An Open Letter to My Mother

Mommy,

I’m not going to be able to have this conversation with you until two years from now, but every day I wish I could tell you now. Whenever I see people and their parents, I’m jealous that they aren’t separated by a secret that if one of them knew, the other wouldn’t even know how to look at them anymore. You don’t know it, but every time I look at you, I feel guilt wash over me. You pay for me to go to college. You love me. You pray for me. And I feel as though I deserve none of it, because I don’t believe that you would love me in the same way if you knew who I really was.

I genuinely believe that I am a good person. I don’t keep this secret to hurt you. In fact, I have kept this secret all these years because I love you. If I didn’t, I could have come out and told you when the time wasn’t right because it didn’t matter. But you’re my mother, and you love me very much, and I didn’t want to risk telling you something that could potentially destroy our relationship until it was absolutely necessary.

I want you to know that this isn’t your fault. It isn’t my boyfriend’s fault, or my school’s fault. It was by my own doing that I discovered that this is what I believe and who I am. It’s also not a phase. I have been this way since childhood, and unless my adulthood brings some surprising and highly unlikely discoveries and a complete change of heart, it’s not going to change.

I know that you have always worried about me not having a close personal relationship with God. You are worried that I don’t regularly attend church, and you bring me with you every time that you can. You thought that sending me to this school would help, only to find that it teaches old earth creationism and defines naturalist philosophy. You were overjoyed to see me reading the bible, only to find out that I was perusing the distasteful laws of Leviticus. You constantly pray for my faith and that I may one day gain the personal relationship with your God that you have. You want so badly for me to see the world the way that you do, but I don’t.

Mommy, I am an atheist.

I don’t believe in God, and I never truly have. I haven’t prayed since I was a child. I’m not going to raise my children as Christians. I don’t want to get married in a church.

I know that this information will create a whole new rift in our relationship, but I believe that it is necessary and infinitely better than the wall that has always been there that you haven’t even known about. Whatever this truth brings, it is better than a shallow relationship where we can’t be completely honest with each other.

Ideally, I will be married and living on my own when I tell you this, but I will still need you. The fact that I won’t be relying on you for a home to sleep in or for college tuition will keep me safe from losing everything in case you want nothing to do with me, but my being an adult won’t mean that I don’t need you. I’m going to need you as my mother for as long as you are alive. I may not be your perfect Christian daughter, but I’ll always be your little girl.

Love,

Your daughter,

The (Closet) Atheist

41 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Mother

  1. A very good letter indeed.

    However, I am a little confused over the reference to “defines naturalist philosophy.” Does this mean that your school defines it in a certain way, or did you mean to say that it defies it? I ask this because to me naturalist philosophy excludes the supernatural. I know some Christian theologian express morality in terms of natural law, but they do not mean from the viewpoint of naturlism.

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  2. My mother was very concerned when I told her that I wasn’t sure about the inerrancy of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, or the existence of Hell. I think for her, the hardest part was the fear that I would end up in hell for eternity, separated from her and from God forever. I eventually wrote here a letter (much like yours, actually) that seemed to have quelled her fears. She hasn’t expressed concern since that point. I told her that I was still open to God and legitimately seeking to know what God had to say to me. That was good enough for her. Obviously, the same kind of reassurance wouldn’t fit exactly for an atheist, but perhaps you could find a way to express a similar sentiment to calm your mother’s fears. My mom, at least, trusts that if my heart and mind are open, I have nothing to worry about. She honestly trusts God.

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  3. Thanks much for coming by my place. A very revealing post here. I suspect your mother will not suddenly stop living you, though. Neither of my own kids believe, and I haven’t stopped loving them even a tiny bit.

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  4. As a Unitarian Universalist minister I have heard similar stories from several people who have left the religion of their childhood due to becoming atheists or agnostics. This daughter-to-mother letter is especially poignant. It’s hard to turn that doorknob to step out of the closet. I’d guess that writing this letter helped you see how it feel to touch that knob.

    I hope it’s OK for me to reblog this post. I think it will help others – including people on the other side of the door. – Roger Christan Schriner.

