When Faithlessness Leaves Family Behind

Chris at Ordinary Times reveals how becoming an atheist alienated his devout Christian parents:

It should come as no surprise … that my leaving has caused them a great deal of distress and anxiety.  Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with either Christians or parents that they, again my mother in particular, have made their distress and anxiety abundantly clear to me on many occasions. And here enters a concept, and feeling, wholly alien I imagine to the native atheist, that of atheist guilt. I love my parents very much, so the knowledge that I am causing them pain is deeply disturbing to me. Yet what am I to do? Am I to lie to them and pretend that I have come back home? No, I respect them too much to deceive them. Am I to indulge them in their attempts to bring me back into the fold, with all of the praying and Bible verses and invitations to church when I visit? Nothing can come of such things, and I worry that false hopes inevitably dashed will only increase their suffering.

So my guilt is a dilemma, and the more I think on the dilemma, the more I am aware of being powerless to overcome it. Powerlessness in the face of guilt all but guarantees dysfunction in interpersonal relationships, and my relationship with my parents is no exception. I tip toe over many of the insensitive things they say, things that reveal how little respect they have for my world view while they, at the same time, are deeply intolerant of any perceived disrespect for theirs, and my doing so results in resentment — likely mutual at times — that occasionally spills over in the form of anger.

A Jewish commenter responds:

Judaism does not have the concept of hell that Christianity developed. Our version of “hell” is still supposed to be more peaceful than life on earth because life on earth is full of pain and misery. So an atheist child does not produce the amount of distress that seems to happen in Christian families. Furthermore, Judaism does not believe that not being Jewish means a life of damnation. My parents are atheist but raised me Jewish for cultural and ethnic reasons. I’ve never wrestled with whether there is a God or not.