From a comment on this page:
Im 11 and my friends, who are strongly Christian and Muzzlem, think I’m Greek but I’m actually atheist like my mom. I have heard them say some pretty bad things about atheists and I don’t wat to lose my friends but I don’t want to lie anymore because everytime I say i’m Christian my stomache feels weird. Don’t know what to do so please reply.
Thank you very much for sharing your problem with me. I hope I can be of some assistance.
I definitely understand your discomfort when you say you are a Christian. By saying you are a Christian, you are not only lying to your friends, but also adding fuel to your worry that they won’t like you if they knew who you really are. Denying yourself can be very stressful and depressing; you are right to want to set the record straight.
But how do you do it? That’s the real problem.
The first step is one you have already taken: decide that you need to stop misrepresenting yourself. You may not even realize it, but that’s a big step in and of itself. Realizing that being true to yourself is more important than being who others want you to be is a strong sign of maturity. Hold on to that knowledge; it will serve you well.
For the next step, it would be best if you had someone on your side. If you can talk to your mom about your problem, that would be great. She’s an atheist, so it’s possible that she has had a similar problem at some point and can offer you some suggestions. Even if she has no advice for you, if she knows what you are going through, she can support you while you deal with your friends.
Finally we come to the issue of your friends. That’s the toughest nut to crack, and because I don’t know them, it’s hard for me to give you more than general advice.
At the top of your list has to be stopping lying about being a Christian. You know it’s wrong and you hurt yourself every time you do it, so don’t do it anymore.
Next, you have to decide how you want to tell your friends about your atheism. The specifics are going to depend on what your friends are like, but there are four basic options:
1) Wait until one of them is talking about religion and either asks your opinion or says something about atheism. That’s your opportunity to say, “Actually, I’m an atheist,” “I don’t agree with that. I don’t think God exists,” or whatever you feel comfortable saying.
2) At an appropriate point in a conversation or in-between topics of discussion, bring up the subject yourself. It might be easiest to just come right out and say it. Something like, “I’ve been thinking about religion a lot lately. I think you should know that I’m an atheist.”
3) If there is one friend you are particularly close to, find a time to talk to him or her alone and reveal that you are an atheist. After that friend knows and has accepted you, you’ll have someone at your side when you talk to the rest of the group.
4) Finally, you could just stop talking to your friends about religion and remain noncommittal when the subject comes up. This is sort of a “chicken’s way” out since it avoids confrontation at the cost of not really addressing the problem, and it leaves your friends thinking you are a Christian. Of the four options, this is the only one I strongly recommend you not take.
No matter when you broach the subject, try to do it in a calm, almost matter-of-fact way. Don’t be defensive or apologetic. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I wouldn’t suggest that you go out of your way to remind them that you’d been saying you were a Christian, but if one of them asks why you said you were, go ahead and admit that you were afraid they’d be mad if you said you were an atheist.
I know you’re worried about the possibility that your friends will reject you because you are an atheist. Since your friends are not all the same religion and still get along together, you know that they are not completely religiously intolerant. This works in your favor. They also know and like you, which is another thing in your favor. They might be mad that you’ve been misrepresenting yourself, but if they reject you for your lack of religion, then perhaps they never really your friends in the first place. Rather, they were friends with someone you were pretending to be, and you’d want to find friends who like you for who you really are. I know that sounds harsh and difficult, but in the long run, it’s for the best.
Something else you can do to help this go smoothly is role-play conversations about atheism in your head before talking to your friends. Think about the negative things they’ve said about atheism and how you would (politely, calmly) disagree. Think about positive things you can say about your lack of religion — you’re not depressed, it doesn’t make you scared, you don’t look down on your friends for being religious, etc. Odds are that the real-world conversation you have won’t be identical to one you’ve gone over in your head, but at least you will be better prepared.
If you have any questions about how to respond to a specific question about atheism or religion, feel free to write to me. If you would like to let me know how things go, I’d love for you to write to me about that, as well.
After all is said and done, the most important thing for you to remember is that you need to be true to yourself. You are going to be living with yourself for the whole of your life, and you need to treasure and respect anyone you’re going to be spending that much time with.
