I’m so proud of my dad!

My dad is one of the major reasons I’m an atheist. Ever since I was little, he instilled a healthy skepticism of religion in me. For one, he thought it was very important not to indoctrinate me in any particular faith. We never went to church and I was never taught about Christianity, unlike him or my half brothers (whose mom won out on that argument). I was left to my own devices. And when you’re gobbling up Greek mythology and fantasy novels, modern religions just didn’t seem too different in my head.

He also had his nuggets of wisdom. “No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God,” was a frequent saying of his. And when a younger me asked why we didn’t go to church, he responded “You don’t have to go to church to be a good person. Plenty of people who go to church and are praying the loudest have also done the worst things.”

Despite this, I never heard him call himself an atheist. I’m not sure if he even knew it was an appropriate label for himself until I started the Society of Non-Theists at Purdue. I had noticed that now that I was more vocal about my atheism, he was also becoming more vocal in his criticisms of religion. Not long ago he saw I had a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and I mentioned it was a really good read. Armed with a Kindle, he read it and loved it. The criticism of religion has definitely increased even more (Dawkins has that effect on people).

I just saw him, and he said I would be proud of him. He was grocery shopping and a man in a suit came up to him. He said he recognized him from when he coached high school basketball, so my dad stopped to talk. He then asked if he could have a minute of his time and tried to give him a pamphlet about Christianity.

Dad: Sorry, but you’ll just be wasting your time on me.
Guy: Why’s that?
Dad: Because I’m an atheist.

The guy was flustered and wanted to debate, but my dad just went along with his grocery shopping.

This is the first time I’ve heard him used the dreaded “a” word, and to practically a stranger no less. One way to increase acceptance of the non-religious in our society is to let people know that every day, good people are atheists. We’re fathers, we’re basketball coaches, and we do our grocery shopping at the same place as you. It may have taken him 64 years to do it (yesterday was his birthday!), but it’s never too late.

And yes, I am very proud of him.


  1. says

    The first time I used the “A” word to describe myself was with a religious solicitor as well. He knocked on my door and asked if he could share a Bible verse. I said no thank you; he asked why. “I’m an atheist,” I said. He literally jumped off my porch. I couldn’t help chuckling as I shut the door.

  2. LeAnne says

    aww, i wish that i could share my atheism with my parents. (i’m the black sheep, the other sibling use to be a worship pastor in a southern baptist church. need i say more?)

  3. Introbulus says

    Happy late birthday to your dad! Incidentally, my dad’s birthday was three days ago. He’s not really an “atheist” per-se, but I’ve never known him to go to church in my life. He’s a very independent sort of thinker.

  4. Michael Hare says

    Hope my daughters realize that is why we did not raise them in any religion even though we were both raised Catholic (now grateful recovering Catholic.)

  5. Raiki says

    Go Jen’s dad! And lucky you for having parents who aren’t crazy southern baptists…I love my mom, but sometimes…really…?~R~

  6. says

    See, when people offer to share their religion with me, I try and engage them in discussions. This is partly because I am genuinely interested in what other people think and believe in. I don’t want to waste their time – I let them know they have no chance converting me. This actually scares off a lot of them. However, a fair proportion of the ones who are left end up leaving looking strangely thoughtful, and I sometimes like to think a little more sceptical. Sometimes it’s as little as “why do you need a special place, special day, and special person to worship?” – fairly basic Quaker premise. Sometimes I like to go the whole hog and suggest that people don’t need a sacred book and stories of magic and wonder to be a good person. It’s gets somewhere more often than you’d think with evangelists, especially the door-to-door witness types.

  7. Kristopher W Ramsey says

    It was similar for me growing up. My parents both came from different faiths and decided they didn’t want to raise their children in either, that we would have a choice in what faith we pursued, if any. Both my parents were highly moral people, and they raise both my sister and I to be the same. Now, I don’t consider myself an atheist, more an agnostic if I had to put a label on it, but I refuse to belong to any church. My spirituality is my own concern, my beliefs individual to me.

  8. says

    I bet if the guy tries to debate, he will get either get totally destroyed or try really hard to evade a direct discussion. Your dad made a right choice because debating with Christians is a waste of time.You reminds me of the House episode, “House vs. God.” If you haven’t seen it, please do. At the end, House beats God. :-)

  9. says

    One that I used recently was to offer to listen to some Mormon missionaries if they would let me tell them about Atheism. They said didn’t realize that Atheist proselytized. I told them that most don’t but if they come to my door then I felt obligated to share. They declined….

