Responses to “I’m an Atheist” May 28, 2008

Responses to “I’m an Atheist”

This one’s from Reddit — the comment thread there has some good responses.

Here’s the (edited) query:

What questions were you asked when you first said, “I’m an atheist”?

I don’t recall being asked many questions when I came out.

However, I did get the following:


“But you have to believe in something.”

“You may want to keep that to yourself…”

“But you believe in God, right?”

“Me too.”

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Josha

    Said in a joking manner, “Well, someone’s going to hell…haha.”

    That was by my uncle, a religious social conservative. I’m not sure if he was joking but I did laugh.

  • Chas

    Said in a joking matter, “Well, someone’s going to hell…haha.”

    And the response to that is “or two people going nowhere.”

  • The one response to “I’m an Atheist” I got far more than any other was, “No, you’re not!”

  • Michael

    When I told my parents, they didn’t say anything to me about it. They just laughed. It wasn’t until months later that they realized I was serious, then they started getting mad at me.

  • jdcollins

    “Well, you figured it out sooner than I did. I was still teaching sunday school in my forties.” – My Grandfather

    He stopped going to his Unitarian Congregation because they were talking too much about god.

  • SarahH

    From my mom:

    “Well, you’re an adult, and you can make decisions on your own” or something to that effect. Much, much better than I expected.

  • I haven’t done this yet, but I *so* want to:

    “Have I told you about Amway/”

  • Meg

    From my (brought up fundamentalist, but at the time and still vaguely casual, happy Jesus-following) best friend I got (jokingly) “you just don’t want to get up to go to church on Sundays.”

    Made sense, since until shortly before then I’d been going avidly.

    Can’t remember how my family reacted–I came out in the blur of activity surrounding a grandparent’s funeral, because I couldn’t bring myself to accept the role of scripture reader I’d been assigned for the service. I know my sis needed confirmation that I didn’t believe in an afterlife either.

  • I think the strangest one was from my mother. I told her I’d become a Unitarian and tha Unitarians believe in, at most, one god. Her own brother-in-law had been a Unitarian for 25 years, And then she proceeded to tell me Unitarians believed in one god.

    So here I was, I *was* a Unitarian (I came out in stages). But her brain must have gone *TILT* and she was arguing with me as though she knew much better than I what being a Unitarian means.

    But the next time anybody says *anything* about my religion, I swear I’m going to say, “Have I told you about Amway?”

  • I just got this one last week from my boyfriend, “You’ll get over it. It’s just a phase.” Wow. My mind is still reeling. But then he started sending me articles about positive steps in atheism and asking me more questions. I think he was just freaked out.

  • Mike

    I told my mom that I wasn’t a xtian anymore (I was 31) and she laughed and said, “Yes you are!” Now she thinks before she asks me to say a prayer for someone and just asks me to “keep them in my thoughts” (my previous answer to her whenever she would ask me to pray for someone)

  • theShaggy

    My mom: “But you’re still going to be spiritual, right?”

  • You just want to be controversial/different/put-upon/persecuted/etc., etc.

    Like I would choose that.

  • My father said, and I quote:

    “You need to get down to the church and get on your knees and get over that!”

    Mind you, he hadn’t attended church in nearly fifteen years himself by this point. And, really, if I didn’t believe any of this, how was going to a church and prostrating myself going to make me believe?

    Oh, right, it’s magic.

    When the subject came up again a year later, he tried the guilt angle “your grandmother will be upset if she finds out, and she’s getting older and you should try to help make her life more pleasant.”

    And a year after that, when I had moved to a new town and was having trouble meeting people – “well, if you start attending church, you’ll meet alot of people!”

    Interestingly, the woman I have been dating has very different ideas regarding the aupernatural than I do, yet she has been extremely supportive, and curious, about what I think. So, that’s been really good.

  • Here are three responses I have had that have stuck with me:

    “Dude, are you like a Satanist, then?”

    “If you don’t believe in God, what to you have to hold on to in life? Faith in Jesus is the only thing that keeps me grounded.”

    (months after “coming out,” if you will, to someone) “So, have you decided what religion you are yet?”

  • I mostly get “me too!” or “you really don’t believe in anything [supernatural]?” — and the latter is not said in a condescending or insulting way, but in a way that usually is inviting conversation.

