Ask Richard: Parents Let Teen Atheist Read Only Christian Books September 9, 2010

Ask Richard: Parents Let Teen Atheist Read Only Christian Books

Dear Richard,

I am a 14 year old. At the age of around 12 I told my parents that I was an agnostic atheist. They were quite repulsed at first, as they saw atheism as a form of baby eating cult. I have slowly given them a more realistic approach to atheism over the years, yet it is quite annoying how they are treating me at the moment. They keep giving me all of these Christian books to read, and have obviously never read them themselves. It is quite obvious they want their ‘little boy’ back.

I humor my parents and read the books, page to page, cover to cover. They are all recommended by Christian fundie groups, and keep posing the same old theological arguments. It puzzles me why they believe these (and trying to refrain from ad hominems) scientifically illiterate people. I debunk the books, and then tell my parents my opinion on them. Most of them are too general, and allow the ideas to be positioned to any god.

These are the only books on philosophy and religion they allow me to have. I cannot have anything scientific or modern, as they don’t want me to become an ardent, non-moving, ‘evil’ atheist. They think that just because I am an agnostic atheist that they have the right to believe I am remarkably weak minded, and will eventually turn back.

I appreciate being open-minded, and I think the idea of reading Christian literature is a good one. But they are limiting my knowledge and capabilities by not allowing any elaboration on my point of view. To put it analogously, it is like not allowing a Christian to read the bible, so he can only trust the idea through third party sources (i.e. YouTube or such).

I truly hate information being limited, yet it is hard to not be ‘close-minded’ or ‘hateful’ to my parents in regard to this issue.


Dear Anon,

You haven’t asked a specific question, but I want to give you some encouragement and suggestions.

Firstly, I admire your patience, and I envy your intelligence. Plenty of 14 year-olds fancy that they’re much smarter and more sophisticated than their parents, but when that is actually so, as it seems to be in your case, it can be very frustrating for everyone in the family. Your parents seem to suffer from an anti-intellectualism that is sadly common and widespread in America. Their upbringing has engrained in them the belief that truth and virtue come from a Central Authority, rather than from investigation and personal responsibility. They struggle to live in a world that every day becomes a little more suited to you and a little less suited to them, so they are continuously defensive and reactionary.

Try not to become bitter toward your parents, even though they exasperate you. The fact that your resentment is justified will not prevent it from hurting all of you, and you the most. Like acid, resentment eats holes in everything it touches. On the other hand, I also acknowledge that the fact that they’re acting out of love does not make their restrictions any less stifling and oppressive to you. Deep, slow breaths, deep, slow breaths.

So I suggest two things. One, endure until your age brings you more autonomy, and two, in the meantime get a little sneaky. I feel a little sad to suggest that you should smuggle knowledge into your fertile mind under your parents’ radar, but like your body, your mind must be given what it needs to be nurtured now, not later. Youth, with its amazing powers of absorption, is very brief.

You seem to have enough privacy online to send me this email, and to have been visiting Friendly Atheist. So I wonder if you can find many of the things you’d like to read online. As long as you avoid possessing a book made of paper, your parents are unlikely to discover that you’re reading things outside of their narrow, Christian-centric parameters. If you’re staring at your monitor you could be reading anything as far as they are concerned. While you peruse a secular, rational work, if they walk by, one click and you’re back to a “safe and acceptable” website. I suspect that several Friendly Atheist readers are doing this very thing at their work stations right now. 😉

I looked for online copies of a wonderful book that you might like, The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant, but it seems to be only downloadable through commercial software that may require either payment or involvement that might not be possible for you. I don’t really understand what is required. Perhaps someone reading this knows of a free, no-strings-attached online resource for this superb book.

I don’t want to recommend only atheist works, but there are some classic essays that I like because they’re relatively brief but very powerful, their eloquent persuasion is incomparable, and the fine art of their English is simply delicious.

Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)

The complete works of Robert Green Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s essays are profuse. Be sure to read Why I am an Agnostic, (1896) and Superstition, (1898).

Hopefully, the several supremely knowledgeable regulars who haunt this blog will have their own suggestions of broader topics for reading in untraceable, non-paper formats, or other ways to be “a little sneaky” in your self-education.

In the meantime Anon, continue your patient educating of your parents. Under your tutelage, they have progressed from seeing atheists as demonic cannibals to a teenager in a phase. Well, as annoying as it may be, that’s still progress. And we should give them credit for some good tutelage of their own. Apparently, even in their perhaps backward, controlling way, and even though their specific religious beliefs have bounced off, they have succeeded in instilling in you the essence of their best human values. You are not just an intelligent person, (which is probably painfully obvious to them), it is clear that you’re also a good, kind and loving person. By your living example, you will be able to show them that. You will be debunking the more persistent myth they may harbor that atheists cannot be so.

