Should I go to religious services just to make people happy?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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Detail, Stained glass, St Thomas, Winchelsea, East sussex
By: jpguffogg – CC BY 2.0
I was raised in a religious (Christian) household. My parents are still very much religious, but I am very much not.

Lately it's been becoming a bigger deal to them — there's been a lot of conversations/comments about how much it "hurts them" that I'm rejecting something that's so important to them, how sad they are that I have something missing in my life, etc. I've tried to explain that my choice not to be Christian is not a rejection of THEM and that I'm happy and fulfilled, but no soap.

(Perhaps unwisely) I've been trying to make it clear where I stand on this issue rather than being pretty passive about it like I was before. So when I was given my father's draft of the annual Christmas letter to review, I asked (politely) that either the language be changed to be more inclusive of varying religious beliefs, or that they not sign my name to it. This didn't go over well, to say the least.

At this point, though, I'm facing a dilemma…

I've been going to religious services, like Christmas Eve, with my parents in order to make them happy. But at this point I feel as if there is a lack of mutual respect for my beliefs, so I have no desire to go. (I do not live with my parents and am not financially dependent on them in any way, so that wouldn't be a factor here in what I would choose to do.)

The question is then: Do I stick to my guns, or do I go to religious services with my family on holidays? -Q

  1. I'd ask myself if I enjoy the ceremony of the Christmas services and such, I am not religious but can appreciate a nice church and a wedding, christening, etc held in one.

    If you enjoy them, I'd keep going – I would not stop going with a view to teaching them to tolerate your viewpoint, that has to happen slowly I'd guess.

    • In my family, things like Christmas Eve service are just a part of our traditions around the holidays. Of me and my four siblings, we run the gamut from very observant to completely non-religious. Some of us go to the services, some of us don't, and that did take a while for my parents to come to terms with. All of us, though, celebrate holidays and milestones with our family in whatever ways we feel most comfortable and sit politely through things like meal blessings if we don't participate.

      That being said, it took a few conversations of "I'm an adult, I respect and appreciate the values that you raised us with, religion included, but this is my decision. I haven't abandoned those values and morals, but this is how I want to show/not show observance."

      Ultimately, you just have to continue to respect them but also recognize that you do not need to attend or participate in things that make you uncomfortable or clash with whatever belief system (or lack thereof) you ascribe to.

  2. I wouldn,t go. Myhusband is catholic, i am not. I don,t go. With him. The only time i willis when he christens are kids. . Respect is a 2 way street in my book. If they cant respect you you dont have an obligation to do so for them.

  3. Your situation sounds a lot like mine was, although my parents aren't quite as religious as it sounds like yours are. Nevertheless, my siblings and I were all brought up Catholic and each one of us came to reject it as we got older and started questioning various aspects of the Church. It took several years (sorry) but as adults we made it clear what our thoughts about it were and little by little stopped going to even big holiday masses with the rest of our family. By then my parents fully understood how we felt…and actually the first time I suggested that I "stay in" and help prepare the dinner while the rest of our enormous extended family (we're talking aunts, uncles, cousins, step cousins etc.) went to Christmas Eve mass with Grandma, my mom just sighed & said "yeah, that's fine." She knew I hadn't been getting anything out of it anyway & had been going through the motions for the past several years just for their sake. It may take awhile for them to accept this idea, but be firm with where you stand and make it clear what you believe. Eventually they will get it, and not take it as a personal attack.

  4. (I wrote out my whole reply, then went back to re-read the question and realized you're asking about holidays specifically. Hopefully this is still useful.)

    This is something my family has gone through. I go to church, but it bothers my mom that my older sister doesn't, especially as her children have not been raised with religion. (There was a moment when the youngest was six and Mom asked her what a warlock was, and she knew, but she had no idea who Jesus was.)

    When Mom discussed it with me, I pointed out that my sister still had the values with which she'd been raised, and she was passing those values and morals on to her children. What really helped my mom make her peace with my sister's decision was a discussion with a visiting priest. Through that discussion, as well as some pamphlets he gave her, she came to accept that her adult children needed to make their own decisions and have those choices respected.

    I suppose what I'm trying to say is that this is something your parents have to work through. You can provide resources, and if you have any clergy you'd be comfortable talking with who can point you towards materials, that might help. Focusing on what beliefs/morals/etc you have in common, not the differences in attendance, may help as well. Good luck!

    (For what it's worth: my atheist husband has never attended religious services aside from weddings and funerals, and it hasn't been an issue. Mom's really gotten this loving us for what we are, not for what she wants us to be.)