All my best.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
Merry Christmas you poor sad bunch of people.
We’re actually quite happy here. Merry Christmas to you, too!
Just a brief comment today.
I’ve been reading a lot of comments on various news sites by Christians today and so many of them are depressing. The talk about disrespect for God being responsible for the recent school shooting is getting muddled with talk about how it never would have happened if adults in the school were armed. At times, I feel like some Christians are saying that the three things you need to protect against lightning striking the steeple of your church is abiding faith, fear of God, and a lightning rod.
Tragedy brings out the worst in some people. I’d like to share a few quotes that got my blood boiling today.
“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” [former governor Mike] Huckabee said on Fox News, discussing the murder spree that took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT that morning. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” Link
[Christian radio host Bryan] Fischer made the case that, in his mind, God would have protected the shooting victims had there been a system of school prayer and a respect for the Ten Commandments in public classrooms. Link
Just an aside here — can someone give me a few examples of times when someone attacked a group of children in a place God was welcome and God miraculously protected them? I’m assuming there are many, but I can’t think of any.
The Atheistic world view without God, cheapens life to a point where a 24-year old man finds that he can go into a classroom and kill children. When young people grow up with little or no knowledge of God’s existence, then they have no moral compass that teaches them the incredible value of human life. Link
When Atheist Remove God, Satan Rushed In! In the end your either with God or Satan, there is no gray area! We are in a Spiritual War Have No-Doubt About It! Link (comment)
Your absolutely right about that, we get rid of God, and the highest authority is man then it’s an easy solution to your misery, go on a killing spree hurt anything innocent, then kill yourself and there’s no one left to answer to. your dead, so it’s left up to the rest of us to pick up the pieces, because there is no God , no hell, no eternal damnation. “CHANGE” our values, “CHANGE” our God, CHANGE our history and culture, and what do we get. Link (comment)
You are 100% right JIM…this is the main reason I hate that “good without God” crap that atheists try and pull. Just because EVERY atheist (or even the majority) doesn’t go around killing children (although they actually do, it’s called abortion and its just as sick and wrong as this) doesn’t mean that a godless society doesn’t CREATE these kinds of monsters by removing a moral authority…just too bad we are simply too far gone to come back now, all we can do is sit back and watch the world burn Link (comment)
Lest I give the impression that I think all Christians are completely out of touch with reality, let me finish with one Christian who is an example of a religious person who has his head on straight:
However, I am compelled to remind all of you of something: evil is not worse today than at any other time in history. Yes, this is probably, since the explosion at the Murrah Building (in what was the worst tragedy I had ever heard of at that point in time) on April 19, 1995, in my hometown of Oklahoma City. Though I actually felt the blast that killed 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6, I think this may be even worse. The intentionality involved baffles me. Yet in some respects, evil is not worse. What is worse, relatively speaking, is our ability to know about these things. Before the internet, before Twitter and Facebook, before twenty-four hour world news (that lives or dies by the existence of tragedy), we would not have known about the tragic happenings such as these outside of our communities. We would not have known about these children who died today. However, today, though Christ tells us that we can only bear our own evils, we are expected to shoulder the pains of twenty sets of parents who just lost their five-year-old boys and girls. And you know what? We were not meant to. God did not create us with enough emotional stamina to bear this much evil. Link
I don’t agree with the theology, but I can definitely empathize with the sentiment.
If you come across more quotes like these, I would appreciate your sharing them in the comments.
In: Comment, Dealing with religious folks
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I’d like to address the question of how I handle it when children who are not my own as me if Santa Claus exists.
I know that not all parents agree with my philosophy and I’m not going to try and trump them, so when a child asks me about Santa, I generally try to avoid the question.
This doesn’t always work.
Below are two examples (to the best of my recollection) of situations where I was pushed to give an answer. In many people’s eyes, these won’t make me look very good, but at the time I had trouble seeing any other way out of the situations.
Example #1: Non-religious family; seven-year-old child
Child: Do you believe in Santa?
Me: Well, I think it would be better if you asked [Parent] about that.
Parent: It’s okay. You can go ahead.
Me (to Parent): You sure?