  • Caroline

    I always get the “Oh you’re just going through a rebel phase.” Kind of reaction from adults. Because a 16-year-old doesn’t know enough, I guess. Though the 16-year-old Christians can say they believe in God and are not given the “You aren’t old enough to know everything yet” speech?

    The worst reaction was from a friend. “Well, I believe in God. And nothing you say will make me think otherwise.” We aren’t too good friends anymore. 🙁 When I ask her things like what’s she doing tomorrow she’ll say, “Oh, I can’t tell you. I don’t want you to be offended.” And by that, she means she’s doing some church thing that day.

    Another reaction I got was from the little girl (~5) I was babysitting. I didn’t feel comfortable reading some of her books to her. Books with the titles “God Knows Your Name” and “God Loves You”. She, being the 5-year-old that she was, kept asking why I wouldn’t read them to her. So I told her I was Atheist. First reaction: “What’s that?” xD When I told her, she literally gasped. And told me, here’s the good part, “You’re going to go to Satan’s world! =o”

    I could only imagine where she learned this. Is this what they’re teaching her at Toledo Christian Academy? That if you don’t believe in God, you’re going to hell? Ugh, she’s such a sweet and innocent little girl.

  • Cindy

    As Eric Haas said above “No you’re not” has to be by far the most common response I have received as well. I have never gotten much in the way of stimulating follow up after that though. I don’t mind and actually enjoy talking about it, but people don’t seem to know how to react. Minivan, lotsa kids, great marriage, friendly neighbor, pretty conservative, happy and positive about life doesn’t mesh in their mind with any of the stereotypes of an atheist. Sometimes you can see the thoughts plainly on their faces- does not compute, why would she be mad at god?

  • One of my best friends, who I had always assumed was an atheist, said: “But you seem so normal. I believe in something out there.”

    He couldn;t tell me what though or why…then it was his round and we talked politics for a while.

  • 5ive

    The most common one is “Then what do you believe in?”, to which I respond “love and atoms”. many a gaping mouth after that.
    My father in law said, “You mean you think we are all here by accident?!”
    It must be odd to carry such a need for a purpose.

    I had the same sort of reaction from a 6 year old in my daughter’s class. I think this is because for young kids, God is like a police officer. They can’t really comprehend such an unreal thing as god, so he is mostly someone who sits around, watching you when no one else is. Also, if you do anything god does not want or like, you are in big trouble, such as hell. So it is not surprising that even if it was not directly said to the girl you sit, she could easily draw the conclusion that someone who says they do not believe in god must be doing something wrong, and satan does the most wrong, so there you go… I also think a lot of parents use god as a way to keep their kids in line, as in “If you take any of those cookies, god will see and know you did something wrong” So it is also not surprising small children view god as a police officer.
    I would rather my kids decide what they should do without the idea of some ominous being watching them ALL the time. When talking about it with my 10 year old, he though god sounded really creepy… I have to agree 🙂

  • Brian

    The only actual one I can remember is “You know that means you don’t believe in god right? I think the word you are searching for is agnostic”.

    I had no response.

  • I tend to associate with miscreants, deviants, and every manner of freethinker, so I’ve been fortunate in avoiding a lot of uncomfortable conversations.

    In a history class in high school, another student cited the Bible as an historical document. I disagreed, was asked if I believed in God, and replied that no, nor do I think that the Bible is a reliable account of historical events.

    To which I received the most priceless response I have ever gotten: “Why do you hate God?

    This taught me so much: Chiefly, that it’s not worth evangelizing when a large segment of the world can’t even conceptualize what it means to be an atheist or agnostic.

    My father, on the other hand, offered: “Well, I know you’ve done your research. And after 20 years of working on the ambulance, I think you’re right.”

  • “You are going to burn in hell, evil Darwinist, and I’ll be laughing at you from heaven!”

    Yup. Some theistarded kook said that to me.


  • Nancy

    My best friend told me not to mention it around my 13 yr old goddaughter because it would upset her. And my baby sister said not to mention it around my nephew. (no reason given) This from a woman who hasn’t set foot in church in years!!!!

  • Darryl

    Like some others, when I told mom she went into denial mode: “No you’re not!” I don’t really know what she thinks about me now, and I don’t really care, except to say that I wish it didn’t trouble her as I know it does. Her faith appears to have been vital for her, and she can’t understand how I could not be the same.

