My Family Says That I Am 'Just Going Through A Phase' with Atheism

Questions about Atheism and Family

This sort of situation occurs more often with young atheists than with adults — perhaps it is because young people do go through a number of "phases" during which they explore various ideas, philosophies, and positions. Although term "phase" is used in a derogatory manner here, it shouldn't be. There is nothing genuinely wrong with such exploration and experimentation, so long as it is accurately recognized and accepted as such.

That aside, however, the accusatory nature of the question must be dealt with more directly. It assumes that the atheist isn't "serious" about atheism — that the atheist hasn't really given a lot of thought to what atheism (and, by implication, theism and religion) means or entails. Indeed, this might actually be true in some cases. Not everyone who calls herself an atheist has necessarily thought a great deal about what atheism, theism, and religion are all about.

What Does Atheism Mean to You?

If that is true of you, then you should take this opportunity to make it not true by becoming more knowledgeable about the positions you hold. On the other hand, if it isn't true of you, how do you make people understand? That may not be easy — there is a decent chance that the accusation is being made not because you don't seem serious, but because atheism isn't taken seriously in the first place.

A simple change in behavior by you may not be enough to change others' prejudices.

That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't try, or that there is nothing you can do. One thing would be to show an interest in religion and philosophy — if you are serious, you already do have such an interest. The point is, let that interest be visible.

Pick certain books as presents people can give you and don't try to hide books which question or criticize religion.

Having Conversations

Another thing to try is engaging your family in discussions about religion, but that is a more dangerous tactic. For one thing, you don't necessarily want to instigate such discussions on your own, lest you be accused of trying to de-convert your family. For another, it is very easy for such discussions to get personal and unpleasant, making your relationship with your family even worse. If you choose this course, do so with care and plenty of forethought about how to handle various possible situations. If you want your atheism to be treated with respect, then you will have to treat your family's theism and religion with similar respect.

It is worth noting and perhaps even pointing out to your family that in a sense we all, theists and atheists, may be "going through phases" because we don't necessarily retain the exact same beliefs and attitudes throughout the whole of our lives. As a result, anything might be a "phase" for us, but that doesn't mean we haven't given it a lot of thought. If you emphasize that your beliefs are not simply a result of your questioning and studying but that you continue to question and study, then even if they keep believing that you are going through a phase, perhaps they won't believe that you aren't being serious.