My Family Wants Me To Keep Going To Church

Questions about Atheism and Atheists: Going to Church with Family

Question: My family wants me to keep going to church, even though I don't believe anymore. What do I do?


Although this is a situation which affects young people living at home more than adults, atheists of all ages still have to contend with religious families who want you to maintain the outward appearance of religiosity and pretend as if you were still religious. Some atheists don't mind and some may even enjoy some aspects of church services, like the music; but many more don't appreciate being expected to attend religious services when they have abandoned that religion entirely.

One reason for doing this is that your family is just "keeping up appearances" — it is entirely possible that they themselves are no longer very devout, even though they continue to believe, but they fear the social repercussions which would result from openly revealing their genuine attitudes. As a consequence, they don't want you to "rock the boat" by openly declaring what you believe.

They might also fear that, if the local community or religious community knows that you have become an "apostate," your parents and family could be viewed as having failed in how they raised you. Certainly you don't regard yourself as a "failed" child, but the connections between religion and things like morals and values are so strong that your family's friends and community might really come to such a conclusion; as such, it's really no surprise that your family might fear it.

Another possible reason for insisting that you go to church is the hope that perhaps your atheism isn't "real" and that you will stop denying your true beliefs if you are consistently exposed to messages delivered at church.

A bit more likely perhaps is the hope that by going to church and acting as if you believe you will be led back to belief and "back to the fold" of the congregation.

If you are young and living at home, there probably isn't much you can do no matter what your family's motivations are. If there is no way you can reasonably get out of going to church, the most you can do is try using the trips as a learning experience.

Consider, for example, writing down some of the things said in the sermons and then writing critiques of them — perhaps publishing them on the web.

Another possibility is to offer to go to the services of some other church or religion. Depending upon why your family insists that you go to religious services, they may take up on this — they may be happy so long as you doing something religious. What do you get out of this? At the very least you get a break from the same old sermons you've listened to for years, but you can also use this as a learning experience, exploring the faiths and beliefs of other groups in a way you cannot do through books.

If, on the other hand, you are independent, you'll have to decide which is more important: going to church services you hate, or maintaining some measure of family harmony. You could refuse and risk serious arguments and confrontations, or you could hold your tongue and act like nothing is wrong. If this problem only occurs once or twice a year, there is a good chance that the latter choice will work. Lots of people bite their tongue over many issues in order to maintain family harmony, and this is often a wise choice.

However, if you are expected to attend religious services on a regular basis, then refusing to assert yourself will probably only lead to growing resentment and repressed anger — anger which won't stay repressed forever.

As a result, avoiding a confrontation now may lead to a worse confrontation later on — not a good idea. It is unlikely that you will be able to avoid hurt feelings entirely, but you should try to avoid making matters worse than they need be.