Why Do You Hide Your Atheism? July 30, 2008

Why Do You Hide Your Atheism?

John Smulo is often afraid to tell others about his beliefs. He’s a Christian and it’s hard, he says, to tell others that.


He’s boiled it down to five key reasons:

  1. It is conversation stopper, instead of a conversation starter.
  2. It communicates something other than what I mean.
  3. I’ll lose out on potential friendships because of the stereotypes this word conveys.
  4. ‘Christian’ is associated with a lot of things, but almost none of them have anything to do with Jesus Christ.
  5. It provokes hurt, anger, and angst for people who’ve had painful experiences with Christians.

I’m not doubting those things. From my own interactions with all-too-many Christians, those fears are legitimate. An atheist hears the word “Christian” and not a lot of positive images come to mind.

(On a side note, why is it always the other Christians who give you a bad name? When is it time to point the finger at yourself? That’s not directed at John, but to Christians in general.)

Anyway, it’s not always easy to come out to friends, family, or strangers as an atheist, either.

Some of us are atheists only as bloggers but wouldn’t dare tell our own husbands or wives or parents about our non-belief.

Some of us (I include myself in this bunch) kept it a secret at first… then told a couple friends… then told a family member or two… and it was years before we finally wore our atheism on our sleeves.

And then there are those of us who tell everyone we’re atheists without any prompting whatsoever. Hell, we’ll take a bite out of your baby without even asking permission.

For those of you who have not come out as atheists, or are hesitant about mentioning it in public, what’s holding you back?

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  • Erp

    When is it appropriate to bring it (whether Christian or atheist) up? Probably rarely directly except when directly asked but it can be implied. For instance wearing a cross, having a non-religious wedding, not eating during the day during Ramadan. Let others force the issue. The only time I tend to bring it up is if it is directly relevant such as if I’m with a group of Christians who are discussing Christianity.

    In addition being an atheist is a description of what I am not, not a description of what I am which is probably best described as humanist. I won’t lie if asked whether I’m a christian, but, other non-theistic people may be in trickier situations.

  • Yossarian

    I’ve come out to my wife (very hard) and to only a couple of very close friends. My wife has accepted it now that I have dispelled the common falsehoods about atheists.

    She was raised in a very fundamentalist Christian household, and as a result I don’t have any plans for coming out to anyone on her side of the family. It would cause nothing but confrontations (and probably even the hypocritical advice to my wife to leave me despite a happy marriage and a beautiful 2-year-old daughter).

    My family, I’m afraid to come out to only because I think they’ll think I’m changing on a whim. I was never raised with any religion (I think my father was against it in general, but didn’t even impose THOSE views on us). Not many in our family are religious, and I became so for quite a few years. So i have an (irrational, I know) fear of losing some of their respect because of changing again.

    I’ve decided I’ll tell MY family if the subject of conversation ever moved that way, but I wouldn’t ‘drop’ it on them. As for my wife’s family? We’re happy to keep it from them for just as long as we can.

  • Pustulio

    I generally don’t make any secret of my atheism but also don’t go around advertising it. I think the last time I told a stranger was around Easter, only because everyone was talking about what they had done for the holiday, and when asked I said I didn’t celebrate it.

    The only people I actively keep it a secret from are my mother’s side of the family, as they are very religious and very pushy about it. Frankly it’s easier to just pretend than to deal with all of their crap.

  • Wes

    I keep my atheism secret from my family, who are fundamentalist Christians, because I really don’t want to create acrimony and deal with their constant attempts to convert me.

    And of course, I don’t mention my own religious beliefs when I’m teaching class. That would be inappropriate.

    But I have no problem mentioning the fact that I’m an atheist around my friends. I don’t bring it up all the time, but if religion becomes a topic of conversation I have no problem at all denying the existence of God, and I don’t really care if people are offended by the fact that I don’t believe in God. I don’t get offended when they say God does exist, so I don’t see why I should hide my beliefs because they might be offended when I say s/he doesn’t.

  • I could care less if the entire world knew about my atheism…but I hide it from my family (other than my parents) so my grandparents won’t find out. If they knew, they would probably die on the spot of a broken heart. They are the best people in the world, and I’m their only grandchild, so I couldn’t do that to them.

    So as much as I’d love to write a book about atheism, fiction or non fiction, it’s going to have to wait until they pass away…and then it will be bittersweet, because the last thing I want to consider is them dying. It breaks my heart more than keeping a secret.

  • I would ask John Smulo why he feels it necessary to tell people he’s a Christian. Can’t he have a social interaction without announcing the fact? I mean, seriously, there’s a reason it’s a conversation stopper:

    Co-worker 1: “Can you believe that storm last night?”

    Co-worker 2: “I know! We had hail the size of golf balls.”

    John Smulo: “I’m a Christian.”

    Co-workers 1 & 2: “…”

    John, it’s a conversation stopper because it’s unwelcome. It’s unwelcome because it’s off-topic. Unless the conversation is explicitly about religion, your beliefs in that area are irrelevant.

  • It usually never comes up, but when it does I never lie and say I’m religious. But I do find myself avoiding saying “atheist” in certain circumstances, and just saying simply “I’m not religious.” It’s mostly for political reasons. For instance, I run my own business, and avoid any religious discussion at all for fear of tainting a client’s view of me or my business. 99% of my work comes via word of mouth, and I don’t want that word to have any negativity in it! For whatever reasons, I’ve found that an unusually high percentage of my work is for Christian organizations, so that could possibly make an impact in our bottom line.