They will never “get their little boy back,” but once their fears have been assuaged, they will be proud of the man he has become.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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  • I could also suggest if you have a local Library branch, get yourself a library card and check out books on your own. I’d also imagine that even your school has books in it’s own library that you can check out. They might not be atheist/agnostic/religion based but there’s plenty of other books that can enlighten you with knowledge, like cosmology, history, etc.
    I like as a great online resource for books that are in public domain and they have downloadable and online versions available.

  • Google Boooks is a treasure trove of public domain and freely accessible books. An open library if you will. You could always try looking their for online books.

    You could try “On the Origins of Species” by Charles Darwin, if you want to read on how the great scientific idea of evolution got started.

    Also, if you want free access to scientific textbooks, then Wikibooks is worth a try. They have a great many courses with their own collaboratively written textbooks. I’ve found it useful for studying in the past, so it may be worth looking at.

  • Hitch

    Project Gutenberg is a treasure chest of wonderfully diverse and important thought. Pretty much anything pre-20th century is there. From Hume, over Ingersoll, to Mill, Locke and more. Some of this is perhaps too dry but you will also find interesting diverse fictional literature there, and old science books. There are also respositories of scanned science books online. I think Michigan and Cornell and a place in Goettingen Germany has them. These are older texts often, but a lot of it is still very relevant and excellent today. There are lots of really wonderful science blogs.

    The internet is free and open too. Find some blogs that you think are interesting. Read material that is online. It’s anonymous if you want so you can even have discussions and all that.

  • Vaemer-Riit

    If you can afford or convince your parents to get you a Kindle or other e-reader you could get the books you want in digital format that you can take anywhere you wanted.

  • Angharad

    Will they let you go to a public library, or one at your local college or university? If so, you can do lots of reading there – you don’t have to check the books out if that would be inflammatory.

  • Little James

    (marked as spam first time through.. trying again with fewer links)

    I recently enjoyed reading Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, which is a fabulous takedown of theism / revealed knowledge in general and Christianity in particular. He argues for a deism which (to me at least) is mostly indistinguishable from atheism, except with an unnecessary compulsion to use religious vocabulary.

    Another reason to recommend Thomas Paine is that it provides a wonderful reality-based counter to the “Tea Party” version of the American founding fathers as theocratic evangelicals.

    Other stuff that you can read online:
    * Some Mistakes of Moses by Ingersoll, which is a catalog of absurdities and contradictions in the Bible. (Browse around the rest of the library as well.)

    * Ebon musings, a great collection of longer essays on atheism by the author of the wonderful Daylight Atheism blog.

    You might also find that listening to podcasts is a convenient way to get your fix of outside information. If you have an mp3 player, your parents will probably not consider that you’re listening to something other than music.

    I know that episodes of The Atheist Experience show are released weekly in video but also in podcast form (you don’t usually miss much by listening to the audio only). I’m sure other commenters can think of many other great podcasts. I know that Reasonable Doubts is a popular one. The author of the Common Sense Atheism blog produces has several podcasts.

    For skeptical topics that are usually unrelated to atheism vs theism specifically, I love listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast.

  • TSC

    Anon, have you considered going to the local public library to do your schoolwork? Go there, get your work done, then pull what you want to read off the shelf for an hour or two.

    Though, only do that if you’re sure neither your parents nor someone who will talk to them about you will see you. And even then you might want to pull the old “comic book secretly in the textbook” manoeuvre with whatever you’re reading.

  • Ash

    Here are a few sites that you might find of interest:

    great stuff in all of them

  • Deiloh

    Online authors that I’ve read recently: Robert Ingersoll, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Locke.

    Blogs I frequent: PZ Myers, Atheist Camel

    Books that your parents might be okay with: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses (worth reading once, might be online), Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

    Good luck.

  • Claudia

    Anon, obviously the internet can be your friend. There are huge resources, especially if you’re interested in science. Do you download things? µTorrent is a nice compact program and pages like Torrentz have all sorts of things, including audiobooks that you can listen to on a computer or iPod. In general it would be nice to give people like Hitchens (God is not Great) Dawkins (The God Delusion, The Greatest Show on Earth) and such their due payment, but I’m sure both would be indulgent of a budding atheist under anti-intellectual lockdown.

    More generally from what I can gather in the letter you are most likely far above average intelligence for someone your age. Considering your parents attitude towards knowledge, I’m going to guess they aren’t taking care that your educational opportunities match your capacities. That means you are going to have to take care of yourself. Supplement whatever you’re doing in school with self-study. Keep your grades as high as you can, even if schoolwork is soul-crushingly dull. The higher your grades, the easier it will be to be accepted in and get scholarships for good universities, and it’s in those places where you’ll finally find loads of people like you and a true opportunity to grow and be free.

