After Coming Out As An Atheist, I Was Shunned by My Mother | Friendly Atheist

36

This is a guest post by Catherine Dunphy. Dunphy is the Executive Director of the Clergy Project.

I’ve thought quite a bit over the past two years about the concept of shunning in religious families. It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time, a consequence that I knew I’d eventually have to face when my mother discovered the Clergy Project. I knew that the stakes would be high and that my mother’s religious beliefs would ultimately be an obstacle to our relationship.

On many occasions over the past decade, I have spoken briefly with her about my lack of faith. Though I never lied to her, I admit that I attempted to downplay my atheist activism. My efforts were to ensure transparency, but also to limit the details and frequency of these conversations so that we could carve out space where our relationship could thrive. It was, I had thought, a happy but uncomfortable truce.

Unfortunately, this strategy came crashing down a few short weeks ago, just before my birthday.

One thing you should know about my mother is that she is a deeply religious person — her adherence to Roman Catholic orthodoxy is consistent, her faith unshakeable, and her demand for capitulation absolute. Growing up in this Catholic home was an exercise in extreme limits. The scala naturae, or “great chain of being,” dictated that my parents — in particular, my mother — had absolute authority over their children. The only authority to which my mother submitted, was that of the Church, and therefore God.

As a child, I didn’t know that praying the rosary on my knees every night was an out-of-the-ordinary event, that saying novenas was not a spare-time activity, and that other children did not feel shame and guilt for the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In all aspects, I was an indoctrinated child.

 

Written By: Catherine Dunphy
continue to source article at patheos.com

36 COMMENTS

  1. her adherence to Roman Catholic orthodoxy is consistent, her faith unshakeable, and her demand for capitulation absolute.

    The sure fire recipe for raising a “fuck you” child.

    You had better hope that your child’s IQ and curiosity is not above lukewarm….. Triple digit IQ’s (in the child) almost guarantee that this mode of parenting will produce said child.

  2. much as I feel for this woman, I feel sorry for parents who are like hers too. with so much of their emotional investment tied up with religion they can never experience the joy of loving someone who is a completely different person in their own right. in a way they’re victims too as it must still hurt to shun your children.

    It’s the opium of the masses. plenty of alcoholics and drug addicts have lost families too. it’s their own fault, they make the choice, their loved ones are waiting for them to sort their priorities out and would be ready to forgive, but they’re addicted so have to live in misery.

    I’ve got nothing against drink or drugs, just don’t do it in front of the kids, never mind expect them to feed your addiction

    • In reply to #3 by SaganTheCat:

      Hi Sagan,

      Thank you for that thought.

      I am in an almost identical situation to Catherine Dunphy – except that my Mother is Anglican and we have not, yet, reached the denouement. Unlike Catherine, I have also had a growing feeling of impending confrontation.

      There is no doubt in my mind that strict religious adherance in older people is tied up with a lifelong emotional investment, as you suggest. There is also fear: Fear of change, fear of embarassment (being in the wrong), fear of the unknown (what next?), and so on …

      In addition, difficult though it is to see from our perspective of the critical and sceptical thinker, there is also an intellectual investment. Some quite intelligent people are religious – my Mother’s investment and indoctrination almost certainly started with my Grandfather, a Company Secretary for a major insurance company and nobody’s fool. I don’t believe my Mother was so bad – but I have seen some people who at times, with the benefit of hindsight, presented symptoms redolent of Sockholm syndrome when discussing their parents and religion.

      On the other hand I can’t wholly support the idea that the religious are automatically victims. Call me hard-hearted but; it seems to me that in the end it comes down to a reluctance to ask the hard questions and to honestly face up to the fact that you got it wrong.

      It was my Mother who taught me: Pride is a sin, and will always come to a fall.

      I’ll be there to pick her up – but such a statement presupposes she will want to be supported. The simple thing to do is to let life play out and try to keep some perspective.