  5. I vote stick to your guns. Two parts to my response:

    1)I knew very early on that I didn't buy into religion one bit, but nothing I said or did made any difference to my Catholic parents who forced me to attend services and complete confirmation. Once that was completed they said I was an adult in the churches eye and could make my own decisions, so I was finally able to stop attending masses, including holiday ones. I had a heated argument about going to xmas services with my sister during my sophomore year of college because she didn't want our mom to go by herself, and my sister expressed that she goes despite the fact that she doesn't totally buy into all of it either. As much as I kind of feel bad that without my sister my mom would go alone to a service that's supposed to be family oriented, nobody had ever bothered to respect my beliefs, or non-belief, and this lack of respect continues in many other ways to this day. So I don't participate in anything religious with them: I don't go to church, holiday or not, and I don't pray over holiday dinners, nothing. It was a little tense when I was living with them, but now that my partner (he's also non-religious) and I are moved out and in it together, it's gotten easier to stick to my guns. I still go to their house for xmas and do gifts and xmas dinner even though neither I nor my partner like any of that, but doing anything religious is where we draw the line. It's taken time but my parents have adjusted to this. This was one fight that was worth it to me because I *wasn't* rejecting my family, and they saw that through the fact I stuck with doing everything else xmas related. I imagine that with time, they'll adjust to you not going to mass too.

    2) I have a friend who's a bit older than I am who had a similar issue to this, who I talked to about this as I was going through it, and she said she's glad that she stuck to her guns early on with religion and her christian family because that she has kids now and won't be/hasn't been raising them "with religion" so to speak. She thinks that by not placating her parents early on thus giving them time to adjust to the idea she wasn't into christainity/religion that when the kids came along her parents were a little more quick to accept that she wasn't going to raise them with religion than they might otherwise would have been. Her parents still put a little bit of a fuss, but she says they came around pretty quick. Now, we don't plan to have kids (DINKS for life!) but I thought it's a interesting peek down the road that could also be helpful to you if you plan to have kids.

    In the end, you have to figure out what's best and most comfortable for you: if you've only been going to make your parents happy, then I really don't think you're obligated to go *especially* if they don't respect your beliefs back. Just because you don't go to holiday massdoesn't mean you don't respect they're beliefs, you aren't sitting around belittling them, you're just exercising the right to have your own beliefs.

    This was really long but I hope it was helpful! =)

  6. I wouldn't go. My husband's mother always asks us to go to church with her on Christmas, and a year ago, she basically forced us (guilt trip). Neither of us believe in anything Christian-related, so it was pretty awkward having to sit there and read from the Bible with his mom watching us the whole time. We didn't enjoy the ceremony, the readings, the songs – none of it, really. Not our bag. I would recommend that you stick to your guns and exercise your freedom to believe in something separate from your folks.

  7. i stopped going to services with my parents when i moved out. until that point, though, i did holidays to keep the peace.

  8. Stick to your guns. I grew up being a devout Catholic so much I studied Latin and Roman Culture. I was enlightened on a few things that blew my mind and felt I couldn't dare call myself Catholic let alone Christian. On Thanksgiving several years ago one of my many cousins asked me question or something about Christianity and I let her know I'd become atheist. I did not expect the reaction I got. Huge nonacceptance. So she argued with me in front of my whole religious family. At the time I was studying in college so I explained my reasons what I had learn read and studied. She would not let it go and then I went into detail with historical references. She finally excepted and so did the rest of my family. Now we get along fine.

  9. Ultimately in the end the decision is up to you. But as an atheist I still go to Christmas Eve mass, and here's why.

    My experience has been interesting, since my parents were heavy believers but also mostly tolerant of other beliefs (my dad was very open, my mom less so). I did all the things I was supposed to do in regards to the church (confirmation, etc), but ultimately I did it because I knew it was important to my parents not because I believed. I've never believed in a god, and after my dad passed away my mom became more religious in her grief. I didn't want to upset my mom more than she already was, so I sort of stayed within the agnostic realm. I went to church on Christmas Eve, and I listened to her talk about church.

    I just recently told my mom I'm an atheist (I'm 29, and I've been one since I was 14 or so). I also told her I respect her beliefs, and that I know they are important to her. It was hard for her to understand, and she still pushes me to believe but I just politely decline and explain why.

    Here's the thing, I still go to Christmas Eve mass. I love the music, Christmas carols are beautiful and I love to sing them, irregardless of my beliefs. I also find that Christmas eve masses are the ones that most likely talk about true love, respect and giving, the things that I do believe in. While I may not believe in god, I do think that a lot of priests, ministers, etc do sometimes have some very beautiful nuggets of wisdom. They may attribute it to a god, I just attribute it to humanity.

