I have been going to church my whole life and faithfully following the Christian religion for 18 or so years.

I'm 20 years old, and I have been having doubts about my faith for about 2 years now.

My parents are extremely conservative, very controlling, and strong practicing Christians.

I recently came to the conclusion that I am a deist (I believe in a natural God who created everything but not in a God who allows people who don't believe in him to burn in hell).

My parents told me that I had to apply to be a leader at this Christian camp out in California, and I got the job.

I don't want to go because I am not Christian. I only applied and went through the motions because I was basically forced.

I don't want to go now, and I have no idea how to tell them.

I have to buy my plane tickets relatively soon (within the next couple of weeks), so I need to do something quickly. I am also financially dependent on them for the most part (mostly my grandparents, but they have control over them).

They think that I have to be exactly the way they want me to be instead of who I think is best for me to be. I'm stuck, and I need advice.

Thank you!


7 Answers 7


I'm not sure you do have to tell them, at least not now.

What seems to be the urgent issue is this job. If you really think you can't stand doing it for a little while (I assume it's temporary?), which may look good on your CV (resumé), then you have to break it to them seriously but gently. I would suggest avoiding the theological issue if possible. These debates quickly get messy, especially when family are involved. You can let them discover that naturally, much later.

I suggest you phrase it something like, "I've been giving this job some serious thought and I really think it isn't right for me.". Try to avoid accusing them of pushing/bullying you into it and understand that they probably had your best interests at heart. I think they will be much more likely to accept this if you:

  • Give some sensible, concrete reasons why the job is not right for you (besides your theological objection).
  • Give a serious plan of what you are going to do instead.

Both of these will show that you've given it the serious thought you claimed and that you're not going to spend years bumming around at home.

You're an adult now, so as well as making your own decisions, you need to begin to manage your parents, humouring them or avoiding certain topics in order to keep everyone happy.

If you avoid telling your parents about your rejection of Christianity, that may seem dishonest. However, considering the amount of pain it may cause them to think their child is going to hell, maybe keeping the full truth of your opinions from them may be the kinder thing to do. Keeping off the topic may be difficult. Often these differences of opinion can be like an insect bite that people can't help scratching, even though it makes it worse.

Perhaps instead you could work on doing something non-religious, which you feel motivated about and would still make them proud of you. A good job or some charitable endeavour perhaps?

Ultimately you have to use your own judgement, as none of us know your parents/grandparents and how they would react. Good luck.

  • 4
    Great answer and +1. I'd combine this with an attempt at financial independence as suggested by GdD's answer.
    – user3140
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 11:37
  • 1
    I see the value in this answer. However, although point-by-point debates of theological differences aren't necessarily a good idea, secrets of any kind can create long-term stress that affect other areas of your life. You don't want to spend decades always dancing around what you do and don't want to mention around your parents. The truth needs to come out one way or another, so that you can live your own life confidently and comfortably without tiptoeing around half-truths.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 18:10
  • 1
    @Nicholas. Yes, it would be nice if everyone could agree to disagree and live and let live, but for many religious people it causes a huge amount is distress (see Guest's answer, for example). The parents will worry that their child is going to hell, because that is what they have been taught. Unless the parents are easy-going and willing to accept alternative beliefs, and it doesn't sound like they are, it seems openness would only cause more strife. I've updated my answer to elaborate my reasoning. Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 13:13

This isn't really a parenting question, but it's close enough and you could use some advice.

You are stuck, however the reason is not ideological, but financial. Your main concern seems to be that your family will withdraw financial support, so that's what you need to tackle. Work to become financially independent by getting a job which is not dependent on religion or family connections, and get your own place to live. Once you are independent you then have your freedom. If you truly want to be able to live your own life you have to be willing to be written out of the will.

As for how to tell them, there's no easy way. You just tell them, and let the chips fall where they may. If it were me I'd simply say that you don't believe that their path is yours and that you intend to make your own decisions on what your beliefs are, and then live your life. If they refuse to be part of it then that's their decision, not yours. Christianity is about acceptance (at least that's one of the things I took from my own Christian upbringing, although like you I'm no longer a believer), and if they cannot accept you as you are then they aren't true Christians. One thing I wouldn't do is argue the finer points about your own beliefs, don't even tell them what they are - it's your business not theirs! This is about choice, not beliefs.

Lastly, don't let them come between you and your grandparents. Go see them yourself and explain your feelings in person. Tell them if they want to cut you off that is their choice but you will still see them. Keep your relationship going even if your parents try to interfere.

  • 1
    +1 for the solution to the financial problem - ideological freedom comes with that. As for the "tell them"-part, I'd go with JamesBradbury's assessement that it is not necessary to tell the parents at all. The important part is to choose to DO what you want to do, they can't look in your head anyway, so there's no need to "confess".
    – user3140
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 11:35

Let's be clear: ideological freedom is a basic human right, and your right to believe something is not affected by whether you are financially dependent on another person. The support your parents provide is a gift that they can withdraw at any time for any reason.

If your parents are providing you support because they believe you believe something you don't, you're lying to them in order to take their money. I understand that you may feel like you need the money (and perhaps you do), but you are still lying to people you love for financial gain, and I just don't think you'll feel good about that if you keep it up.

Have you considered simply telling your parents that you are having a lot of doubts? You don't have to come right out and say, "Mom, Dad, I'm a Deist", but you could say, "Mom, Dad, I'm worried that I'm not the right person for this counseling position because I'm struggling with my faith right now." See how they react to the idea that you might not believe in hell anymore. There are actually Christians that don't believe in Hell, Carlton Pearson comes to mind. Maybe your parents will be more understanding than you think.

