This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Told my parents I am an atheist...

Told my parents I am an atheist... - Comments

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 1 by Stevehill

Not a lot to say other than sympathies, and I think you deserve at least one response!

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 10:35:02 UTC | #537133

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 2 by SaganTheCat

my sympathy too

in my view religious fundamentalism does exist at one extreme but atheism is the centre point. the wishy-washy view they call the middle is just accomodationism and certainly not the most rational.

The thing about religios belief is no matter how intelligent someone seems, when it comes to their belief they take an utterly dismissive view of any potential criticism

i've been an atheist for many years now. my mother believes one day i'll go back to being a believer. there's no convincing people of something they don't want to know.

You don't need an argument against their views to support your own. You know of no evidence for any sort of conscious creator, you understand how superstition leads to cultism and religion, particularly in simpler times 2000 years ago, the only reason you could possibly be a catholic believer is because your parents told you to be one.

unfortunately that's more likely the issue. like most children, you failed to turn out how your parents expected you to (I put that down to a quality called "variability" that Darwin observed).

without getting into semantics of what "belief" means I'd just stick to my guns saying "this is what I believe, you don't have to agree or even like it but you should have the grace to accept it"

Nothing creates straw men like atheism. you'll be told constantly what you believe, what you'd do to other believers given the chance and exactly why you became an atheist. just have to learn to take it on the chin and leave those putting their views on your atheism to show up their own intollerence

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 10:57:06 UTC | #537145

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 3 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

I think Daniel Clear makes a very good point about atheism being a centrepoint, not an extreme.

We all start off as atheists and we are all atheists in respect to most irrational beliefs. All human beings have to make rational decisions in everyday life, regardless of whether or not we may also choose to adopt some irrational beliefs. So if you decide to adopt one particular irrational belief you start to take just one of an infinite number of possible routes away from a common centre of rationality. How far you go along that route and away from common rationality determines how extreme your beliefs become.

It's completely illogical to say that if you don't pick one route away from a common centre of rationality that every human being shares then you are adopting an extreme viewpoint.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 11:14:14 UTC | #537155

Outrider's Avatar Comment 4 by Outrider

I think what comes across from your parents, at least how you recount their commentary, is that they think that you are going to try to convert them...

They are talking to you about how you feel, which is better than some people have managed, and they haven't accused you of being evil so far as I can tell - it might not feel it, but I think you've come out of it remarkably well for someone with fairly strongly religious parents.

Just explain to them that you still hold most, if not all, of the same moral values that they do, that you respect their right to their belief, you won't try to convert them (though if they want to discuss things that's fine) and they'll come to see that atheism might be 'an' extreme, but it certainly isn't 'fundamentalist'.


Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:00:27 UTC | #537187

Tanweer's Avatar Comment 5 by Tanweer

The first protestation: that labeling myself as an atheist is just asking for an argument. I said I welcomed any argument a person wants to have and that it is good for people to talk about these things. They seemed to think it was an overt and aggressive gesture on my part, to call myself an atheist.

I am a theist, a believer, and I think what your parents have shown is a very instinctive (and perhaps typical) reaction to the notion of atheism.

I have commented profusely on other threads, mostly in discussion/debate over the existence of God, morality etc. But just because I believe in God does not mean that I cannot respect someone who doesn't, or even understand them. I can and do.

I believe, and this is just my humble opinion, that individuals such as Professor Richard Dawkins are responsible for stigmatising atheists and atheism as aggressive and militant. The term itself is also somewhat misleading in many cases (see the whole Igtheism and Ig-belief discussion thread on which I have commented a fair bit).

Many atheists, such as yourself from what I can gather, don't seem to so much disbelieve in God, but rather think that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of God and therefore theism cannot be a starting position.

I may disagree with this, but I can understand it and I can still respect you as a human being.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:05:40 UTC | #537192

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 6 by Mark Jones

Comment 5 by Tanweer

I believe, and this is just my humble opinion, that individuals such as Professor Richard Dawkins are responsible for stigmatising atheists and atheism as aggressive and militant.

On the contrary; Richard is not responsible for any aggressive or militant acts, and yet is labelled profusely as such by theists with an agenda and 'believers in belief' accommodating atheists. The evidence of the source of this meme is overwhelming.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:19:58 UTC | #537201

ocallaghanbohrdt's Avatar Comment 7 by ocallaghanbohrdt

He said he wouldn't like it if a religious fundamentalists tried to convert him and that he felt the same way about atheism.

