What it’s like to break away from your parents’ religion


When I was 20, I had a mental breakdown.

I was coming to terms with being abused in a relationship, I’d lost my close friends, I was in treatment for an eating disorder and struggling to cope with the academic pressures of university.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was depressed, anxious and behaving erratically.

Enter my parents’ friend, the lay minister.

Lay ministers don’t need to be ordained, paid or full-time. Basically, they can be anyone.

My mum and dad had spent much of their teens and twenties exploring their faith in ‘free church’ house groups where they would pray, read the Bible and talk theology.

This is where they met their friend, who for the purposes of this story, we’ll call Simon.

When I was going through my mental health crisis, Simon became involved. I don’t exactly remember how this came about, but suddenly he was around a lot.

Simon, neither an ordained minister nor a medical professional, decided that my mental health problems were the result of a ‘demon’ infesting me.

He told me that my soul was a house with many rooms, and a ‘demon of death’ was taking up residence in one of them. He prayed over me, shouted in my face and commanded, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that the vile demon leave me.

Unfortunately for Simon, mental illness is not a supernatural demon.

It’s a health condition that impairs functioning and can be caused by genetic or environmental factors, or a mixture of the two.

It took me another two years to break away from the toxic environment of the ‘free church’ our family attended, with people ‘speaking in tongues’, a barely-veiled anti-LGBT and sex-negative agenda, and an approach to tithing (giving the church a certain percentage of your earnings every month) taken straight from the megachurches in America.

READ  I have a joint mortgage – what can I do if my partner dies?

The Bible explicitly says that parents are expected to bring their children up in faith.

Ephesians 6:4 reads: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord’.

It also has some choice words for how kids should defer to their parents.

The gospel of Matthew reminds us: ‘For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death”‘.

In Colossians 3:20, we are taught: ‘Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord’.

For Christians, it’s pretty clear. You get raised in faith, you obey your parents and you don’t do anything that brings them dishonour.

However, lifelong faith and obedience is not possible for everyone.

(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

What happens if you don’t believe the same things as your parents? Are you dishonouring them by breaking away from the faith you were raised in?

Tom* was brought up by a Baptist pastor and former missionary. He was told from a very young age that he needed to accept Jesus into his life.

He told Metro.co.uk: ‘I prayed the sinner’s prayer at the age of eight, and was baptised at 12.

‘Things basically went awry at 15 when I learned about the unforgivable sin (blasphemy against the holy spirit) and started having really intrusive thoughts about it.

‘Largely as a reaction to this, I started talking to everyone about Jesus and trying to “share the gospel”.

‘By talking to lots of people, I got exposed to more ideas and the one that really stood out was a friendship I had with a Muslim guy.

‘He was very serious about his faith and I realised the feelings he described of being close to Allah while bowing down in prayer were very similar to my own feelings when I prayed and I started to question how unique my Christian experience actually was.

‘Alongside this, I was interested in science. I’d been raised a creationist, but it didn’t fit with the science. I reached the point by my second year of university where I realised that I didn’t take the Bible as a prime source of authority anymore.

‘I stopped going to church until something changed; which it didn’t.’

Once Tom began questioning his faith, he realised that there was a lot of ‘toxicity’ within it.

‘I was obsessed with my friends going to hell, scared of science in case I lost my faith, scared of LGBT people in case they turned out to be fine, and scared of other people in general because they were part of “the world” rather than following Christ.

‘My parents’ reaction to my atheism was mixed. A few of my family admitted I actually seemed a lot healthier as a person since not being a Christian, although they hoped I’d return.

‘A lot of the time they’ll treat me as if I’m still a Christian (talking about how great it is that someone’s started to go to church, sharing how they feel God’s been blessing them etc.)

‘This can also sort of border on kind of passive aggression, like they’ll just get someone to share the story of how they became a Christian and how their lives have been changed by God in front of me in case it awakens something.

‘They also appeal to emotional side of faith and if I’m questioning something about the Bible or their worldview, they’ll talk about how good God is and he’s saved us from sin, and tell me to focus on this.

‘On a wider level, this is a lot of how I’ve found Christians keep people at the edges in.

‘People have valid questions and they’ll say to focus on Jesus, avoiding the conversation; which means you’ll end up with the frequent stuff like people being anti-LGBT rights because the Bible says it’s bad and Jesus is all knowing and saved us and who are we to question, sinful beings that we are.

‘They also have occasional outbursts because I’ve really disagreed with something they’re doing or one of their friends and they’ll say: “Well at least x knows where they came from” and talk about how lost I am and how they’ve been praying for me.

‘I particularly feel that with my dad has felt on some level like my leaving Christianity was a rebellion against him.