    You don't have to believe what your parent's believe, but that doesn't have to stop you from finding beauty and wisdom within their beliefs.

    • I'm not quite an atheist (I don't really know what I am at this point. I was raised Catholic and was non-denominational Christian for a time, but now am just not sure), but I definitely don't subscribe to the Catholic beliefs in which I was raised. Like you though, I still go to Christmas mass when I'm home for it and actually enjoy it. I love Christmas and still fully celebrate it. I love the carols, and particularly the religious ones – they' re just so beautiful. I don't particularly care to go to mass on any other day, though.

      Since I got engaged, my mom and I have had more discussions over my misgivings about Catholicism and, surprisingly, some of hers as well, so she does know to some extent how I feel about it. I was still confirmed because at that point it's not really a choice as they would like to believe, though.

  10. My poor parents ended up with three non-religious children. Although we regularly conflict about this, there hasn't been much pressure to attend church with them, although my mother did send us an article once saying that what mothers really want for mother's day (or fathers for father's day – I can't remember which) was for their children to go to church with them. We didn't. That said, I think the real thing that my parents want is not necessarily church attendance but a return to the faith in which we were raised. If that is your parents' goal, it might be kinder to refuse and not give them false hope that you will be returned to the flock by witnessing services. However, if the goal is that their friends get to see how well their children turned out, faking it might be worth it because it might be fulfilling what your parents want. If they want quality time, perhaps you could arrange an alternative activity (that doesn't interfere with their own church attendance) that emphasizes your family values in some way, such as making baby blankets to donate or something.

    I also agree with the above posters who suggest going if you get something out of it. Personally, I have not recovered enough not to be sullen and resentful. As hard as it is for me to sit through religious weddings and funerals, I know I couldn't maintain decorum in a regular service. If you still like singing, listening thoughtfully to the preacher, etc., then you should go. If you're like me and it just creates more animosity, stay away!

    I'm really glad you asked this question as I'm navigating this kind of sticky conflict with my own parents and really like hearing about other people's experiences.

  11. Ask yourself which is more important to you: sticking up for your own beliefs/nonbeliefs, or potentially avoiding conflict and tension with your parents? (There's no right answer–either one is valid–but it could help you out.)

    If it were me, I might choose one service (Christmas Eve, or whatever) to attend with my parents as a way to honor and respect their beliefs. The problem with that, though, is that they don't seem to be respecting your position at all. If there were more of a mutual understanding, where they get that Christianity is not your jam but you're there because you love them, it could work–but it sounds like they're not at that point at all. So I don't think that you owe them your attendance.

  12. I am Christian, so I can understand why this is important to your parents. If they believe you need Christ to be happy in this life, you can understand why they want you to believe and have a hard time accepting this "change" in you. However, I think they would agree guilt tripping you into attending services is not the way for you to see the truth about Christ.

    I've always appreciated how my mom as a committed Christian didn't force my to go to church when I didn't want to go. It allowed me to come to Christ in my own terms.

    Also on being able to be forgiving to your parents. You said you've been passive about this previously. From your perspective this has been a long term problem. From a parents perspective, they probably see this has a sudden change.

    What ever you decide to do, I hope your family finds a way to show love and respect to each other.

  13. My folks are Catholic, and my boyfriends family are Born Again, neither of us are particularly religiously oriented and we've been dealing with this for a few years, here's how we handle it.

    1) Act like you're visiting your boss's house. If you went over to your boss's house and they prayed before a meal you'd probably sit quietly and respectfully until they were finished. You probably would NOT attend a church service with them, you'd schedule your visit to work around that. Same goes here, since you don't live with them, you don't need to rearrange your scheduled visit to include church, but something like insisting that they interrupt their family meal time ritual by not praying isn't cool, it's just rude. Be kind and respectful but stand your ground.

    2) Don't try and 'convert' them. No one likes having other's beliefs shoved down their throat, religious or otherwise. If a family member asks specifically why you aren't wearing your St.Christopher medal anymore or what have you, answer with 'That's not part of my belief system' and then drop it, if they continue, change the subject or repeat and add 'and I would appreciate it if you would respect that' on the end.

    Your parents are looking for respect and it's really hard when that respect isn't returned, but you're trying to be taken seriously as an adult. That won't happen if you are constantly picking fights or getting in to arguments. Respect them enough to avoid the subject, respect yourself enough to stand by your beliefs!