  • Bernadette

    My boss said she never would have guessed and mentioned the whole “no atheists in foxholes” thing. Urgh.

  • My own atheism came to be at such a slow pace….but it happened so steadily that I think my parents and friends saw it coming from a mile away. For the longest time, I never really attached myself to that word, just because it sounded like part of a cause, and I didn’t really like the idea of attaching myself to a cause without knowing anything about it or what it stands for (aside from what it doesn’t stand for). But once Hemant contacted me from this site and asked if he could use one of my blog entries in a post, I had to come and check out the page (to make sure it wasn’t some crazy fundie thing, or political freakout page), and I’ve been hanging out ever since.

    Needless to say, I don’t make the efforts to shy away from “atheism” as I used to. It’s just nice to know that you can be a decent person without needing a particular, set-in-stone reason why. That’s how I’ve always thought, so I was particularly shocked to see that there were other people who thought that same way.

  • “But how will you find someone to marry?”

    Seriously. The feminist and the atheist in me were fighting to be the most offended. Why was marrying a guy so important? Why did this girl think there’s not a single male atheist in the world? I was so bewildered I couldn’t respond to her.

  • Thinking about this, I also remember the reaction of my grandfather – “That’s immoral, and you’re doing it because you’re a degenerate.”

    Of course, according to him, my sister is registered as a Libertarian because she’s an immoral degenerate, my other sister wants to be an attorney because she’s an immoral degenerate – it’s actually no exxageration to say that my grandfather considers pretty much everyone except for himself an immoral degenerate (and given that he’s been horrible ot his family, cheated on all three wives, tries to bully everyone, etc. etc., you can guess what that says about his psychology). So, in truth, that reaction probably had more to do with me being different than him than with the particular difference.

  • The most common one is “Then what do you believe in?”, to which I respond “love and atoms”.

    This is wonderful and I am going to steal and use it.

  • Kira

    The first person I told in middle school was a very conservative Christian friend, which may have been a bit of a mistake, in hindsight… Anyway, she told me that I’d “influence her” negatively, and so it was best if we weren’t friends. Basically, she was telling me I’d send her to Hell.
    After that, I was careful who I told. My parents were completely fine with it, thank goodness. The only negative response since the first was a “you’re just mad at the world”, and I suppose it could’ve been worse. Usually, people just say “oh…” in a slightly surprised tone and go on with the conversation.

  • Mark C.

    I had been reading atheist websites for a while before coming out to my mom, although I didn’t actually intend to come out when I did. My cousin had [then] recently been baptized, so my mom asked me one evening if I still wanted to be. Upon hearing my negative reply, she asked (if I recall correctly) if I was an atheist. Instead of affirming it, I told her that I’d rather be referred to as a rationalist (though because of its different meaning in philosophy, I don’t use this term for the meaning I had in mind). She was visibly upset and said that she was worried about my soul. The next day my dad called me back to their room and had a bunch of Christian publications spread out on the bed for me to examine. He thought this was just a phase that I would grow out of, and my mom insisted that the lack of belief in God is [or maybe implied] the belief that God was not real, despite my claims to the contrary.

    These days my dad, too, is an atheist, though he’s not a liberal (I’m a something-or-other, but not a conservative). My mom, a conservative, is in denial of at least my atheism, I think. We never talk about religion, but my sister is growing up a Christian. My dad thinks she’ll “grow out of it” like I did, but I’m not that optimistic, and I’m much too anxious and not confident enough to come out fully and set things right in my eyes with regard to my sister.

  • Susan

    “But you have to believe in something.”

    That’s the one. My response has been that yes, I believe in myself and in my heart. I just don’t believe that there’s a big old God.

  • I can’t really remember what my mom said when I first told her I was an atheist. But she may have said something like “But you were baptized as an episcopalian” because that’s what she says sometimes while we’re talking about religion. She seems to have this mental block that catches her sometimes and tells her that because I was baptized in her religion that I am a believer in that religion. Still, I think maybe she just says that because she’s not even sure whether I even know that I “am” an episcopalian, because she’s never taken me to church. Overall, she’s very supportive, and slowly she’s started to understand my views and I’ve been able to understand hers.