      Asking: Victim or not Victim? is, in the end, not really relevant. It’s about the individual person and what we hope we will continue to share.

      Peace.

      • In reply to #6 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

        In reply to #3 by SaganTheCat:

        On the other hand I can’t wholly support the idea that the religious are automatically victims. Call me hard-hearted but; it seems to me that in the end it comes down to a reluctance to ask the hard questions and to honestly face up to the fact that you got it wrong.

        no you’re absolutley right, which is why i made the addict connection, addicts are victims but self-made victims who could turn their lives around if only they wanted something more than their next hit.

        My situation is one of denial. apparently I will realise I’m wrong one day (mine’s catholic), I also, apparently need to have a more open mind. I’m willing to help but only if help is asked for without condition. I refuse to pretend to make someone else feel happy and as such I have also grown to accept the loss of a relationship. it’s still there, sort of, but nothing like it should be.

        I’m often hearing little anecdotes, and i mean little, and i nod, or say “oh” because it’s not worth voicing my actual thoughts of “ffs shut up with the stupid talk” and I’m sure this gets taken as a sign I’m open to the idea of someone smelling pipe tobacco in the house occasionally is proof in life after death (rather than evidence of poor upholstery cleaning, sure my old uncle smoked a pipe, but then he wore bryl creem and farted on occasion too) or whichever localised miracle gets trotted out, but in fact I’ve had the arguments that have swiftly escallated into self-pitying accusations, dragging up unrelated examples of my shortcomings as a son and can see no end nor purpose to them so when i’m around her I pretend to be mildly interested and will continue to do so.

        I do see junkies as victims of circumstance and I’d help one if they asked but asking for help means help in giving up, not help in getting the next fix. I don’t think you’re hard-hearted at all if you’re just refusing to indulge others in their fantasies

  3. This is a prime example of the selfish god-virus destroying family relationships in its aggressive hold on faith-heads, promoting aggressive expansion of its infection.
    The RCC in particular is inward looking and bigoted. Where else would RCC – CofE partnerships be described as “mixed marriages”, with one partner being pressurised via the other to convert to Catholicism?

    • You lucky devil!.I am lefthanded and was whacked for it.I came out as an atheist and am still being whacked for it!In reply to #5 by joby44:

      Thank goodness I live in a society where “coming out” as an atheist is as strange as coming out as left handed,the general response would be “so what?”.

      • In reply to #7 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

        You lucky devil!.I am lefthanded and was whacked for it.I came out as an atheist and am still being whacked for it!In reply to #5 by joby44:

        I only had one very old teacher who tried to make me write right handed,a word from my Grandma soon put paid to that,and yes I am lucky,don`t even know any theists.

  4. A nice time Ms Dunphy’s mum chose to take up the issue.Her birthday eve!

    Apart from the glaring wrongdoings of the churches, there are these familial issues.Gaping chasms between parents and children, husbands and wives.Unnecessary pain and anguish.I know many folk who shun their children because they married hindus.In my experience it’s not the other way around.I recently had to speak to a relative and tell her that a relationship with her child was all important.That marrying an hindu was her daughter’s business and the best thing a parent could do was let the child (who is 30 years old!) make her own decisions.

  5. Thanks mum and dad for leaving me to make up my own mind and accepting my decision.

    I’m still talking to my parents who died donkeys years ago, but unlike a blind-faither I understand what’s happening.

    Anyway, it’s sad that Ms Dunphy has been made so very unhappy, but I somehow think that she’ll survive.

  6. Because the Pope wants your mother to hate you, right?

    This is not a relationship worth preserving, or losing sleep over, even if it is your own parent. Your mother has a serious mental illness.

    Just let her know you’ll be there for her if or when she ever decides she wants to try to get over her problem, and in the meantime you are going to be getting on with real life. Something she would not recognise if it jumped up and bit her.

  7. I sympathize with Ms Dunphy. It is truly unfortunate her mother’s indoctrination takes precedence over her motherly instincts, something every parent has in some shape or form no matter what the offspring has committed.

