Why I Am A 13-Year-Old Atheist

This is Waylon Hedegaard/KKbundy/The Blessed Atheist.  As many know, my wife and I homeschool our son and writing has always been a big part of that.  For a writing project at the end of school, Reilly wrote about what it’s like to be a teen atheist, and  I want to share it with you.  I left the article as written.  It’s in his hand and style and is pretty much untouched by me.  Damned if he doesn’t make me proud.

Here’s Reilly.

My atheism, like many things, has many causes. Thousands of different factors, all thrown at me to produce who I am and what I believe. One of the biggest things that played into my atheism was exposure to everything. I was exposed at a very young age, to church. We never actually attended a Sunday service, but I went to a Bible day camp. Now one thing I must get straight is that my parents are just as atheistic as I am. However, I didn’t find that out until i was seven.  I think that they wanted to let me make my own choice and expose me to everything. Every summer for around three years, I went to the church next door every day for a week. It was fun, I had a good time, and never got the subliminal messages about God. Never really knowing too much about religion, I just thought that it was a big game. However, one thing I did notice was the fact that all of these people were a little odd. I later found out, that this oddity is called religion.

Many Christians are very good people. They live good lives, and have fun. Almost all of my friends are religious. However, stubborn, mean, overly religious people fall into three categories for me:

* Bible thumpers: These people bring up God or the Bible up anytime they can! They constantly praise Jesus for allowing the turkey to be cooked properly, or for having the people they don’t like being struck down with the sniffles. These people think that ‘God’ does everything, and that if they praise him enough, he will forget about that one time in college, when that thing happened with that girl.

* Hardcores: This is the class of people that will go to church every day except Tuesday, when they will write on their Blog about god. These guys usually tend to be rather nice (Or tend to act like it), pretending to not care what your beliefs are, as they bombard you with church meeting invites.

* Zombies: The final, and worst, class of overly religious people. They seem calm, mellow and boring at first. You talk to them for a bit, and notice that they have a lot to say about God. They go on and on about how great he is, centering every conversation on religion. And when you can’t stand it anymore, you let on that you are an atheist. Then they go insane. They freak out at you, talking about how deep in hell your going to go. They attack everything you say, with the tried and true arguments that make them feel as if they’ve won. And if you wonder why I call them zombies, replace God with human flesh. You’ll understand.

Now one thing that I have found out, is that many people simply don’t care. A lot of people will accept you, no matter what you believe. Other people, however, freak out on you and never speak to you again. I know this may sound corny, but these people aren’t worth befriending anyway. I used to never tell anyone that I was an Atheist. It was horrible, because if people don’t know your beliefs, they will assume that you have the same beliefs as they do. With most people, this is actually a good thing. However, with the right-wing, Bible thumper-hardcore-zombies (yes, they do exist), it gets pretty bad. And then you start getting invited to ‘Jesus camp’ and the Element.

Another thing that makes it hard being an atheist, is that I am a homeschooler. The reason that I am is that I know that I can get a better education this way. But the reason that many people do it, is that the schools aren’t religious enough. That one statement should give you a good impression of the average homeschooler. Well, I went to the homeschooler Physical Education meeting, Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week. We played a random assortment of sports, ranging from track, to open swim, to sitting on the floor and rolling a volleyball around. Like P.E. everywhere, it was kind of dull, but I became friends with the people there. They were very nice.

Well one time, one of my friends asked me if I wanted to go to the Evangelical-free youth meetings (I know Evangelical-free seem like it would be free of evangelicals, but no, quite the opposite). It didn’t come to mind that it might have been religious, because usually religion wasn’t a big thing with me and my friends. Little did I know that my homeschooler friend’s lives revolved around it. So we went to the E-Free mega-church and went into this low ceiling room, full of people doing various activities. I looked around, thinking that this was going to be awesome. But about fifteen minutes into it a tall man, dressed all in black, came into the room and ushered us down some steps. We sat in a blindingly white room, chattering Quietly, until another man came in and handed us each a Bible verse. We all got up, one at a time, and recited our verse. I was getting a little weirded out, when the first man came around and started answering our questions about God. When it was my friend’s turn for question time, his one question was “Where is the proof?”. I gave a little smile when I heard this, but that smile quickly faded at the response. “The proof is the Bible, the word of God” So the proof of God, is something God said? That was the moment when I fully became an atheist.

Due to the highly noticeable lack of atheists in Bismarck, not many of my friends have the same beliefs as me. Many of my best friends are highly religious, going to church every Sunday, attending the Element and taking part in all of the religious events that they can. I really don’t care what their beliefs are, as long as they don’t shove it in my face all the time. I even help with some of their church-based-charities. Not only that, but all of my friends know that I am an atheist. It would seem like this would be something you would tread lightly on, but no, its actually a bit of a joke to us. We point out ironic moments, like when we played Clue, and I get stuck as the Reverend. That is how I know that I am hanging out with good people. They don’t care what I believe, as long as I’m nice about it.