    But also, my dad has an important position in a government facility (non-political) and I worry about jeopardizing that. We live in a very rural area, one of those areas where it feels like everyone knows everyone, and they usually do. If there was a big fuss about my religious views it could certainly get back to him.

  • I don’t know if I count as an atheist who isn’t “out,” because I tell people if/when the issue comes up, but I don’t bring it up myself. My being an atheist feels unnecessary to talk about. There are lots of other things besides deities that I don’t believe exist, so why single out this as special — you know?

    Also, it can really make some people angry/horrified/baffled, and that’s a conversational stumbling block I don’t want to build unless it’s actually necessary. I prefer at least to wait until I’m pretty good friends with them so they believe I’m a moral person already. 🙂

  • Polly

    The only reason I’m not shouting it from the rooftops is that there are 2 people who I’d prefer not know:

    1)My mother
    2)My boss (a very distant second)

    I don’t want it getting around to my mother that I’m “going to Hell.” First of all, she’d be inconsolable and second of all I’d NEVER hear the end of it. It’s always “when we get to heaven…BLAH BLAH.” Her whole focus is the afterlife with Cheese-us.

    My boss wouldn’t do anything. But, I’d rather he still think I’m a conservative(socially) Xian since that was our commonality initially. We get along pretty well, so why rock the boat.

  • Hemant,

    I know you weren’t saying that I should necessarily point the finger at myself, but its a fair comment for me as well.


    I’m not someone who goes out of my way to mention I’m a Christian by a long-shot. Admittedly, as a newer Christian I was obnoxious about mentioning this. But I think I’ve grown out of being the annoying hyper-evangelistic type years ago.

    If I were in coworker 1 and 2s shoes I’d find saying I was a Christian off topic too. My blog post was referring to situations where I’m asked specifically.

  • Its weird for me, and I’m glad that there are others who can relate (but sad that it has to be this way). I have a lot of Conservative Christian friends who know I’m atheist, and they’re fine with it, but they often challenge my way of thinking.

    My family is different, which doesn’t seem right. My mother told me today that she’s been “praying to god” that I do well at my job interviews. I say silently so that I would not extend the conversation. My mom knows my libertarian viewpoints, and hates G. Dubya just as much as I do, yet she claims to be religious and it could potentially divide us.

  • ryot

    I guess I’m pretty out to my friends, it’s on my Facebook after all. I don’t worry about them knowing at all, I wouldn’t want the kind who would get upset by a difference in beliefs.

    I don’t hide or mention it to my family, it’s not really necessary, they know I’m not religious, I never pray with them or anything, except around my grandparents. They’re pretty old-fashioned, and I really don’t want to start anything with them, I like my grandma’s cookies too much.

  • I’ve always been an atheist, and have always shared that fact whenever religion comes up. I don’t understand people who blog furiously about their atheism, who urge non-believers to organize and unite, but then don’t have the courage to announce in real life their own freedom from faith.

    Mind you, I would never just spout that fact out of the blue: “Hey, guess what. I’m an atheist.” But when someone starts tossing some pious crap into a conversation, I’m happy to be able to say, “Ummmm. You’re talking to an atheist. So don’t assume that what you’re saying sounds reasonable to me.”

  • Darryl

    If I reveal my true identity then how will I be able to infiltrate the enemy’s camp and learn their secret plans? That’s right, I’m a secret agent . . . Shhh! Don’t tell!

  • I don’t hide it, but it just doesn’t come up in conversation very often. Sometimes my international students ask me about my religion and I just say I have no religion. I don’t want to get into a discussion about my own beliefs in class.

  • It’s a tough thing sometimes. You may be out to everyone who asks, but its not possible for everyone to always know. Many times, the mere mentioning of a lack of belief propagates an involved philosophical debate. I’m out to anyone who asks. Its on any profile with a religious affiliation as well as further explained in the following about me. So its out there but its only a portion of my personality and I like to portray it that way.

    Just coming out to yourself is a major step. But for anyone who has a coming out story (really, anything about being an atheist in everyday society), please submit to comingoutgodless.com.


  • Xeonicus

    All of my friends and family know, but they’re all pretty cool and respectful, so it’s cool. Besides, religion is in the minority in my friend/family circle, so they’re pretty humble about it and tend to keep it to themselves.

    The only people I interact with that probably haven’t a clue are my co-workers. I’d rather keep it that way too, because I like some of them and from a few things I’ve heard, I know some of them are pretty religious. During one conversation, I forget what we were talking about, but a co-worker said: “…and that, I think, is proof of God’s existence.” I just kind of stared at him for a moment and changed the topic. No point to me being a dick anyway right? He’s welcome to his own personal delusions. It’s sort of like if a crazy person says “the sky is green!!” The normal reaction is to stare at them like they’re crazy instead of insisting they’re wrong. Maybe I’m just apprehensive about revealing my views though…

    It’s odd that I’m afraid to out myself to my Christian co-workers. I mean, I have friend’s who are very devout Christians and they know I’m an atheist and are fine with it. We’re really close friends though, so maybe that changes things. Plus, work just seems like such a professional environment, that I don’t consider personal matters like religion appropriate for discussion.

  • krissncleo

    I have told all of my friends, but not my family. I never chill with them anyway, but if it did come up, I would tell the truth. The thing is is that i hate being yelled at and not herd. If (when) I told my family then deffinetly both of those things would happen.