  • Little James

    Another thing I thought of is the BrickTestament and Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. Your parents might not even mind you looking at the Brick Testament — it is a great way to learn what is actually in the Bible.

  • mike


    I offer advice on sneaking.

    -Use a web browser with a private setting (leave no cookies, leave no cache, leave no trace)

    -Use a proxy server

    -Use your own computer, do not use someone else’s (except perhaps a public computer where it’s impossible to pinpoint you; but not a school computer)

    -Have a backup webpage ready to display in place of what you are really reading

    -Do not check out books from a library where your parents can ask the librarian about your books

    -Do not read “good stuff” in sight of your parents; preferably not even in range of your parents (goto the library)

    -Do not tell anyone, unless you are prepared for them to tell everyone or they have no ability to tell anyone you know or they have proven their ability to keep a secret.

    Remember that secrets can stay secret on their own; it’s only when an idiot talks that they become known, and the most probable idiot is always yourself. Know yourself.

  • Jude

    As a school librarian, I would have glady fulfilled a request for any type of book and also assisted the kid in reading it at school. Public libraries also offer lots of downloadable ebooks.

  • Jenea

    Piggy-backing on Mike’s suggestion, Google Chrome has an incognito mode that will not track the sites you are visiting (nor save cookies). Good for your illicit readings.

    I’m sad to hear about parents censoring materials. Someday you will be an adult and better positioned to make your own decisions. You just have to hang on in the meantime.

  • Ibis

    One avenue open to you is to study the origins of Christianity and Christian theology (and/or ancient Judaism). Nothing is better for honing your knowledge than to figure out where they originally came up with all this BS. And the bonus is, you can probably do most of it openly in full view of the parents. Any introductory scholarly, academic textbook of the history of Christian theology like this one, or intro to the New Testament would do–you can likely get them through interlibrary loan. Augustine’s City of God (surely available online) would probably keep you going for a while.

    Another possible ground of exploration that might not be too scary for your parents is to read some of the ancient non-Christian writers (Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Marcus Aurelius) — they’ll certainly give your brain a good workout.

  • Alice

    I’ve been there. My mom actually threw out one of my books. Since then I continued to buy books with my own money and simply kept them at school. During the summer I hid them under the covers of the christian books my parents shoved on me. There is something very satisfying about having a Richard Dawkins book in the cover of The Purpose Driven Life. Also, if you have an iphone or itouch, get the application ‘Stanza’ and go to You can get a lot of books that way.

  • Anonymous

    There are tons of great essays here.

    I illegally downloaded many of my atheist and science books; I am also an agnostic atheist who lives with their Christian parents. I also have a library card and I check out science books. I just requested a copy of Stephen Hawking’s latest book, and I will be able to check it out as soon as it arrives.

    I also recently read Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and I highly recommend it.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    In addition to public domain atheist books from decades ago (which sadly are still so relevant that you’d often never guess how long ago they were written if you didn’t know), keep in mind that Google Books can be used to read extensive excerpts from modern books. There are also sometimes some pages available on Amazon with the ‘look inside this book’ feature.

    Unfettered internet use is your freedom. Take care not to inspire your parents to try to take that away.

  • As many others have mentioned, it is possible to get free copies of older (public domain) books through the internet. The main arguments for atheism or critiques of religion haven’t changed over the centuries so older books are fine (although they may have been written in a style that is no longer current and is thus a bit awkward to read).

    One thing I have recently discovered is free public-domain audio books that I can listen to on my iPhone or iPod. There are a number of these audiobook apps for free or a buck in the iTunes store. Once you get the app, you can download a large number of free public domain audio-books (all read by volunteers). I’ve listened to a lot of Mark Twain and other authors via this. If you want to be sneaky, there are lots of related audio book apps to listen to the bible. Perhaps you can show your parents the bible apps and assuming that they are not all that computer savvy, download and install a general purpose free audio-book app for the other public domain audio books as well. You can listen to the bible when your parents are close by and listen to Mark Twain when you have some privacy. 🙂

  • littlejohn

    It’s called a library, kid. Get a card.

  • At Anonymous who said, “I illegally downloaded many of my atheist and science books”

    Don’t encourage others to illegally download books that aren’t free or in the public domain. You give atheists a bad name when you admit that you steal.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    One catch about the local library is whether it’s local enough. If the library is within walking or biking distance, then great, but otherwise … well, remember that we’re talking about someone who’s fourteen. It’s not like he can just hop in a car and go where he wants, and chances are that the public transportation where this kid lives is lousy. So, we can easily be talking about someone whose library access is easily controllable by his parents.