    After I told her I was an atheist, she “outed” me (without my permission) while we were talking to my grandparents and religion came up. She said, “John’s an atheist, and I think that’s perfectly fine”, which was nice. My grandparents didn’t say anything, although it looked like it may have slightly shocked them. Afterwards I told my mom that that was a very rude thing to do. She apologized and said she didn’t realize. But I’m also kind of happy it happened because it was over so quickly and now my grandparents know I’m an atheist. It makes things a little easier.

    So far, it hasn’t come up again, although a couple of times my grandparents on my Dad’s side have suggested that I should try going to church. My grandpa on my Mom’s side is very profane (and might share my views), while my grandma on my Mom’s side is getting me an NRSV Bible to use at the boot camp I’m going to, although it was my idea and I requested it (I haven’t had a chance to read the whole Bible yet so I want to study it).

    I can’t remember what my dad said at first either, but later he did ask why I was so passionate about this subject when he and my mom didn’t raise me religious at all. I said it wasn’t about me and thanked him for raising me secularly.

    Sometimes my friends mock me about it, sometimes they ask me questions, sometimes they agree with me, and sometimes they’re indifferent.

    I’ve also gotten the response, “Don’t you want to get into heaven?” from a mental health professional who was trying to proselytize to me and a 10 year old kid while I was in a detention center. I debated with him for 20 minutes, and by the end he couldn’t think of any argument to make so he said I was “wise beyond my years” and left. The kid said “You think too much.”

    Last one. I got a message from an a-hole that used to be very rude to me. He found me on myspace and wrote me a message which said that I was a pretentious missionary trying to spread apathy, which doesn’t make sense because my view has always been that being nonreligious can give us hope, happiness, community, morality, and meaning (“The Big 5”). Also he said that he was content being an apatheist, so him telling me that I am trying to spread apathy also doesn’t make much sense because if anybody is doing that it’s him.

    That’s all the responses I can remember now.

  • Milena

    I get a few “Me too”s. A few people have asked me why, and I’ve explained. When I told my little sister, she said “Okay” in a whatever tone (she’s at that difficult age). Not much else.

  • Xeonicus

    I don’t think anyone I’ve told has had a strong reaction. In my immediate family, I didn’t grow up with much religion. We were “default” Methodists because that’s what my grandma (mom’s side) was. My dad’s side of the family pretty much never mentions religion. I think a lot of mid-west families believe in a nebulous, ill-defined “god” because that’s the socially acceptable thing to do, but beyond that, they don’t give it a second thought; they’re more concerned with living their life like normal people.

    My mom and dad tell me they believe in God, but beyond that they don’t go to church and don’t really know why they believe; that’s just how they were brought up. I have philosophical discussions about life with them often, it’s awesome. Pretty much all my friends are nonreligious, but the few who are Christian are very tolerant and I talk freely about beliefs with them. I only have a few extended relatives that are moderately religious, but nothing extreme. They’re very tolerant and happy to let people believe what they want.

    I guess my life is sort of easy. Religion almost never enters into my daily life. I guess that’s one nice thing about living in central Michigan.

  • SarahH

    What’s Amway, you guys?

  • The Unbrainwashed

    My favorite:

    “Everyone in the whole world believes in God and who the hell are you to think otherwise? You think you’re so smart don’t you?”

    Also this was a more recent one: “I’d say 99% of people in the world believe in God. Oh you think there’s a lot more? Well whatever. I doubt you’ll ever meet another atheist anyway.”

  • Tim Sweitzer

    I’ve been pretty lucky. For the most part when I tell people I’m an atheist. I’ve been met with more curiousity then animosity. People have questions and I have no problem answering them.

  • EKM

    Nancy said,

    My best friend told me not to mention it around my 13 yr old goddaughter because it would upset her. And my baby sister said not to mention it around my nephew. (no reason given) This from a woman who hasn’t set foot in church in years!!!!

    I always found that odd too. It’s like you are supposed to believe in God in the USA, but don’t take religion TOO seriously.

    The Unbrainwashed said

    My favorite:

    “Everyone in the whole world believes in God and who the hell are you to think otherwise? You think you’re so smart don’t you?”

    Also this was a more recent one: “I’d say 99% of people in the world believe in God. Oh you think there’s a lot more? Well whatever. I doubt you’ll ever meet another atheist anyway.”

    Religious people have no problem with tolerance and multiculturalism when it suits them.

  • The only weird response I got was from a family friend whose husband was an agnostic/atheist. She said she didn’t believe either of us.

  • “One day, you’ll learn.”