  14. It's tricky. I'm atheist. My MIL is very Catholic. She is upset we aren't raising our children Catholic. I offered to go to service as an alternative to having our children baptized. The idea being, when they are old enough they will be educated enough to choose their own religious beliefs. She told us she would prefer the children get baptized over going to service.

    Like Jenni said, you need to decide if you are going for them or yourself, because simply going for your parents may not be what they want at all.

    • " She told us she would prefer the children get baptized over going to service."

      Wow…that sounds really strange to me. Isn't the idea to get the values across and spark understanding? And wouldn't that be better served with the children going to service? There's nothing stopping them from getting the sacraments later in life.

      Actually, my grandma made the opposite choice. Sure, I didn't come into the church in the end, but it was an informed decision.

      • "Isn't the idea to get the values across and spark understanding? And wouldn't that be better served with the children going to service? "

        For a Catholic, there's actually a BIG reason why baptism is more important. Although the Pope has recently decided that unbaptized babies go to Heaven rather than Limbo (as was the belief for hundreds of years), many old-school Catholics still believe that you must baptize children as early as physically possible. Just in case the worst happens.

        My guess is that is what's going on here. And I would expect that Joan will face more pressure to attend services anyway as the children grow, but maybe not. A lot of Catholics believe that even non-Catholics can get into Heaven if they have a) been good people and b) been baptized. For everyone other than babies and people living without any access to Christian teaching, the baptism is absolutely vital for entrance to Heaven. That's why people perform it on death beds.

        • Yes, actually, I did know that tidbit of information too, since my family is Catholic (and yes, gradma still made that choice. progressive in her own way I believe). But considering the Pope's recent declaration that doesn't make much sense any more.

        • Just a quick n.b.: limbo was never Church dogma (official teaching), but under Benedict the Vatican spoke out more explicitly/strongly against the notion that unbaptized babies have no route to heaven.
          Nevertheless, I can see the preference for baptism over mass attendance from a devoutly Catholic standpoint (particularly as the limbo issue concerns babies specifically, not older children), though I doubt it seems ideal to MIL. Joan, it's a crappy spot to be in, and I hope your MIL makes peace with whatever decision makes the most sense for you and your family.

    • I would go with "Sorry, Mom, that's not an option."

      I am petrified that my in-laws will pull this on us. My husband seems to have a real blind spot about his parents religious fervor. When we talked about getting married we also agreed to raise future children Jewish. I told my husband not to propose until his (very Catholic) parents knew that we were doing that. Turns out he didn't, and a few months later they were really surprised and concerned when they found out. In return my husband was super pissed that his parents weren't more open minded… like I knew they wouldn't be all along. This stuff is super serious to people (myself included) and emotions run high.
      So now I worry that when we have kids, they'll be all "oh just get them baptized, no biggie" and my husband will again be surprised by that. And the answer will be N.O.

  15. My mother is Catholic and raised me that way (sending me to an independent Catholic school, baptism, first communion, confirmation- the whole bit) and insisted that I go to Mass with her every Sunday all the way up through high school. During high school I started looking for excuses not to go. I'd say I had too much homework, I'd conveniently be taking a bath when she wanted to leave for church and any other excuse I could think of. It took until I was in college to tell her that I just didn't want to go because it wasn't meaningful to me. I went to Christmas Mass for a while longer than the rest since my father who is not even Catholic goes to that. However, after a while I stopped doing that too, particularly once my husband (who is not Catholic) joined in the family Christmas celebrations. He's not one for going to religious events just because and my family didn't feel the need to force me to go and leave him at home, so that works out well. My mother still expresses disappointment that she "couldn't give me religion" and I've tried to explain to her that it wasn't anything she did, and that she gave me values and spirituality but I just don't agree with some things that the Church teaches.

  16. Though I was raised in a nonreligious household and am an atheist, I went to Christmas mass with my very Catholic grandma every year of my life until she died. Everyone in my family did, in fact, mostly to make her happy. (Worth it.) As a child I was bored; as a teenager I was indignant; as an adult I finally learned how to compromise my lack of faith with the beautiful but ecclesiastically intense services. (At one mass the priest got on his soapbox about nonbelievers going to hell. Merry Christmas to you too, Father.) I decided that I would sing the psalms I liked; stand but not kneel (I sat instead); and get out of the way for communion but not go up for a blessing. It worked well for me and could be a solution for you and others trying to navigate this weird arrangement. Kind of like the "pretend you're going to your boss' house" approach: be polite but don't feel like you have to do everything.