  • Slider33

    To the OP:

    I know another poster mentioned a Kindle or e-reader. It should be noted that you can get Kindle for the PC or Mac for free from (It is a simple PC application.)

    The trick is, all you need is an Amazon account (which probably requires a credit card, though), and you should be able to buy books in electronic form without necessarily having a Kindle.

    However, since you are 14, you probably don’t have your own credit card so making purchases online via Amazon without your parent’s knowledge may be quite a challenge.

    Having said that, I absolutely love my Kindle and it contains a great selection of books from wonderful atheist authors!

  • Michael

    I’m kind of in the same situation. A kindle or other e reader can be great because nobody has to see the cover of the book you’re reading. If you have an iphone or ipod touch or an android phone you can download the kindle app and read on your phone. I’ve read The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and The complete lectures of Ingersoll on my phone just recently for free.

  • Austin

    Library, plain and simple. Computers and books at your disposal. If they don’t have a book there that you want, you can usually request it from a nearby library.

    Kudos for coming out with unpopular views at such a young age.

  • Kamaka

    If you haven’t read it yet, you must read Origin of Species, perhaps the most important scientific book ever written. Not only will you find it interesting, it will be a great way for you to explore the art of critical thinking.

    The censorship your parents are subjecting you to is oppresive and abusive. You have the right and the obligation to educate yourself properly, so if you are forced to go behind their backs, so be it. It may feel “sneaky”, but I view it as “self-defense”.

    Supplement whatever you’re doing in school with self-study. Keep your grades as high as you can, even if schoolwork is soul-crushingly dull. The higher your grades, the easier it will be to be accepted in and get scholarships for good universities

    I agree with this idea. In fact, I suggest you make it your primary goal over the next four years to be highly successful in school with a goal to get a full scholarship to university. Do you like math? If so, that is a great subject to do self-study, as there are plenty of workbooks out there that you can get through on your own. You can count on the full co-operation of your math teachers at school. And exceptional math skills will help you stand out at scholarship time. This is just one suggestion, there are other paths. A guidance counselor at school would bend over backwards to help you find your way.

    Be active in your school and your community. Find an internship for the summer. Work at a soup kitchen. Do volunteer work of any kind. (Your parents can’t object to your working for the god-soaked organisation Habitat for Humanity) All of these things will help you create an outstanding college application.

    If you can pull it off (no guarantees here, it’s no small trick) you will be able to walk out the door into the big wide world completely independent from your folks.

    Wouldn’t that be cool?

  • Richard P.

    If your parents will not allow a obviously anti religion type book you may get some interesting reading in a more covert way.
    There are many good authors that are atheist that write sci-fi and fantasy novels. Many of these explore their beliefs in their writings.
    A couple I can think of, and would be available in the library are Robert Anson Heinlein and Terry Goodkind. There books are very entertaining and thought provoking.

    I am sure others can suggest other authors as well..

  • Miko

    Don’t encourage others to illegally download books that aren’t free or in the public domain. You give atheists a bad name when you admit that you steal.

    Not at all. Calling “illegal” downloading theft is asinine, as theft involves depriving someone else of a good. The logic that “illegal” downloading is theft would equally imply that borrowing a book from the library or buying a used copy is theft (and believe me, the publishers are working on those laws as we speak). Such “illegal” downloading is only illegal in the sense that the government has passed laws against it, and surely we freethinkers can agree that we don’t need the government to define our morality any more than we need religion to do so. In a situation in which ones only options are to be deprived of the knowledge through its inaccessibility or to obtain the knowledge through a non-government-approved channel, the true immoral thing would be encourage that person not to seek the knowledge out of an unthinking deference to the arbitrary claim of authority by that government.

  • Miko

    However, since you are 14, you probably don’t have your own credit card so making purchases online via Amazon without your parent’s knowledge may be quite a challenge

    Most chain grocery stores sell Amazon giftcards.

  • Claudia

    @Drew, we aren’t talking about someone with plenty of money to burn, we’re talking about a 14 year old kid whose parents are trying to clamp down on the education he or she gets.

    I’m fairly certain that if Dawkins, Hitchens et. al. could be somehow made aware of Anons plight, they’d happily send him/her free copies of their books.

    I also think downloads do not equal theft in the same way that giving a beer to a 17 year old does not constitute corrupting a child.

  • What about actually reading through the Bible and asking questions?

    For instance,

    Why do the Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not murder”, but God condones it with his ‘chosen’ or orders it in Leviticus?

    Of course, there are many other inconsistencies in the Bible that can be pointed out. Perhaps showing them why you have questions will make them start asking questions themselves.

