How Did You Come Out as an Atheist? February 24, 2011

How Did You Come Out as an Atheist?

Reader Brian was in the middle of a mission trip five years ago when he realized he was an atheist.

Since he had no other way to tell the people close to him what was really on his mind, he sent them an email.

Was it the best way to come out? Who knows. But it’s brutally honest and it gets right to the point — kind of a “take me or leave me” attitude:

People I Know:

I write this letter with no small amount of trepidation. Given the majority of my mailing audience, I have no doubt that I will receive a lot of responses. Please try to keep this to a minimum. I don’t like communicating this way because of the confusion and loss of meaning that comes with the written word. It is because of a friends insistence, and my own feeling that you have a right to know, that I tell you now instead of waiting until I get home, as I had originally planned. I know some of you will be hurt by the fact that I didn’t tell you sooner. *shrugs* I did what I thought was right at the time.

For a while now, about a month before I left for Florida, I had a sense of growing doubt. This was nothing new to me and I certainly did not think it important enough to call off my trip. It was about small things, the kind of things only an extremely analytical person such as myself would care about.

Things like contradictions between the Resurrection accounts, the inefficacy of the letter-style of the New Testament, and the inefficacy of the entire book of Revelation.

Training in Florida did not absolve any of these issues. If anything, the ‘Christian’ environment only served to heighten the problem. I prayed and read the Bible and sought Christian fellowship, to no avail. When I arrived in Romania, I felt a darkness that I have told some of you about. It can be likened unto an immense burdening of the soul. A feeling of being overwhelmed by evil, washed in it, beyond missing friends or home. I am not an emotional guy, yet I spent several nights crying for the burden I felt.

I cracked. I had the gun against my head, and I cracked. I turned to alcohol. It’s cheap and legal here and it has granted me the only moments of peace I had felt in quite some time. Alcohol is not evil; it’s what you turn alcohol into and what you use it for that may be evil.

Then doubts began pouring in like a flood. The injustice of the Atonement, the injustice of damning good people to hell because they didn’t believe, the injustice of the Mosaic Law, the injustice of some of God’s commands to the Israelites, either the lack of care or lack of power God displays by allowing atrocities like genocide in Sudan and Rwanda and the Congo to continue, his lack of care for sex-slaves in Colombia and starving orphans in Romania and the Jews that died during the Holocaust. Above all these, though, was one thought: God not only abandoned me, he was never with me in the first place.

He never gave me power against temptation. He never helped me resist lust for flesh or alcohol or violence. Not once have I seen the power of his kingdom manifest in my life. The closest thing I have seen to it is *name removed*, and this one exception can be written off as psychology. Every time temptation came, I held on by my nails. Through my own strength of will I succeeded against and by my own weakness of will I fell to it.

What choice did I have? A man may defy his mind if his heart is into it. He may defy his heart if his mind is into it. But a man cannot defy both mind and heart, and that’s precisely what I would be doing if I clung to faith in Jesus.

So write me. Show love. Show hate. Act like you’ve never met me. Whatever you do, know this: I am, and always will be, true to myself.

Peace,
[Brian]

Brian says the responses he got ranged from a friend who was “proud that I had stood up for what I had believed in” to the group of Christians who told him “it’s not too late to turn back to God and away from hellfire.” In any case, I don’t think Brian regrets what he did.

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Dan Barker wrote a similar letter (via snail mail) to his close friends and family when he needed to come clean about his godlessness.

If they wanted to tell people they were an atheist now, I imagine they could just post a note on Facebook.

To those of you who once came out as an atheist to a number of people all at once, what did you say? Do you still have that note, letter, or email?

Feel free to post your message below. Maybe it can serve as a template for others who will one day come out to their friends and family.

"Don't sell yourself short. You're a tremendous slouch!"

Ark Encounter Ticket Sales Continued to ..."
"I am sorry. But no spiderman song holds a candle to this.https://www.youtube.com/wat..."