  17. I was raised in an extremely religiously conservative household and made to attend church services/sunday school/confirmation. After I moved out, I was still expected to attend so I made sure to be home very few Sundays. At some point, one of my sisters informed the family she was not religious nor was I. Huge blowup. No one in my family spoke to me for about 6 months. Gradually the family relationship started to improve but I found I had to still put my foot down about attending services. I've never said that I don't believe but I do say "no" when they ask me to come to church. It's still incredibly awkward even after 10 years. I do really enjoy the songs I grew up with as these are my best memories of being in church but my family sings them often enough at home that I can do that without having to go to a service.

    My family will never respect my beliefs (or lack thereof), and I've never expected them to because I don't believe they are capable. In a way, I've come to terms with their inability to see past their own religious beliefs but the divide and the awkwardness around religion still makes me incredibly sad. As such, agreeing to attend services even on a holiday, would just give my parents false hope that I'd rejoined the faith. And really, it would create more conflict in the future when their false hopes were once again dashed.

  18. Since you don't live with them, I feel like it's absolutely your choice to determine how you'll celebrate holidays and events with them. (I feel like living with them would make this a totally different, much more tip-toey dynamic.) This is sort of reading into your post, but it kind of sounds like you haven't established the "I'm a grown-ass adult and you're your own family unit now" line. Since you're unhappy with being co-signed to their holiday letter, I suggest first asking your mom for a list of family addresses and tell her its for your own holiday letter–and if she still sends you a draft of her family letter, say "Oh, no need to put me on here… I'm sending my own, remember?" And if you choose not to attend Christmas services with them, I advise not making it a thing, lest you be the heathen that ruined Christmas. Just say you won't be able to make it, but you're excited for [whatever other Christmas tradition you want to participate in].

    • This, to me, seems like the real root of the problem. It feels like they aren't seeing you as an adult who is her own person making her own choices with her life, and you haven't exactly been acting that way. Some one else made the observation that though this has been a process for you, it may seem more sudden to them, this may help you with your approach if you keep it in mind. Ultimately you shouldn't feel you have to go if it makes you uncomfortable, and when you talk with them rember to use 'I statements' and take responsibility for your own actions/choices, and remember that you are not responsible for theirs. You can't expect overnight results so be prepared for things to take some time to be fully resolved, and in the end your relationship with your parents will be different. That's okay though because you're a different person now than you were when you were younger and relationships change and grow just like the people in them do. Just remember that you love them, and they love you, and have faith (ehh ehh) that your love will make room for respect.

      • OP here. In many ways this is the problem. However, it actually has a lot less to do with /me/ not establishing myself as an adult in my parents' eyes– I've actually done that in quite a few ways and have for years, even when they were still providing some financial support for me. The larger problem is that neither of my (also adult) siblings– one of whom is half a decade older than me– have done so. While I'm not trying to judge either of them, there is a huge difference in the relationship I have with my parents and the relationships my siblings have– where they ask for permission to do things (or it is assumed that my parents need to give it) I make decisions, let my parents know, and tell them their feedback is welcome and will be taken into consideration but is not what will determine my life choices.

        I actually have sent my own holiday letters before (didn't this year for time reasons). When one of my cousins gets married, I give them a gift just from me (rather than being put under the umbrella of my parents' gift). All sorts of little things like that, all of which my parents are fine with and respect.

        Nor is this something that is coming as a shock to my parents. It's been an issue for awhile (over a decade), which they are aware of and have acknowledged, it's just that this is the first major flareup in awhile.

        Ultimately, there was a huge blowout, the words "as for me and my house, we will serve the lord" got thrown around a lot by my dad, and I had to point out that I was /not/ a part of their house.

        It turned out that THIS was actually a big part of the issue. My other siblings' not having really transitioned into adult relationships with my parents was leading to them still holding on to the vestiges of us being a family in the same way we were when everyone was a little kid. (Also some other issues but those are less relevant here).

        Ended up not going to the church service, as it would have been a hostile environment for multiple reasons. The whole thing is complicated by the fact that I was staying at their house over the holidays, so this was also leading them to imagine a family dynamic that doesn't exist anymore.

        Next year (well, this year) I'm going to take it a step further and let them know that I won't be coming for the holidays at all… the trip isn't a convenient one for me to make and I have a life of my own. Think having a holiday where I'm not there will help them realize that as well (I don't plan on presenting it that way, and honestly I almost didn't go this year, so this isn't a retaliation thing).

