My parents are very religious and it’s something I’ve always been brought up to be – going to church, saying prayers etc.
I don’t know if I believe as strongly as they do. My sister and brothers tell me to go along with it but I don’t think it’s fair. When I question it, my father gets very angry at me and tells me that I should have more faith. My sister and brothers don’t say anything and so they don’t get in trouble.
Is it a bad thing to wonder whether I want to believe? I’m 17.
Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. People can hold strong views on subjects like religion or politics for example. Often people feel attached to their beliefs and they feel that their beliefs form important parts of their identity.
This can make it a challenge for them to discuss their ideas, to explore them with other people because to question or explore their ideas can feel very personal as though they are being doubted, attacked even.
People like to have a sense of belonging. Feeling connected to other people can be experienced by being with people who are similar.
This might be sharing a love for the same music or sport as well as sharing the same religious beliefs.
Entire communities can be built up around a religious belief, areas of a town, children attending the same kind of schools and so on.
This can bring a sense of security to people because what they believe in they see reflected back to them every day.
When we’re little our parents are the biggest influence on our lives. We think that they know everything and we think that they’re right about everything.
A problem can arise when parents think that as well. As we grow and develop from early childhood we come into contact with different ideas, new thoughts and beliefs.
This can be really interesting and fun. It can also be a challenge for a parent.
Growing up, emerging into early adulthood is a time for adventure, for trying out new things, for spending more time with your friends rather than your family.
It’s a time to find out about life, to think about yourself in your own right. For much of your life many decisions have been taken on your behalf. Now is a time for starting to make your own decisions about life.
Parents sometimes want their children to share their ideas, their beliefs — especially around religion. Many religions are quite clear about the consequences of not adhering to their traditions and your father might be worried about what it may mean if you were not to believe in something he does.
You have every right to think for yourself, though. It is a really important quality to develop — independent, critical thinking. Another wonderful characteristic to nurture is the ability to have conversations that explore, engage, debate different views and beliefs respectfully. It’s a rare gift in our society though!
It’s also important to know when not to have those conversations. For some people it is just too much to have their core beliefs questioned and that might be the situation for your father.
Instead, it will be more rewarding to have those conversations with the people who are also interested in discussion and can have exchanges.
For more information on Relate NI, see www.relateni.org