Afraid: Of Their Parents?

Once upon a time, I used to write for a site called Ask The Atheists. Well, I still do, but the site’s dropped severely in popularity over the last three years, so there aren’t many questions to answer nowadays. It was once a wonderful place where, aside from the occasional trolling question, people came with honest questions and problems, and a vetted list of writers would express their take on the issues involved.

DontComeOutOne of the saddest things about those questions was the number that involved young people, usually teenagers, but sometimes pre-teen, that lived literally in fear of their parents/guardians because of religious beliefs. These questions were often heartbreaking, detailing abject desperation and misery for children who just couldn’t *make* themselves believe. They ranged in tone from angry to terrified, depressed to suicidal.

Some of these stories were as banal as whether their parents would refuse to pay for college if they “came out”. Some were about homes in constant turmoil, where parents repeatedly abused their children (physically or emotionally) or manipulated them with threats or lies. Sometimes, they were fifteen year-olds living on the street and posting from internet cafes because they had been kicked out of the house. One girl was convinced that her father would beat her severely if he found out she’d been using a computer (he’d done it to her sister), and probably beat her to death if he discovered that she questioned her faith (one guess what “peaceful” religion *that* monster belonged to…).

Some of the questions had no good answers, and all we could do was express support and point them at counsellors or shelters; Some were so raw, they left me unable to breathe. Because of this exposure, I’m a little hyper-sensitive to similar stories popping up on Reddit/social media/traditional media. Of late, I’ve observed a marked increase in the number of such stories, and I am concerned.

The optimistic part of me wants to believe that this is simply a sign that the grip of religion is slipping from our youth more rapidly than before, and that society is more willing to hear these stories now, so they show up more in the media. This doesn’t make me feel any better about these poor tortured kids, but it at least implies that we’re on the road to improvement.

The pessimistic side of me wonders if this increase is due to the extremes of religions starting to creep back into the mainstream, as evidenced by the recent discovery that nearly half of Americans, having completed grade-school, still actually believe that the planet was created in six literal days somewhere between six and ten thousand years ago. Ya know, a few thousand years *after* our ancestors had invented agriculture!

All of me wishes there were a way to put a stop to these horrors! I have no idea how to fix this problem, but I *will* say this: Whether you are a believer or not, I hope you’ll take the stand that parents need to accept their children *whatever* they believe! Don’t just think it, say it, out loud, to anyone who’ll listen.

SubmissionIn fact, I especially mean this for believers. You see these abusive parents in your religious communities all the time. They’re hiding in plain sight, right there with those of you who *aren’t* crazy. Don’t try to find them or confront them. Just talk about how it’s not OK. Don’t let them think their community would accept this behaviour if it *did* come out. If your community *does* openly accept this kind of behaviour, LEAVE IT!

Moderate religionists tell me all the time how the actions of the extremists don’t represent them. Fine, prove it! Actively and openly reject the emotional and physical abuse of children who question their faith in your religious communities, and we can talk…

About the Author

Despite a decade of Catholic school, I have never been a believer. I guess I was just born without the gene! Nevertheless, I've always tried to explore others' ideas and practices, on the theory that just because you can't use one part of a product, it doesn't mean you have to throw the whole thing away.
 
I spent over a decade traveling the world, and I've lived in both Europe and the US. I've read the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Koran. I've studied engineering, yoga, martial arts, shooting sports, and ballroom dancing. What I've discovered is that a) spirituality is just a spooky sounding word for any of a number of methods for learning about yourself and your mind, and b) whatever word you use, doing so is the single most important thing in learning to be happy.
 
My blog, The Passionate Rationalist (http://www.societyofreason.com/devoutrationalist) is dedicated to my thoughts both on gaining self-knowledge and using your mind to eliminate misunderstanding and delusion.