A recent letter to columnist Carolyn Hax of The Washington Post seemed straightforward enough. "I am a stay-at-home mother of four who has tried to raise my family under the same strong Christian values that I grew up with," the woman writes. "Therefore I was shocked when my oldest daughter, 'Emily,' suddenly announced she had 'given up believing in God' and decided to 'come out' as an atheist."


The idea of a 16-year-old atheist in the house would be enough to alarm any Christian parent, and rightly so. The thought that a secular advice columnist for The Washington Post might be the source of help seems very odd, but desperation can surely lead a parent to seek help almost anywhere.


You usually get what you expect from an advice columnist like this - therapeutic counsel based in a secular worldview and a deep commitment to personal autonomy. Carolyn Hax responds to this mother with an admonition to respect the integrity of her daughter's declaration of non-belief. She adds, "Parents can and should teach their beliefs and values, but when a would-be disciple stops believing, it's not a 'decision' or 'choice' to 'reject' church or family or tradition or virtue or whatever else has hitched a cultural ride with faith."


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