    Acceptance of others not totally aligned with our own belief systems is part of the diversity humanity. The mother’s attitude towards her daughter and others seems to be totally contradictory to her “christian” values, and very binary. I hope Ms. Dunphy’s mother finds it within her heart to forgive her daughter, and accept her for who she is. Now that would be the “christian” thing to do. jcw

  8. Being the son of a renegade Catholic, I have developed a particular distaste for the RCC and its bullying tactics. As the author describes movingly, a tactic carried on by, at least some of, its practitioners. Catherine was a bit less lucky in her choice of parents than I was, so the only advice I can give her is to keep on truckin’ .

    Nothing fools reality.

  9. What if she were the only Catholic on planet earth — this were her private delusion? The craziness would be even more apparent.

    You would not feel threatened. You would feel pity. It would be similar to the experience of early Alzheimers.

    Your Mom likely had this delusion beaten into her as a small child. All manner of terrors were threatened if she rebelled against it. Your very presence causes these terrors to rise up from her unconscious. She has been trained to run from anyone like you, even though you are her daughter.

    I once had a talk with Aunt Edith, my father’s eldest sister. I asked about Dad’s early life, something he never talked about. I could not believe how Victorian was his upbringing — with daily church attendance, confined behind a wall. It was a very Puritanical life, where being glum was the primary virtue. You might have similar talks to find out what happened to your Mom early on.

    It is not your fault. It is not your Mom’s fault. It is just your Mom running off her early conditioning. If there is blame to be had, it was the people who conditioned your Mom, but they too were conditioned.

  10. Though Mom came up with this shunning idea, had she been a JW, Mormon, Westboro Baptist or Muslim, the entire community would push her to shun you, threatening to cut her off if she did not.

    These sort of behaviours show little faith that the religion has value, particularly compared with alternatives.

  11. i have never understood why negative reactions such as shunning are a faith-head’s response to apostasy. surely, if they consider that you have left something that they consider wonderful, they would feel sorrow, and maybe bewilderment rather than anger.

    • In reply to #22 by Net:

      i have never understood why negative reactions such as shunning are a faith-head’s response to apostasy. …

      I believe that shunning serves at least two functions for any dogma/ideology based community. First, the threat of shunning is meant as a deterrent to apostasy. Second, it is a way to remove the “dangerous ideas” that might infect other believers.

      As for an individual, I’d speculate that shunning a family member is some mixture of protecting one’s own identity (by removing the “dangerous ideas”), as a tool to try force someone to come back into the fold, and as a punishment. I’m making all this up, but it makes some sense to me (not the underlying beliefs, but the reaction.) After all, the mother believes the daughter is now going to spend eternity in Hell. If she really believes that, it “justifies” all sorts of nastiness if it has any chance of saving her daughter.

      • In reply to #23 by SomeDude:

        In reply to #22 by Net:
        as a tool to try force someone to come back into the fold, and as a punishment.

        To deal with that factor, all you have to do is sit tight. When mom notices shunning is not working, she may stop. A mother cut off from a daughter is in much more pain than a daughter cut off from her mother.

  12. When I came out to my mother as gay, she was histrionic. She grabbed my drapes and fell to the floor holding them, saying “Where have I failed?” I was quite firm. I also kept reinterating: “Nothing has changed. I am exactly the same person I was 2 weeks ago. It is just you now know me better.” My mother presumed I had taken up some sort of Satanic life style. I was able to point out that various people I had invited to Sunday dinners were also gay. We are not monsters. In a couple of weeks she came around and became an embarrassingly vocal gay liberationist.

    I suggest a similar approach for coming out as atheist.

  13. I’m lucky enough to live in a society where you don’t have to come out as an atheist, gay, whatever, no one really cares and people just accept you for the person that you are.

    It’s not a perfect society here, but it’s close!

