February 2007

I have been raised as a Mormon for 17 years. And only in the past two have I come to reject it. At first it was not conciously done, now I am fully athiest. This has led to inevitable conflict with my family, especially since I still have to go to church and keep up the appearence of correct standards. I feel like I am being suffocated and know that I am greatly to blame. It will be awhile before I move out, and I want to know how I can make this situation more livable. So here I am spilling my guts like this simply because I am unable to do so at home. Yep.

You say that you have conflict with your family, so I assume they know about your feelings. This is a tough situation. I hope I can be of some help.

To start off, when you say that you “reject” Mormonism, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean that you realize that its religious base is untrue, or that you reject all aspects of the culture you were brought up with? This is a very important distinction.

It is completely possible to reject a religion without rejecting your culture. There are people who are ethnically Jewish but atheists and who continue to go to temple because the ceremony is an important part of their culture. I am an atheist, but I was not born an atheist (my spouse is a former Mormon, by the way), and my family still celebrates Christmas and Easter in a secular way because we see no need to throw out traditions that we love just because they are rooted in mythology.

So, as an atheist, you might make a choice to be sort of “culturally Mormon” while living with your family. The important thing, though, is that you not feel like you are living a lie. Don’t make a secret of your feelings. You might even want to talk to a bishop or other LDS official about this and ask if they see any problem with you attending services with your family even though you no longer consider yourself to be philosophically Mormon. The few Mormon officials I’ve had a chance to speak with have been pretty reasonable, and I would be surprised if you ran into a “say you believe or get out” attitude. If you and a church official can come to some sort of an understanding, it might help your family accept your status and it will stop you from having to pretend you’re not an atheist.

If you more completely reject Mormonism and want nothing to do with it, your situation is much more difficult. You may want to continue going to services with your family in order to avoid difficulties, but that feeling of living a lie isn’t going to go away. Let me know if this is your situation and we can look into it in more detail.

No matter what you do, don’t let yourself fall into the “bad atheist” trap of being confrontational about religion, particularly with those you care about. I have seen atheists who make a show of not being quiet while others are saying a blessing before a meal or rolling their eyes when someone talks about something religious. Such things get you marked as unpleasant and rude, and there is no reason an atheist needs to be either, even when surrounded by religious people.

Also, don’t be down on yourself just because you don’t agree with those around you. You talk about “keeping up the appearance of correct standards.” The fact is, if you’re a moral person, you do have correct standards. Keeping up the appearance of being religious has nothing to do with appearing “correct” and everything to do with not appearing different.

Being different from those around you, particularly from your family, is always difficult. Your family may have a very bad reaction to your atheism. You can try and lessen this reaction by showing them that you can still be a completely moral person as an atheist, and that you are not rejecting them even though you don’t agree with their opinion on religion. Tell them that this isn’t about something they did or something you’re mad at the church about — it’s a thoughtfully considered opinion, held without rancor, and one that you’re happy to talk about in a reasonable manner. If you’ve got siblings or relatives or are going to try and bait you or make fun of you, don’t let them get to you. They’re trying to show that there’s something shameful about being an atheist, when you and I know that there is nothing wrong with it at all. Don’t fall to their level. If you are reasonable, polite, and tolerant of others, those who attack your beliefs are the ones that will come across as problematic, not you.

And if all else fails, if your family refuses to be reasonable, at least you’re old enough that you can look ahead to being on your own. Don’t do anything rash or make big decisions on the spur of the moment, but plan carefully.

You might also want to look for atheist resources in your area or online. There are plenty of us out there, and we’re happy to help.

Let me know if there is something about your situation that I haven’t touched on or if there is anything else you would like to chat about. Remember that I always post my correspondence to my blog, and that our discussion might be helpful to many atheists out there who are in your position but too shy to write.

Posted on February 19, 2007 at 8:05 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Help

Leave a Reply