"I'm an atheist"

Last night, at my son’s soccer practice, one of his teammates asked, “are you Jewish?” or something to that effect. I guess he said, “No, I’m an atheist.” At that point, his coach stepped in to explain to him and everyone else that there are two kinds of people, good people and bad people, and he (my son) is a good person, so it doesn’t matter what he is. I heard all about this from the coach when I came to pick my kid up.

Now, it’s true that my kid (just turned 14) doesn’t have any religious beliefs – he just wasn’t brought up with any. He’s not an atheist through any deep philosophical process of thinking everything through, though. He just hasn’t had exposure to much religion. I was brought up the same way – Jewish on my mother’s side, Catholic on my father’s side, and we never did any formal religious things. We did, however, celebrate various holidays on both sides.

Obviously, his coach was taken aback at his statement, and the other kids probably were, too – kids at that age aren’t usually deep believers, but it’s more of a tribal identification thing. I think there are one or two Jewish kids and the rest are probably Catholic. Most kids at that age, in my opinion, seem to think you should identify with something. I just used to say that my mother was Jewish and my father was Catholic. Sometimes I would say that I was both, sometimes I would say that I’m basically nothing.

Anyway, do you think I should just let this be and let him be out and proud, so to speak? Or, should I tell him it probably makes more sense to just tell people that you’re not really religious, rather than using the A word?

I will be checking in now and again today – somewhat ironically, I will be getting some stuff together for a Seder later today at my uncle’s, and then my wife and I have to figure out what we’re doing for the kids for Easter. So, I’ll be in and out. Opinions are appreciated.

This is more of a *Teenager Forming Views on Third-Rail Issues *in general, that happens to be the Religious/Athesit one.

In general, as your kid tries different views on hard issues, what do you want to see happen?

For my 17-year-old son, I tend to say “dude, very cool you are willing to take strong positions - please acknowledge the social costs of how you express then and factor accordingly.”

He gets it. Doesn’t always keep it well managed, but I see the seeds of a Grown Up in there :wink:

I’m glad my daughter is more of a passive person in this regard. I’m not always patient with people who have strong opinions but can’t defend them. Also, I would HATE it if my kids chose that as a way to rebel, consciously or otherwise.

It must be nice to grow up non-religous. Granted, you have to find those “missing” social connections somewhere, but that’s not too hard in this culture, unless you live in an extremely religious part of the country.

Good for the coach. Good for you. And most importantly good for your son on having the strength to stand for what he does not believe. :slight_smile:

I’d let it be now. Though inside, I’d have a glow of pride.

It’s fine. I was raised what we called “Jewish atheist”, and I remember being around 8 and telling kids on the playground I was an atheist. Later on I switched back and forth between atheist and agnostic. So far, no angry mobs have shown up outside my house. :smiley:

What’s the team’s mascot - The Overwhelmed with Guilt Marmoset? :slight_smile:

Well, I try and help my kids navigate the world and not run into too much trouble. That’s basically why I posted this – should I let him just deal with any repercussions, or offer him some friendly, fatherly advice?

It’s not too religious where I am, nothing like some areas of the south, for example. I don’t feel like we’re missing too many social connections.

I’m not all that proud about this – I don’t think he was taking some strong stand against or for anything. He just has no idea that some people may be taken aback.

Wow! An atheist that’s the colour of magic. Cool.

Heh. I’ll suggest it.

Why would you need to do anything? It sounds like nothing unpleasant happened. I think telling him to keep his belief to himself is as likely to shame him as anything.

I’ve identified as atheist since I was 13 and never regretted it. I didn’t grow up in Alabama or Saudi Arabia though. Where are you located?

Those who mind don’t matter. Those who matter don’t mind.

I was our class atheist in religious school FWIW. Never a problem and actually I think I was a Rabbi favorite because I had cared enough to actually think about it and form an opinion.

I’m not sure what I think here with several reactions going on at once. Short version is that if I was you I’d start off asking my son what he thought of that interaction and how it made him feel. Under NO circumstance would I tell him what to do but I would want to be part of a conversation about what he was deciding to do.

The coach meant well but a negative connotation of the word “atheist” (shared by a majority of Americans) is implicit in the reaction. His friends might not have that view but such a reaction might inadvertently help foster one. Or at fourteen provoked a bunch of rolled eyes.

Being matter of fact unapologetically “I’m atheist” and being that good decent person who is not hating on others and has obviously strong ethics, etc. is the best way to fight that implicit prejudice. The more people know good people who identify as atheist the better.

Then there is answering the question asked. If the question asked by a teammate was, to the teammate, not about belief system but tribal identification then the answer “atheist” is less accurate than “nothing in particular” or even, if he wants to provoke more discussion maybe “secular” or “American.”

And of course this is not a seven year old. At fourteen he likely is more aware of whether or not his teammates were taken aback or not and if, in his crowd, there is any social cost. And whether or not that particular cost is worth it to him.

I can’t help it. Every time I see the thread title I see Michael Palin dressed in a red plaid flannel shirt and earflap cap singing

I’m an Atheist
and I’m Okay
I sleep all night
and I work all day.

Well, if I lived on the Disc I’d be careful about who I told. Especially if I was talking to any gods . . .

I went to Catholic grade school. All the students with two exceptions were Catholic. We had one protestant family and one athiest family. Even though I thought it a little odd at the time the subject was never brought up by students or teachers except when the student was introduced.

His mother was very active in school activities and her child did have to attend but not participate in church activities. In the sixth grade the boy converted to Catholic and was babtised and confirmed the same year. His mother remained active and supportive.

When it comes to parenting, as in music, Less is More. All you’re trying to do is put a big of English on the ball :wink:
All thoughtful teenage kids have to go through the process of challenging social boundaries within the context of thinking through the Big Questions. A parent always runs the risk of coming on too strong and making it seem like that is Not Okay. It is Awkward at times, but rarely is it truly Not Okay.

Not everyone who identifies as atheist goes through a process of deep philosophical questioning. I’ve been an atheist since I was 13, and hadn’t met any others through high school. Finally, as a college freshman, a girl I knew casually mentioned that she was an atheist. Finally, a kindred spirit! I’m not the only deep thinker who’s brave enough to challenge the overwhelming influence of religion in our culture! So I asked her why she was an atheist, expecting a profound discourse. She responded, “I don’t know, both of my parents are atheists; I never really thought about it.”

I’d just let it go. He’s not made a big deal out of it and neither has anyone else, so for you to do so would put infinitely more emphasis and strain on the matter than needs be. And as an aside, this is how future generations get acclimated to subjects that freak us out… things like gay marriage or miscegenation. By acting like different ways to live or viewpoints are just another option, it eventually takes the sting out of those who seek to repress and discriminate.

I want to live in a world where people can casually mention that they’re atheists without anyone thinking anything about it. So good on your kid, and I wouldn’t change anything about what he did.

The coach, on the other hand… what the fuck is that all about? Atheists don’t need to be constantly qualified with “but they’re good people.” It makes it seem like your kid is the exceptional atheists, but we should all be wary of the rest of them.

My impression was that the coach thought he should say something because the other kids might not understand. He made it pretty clear that there are good people and bad people, regardless of what they believe. I sort of agree, though – he probably didn’t really need to say anything.

I’ll probably just let it go. If it comes up again, I’ll mention that some people might be uncomfortable, it’s up to him, but if he wants to avoid that discomfort, just say he’s nothing or not religious or something.

For whoever asked, we live in north central NJ, straight west of NYC.