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  5. Apart from my mom being a Muslim instead of a Christian, these are exactly my words. Let’s just hope one day our parents accept us for who we are rather than the image they have built of us. Stay strong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, NIDAATTEO,
      It was about 20 years ago or more I was answering questions from people in all kinds of spiritual dilemmas on a now-dead website called ASKME.COM, and I once answered a question about how girls/women in the West lived. She got very excited when I told her women could marry who they wanted, live where they wanted, and work for themselves in paid jobs. We exchanged emails for awhile, not love emails, but love-of-life emails. I told her life for women was no bed of roses, and that they had problems that seemed as bad to them as her problems were to her. She asked me if she could escape from her home and family where I thought the best place in the world to go would be. My first suggestion were island countries in the South Pacific, like Bali and Tahiti. I had seen films of those countries and they looked like paradise to me. But barring going to someplace like that, I told her about Canada, and how “most Canadians” would accept her for who she is, not for what and where she was born. or what she believed. She said to her that was paradise, and in her last email to me she said she had made a plan to escape from Iraq and get help to come to Canada. Because I never heard from her again I fear that she was caught and probably killed for her blasphemy. But she knew the risks, she said, and dying trying to escape was better than living in a place she was going to have to marry a man 4 times her age, and be made into a virtual slave for him.
      I really hope she got out alive, and lost my email address along her way, because she promised to write me when she got to Canada.
      The reason I am telling you all this is because she told me a lot about life in Iraq, how she had to live, things she had to do, and things that could happen to her if she didn’t do them. I was so proud of her, she had a free mind stuck in the middle of a world of hatred and chauvinism. A world where the lowest man could spit on her and not be punished for it, while if she spit on him she could be stoned to death. I wish I could remember her name. She is or was the strongest woman I have ever spoken to in my life. I miss being able to talk to her. As hard as it is for an atheist to come out of a closed locked by religion, her desire to come out of Iraq was a million times harder, for her. Any woman who does something brave like coming out as an atheist or a lesbian or a lover avoiding an arranged marriage is a hero. This woman, whose name it pains me to have forgotten, is a hero’s hero. And I hereby dedicate yours and the Closet Atheist’s eventual escapes (or maybe you have already escaped. you did not say) to my friend in Iraq, may she be alive and well and living in her idea of heaven.
      Thank you for reminding me of her.
      rawgod

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      1. I have heard so many stories of people suffering just because they left Islam and every time I hear one it scares me to the bones. I haven’t yet gotten out but the conditions are worse in Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia then in Pakistan where I am from. Here you can be open about your lack of faith in at least educational gatherings and there is a hidden atheist community. It isn’t that bad but anyone who gives up Islam and lives in a Muslim community is under threat. I respect the women who take stand cause till now I haven’t been able to.

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        1. When you are ready to do it, when getting out of Pakistan is more important than staying in, when being a free person who happens to be a woman is more important than being a woman in a society dominated by men, then is the time you will find the courage to try. I wish I could tell you there is an organized system to help non-Muslim believers to escape the tyranny and get over the border into a more accepting country, but I have no idea if such a thing exists there. If there isn’t, maybe you can find a way to set one uop. You have a headstart by being able to get together with other atheists and atheist sympathizers to set up a series of houses or other types of buildings one night’s travel from each other. where you can hide safely in the light of day, where you can receive food and water to help you stay strong and healthy whuile you travel secretly at night.
          Do you know what a blizzard is? It would be similar to a sandstorm blowing across a desert, only the sand would be snow, and the wind would be extremely cold. Walking in blowing snow, not being able to see where you are going, that is what it is like inside a blizzard. And yet at least two groups of people thought it was more important to escape from the new United States into Canada, or die trying. This is in a world that is supposed to br free, but no longer is it free for Muslims in the United States. But it is still free in Canada, and we Canadians will make sure it stays that way. Of course there are some bad people here, but most peiople are good and ready to help in whatever way they can. People are are genuinely good in Pakistan is the kind of people you need to meet right now, and ask them for help in escaping out of Pakistan, probably into India is your safest place to go at first, but you know more than I do about that.Travel in groups of 2 or 3 for safety without being too easy to see.
          Can you finds friends you can trust that much? When you are ready to do this, let me know. I don’t know what I can do to help you, but if I can help you I will. Good Luck, Nidaateo.
          rawgod
          gewcolo@gmail.com

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  6. I can’t believe your mother wouldn’t read that letter and instantly pledge never to abandon you. I wouldn’t be surprised if , seeing how god has driven a wedge between you, she doesn’t abandon god instead!