    Oh, and I also recommend the school or public library. Availability may depend on locale, but some libraries have an exchange policy with others in their network so if the one you’re at doesn’t have the book you want/need they may be able to get it from another.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    Re: “Availability may depend on locale, but some libraries have an exchange policy with others in their network so if the one you’re at doesn’t have the book you want/need they may be able to get it from another.”

    Use a bit of caution with interlibrary loan requests for controversial books, though, because the library will need to notify you when each book arrives, which may arouse problems if your parents intercept the message. Ensure they will only notify with phone calls to your cell phone which you keep on you at all times (don’t have your home phone number on the library account at all, don’t let your parents ever answer your cell phone, and keep your voicemail password private), or private emails if they offer that option, if you pursue interlibrary requests.

    Make sure you don’t let any controversial books become overdue, either, because many libraries then send letters specifying the overdue books.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    I tried to post a comment earlier suggesting atheist podcasts, but it seems to have fallen into a black hole (perhaps due to not liking my link to the list of atheist podcasts 🙁 ), so I’ll try rewriting it.

    If you have a private personal MP3 player (there may be one built into your cell phone if you don’t have a separate one), you can download some of the tons of atheist podcasts that have sprung up, and listen to them quietly while doing other things – even while appearing to read Christian stuff in view of your parents!

    I suggest manually downloading the MP3s directly, rather than subscribing in iTunes or similar, so that there isn’t a persistent record of it on the computer. Also, ensure you have unobjectionable content (Christian songs, Christian podcasts, and/or classical music) on the MP3 player too, to use as decoys when necessary.

  • ASD

    If your school has lockers, there’s a good hiding place for actual books. The chances of your parents ever seeing the inside of your locker are slim. I wouldn’t recommend trying to hide anything at home, unless you know that there are places your parents definitely won’t look.

    While buying from a bookstore is easier to conceal (receipts can go in the nearest public bin, and unless you use EFTPOS it won’t show on your bank statement) if you do buy online you may want to see if you can get the packages sent to someone else that you can trust, or a PO box if the shipping permits that.

    But Richard is right, online is your best bet – and you can get eBooks online too, which can be hidden a lot more thoroughly than a real book. If you use Windows, I reccomend hiding it somewhere in the operating system files – people generally won’t poke around in the Windows folder, even if they do know what they’re doing. Keep backups across two or three USB thumbdrives as well, just in case.

    Blogs and podcasts can be good too – though blogs might get tedious if you’re having to remember the URL. DON’T subscribe to the RSS feed, it WILL show up in your browser.
    (Again, if you’re using Windows, make sure you can give yourself administrator-level access and hide all of your files and folders from appearing to the other users. In XP you do that in the User Accounts under the Control Panel, but I’m not sure about Vista or 7.)

    Oh – and keep you grades high. Be prepared to hightail it out of there the second you get the chance. Make sure you’re financially stable and responsible, and most of all, make it clear to your parents that you want your privacy respected once you leave home. (As for now, well…AFAIK, children aren’t covered by privacy laws, sadly.)

  • sailor

    I hope the below examples are not he kind of Christian Literature your parents are feeding you:
    Such books are at about the same literate level as true romance books, and regardless of the ideas being pushed, you need to find some better writers.

  • Zoe

    Go to They’ve got loads of public domain books in many, many formats that you can read on your computer, an e-book reader, iPod, or phone…

    Also, audiobooks & podcasts are your friend 🙂

    If you have a good friend, perhaps you can keep books at their house? Or perhaps you can keep your books at school? Get creative!

    Good luck!

  • Max

    Stop giving your parents so much power and then complaining about it. It is disingenuous. You don’t have to read their idiotic books and you don’t have to engage in pointless debates and conversations with them. When they shove vapid god-flavored books at you or try to drag you into these inevitably fruitless discussions, don’t engage with them. Just stare at them like a slack-jawed moron. It’s good enough for 99.8% of 14-year-olds, it’s good enough for you. It is a time-tested and natural way to protect the integrity of your mind from parental crap-infusions. If you want to read something else, just do it. You’re not stupid. Every 14 year old in the world is reading por behind their parents’ backs, you can certainly read something besides “Please, Jesus, Eat My Brain.” But don’t keep playing this silly game with them and then whining about it.

  • trixr4kids

    Max, you’re the one who is suggesting that Anon play silly games. You’d have him behave like a dimwitted jackass. That may be your persona of choice, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

  • Anonymous Atheist

    ASD wrote:

    “If your school has lockers, there’s a good hiding place for actual books. The chances of your parents ever seeing the inside of your locker are slim. I wouldn’t recommend trying to hide anything at home, unless you know that there are places your parents definitely won’t look.”

