Life can be hard for young people. Some may make light of the challenges of youth, but navigating ever-changing social norms while doing your homework on time and dealing with that giant bag of crazy we call “growing up,” isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world.
But when you’re a young atheist in a religious family—or community—things can be a lot harder. In the worst cases, young atheists can face neglect, abuse, indoctrination, and some are even cut off from support and forced to leave their homes.
Fortunately, there is an ever-deepening well of resources out there for young people who don’t subscribe to the religions of their parents. One such resource is Hemant Mehta’s book, “The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.”
Mehta, an atheist activist, author, and blogger, outlines the problems young atheists sometimes face, inspiring his readers with a handful of successful survival stories, as well as with tips on how to handle life as a young atheist.
We’re going to take a look at some lessons we can learn from his words. If you’re a young atheist struggling to survive in a religious family, here’s what you need to do.
If you cannot be true to yourself, you can’t truly live. Unless it will place you in danger to do so, it is vital that you not only embrace your own views on how the world works, but also communicate those views to your family.
Mehta writes that one of the most important things you can do is “let people know you don’t believe in God,” because this normalizes atheism. After all, the more people know about atheism, the less likely they are to be prejudiced and afraid around those who do not subscribe to any religion.
It’s entirely possible that nothing may change—they may love and accept you just as much as they ever did. This, in fact, is the behavior that most faiths’ sacred texts encourage.
It’s likely, though, that your family’s reaction won’t be positive. Within many religious worldviews, the result of disbelief in God is eternal punishment, and your family may not want that for you.
It is important, though, that you speak up if and when the opportunity arises. One way or another, the truth will come out, and it’s better to take control of the situation than to have your family find out after an angry outburst or period of intense depression.
Realize You’re Not Alone
According to Mehta, around a third of Americans under 30 have “no religious affiliation.” This, in fact, is the highest percentage of any previous generation.
In other words, you’re not alone.
One of the reasons it is so important to go public with your atheism is so that you can draw in the support of those who think as you do, who can help you through the unique challenges you are—and will be—facing. Having a support system to fall back on if your family reacts badly to your atheism is vital. If you feel that you are in danger, get out and run to your supports. Don’t wait for things to get worse. You don’t deserve to be abused or belittled or hurt in any way. If you are, let an authority know, and you’ll be cared for.
Because so many young atheists are silent about their non-faith, it can seem like you’re the only one. You’re not. There are many out there like you, and with a little effort, you can find them.
Argue With Kindness
With something as important as faith, arguments are bound to come up between you and your religious family. Handling this the wrong way can put a permanent divider between you and your loved ones, and so if you want to preserve your familial relationships as much as possible, here’s what you need to do.
First, argue with kindness. If you’re angry, confrontational, or vengeful as you try to convey truth, you’ll only cement your family’s beliefs, as well as their view that atheism is an evil.
Be kind, however, and your family may just begin to realize how wrong they are about you. They’ll see that you’re an atheist, yet you’re not fitting any of their negative, preconceived notions of what an atheist is. With a little work, you’ll open their eyes and help them to see you as a person, not as a label.
And whatever you do, don’t argue to “win.” Argue to reveal truth—that’s the goal. Keep an open mind, too, to whatever they may have to teach you.
Argue the right way, and your coming out as an atheist might just have the happiest ending you could ask for.
Seek Truth on Your Own
Now that you’ve come out as an atheist, have gathered your supporters, and are engaging your family on friendly terms, it’s time to explore your own worldview.
You need to take some time, apart from your family, to figure out who you are, what you believe, and what you want to do with that belief.
Ask yourself questions. Why do you feel the way you do? What presuppositions are you relying on? Do you feel that you should try to actively campaign or raise awareness of issues regarding atheism, and how atheists are treated or viewed?
No one can ever force any certain belief system upon you—that has never, in all of history, worked on anyone. People have to come to their own conclusions based on the truths they find in the world, so take the time to really figure out what you believe is true.
Do this, and you’ll not only be able to better articulate your atheism, but you’ll find newfound purpose as you consider the future.
Surviving as a young atheist is about more than simply rebelling against religion—in fact, it’s not about that at all.
It’s about helping to create a world where people are treated with kindness, no matter what they believe. It’s about creating harmony.
It’s about forging peace between all worldviews and creating a space where you can just be you.