    Kriss, or krissncleo

  • Larry Huffman

    I do not hide my atheism when it is appropriate for me to discuss my atheism. I do not care what other people’s beliefs are either…unless in forums or in specific types of conversation where it is a proper topic.

    I do not deny my atheism, ever. If i am asked my religion in my professional life, I tell them that is a personal item, and not appropriate to be discussed at work…or some such statment, not as formal. I would say the same thing while religious, however. I have always felt it should be seperate from the workplace. And for most of the time, it is an employee asking me, so I am not in fear for my job. I also discourage any kind of religious…or even theological discussions (such as any theist/atheist discussion) withing my area of management. So i am not hiding…just keeping things consistent.

    In public, however…I will answer that I am atheist. I do not fear anyone knowing at all. Anyone who counts to me knows anyway.

  • It took me an unreasonably long time to become uncloseted. For a long time, I figured that I would tell anyone if they asked directly. In practice, no one ever asks. Except for once, but I ended up lying. Eventually, I found an unobtrusive, indirect way to “come out”: through facebook. Later, I indirectly came out to my parents by blogging on the subject. I was slightly worried by how my mother would react, but I think she was too baffled by the level of my blog to react negatively.

    So that’s how it went, all of it via the internet. I guess I’m not really courageous enough to ever bring up the topic in real life among common folk. I can just imagine such a conversation… it’d all come out that I am actually very serious about the topic, and have all-too-well-developed opinions about it. If only I had a normal hobby… like sports or youtube.

  • I don’t hide my atheism if the topic comes up, but I live in the South (Texas) where Christians rule and I don’t bring it up out of the blue. My parents…they know I don’t go to church (except for family events and to support my nieces/nephews in their religious studies)..and they know I am a flaming liberal by their standards. But really, we are better off not going there and I know my mom worries enough about my soul as it is. My brothers are all very religous. Someday, I will be that crazy Aunt Sherilyn, the atheist…as it is, my nieces and nephews are all 16 and under and very Catholic or quite Jewish (DH’s side). I can talk the talk and walk the walk with Catholicism…so i can discuss Jesus and the miracle at Fatima with the best of them. I remember my catechism very well even if I don’t subscribe to it…I don’t discuss my lack of belief with my family in general, although the adults might have picked up on it. I am very supportive of their choice to raise with religion and support my goddaughter niece in her religious milestones.

    I am more willing to discuss my atheism with my friends than with my family…like I said, my mom worries enough…but I try to scope things out and see if the other party is equally non-religious. Some folks around here take their religion VERY seriously and I don’t want to go there with them.

    My DH is more agnostic than atheist (he was raised Jewish but just doesn’t think about it and doesn’t care). My children will likely be atheist…we are adopting and hope to become parents next year!

  • Noah

    Actually, I always feel the urge (sometimes I go through with it, sometimes I don’t) to announce I’m not Xian when I first meet someone. They usually assume I am b/c I’m an American from the midwest and my name is Noah. So usually the situation goes:

    Me: Hi! I’m Noah
    Them: Oh! Like in the Bible
    Me. Ummm…yeah. But I’m not Christian
    Them: Oh… (disappointed look) or That’s ok! (glad you don’t mind!) :-p

    Of course, I don’t think I’d have this problem if I just changed my name…

  • I don’t go around talking about it; there are potential costs, particularly for my children (I know this from experience), and possibly for my job (which would also impact … my children).

    On the other hand, I don’t lie about it — but few people directly address my beliefs or lack of them, so it doesn’t come up much.

  • Stephen M.

    I don’t hide it but I don’t proclaim it either. As an Atheist in the military I worry about my career in a Xian heavy organization and because of what SPC Jeremy Hall is going through.

    In my family: my parents are Xians (Mom more than Dad) but my only sibling, my brother, is an Atheist too. He is fortunate to be in a programming firm that is primarily composed of rational non-believers.

    My Mother does know I am an Atheist, because my non-practicing Catholic wife told her, but I don’t think she really believes it. How could she have raised a good son who doesn’t believe that Jesus is his personal savior!

  • Gabriel

    I don’t want to lose my job. I work for a small accounting firm in a small (150,000) city in Texas. This is a place where religion is a big deal. Even if the partners didn’t care I am afraid that it would cost our firm business if it became common knowledge that they employed an atheist. This is probably the only thing I miss about being a public employee, in the Navy and later when I worked for the state I had no compuction about identifying myself as an atheist when the subject came up. Now I’m stuck doing a verbal dance so that I can avoid lying when it comes up.

  • These days I’m fairly happy to tell people I’m an atheist though sometimes I just say I’m not-religious. I know it’s much the same thing, but saying you are non-religious and not interested in any of that sort of thing tends to sit better with some people, and causes less confusion and resentment.

    I still haven’t told my mother, or explicitly told my younger sister and brother mainly because it’s difficult to talk to them about it. My mother and sister are quite religious and I have let them know I’m not interested in religion, but I think they would have a fit if I said I was an atheist. Why is it that the word ‘atheist’ can cause more distress than just saying you are not religious?

    However I have told my older sister and even let her know about my blog, but she is not into religion either, though she doesn’t call herself an atheist.

    Yes, I do feel like a bit of a fraud having a blog decrying religion but then not having the guts to explicitly tell my mother, but I’d rather not upset my family.