Me (to Child). Okay. Well, Santa Claus is a nice story that we tell around Christmas. He’s not a real person, but we all pretend that he is because it’s fun. It’s like a big game that everyone plays together.
Example #2: Very religious family; ten-year-old child
Parent (to me): Someone at school told [Child] that Santa isn’t real and she won’t listen to me about it. Would you talk to her?
Me: I don’t think that I’m the right person to ask about that.
Parent (to child): Come over here a minute. [Me] has something to tell you.
Me (to child): I hear that you’ve been wondering about whether Santa Claus is real.
Child: I heard at school that he wasn’t.
Me: Well, what does [Parent] say?
Child: That he’s real.
Me: Do you think that [Parent] would ever lie to you?
Me: All right then. You go think about that. Okay?
In: Atheists' problems · Tagged with: Christmas, Santa Claus
There’s a conversation I end up having almost every year around this time. At some point during that conversation, I say that I always try and tell my child the truth, and the person I’m talking to responds with the same look they’d probably give me if I said we speak nothing but Latin at home.
Every time this happens, it weirds me out just a little bit.
Why is it such a big deal that I have a healthy respect for the truth and want to foster that same respect in my child? If we all agree that the best way to teach children morality is to set a good example, then why do so many parents make an exception for lying?
I suspect that the answer to my second question is that my premise is flawed: We don’t all agree that the best way to teach morality is to set a good example. In particular, I don’t think you can set a good moral example if you:
- Physically punish your child for trying to physically force another child to do what s/he wants.
- Don’t make your child do the right thing when doing the right thing would be difficult or embarrassing for you.
- Rush your child out the door after s/he makes a mess in a store instead of being responsible for the mess.
- Don’t see a contradiction between telling your child not to steal and bragging that a cashier gave you too much change.
- Ask your child to back up a lie you want to tell.
- Ask your child to lie so that you can get a discount or other financial benefit.
- Lie to your child because the truth is unpleasant or embarrassing.
- Lie to your child because it’s “cute” when children believe things unquestioningly.
I’ve seen parents do every one of those things, and I’ve seen every one of those things done many, many times. And every time I wonder how the parent doesn’t see what a terrible example they are setting. I can’t imagine lying to my child about something I wouldn’t want to be lied to about.
Which brings me to Santa Claus, because he’s how I end up in this conversation every year.
Even before we had a child, my spouse and I agreed that we weren’t going to pretend that Santa was real. It wasn’t even something we had to discuss since lying to our child was so obviously wrong that it was out of the question.
My child’s reaction was one of mild panic the first time I told a bedtime story about Santa. I was cut off after having barely started and asked, “That’s not real, is it?” I said it wasn’t, the tension brought on by the thought of some stranger breaking into the house on Christmas Eve went out of the room, and the story was well enjoyed after that.
“I think that’s terrible,” some people say to me. They’re under the impression that I’m raising an emotionless robot with no imagination. I respond that you don’t have to believe a lie to have imagination, and that my 14-year-old writes wonderfully entertaining letters to Santa every year. You don’t have to believe Santa is real to enjoy the story and tradition. I’d even argue that it takes more imagination to write a letter to someone you know doesn’t exist than it does to write a letter to someone you believe exists.
Others tell me that I have to give my child the “gift” of believing in Santa so that they will have a sense of wonder in their childhood. Just how high are these people setting the threshold of wonder that the world around us falls short? The sun burns with flame powered by its own mass. Flowers mindlessly react to the world around them. Creatures barely more intelligent than plants build complicated homes. Science uncovers new and wonderful truths daily. There are robots working all alone on other planets to help do that science. Isn’t there already more than enough wonder to go around?
Then there’s the “other children” argument. If my child doesn’t believe in Santa, won’t that cause conflicts with children who do believe? No it won’t — not if I raise my child with the understanding that it’s considered impolite to tell other people that Santa isn’t real, the same way that it’s impolite to go around telling people that God isn’t real. I have had exactly zero incidents in which my child has come into conflict with a child who believes in Santa. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of conflicts when one child discovers that Santa is a lie before that child’s classmates do.
