EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 22, 2012

Help! Our son wants to be atheist

Dear Doctor,

Recently our first child came home with an announcement. He has decided he is an atheist. He is a sophomore in high school, very bright, and following our advice to speak his mind. But we never expected this. He has always gone to church with us and seems to enjoy the youth group. Is this typical? How do parents deal with these announcements? What happens?


Dear Listening,

Seldom a week goes by I do not hear something like this from parents. It is not the end of the world.

Think about it. You said it yourself. You have taught your son to think for himself and to speak his mind. What is bothering you is his tantalizing rejection of the faith of his parents.

What is he really saying? First, he is indicating he is not you. Rarely do we mindlessly adopt the faith of our fathers. We craft and articulate our own version of belief.

Second, he is separating from you. This is a process. He is saying he is different and is his own person. His version of what he believes will change as he grows.

Third, he is working out his own definition of spirituality which is very different from religion. Dogma and creeds are religious. Assenting to them form articles of faith but, in my opinion, are decidedly different from spirituality. Spirituality is an appreciation of the Immensity, Awe and the Holy itself.

Finally, he is a bit of an "evangelical atheist," insisting his interpretation of the world is best for everyone! Where has he heard that before?

Stay calm. Listen. Consult but try not to preach or control. He sounds like a fine young man.

• • •

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question or respond to one, you can email Dr. Larry Larsen at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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