Right-Wing Pastor Says His Prayers Killed ..."
""This thing that has been an absolute and complete sham, proves my thing that is ..."

Dominionist Pastor: QAnon’s Conspiracies “Confirmed the ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • sven

    Wow, that is a powerful story. Big respect for Brain.
    I was born an atheist so that was my outing right there.

  • DeafAtheist

    I was 18 years old, a senior in high school. I was studying with a group of friends which included my girlfriend at the time, her best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend. I don’t remember how it came up but somehow the subject of God came up and my girlfriend who was a devout Christian asked me if I believed in God. I told her, “No, I don’t. I am an atheist.” That was the 1st time I had ever told anyone I was an atheist.

    At the time I didn’t know anyone else who was an atheist. This was fall of 1993 so I didn’t have the online atheist networks for any support or anything. Everyone I knew was a Christian. Some devout, some not, but all believers nonetheless.

    Needless to say the news devastated my girlfriend and caused problems in our relationship. She tried to push me to believe by giving me tracts and shit like that. I truly loved her so I made an effort to trying to see her point of view but I just couldn’t.

    We eventually broke up over something personal that is unrelated to religious differences, but if it wasn’t for that personal issue the religious differences would have eventually caused us to break up… in fact we got back together years later and the religious differences WAS the cause of our final break up.

    After high school she went to a bible college and studied for a career in ministry and married her college boyfriend. She left him, got back together with me for a couple years and then we broke up again due to religious differences as I mentioned above. We had a child together tho and I am currently raising him myself with sole custody.

  • Dan

    Well done to Brian.

    I’m always intrigued by these stories, as being a Brit means that being an atheist is pretty much normal. There is no ‘coming out’. You either believe something or you don’t and no one cares either way. But I understand how difficult it can be to be an atheist in a mainly religious country, especially when you’re life is deep in the religious community.

    I hope more people will find the strength to admit their doubts.

  • I told my wife and close friends in person about my deconversion, but then I posted a note on Facebook and my blog, and sent it as an email to all my other friends and acquaintances. Here it is:

    An open letter to those who know me
    What I am about to say may well surprise some of you. It may even shock some of you. However, it is important to me that I am honest with you and that I don’t live a lie just to spare people’s feelings.

    No, I’m not coming out of the closet as a gay man. I remain firmly heterosexual and happily married. Rather, I am coming out of the closet as an unbeliever. After more than twenty years of Christian belief, theological study and religious activism, I have examined the evidence for God and found it lacking. I now believe that there is almost certainly no God.

    This is not a decision that I have reached lightly. I didn’t suddenly wake up and think to myself, “I don’t think I’ll bother to believe any more.” Rather, it has taken me years to arrive at this point. Trust me when I say that a lot of thinking, agonising and soul-searching went into this before I finally let go of my belief in God. One does not abandon one’s faith lightly and for no good reason.

    Perhaps I need to clear up a few possible misconceptions at this point, and explain what is not behind my new position of unbelief.

    1. I am not an unbeliever because I am bitter at the church or its members. I have met many lovely people who confess Christian faith and belong to the church, and I have many fond memories of my time as part of that system. I was bitter once, but no more. Even if I was still bitter at the church, that would not have coloured my opinion about God. I remained a strong believer long after I left the institutional church.

    2. I am not in rebellion against God, or angry at him. Rather, I no longer believe such a being even exists. How can I be in rebellion against someone who isn’t real?

    3. I am not leaving my former faith behind in order to justify living a life of sin. My moral framework is just as strong as it always has been. I am not about to start being unfaithful to my wife, taking illegal drugs or worshipping Satan now that I am an unbeliever.

    Basically, I decided to question my beliefs and see which ones stood up to questioning and which ones didn’t. I thought initially that this would strengthen my faith, but as I began to see parts of it not holding up under scrutiny, I determined to follow the evidence honestly, no matter where it led. In the end it led me out of the Christian faith as more and more of what I believed failed to stand up to scrutiny.