I’ve had atheists try to justify lying about Santa by saying that they do it to teach their child that you shouldn’t believe everything people tell you. As an explanation, this falls flat with me. There are plenty of opportunities for children to realize that their parents aren’t always right without your having to manufacture another one. I doubt anyone would make this excuse to tell a lie that they didn’t enjoy telling, or didn’t enjoy watching their child innocently believe.
Most annoying of all, I’ve had people say that they doubt that I never lie to my child. They ask, for example, what I’d do if my child asked an age-inappropriate question about sex. I’ve been asked more than once a question along the lines of, “Are you really going to tell your four year old what a [slang for a sexual practice] is?” My answer is that no, I’m not. But I’m not going to lie, either. There are times when I’ve told my child — in perfect honesty — that the answers to some questions have to wait until much later.
The person I’m talking to generally objects that a child won’t be satisfied with an answer like that and will just keep asking. I respond that I’d rather deal with having the question come up again than deal with the consequences of telling a lie for my own convenience.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who remain unconvinced and think it’s harmless to lie about Santa. Maybe you’re right. But let me ask you a question, under what circumstances would you want your child to lie to you? Would you want your teenager laughing with friends about how entertaining it is that parents can be made to believe something completely ridiculous? Would you want your child to lie about something bad that happened on the way home from school or on a date because the truth was difficult or embarrassing? Do you want your child believing that the truth is only important when it’s convenient?
Personally, I’d rather have the truth.
In: Atheists' problems · Tagged with: Christmas, Santa Claus
Most of my free time is tied up in working on a new pro-thinking book so I don’t have much time for blogging at the moment. However, I wanted to reply to this e-mail that I received through the IAmAnAtheist.com submission form:
first off the Bible doesn’t say Atheism is wrong. i don’t know where you got that info. and i am saying it is wrong. second God did not command moses to kill babies. moses was born during the time that they were killing babies. third Jesus’ divinity is not a theory most of the stories in the Bible come from Eye witnesses. so when Jesus healed people and when he rose again and showed up at mary’s door and showed her the nail marks in his hands. please get your facts right before you publish them to the internet.
Regarding atheism: Psalm 14:1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
If that isn’t saying that atheism is wrong, then it’s not very clear.
About God commanding Moses to kill babies, one example: Deuteronomy 3:2-6: And the Lord said unto me, Fear him not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand; and thou shalt do unto him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. So the Lord our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining. And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All these cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars; beside unwalled towns a great many. And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city.
I suppose you could argue that Moses was just around at the time that all of this baby killing was going on but that God didn’t order Moses to personally kill any babies. That’s more special pleading than anything, though.
I disagree that the stories in the Bible are largely from eye witnesses. If you’re just talking about the Gospels, they weren’t attributed until long after they were written (and if I remember correctly, even in the traditional view, Luke wasn’t a witness to anything he wrote about in his Gospel since he was a companion of Paul, not a disciple of Jesus).
As for the part of the Bible where Jesus “showed up at Mary’s door and showed her the nail marks in his hands,” please cite the source for that story. I’m not familiar with it and want to make sure I have my facts straight.
After I replied, the original writer replied as follows:
forgive me it was actually thomas and can be found in john 20:27
I appreciate that he admitted his mistake instead of somehow trying to weasel his way out of it. That shows integrity.
On the other hand, I’m sure we can all admit the irony of his mistaking Mary for Thomas, talking about Jesus showing up at her door when the story in question makes a big point that Jesus appeared without using a door, and saying that I should get my facts straight before misreporting what may be the most famous Bible story about the risen Jesus.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
Hello, i am 27 and lifetime atheist. Well i would technically be a believer in a theory that we as a whole really dont know why we are. The riddle of life has plagued and pondered me to a nub. What i can say, and the reason i am on this site, is that i am desperatly seeking logical reasons for why and what life is. The explaination they (religious people in general) sounds as ridicoulas as it actually is. Im not stupid, far from it, but i am heartbroken because of a loss i have recently had. I have never experienced such a heartwrenching death, and 4 day prelude to death. I have been destroyed for a month now and as much i would love all the “he’s in heaven now” jargon ive recieved, sadly its not even a possibility. So, friend, I am declaring myself an athesiest, for one, and also looking for comfort by way of others views and theories (that are more logical than “god created all, you and him will go bowling after you die if you are a good boy). I have stopped caring about life and for the first time in my life have been having suicidal thoughts, even starting to plan. Maybe I can find a reason not to online. Thank you so much for your time.
