Normally I like hate pretty hard on Prudie. I don't hate her for this one - I agree with the overall sentiment. I just...am confused because her answer is full of unnecessary things.

Dear Prudence,

Two years ago when my son was 10 he became very verbal about hating church and resisted going. My older son loves the teen group at Sunday school and assured his brother that when he made it out of the baby area, he, too, would love it. Well, he does not. Each Sunday morning he yells, pouts, and eventually succumbs to my threats. Then he takes his snarky and unhelpful attitude to Sunday school. He doesn't believe in God, and his very cool Sunday teacher works with that. I hated my boring church as a kid, and looking back I wonder, had I not gone to church would I have been a worse person? My husband was forced to attend his church when he was little. Now, he sleeps late Sunday morning, then hikes and does other activities. He is supportive of the fact that both our sons' spiritual development is important to me. Do I force my son to go or give up?

—Mad as Hell Mom

Dear Mad,

There are some people who believe that one's degree of religious belief has a large genetic component. That means in societies in which everyone appears to be pious, many are secretly saying to themselves, "This is a crock." Let's say this genetic theory is true. That means you may have passed your blue eyes and devotion to your elder son, and your husband may have passed his brown eyes and lack of belief to your younger. You and your older son find spiritual and intellectual sustenance in the church, but your younger son finds the whole thing intolerable. You've been fighting this losing battle for two years, and if you keep going, your son will flee all observance as soon as he is able. I think you need to walk a more tolerant path. Tell your little atheist that you've been thinking about what he's been saying about church, you're tired of dragging him to Sunday school, and you're reconsidering your stand. But before you do, you have a requirement he needs to fulfill. You want him to write an essay (minimum two typed pages) about the progression of his (dis)beliefs, and he must cite examples of people who have struggled with lack of faith—Biblical sources get extra credit. Then, if he takes this assignment seriously, release him. But say this doesn't mean he gets to watch TV or play video games while his brother is getting religious instruction. Have your husband agree that Sunday will be bonding time for the two skeptics. Maybe when they hike to the top of a mountain one day, your son will look around and feel a spiritual awakening.

—Prudie

What is kind of puzzling to me is making the kid write an essay, and for a few reasons:

  1. It doesn't make sense that the kid has to "prove he's serious" that he doesn't believe in god. I guess she is trying to make sure he's just not trying to get out of church for...I dunno, lazy reasons?
  2. If she is so intent he goes to church (and SO not convinced he's an atheist), why not offer up the opportunity to choose a different service. I wish they hadn't made me do this, really, but my parents basically said if I wanted to get out of church, I had to try a couple more churches first.
  3. Does the kid who goes to church have to write an essay proving he is serious about church? No. Mom takes his word for it. For all we know, he likes youth group because there is a girl in it he jerks off while thinking about.

I also strongly believe that while dad should be able to make his own choices about his Sundays and his religious belief, how are they supposed to force a kid to go to church when dad isn't held to the same standards? I kind of think she should have mentioned that - if it's anything like the explaining away my parents did when I was a kid, "when you're an adult you can choose" is a bullshit way to view something as big as religious beliefs. And like, who cares if it's genetic? The kid doesn't want to go for whatever reason.

Again, more projecting my own upbringing onto this family, but I bet Mom can't cope with the idea of letting the kid get out of church while all the other kids in her social circle are forced to (or willingly) go.

Prudie is right - if the mom keeps forcing the kid, he'll never ever give church a chance again. She's going to drive him straight away from it.