Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] Telling my family I’m agnostic

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] Telling my family I’m agnostic
'I’m afraid of opening it to my parents because it will be a conflict to us.'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons. 


Dear Dr Holmes and Mr. Baer,

It started when I’m in my high school days. We had an activity to talk about “What is God for you?” Then a friend of mine bravely voiced out his answer. That he doesn’t believe in God.

That hit me hard. I myself was an altar server for six years. I’ve seen many people, including hypocritical Catholics –  from usherettes that after mass, talk bad behind other people’s back, to officials that go to church just for publicity stunt.

But I have to leave serving because of my busy schedule because I myself can’t properly manage my time well. After thorough thinking and research, I’ve finally found myself being agnostic, a person who believes that nothing is known of the existence  of God. In short, a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

But I’m only 20 years old right now. My parents are both Catholics. My father is even more devoted to worshipping God. He used to task us with at least one chapter of the bible when the pandemic started.  He also has alone time to pray and sing to God.

It’s been a staple to a Filipino family to pray before eating. I myself don’t pray before we eat. I just bow my head for them to see that I’m praying, but I’m really not praying. I don’t want to be a hypocrite anymore that shows myself like I’m a religious one but I’m truly not. 

I’m afraid of opening it to my parents because it will be a conflict to us. I’m still studying, I’m afraid they will not support my studies if I open up to them. Most of the time it’s sexuality or sexual orientation that is confessed to the parents. But what about beliefs? What should I do?

Chen


Dear Chen,

In an ideal world, all parents would bring up their children to understand that while they themselves may be adherents of one religion, or alternatively non-believers, there are in fact many religions and part of education should be the acquisition of a basic understanding of at least the major faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam etc., most of which come in myriad varieties.

Having introduced their children to the concept of multiple faiths, not to mention atheism and agnosticism, parents would then hopefully leave it to their offspring to make their own decision regarding belief.

Unfortunately, we do not live in such a civilized world.

While some parents do adhere to the above, most spend their time force feeding their children with their particular brand of faith or non-faith. Matters are not improved if the faith in question imposes draconian penalties on those adherents that question its edicts, or wish to leave, or form part of some proscribed group.

All this seems a long way from “love thy neighbor.”

Chen, you are quite right to weigh the pros and cons of revealing your agnosticism.

First, you are not independent of your parents: you still live at home, they pay your college fees and you do not yet have a job. Second, you are fully cognizant of the fact that your parents are rigidly orthodox in their faith and expect no less from their children; free will and independent thought are not encouraged in their household.

Given your situation, you are now torn between avoiding hypocrisy by revealing your lack of belief and avoiding potentially serious consequences and conflict at home by keeping up a token facade of belief. A pragmatic solution would be to maintain your religious facade until you finish college and can strike out on your own (much the same way as you pretend to enjoy the most tedious of your classes until you graduate and you can reveal your opinion without prejudice).

You do not, after all, believe in a supreme being to whom you owe allegiance and are, therefore, a free agent. This will also give you time to prepare your family incrementally for when you finally come out in an effort to avoid Armageddon! 

Best of luck,

JAF Baer


Dear Chen, 

Thank you very much for your letter. I agree with Mr Baer that it’s best not to announce your agnosticism at home. This is not hypocrisy, but a recognition that revealing your agnosticism to your parents:

  1. Will not lead to better communication but strife and possibly blackmail. Who needs that when living together during a pandemic?
  2. Is based not only on your desire to avoid arguments but also on the realization that your parents’ capacity for intelligent discourse about religion seems nil. So why bother?

Ideally, our beliefs about ourselves would not need to be hidden, but that is difficult in a culture like ours, with many parents like yours. For most teens, their sexuality is what concerns them most, because of their own level of maturity, needs and resources. Their parents (ideally a potential resource, but often a millstone) influence their children in those areas most important to them. 

For most parents, sexuality is what matters most. Children can often pick up on what most concerns their parents and it is not surprising that adolescents measure their self worth (based in part on their parents’ acceptance of who they are, including their sexual orientation) in terms of what their parents consider important.

Religion/belief is of primary importance in your family. You share that, except your belief happens to be different from theirs.

You loathe being a hypocrite, but that is neither your goal nor the meaning of your silence. All you want is the financial support which you can rightfully expect from parents at 20.

So continue bowing your head, being an agnostic, avoiding fights with your parents until you can leave the nest and, in time, be the kind of adult those who depend on you need not hide from or pretend to. 

All the best, 

MG Holmes

– Rappler.com

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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