  19. I say stick to your guns. You are old enough to make your own spiritual choices. While this might be difficult for your parents to understand, you are the one who needs to live your life. I doubt that they will easily understand that you don't have something "missing" in your life. Not at first, maybe not at all, but at this point you know best what you need.

    It's a hard thing for many parents to accept (still going through it with mine) but they are among many who are dealing with this these days. Times are changing, and the old adage of, "You are born into this religion, and that's what you are" just isn't a given anymore.

  20. it is absolutely your right not to go if you don't feel comfortable. If it would trigger you, I would take a hard line against going.

    On the other hand, there is nothing inherently hypocritical about attending services of a faith not yours. As a Quaker Christian, I have attended services of many other faiths (Jewish, conservative Christian, Pagan…)

    That says nothing about my commitment to my own faith and everything about my respect for others.

    So if you would be triggered, don't go. If you feel so manipulated by your parents that going would play into their obvious control issues, don't go.

    But if you're just worried that it's hypocritical to go, or you're worried about "compromising" your beliefs, it's not and you aren't, so go ahead.

  21. Every parent has to deal with the fact that at some point their adult children will make decisions they disagree with, perhaps profoundly, and I ain't gonna lie : it goes down rough. No matter how you couch it parents see it as rejection of them or a failure in how they raised you or a threat to your well-being. Those are powerful emotions and they don't go away easily. Sometimes they never do.

    For me those conversations got a lot easier when I realized that I was still looking for acceptance from them, that I was expecting them to change : to be more liberal, more open, more rational, whatever. When I let go of that frankly unreasonable expectation, things got a lot easier. Then all I had to do concentrate on NOT justifying myself. "Are you going to church?" "No." "Why not?" "I'm not interested." No other explanations. Eventually they had to accept that they didn't have control over my choices any more than they did any other adult's.

    But cheer up : this is good preparation for when your son announces that he's joined the KKK in order to maintain racial purity and consequently he can no longer be in the same room as his biracial stepsister.

  22. One thing I would mention next time it crops up is that they haven't failed as parents.

    Maybe they're just scared that your non-believing is a reflection of them having not brought you up "correctly". Reassure them you're the same person, you were raised well and still have all the morals and manners you were taught.

    However I also feel its important you tell them you attended their services and events out of respect for their beliefs and they should offer you the same courtesy. Remind them that respect and tolerance is/should be universal, regardless of religion.

    If all else fails, there must be a bible story or Christian teaching/phrase that makes your point about having your wishes respected even if you're a non-believer. If its in their religion somehow, they might be more receptive to it.

  23. Don't go. I do, honestly, believe that it is hypocritical to go and take part in church services if you are not religious.

    I am atheist. I will go to church for other peoples' weddings, Christenings and funerals. Nothing else. I do not pray. I do not take communion. I do not attend church for any other reason and I do not take part in any of my Hindu family's religious ceremonies. I decided long ago that it wasn't for me.

    I understand the urge to make your mother happy, but there must be other ways than by compromising your beliefs.

    • This comment really bothers me. Do you mean that for YOU it would be hypocritical to attend services you don't believe in? If so, that's cool, I can understand that.

      But as a universal statement it's really unfortunate. You're calling hypocritical a lot of journalists, students of comparative religion, and folks who are just plain curious.

      There are soooooooo many reasons to attend services. I've been invited to Pagan rituals by friends because they want to share their faith with me. I think that's great. It's an exercising in mutual understanding and friendship-building.

      If you're saying that it is unethical for the original poster to deceive her family about her beliefs by going to services, I agree that's unethical. But saying, "Mom, I don't agree with you, but I love you and want to share this experience that you care about"? That's very different.

      Again, I understand that maybe for YOU (and maybe also for the OP? Unclear) it would be hypocritical to attend any religious service (maybe you see attending services as tantamount to a profession of belief; maybe you find religion so unethical that associating yourself with it in any way is wrong) but it isn't hypocritical for everyone; reasons and belief systems vary.

      • Ok, so what I mean is that I find it hypocritical to take part, to participate. To pray to a god you don't believe in, to take communion or whatever else. I think it is unfair to those who genuinely hold those beliefs to take part in the ritual without them.

        Please understand that I don't intend to offend and I'm sorry if I have. I see nothing wrong with attending services as a bystander, an observer. Greater understanding is always good. I don't know enough about Pagan rituals to presume to judge and can only assume that your friends knew your beliefs and were happy for you to take part anyway, in which case who am I to disagree?

        I come from a childhood in which I was atheist from a young age but used to participate in my family's Hindu ceremonies because it was interesting and different, even though I would not participate in other relatives' Christian ceremonies. That, I think, was hypocritical and that's why I stopped.