First and foremost, I would like to offer my sympathy for your loss. It is an awful truth of human existence that there will at times be unbearable sorrows, and in some ways they are more difficult to deal with when you don’t have the comfort of the stories and legends that religion has crafted to help hide the wounds from view.
You asked for a logical reason for why and what life is, and I’m going to disappoint you. In my opinion, questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “Why are we here?” (as traditionally asked) only exist when one assumes that there is a deity or some other force behind existence that intended things to be the way they are. As an atheist, I’m sure you would agree that there is no such force, so I would ask you to put those questions aside as meaningless.
A more relevant question — and the one that, perhaps, you are hoping I will answer — is “If there is no overall meaning to life, then why should I bother living?” That, fortunately, is a question that atheists can answer.
Since there is no afterlife, the life you live now is the most important and meaningful thing in your existence. You are not working toward some posthumous goal, but working toward building, creating, and enjoying all you can with the time you have.
I don’t know the details of your loss, but whomever you lost must have meant a great deal to you and must be the focus of many happy memories. Now that this person is gone, those memories are a legacy — the treasure created by a wonderful, unique human existence. The best way to honor the person you lost is to treat those memories as the treasure they are. Enjoy them. Share them. Learn from them. Let others benefit from them where you can.
So long as you live, some of the joy created by the person you lost exists. The worst thing you can do is throw your life away and waste that joy. The best thing you can do is struggle forward and look to create wonderful memories in others, so that when your time comes, you will live on in the things you have created.
I hope this has been of some help. Thank you for writing.
From the IAmAnAtheist.com feedback form:
Hi , Recently I had a very awkward moment with my father. He came from a religious back ground ( Christian ) but never pressed his religion upon me growing up . I’ve never believed in any god. And didn’t really think he did either .. Religion came up one day and we got to talking.. Now reasonable thinking and some comen sense I thought we shared incomen.He started telling me about jesus Christ. And all the good things he’s done and that’s where it got awkward… cuz I think all that shit is bs and any one living in that time would make up shit to make themselves feel better about dyin from a commen cold or lack of Medical treatment .. So I’m like dad “science” ?? You don’t really believe that do you.but he said Jesus was a good person…, and I don’t know how to respectfully tell him or my little brother you dont need a fake dignity / religion to do the right thing and I feel like there brainwashing my little brothers (14)and (11).. Christian schools church every Sunday .. So my question is how do I go about giving my little brothers their own options about religion/ atheism without the huge emotional backlash from my stepmom ??? Huge jesus fan !! Lol It just breaks my heart to see them get spoon fed this garbage and not have the opportunity to think other wise… -thanks for listening
This is a complex question; I’ll see if I can be of some help.
The first thing I notice is that you seem to think that Jesus was either everything Christians believe he was, a liar, or fictional. But it is completely possible for a non-Christian to consider Jesus to have been an actual, good person, even if there isn’t even the remotest possibility that he performed miracles. Thomas Jefferson — a Deist — was of this opinion. He even made himself a version of the Gospels in which all of the miracles and other items Jefferson thought were false were eliminated and only Jesus’ moral teachings remain. You can get a copy of The Jefferson Bible on Amazon, if you’re interested.
Is it possible that Jesus was a real person who said great things and who became the focus of a bunch of legends? Yes. Is it possible that Jesus said some great things but that great things said by others were misattributed to him as his story was retold? Sure. Is it possible that Jesus was a fraud who set out to make people believe he could work miracles? Yep. Could Jesus have been made up out of whole cloth by people trying to start a religion? It’s possible. Is there any way, at this point in history, to tell exactly what the historic Jesus said and did, assuming he even existed? Not with any accuracy.