So, in conclusion, Atheism really doesn’t affect my life that much. Many people talk about how depressed they would be if they were an atheist, but I feel quite the opposite. I feel like I lead a great life. And I do lead a great life, because I feel like I do (This, unlike proof of god, is an acceptable use of circular logic). I don’t lead a good life because of what I believe, but because of my actions.

I suppose this last paragraph could have been summed up in four words: Don’t be a dick.

Reilly Hedegaard

  1. Reilly

    You sound like a really mature 13 year old.

    Like so many people in England, I’ve never been religious. I did go through a period in my mid teens thinking “there must be something”. Looking back, I can see that it’s because of the books we had to study as French literature: they were all about Christianity (okay, one was by Sartre about the meaningless of life, but that was the exception).

    Growing up atheist in the USA seems to be about the hardest thing you can do (I imagine it’s far, for worse than being, say, gay), so I admire you for your honesty.


  2. If I may put on my English teacher hat for a moment, allow me to congratulate Reilly on a very nice essay.

    For me, what stands out is (a) that the essay makes a point, (b) that it demonstrates independent analytical thinking, and (c) that it shows awareness of the potential questions and objections of readers.

    Beyond these traits, the essay is smart and interesting. We atheists tend to have similar stories (or types of stories) on how we eventually lost our ability to tolerate religion intellectually. But the details are often the engaging part.

    Well done.

    • john ward
    • June 5th, 2011

    remarkable. All his mates have been brainwashed by their parents and ended as three types of bigots. He has been given a “free” choice and finally believes the same as his dad! Haven’t you just demolished your whole arguement? I am an atheist too so have no axe to grind, but am amazed that you can’t see the irony!

    • Interesting. I don’t believe I ever intended to imply that my son just formed his beliefs in a vacuum, that he was without influences, me most of all. No one forms their core belief systems alone and unaided or uninfluenced. We are simple products of our environment and genetics, neither of which we have much control over especially as children. Nor have I ever been a fan of the idea that you can raise your children as something blank that can make up their mind later. I disagree strongly with Dawkins here. We raise our children to do the best they can in the world we live in. Some people believe that is Catholicism or Hinduism, but I reject those categorically. To me that best way using is a healthy scientific skepticism. I have taught my son a great deal about the world and fully believe in exposing him to any information that I think he can handle. This included allowing my mother to have him bake Happy Birthday Jesus Cakes for Christmas and having friends take him Bible camp. I showed him how the other side lived before I showed him what I find best.

      I believe it is our duty as parents to rise our children to live in this world not some mystical place that we wish existed. We live in reality. That is the universe that we need to teach to our children. Reality dictates that children learn a great deal from their parents. I don’t see the irony because it’s only ironic if you’re not aware of reality.

      This post was never meant to be some statement about how my son broke through all the barriers and came out ahead of all his peers. It is a statement of where he is in his life and who he has become. The fact that you see some kind of vicious irony in him following the beliefs of his father is disappointing. You missed the point! He is just explaining to the world who he is and what he wants.

      Shouldn’t we all do this? Isn’t this what life is, planting our flag and saying here I am?

      I’m not sure if you took an argument from another site and tried to continue it here, but that is what it seemed like.

      • Ah, the law something that the fauihftl are keen to ascribe to god’ and something atheists claim is an invention of man. Well, we could argue that until we’re old and grey and still not reach agreement.I do not believe that gods exist, which as you know is different from not believing in god’. I know atheists exist because I am one, but I am not required to believe in them. Is this statement also absurd?The picture is not intended to convey anything other than, perhaps, ambiguity so apologies for any creepiness.Thank you for your good wishes and may your god provide for your needs.

      • Anonymous
      • June 6th, 2011

      Further to KK’s reply, I’d like to know where Reilly states that his mates are all ‘three kinds of bigots’. In fact, he doesn’t. He mentions three varieties of what we might call the ‘overbearingly religious’, but doesn’t anywhere state that all religious people fall into those categories. I quote:

      That is how I know that I am hanging out with good people. They don’t care what I believe, as long as I’m nice about it.

      …and, we may presume, vice versa.

      I have to wonder Mr Ward, did you read Reilly’s piece, or just ski it with an agenda already in mind?

      And Reilly, great essay. I wish I’d been as thoughtful about life at your age!

      • Oh fer pity’s sake. Me again…

      • Steve
      • June 7th, 2011

      There is a huge difference between not exposing children to religion and actively teaching them that religion in false.

      Actually neither has happened here. He dealt somewhat with religion but wasn’t involved much in it. But I doubt his parents also bombarded him constantly with anti-theist arguments the way religious people (of any faith) indoctrinate their children.