  • llewelly

    If I feel it’s relevant to the topic, I’ll say it: I’m an atheist. Or, less rare: Your bible approves of slavery and the subjugation of women. Therefor, it’s immoral. But it’s rare for either to be relevant to the conversation.

  • llewelly

    One other thing. I think my devoutly Mormon mother was the first person I told. She was very upset – and I did go through several years of ‘giving the church a second chance’ . But now, she usually avoids the topic. (About twice a year she’ll bring it up, and we’ll rail at each other for awhile.)

  • Almond

    As a new athiest, I’m disgustingly enthusiastic. I would love to be part of Richard Dawkins’ “out” campaign (I even have the t-shirt), but we (my husband and I) haven’t told all our family members, many of whom we’re not close to anyway. My mother-in-law, for example, would be needlessly saddened. A couple of years ago (before we fully de-converted), she tearily asked my husband to help her pray for his brothers who don’t go to church.

    I’m also afraid to come out at work because of potential repurcussions. Even if I don’t get fired, I would certainly lose the respect of some of my staff. Although it’s not necessarily appropriate for the workplace, religion is certainly a difficult topic to avoid here in Oklahoma where church is a common conversation starter. So far, I’ve avoided the issue by avoiding socializing with co-workers in general.

    I’ve told my mom, but I think she just sees it as a form of rebellion that I may outgrow. I do wish I could be more honest with her about my skepticism in general. She frequently describes her paranormal beliefs as “science,” and I haven’t had the courage to argue with her yet. I’m afraid my kids could be confused by hearing my husband and I excitedly discuss some new piece of scientific information we’ve learned about, and then hearing my mom describing a pseudoscientific study the same way. We’ve talked with them (our kids) about it, but still. I really must grow a backbone…

  • Justin

    I have told my Parents, my closest friends, and many other people. Although, I’m not entirely public about my Atheism. Now the only real reason for this is that I am soon to be married to a very wonderful girl. And most of her family is fairly, if not very, religious. So I really don’t want anything to spoil the ceremonies. So until then, I am not going to make it extremely known.

    Also, I live in the Bible Belt of America. So, every time I mention it I’m causing a large amount of turmoil.

  • llewelly

    Me: Hi! I’m Noah
    Them: Oh! Like in the Bible
    Me. Ummm…yeah. But I’m not Christian

    That’s entirely the wrong response, Noah. Try this:
    “Yeah, I’m named after the great drunken sailor of christian mythology! Almost as good as Poseidon. Pretty cool, eh?”

  • Gabriel

    Don’t forget that the Noah of the bible had sex with his daughters after the flood.

  • Nick

    Honestly I think if I brought up that I was an atheist to a family member the reaction would be “Oh…ok (what brought that up?)” Religion is not something we have even talked about for many years. However I wont bring it up at work.

  • midwestatheist

    Hmmmm….I don’t get it. What circles is John running in here that he is so frequently coming into contact with people that are uncomfortable when he shares that he is a Christian? I mean, statistically speaking, in any conversation that John might engage in (at least in the U.S.), the other parties are probably Christian too, since approximately 78% of the nation self-identifies as some type of Christian. What gives?

    As for me, I don’t make a point of sharing or hiding my atheism. There really aren’t that many circumstances in which it even needs to be mentioned. If it does seem appropriate to bring up in conversation, I will share my beliefs and viewpoints. I’m not interested in debating or arguing or “converting” though. It’s just not that big of a deal to me. So I’m an atheist, big whoop. I don’t have my whole identity and personhood tied up in a single metaphysical perspective. Some of my family knows, some don’t. Same goes for friends and coworkers. Like I said, if it somehow comes up in conversation, then whoever I’m talking to will know. But there just isn’t any reason to announce it or to hide it. *shrug*

    But I do want to know where John hangs out because I’d love to spend some time in a place where I would have so many opportunities to meet people uncomfortable with Christianity. It would be a refreshing change of pace.

  • Kira

    I don’t make any secret of my atheism. Just about everybody in my life knows about it, and nobody cares. My father is completely apathetic about religion, and my mother is a sort of vague theist. It doesn’t matter to them what I believe, and I’m incredibly glad that I have that kind of parents. If any of my friends are offended by my lack of belief, I don’t know about it. I live in California, so, thankfully, we don’t get quite so many über-religious types here. After the same-sex marriage legalization a few months ago there were a couple of arguments, but that’s the only time religion ever really came up. It’s just not something that’s brought up often.

  • Axegrrl

    I’m wondering how many people who have posted in this thread are in the United States…..

    I ask because in my experience, there’s not nearly as much emphasis on or interest in one’s religious affiliation(s) here in Canada (in large urban centres anyway). My American friends all talk about how, when one meets someone new, one of their first questions is almost always: “what church do you go to?”

    As a Canadian, it’s verrrrrrry interesting watching the U.S. political race ~ EVERY candidate refers to their ‘faith’ at some point in the race, but here in Canada, almost NO candidate brings up religion (theirs or anyone else’s) at all.

    Canada has an ethnic/cultural diversity to rival the U.S.’s ‘melting pot’ (ie Toronto, one of the most culturally diverse cities on the planet) and yet, when it comes to religion, there seems to be a huge difference in terms of how ‘relevant’ it is in the eyes of one’s community.

    It’s a fascinating contrast between two countries that are so similar in so many other ways.

    Oh, and I don’t hide my atheism in any way ~ and in my close circle of friends, about 2/3 are also atheistic and the other third is very ‘specifically’ religious (Christian/Jewish). They’re all extremely intelligent people and we’ve never ever had any ‘issues’ between us because of our disparate beliefs.

