Ask Richard: Frustrated by Parents’ Religious Indoctrinating January 20, 2011

Ask Richard: Frustrated by Parents’ Religious Indoctrinating

To the readers: As I was finishing my response it was vaguely reminding me of something, and when I realized what it was I had to chuckle. I might sound a little like Polonius giving parting advice to his son Laertes in Hamlet. For some reason I’m a little embarrassed if I do. This very brief letter allows for only generic suggestions, and such things can sound like trite platitudes or wise proverbs. I suppose the difference between those is in the eye of the reader.

Note: Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

i hate my life because my parenst are making me beleive that this jesus guy is god

Dear Greg,

Relax. Don’t worry, no one can “make” you believe anything. It’s too late for that. Your mind has already developed enough independence to think your own thoughts. Otherwise you wouldn’t have written your email. Your parents can make you do things that are about Jesus, such as attending church, going to Bible study, or saying prayers, but that’s all on the outside. That’s just stuff you have to do. Inside your mind, you’re free to think your own thoughts and believe what makes sense to you.

So don’t hate your life. It really is your life, and it’s something to love and cherish and to take good care of. Fill it with healthy food, healthy exercise, healthy relationships, and most of all, healthy thoughts. Fill it with all the knowledge that you can jam into your head. Knowledge is your key to life-long freedom.

I’m assuming that you’re quite young, and probably still dependent on your parents for your welfare, so you might just have to go along with the outward stuff they want you to do. I cannot tell from your letter if you feel free to frankly tell them your opinion. Sometimes parents handle such things well, and sometimes they don’t. Maybe you can negotiate something with them, maybe not.

Think carefully about your words before you let them out, whether talking about your disbelief in gods or your friend’s new hairstyle. Words are very powerful. Too often we throw them around recklessly. Consider what will be your words’ effect on others and what will be the consequences for you. Sometimes silence is the wisest thing to say.

But even the religious stuff you’re forced to do, you can turn to your advantage. Be a secret anthropologist, studying the beliefs and practices of the people who surround you. Knowing how they think and react will be a big advantage as you grow into adulthood.

Right now, the part of your life that you can control is inside your mind. Slowly, as you grow up you’ll gain more freedom over the outside parts of your life, like what you do, where you go, and who you are with. But for every one of those new freedoms will come a responsibility to handle that freedom wisely, being careful to not be thoughtless, reckless, or harmful to yourself or others. Like heads and tails, freedom and responsibility always go together.

I don’t think Jesus was a god either. If he existed at all, he was a man who tried to change things, and he was murdered for it. He had some good things to say about being kind and loving, helping others, and keeping hate out of your heart. That’s good advice for anybody, and you don’t need to believe in gods to put it into practice.

Taking that advice, don’t let your frustration grow into hate for your parents. They’re probably not trying to deliberately torment you; they’re probably just trying to do what they think will help you. It’s natural for young people to have some conflicts with their parents as they grow into independent adults, but it doesn’t always have to be hateful. Try to keep your love for them even when you’re mad at them. It might soothe your anger a little to consider that there are many, many young people who hate their lives because they don’t have parents who make them do stuff. They don’t have food, or beds, or clothes either. Sometimes looking at a broader picture can give you a little more patience with your situation.

It’s possible to disagree with them and not be constantly tense from annoyance and aggravation. Ask yourself, “Is this upset really bigger than me? Aren’t I actually bigger than it?” Some battles are worth fighting now, some are better if they’re postponed. The right time will be when you are in a position of strength and independence. And then sometimes when the time is finally right, it just isn’t that important any more.

Whenever your frustration or any other feeling is about to boil over, here’s a trick that will save you a great deal of regret and apologies: Quietly take three deep, slow breaths. Slowly inhale deeply, pause for just a second, and slowly exhale fully. Repeat three more as needed. There’s nothing like a powerful shot of oxygen to help you handle any situation, whether it’s painful boredom at a religious thing you have to do, or panic when you look at the first question on an important exam in school. Oxygen is your friend. It soothes the emotions and clears the mind.

Find other people close to your age who feel the same way. They’re out there. Just be discrete, and be sure they know how to keep your private information private. Stick around here and begin to comment on various posts, sharing a little of yourself at a time. You’ll find there are many people who definitely understand what you’re going through. You’re certainly not alone. Also, Google “teen atheist” and “young atheist,” and you’ll find a variety of resources for young people who are also your predicament.