If they aren't, and if it becomes clear that you are going to be expected to pay lip service to the god of hell if you want to retain their financial support, then you need to come up with an escape plan. That escape plan might involve taking this job and remaining in the closet as a non-believer for a couple of years, which will make you feel angry and resentful towards them and towards yourself. Try not to. You can't make yourself believe something you don't, and your parents want what is best for you. If they are trying to get you to believe in hell by pressuring you financially, it's because they don't want you suffer for all eternity.

So: start with the idea that you are "struggling" with your faith, and if it becomes clear that you aren't going to have success with that, figure out how you're going to live on your own.

  • 2
    "and your parents want what is best for you" = certainly not if they are willing to stop supporting their child based on their religious beliefs.
    – DA01
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 2:38
  • 6
    @DA01 It sometimes helps, when analyzing other people's motives, to try to look at things from their point of view. To a person who truly believes in the reality of hell, supporting a child who is determined to go there might be a terrible disservice to the child, literally the worst possible thing that could be done for them.
    – philosodad
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 3:57
  • @DA01 - They are under no obligation to let an adult (and at 20 you are well past adult) to sponge off of them.
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 20:30
  • @user3143 OK. Not sure what that has to do with the religion thing, though.
    – DA01
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 20:36
  • @DA01 - them supporting a child is a FAVOR, not a necessity. Therefore, judging their willingness to do what's best for a child based on withholding that favor isn't a logical approach. People cut off support to children for MANY reasons, an doing what is NOT best for the child isn't usually one of them.
    – user3143
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 20:49

I went through this in my early 20s. I ended up breaking it to my parents when my non-Christian boyfriend proposed to me and I said yes. It was very hard to disappoint them but it does get easier with time. It basically ended my emotional relationship with my parents, though they are still in my life. I'm 35 now and have 2 children of my own. It does get easier with time, as you become more established in who you are as your own person and feel ok about the path you have chosen (or that has chosen you). It's still an ongoing issue. They don't witness to me quite as much as they used to but they still try once a year or so. I know they are in continual anguish over the state of my soul, but it has become somewhat amusing to me.


If you tell your parents, they will still love you afterwards. The might be upset and ask questions like "What did we do wrong?!" but if they do, this just means they still care for you the same way the did before, just in their world if you don't believe you'll go to hell, and they want to protect you from that misery.

You might want to spent some time actually understanding the religion you abandoned, as obviously even your parents don't fully understand it and therefore told you some "stories" about it. You should not judge religion from what others tell you about it, there is just too much emotion in this topic.

If you think the job is good for you, and can be done without truly believing, then do it. It will grant you experience in a world you are about to live the major time of your life without the usual sharp edges. If you don't think you can do it without truly believing, then tell your parents now. Because it won't get easier if you're neck-deep into that job already.

  • 1
    9gag was so kind to draw a picture of your problem: 9gag.com/gag/aVQzE4M ;)
    – TwoThe
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 9:27
  • @user3143 - please keep your personal religious convictions out of the comments. Commented May 23, 2015 at 19:57

As a Christian myself, who considers knowing Christ essential to my life, this is a vexing question if I put myself in your parents' shoes. Mature Christians give other people freedom of choice. Faith which is forced or coerced is no faith at all. "Control, manipulation, removal of freedom, threats and withholding love are all tools of powerlessness. Their goal is to introduce pain in order to teach someone a lesson." --Danny Silk https://www.facebook.com/121990546910/photos/a.126441966910.116720.121990546910/10152406710426911/?type=1&relevant_count=1
Authentic Christianity is not about control at all, but empowering others to walk in grace & freedom.
If need be, remind them what Christ famously spoke to doubting Thomas. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+20%3A24-29&version=NIV Christ himself honored Thomas's doubt, did not doubt criticize or manipulate Thomas, but demonstrated the truth to Thomas.

Also, consider the parable of the Prodigal son. The son asked for his inheritance, which was extremely rude. Not only did the father give him his inheritance. Certainly this is the opposite of this the description of your parents. He waited for his son to return, then rejoiced.

Would you do me a favor, read or watch at least one of the following- The new movie, fully funded through Kickstarter, available entitled "Holy Ghost", premiering this weekend. http://www.bethel.tv/ or the book, "So You Don't Want to go to Church Anymore" http://www.jakecolsen.com/JakeStory.pdf

On the question of financial dependence- do you know for sure they would withdraw their financial support? If it's true, & you do ultimately decide to leave your parent's religion, please keep in mind, it's entirely possible you're merely rejecting their misunderstanding or misuse of Christ's name instead of Christ himself. So if they go that route, from what I can tell, their choice would certainly be far removed from what Christ actually taught.

For the sake of the camp, please don't pretend to be a committed Christian simply for money. Do you desire to start your new Deist faith by living a lie?

All this being said, 20 years old is a time when many start to support themselves. As a college instructor, I usually recommend students live with their parents until the degree is finished because funding college is hard enough. Sounds like their are some difficult choices in your future. I wish you success whichever you choose.

  • Sorry, to maintain an old thread. I just realized this was originally posted a year ago.
    – nickalh
    Commented Sep 7, 2014 at 11:53

There has been plenty of play on this, but I will try to help. As a Catholic myself, we are always confronted with the question "If someone accused you of being Catholic, would they have enough evidence to convict you?" This goes back to all the stories you hear of people being persecuted simply based on their faith, often times ending up in being a martyr.

This could be your chance to demonstrate your faith as a Deist. As others before me have said, it all needs to be conducted in as calm a manner as possible. Give them the story of faith with no works and works with no faith. This could be your opportunity to show a work of faith.

I wish you all the best in your journey. Good luck!

  • "Give them the story of faith with no works and works with no faith" - this seems to need a little bit more detail to be of actual actionable use to the questioner, IMHO
    – user3143
    Commented May 23, 2015 at 19:56

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