    The potential problem with that is that you do have to hide the books at home for months during each summer, or find another location to hide them. Schools clean out all the lockers at the end of each school year and reassign them differently the next school year.

    Also, keep in mind that anyone (teachers or students) who sees you reading obviously-controversial books at school could tell your parents.

    “… if you do buy online you may want to see if you can get the packages sent to someone else that you can trust, or a PO box if the shipping permits that.”

    A PO box to receive online purchases is an unworkable idea at this person’s age, since opening one requires two forms of ID.

    “But Richard is right, online is your best bet – and you can get eBooks online too, which can be hidden a lot more thoroughly than a real book.”

    Definitely. Computer-based content is safest, as long as your parents don’t watch what you do and you take care to cover your tracks.

  • S-Y

    Every up-to-date browser has it’s own private browsing function, not just Chrome. Chances are that your parents won’t go to your ISP and try to pull up some history, and even if you’re forced to use a family computer, you can browse via proxy as someone mentioned earlier (Though maybe you already are if that’s the situation). Of course, if your parents were lenient enough to let you use your own computer without snooping through it, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about.

    IMO, big media and government has been trying to brainwash everyone to think that sharing pieces of information is a crime. (And doing so for their own big profits obviously; they want every last penny hence why they charge $10 for a movie ticket, $20 for a music album, $60 for a video game, etc.) What’s going to happen in the future when we have a device that can replicate money just as well as today’s computers replicate information? Government will try to control and outlaw it but eventually it must advance and adapt. Today is no exception; you can’t outlaw file sharing. It will develop, anonymous P2P will emerge if big media keeps trying to sue more people. They said that video and cassette tapes would kill the music and movie industry. Once CD-RW’s and DVD-RW’s came around, it was almost certain that those two industries would die out. Now, movie theaters are making record high profits, movies are selling well on Blu-Ray and various online stores, Netflix, etc. even with The Pirate Bay.

    Stealing on one hand, involves taking something away from someone. In piracy, nobody actually physically looses anything. For more on the subject, I’d recommend Steal This Film, a documentary on file sharing and The Pirate Bay that can be found on Youtube. Even if you disagree, they present some interesting cases.

    The internet is, however, definitely the worst thing to happen to censorship. Just look at how China has to try to keep up their great firewall to keep people from accessing… Google… The people there will continue to find proxies, networks, and other various anonymizers around China’s oppressive system/government.

    Lastly, I myself haven’t read through that many books (religious or non/anti-religious regardless) but I’ve gathered up quite a bit from what’s around on the internet. Even if the information around may not be as organized as in books, there’s a lot of ideas around that pertain to current events which tends not to come from books.

  • Heidi

    @Miko and Claudia, who wrote (paraphrasing):

    Blah, blah justification for taking something without paying for it.

    Bull$hit. By your logic, if somebody hacks your bank account and drains it, they’re not taking any goods from you. So that’s not stealing either, right? They’re just depriving you of money. But if you go ahead and help yourself to a book rather than paying for it like you are supposed to do, you’re depriving someone else of money. Or is it different when it’s your money?

    If you’re going to steal, at least have the balls to admit to it. The moral justification thing is just embarrassing.

  • Kelly

    I wonder if the person who started the controversy and side conversation about “illegally downloading” really meant illegal downloading or if he/she meant unauthorized downloading as far as the parental units were concerned. Mayhaps the upset is for naught.

  • Claudia

    Bull$hit. By your logic, if somebody hacks your bank account and drains it, they’re not taking any goods from you. So that’s not stealing either, right? They’re just depriving you of money. But if you go ahead and help yourself to a book rather than paying for it like you are supposed to do, you’re depriving someone else of money. Or is it different when it’s your money?

    Ridiculous analogy. When I download a song or a movie, I am not taking that song or movie away from anyone else, as raiding a bank account takes away someone else’s money. In order for me to actually cause economic harm I would have to have the clear ability and intent to buy whatever it is I’m downloading if it weren’t available free. Anyone who for a minute thinks that every single person downloading things would buy all of those things should downloads be impossible is high.

    I do acknowledge that downloads cause economic damage in aggregate. I simply think that calling it theft is an attempt to force it into a more grave moral category than it deserves. I’m not saying it’s great, I’m just saying calling it “stealing” is a little silly, particularly when we’re talking about a child who seeks to supplement their education while avoiding the active obstruction of their parents.

  • GSW

    Ask your parents to buy you “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
    I believe it was not Lewis’ purpose to provide atheists with a ‘know thine enemy’ book, but believe me, it is worth reading and very well written.

    Doesn’t your school have a library?