    So why was I a Christian in the first place? The simplest answer is that I was brought up in a nominally Christian family, in a nominally Christian culture. I was sent to Sunday School as a child, and the existence of God was just one of the unquestioned cultural beliefs I assimilated as a child. So was the truth of Christianity. Even my conversion experience later on didn’t so much mark a new discovery about God or Christianity as it did an affirmation that I believed these things to be true. I’m sure that if I had been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, I would have held the same unquestioning convictions about the truth of Islam and the existence of Allah. My belief in God and faith in Christ and Christianity was based not on evidence, but on indoctrination by those who had, in their turn, been indoctrinated with the same beliefs and assumptions.

    When I actually tried to find proof of God’s existence, even though I tried all sorts of ways to justify my belief, I could find no actual evidence that any deity has ever existed. I asked myself why I don’t believe in Allah, Krishna, Zeus or Baal, and then applied the same logic to the god of the Bible. Basically, I could find no evidence for any of them. Surely if there is an all-powerful God, there would be some clear evidence of his existence. Certainly if he is personally concerned with humanity and loves us, as the Bible claims, then he would make his existence obvious to us. He has not done so.

    Then there is the question of prayer. Jesus said in the Bible that whatever we ask for, if we believe, God will give us. He also said that where two of us on earth agree about something we ask, it will be done by our Father in heaven. Well, I have prayed fervent, faithful prayers all my life, both alone and with others. I have prayed with faith in Jesus’ name. I have prayed for healings that have not happened, for ends to wars that nevertheless continue to rage, and for many other things. Yet I have seen no results of these prayers beyond those that could be attributed to random chance. If there is a God, he is very good at ignoring prayer.

    I have asked God many times to show himself to me if he is real, but he has not done so. Yes, I was praying fervently, with faith and hope – I really wanted God to be real, and my Christian faith to be true. Even now, were God to reveal himself to me in an unambiguous way, I would immediately renounce my unbelief and serve him whatever the cost. I’m not going to hold my breath in anticipation of that happening, though.

    Those of you who are Christians and know me from church or Bible College will no doubt be shocked, upset, surprised or disappointed by this news. If I have hurt or offended you in any way by this confession of unbelief, I am truly sorry. I am not your enemy, and I do not seek to de-convert you or turn you away from your faith if it works for you. I am happy to engage in discussion with you on this or any other matter, or just to spend time with you socially as a friend, but please understand that I have no desire to re-join your religion as I no longer share your beliefs.

    To those of you whom I have tried to indoctrinate into Christianity, whose “souls” I have tried to save, I sincerely and humbly apologise. Please understand that I was doing what I sincerely thought was right at the time, however misguided I was.

    Those of you who have already left religious faith behind, or never had it in the first place, may find all this a bit perplexing. To you religion may be a non-issue, but for someone coming out of strong religious faith into unbelief it is a hugely difficult, emotive, traumatic experience. To those of you with whom I have had discussions (sometimes until well into the early hours) about faith, unbelief and philosophy, I am grateful. Thanks for helping me to think these issues through, and thank you particularly for being patient and respectful while not trying to push me into believing your point of view.

    I am well aware that while some of you may applaud my decision to “come out” as an unbeliever, some of you will disapprove or even condemn me for it. However, to steal the words of Martin Luther and apply them to a context of which he would surely never have approved: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

  • @sven we’re all born an atheist. it’s the natural mental default. It’s more about how your raised and indoctrinated.

    I was raised completely secular by a very fundamental Christian mother. I don’t have many important people in my life so the only person I really had to come out to was my mother. I did when I was about 15 I think. I think I did it by bringing up the topic of the definition of atheism according to this old dictionary we had lying around. It defined atheism as the denial of God’s existence. So I came out to her by challenging this definition and stating that I wasn’t denying God’s existence any more than she was denying Allah or Zeus’s existence.

