Monday, 1 August 2011

A Personal Story -- By Zoe R

My family isn’t terribly religious. I grew up going to synagogue only once in a while, usually for special holidays. When I did go, I didn’t have much of an idea of what was going on; most of the proceedings were in Hebrew, which I never learned. I was taught the stories of the major holidays, such as the reason we celebrate Pesah or Yom Kippur, but they were just that. Stories. Not the absolute truth, but a story.

However, now that I’ve further explored my own belief system, I find myself growing more uncomfortable with the religion around me. I wasn’t indoctrinated, but it’s always there. My grandmother will say a prayer, or we’ll tell a religious story with all the oppressions of religion, and I’ll shift uncomfortably in my seat, biting my tongue.

I’ve tried my best not to let it become an issue. If someone mentions god, I bite my tongue or mumble in response. The message is clear, but not overly confrontational. If my aunt mentions that “God is unforgiving,” then I’ll just ignore the remark and move on. For the most part, this system works.

But I’ve become more uncomfortable with my interactions with my mother in recent months. She’s aware of my atheism, and for the most part, is accepting of it. By no means does she force me to attend anything religious in nature, nor does she preach to me. That being said, I can’t help but feel like she brings up religion and states it as fact more than I’d like. She makes an occasional comment about how “God probably judges based on goodness, so we’ll be okay” and the like. She’s not overly religious, but these comments seem to be increasing in frequency and are making me uncomfortable.

I’m undecided as to a course of action. I think that it’s a struggle we all face, in one way or another. Even if we live in secular societies and aren’t surrounded with overly religious people, religion has a way of sneaking into the conversation. As an issue, it’s nothing compared to oppression of atheists or much else on the scale, but it remains a subtle reminder that I’m an outsider in my own family. It makes me more uncomfortable than I’d care to admit, yet I’m unsure that it’s a large enough issue to escalate.

Do you notice religious sneaking into unrelated conversations? Does it make you feel uncomfortable?

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

Tomorrow: Freedom of Religion, by Colin G 


  1. I really relate to what you said about being taught about religion as if it were just stories. I remember being very young and finding out there was no Santa or tooth fairy, then logically concluding that God and Jesus must be made up stories too. Of course, I got into religion more when I was a bit older, but at the time it seemed to make sense that the God story was every bit as untrue as Santa and his elves.

  2. I don't think people always notice it. This country has so much Christian heritage, they take it for granted.

    I envy your situation, to be honest. My parents are hard core in their beliefs, and even ascribe to something called Christian Patriarchy, which means that they believe that adult daughters must continue to obey their fathers and that fathers should control and guide any romantic relationships through a process called "courtship." I had to leave home over this, although I was in college at the time. So it could be worse. Of course, I don't mean that just because it could be worse your situation isn't painful or a problem, I'm just adding some context, maybe.

    Your mom sounds pretty open and accepting, so maybe you could just mention it to her and tell her it's bothering you?

  3. Yes I have noticed that. It's mostly with some friends though. They are aware of my atheism, and I think some of them are just trying to convert me.

  4. I spent the day yesterday with my grandfather who recently suffered a stroke. He's recovering very well, so much so that he was sent home from the rehab clinic. We talked (via 20 questions for him though) he made us coffee, even poked fun at me when I had a second slice of carrot cake.

    The uncomfortable thing for me was that as a very regular church goer, him and Nana view virtually everything in a slight religious context. "The computer wasn't working," She said with a smile, "so I prayed and went off to do something else and when I came back it was working."
    Nana is a lady who'll pray at the drop of a hat for any context. She's also the kind of women who doesn't think about the nature of any possible effect praying would have.

    She told us over afternoon tea, that as Peter was first recovering from his stroke that she put him on every prayer list in the district. This really annoyed me but I held back from saying "How much prayer does Peter need? How many prayers would it take to reverse the neural damage?"

    I am an out atheist, my brother and mum are both agnostics just from not wanting to think about it, but Nana seems to presume that just because we used to go to her church that we must be too. She's a lovely woman and I love her and Granddad to bits but having irreconcilable views does get very frustrating.

  5. Mike, that sounds like such a difficult situation. It's must be hard for your Nana to deal with what has happened. I'm sure she's very concerned for your granddad, and I guess religion helps her with that. I really feel for you having to balance your own feelings about your grandfather's health with your love and respect for your Nana.

    It can be so difficult to talk to people about how you're feeling when your worldviews are so different. I hope all goes well for your family and that your granddad's recovery continues to go smoothly.

  6. You said it made you uncomfortable, but that you didn't know if it was a big enough issue to escalate. I think that there is a middle ground that you can find. Your family seem like reasonable people who are not going to go all inquisition on you if you tell them to back off, so you might try politely telling them that you accept their beliefs, you just don't share them, and if they wouldn't mind pushing the God stuff a little less hard. Best of luck to you Zoe, I know it's hard when you feel like an outsider in your family, I am no stranger to that feeling.

  7. To be fair, I don't think anyone is worried about Peter. It's been maybe a month to 6 weeks since it happened and he's already beaten the prognosis the doctor gave. He's beaten all expectations and his ability to communicate is returning rapidly even with one lobe tied behind his back.

    Nana was a child of the war and grew up in the aftermath of WWII so has that instinctive old fashioned unrelenting British spirit, to the point of owning a mug that says "Keep calm and carry on." referencing the the posters you saw around town during the worse parts of the war.

    The talking about prayer that Nana does, and talking about her imaginary friend, God, and his presence in the Church is not at all new or worsened by the stroke Peter had.

    It's just that I find praying for miracles regarding health to be offensive and praying for just the car to start to be stupidly trivial.

    Thanks for your kind thoughts though.

  8. Mike, I'm glad to hear it's past the time for worrying :) It would be even better if everyone realized that it was doctors and scientific advances that improved your granddad's chances, not God. But still, it's good he's all right.

  9. Yeah, that was a good one too... :)

  10. I always cringe when my parents say something religious.

    Of course for religious people god is never unrelated, it's their worldview. This is what makes it so hard to question them, identity and ideology are intrinsically related, perhaps even increasingly so these days. People sometimes justify their belief not with evidence but on what it says about them -
    'Why do I align my chakras every night? Well it's just how I am, you know what i'm like.'
    So to debunk someone's belief is often an insult to them, very difficult when they're a close family member, someone you love and admire.
    You must decide whether to be outspoken about atheism in your family because you know your family best. I suggest you preach your ideology to them until they convert, or cringe every time you say something about God.

    And if they don't accept you then we'll be your family - although I can only speak for myself here so it might be just me and you. Can we get a pet cat?


  11. It comes up every once in a while, usually on an offhand remark by someone in my family, and I have to say it does make me rather uncomfortable. Mostly because I've only told my parents I'm an atheist and judging from the way it went over with them, it just seems better to keep things under wraps rather than come bounding out of "the closet". I mean my family isn't overly religious, but it changed the relationship between my parents in a weird and subtle way.

    Great article btw, Laura. A lot of it hit home for me.