  • Justin — do be open about this with your soon-to-be-wife!

  • Eliza

    Me: Hi! I’m Noah
    Them: Oh! Like in the Bible
    Me. Ummm…yeah. But I’m not Christian

    That’s entirely the wrong response, Noah. Try this:
    “Yeah, I’m named after the great drunken sailor of christian mythology! Almost as good as Poseidon. Pretty cool, eh?”

    Guys – hold on a second – Noah-of-the-Bible would have been Jewish, not Christian. (Except, I guess, to Christians who extend honorary Christianity backward to Adam & Eve, which may be more common than I like to think.)

  • Ron in Houston

    For me, it’s the old maxim that you don’t bring up politics or religion if you want to have a civil discussion.

    Heck, I’ve seen conversations turn into Catholic/Protestant smack downs. Besides, as someone said, it’s not how I define myself. I feel no need to talk about it.

  • midwestatheist,

    I live in California, where I think there is far less of a Christian cultural influence than in the Midwest or South. Up until a couple years ago, I lived in Australia for close to a decade, and there was certainly far less of a Christian influence there.

  • Well in South Africa we have a strong Christian culture, but I do talk to a lot of people (especially women) who do not believe anymore. If someone confronts me on it I will state that I am an atheist but otherwise (me and others) will not yet try and stand out in the community. It will definitely affect our relations and kids at school. But like I said I will only take as much fairy tales before stating my opinion as well. As my kids get older I expect my ideas will become more pronounced.

  • chancelikely


    My given name is Christian. The conversation goes like this:

    “Hi! What’s your name?”


    “Are you?”


    Seriously, this didn’t happen when I was a kid. Probably because I grew up in a family that believed that you didn’t talk about religion (or politics).

  • Justin

    Transplanted Lawyer

    I am very open about it with my soon to be wife.

  • Richard Eis

    I usually tell people when necessary, ie when they might be about to put their foot in it. Same with other people who are religious who bring it up so i know about their holiday plans or why they can’t come out and play on Sunday etc…
    It’s more like a social thing where we live and is on par with any other organised social thing. Strange but true.
    I was non-religious till the word atheist really took off. Then i started calling myself a humanist.
    But you have to ask. Or get in my face about going to hell or whatever.

  • MHD

    I’m very clear about being an atheist. Even though my previous job was a bit more unusual for my taste. I had 3 bosses, they were brothers, and very religious. Over lunch we’d often discuss political views and religions. I always had facts to support my statements but they noticed I never had any opinions formed by “the word of god”.

    They would, for example, make it illegal to sell condoms, because their god would make someone pregnant or ill on his whim, not that of some plastic. It was preventing life from being formed or something.

    My reasoning was more along the lines of social and personal consequences for parents that don’t want to be parents. Unwanted children, disease, lawsuits, the lot.

    They weren’t convinced, after all, the big master plan and such would take care of everything, but wondered why I didn’t want to put god in the equation.

    I said: “I don’t have a religion.”
    They said: “Oh.”

    An awkward silence of about 1 minute followed.

    Boss 1: “So. Are you an atheist?”
    Me: “Yes.”
    They said: “Oh.”

    We paid the bill. Stopped having lunches together. And I worked there for another year or so when I quit for unrelated reasons. They never gave me a hard time, but my direct boss did give me a bible on my last workday. With a personal message written inside.

    I appreciate the gesture. But he didn’t appreciate my gift as much.

    “The God Delusion”.

    I was happy it was my last day.

  • Varda

    My Answer is pretty simple.
    People are for the most part stupid, and I don’t have the patience to deal with it.
    So with some of my more distant family members or coworkers, I just don’t mention it. It just saves a headache.

  • Not all Christians are so hesitant. I was at a large amusement park last week, and was surprised at the number of Jesus T-shirts I saw. (I don’t remember the precise number, but it was at least three.)

    One (ordinary-looking) teenage girl was wearing one that said the following:

    Ashamed because of the gospel
    Not ashamed of the gospel

    And I was thinking wow, that’s so messed-up. Here we see religion’s usual message for teens: “Of course religion makes you feel bad about yourself. But it’s not religion’s fault, it’s you.”

    Anyway, I was wishing I had my “Minnesota Atheists” T-shirt which I got a few days later. I might have hesitated to wear it for fear of getting a hostile reaction from strangers (P.Z. joked that it was kind of bright and looks like it has a big target on the chest), but I think I would have worn it anyway if I’d had it.

    In general I don’t bring up religion in a social context (out of politeness), but if someone else brings it up, I am very open about my atheism.

  • Mike

    I haven’t really told my parents yet — my dad is a former pastor, but actually he will probably have the easier time of it (I actually don’t think his beliefs are that much different than mine). I don’t expect any problems, but I’m just waiting for an appropriate moment.

    My wife’s parents are devout Catholics and they have a strong hunch about my atheism but for now will cling to denial about it and keep telling my wife to pray about everything (and I won’t go out of my way to ruffle feathers).

    My biggest worry is that when it comes time for us to have kids, I expect their non-baptism will be heartbreaking for my in-laws. Thankfully, my brother has not had his son baptized and I haven’t heard of any fuss over that from my side of the family.

  • I think Mr. Smulo’s reasons for hesitation are valid for those shy to admit they’re atheists as well.