A religious fundameltalist did try (and succeeded) to convert him. He was born an atheist...

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:38:54 UTC | #537207

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 8 by crookedshoes

Tanweer, It is a shame that you are in the minority when it comes to believer and their attitudes/acceptance of non believers. If you swapped the words believer/non believer in your post you would come up with how MOST atheists approach theists.
I disagree with you about Richard Dawkins and his "role". But I think your assessment of atheism may be the only theist opinion I've heard that comes close to my own way of defining my atheism. I like your theme of respect and could easily live in a theistic world where your approach was the norm. The reason it gets aggressive/militant is that the theistic world I DO live in does not come close to the one I just proposed. I wouldn't say a word if I wasn't challenged. Most of the time if you will continue your honesty, most of the time it is the theist who is both militant and aggressive. They push their beliefs and attack with absolutely ZERO evidence other than their opinion which they mistake for fact. Get the religious to back off and you'd see a "better behaved" atheist. But enough is enough and at this point in human history, it is time that "beliefs" be openly challenged when they are inane.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:45:24 UTC | #537208

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 9 by Rob Schneider

Comment 5 by Tanweer :

Many atheists, such as yourself from what I can gather, don't seem to so much disbelieve in God, but rather think that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of God and therefore theism cannot be a starting position.

I am pleased to see a self-proclaimed religious person be able to phrase this position so clearly.

My response to Road_Runner321 was going to be, "Your parents have a pre-conceived notion of what "atheism" means and entails. It is a notion planted by their church over the years, and it is DESIGNED to make them recoil and not understand... because the straw-man definition would make anyone recoil!!

On an any-given-day basis, being non-theistic amounts to questioning the world. That's it. Look. Assess. Fit it in with the rest of what you "know." Move on. So your parents should know that you have stopped taking unfounded assertions on faith, and you will be researching/thinking/interrogating all future assertions.

This should ease the "fear of conversion" argument, but at the same time make it clear that this doesn't mean if there is a juicy religion related topic in the news that you won't comment on it in a way that might ask THEM to question their faith.

No one is immune to having to question their faith. I had a very close Catholic friend who got very angry over time that my ideas caused him to question his faith. What? You want to be surrounded by an echo chamber of self-confirming delusions?

The "Atheism=fundamentalism" or "Atheism is just another religion" argument stems from the straw man mentioned above. If you believe that "Atheists KNOW there is no God." then you might be right to say, Atheism is just another faith... claiming to KNOW the unknowable.

Atheists make no claim to absolute certainty... they simply say the claims made by all religions about THEIR gods are insufficient, contradictory, etc. If your dad insists, then challenge him to a game: "I'll show you a foolish statement made by a fundamentalist, which is in contradiction with the world, physics, other gods, etc. You show me a statement by an atheist that does the same."

Even if he comes up with some statement (refutable) it will inspire him to rethink the claim that "atheism" holds any "fundamental" tenets other than "I don't believe in all your gods because the evidence available doesn't justify it... AND I will not make the leap from "I don't Know" to "God did it."

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:46:20 UTC | #537210

T-Porter's Avatar Comment 10 by T-Porter


I do not believe you questioned your parents enough concerning why atheism equals religous fundamentalism. That's a big, serious claim, how many atheists has your parents met or is this belief simply prejudice or misunderstanding?

I come over a little more confrontational but I believe you can make the points better then I can. I think it is an interesting argument though, how did your parents add A + B = D?

You are not taking a stance against her beliefs but following a view of the world that is appropriate for you. You are still the same person but have simply been a little more honest to your parents about who you are.

If your father feels you are converting him you can ask the question why were you converted as a child? You were not born a christian You were born a baby, a little person, no different to the rest of us. Did you be asked to be raised a christian?

I see atheism as a journey. You can use science to travel the world in search for answers. There are mysteries in this world, why is wanting to explain it? Is the stars less beautiful at nights despite us knowing how they are made and exist? Is animals less impressive despite what we know about their hunting strategies? Is the ocean still not as vast as it is?

The world is wonderful so live it!

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:47:57 UTC | #537212

viralmeme's Avatar Comment 11 by viralmeme

Well, I finally bit the bullet and told my parents ..

Of what business is it of your parents what you believe? What validity does this personal anecdote give to your philosophical position?