  10. says

    Dear Jen,I really enjoy your passionate and authentic posts. I agree with you on the fact that there are good people who are atheists… I would add that there are good people who believe in God as well..When we think that we have the “Truth” and the others are wrong, we will become intolerant, regardless of our beliefs.All the best,Boris from Read-y.com

  11. mcbender says

    Excellent. I’m jealous, to be perfectly honest – my parents are in denial about the fact that they’re atheists (even though they are, they won’t use the term, and deride me for doing so). I come from a secular Jewish family and most of them consider themselves Jews first and atheists second (I’m the other way around). It causes problems, because we don’t disagree when it comes to actual ideas, only terminology…That said, my parents have their moments. Not too long ago, I was walking down a city street with my father and we were accosted by some missionaries; they asked my father if they could talk to us about Jesus. My father simply said “I’m not interested, I’ve already got one” and kept walking. I have absolutely no idea what he meant by it, if anything at all, but perhaps that was the point – neither did the missionaries, judging by the expressions on their faces.

  12. says

    Though Jen’s dad’s response might have been appropriate under the circumstances (pamphlets in the supermarket doesn’t sound like a promising start for rational discussion), I think it is wrong as a matter of principle. It sounds awfully similar to something like this: A: Could I have a minute of your time to talk about homosexual rights / abortion rights / condom use?B: Sorry, but you’ll just be wasting your time on me.A: Why’s that?B: Because I’m a Christian.This is one of the reasons I dislike labels, including “atheist.” Labels are often used as conversation stoppers, and are likely to get in the way of independent, critical thinking. We should never be in a position where we are uninterested in hearing further argument and evidence, on any subject.I’ve written a bit more about the misuse of labels here:http://norighttobelieve.wordpr

  13. Skywalker says

    @ Ezra: your mistake is in thinking these people, or the people in your example, have further arguments and evidence to offer. If someone is just going to give you the same info you’ve heard a thousand times before, there’s no sense in having a conversation.If some stranger came up to me wanting to talk about homosexual rights, abortion rights, or condom use, I would be quite a bit less polite than person B in your example.

  14. says

    Jen, your dad sounds like a rad guy. He also has the same birthday as me! I’ll raise a pint to an atheist birthday buddy tonight. Wish him a late happy birthday for me!

  15. says

    @Skywalker: I agree that there’s usually no point to getting into a discussion with missionaries, since they’re just peddling the same old dogmas and there’s nothing you could say that would ever change their mind. However, my reply would be something along the lines of “I’ve heard it all before, so unless you have some new evidence supporting the truth of your claims, move along,” and not “you’re wasting your time talking to me because I’m an atheist.”

  16. libraboy says

    A: Could I have a moment to talk about…B: No, thank you.A: Why not?B: Because it bores me.

  17. says

    I’d honestly prefer that both sides refrain from actively proselytizing, because I find people who work atheism into every single conversation almost as annoying as people that work jesus into every single conversation.

  18. Nathanlee2 says

    Aww, your dad is growing up! See, I can say that because he doesn’t know where I live :)

  19. marisateika says

    That is not comparable. Apples and oranges. You may have a point if the individual had approached her father regarding a social issue but he didn’t. He approached him regarding Christianity. There is nothing about Christianity that a pamphlet (and distributor of said pamphlet) has to say that I have not heard before. Regardless, shutting up a solicitor by any means necessary is a-okay in my book. Why? Because they’re obnoxious asshats–particularly religious ones.

  20. ??? says

    maybe this isn’t the place to ask a queation like this, but why do I have the constant impression, that americans, no matter what they believe in, need to flaunt that faith, and constantly try to look better than the other belief systems? do you folks have a secret competition going on that asians in general might just be to alien to understand? I mean even atheists seem to constantly need to reassure themselves and each other that they are right.or is it like i just don’t get it?

  21. Toxic Paradox says

    My mother considers herself a ‘spiritualist’ but I don’t think even she knows what she means by that. My dad told me on many occasions when I was growing up that there’s no point praying to a plank of wood, for which I am grateful to him. Even if he did send me to Sunday school as cheap childcare! He was bringing me up single-handed, so I’ll let him off.

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