Greg, I have only guesses about your circumstances, so my advice is very general. Take what applies and discard what doesn’t. Though you don’t believe that Jesus is God, you can believe in your own intrinsic worth, in your own basic goodness, and in your own ability to sort things out. Ask many other people, young and old, for advice on all sorts of things. You don’t ever have to accept all or any of what they suggest. You can pick and choose. As you reach one crossroad after another, making choice after choice, you will be the judge; the final decisions and the responsibility will always be yours.


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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  • Inferno

    Unless you’ve shortened that letter significantly, I have a feeling that he was probably a troll.

  • @Inferno,

    Its good for Richard to give some generic advice every now and then to the younger atheists who have issues with their parents. Whether or not the author of the letter is a troll or not doesn’t really matter because there are probably many other readers of this advice column that can get something out of it.

    My first thought was that Greg took Richard’s instruction to be brief a little too seriously. But Richard did a good job with the generic advice.

  • Miko

    If he existed at all, he was a man who tried to change things, and he was murdered for it.

    I would of course say this, but I’m actually a bit surprised that Richard would. If the Bible story is at all accurate, Jesus was charged, given due process, and executed by a legitimate government for breaking laws in a written legal code. Calling that “murder” is a fairly substantial attack on the very concept of the nation-state.

  • Joan

    Richard, I think you gave excellent advice, particularly, “Inside your mind, you’re free to think your own thoughts and believe what makes sense to you.”

    I was lucky that my parents didn’t care that I was an agnostic. (When I decided as a teen that I didn’t want to say grace at the table anymore, we just stopped.) I was also lucky that I loved being involved in the music programs at my church, and, while at church, my agnosticism was just my little secret. However, there were other matters where I felt overly controlled by my parents (who loved me and only wanted to protect me), and I pretty much just put up with it until college, when I was away from home and able to make my own decisions. So, what I would tell Greg is the same thing Dan Savage tells gay teens: “It gets better.” Hang in there, Greg. When you’re on your own, you won’t have to pretend about your beliefs.

  • Andrew Morgan

    If the Bible story is at all accurate, Jesus was charged, given due process, and executed by a legitimate government for breaking laws in a written legal code. Calling that “murder” is a fairly substantial attack on the very concept of the nation-state.

    I have a call for you from the anti-war and anti-capital punishment crowd on line 1. 🙂

  • Jammin Jim

    Bravo. Good advise for young and old. Food for thought: If Jesus was alive today he would not be believed, at all, and he would be considered a cult leader like David Koresh. Everbody inclduing all in the church would consider him crazy or a false profit. Also the people that followed him and the people that ended up killing him all had an education of less than a modern grade school student and most of them would be less smarter than a 5th grader:)

  • Claudia

    If the Bible story is at all accurate, Jesus was charged, given due process, and executed by a legitimate government for breaking laws in a written legal code. Calling that “murder” is a fairly substantial attack on the very concept of the nation-state.

    I would love to see the historical evidence that he was given “due process”. Given that there are almost no records of his existence outside the Bible (almost) I think I’ll be waiting a long time. As for “legitimate”, considering the fact that a fair portion of those under the Roman Empire were slaves, most of those who weren’t didn’t get a vote, and that around the time of Jesus’s death there had been a transition into a mostly autocratic regime…yeah, not really legitimate.

    Getting back on topic, I think it’s good that Richard give generic advice for the very young, even though as a rule I think it’s better to reward with answers those emails that do not appear to be tweets and have been at least proof-read.

  • S-Y

    That’s an awfully long and complete response to such a short, poorly typed, incomplete inquiry.

  • Jeanette

    Wow, this is one of the first times something constructive has been instigated by a troll. Good job Richard!

  • hipopotamo

    Now that was a beatiful, well-thought, long answer to a very short question, which in my head I picture from a young boy holding his head in despair, but a jokingly smile on his face. Anyhow, I join the ranks of commenters that, whether asked-for or not, this is excellent advice, as usual, from Richard.


    On other news, mum has just hinted that Santa might not be real. We really should talk…

  • hipopotamo

    A little out of topic, but I just want you to know, guys, that the auto adds served by Google at the top of the page just sent me a link for a “repent! Jesus is Lord” site!

    Oh the irony!

    Cheers from the hippo

  • I love the idea of a secret anthropologist. I wish I’d heard of it 20 years ago.

  • Laura

    Wooow, holy question:answer word ratio.

  • i wonder if his typos are the result of home schooling or severe depression/anxiety. very sad either way.

    FSM bless the internets. at least this kid found Richard. young atheists have it so much better today than in previous times. at least they can learn they aren’t alone.

  • Drakk

    The number of words in the question is less than double the number of paragraphs in the reply.

  • Richard Wade

    His words said enough, especially the last two just before his name.

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