    I wanted to punch her.

  • “Carl Sagan was an atheist too. He knows better now.”

    I don’t know if I’ll ever totally get over my ingrained fear of hell, but it really is a shitty, abusive, manipulative thing to do to intentionally prey on that.

  • Shawn

    My mom told me “Don’t tell your grandmother.”


  • kiran

    i told this to my classmate tom ………he replied
    “cool dude…ur my first atheist friend”………

  • Paul Snyder

    I don’t get too many reactions but my personal favorite reaction is

    “I didn’t know they had an atheist church here”

    I laughed for a good 20 minutes.

  • Jennifer M

    Do you atheists get a lot of:

    “Oh, I made a lot of mistakes before I got saved”
    “I used to be so sinful.”
    “Why don’t you try accepting Jesus?”

    I’m not an atheist but that’s usually what evangelicals say whenever I fail to agree with them.

  • viccro

    My mother asked me a really bizarre question when she found out: “well, can your science tell you whether the chicken or the egg came first?”
    Apparently I sort of twitched…I was sort of torn about whether or not to laugh it off…and she took that to mean that I knew that I was wrong about not believing in god.

    In truth, I didn’t know how to make heads or tails of it…it’s such a finicky question at heart, that depends on definitions; also, did that mean that she had an answer? If so, I wanted to hear it, but she shortly left the room in a huff.

  • The egg came first. Fossil records show dinosaur eggs long before birds appeared. That is a bizaare question though.

  • viccro

    Yeeeah…she was pretty adamant that she meant “chicken egg”, which means that it comes down to definitions in terms of chicken egg equaling ‘egg from a chicken’, or ‘egg from which a chicken came’.

  • Or ‘when is a chicken not a chicken’. How far down the evolutionary path do you go before a nearly chicken bird laying nearly chicken eggs stops counting as a chicken? Do we have to go back to the ‘crocoduck’ again?….’crockochick’…crock of something.

  • Darryl

    I had a disappointing talk with a good friend of mine today. After telling me how he’s cut way down on his partying, he proceeded to tell me how religious he’s become lately, and from that to telling me that he’s worried about spending time with me because of my influence on him–me being an atheist and all. The joke here is that I’ve been trying to find a way to tell him that I don’t like partying-down every time we hang out, and that I’d rather do something else. I promised him that I would not belittle his faith in any way, and he seemed okay with that, but I’m not sure just what he’s thinking. Boy, does that bring back memories of my younger days when I thought (I was taught in church) that I had to separate from my close friends because they weren’t Christians. This is the very thing that pushed me away from faith in the end. What a waste.

  • @Rev. Bob:

    I think the strangest one was from my mother. I told her I’d become a Unitarian and tha Unitarians believe in, at most, one god.

    That’s been updated:

    After the secular humanists came along, we said that UUs believe in One God – at Most. Now, what with the 6th Source and the pagans, we say that UUs believe in One God – More or Less.

  • @beth: your bf sounds like every woman’s dream: Aw, you just think you’re having contractions.

  • @ben: cool. Do I really want to know what a “working” is?

  • Sorry, it wasn’t everybody talking, it was me getting screwed up and posting twice. That lame joke wasn’t even worth posting once. Amway is a multilevel marketing thing, and pretty much the only way to avoid having a friend ask you to become an Amway distributor is never to have any friends. Adherents are pretty much as persistent as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but unlike them, the stuff Amway sells is At least it seems real.

  • wrt chickens, I always quote McLuhan (or was it Fuller?: “A chicken is an egg’s way of making other eggs.” I’m not sure if it means anything, or even if if’s supposed to, but it sounds clever and it might make talkative people shut up long enough for you to escape.

  • I’m still think the politest thing to say is “I’m not very religious,” or “Thanks, I’m not very religious,”or if you have to be confrontational, “I’m not religious.” But I never “Sorry, I’m not religious.” What do I have to apologize for? I’m not the one pushing my religion on other people.

  • Emily

    My mother told me “You’re too young to know what you believe, give it a few years.”

    Of course I came out as an atheist when I was 12 or 13-ish

    Props to mom and dad for raising the kids right! Though my mother is a Quaker and my father’s Episcopalian they managed to raise three atheist kids by encouraging us to think for ourselves.

  • AnonyMouse

    From my dad: “Well, you’d better start believing, because… *argument ad Hades*”

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