Coming Out as an Atheist
Many atheist teens are afraid to "come out" to their parents, for various reasons. I always urge them to, however. I'd also urge them to do it themselves; to sit down and have a talk with their parents, however, I realise many may be too afraid and rather not come out at all than to do that on your own.
The following is a helpful letter written by the good folk over there at Secular Humanism. Handing it to your parents may be the relief that some teens need. Yes, conversation is still needed to some extent here, but it always is. here is the tact:
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Your child is handing you this letter because he or she has come to a point in their young life when they can no longer contain their doubts about your religious beliefs. They received this tract from the Internet, from like-minded people who have been through what they are going through.
It is very difficult for some youths to discuss religion with their parents. The difficulty arises from love and obedience - they don't wish to upset you, and they realize that your indoctrinating them in your religion is done out of love and a genuine concern for their moral growth. So the good news is, if you are reading these words, your child still loves and respects you very much.
There is no reason for you to be upset. You want your child to grow intellectually and spiritually, and this questioning and yes, even rejection, is part of the process of becoming an independent adult. You may think that they are too young to have arrived at this stage responsibly, yet, imagine the courage it must have taken to hand you this tract. That courage is a sign that they are mature enough to make bold, life-changing decisions. It is at least a sign that they are thinking independently already, and that genie can never be put back in a bottle. They will not un-grow.
Your child is not alone in their questioning or rejection of your beliefs. Thousands of children every day arrive at this juncture; many choose the path of unbelief, and then go on to live morally upright and sometimes exemplary lives. Your child is not doomed to a life of moral turpitude, as there do exist moral codes of conduct outside of religious belief. Among those is secular humanism, which, despite what you may have read, is a postive, life-affirming worldview that simply holds individuals accountable for their own actions, and holds humanity responsible for its own progress. Secular humanism is NOT a movement to expel religion from everyday life. It is a philosophy that expands on atheism, allowing those who have chosen the path of non-belief to cling to something that will allow them to lead upright, honorable lives in the absence of supernatural influences. That is ALL it is; anything else you may have heard - from people like Tim LaHaye, for instance - is bunk.
As to why your child is questioning your religious beliefs, that is something you should probably address with them after reading this letter. I'm sure you are aware that there are many reasoned arguments against the existence of gods or any other supernatural deities. Your child may be aware of some of these, but is probably not equipped at this early stage to counter all religious dogma. We urge you to discuss their misgivings, but try to resist the temptation to engage them in a debate. The reason is simple: They either have now, or in time will have access to a huge database of arguments that counter every theological point you can raise...but they have no desire to convert you to their way of thinking, all they want is for you to recognize their situation, and to act in their best interest. Right now, it is in their best interest to allow them to explore their doubts, so that they can come to terms with them on their own, and not be force-fed religious indoctrination, which in many cases only serves to solidify their rejection through hatred rather than through reasoned discourse and consideration.
Your child may wish to tell you that they no longer wish to attend your religious services on a regular basis. If so, it is best to allow them this latitude, for the reasons stated above. Again, rest assured that this in no way implies any rejection of the family. Again, rest assured that your child still loves and respects you. And again, rest assured that if they are allowed to explore their newfound intellectual freedom, they will ultimately decide in their own best interest. There may be a few false starts, a few bad influences along the way, but that's what you are there for - this is not a call for you to abrogate your responsibilities as a parent, nor a suggestion not to discuss your child's present situation and future path; it is just a letter to tell you something that your child may have had difficulty putting into words on their own.
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Feel free to change this letter however you want, to better fit your particular situation (but not too much! It was written this way for a reason).
As for friends, they are usually more accepting than parents. Remember to be clear and to explain your point of view in a friendly manner. "This is the way I see it. That's why I'm an atheist."