  • Valhar2000

    A confused person wrote:

    By your logic, if somebody hacks your bank account and drains it, they’re not taking any goods from you. So that’s not stealing either, right? They’re just depriving you of money.

    No, in that case, they are actually stealing money you already have, and leaving you money-less in the aftermath. Really, this is not that hard!

    Be that as it may, there is a lot a stuff freely available already. Atheist-related writings, in particular, can be had in great quantity if you are willing to read old stuff (Ingersoll, Russell and the like) since really the only thing that is “new” about the “New Atheism” is the unwillingness to bend over and take it anymore: religion was a pointless and unsupported back then as it is now.

  • sailor

    “No, in that case, they are actually stealing money you already have, and leaving you money-less in the aftermath. Really, this is not that hard!”
    I think some of you guys fail to understand intellectual property concepts. If I produce something and have the “right” to charge for it, that “right” is an asset. I own it. So when you come and copy it, you are stealing an asset of mine, just like it would be if it was in my bank.
    Unfortunately it does not feel like stealing so everyone does it quite widely. As a publisher the only way I can guard against it is
    1. to never publish on the web till I can afford to make the content free.
    2. make sure any books cost more to copy than they do to buy.

  • Rob

    I question authenticity of this letter. It all sounds a little too contrived. He complains about not having access to reading material but yet has the Internet and the accompanying lack of parental supervision to post here and then, presumably, to follow up and read responces. He presents himself as surprisingly mature and intelligent yet woefully ignorant. I believe this is a fishing expedition. Somebody is trying to figure out how to deal with “evil atheists” and what books to look out for. Perhaps the parents of a 14 boy who has proclaimed atheism and have tried to combat it with Christian centered doctrine? Notice how agnostic atheism is correlated repeatedly? That’s something Christians get wrong, even though they mean different things, all the time. I call BS.

  • JB Tait

    No one has yet commented on the surprisingly mature quality of the writing in Anon’s message. I find it hard to believe a 14 year old composed that letter, so instead of recommending ways to bypass his parents’ rules, I have a different suggestion. Write about your experience. Keep a diary, make your arguments there instead of challenging your parents, and when you have passed through this situation you will have the material for a book.

    Just in case the notebooks or computer files are found and read, the opening pages should say something about examining your beliefs in the context of your parents’ Faith and your attempt to come to terms with the inconsistencies and errors therein. The parents cannot be persuaded, and in fact if you contradict them will hold to their beliefs all the more strongly, so you should make your diary appear to be your effort to agree with them, and to reconcile what they profess with what you have seen and experienced, and with reason and logic.

    You could even keep your work on a thumb drive which could always be with you and would not need a hiding place.

    If you intend to find and read the works your parents have proscribed (which would be deceptive and might contaminate your relationship with them), you could keep them as hidden or encrypted files on a thumb drive, too.

    If you want to keep your ideas and writing in the form of a wiki, there are free applications (eg. MoWeS) for running one on the thumb drive and the prices of quite larges ones have come down to levels a person depending on an allowance should be able to afford.

  • JB Tait

    Since when has theft devolved into “taking something away from someone” instead of taking something to which one is not entitled?
    And how does not intending to buy something entitle you to have that something for free?

    When -you- work to create something, let’s see -you- give it away at the cost of materials used in duplication.

    No profit, no pay for your time, no recognition of your talent or skill, no reimbursement for the cost of the persons you employed, the equipment you used, the materials that were consumed in the creation thereof. And anyone who might actually pay for what you spent your years creating, is a fool for not taking it for free.

    Let’s see you put in your days serving hamburgers to folks who didn’t want service, just the hamburger. I didn’t intend to pay the guy at the window for standing at the window. I just wanted to eat that meal, and if he hadn’t been standing there, I could have served myself for much less. Why are we forced to include his pay in the price?

    Just because taking something you are not entitled to doesn’t include taking anything physical away, it is still theft of service.

    Not intending to buy is also a bogus argument. If you hadn’t stolen any of these entertainments, you would not have satisfied your desires and you would have had incentive to find a way to afford to buy or rent one.

  • Ashton

    All, of these suggestions about books and reading things online are great, but not enough. Going through something like this alone is torture. I spent my teen years feeling like a freak for being a non-believer. This guy needs people around him who are similar. If you are in public school, try asking discreet questions about religion. Eventually, you will come across someone else who is a non-believer. I would also suggest talking to the school counselor if possible. The counselor might have tips on how to improve relations with your parents. If you don’t feel comfortable with the counselor, try to find a teacher who you really trust to help you out. There may also be a skeptic or freethought group in your area. Try googling atheist and your town. I know it may not be possible for you to attend, but you might be able to at least get in email contact with some of the members. It might help to know that there are some people in your general vicinity that think the way that you do.

