Sunday morning, I decided to check out the blog of my friend Mike (Canadian Atheist). I found the post entitled: BURN IN HELL: Coming Out as an Atheist in which he discussed the crises that occur when kids reveal to their parents that they are atheists. Reading the post was painful, especially since it was Fathers' Day and Facebook was filled with peoples' greetings to and praises for their Fathers. The first thing that came to mind was the need for an apology for the actions of my fellow believers. I apologize. And I thank you Mike for recognizing that not every Christian family goes through this.
I felt I had to say something further and at first I thought of posting a comment on Mike's blog. As I considered what to say, I concluded that I needed to post my comments on my own blog, because I would like my readers, as well as Canadian Atheist's readers, to read them and interact.
Though I am not personally familiar with particular situations like those described -- stories of atheist kids being kicked out of their homes -- I am familiar with similar situations: parent/child conflicts leading to the parents ejecting their children (usually teenagers, but sometimes younger) from their homes.
· The child reveals that he or she is gay.
· The parents discover that their child is using drugs or alcohol.
· The parents discover that their daughter is pregnant.
· The child is caught having sex (whether with someone of the same or opposite gender).
· The child makes a religious or denominational choice differing from their parents.
· Back in the 60's and early 70's it was dress and/or hair style.
Though my sympathies lie mostly with the young people, I feel I need to say a few words for the parents, not to defend their actions, but at least to try to understand their viewpoints. After all I am a parent and have gone through some crises of my own.
Most of us, I believe, live a lifestyle that we are comfortable with. We've made choices (consciously or unconsciously) about what are proper beliefs and practices. And we want the same or better for our children, especially when these involve their eternal destiny. When they choose different beliefs or practices than ours, we feel they've made bad choices and we want to do what we can to redirect them. But we may also understand (usually incorrectly) their choices as a rejection of us. What we may fail to see is that our children are individuals with personality make-ups differing from ours.
I see this happening very early on in the parenting process and continuing into the teen years, with a sort of cumulative effect until it builds up to a crisis.
Add to this the social pressure. Young people are often accused of conforming to peer pressure, but I believe that much of the problem for parents is the pressure felt from their peers. If our children don't conform to the standards that our peers have set, then we are perceived as failures.
An example that may seem trivial to some. Our son attended high school in the 70's. Some of our friends were uncomfortable with our tolerance of his shoulder-length hair. "Isn't long hair a symbol of rebellion?" I was asked. My reply was, "Who is he rebelling against? The school permits it and all his friends wear their hair the same way. He's not a rebel, he's a conformist!"
Mike's post began by saying, "One of the things I find to be so destructive about Christianity ... is its ability to use fear to tear apart families in the name of love." I disagree. Christianity as taught in the New Testament does not do this. Christianity if practiced the way Jesus taught it does not do this.
We in America (including Canada) live in a quasi-Christian culture. The statistics and surveys all tell us that a majority of Americans profess Christianity, attend church (at least occasionally), even have had a "born-again" experience. But an examination of our behavior and ethical systems tells me that there is quite a gap between them and New Testament Christianity.
I cannot judge whether the Christian faith of the parents in the cases given, was genuine or not. I cannot judge the faith of another. But the actions certainly were not "Christian" actions. Nowhere in the New Testament is this behavior justified.
"Fathers don't provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4).
"Fathers don't exasperate your children, so that they don't become discouraged" (Colossians 3:21).
And in Jesus' story usually entitled "The Prodigal Son," as the son is returning, " ... while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and fell on his neck and was kissing him" (Luke 15:20). And that was before the son said that he repented!
Jesus warned that following Him could lead to family conflicts (see Matthew 10:34-39), but these were seen as the conflicts that result from following Christ in a hostile world. In many countries today the rejection that these young atheists experience is also being experienced by followers of Christ.
So parents, if your children have rejected God, if they claim that they do not believe in Him, my advice is to love them -- whether or not they ever return. And don't be concerned about what other people think of you. It's not about you or about your peers. It's about your kids.
And if you are a child who has felt rejection by your parents, I have to agree with most of the advice found on Canadian Atheist's blog. I'd also like to ask you to try to see the difference between what Jesus taught and what you may have been taught. And please, love your parents. Perhaps you can help to restore that broken relationship and see your parents seek to do what Jesus would do.