Ministers’ Kids

I ran into a minister’s kid this weekend who told me that she’s convinced, most of the time, that there’s no god. Atheism in the rest of the world doesn’t bother me. If you’re reading this and you’re an atheist and you’re not a minister’s kid, believe me, I don’t give a rat’s ass–as we apparently say down here. It’s a legitimate conclusion to draw about the world.

But I hate hearing it from ministers’ kids, though I do. Not because I’m particularly worried about their souls, but because being a minister’s kid is not easy and becoming an atheist means you must, by definition, believe your parents put you through that either because they were deluded or con artists.

The con artist thing may be easier to make peace with. But believing that your parents are deluded?

It’s basically giving up on any ability to have a functioning relationship with them. Think of it this way–if you believe you were abducted by aliens, I can be your friend and respect you without your alien abduction beliefs coming into play. There’s nothing about the fact that you believe you were abducted by aliens that would require me to be on constant guard against you.

But if you believe that you were abducted by aliens and they required you to make me do things I didn’t want to do, we obviously couldn’t hang out. How could I be sure at any moment that you weren’t going to suddenly be called on through some mechanism I can’t vet to make me do things I don’t want to do?

I think there are probably atheist ministers’ kids who are fine with being atheists. And, as such, it may never come up in conversation with me. After all, you just can’t be saying shit like that. Even as an adult, it puts your parent’s job at risk. And we all know how to protect the job, by habit.

But the people I hear from are usually in the middle of a basic existential crisis. They don’t want to be atheists. They just don’t know how to reconcile the fact that no One rescued them with the existence of Someone who is omnipotent. In a way, they feel like what they’ve been told about God is the means by which God, who was important to them, has been stolen from them.

I find that upsetting.

I toyed around with writing a survival guide for ministers’ kids when I was in college. I’m kind of glad I didn’t, though, because the truth is, I don’t know. You just do. Is there a way to survive it with your faith intact, without then becoming a minister yourself?

I guess I’m starting to think not. No matter what, it looks like you’re going to go through some kind of loss and grieving process. Some folks find their way back from that.

And the rest of us don’t.

11 thoughts on “Ministers’ Kids

  1. ” Is there a way to survive it with your faith intact, without then becoming a minister yourself?”

    I think if you are truly loved and get the chance to pursue the God who lives in the Beautiful Places you can.

    My husband makes glass. You write. Holly writes, teaches, makes things.

    That’s where you go to look for God.

    I just don’t think Ministers’ Kids are going to generally have much luck looking for God in churches. Because when you’re trying to find your place in the world you don’t generally hang out in your dad’s office.

    In a way I think it’s a chance you all get for a freedom, a way to get at God that the other people don’t immediately see.

    When I encounter PKs who are atheists I always understand it as a way for them to demand that they get a chance at a parent who is unencumbered by God. Even though it is a sad cognitive dissonance. If there is no God, then you lost your parent to…nothing. And delusion.

  2. But believing that your parents are deluded?

    It’s basically giving up on any ability to have a functioning relationship with them.

    It can be more encompassing than that. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and my gradual estrangement from that belief system led not only to an almost complete estrangement from my mother, but also a deep suspicion and antipathy for the concepts of faith and belief. Generally speaking, I don’t accept much of anything that cannot be empirically proven. This isn’t a big deal with most things, I guess, and I don’t have the mental stamina right now to get into examples.

    I agree with your assessment, B., that this situation can involve an existential crisis. My entire childhood and much of my adolescence was one big existential crisis. In my world the Jehovah’s Witnesses had all the answers; but as I began to grow up (sort of) and discover the joys and fears of doubt, it all seemed like an elaborate con, a spiritual/existential pyramid scheme (just one of many throughout human history.) The downside is that when one’s entire cognitive framework is built on a belief system, it’s incredibly difficult to retrain oneself away from the psychic heuristics of that perceptive reality. (I have no idea if what I just wrote there makes any sense, but it sounds right in my head.)

    Anyway, I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who has to go through that. Those apocalyptic nightmares ain’t no joke, and I know firsthand what that shit can do to one’s capacity for self-motivation and ambition. The bright side is that there’s a great deal of intellectual flexibility and spiritual relief in a faithless existence.


    From the article linked above:

    …the alternative meant confronting outright mendacity from otherwise respected authorities, trading the calm of certainty for the disquiet of doubt, or potentially hunkering down to the hard work of muddling through the elusive truth of things. Better simply to be told what’s what.

    When ‘certainty’ prescribes a horrific demise followed by eternal death, “the disquiet of doubt” is an oasis of sanity.

  4. Practical Parsimony, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I took an entirely different path. When i knocked hard enough and long enough at a door that was never answered, I started knocking on other doors. The first one that opened wide and welcoming, I went in.

    In this particular case this weekend, I recommended the minister’s kid consider that as a possibility before giving up completely on having a spiritual life.

    But I wholly recognize and acknowledge that the path I’m skipping happily down is a path a lot of other folks go down in anguish.

  5. Good morning, all. B., I think you illustrate an important point. It’s not a binary choice, i.e. it’s not confined between following one particular monotheistic doctrine and being an atheist. I get the impression that you, for example, recognize there’s a whole lot of shit that we don’t and may never understand, and you tend to enjoy the mystery. Please correct me if that’s off base, but I really like your style. I think it’s a lot healthier than losing one’s shit and retreating into a volatile and self-destructive world of hatred and fear when reality ferments one’s doubts into traumatic cognitive dissonance.

  6. My three children are minister’s kids, and they seem not to have had the same experiences you are having. One is a rabid Christian; the other is liberal; the third just does not believe much is true that she was taught. I get along with the last two.

  7. Mostly you already know my thoughts on this. For example, from what I’ve seen, very rarely do ministers’ kids follow them into ministry the way, say, dentists’ kids do. After you’ve seen how the sausage is made, you aren’t exactly chomping at the bit for some. Antithetically, politicians’ kids *do* often follow in Mommy or Daddy’s footsteps because there’s no equivocating what a politician does. It’s pretty transparent.

    The irony, of course, being that ministry and politics are basically the same thing.

    I do think it’s possible to emerge with one’s faith intact. I also think that faith is something that grows and changes as we grow and change. The older I’ve gotten, the more I understand that my parents made it a point to teach us what they thought was important and what WASN’T important. Dancing’s not a sin, using instruments in service isn’t worth fighting over, blah, blah, blah.

    So I recently started viewing the churches in which I was raised as nothing more than someone’s workplace. I had a lot of friends at one [company] he worked for, but then I didn’t much care for his boss at the next [company] so I don’t go back and visit. That emotional distance is important, because I think it allows me to tease out my own ideas from those [the companies] pushed. And in turn, that allows my faith to mature rather than being static.

  8. Sam, no I think that’s a good way to put it. I do enjoy the mystery of it. But it took me a long time to feel like that wasn’t somehow betraying my dad.

    txmere, I like the idea of viewing the churches as workplaces.

    I admit, this has been on my mind a lot because my dad’s decided to take a very part time church and it brought up all these feelings I had about what kinds of obligations I’ve had drilled into me about that church.

    This many years out.

    It’s funny how that stuff sticks with you.

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