Crisis of faith, child safety, weight problems, and mother's pearls: Dear Prudence advises readers at Slate.com.

Advice on manners and morals.
May 12 2011 7:03 AM

Losing My Religion

Prudie advises a formerly devout man wrestling with the revelation that he's no longer a believer.

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Got a burning question for Prudie? She'll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m.  Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
My family is composed entirely of devout Christians, and I was one for the first 30 years of my life. I earned undergraduate and graduate theology degrees, though my career is in a different field. I've been extremely active in church leadership. I married a wonderful Christian woman. Unbeknownst to any of my friends and family, two years ago I came to the realization that I no longer believe in God. While I am at peace with the existential implications of this realization, I am devastated by its practical implications. My loss of faith could be shattering for just about every close relationship I have. I continue to believe that religion brings the potential for a great many good things. I could probably continue going through the motions, except that I believe in morality and honesty, and I hate pretending to be something that I'm not. It would be very hurtful for my wife to hear about my loss of faith, but it might be even more damaging for me to continue lying. Should I maintain my secret as long as possible in the hopes that it never becomes necessary to reveal it?

—The Whitewashed Tomb

Dear Tomb,
The fact that you chose as your moniker a perfect biblical reference to hypocrisy (Matthew 23:27: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean") demonstrates at the least the literary value of your religious education. You say you still respect what you see as the good religion brings, which I assume includes charity, fellowship, moral guidance, and emotional support. I don't think you are deceitful for continuing to attend services as a way of keeping connected with these things, and with people you care about. If you could read what's going on inside the heads of many members of the congregation during services, you'd see such thoughts as: "What a load of bull." "I hope this wraps up in time for me to catch the last half of the game." "Got to get garbage bags on the way home." Ultimately, it's no one else's business that not only have you stopped seeing the light; you've concluded there's no one to turn it on.

It sounds, however, as if you feel the integrity of your marriage requires you to discuss this with your wife. Perhaps this will become necessary if you find you can no longer sit weekly in the pew. Sure, this will be a shock for her, but since you're not suggesting she join you in your apostasy, you should emphasize that your telling her is a commentary on the depth of your connection. It might help if you both read about the struggles Charles and Emma Darwin went through over his lack of faith and her devoutness. Since you obviously no longer want to turn to your minister for guidance, you could seek the support of the online community at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (my Slate colleague Christopher Hitchens is an honorary board member) whose co-president is a minister-turned-atheist.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Secret Pregnancy

Dear Prudie,
My husband and I moved into our current home on a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood about a year ago. We chose it so that our kids—ages 5 and 3—would have a safe place to ride their bikes and play with neighbors. So far, my only concern has been one neighbor, "Lisa," who drives her SUV too fast. Yesterday Lisa's husband, "Tom," came to our house very upset. He told me that his wife had nearly backed her car over our son when he fell off his bike trying to get out of her way. Tom stopped her in time. He was rude and condescending to me, repeatedly saying that my children are too young to play outside unattended. I began to apologize for what happened, but he marched off. My husband went over to talk with him, but Tom didn't want to discuss it and threatened to call child protective services. Another neighbor told us that coming from Tom, it's not an empty threat. Anytime the weather is nice, there are about a dozen kids playing outdoors—ours are the youngest. My children follow the rules we've given them, and I feel that checking on them occasionally is sufficient. Tom still sits outside to watch when his children are playing out front, and they are 10 and 12 years old. I'm horrified at the thought of what could have happened, but I feel that it is a driver's responsibility to make sure there are no children in the way. I don't want to have to banish my kids to the backyard when I'm working at home, which is most of the time, but I also don't want to live in fear of CPS showing up and taking them away. What say you?

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—Never Thought I'd Be in a Neighborhood Feud

Dear Never,
Tom should not have gone to the nuclear option, and between the speeding wife and his threats, they sound like quite a pair. But your kids are only 5 and 3, and that is way too young to send out to the street unsupervised. Sure, mothers in SUVs should avoid backing over small children, but you already know this woman is a little careless, and an unsupervised 5-year-old on a bike can easily end up in the way. As for your 3-year-old—no matter what rules you've expressed, your kid is still a toddler! Were Tom to call CPS, you'd be in deep trouble if you tried to explain that he or she is mature enough to be out alone. If you're at home working, you need someone to watch your children. That might mean your office overlooks the fenced backyard where you've corralled them. Or if it's too distracting to watch them while you work, it means hiring a responsible older neighborhood child—preteen and up—to babysit. I think Lenore Skenazy makes some great points in Free Range Kids, her book about hysterical, hovering parenting. Tom's kids are old enough to ride around the cul-de-sac without his having them under surveillance. (Maybe he's worried about Lisa whipping around the corner.) But he's right that yours aren't. Try to short circuit the feud by telling him you want to express your profound gratitude to him for protecting your son, and that he's right, your kids are too young to be out alone.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My whole life, I have struggled with my weight. I am 17 years old, 5-feet-3-inches tall, and a size 10. My problem is that I attend a high school where everyone goes to parties at the river and the lake for fun. Now that it is warm, these gatherings are becoming very frequent. I am always invited, but I decline because I do not want to wear a bathing suit in front of everyone. The last time I did go, I was teased until I finally put on a bathing suit I borrowed from another girl, and I looked disgusting. It was a humiliating experience, but I don't want to miss out on these parties, because I feel like they're something I will be able to experience only during high school. Is there a way to say I do not want to go swimming that doesn't give away the fact that the only reason I'm not doing it is because I'm overweight?

—Not-So-Hidden Fatty

Dear Not-So-Hidden,
You're not a sylph, but at size 10, you're wildly exaggerating your weight if you think the sight of you in a bathing suit is going to send waves of shock through your classmates. On every downtown street, I see women much bigger than you confidently wearing body-hugging garb and sending the signal that they feel good about themselves. There may be more of you than you wish, but instead of loathing your flesh, take up a sport or start working out so that your body is as toned as possible. Being fit no matter what your size will make you appreciate the power of your body and help you enjoy your curves. And this weekend, march yourself to the mall and go to a bathing suit store. There are many different styles—swim shorts and tank top is a great look—that will flatter you. You're right that you will always regret sitting out some of the best times of your high-school years. It's time to get your feet, and everything else, wet.

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