    Like C.L. Hanson, I see a lot of Christian t-shirts around. I tend to wear t-shirts that poke fun at religion. (I really enjoyed modeling my “I [heart] Satan” t-shirt in front of the praying hands at Oral Roberts University.)

    Atheism is a conversation-stopper. I’ve had people express concern that I’m going to hell or say it changed their opinion of me completely. My mother prays for me and mentions faith at least once per conversation or email.

    I wore my “God Hates Me” t-shirt out of the house yesterday and a formerly friendly neighbor refused to return my greeting. There’s one less person to say hi to, I guess. It must confuse people. I was pretty uncomfortable with the looks I got on the street.

    Even though I don’t walk around telling people I’m atheist, when I wear one of those shirts, I’m passive-aggressively putting it out there. BTW, my husband, an agnostic, bought the God Hates Me t-shirt for me then forgot and was shocked when I wore it and asked me not to wear it out of the house. After the tension I felt yesterday, I may stop wearing it.

  • Dave G

    I’ll say that I’m an atheist if it comes up, but I don’t go looking for reasons to insert it into conversation.

    As for my family and friends, my parents know, as do my siblings. Not so much with the rest of my family, who range from the semi-religious to the downright scary fundamentalist. (One worked for Focus On The Family for a while)

    My friends vary. Some just accept it, and we even have interesting conversations about reason versus faith, etc. One or two will try every so often to convince me I’m wrong, but don’t get too pushy about it.

    And there are a couple who just insist that ‘Atheism is a belief system and therefore just another religion’, and ignore any of my attempts to explain the difference between atheism (the simple disbelief in a god) and say secular humanism, which would qualify as a belief system, if not a religion. In short, they prefer not to have to think about it, and just cling to the simplistic explanations. Considering that an atheist could subscribe to any of a number of belief systems (secular humanism, naturalism, or objectivism, to name a few) as atheism is not a belief system in and of itself isn’t an option for them.

  • stogoe

    My friends either already know or wouldn’t care, but I’m reticent to tell my family because a) my extended family are all very religious, baptist on one side and calvinist on the other, and I fear I’d be hounded/excluded by them to my detriment, and b) I’m comfortable where I am in my relationships with my immediate family, and while I think they’d eventually understand and accept that it’s my choice to make, I don’t want to shift the terrain because who knows where it’ll settle. Still, I can see the day approaching where it’ll come up in conversation and I’ll decide not to skirt the issue any longer. The trick will be selecting the time and place where it can’t become me against the entire extended family, because that’s never a good thing.

    As for work, it’s not relevant in the slightest.

  • my grandparents would be extremely upset by it and there’s no use in upsetting people who are old and dear to me.

    i would tell my parents if they asked, but they haven’t. i’m not going to just shout “i’m an atheist!” over dinner. but i think they already know, so they avoid the subject.

    my fiance is atheist and so is his family, so that makes life easier.

    i am currently living in germany where the believers are the odd ones out, not the atheists. it is a strange contrast to my home country (usa), but nice.

  • Don’t forget that the Noah of the bible had sex with his daughters after the flood.

    Nah, that was Abraham’s nephew Lot. You know, the one who was spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of his righteousness?

    Noah just got drunk and passed out naked, then put a curse on his eldest son for putting a blanket over him.

  • Wes

    Guys – hold on a second – Noah-of-the-Bible would have been Jewish, not Christian. (Except, I guess, to Christians who extend honorary Christianity backward to Adam & Eve, which may be more common than I like to think.)

    Actually, Noah is described in the Bible as living in Ur, which is (if I remember correctly) in modern day Iraq. So he would have been Sumerian (which makes sense, seeing as the Genesis flood myth is adapted directly from the Gilgamesh flood myth). “Jewish” doesn’t really come along until Israel is established, which would have been thousands of years after the time period in which the flood myth is set.

  • Jim

    Those five reasons underlie only ONE real reason: the word “Christian” has a bad connotation because of how many crazies use it! That’s the real problem, here. The solution? Call yourself something else! I think we’d be a lot better off if liberal/moderate/fundy Christians didn’t all share the same label. Being a liberal Christian means that these crazies can say “Well this many percent of people are Christian.” By calling yourself that, you’re supporting the fundies!

  • I don’t hide my atheism from most of my co-workers or my friends. My family is a bit of a different matter.

    My wife’s family is extremely religious (parents are Baptist and young earth creationists). I really like my in-laws and enjoy spending time with them and I don’t want to ruin that (which I think it might). We also have three kids which will complicate things further. It’s not just my soul that is at stake here… I’m risking the afterlife of my three children!

    I know that sooner or later my atheism will come out (I’m not going to lie to them about it) but I’d like to postpone it as long as possible so that my kids don’t get indoctrinated when they are too young.

    My wife used to be what I would call lazy Christian. She’d go to church from time to time and generally “believed” but she’d never spent much time thinking about it nor had she ever read the Bible. When my conversion started I began to point out things that were in the Bible and she’s definitely moving away from belief too. That isn’t going to help with the in-law situation…

  • My sister and wife-to-be (in two weeks) both know, and at least one coworker knows.

    I might consider telling my dad since he’s married to a Unitarian lady; even though he was raised Christian, I think he’d at least be understanding.

    My mom and brother are a completely different story. My mom’s faith is hyper-intellectualized, so I’d never hear the end of why I’m wrong and Christianity is right, and I worry she would get emotional and make it into something I’m doing to her. My brother has swallowed the propaganda from a borderline cult church, and while I think he still might be more receptive to the news, I have no idea who he would tell.

