Refusing to Hide: Dialogue With a 12-Year-Old Atheist
This summer, two of my closest college friends and their 12-year-old daughter came for a visit. I hadn’t seen them in a decade. These guys, (at least, prior to the birth of their daughter) were atheists back when I was still unsure of my own stance. Although I called myself agnostic, I leaned toward a mystical world view. At that time I thought they just didn’t “get it”. I could tell they thought the same of me. But, there was enough mutuality in other areas to make humoring one another easy enough. Now, I was stoked because we were finally “on the same page”, and I was eager to talk about it.
Then it dawned on me that with a 12-year-old in tow, we probably wouldn’t be able to get into the political and philosophical implications of the subject, at least not in the length and breadth I had been fantasizing about. After all, young Megan was going to be surrounded by adults for the duration of the several week trip, and the least I could do was have some sensitivity to that. I remember what it was like to be invisible in a room full of adults, and I wasn’t about to put her through that. Little did I know…
This 12-year-old floored me on many levels. Not only did she have a facility with language, there was a sophistication to her thinking I certainly had not anticipated. She jumped into political and philosophical conversations with greater ease and fluency than many adults–even if her knowledge of the subject was at times somewhat spotty–and in need of refinement. She was trying, and in many places she truly held her own.
Still, I wasn’t so sure about broaching the subject of religion. What if my friends modified their views since becoming parents? We all know that happens. How had they oriented their child? Besides, I thought to myself, Megan would probably appreciate it if we just had some fun, and weren’t so heady about everything.
Out of the blue, with absolutely no hint of religion in our conversation, Megan started talking about how she had recently been discriminated against at school for being an atheist. My jaw dropped. Here was the one thing I really wanted to talk about with her parents, and she opened the door wider than I had hoped! A 12-year-old speaking out as an atheist? I dove in with questions, and she was more than eager to speak out.
So with no further ado, I give you BSJ’s first young atheist, Megan H.
Morgaine: Welcome Megan! Tell us a little about who you are, how old you are, and your interests.
Megan: Hi! My name is Megan. I’m 12 years old. I like to write, read and play video games. I’m in a gifted and talented program for exceptional learners and, of course, an atheist.
Morgaine: What does atheism mean to you?
Megan: Atheism to me means the disbelief in any and all religious practice and the disbelief in intelligent creation or god. I do not believe in god or any other form of intelligent creation.
Morgaine: Would your mom and dad describe themselves as atheists?
Megan: I believe so. They have talked with me and referred to themselves as atheists.
Morgaine: Lets go back a little. At what age did the idea of religion/god become interesting or relevant for you? Was there a specific event that caused you to wonder about god or religion, or did questions arise spontaneously?
Megan: If I remember correctly, I was about 8 years old. I think I was talking with a girl in my lunch period. I asked why I was the only person who wasn’t invited to her party. She said only people her parents knew from church were asked. That night I asked my dad why we didn’t go to church. He told me that our family didn’t believe in a god and questions took off from there.
Morgaine: Did what your parents said make sense to you? What about it appealed to you?
Megan: They told me that they didn’t know why they should pray to a thing they can’t be sure of. They also said that they don’t think that god could exist and if it does it would be too busy to care if we prayed. I thought this made sense. It seemed very logical.
Morgaine: A few years have past since your first conversations and thoughts on the subject. Are your views the same or different than your parents? If different, how so?
Megan: I think that they are very similar. The only difference may be that we see highly religious people differently, but we agree it does not apply unless the other person wants it to.
Morgaine: Hypothetically, if your views were to change, how do you think your parents would respond? Say, if you told them you wanted to explore going to church, how would they react?
Megan: I don’t believe they would care. We actually talk about this a lot. That if I wanted to go to church, they would get me there, but would not participate any more than that.
Morgaine: Do questions of religion come up between you and your friends?
Megan: Not normally, no.
Morgaine: Do any of your friends share thoughts about religion that are similar to yours?
Megan: Yes, only one and he is my closest friend.
Morgaine: How about this friend’s parents…do they share the same view?
Megan: Yes. My friend’s parents do not believe in god.
Morgaine: Do you feel you are missing out on anything by not having a connection to a religious community?
Megan: Not really, though I do receive some ridicule.
Morgaine: So your views have affected friendships with those who are religious. Do you think the ridicule is a result of misunderstanding what it means to hold an atheist world view?
Megan: Yes. One of my friends refuses to bring the topic up. But most kids either push me away, or their parents do. Many people believe that the word atheist and satanist co-exist.
Morgaine: What would you like to them to know?
Megan: They don’t [co-exist]. I don’t believe in religion in general. I do not worship [god or] the devil.
Morgaine: You told me some stories about how identifying as an atheist caused some difficulties for you specifically at school. Tell us about that, and your response to it.
Megan: Yes. Somehow students discovered my beliefs or lack thereof, and treat me like a freak of nature, or devil. I have lost popularity, and feel that students pick on me in other ways because of the topic. It has caused depression.
Morgaine: I’m sorry to hear that. It’s never easy to hold a minority view especially on such a loaded topic as religion, and especially being so young. I think it’s very courageous. How do you deal with the discrimination and depression you’ve experienced?
Megan: I tell myself that the insults like devil or satan are all words that are used in religion. If I don’t believe them they don’t matter.
Morgaine: Has your school been responsive to kids picking on you? If not, what do you think should change?
Megan: No [they weren't responsive]. I think that ANY BULLYING is wrong and must be dealt with.
Morgaine: Have you had other experiences of discrimination like this at school or elsewhere?
Megan: In 5th grade a girl discovered my atheism and did every thing in her power to hurt me or change me.
Morgaine: Why do you think people lean toward a religious view of life?
Megan: Because it is comforting to think that when you die you will go somewhere and have a purpose. Also if you have been wronged, then maybe that person will be punished.
Morgaine: Religious people often ask how someone can find meaning in life without belief in God…that the wonders of the world aren’t sufficient to satisfy them. What would you say to that? What gives your life meaning?
Megan: The meaning of life can not be decided after death, in my opinion. I think the meaning of life is decided by the person living it–not some being that they don’t know. I push on by knowing that I will finish my book and become a doctor.
Morgaine: Do you see any dangers in religious thinking? Dangers to an individual? Dangers to the world at large? And do you see any benefits?
Megan: I think that religion will cause history to repeat itself. As long as there are different beliefs, people will fight and kill for power.
Morgaine: Some people say you can’t be moral or ethical without religion. What would you say to that?
Megan: No, religious people have started wars over it. If they call mass killing good ethics then I don’t know what to think.
Morgaine: What would you like to say to other young people who may struggling with issues around religion, who may be torn between what their parents say to believe and their own doubts?
Megan: Talk to them. If your parents really don’t want you to believe that way then get on with it. Go to church with them. Think of it as story…a fabulous fairytale. You don’t have to believe it. No one can make you do that.
Morgaine: Any other thoughts on religion, or atheism, that you’d like to share?
Megan: I don’t want any one to feel that they have to change. Just keep these thoughts in mind.
Morgaine: Thank you very much sharing your thoughts and time.
Megan: You’re welcome!
Although Megan is busy with school and her projects, she’d be happy to answer any questions, time permitting of course!
Stay tuned for future discussions with Megan, and other young atheists.