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  7. People can read this many ways. I read it as you plan to use your mother for financial support until you’re stable to suffice on your own. Then and only then when you don’t need that support will you divulge your secret. If she distance herself from you because of who you are, how is it any different from using her for what you need first? This is just my opinion but if you are adult to make your own decisions you should be able to be an adult to carry the consequences, one of those possibly being cut off financially and having to depend on yourself. Be true to who you are.

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    1. The consequence of her distancing herself from me will always be there. I hope to have this conversation after I no longer depend on her for financial support because I want to do it with as little at stake as possible. I want to have built my own life so that if/when the relationship is strained by it, I am as independent as possible and there is less on the line.

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      1. If I was in your position, I think I would do the same, just to have the fact of knowing if worse case, I am put out, I at least have the means to take care of myself. But some may construe it as you (and me) as being selfish and probably no better person than her distancing from you because of who you are. There are many teens and adults who have no choice but to go out on faith and brave the unknown just to have a peace of mind and maintain integrity, with and without support.

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  8. Excellent letter, with many ways that it can play out – nobody but you will really know the best way to go.
    In America, many parents do not “love” their children – in fact, it’s the vast majority who show no real demonstrable form of “love” after the early years.
    While it should be incomprehensible for a biological mother or father not to love their children, in this society, children are economic and social burdens, not the little tag-along reflections of the “better angels” of the parental DNA that earlier societies may have generated.
    Your mention of the need to safeguard your own destiny shows that you are attuned to this. Parental love should mean a genuine liking for the independence and strength of mind of young adult or adult offspring, but American Christian parents, in particular, seem woefully deficient in this regard.
    Good luck.

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    1. I believe that she does love me, and that’s part of the problem. She will see atheism as detrimental to my well-being, morality, eternal life, etc, etc. It will cause her to worry and pray when I don’t see being an atheist as a bad thing. I know that she doesn’t understand why someone would leave the Christian faith, especially her precious daughter. She would worry that Satan has a hold on my heart and that I’m going to hell, and I think it will cause a huge emotional strain and internal conflict for her between loving me and trying to “fix” me.

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      1. Yes, that does show how pernicious the us vs. them propaganda of monotheistic religion is, and is an on-going human tragedy, among far too many others.
        You are most likely right about how your mother will fight this revelation, and others can testify that sometimes avoidance is the best policy. Still, for yourself, you are in command of your own principles and mind, and nothing is going to stop that.

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  9. A lovely letter.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    My only criticism would be this line:

    “The fact that I won’t be relying on you for a home to sleep in or for college tuition will keep me safe from losing everything in case you want nothing to do with me…”

    While it’s good to cover your bases, I question the wisdom of telling your mother that that’s what you’re doing.

    No one likes a person thinking the worst about them — in your case: you thinking that your mother will want nothing to do with you — regardless of how justified such thoughts are.

    My advice: Appeal to the better angels of your mother’s nature, making it known to her that you believe that, no matter what, she’ll always love you and just wants the best for you.

    Plus: I imagine that your mother would be pissed if the only reason she found out you were an atheist now — after you’ve graduated and are living on your own — is because you didn’t “need” her (need her to pay your tuition or provide you a place to sleep and eat) anymore and, thus, if worst came to worse, could afford to have her no longer playing as big a role in your life as she has.

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    1. I get the concern, but it’s the truth, and if shes going to go this far one day, it doesn’t seem helpful to still only give half the truth.

      I would see it as a good way of directly testing the waters, it could be disappointing but with all the cards on the table, she’d know where she stands with her mum. I’d expect a decent mother might be pissed at being thought of like that, but also gutted that that’s how her daughter had been feeling all this time and want to help resolve it.

      You do you, closet atheist x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You make good points.

        When it comes to my comment:

        I too want The Closet Atheist to be open and honest with her mom about how she feels about her — I too want her to lay all her cards on the table.

        I just think, though, that the way she does that could be improved on. I wouldn’t want The Closet Atheist’s mother to feel like she had been used — valued only for the money, food, and shelter that she provides.

        Of course, I could be wrong.

        The Closet Atheist could read her mother this letter just as it is, and everything could turn out fine. And that would be great.

        And you’re right: Ultimately, The Closet Atheist should do what she believes is best.

        To quote you: “You do you, closet atheist.”

        Thank you for your feedback on my comment.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m hoping that the timing and its relation to my independence wouldn’t be a big part of my conversation with her when the time comes, although even if I don’t mention that that’s why I waited, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. I might as well tell her why I choose that as the time to come out with it. And I think she’ll be pretty pissed as it is, so it might not make a huge difference.

