Should I be vocal about my atheism?

I have been told repeatedly by my catholic mother that it will be better for me to just sit down in a religion class (I’m an atheist [practical humanist] that is forced to go to a catholic school) and not mention my beliefs or try to question the teachers’ and God’s authority. I’ve also been told not to mention my beliefs in public even if someone else does. It almost seems to me that I’m being persecuted for my beliefs and am told to just take it and not stand up. What are your views on this?

Posted: August 20th 2007

Russell Blackford www

I hesitate to respond to this question because it is such a personal one, and as logicel’s answer points out this is not a site where you can expect to obtain help from trained counsellors. What follows is with that disclaimer.

In the end, you will have to decide how much you should be vocal, and when. You need to find a way to balance courage and enthusiasm with discretion.

If you do speak up, try to make sure it is in a manner, and a context, where you will be seen as calm and persuasive rather than disruptive.

You are entitled to your beliefs and don’t have to hide them; on the other hand, you can afford to bide your time, to some extent, while you deepen your knowledge and hone your skills in debate and persuasion.

Posted: August 26th 2007

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jonecc www

For your mother to impose a religious education on you, and for her to demand that you keep your humanist opinions to yourself at school, is clearly an abuse of your civil rights. Unfortunately, there may not be much you can do about it right now, as there is no legal protection for children against having the religious beliefs of their parents imposed on them.

You could for instance start a blog, and campaign for greater public awareness of this issue. It would make you feel better, and you would be turning your anger towards a good cause. Arguing a case is also a good way to develop your opinions.

You can also expose anything teachers tell you which you think is wrong. What kind of sex education do they offer? What do they say about contraception, or homosexuality? Tell the world. The great thing about a blog is that it is confidential. Be careful not to give names or describe incidents in a way that identifies you though, until you’re in a position when you can own your words publicly.

On your sixteenth birthday, all this changes. You can leave home if you want, or you can go to a sixth form college, or both.

Posted: August 24th 2007

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flagellant www

There are some times in life when it is simply better to bite your tongue than to speak out. With atheism, it may be the best course simply to keep a low profile. However, as I understand it, given your secular, humanistic World view, you want to be honest to yourself, and to avoid the practical conflicts that your views might bring you. It may be of some help to you to know that I had similar, but not identical, conflicts at your age. (And I guess, by the way that you write, that you are in the UK. Although the advice is specific to the UK, it could be adapted to many other countries.)

When I was about 14, while I was at a State grammar school, I became an atheist. It caused me no difficulty not to attend the daily religious assembly – there were other pupils who stayed out, too, some for religious reasons. I told my parents about this and, while they were not exactly supportive, they raised no objection. They also accepted that I would no longer be going to church with them. As far as school was concerned, I carried on with religious classes (‘Divinity’ lol) because I found the subject interesting and there was certainly no pressure to believe. I, and the growing number of non-believers in the class, simply saw the classes as a special sort of History. Mind you, we did ask some very tricky questions…

You say that you are ‘forced’ to go to a Catholic school but you don’t explain the nature of the force. If your Mother has chosen the school, you may have the opportunity to go to another, but bear in mind that you will be separated from your friends and have to make a totally new start. If there is no other suitable school in the neighbourhood, then there are almost certainly other pupils, at your Catholic school, with the same problem – they’re unlikely all to be Catholics. I would expect there to be special provisions for you if the school is at all typical. Many Catholic schools are very relaxed about non-conformity.

Outside school, to the conventionally religious, atheism often comes across as confrontational. It will be a long time before it is acceptable to criticise religion freely. However, when someone else brings the subject up for discussion, it is reasonable to discuss the matter carefully without being rude. Bear in mind that people you talk to will remember some of what you say and think about it afterwards. If it is well thought out and expressed, you may be beginning some long-term conversions. But if you are too confrontational, you will drive them deeper into their delusion. For some good arguments, read the very readable The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I wish I’d had it handy all those years ago in my teens.

It isn’t part of your question, but I am convinced that faith schools are a bad idea: they cause, or exacerbate, divisions in society. Assuming that you are in the UK, I suggest that you make yourself known to your MP and let her/him know your views; you may not have the vote but it is important that people who legislate understand how their decisions affect the young.

Finally, try to think what you are trying to achieve: it seems that you want to find a way to be yourself in what you see as a controlling environment. This is the eternal teenage problem; try to be yourself without being antagonistic.

Posted: August 24th 2007

See all questions answered by flagellant

John Sargeant www

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King

Who knows, life might be easier to accept without question what you are told, not to subject the information you are given to inquiry, and other people’s opinions to scrutiny.

I am not convinced that your life, and other people’s, will be better if you are not vocal in what you regard as truth or the ability to question what is. Under a school curriculum pupils are protected in having their own opinions and ability to express themselves (hopefully!).

“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” – George Carlin

'A man goes to heaven, and St Peter shows him around. They go past one room, and the man asks: “Who are all those people in there?” “They are the Methodists,” says St Peter. They pass another room, and the man asks the same question. “They are the Anglicans,” says St Peter. As they’re approaching the next room, St Peter says: “Take your shoes off and tiptoe by as quietly as you can.” “Why, who’s in there?” asks the man. “The Catholics,” says St Peter, “and they think that they’re the only ones up here.” ' – Dave Allen

Posted: August 24th 2007

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As others have pointed out previously at this site, we are very cautious in handling out advice. Generally, we are not trained therapists/counselors. In addition, atheists are infamous for being individualistic and encouraging that behavior in others.

Perhaps, the best approach here is for me to give you a context in which to function.

You are an atheist. You know and embrace that reality. However, a large part of your daily life is spent with religious believers. Firstly, it is pretty ironic! Secondly, that context does not diminish your atheism. Thirdly, your schooling in such a religious environment will eventually end. Fourthly, you can decide within this context if you will be vocal in exclaiming your atheism. If you decide to be vocal you need to find a style of expressing yourself which fits you and the context in which you function.

My advice, as cautiously as it is delivered, is to identity the reality of your situation and act—and do not be afraid of learning from mistakes – in a way that will be of most benefit to you.

And remember, with the proliferation of excellent atheist websites, you can always converse with other atheists.

Posted: August 24th 2007

See all questions answered by logicel


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