  3. I only hope that when my Sage is thirteen, she is capable of not only clear thought, but the ability to express herself so well textually. You have every right to be proud, KK.

  4. “I don’t lead a good life because of my beliefs, but because of my actions.”

    Marcus Aurelius would be proud to know you, Reilly. Excellent essay– well thought out. And, more to the point, something I’m pretty certain you’ll keep on thinking about. I wonder what sort of influence you’ll have on your religious friends? Not necessarily now, but in the future. It was having friends in different denominations, even a friend who was an atheist, that made it possible for me to eventually give up religious indoctrination.

    You keep being you– and some of your friends will wake up someday and realize that they really don’t need god to be good people:-))

    • john ward
    • June 7th, 2011

    No I don’t have an “agenda” I got nothing from other sites. It was just a passing thought really. I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition (with thanks to Monty Python).

    • Anonymous
    • June 7th, 2011

    Props to Reilley from a Mandan native. I’m also an atheist, currently marooned in Valley City, amongst the ‘Churched’.

  5. 13 years old? I’m mightily impressed, you must be extremely proud to have raised such an articulate and clear-thinking son. At that age I had no beliefs in any gods either but I had never devoted any time whatsoever to considering this, it was just part of life and remained unexamined for many years afterwards. To be considering such weighty questions with such clarity at such an age is quite an accomplishment.

    • Amazing, inspiring, and hope-generating story! Atheists, most of whom I’ve known at least, are uuaslly intellectuals who, having no facts or experience to draw on as proof of a Deity, have come to the logical conclusion of there being no God. And engaging them in debates does not a whit of good, unless you can prove using human brain logic otherwise. So for a staunch Atheist to do a turnabout like this on his own pretty impressive.

    • Nancy B
    • June 8th, 2011

    “They constantly praise Jesus for allowing the turkey to be cooked properly,”

    LOL! I love that.

    I was struck by how well-written the essay is. The grammar and the style are better than most people Reilly’s age. Or twice Reilly’s age. Or three times…

    • dawnus
    • June 9th, 2011

    Wow, what a well written and thought out essay! You must be so proud of ur young man, I am sure he will go far. All the best, Dawn x

    • captainahags
    • June 10th, 2011

    Wow, I am very impressed by the grammar and the clarity of this essay. Make sure you take the AP (or maybe IB? not sure what they offer where you are) English tests when you get older!

    • Reginald
    • June 10th, 2011

    All right this 13-year-old has done a good job writing this essay but it’s pretty obvious he’s been lied to about one of the most important works of our times and I will have him in my thoughts until he can see the light.

    The board game Cluedo was originally published by Waddingtons in Leeds (later bought out by Hasbro). The Americans later bastardised the game by simply calling it Clue and changing Reverend Green to Mr. Green so as not to offend the religious right.

    This child has been playing the correct version (he mentions playing as the reverend), but he refers to it as Clue, having bought into one half of the great lie that the Dark Hasbro (We call him Orbash) has perpetrated on the minds of our youths.

    I pray to the Light Hasbro (Hasbro) that this child may see the light and remember the true name of the greatest work of all mankind is Cluedo and not merely Clue. Be Gone Orbash! I ask you all to just reach out to your computer monitors and touch the screen! Touch the screen! And heal the wickedness!

      • Dave
      • June 10th, 2011

      You Old Game Literalists really bug me, the New Game Revisionist movement is not the work of Orbash, it is merely an attempt to make the great work accessible to the modern public. Instead of getting bogged down in the sematics of Clue/Cluedo, we should be working together to bring the game to the masses.

      (Beside, Cluedo isn’t even a word, at least Clue makes sense in the context.)

      Oh yeah, great work Reilly. Beats the pants off of anything I could write.

    • Sadly, the verdict has now been brought in and you’re all wrong.

      It was accidental suicide, by auto-erotic asphyxiation, in the garden shed.

      • Damn, I’ve never gotten that one before.

        Daz, at times your are the funniest person I know.

      • *blush*

    • Finally, a religion that I can respect. Reginald where in the hell have you been?

  6. What is “the Element”? I don’t think I’ve heard of this before.

    • The element is a Christian based youth club where they lure young people in with basketball and games and then drag them into the basement for God time. Scary!

    • Sports! Ugh! Damn right, that’s scary.

  7. What a totally awesome young man!

  8. KKBundy :
    Damn, I’ve never gotten that one before.
    Daz, at times your are the funniest person I know.

    Seconded. Frequently causes me to giggle aloud.

  9. I have three boys, and I hope they turn out to be as thoughtful, intelligent, and humorous as Reilly!

    Kevin Zimmerman

  10. Bravo! Excellent writing. Very funny, and very smart.

    Although I do have to disagree on one point: being a dick is sometimes an excellent and vitally necessary strategy.