          Also, timothy – thanks for the comment on my post from last week, suggesting that I post my greatest fears of coming out in order to face them. I would say that the conversation itself is the scariest thing, especially since I’m so non-confrontational and I don’t like to share my emotions with people. I saw this open letter as a good practice run of what I might say.

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          1. You’re welcome for the comment. I’m glad it’s helped you.

            Thank you for being willing to share your thoughts and feelings, like in this open letter and in your replies to my comments.

            That takes courage. So many people, it seems, are content with hiding themselves and I’m glad that, in your own way, you’re not.

            Liked by 1 person

  10. I have complete sympathy for you, CA. I have the exact same issue with my family members, extended, rather than immediate. Those of us who grew up within religion and find ourselves questioning the very fundamental ideas which we grew up with, find that questioning those fundamental ideas and beliefs can be akin to walking through a minefield. In my case, those who are believers, in my opinion, are delusional. This is insulting to believers. It is also insulting to me to assume that I am as gullible as they are, but I am overwhelmingly outnumbered. I’m one of the only members of my extended family to transcend the dogmatic, impossible beliefs of fundamentalist Christians. In the 17th and 18th centuries, I would have been put to death for such beliefs.

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  11. If she loves you, she loves you anyway.

    Parents who reject the child “because” , as far as I’m concerned, weren’t all that invested in their children to begin with, except as ‘stage props’ in their own lives. Whether that child is gay, or leaving the religion, or has run away from home (for whatever reason), the parent will love that child, anger or not, anyway.

    And one other thing that you really need to think about, since it seems to be giving you unnecessary pain: secrets. We all have ’em, we all have a special receptacle for them. Parents don’t tell their kids everything, sometimes they don’t even tell each other everything, which frankly is sometimes wisdom on a whole nother level.

    (We wear many different faces in our lives–the one you wear at college is probably very different than the one you have with your family, or your boyfriend, or your best friends. Your teachers see one side of you, your church sees another, your parents see another. )

    I also think you’re wise to not blurt this out (cynic though I be) until you’re safely away from the nest.

    Your mother will love you, anyway. She’s your mom.

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    1. Yes, her mother will love her always, even if she cannot accept the change. How many times did I hear from both my parents as I was growing up, “This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you.” Well, I for one never believed that one bit., because they would have hated themselves. My mother died when I was nine, after months of being in the hospital with cancer. My father never let me see her once in that time, believing that a nine year-old boy couldn’t handle the idea of death. I think she would have apologized, but I’ll never know. When I left home at the age of 16 I took away his opportunity to apologize, like he was ever gonna do that.
      But , Nan, there is a reason why mothers have eyes in the backs of their heads, and ears that can hear your slightest whisper. They know when you are hiding something, and I’m betting your mother already has a good idea of what is going on for you. She will continue to pray for your souls with her dying breath, and she may not know how far you have strayed from the flock she is in, but as long as you want to keep a secret, she will honour you by keeping it. Mothers love their kids without hesitation. I have never read if your father is in the picture, or I have forgotten; but if he is, he is the one to fear. I’ve known religious fathers who have cut their daughters completely out of their lives, no matter how the mother feels, no matter how many tears she sheds. As I have said to you in the past, you are playing with fire keeping this a secret (which is only my opinion), but it is likely your mother who will get burned. And from my many years as a motherless person, give her the benefit of the doubt, it will be better than spending the rest of your life wondering why you could not tell her, and how she might go to her grave never being sure that her little girl has a mind of her own.

      rawgod

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      1. rawgod — I don’t think you meant to address me in your comment. 🙂 Either that or you know more about theclosestatheist than the rest of us do.

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        1. My apologies, and I cannot tell why I used your name there. Just another sign of the onset of old age. Or was my overactive psychic node feeling something similar has happened to you? Don’t answer that unless you want to. That’s about the only reason I can see for directing that line your way, if there is a reason. Again, my apologies, and I shall endeavour to restrain myself from directing future comments your way. (my email is gewcolo@gmail.com should you wish to say sometghing to me in person.)

          rawgod

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          1. Not a problem … it just confused me for a minute (I’m easily confused … what can I tell you?). And sorry to inform you, but no psychic abilities were involved as my experiences were definitely different. (You can read a bit about them on the first page of my blog … and in my book. 😀 )

            Thanks for the follow-up and apologies.

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