        So, to be clear, and I hope this makes my post less offensive to you: observing, or participating with the consent of those present when they know your beliefs, fine. Going along and paying lip service, I don't think is fine. That's personal to me though.

        So if the poster in this case was clear with her mother that she didn't believe but was coming along to keep her company, I would have no problem with that. I got the feeling that a show of faith was required to keep her mom happy.

  24. I would imagine that the main point of going to these services is to enjoy the time you spend with your family and any other loved ones that attend, in a place that feels comfortable for you. It sounds like that's not the case here anymore (if it ever was) so you are completely within your right to seek out other ways that make you feel comfortable and happy. Your happiness is important too. You've made it clear to them that you don't feel respected and they've chosen not to change, so I'd vote don't go. They don't get to both disrespect you and get your presence at religious services that you've already expressed to them you don't want to go to.

  25. I actually see these as two separate issues:
    1. The need for your parents' general acceptance that you've chosen a different spiritual path than the one they taught you.
    2. Changes in participation in family tradition and rituals.

    Tied up with the first is their grief that you're leaving behind something important to them. Complicate this with the possibility that they might be coming from the perspective that your choice to be an atheist rejects an opportunity for eternal salvation of your soul, they might genuinely be grieving their loss as though you've chosen death over life. (It depends on their own acceptance of doctrine, of course, but it is a possibility that is something they're struggling with.) So, they've got a lot to work through if they're genuinely dealing with the concern of having lost of child for all eternity.

    The second is the natural change that comes with independence as an adult. Especially when a person marries and has children the question of "whose family holiday traditions win out?" becomes very emotional for all involved.

    My spouse and I alternate celebrating Thanksgiving & Christmas with each side of the family. I work as a Christian minister so that means Christmas Eve is always and forever a day I will work. My mother-in-law has a hard time understanding this so when she plans Christmas festivities I'm always having to reinforce, "Yes, you do get Christmas this year – that means Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve. I have to work Christmas Eve so I can't attend your big family dinner that day." Some families has distinct traditions about what they're going to eat, who goes where to visit, and all of the other various family holidays traditions. When traditions change for whatever reason it is hard and brings up grief and anxiety at the change.

    Hopefully throughout this year you can continue the conversation with your parents and make some headway on the first question of them needing to support your choice about your own spiritual journey so that the second conversation about changing tradition can be a little less stressful for everyone.

  26. I made the choice to stop attending Christmas Eve services and pretending to participate in family prayers because I knew that the only reason my parents wanted me to do those things was because they thought I could be converted back into Christianity. It wasn't really about family tradition or spending time with me, though they tried to argue that to guilt trip me at first. Eventually they simply stopped discussing religion with me and we get along much better now.

    I don't know your family and whether or not they'll eventually come to accept your beliefs, but if you're unhappy attending religious services then perhaps it's worth a try. You're an adult and under no obligation to do anything just to make your parents happy. But if it ends up creating too much of a rift between you and you decide that's even worse than putting up with going to church once a year, you can always change your mind and start going again.

  27. This is a tough question. I was not raised in a religious household, and am an atheistic pagan these days, but I still often ended up being dragged to church services on Christmas Eve, despite that day also being my birthday. Mainly, this was because we were visiting relatives over the holidays who liked to go to church services, so my family would go. There was never really any hostility any direction though. I don't go to services anymore, and at least for Christmas Eve, I simply pull the "it's my birthday and I'm gonna do what I want on my birthday," but of course most people don't have that option.

    I think the biggest point of concern here is that you feel that your parents are not respecting your personal beliefs and values. I think that, more than anything, is the main issue here. Instead of making church services the particular sticking point, I think a more productive discussion would be one about respecting one another's beliefs. Make it abundantly clear that you respect their beliefs, and ask that they respect yours also. Then, you may be able to bring up church services as a bargaining chip: tell them that because you respect their beliefs and value your relationship with them (this is where you also tell them how much you love them), you will go to services with them on Christmas and Easter. Then suggest something that they can physically do to show respect for your beliefs (perhaps there is an Ethical Society or other humanist organization near you that holds meetings?). That way, you both have concrete ways to express your respect for each other, and the actual going to services takes on specific meaning for everyone, and you're not doing it "just to make them happy;" you're doing it to show that you respect them, and they can do whatever it is you ask of them to show that they respect you.