    The other thing is in my high school I was a bit of a “spiritual leader”. I helped lead worship in chapel services and I led two bible study groups, and *everyone* I knew raved about how spiritual and awe-inspiring my faith was, so I really kind of fear the backlash from every well-meaning former friend trying to re-evangelize me, as if I just happened to miss something crucial the first time around.

  • Noah-of-the-Bible would have been Jewish

    Actually the label “Jew” comes from the tribe of Judah and post-dates the scattering of the tribes of Israel.

    Not to mention, the nation of Israel is, according to the Bible, composed of direct descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson who changed his name to Israel after losing a wrestling match with God (but only after God cheated).

    And according to Genesis Jacob was born several hundred years after Noah.

    So yeah, there’s no way Noah could have been Jewish, or even Hebrew.

  • ubi dubius

    Noah was a Southern Baptist, like all good folks.

  • Steven

    I think the fact that I haven’t been to church (aside from weddings and funereals) for almost 30 years might be a clue – yet most of the people who know me have no idea that I’m an atheist.

    My wife knows of course, and I think my Dad shares similar views plus my teammate at work is aware of it since I visit atheist websites on my lunch break.

    I’d like to keep it from my team lead who is a born-again Christian and a terrific guy. I’d hate to have him worry about me going to hell.
    For the same reason I haven’t mentioned it to other family members as it would only upset them and I don’t need the aggravation.
    None of them are all that devout anyway. Ironically, my mom finds folks who are “too religious” really irritating.
    Sadly, I don’t have any grandparents to worry about upsetting – unless of course I’m completely wrong and they’re looking down from heaven right now and getting really ticked off.

  • Durandal

    Why don’t I openly tell everyone about my atheism? Probably because, where I live, it can legally punished with torture and death. But hey, I guess all us baby-eating devil worshippers deserve it, right?

    I mean, I’ve told some people, of course, but only because I was young and dumb and my school is actually fairly liberal in its view on religion.

    I still wish I didn’t have to lie.

  • TXatheist

    If I think my atheist stance will be used against me I remain quiet. If it’s with people that don’t care about me then I don’t mind exposing my atheism since they don’t care about me anyway why should I care about hiding it. I guess being near Austin I can be pretty open about it. I do feel for the other Texans who don’t live in a city as progressive as Austin because the rest of Texas is pretty darn conservative.

  • Jason

    Nothing keeps me from getting ass in Texas more effectively than being an atheist. So, I would have to lie about being an atheist and playing along the same Christian that they are. By that, of course, I mean somebody who says they love Jesus, but lives life without any regard to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible.

    But a bit ironic that getting nailed by an atheist is somehow different from getting nailed by a Christian, in regards to the girl following the anti premarital sex rules.

  • midwestatheist

    John Smulo said:

    I live in California, where I think there is far less of a Christian cultural influence than in the Midwest or South. Up until a couple years ago, I lived in Australia for close to a decade, and there was certainly far less of a Christian influence there.

    Well, John, it seems I need to move! ; )
    I have to say, I’m not really understanding what situations you are in that your religious beliefs even need to be mentioned. It seems it happens frequently enough that you have been able to spot a trend and put together a list of reasons why you are afraid to share that you are a Christian. I’ve been an atheist for approximately 10 years, and in that time I have felt it appropriate to mention my atheism in conversation with family/friends/coworkers/acquaintances perhaps only a couple of times per year. That is, at most, 24 chances over roughly a third of my lifetime for me to bring a conversation to a grinding halt, communicate something other than what I mean, lose friends, and provoke hurt or anger. And all of those things have happened. But sharing my atheism has also provoked surprise, fascination, curiosity, and kinship. So I have had the full range of experiences, just not that frequently because there are so few opportunities for it to even come up.

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t hide or proclaim my atheism. I mean, really, who cares that I am an atheist? How often is it really relevant in my dealings and relationships with other people? In the grand scheme of things, not often. Perhaps that is why I have no expectation that others should be comfortable with my lack of religious/god belief.

    I hope that you will ask yourself some possibly tough questions: Do I expect the people around me to be comfortable with or to care about my christianity? If so, is that perhaps an entitled or presumptuous perspective to have? In the past, how often has it been really necessary to reference my religious beliefs in conversation with my coworkers? neighbors? acquaintances (potential friends)? family? friends? Do I consider my religious belief relevant to all of my relationships in life? Should it be? How important to me is the label “christian”? Should it even be that important? And, if I treat people with compassion and respect, does it matter whether or not they know that I am a christian?

    I am not trying to single you out or make you uncomfortable, John. It is actually my hope that other christians will ask themselves the same questions and that the atheists reading this post will do so also, obviously inserting “atheism” in place of “christianity”. Personally, I think it can only be to everyone’s benefit if we all move away from the idea that we are each among a victimized (a)religious minority. Hopefully, asking ourselves these sorts of questions can help us do so.

    Okay, out of time. I apologize for the lengthy post.

  • Amy Black

    Great question!
    I hid my atheism from my immediate family as long as I could, which was about 5 months. The intense stress of living two lives landed me in the hospital and that was my wake-up call that hiding it wasn’t worth the stress.

    Most of my friends knew and were rooting for me by the time I told my family. It’s a source of shame for my mom. I doubt she has even told her friends. She’s devestated because she thinks I’m gong to hell. My friends, even my christian friends, and I openly discuss my atheism with no problem.

