious choice is a more touchy subject, but your parents would probably react the same way if you wanted to quit taking piano lessons. Many religions parents react to Atheism as a “phase” to tolerate, because you’ll come around in the end.

    You’re also dealing with the fact that every parent wants to raise their kid “right” and is scared by each and every decision they make. Like vaccine denyers your parents, out of fear but also love, don’t want to be confronted with the fact that they may have made the “wrong” choices. Maybe you could give them an alternative “moral” choice: “You know I don’t want to go to confirmation, I’d much rather volunteer/tutor/join a (secular) youth club/etc.” That way they might see that you’re not rejecting this activity because you’re just a fickle “tween” that wants to watch T.V. instead.

    In the end a lot of things are still going to be out of your control for a few more years and this may be one of them. Be honest with them that you don’t want to do this. You’ll keep your integrity, and who knows: if they do force the issue they may apologize later in your life when they finally see you as the strong, intelligent woman you will become.

    Say “No”, talk to the pastor, give them an alternative; all good options to prevent this. If they force the issue just remind them every time they drive you to classes that you don’t want to do this. No threats, no stereotypical teen-tantrums. Just the honest “I” statements that communicate how this makes your feel. It might never sink in, but you won’t have any regrets.

    Good Luck & remember that all those people who commented here that they were forced/duped into going to confirmation (or hebrew school, or hindu dance class, etc.) survived with a minimum of emotional damage.

  • RawrRawr

    I feel for u. I’m fourteen and an athirst. What makes it worse is that my grandpa is a pastor along with 3 other family members and my cousin is going to seminary… I feel like if I go through with it it will be lying but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a hard choice and I think you should do what you feel is right…

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