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 13:35:15 UTC | #537230

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Comment 12 by Al Denelsbeck


I think you are actually in a rare position, one that may take a bit of patience and time to weather through, but ultimately could be very beneficial. The points your parents are making right now are rather curious - some of their arguments revolve around the consequences of your "label," not the rationality of your standpoint. To put it another way, "You shouldn't be an atheist because theists are then going to be assholes to you." And I think it's perfectly fine to point out this message - kindly, but distinctly. It's a really poor reason for maintaining a worldview.

But more to the point, they appear to be making the efforts to convince you otherwise, which is going to lead them to opening up some dialogue, and doing some looking around on their own. Some of their preconceived notions about atheism are going to falter, while you will have the opportunity to point out some of the flaws of their own beliefs, if you so desire (you may not, and that's fine.) For instance, the coincidences your mother maintains are divine. Can she demonstrate how they differ from meaningless coincidences? Does she notice how often these occur?

While discussing with my brother about his views on evolution, I was able to point out the radically wrong ideas he had about the process, ones he'd been fed by theists. Not confrontational in the least, just confidently showing that natural selection worked entirely differently from what he thought. At the very least, you may have the same opportunity with your folks, and letting them know that the opinion they have of atheism isn't well-informed. That's enough to slow people down, at least, and may open the door for deeper discussions.

Good luck!

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 13:36:16 UTC | #537232

Al Denelsbeck's Avatar Comment 13 by Al Denelsbeck


I believe, and this is just my humble opinion, that individuals such as Professor Richard Dawkins are responsible for stigmatising atheists and atheism as aggressive and militant. The term itself is also somewhat misleading in many cases (see the whole Igtheism and Ig-belief discussion thread on which I have commented a fair bit).

I'm going to disagree with you a bit about the stigmatizing part, most especially the responsibility. This doesn't come from championing Richard Dawkins, and in fact, I do occasionally refer to his standpoint as anti-theistic. I tend to consider his focus as being a bit narrow, since I personally feel that the lack of critical-thinking is a better thing to address; it doesn't get the religious as frothy about being "attacked," and applies to many other areas like alternative medicine, UFOs, paranormal phenomena, and so on.

But I can't see that he had, or has, much to do with the stigma of atheism. I was well aware of the ostracizing long before I even knew who he was, and quite a few people that I've spoken with have never heard of him at all. The message of atheists as immoral, nihilistic, pagan, witches, demon-worshipers, and many other epithets goes back a very long ways, long before Dawkins was even born. You also have to recognize that the hyperbole and outright misrepresentations of his work, most especially his "militant" stance, are products of people trying to demonize him, not reacting to the content itself, and this had to have started somewhere else.

It's funny that so many people seem to miss the militance of religious expression, but decry it from atheists. I live in a state (North Carolina) that has a law on the books requiring state politicians to swear to a belief in god, despite the fact that this is unConstitutional - moreover, many people in the state still support it. One of our past US Presidents openly said that atheists should not be considered citizens - seriously, where the hell did this come from? What has atheism to do with citizenship, or for that matter, anything with politics? Imagine if he had said that about any ethnic, racial, or religious group you care to name. This is pig-ignorant, but accepted by many in this country and the world over.

This is hardly Dawkin's work. If Dawkins simply spent his time making statements in direct proportion to the number of public statements made by religious leaders about the horrors of atheism, he'd have no time left to do anything else (like writing books on evolution to try and counter the campaign to discredit that.) The fact that it is considered "militant" for anyone to actually speak in contradiction to religious wanking is absolutely astounding to me.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 14:02:18 UTC | #537250

DocWebster's Avatar Comment 14 by DocWebster

We see again how people of faith can only fathom atheism as an attack. Your mom is correct in characterizing some atheists fundamentalists though. Any scientist or even average joe who is an atheist can hold that view simply by recognizing the the fundamentals of existence hold no evidence for supernatural intervention which is the exact opposite of the religious fundamental view. The train wreck starts when she implies that there are two equal arguments separate by a gulf of gray area with actual truth being maybe somewhere in between. The fact is We start out at truth, or at least as close to truth as we've been able to prove thus far, and the story just gets crazier and more convoluted the farther towards religion you go. The thing I like most about atheism is I don't need a book or a building I have to visit each week or a class of people set above me who are supposed to be the keepers of the truth to maintain my worldview, and I don't have a boogeyman sitting on my shoulder writing down every stupid thing for later reference. Grieve for your parents desire to enslave themselves but do it quietly so as not to scare them.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 14:04:43 UTC | #537254

