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Auntie SparkNotes: I Hate Pretending I'm Not an Atheist

Auntie SparkNotes: I Hate Pretending I'm Not an Atheist

Dear Auntie Sparknotes,

I live in a largely Catholic town, and have attended Catholic school my entire academic career, just like everyone in my family and pretty much all of my friends. However, there's a difference between me and them: I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian.

I recently "came out" to my parents as an atheist and... it didn't go well. They accused me of calling them stupid because they believe in God (which I would never do), and basically refused to accept the fact that I'm not Christian. I tried to explain that I don't see eye to eye with the Church (seriously? It's 2012 and you still don't fully accept women and gays?), but they just wouldn't have it. The conversation ended with my dad screaming that he shouldn't have to pay for my Catholic school if I don't believe in the religion (though to be fair, I did get a scholarship there).

After the mess of a conversation, my parents acted like it had never happened, but I can't forget. I still go to church every Sunday with my family and I hate it, and I hate pretending to be something I'm not just so I'm accepted in my largely religious community. I'm afraid to bring it up again because every time I do, my parents threaten to make me quit my favorite thing in the world and only extracurricular, band. I also don't want to switch schools. Sure, taking religion classes isn't my favorite thing, but I love my friends at my school and everything else about it, not to mention that if I left my school, I wouldn't be able to be in band anymore. What should I do?

Short answer? Nothing.

At least for now.

And I'm sorry, Sparkler, because I have no doubt that you're frustrated, exhausted, and probably feeling just the teensiest bit like a fraud as you fake your way through services every week. (And personally, I'm not a fan of forcing kids into continued attendance at any religious establishment once they're old enough to have formed a cogent disagreement with that establishment and no longer subscribe to its teachings—not just because it sucks for the kid, but because the whole "free will" thing is a central tenet of pretty much every religious faith. As is the idea that an omnipotent, all-powerful god can tell when there's a non-believer in the house. As is the idea that you don't get points for being at church in body if your mind spends the whole time thinking about how much you just want to be home and binge-watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix instant.)

But my sympathies are irrelevant here; your parents are the ones who matter. And unfortunately, they've made it pretty clear that they plan to respond to your avowed atheism by sticking their heads deep into the sand—and only un-sticking them in order to threaten you with the loss of everything you hold dear as punishment for your faithlessness.

Which is why it's time for you to stop hoping for a best-case scenario you won't get, to start dealing with the reality at hand, and to consider the usefulness of repeatedly delivering a message to people who not only don't want to hear it, but who seem inclined to shoot the messenger to boot.

Basically, you've got a choice—and I think you know you do, because your letter says as much. You can keep pressing this issue and risk some major repercussions, or you can go along to get along until you're in a better position to choose your own religious path. And in a case like this, where you've given it your best shot, you've gone back for seconds, and you know full well that speaking your mind is about as useful as shooting yourself in the foot, the choice seems pretty clear: you content yourself with having said your piece to your parents; you blow off steam with trusted friends; you appreciate your Catholic upbringing for the education, friendships, and community it offers; and you give yourself permission to disagree with (or disengage from) the church where its teachings go against what you believe is right.

Or in other words, you play the hand you've been dealt to the best of your abilities. And you recognize that the best-case scenario, like it or not, requires planting your butt in a pew every Sunday—if only in the not-so-holy spirit of keeping up appearances.

But hey, if it makes you feel any better, you can think about Battlestar Galactica the entire time.

Do you have to fake your faith to get along? Tell us your story in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Topics: Advice
Tags: parents, auntie sparknotes, religion, awkward situations, advice, catholics, church, catholicism, atheism

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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