  14. Religion has a large amount of self delusion that they simply lived a reality deluded by their own self and they are loving it. Nothing beats living in a self centric world and being drowned by it. It gives some sort of a “high” I supposed.

  15. Your courage is beautiful. If indeed religion is really the hallmark of greatest love….it shouldn’t be an obstacle to stop anyone from loving anyone they cannot accept to love. Why should the love as preached by religion fall short of its own grace that it seeks out to achieve in the first place. It is becos religion is not unconditional love. It is conditional love hidden by complex words. It is sectarianism. Without religion….all I see is humans who needs to love and be loved undivided by race, culture, beliefs or language. Love is a universal language. It does not need race, language, religion to colour it. To hell with belief for it is belief that brings true hell.

  16. Love is a simple thing though it is not always an easy thing. It is so much easier to love without religion. But why then do we need a religious book to complicate things….dividing people from people, families with families….race from race….. and turning countries against countries. Drop your book. Look inside you. Are we so retarded that without that book…..we are simply incapable and incompetent at loving? I think god thinks we are retards and that make him look pretty dumb as well. If the creation sucks…..what does that say of the creator?

    • In reply to #30 by Omegatron:

      Love is a simple thing though it is not always an easy thing. It is so much easier to love without religion. But why then do we need a religious book to complicate things….dividing people from people, families with families….race from race….. and turning countries against countries. Drop your…
      Exactly! I mean if religious people are God’s earthly representitives then God must be a moron :D

      • In reply to #34 by Gthinker:

        In reply to #30 by Omegatron:

        My parents have now ‘shunned’ me – they do not call me, they do not invite me over (even though I only live 30 mins away). They value their ‘relationship’ with their god Jehovah more then they value their relationship with their own son. Such is the amount of control this religion exercises over people’s lives…>

        I recently had the floor measured up for new flooring. The fellow doing this, mentioned that his wife was a JW and he was currently reading the bible. I politely shared my views on the topic. The builder overseeing the project rang shortly after, telling us that someone else would be doing the flooring as unfortunately the original fellow couldn’t make it. The moral of this story is that they’d rather not engage with non-believers at all…unless they’re proselytising door to door.

        • In reply to #35 by Nitya:
          JWs are strange people, my Sister and I often joke that’s it’s a wonder we have turned out as “normal” as we are. Because being brought up by JW parents is enough to send anyone to the loony bin. Only ex-JWs and other cult survivors can understand the mind-boggling weirdness and disturbing shit that goes on in religious extremist families. As a toddler I was taught by my parents that when God kills all the “wicked” people, he will make the birds and worms devour their dead bodies. I asked: “will that happen to me mummy?”, “probably not, but we don’t know for sure” was her reply…

  17. Theism is screwed….they have turned great love into small love by loving their own kind. If you are different….they will have it up their sleeves to turn you into one of their own. They behave like cancer cells…whose function is to SPREAD the word or be damned to burn!!!!

  18. What a poisoned situation. I have great admiration for Catherine Dunphy’s calm fortitude. It is never happy to know someone you thought close loves another far more than you.

    For me, I feel these exchanges should be kept centred on the issue of morality if that sits well with the closet leaver. We can often do better in our moral decision making than religion. We can see harms denied the dogmatic. We can make societies (northern Europe) with less crime, less of all the bad things, abortions, teen parenthood, STDs just as most religious want.

    “You wanted me to be and do good, make the world a better place. You made me want those things, Mum. I’m not the failure you imagine. Watch me for a couple of years and see what you think.”

    Catherine, I hope your mum picked up the tab.

  19. This is similar to my situation. I was born and raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I only recently gained enough courage and motivation to leave this incredibly controlling and damaging religion (some say cult). My parents have now ‘shunned’ me – they do not call me, they do not invite me over (even though I only live 30 mins away). They value their ‘relationship’ with their god Jehovah more then they value their relationship with their own son. Such is the amount of control this religion exercises over people’s lives…

Leave a Reply