ShesTheBeth's Avatar Comment 15 by ShesTheBeth

Part of the problem with any one way of thinking is you tend to associate with only those who think the way you do. I was raised as an atheist and am now 50, but NEVER had issues with dating and religion when I was younger. It simply never came up, yet I found myself always in the company of others who thought the same way I did. Point being, there are plenty of attractive, intelligent, loving people out there in the atheist world. Invite your mother to expand her social circles and reassure her that her fear that you will not find a suitable spouse is unfounded, and perhaps it is only HER fear that you WILL find an atheist wife, and thereby give her atheist grandchildren that concerns her most.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 15:24:08 UTC | #537297

Peacebeuponme's Avatar Comment 16 by Peacebeuponme

My mother believes it is rude to take a stance against people's beliefs.

Your parents are surely decent people, and this is a personal story, so there is a need to adopt the appropriate sensitivity.

Did you ask your mother to think about the hypocrisy of her statement here (in a gentle way, of course)? I mean, here she is, taking a stance of sorts against your beliefs...

This is one of the main things that gets me with the religious, and 'don't rock the boat' atheists, good people though most of them are. Why must we not knock the religious boat, even ever so gentle, while the most aggressive shunting is permissible against atheism without a thought?

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 17:27:16 UTC | #537378

Dave H's Avatar Comment 17 by Dave H

If they think atheists are aggressive, they are just admitting that they can't stand it to hear a second opinion. Atheists are labelled aggressive just by opening their mouths. What does that tell you about believers?

Atheism is not fundamentalism or limiting. It is just the demand that extra-ordinary claims demand extra-ordinary evidence. If you tell me it rained on your way to work, I might believe you on hearsay because it is a common and ordinary event. If you tell me it rained on your way to work and I see a clear blue sky out the window, I might gather extra evidence by looking out a window on the other side of the building, or seeing if your clothing is wet. If you tell me you are late for work because of the traffic, I might believe you just on hearsay. If you tell me you are late for work because you were whisked away by aliens who delayed you with some scientific experiments, I would be right to demand some more evidence for this extra-ordinary claim. Now, if you tell me that there is an invisible man in the sky who can read your mind and will help you live forever if you are a good boy, then I feel justified in demanding a bit more than word of mouth. It is not up to the listener to prove the statement wrong; it is up to the claimant to supply the proof that it is right, and the more outlandish the claim, the more evidence needed to justify it.

I had no problem finding an atheist wife. In fact, I could never love someone who's outlook and morals I didn't at least respect, and I could never respect anyone who's outlook and morals were based an idiotic belief in supernatural mumbo-jumbo. Happily, my wife feels the same way. And anyway, what does your potential future marital situation have to do with whether or not one of their stupid gods exists? They are saying that if you want to find a wife, you'd better believe in this stupid bullshit over here, or at least pretend that you believe this stupid bullshit over here. What a bunch of bullshit. Sorry, but there's no other word for it.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 17:39:21 UTC | #537387

zengardener's Avatar Comment 18 by zengardener

Most people equate atheism with strong atheism. (I know or believe there is NO GOD.)

I prefer the term Naturalist. If you say you are a naturalist, they may at least ask you to explain what that means.

Tell your parents to imagine that you are a newborn and ask them to explain why you should believe their claims.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 18:29:28 UTC | #537406

HappyHighwayman's Avatar Comment 19 by HappyHighwayman


My mother believes it is rude to take a stance against people's beliefs.


Was it rude to protest against slavery?

What about women's suffrage?

What about those that stood up to the Nazis?

What about HER taking a stance against YOUR beliefs?

Honestly, if she is that blinded that she would make the ultimate in ironic statements, she is NOT open minded, she is the definition of closed minded theist.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 21:43:26 UTC | #537468

Carl Sai Baba's Avatar Comment 20 by Carl Sai Baba

I would tell them that their "moderate" religion may not be evil like the extremists with whom they equate you, but neither extreme nor moderate religion is convincing and I don't believe any of it.