  28. Like some above, I am in an interfaith marriage. My husband was raised Catholic and is sort-of practicing but his parents are very religious, I'm Jewish. We live far from our families so when we visit them for holidays, we are there on their agenda for a few days.
    Of course when we visit his parents, there's mass. Obviously I don't believe in it, and sometimes the subject matter kind of makes me uncomfortable. (Like one time the priest went on about how you should preach to the nonbelievers in your own family to save their souls. Awesome. And no thanks.) But it's really important to his mom that it be a *family* thing. Early on they told me I didn't have to go, and probably when we have children, I will not go but rather stay home with the kids. But for now I go and she seems pretty happy to have all the "kids" together.

    However, others did make a good point about your parents not treating you as an adult. It sucks that they don't listen and respect your choices and you should keep trying to assert your independence. But I'm not sure I would personally choose a major holiday as the time to try to make that stand. If you think you've tried everything else, I would consider this the "going nuclear" option.

  29. I can sort of relate of this article because I am currently going through something similar. The only difference is that I joined another Christian denomination (my husband's church) and I actually love going to church as long as the congregation I'm attending makes me feel at home. Plus, I love the sense of community that makes up such a huge part of church. However, I identify as being more spiritual than religious.

    Anyway, I grew up in a religious household and being raised by a parent who believes that you ought to stay with the denomination you were born into, so I often wasn't allowed to even visit other churches as a kid unless they were of the same denomination we were. I was often forced to attend a church that made me very unhappy, though my attendance satisfied my family. As a result, I didn't become an official member of my current church until after I married my husband.

    The main reasons why I left my childhood church was because of the limited roles women could have there, their insistence that their worship style was the "right" way to honor God (and other churches were wrong), and blatant bias towards people who still weren't married by the time they reached their mid-20s (women in particular). I especially disliked all of the constant homophobia and fire-and-brimstone messages that were preached in the sermons – not something I want to be hearing every freakin Sunday morning! In contrast, I love the emphasis my current church puts on being a part of the community and helping others in need.

    I still haven't discussed where I now go to church with my family in fear of getting into another religious debate, which has happened many times in the past. If the subject ever does come up though, I may say something like: "Yes, I go to that church now, and it was all my decision" and probably just leave it at that.

  30. It is appropriate to go to church with you parents out of respect for them. After all they did wipe your butt and feed you, and care for you all those years. While it would be awesome if they would offer to reciprocate in some way, I do not think that should be a condition of you going to church with them. They are your parents, that will never change. And they likely will not either. However, the same question as applied to a spouse or partner I think would have a very different answer. In that case, it would be appropriate to either "stick to your guns" and not go, or insist that your partner reciprocated in some way by attending a religious (or non-religious) service of your choice.

  31. Thanks, everyone, for your input.

    I ended up not going– I told them this and they accepted it (mostly). The larger issues for them was that (a) issues letting go of a the idea of family holidays being the same as they were when their kids were young (less with seeing me as an adult, which they're generally pretty good at, and more to do with the fact that neither of my siblings have managed that yet so for their children as a unit they have difficulty making the change, less so for me individually) and (b) they felt I was trying to force my beliefs on them (I'm still trying to find a way to explain their logic here politely and without sarcasm or references to a certain news network). We talked about it some and they didn't really get anywhere but they said they'd try which is something.

    A lot of the advice above was helpful– some of it wasn't the most relevant (but only because there were details about my situation that weren't given for brevity).

    I also found this post really helpful (the author is talking about her marriage and the unequal expectations placed on her as a woman in a fundamentalist Christian denomination, so it is by no means equivalent, but was still helpful): https://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/the-unequally-yoked-club-its-my-house-too/

    • Honestly I'm more curious about why you felt the need to make the Christmas letter more inclusive of carrying religious beliefs if they aren't YOUR religious beliefs.

  32. I've run into this problem myself. I was raised in a really strict religious denomination that damaged me to the point where I just have to walk away (hymns still give me flashbacks and leave me involuntarily in tears). It took getting divorced for my family to realize that I was going to stand up for myself, not go to church if I didn't want to, etc. My parents eventually got to the point where they could accept that I am an adult and can make my own decisions, though I still get the occasional comment from my mother wishing I could "find a way to worship God in (my) own way." They're actually quite reasonable.

    My biggest problem is a sibling who views my rejection of our childhood religion as a personal rejection. This sibling bought into the religion and all the exclusion it stands for completely. No matter how many times I explain that, while the religion damaged me irreconcilably, I understand and respect that it works for that sibling, and that we can disagree and still care about each other, it's not good enough. My lack of faith, and therefore my very presence in my parents' home, is "triggering" (sibling still lives at home). Has anyone else dealt with this?

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