    My immediate family prefers not to talk about it ever and we have an agreement not to let my extended family find out. There’s no reason to give my grandparents a heart attack and add stress to their lives when they only have a maximum of 20 years left anyway.

  • I wouldn’t say I hide my atheism at all – Since most, if not all, of my friends know that I am an atheist. It is plastered all over my blog and is also on my Facebook and MySpace pages. But I also don’t go around telling everyone I meet about my religious views – Mainly because I don’t like it when others do it to me. If anyone asks for my opinion on religious matters, I will tell them I am an atheist…. Actually, I guess I tend to use the term “non-religious” rather than “atheist” in most face-to-face instances. This is due to the negative connotations that many people associate with atheism.

    There are a few cases where the subject of my non-belief never comes up. First, I never mention my political and/or religious views when teaching since I see that as very inappropriate – especially since they have nothing to do with computer programming, robotics or control systems.

    Second, I also never discuss religion in the workplace unless I know I am with like-minded individuals. This is both because I know most of the people around me are religious and I also know I wouldn’t like people to discuss their religious beliefs with me at work.

    Finally, I have never and will never mention my atheism in front of my maternal grandparents. I just see no reason to upset my 80+ year old grandparents by making them think I am going to hell.

    In conclusion, if someone has a major problem with me being an atheist and that results in me losing a friend or a potential job opportunity, I won’t be particularly upset. The friend was obviously not a true friend and I probably wouldn’t enjoy working somewhere that judges me based on my non-religious views.

    I shall now stop rambling……

  • I’m somewhat out. Most people online know, my siblings know. My inlaws and I don’t really discuss it, but I think my husband referred to me as an agnostic when we met 10 years ago. Some of my real life friends know, others don’t. The friends I spend time with the most now are a group of pretty strong Catholics (church every week, kids go to Catholic schools). I’ve made comments such as “I’m not religious, but…” but that’s about as far as I’ve gone. Part of it with me is my kids. I don’t want my kids to be affected by my stance. I don’t think this group of friends (we all have kids the same age) would kick us to the curb, but who knows. I’m also my daughters Girl Scout leader, and I definitely haven’t come out there. Unfortunately, Cincinnati is a pretty conservative area, and it’s enough that I occasionally wear my Obama shirt out! I’ll wear my liberalism on my sleeve (literally), but I’m not ready to wear my atheism the same way.

  • My grandparents are the only two people in my life that are unaware of my Atheism – they’re both Christian fundamentalists and, while I’ll admit my resistance to coming out to them is tinged by a bit of fear over their reaction, it’s mostly rooted in the fact that they are both very, very old and I simply can’t see the purpose in causing them such stress this late in their lives.

    If asked I wouldn’t lie to them, but I doubt they’ll risk their comfort to query.


  • lolol.

    My friends know this because they’re younger and they know I’ll spit them if they try to push Christianity up my derriere. Oh, and they accept it better. 🙂

    I’m not a full-Atheist yet, so I guess I’m Agnostic. I haven’t told my family and my cousin thinks I’m Agnostic-leaning-more-towards-Christianity (as in I still fully believe in God). I hesitate to tell them because..well I’m not sure how to explain this.
    They aren’t total hard-core Catholics. I dont think alot of Asians are. But we never miss a Sunday church thing, and when we have family over, we usually have this long prayer thing so that my ancestors are sure to be in Heaven. And it’s respectful. I don’t want to tell them though, because I know they wouldn’t accept it very well and might say things such as “You’re only a teenager, you don’t know anything, God will punish you, etc.” And I just don’t have the courage to disappoint them.

  • We’re out to friends and family, but we hide it in general (and protect our identities on the internet) for one reason, and one reason only: the next time SurferJesus’ ex takes us to court for custody of our daughter, it will count against us. We’re bible belters and yeah, it WILL count against.

    Our daughter knows we don’t believe in god/gods/whatever, but we don’t really use the A word…knowing what we think is more important than what cubby we fit into.

    That’s about it really.

  • AV

    I’m an English teacher. Being openly atheist would narrow my job prospects significantly.

    I don’t like it, and I don’t like the fact that the Australian government endorses discrimination against non-believers in partially taxpayer-funded religious schools (by not making the funding conditional upon the removal of discriminatory hiring policies). But there it is.

  • Maria

    I hide it b/c of all the grief I’d get living with conservative religious people

  • RobertP

    I’ve been slowly coming out as an atheist. I think I have been hesitant to tell some people because of how my parents reacted to my coming out as a gay man (it was a horrifically cliched event; filled with yelling and emotions, etc.). My closest friends have known for years, but this past week I decided to make a push to be more open and honest about it with everyone in my life. For the first stage, I posted a “note” on facebook explaining the basics of why I’m an atheist / Bright / humanist (re-posted here at Atheist Nexus). It has garnered a relatively positive reception, with very few friends saying “Jesus still loves you!”. In fact, a couple of friends confided in me that they are atheists too and are comforted by my coming out. 🙂

  • llewelly


    Guys – hold on a second – Noah-of-the-Bible would have been Jewish, not Christian. (Except, I guess, to Christians who extend honorary Christianity backward to Adam & Eve, which may be more common than I like to think.)

    My apologies. I did not intend to imply that Noah was Christian. I said he was a figure of Christian mythology because he is in the sense that Christians inherited / plagiarized the myth from the Jews. Perhaps I should have said ‘Old Testament mythology’?

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