    Just remember to only use your powers for good.

  11. I see a glimmer of light…….

    • Igakusei
    • June 15th, 2011

    When I took a scientific writing class in college several years ago, during “peer review” with some of the other groups I discovered that a bunch of these university students were using cell phone lingo in their papers. This was an upper-division class for people in science-related fields!

    I’m very impressed with your son; I was not writing (or thinking) nearly that clearly myself at 13.

    • Jackson4
    • June 15th, 2011

    Everybody’s and atheist at 3 years old. But not at 13. The difference is indoctrination.

    • zer0thr33thr33
    • June 15th, 2011

    Reilly also has a blog called ‘Lacking a name’ and is found at: nonameless.wordpress.com/, also, I think the essay was great, but the was a slight overuse of commas, just saying.

      • J. Scarper
      • June 16th, 2011

      Any comment qualified with a “just saying” is not worth reading.

      Just saying.

    • Reilly also has a blog called ‘Lacking a name’ and which is found at: nonameless.wordpress.com/,(full stop/period needed here, not a comma) Also, I think the essay was great,(no comma needed here) but there was a slight overuse of commas,(full stop/period needed here, not a comma) J</u<ust saying.

      Just saying…

      • Damn.
        a: It doesn’t appear to accept the <u> underline tag.
        b: I mucked one of ’em up anyway.
        Still, you get the idea. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

        Oh, and publicising a 13-year-old’s blog on his father’s site where neither he nor his father has mentioned said blog, despite plenty of opportunity… Not so good, either. Sure, possibly they just never thought to mention it. Or possibly one or both of them wanted to allow a little distance between the two. Nice going.

    • Tracy
    • June 17th, 2011

    Reilly, I’m a 3rd year doctoral student and you write with more clarity and critical analysis than many of my classmates. I look forward to seeing you in journals some day. =)

    • Kevin
    • August 15th, 2011

    For me, it’s not about religion but about a personal relationship and faith in God. Something bigger than myself and my thoughts. Believe you me, being a Gay Christian is almost as tough as being an atheist in this town. Take courage Reilly.

    • Actually Kevin, I’d imagine you have the much tougher road and, thereby, have my full support. It’s good to hear from you brother. It’s been too long.

      Actually, Reilly is finding his way quite well. Our difficulty as parents is not getting him out and accepted but reeling him back in. We are suffering from the aftershocks of the Othello performances and now we have had about 6 teenagers at our house for around 6 hours a day and that looks like it’s not going to slow down much. Sigh. I fondly remember peace and quiet. I wonder if we’ll ever see it again.

      repeat: Sigh!

    • Fist of all, to all atheists, I ardmie your faith. Of course, I personally think it is misplaced, but anyone who can see the world I see and declare that there is no God has far more faith than I do, where it is relatively easy to come to the conclusion that God exists from what I see and experience.I see you hit on the concept of universal moral law, as C.S. Lewis does rather well in Mere Christianity (still one of my favorites), as a sign indicating the presence of an ultimate good that can only have been put into the heart of man by God. I, too, liked the Coca-Cola story. There are many signs, if you will, at least indicating the existence of something more than mankind.While I would not agree that atheists simply do not exist, I would say that the existence of atheists certainly does not mean that God does not exist. He can’t be done away with , much in the same way that anarchists can not create a world without government (perhaps in this light, I do agree with your inital post, Heretic). True anarchists say we should not have a government, which is in itself a government. If there were no law, then the strongest of us physically, or the most wealthy, or most ruthless, would fill the void of government by default. There will always be a ruler, it is simply a matter of who, and how the government is carried out. Claiming there is no God is in the same way declaring yourself a God, in essence still having a God .it’s just yourself.If this is your belief, then so be it. However, I know myself well enough to know that I am unfit for the throne.

  12. I’m enjoying your website…AND your son’s writing!

    • Cassandra
    • March 13th, 2013

    Dear Reilly,

    I am also a thirteen-year-old Atheist (going on fourteen in less than a month), and feel the same as you do. In California, which is where I live, there are many different religions, cultures, ethnicities, and I try to respect that as best as I can. However, I live in a town where the central of everything to do is church. That’s pretty much it around here. All I hear is God.

    I go to a public school, where the Christian-ethic still stands with the older teachers and many of the students. I am very open about how I don’t believe in God – I don’t particularly care for the criticism. Religion is always shoved in my face, especially by this cretin who is trying to date me. He’s far below the intellectual level, and we don’t have the same common interests. Repeatedly, he has exposed my religionless self to many people, and says he’ll convert. He even followed me home while I was with my sister, saying he’d eventually get to me.

    Anyway, I agree with you a hundred percent. You are very insightful individual. I’m sure you’ll go places in life.

    Sincerely, Cassandra.

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