    In addition, you could kindly ask your parents to read the books that they give you as well so that the three of you can discuss them together. If you are able to see through the flaws in the arguments in the books and present them rationally to your parents, this may help to move your parents one tiny step closer to not having a problem with who you are. Maybe after doing this for some time, you could start suggesting other books. Not necessarily atheist books, but books that are willing to look at all sides.

  • Richard Wade

    Taking without payment or permission something that was intended to be sold is theft. If it has a price tag on it and you don’t pay, you are stealing.

    No rationalizations can get you out of the reality that you are a thief. You deserve contempt.

    Stealing hurts people. It hurts the people who worked hard and took risk to create whatever it is you are taking, and it hurts those who incur costs to make it available to you. It also hurts everyone else who honestly pay, by having to absorb the increased cost of producing what you take without paying.

    If you were to take half of the effort you put into your transparent, sophomoric rationalizations, and put it into being better at what you do to make your own money, you’d have plenty of cash to legitimately buy what you currently steal.

    The next time you resent some theist saying that atheists are without morals, take a hard look at your own personal conduct before you argue with them.

  • Claudia

    OK I give up, you folks win. Downloading a Bruce Springsteen song you never had the slightest intention of buying is just like stealing a record from a privately owned small store run by an elderly widow and her cat. Hell, it’s so equivalent that you might as well do it at knifepoint. There is absolutely no moral shading at all. When you download a song you show yourself to be an amoral monster, not someone doing something not right, but not flat evil. Yes, that makes all the sense in the world, which is why I’m sure no one on this blog has ever illegally downloaded anything, ever.

  • Richard Wade

    You sure are working hard at trying to make what you do okay. Much more work than the act itself. Take a break and just stop doing it.

  • Apatheist

    Hi, I did find an online copy of what seems to be most or all of The Story of Philosophy on


  • Claudia

    You sure are working hard at trying to make what you do okay. Much more work than the act itself. Take a break and just stop doing it.

    Ah Richard, I still love’ya, but this little debate is going to end in disagreement, I’m afraid. However you did make me chuckle in the end, so for that I thank you 🙂

    Besides we’ve veered wildly off the actually important topic of getting some mental nourishment to this young man or woman, something about which I’m sure we can all agree. As a small act of repentance, hoping Anon is still reading, I’d like to recommend the TED talks. There are huge numbers of them, on all sorts of topics. Many are very much worth it. Still, keeping the grades up is the biggest part. I promise you there are lots and lots of atheists at Harvard. You’ll love it, but you have to get there 🙂

  • Richard Wade

    Love you too, Claudia, all the time, but especially when you use that razor-like mind for good instead of evil. re: Superman comics 😉 The TED referral is a very good suggestion.

  • Richard Wade

    Well done, Apatheist! Thank you! I had searched for about an hour, but I never found this one. At first it looks like the site isn’t working, but they apparently even scanned the blank pages at the front of the book. Again, good work.

  • Frink

    Better still, Anon, have your parents read 1984.

  • whatever you do, Anon, DON’T mention the words “internet” and “google search on ‘religions of the world’ and ‘history of religious thought’ to them.”

    you’ll be out of that environment sooner than you can believe. heh. and the whole universe awaits you. so don’t worry, and go chase a pretty grrl/boi/being of your choice and maybe get into some sports to work off the negative energy in the meantime. 18 is right around the corner, trust me!

  • kyrosion

    Hey, Anon; just saying hey, and that you’re not alone. My mother has many similar tendencies, and while I’m out of that house and away to university now, I remember just how frustrating it was to request novels or nonfiction and to receive books of unadulterated fundamentalist drivel. I think my “favorite” would have to be “Secrets about Guys: (That Shouldn’t Be Secrets).” Beyond the odd punctuation in the title, it was a terrible book about how boys would only like girls who were religious, who would consider even kissing someone before marriage to be terribly scandalous, and, above all, who never aspired to take “male roles.” The author’s name was Grace Dove… I always kind of assumed it was a pseudonym. Between books like that and the subscriptions to fundie adolescent magazines, birthdays and Christmases were generally guaranteed to be letdowns.

    You’re only 14 now, so things will be difficult for a while. People like to say that four years isn’t very long, but even from my perspective, four years is 20% of my life, and even more of yours. You have the internet, you have the library, but I know it’s hard not to have familial support. Just keep in mind that, after you slog through high school, you can leave. Even before that, you can get a job, and buy your own books. Like others have said, it might be a good idea to keep them hidden if you do.

    Remember, you only have to stay around for those four more years. After that, you can read whatever you want in plain sight, you can go wherever you please, and you can be whoever you decide you are, for the rest of your life. It’s worth the four years, believe me :]

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