My personal opinion, based on reading religious texts and studying folklore and the growth of urban legends, is that Jesus was probably a real person who believed the world was about to end and that Jewish law, as then practiced, had become corrupt and was in need of repair. He came to a spectacular end, and this spurred transmission of his story, which grew over the years, becoming more supernatural with each telling (as you can see if you read the Gospels in chronological order).
Getting back to your specific situation, I’d like to know what exactly your dad is saying when he talks about “all the good things” Jesus did. If he’s talking about moral teachings — love your neighbor, give to the poor, etc. — then you’re right, you don’t need a deity to do those things. There’s nothing wrong with an atheist giving credit to Jesus for promoting them, though. On the other hand, if you’re talking about miracles — walking on water, cursing trees, etc. — these are things that would require a deity, but they’re not moral lessons. They tell us nothing about how to be moral people.
Here’s something to think about: I find that the most moral people are the ones who really think about morality, as opposed to those who blindly follow someone else’s example of morality. In my opinion, asking “What would Jesus do?” is largely useless for Christians, since if their religion were true then the answer in many cases would be “a miracle” — and we humans don’t have that option. Instead, we have to learn how to think morally. We might ask, “What would Jesus do if he were a man?” But that’s just asking, “What would a moral person do?” Which can be simplified to, “What should I do?”
That’s all well and good, but you need some concrete suggestions. Where should you go from here? I have found that in most cases of kids living at home with religious parents, it’s best to try and work within their system than blatantly bust out of it. You can promote moral thinking to your siblings without having to say a word against — or even about — Jesus. If you’re worried about religious belief in general, you can also try to start polite, friendly, family conversations that push at the edges of religious belief and knowledge. How many people visited Jesus’ tomb? What were Jesus’ last words? Can good works get you into Heaven, or do you have to believe in Jesus? If you have to believe in Jesus, then is Moses in Hell? There are tons of questions like this that you can ask in a non-confrontational way. So long as you make clear that you are really interested in hearing your parents’ answers and not just trying to poke fun at them, your parents should have no objection to discussing such things.
The long-term goal here is to get your parents to admit that there are some thing that they either do not know about their religion or some things that they take on blind faith. Once you have that, build on it. Your siblings will get the idea that religious ideas are ideas that should be considered, not just accepted. If they are also taught good reasoning practices, this should be enough to — at the very least — show them that the atheist position is reasonable, whether they end up agreeing with it or not.
Since you mention morality more than once, it is possible that this is what you are most concerned about (and, personally, I think it’s a more important subject in many ways). You can also use family discussions to explore your parents’ morality and show that it’s just not possible to rely solely on Jesus for moral teaching. For example, Jesus nullified the Jewish law but many Christians still treat the 10 Commandments as valid. You can go through the commandments and try to puzzle out exactly what they would allow or condemn. What does “Thou shalt not kill” really mean? Can you kill in self defense? In war? For food? Is it a sin to kill someone accidentally? What if a person in horrible pain is begging to die? Or capital punishment? You could discuss this one for hours.
If you will pardon some self promotion, my book Ask Yourself to be Moral has pages and pages of questions like this that can be used for family discussion if you really want to build your family’s moral-thinking muscles. The book is appropriate for theist and atheist alike, and if you have a Kindle, you can borrow it from the Kindle lending library at no cost.
To sum up, I suggest you do three things to help your siblings and keep family harmony:
- Sincerely ask difficult questions
- Always discuss, never argue
- Seek long-term understanding, not short-term victories
I thank you for writing to me and wish you the best of luck. I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to write again if you would like further explanation, or additional issues arise.
In: Dealing with religious folks
This is just a quick note to let you know that Amazon Prime members who are Kindle owners can now read my book Ask Yourself to be Moral for free by borrowing it from the Amazon lending library.
Because of the way Amazon’s lending library works, I believe I actually make as much money when someone borrows the book as when they buy a copy for the Kindle. Also, clicking on the book link in this post and buying anything — whether it’s my book or anything else — will give me credit in Amazon’s affiliate program, which would be handy.
I’d like to be able to spend more time working on this blog, and supporting me by buying/borrowing my book or publicizing it online would be a big help. I really appreciate it (and apologize for the massively self-serving post).