‘He was also my pastor so I can see why, but it hasn’t been my intention.’

Despite the difficulties of being openly atheist in a devout Baptist family, Tom manages to have a mutually supportive adult relationship with his parents.

‘There are a lot of positives. I stopped being a Christian 8 years ago and since then I’ve spent a lot of time with my parents and we’ve found neutral topics.

‘We still very strongly disagree on things, but look after each other as people.

‘In the end I think being absolutely clear that I have different beliefs and basically just not trying to pander to them has paid off in that we have a reasonable adult relationship now.’

While some people can reach a place of acceptance after breaking away from their parents’ religion, others are angry.

Children don’t always grow up to share the beliefs of their religious parents. (Picture: Mmuffin for Metro.co.uk)

Widespread abuse in the Catholic church has been reported since the late 1980s, revealing a disturbing pattern of exploitation in the USA, Europe Canada, Australia and Chile that was covered up by the church hierarchy.

Last week a fugitive priest was arrested in Morocco after evading justice for 26 years. He stands accused of abusing seven children.

Sexual abuse by religious leaders isn’t confined to the Catholic church. It occurs in Hassidic Jewish communities, in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Islamic faith schools – the list goes on.

This abuse of power and trust robs people of their faith and shatters their confidence in the church.

Lainie* grew up with a devout Catholic mother.

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘My brother and I both went to Catholic school. I found out recently that our priest is being charged with child rape.

‘Me and my brother are so angry. And sad! I feel like my f****** childhood was a lie because we were taught to see the priests as akin to God.

‘They’re seen as such idols that adults put their children in vulnerable positions and they get away with it.

‘And you’re made to feel like s*** when you start questioning the church and when you eventually turn your back on it.’

It can be something awful and devastating like abuse that turns people away from their parents’ religion, but it can also be something joyful that sparks a change.

Comedian Phil Nichol was brought up as a born again Christian in the Brethren Assembly.

He wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music or watch TV.

He told Metro.co.uk: ‘My parents were so devout that they didn’t celebrate Christmas in the same way as other families – it was about spirituality and worshipping Christ instead of giving presents.

‘My father is a cabinetmaker by trade and we had very little money. We’d put our presents under a pine coffee table. Christmas trees were seen as a terrible waste of money.

‘When I was 14 I really discovered rock music. I’d take a Christian band’s record out of the sleeve and I’d replace it with The Clash’s Sandinista. I’d leave the album cover out, put my headphones and crank it up so when my mum asked how I was I’d say: “Praise the lord, mother!” while listening to Somebody Got Murdered.

‘The Clash was one of the things that made me realise there was life outside the church.

‘I ran away from home at 17, studied acting and just started realising that there were things beyond this sort of belief system.

‘The thing about this particular sect is that they’re quietly devout, and there’s a lot of outreach programmes – they do a lot with the homeless, they believe in feeding the poor and helping the aged.

‘I’ll maintain some of those principles but I just don’t subscribe to that dogma.’

Phil doesn’t blame his parents for the way he was brought up.

He says: ‘There’s a little bit frustration when you realise you haven’t been told everything, but I don’t necessarily think that’s my parents’ fault – that’s all they knew.’

There are questions to be asked about the ethics of bringing up a child within a particular belief system – especially one with problematic teachings around LGBT rights, women’s reproductive rights, priests as the ultimate community authority, creationism and access to pop culture, among others.

Religious parents often see raising their offspring in the same faith as a moral necessity and a way to introduce their kids to an ethical code of behaviour.

A wealth of resources can be found online that are specifically about helping parents to keep their children ‘in the faith’.

The data on whether being raised religious is actually good for kids is divisive.

A Duke University study from 2010 found that children brought up in secular households were: ‘less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian, and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults’.

They were also less likely to display racist tendencies or give in to peer pressure.

Other research has found that children with religious parents were better behaved and adjusted, although this also raises questions of whether this is because there’s more at stake for religious kids.

With the ultimate punishment of hell waiting, it might seem more imperative to children that they are well-behaved.

Whether it’s ultimately helpful or damaging to raise children as devout, there’s no question that as adults, we can and do choose different beliefs to those of our parents.

It’s a myth that faith is needed for someone to be a ‘good person’, despite lingering unconscious bias that religious people are more moral.

After a lifetime of trying to please my parents and ‘feel’ something by willing myself to believe in God and have faith, it’s incredibly freeing just to let go.

I believe that when we die, there is nothing else.

I believe that this life, whatever we make of it, has to be enough.

And my family has to respect that.

*Name has been changed.

MORE: How to make friends in a new city

MORE: Valium: What is it used for and why are people buying it on the street?





READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here