And if they are going to compare anyone who doesn't believe their "moderate" religion with fundamentalists, then maybe they aren't so moderate or open-minded or whatever it is they think they are.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 22:08:36 UTC | #537473

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 21 by AtheistEgbert

It is absolutely wrong for people to equate atheism as somehow equivalent to religious fundamentalism. It is a falsehood that needs to be confronted. Atheists do not want to force their views on others, they don't seek to force science in churches, nor do they send planes into buildings or want to go on atheist wars. If religious people are unhappy that I wish to speak my opinions or make judgements on them, then that is tough. How about you take a bit of your own medicine for a change.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 23:02:09 UTC | #537497

helena!'s Avatar Comment 22 by helena!

I relate to your situation very much.

I just saw this video and it sure puts things into perspective. Watch this brave atheist - France 24: Moroccan Atheist Blogger Receives death threats

I wish somehow we could help him and all the others who's lives are in danger for speaking out.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 23:22:18 UTC | #537500

biame's Avatar Comment 23 by biame

Hi Road_Runner321, the biggest problem humans have is we tend to live in a world based on our perceptions. What we see and what we encounter most of the time in life, is generally what our perceptions will be made up of. This not withstanding, a good emotional charge, can influence human perception greatly.

Your parents sound like normal, decent people. Their perception of atheism in all probability comes from the empty vessel atheists, who tend to make the most sound. You don't have to look far in this forum to find them, there are discussions pertaining to how to manipulate, deceive and convert theists to atheistic beliefs, there is another set up as ridicule corner. These would most probably be the atheists which have confronted your mother and your father, to have them form such opinions.

Your job is to convince your parents not all atheists are irrational, unreasonable or abusive. Only time will show them this. It will all depend on how rational, logical and open minded, you yourself can be. Your father seems more open to it, already knowing there are extremists in both camps and that in fact, there is a middle ground where atheist and theist mix freely, with sincere respect to each others beliefs. Your mother seems more intelligent, questioning you of your own beliefs, how do you know? The answer you should have given your mother is you don't really know, it is just what you feel given the evidence available to you, just as she feels God per se, somehow intervened, given the evidence available to her. That all three of you are very much alike, I am assuming here you are a reasonable atheist and not a fanatic.

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 04:12:18 UTC | #537551

MMAtheist's Avatar Comment 24 by MMAtheist

My mother even tossed in a little aside about how being an atheist might make it difficult for me to find a wife! Thank you for that, Mom!

Stuff like this is really baffling to me. Doesn't she realize what she just said? By being something, things will be more difficult. So you should just change what you are. Go ahead, start believing in God. Do it.

Surely, as intelligent people, they should understand that even if atheists wanted to believe (and many of us don't), they simply cannot force themselves to believe.

Of course you could ask for some evidence because that would make you believe, but you're gonna need a lot of time and patience to systematically shoot down their logical fallacies.

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 09:39:17 UTC | #537591

Mnc_'s Avatar Comment 25 by Mnc_


Simply tell your parents, that the majority of Atheists are as peaceful as the majority of believers. Most of us do not wish to confront each other with theism vs atheism, but we merely accept that others have a right to believe in whatever deity they choose to.

Also, and I don't know if this will help your argument or not, but it is worth a try, you could point of the definition of atheism, that being 'without belief'. Atheism does not mean 'I don't believe and you must agree with me', and the distinction is very important to understanding one another.

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 16:04:10 UTC | #537751

Roedy's Avatar Comment 26 by Roedy

The will be awkward so long as you live at home. Unfortunately, it is much harder than it was in my day to leave home young and support yourself.

She has her doubts too. Ask her what they are. Then explain than for you the doubts are overwhelming. I have written a number of essays on what makes no sense in Christianity, and how Christianity has been perverted, and what is utterly mad in the bible. The moderator has asked me not to link to them. But if you found them, they would give you lots of ideas to probe for your Mom's doubts.

Reassure her that you are not about to dance naked with the devil down at city hall, tattoo your face with flames etc. You are still the same person, behaving roughly the same way as before. She has probably been told some pretty shocking stories about the evil we atheists get up to.

Talk about the corruption in the church -- the child rape, the extracting wealth from the poorest of the poor, the persecution of gay people, the ripping little old ladies off for their life savings, the phony faith healing. It is just too disgusting. You want no part of it. That is a separate issue from believing god is a fiction. Let her get used to your changes in stages.

Mon, 25 Oct 2010 05:44:32 UTC | #538238