Readers won’t stop sending the Bad Advisor their real-ass questions to answer, so the Bad Advisor is periodically going to try her hand at answering them.
Boy howdy, can the Bad Advisor see herself in your question, LW! Shout out to all her fellow expats from organized, parent-endorsed religions in the world!
Look, you’re 20 years old, and you’re in a Place. Bad Advisor doesn’t mean that to be condescending! If you’re anything like a lot of 20-year-olds, especially a lot of 20-year-olds realizing that they’re not juking and jiving with everything their parents spent a couple of decades teaching them, there are well-worn paths leading into and out of that Place.
It sounds like you’ve tried to talk to your parents about why you’re not down with the particular iterations of the religious practices that you grew up with, and which they still adhere to. Having that conversation is hard as a hard butt, so kudos to you for having the guts to use your words in the first place. This is a sign that you are a mature, thoughtful person who wants to treat her parents like adult-equals.
But think of it from your parents’ perspective: they raised you, this person whose butt they used to wipe like four times a day (four? Bad Advisor doesn’t know how many times babies do poops) to do and believe in a thing that they believe is true and helpful and important, and you get one leg out of the nest and next thing they know, you’re telling them that that thing they wanted you to know and believe and love and find important and life-giving is just kind of … not your bag.
That has got to be a hard thing for a parent to hear.
The Bad Advisor watched her own parents hear it from her. They were angry and heartbroken and frustrated. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There were guilt bombs dropped. It was a horrible thing and there was nothing the Bad Advisor could do about the fact that this thing she had once so loved, and so been taught to love, was just, like, deeply unbelievable and in many ways totally unpalatable and in even more ways like, a demonstrably bad thing for some people.
This is the gamble of parenting—a game that, unfortunately, a lot of parents think is or should be rigged entirely in their favor, so that when the dice stop rolling after eighteen or twenty years, they end up with the adult human they ordered two decades ago.
Your parents may never like this outcome. They may hold a grudge against you for years, decades, the rest of your life. That is on them. That is not your fault. They made a sentient human, and this is what happens when you make a sentient human.
The question is: what can you do about it now? That depends on how much you need to rely on your parents for things like housing, food, school payments, etc. You say you “have” to do these religious rituals that you aren’t on board with, which makes Bad Advisor think that you—like a whole fucking lot of 20-year-olds—are reliant on your parents for some degree of basic world support.
Some parents are going to hold their financial or emotional support hostage until you Do Religion Right. This is a shitty thing, but it is a not uncommon thing. If this is the case with you, and your parents threaten to stop paying for X, Y, Z unless you Do Religion Right, Bad Advisor suggests that you work to become financially independent as quickly as possible.
IN THE MEANTIME: a thing you are probably discovering about religion is that it can, and does, mean so many different things to many, many different people. Yes, the rituals you do at the temple have specific meanings according to the tenets of an organized religion, but can you make these rituals mean something more or different for you, privately?
An example: the Bad Advisor occasionally attends church services with her parents on major holidays, and this often involves taking communion (that’s when Christians “drink” and “eat” the blood/body of Jesus, and various Christian denominations interpret the ritual differently). The Bad Advisor takes communion, but she prefers to imagine that the ritual is not about a magic man in the sky and his bodily sacrifice to save her original-sin-ridden self from Hell, but about sharing the table of humanity with other people and the obligations that gives the Bad Advisor to not be a complete bag of shit when she lives in the world.
Can you work to reinterpret/retool the rituals you partake in now into something that means something more/different for you? No one but you has to know, and it may give you an interesting opportunity to think not only about these existing rituals, but about where you want to go with your faith and spirituality in the future, and what does and doesn’t work for you in developing your own agnosticism/whatever.
As for dealing with your parents in the long run: chances are, this is going to become less of A Thing over time. Your adulthood is new to your parents; as time goes on, they may become more acclimated to the adult person you will become, and so will you. As this happens, it’s important to draw loving boundaries with people who may mean well, but in trying to “help” you, are actually tremendously hurting/guilting/shaming you.
Get good at changing the subject and redirecting to cooperative tasks—especially tasks that remind your parents that you appreciate their help with things you really need help with:
- "Thanks, Dad, I’ll think about that. Hey, how about this taco recipe?"
- "I see what you’re saying, Mom. By the way, I’ve been wondering if you can help me install this fuckball of an IKEA shelving unit."
- "That sounds like it’s very important to you, Mom and Dad. Listen, this Rubik’s cube is giving me a hell of a fight. Ideas?"
Now, your parents may be inveterate fixers who take every ask for assistance as an opportunity to DOOOOO PAAARREENNTTIIIINNG ATTT YOOOOUUUU. If this is the case, you’ll want to change that script some:
- "Those are great points, Dad, but I’m really trying to figure this one out on my own."
- "This sounds like a really interesting book, Mom. What did you like most about it?"
Most importantly, you say that you “don’t want to start a fight.” So … don’t! When you feel the conversation turning to fight-mode, rather than rational-adults-discussing-the-marvels-of-the-universe mode, disengage. Use some of those scripts up above, or simply leave the room, house, whatever, with as little fanfare as possible. Go for a walk. Head to class or work early. Your parents will, hopefully, eventually realize that they can’t argue you into sharing their faith—and, in fact, will probably realize that a coerced faith is no faith at all.
Depending on your family’s socio/cultural norms, some of these things may pose more difficulties than others; only you can find the right balance. It’ll take work. Years and years of work. As you become more secure in your adulthood and your own faith/spirituality/lack thereof, Bad Advisor suspects that you’ll feel a little more comfortable making small compromises (for example, attending services or performing rituals on special holidays, etc.), and feeling less obligated/pushed to resist/rebel.
Best of luck to you, LW!