  • Noble 6

    I’ve never come out as an atheist per se to my family. I did write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper several years ago lambasting a creationist ignoramus and this served as a public notification that I was not the good little fundamentalist that I had been raised to be.

    I certainly don’t hide the fact I’m an atheist, I just don’t bring it up. If they asked me, I would tell them.

    As an interesting anecdote related to this subject at hand, I met this young woman a few weeks ago at a social function where there was alcohol being served. We started a pleasant conversation. I could see that she had a tattoo on her foot in a foreign language so I asked her what it said. Her answer: “In the hands of God.”

    Not wanting to be rude, I smiled and said, “That’s nice.”

    She then asked me if I believed in God. I said no.

    In a hurt manner she then asked: “Well what do you really think of my tattoo?”

    I answered honestly: “I can appreciate it on a symbolic level.”

    The next thing I know she is in the ladies room bawling.

    (To be fair here, I think this illustrates how some people get emotional due to imbibing alcohol as much as it does about attitudes toward atheists, but it is interesting nevertheless.)

  • Thaddeus

    I told my sisters before my parents. I figured they’d be more receptive & that it’d me much easier to tell them first. My parents (mom especially) weren’t thrilled, as they’ve been practicing Catholics since childhood.

  • sven

    @Larry Meredith

    we’re all born an atheist. it’s the natural mental default. It’s more about how your raised and indoctrinated.

    I know 🙂
    I was just being a smart-ass

  • jose

    Americans are so peculiar.

  • I “came out” as an atheist via this blog post which I also posted on Facebook. I felt it a little less “in your face” than sending it via email.

  • The first time I publicly declared I was an atheist was a blog post I had written in late 2004. Back then, I knew nothing about objective vs. relative morality, any atheistic arguments, logical fallacies, or anything of the sort.

    http://terranrich.easyjournal.com/entry.aspx?eid=2366572

    A lot of it assumes the premise that the Christian god exists, so it tends to sound like I’m a believer, but I come right out in the 2nd paragraph: “I am an atheist.”

    I forgot that I had come out so early and only re-discovered this blog post a few weeks ago. Thank the FSM for the Internet. 🙂

  • Props to Brian. Brian rocks.

    I came out to my family before the internet, so it was over the phone, followed by some face to face conversations. This was when I was brand new to the movement, very immature and unaware. I wish I had recorded some of those conversations.

    Then a few years later, after doing a lot of research on Atheism, I came out again, this time to what were probably dozens of people, who were watching the first episode of the Atheist Experience tv show. I was the host, and I took that opportunity, towards the end of the show, to come out to the people of Austin. That got recorded and is on Youtube now. 🙂

    I have never regretted leaving religion, and I’ll tell anyone, anytime, that getting away from religion will help them, and the rest of humanity.

  • Alexius

    I plan to come out to my dad’s Catholic family when I get married by very pointedly not having any mention of god whatsoever. It’s always fun with them when they say grace to keep my eyes open and see who else does. Mostly just the little kids, but I saw my aunt just standing there too once.

  • TychaBrahe

    I didn’t “come out” as an atheist because it doesn’t seem to me that I need to come out about it. There’s lots of things about me that the average person in my life doesn’t know, and I don’t go around announcing it.

    Some people know that I was born on Camp Pendleton, but fewer know that I lived in Philadelphia while my father was in Viet Nam. If a discussion of accents comes up, I will mention it, because I have a Philadelphia accent.

    I went to a ritzy Chicago private school. I hated it and have nothing to do with it. I have an AA degree in computer technology I picked up after dropping out of the Aerospace Engineering program at USC post Challenger disaster. I was tying to figure out what to do with my life. There’s not much call for people to manage DOS’s high and extended memory regions, so it doesn’t usually come up.

    I will discuss it if it comes up in conversation. I’m not trying to hide it. My mother and sister were specifically told because they are the ones who keep trying to get me to go to synagogue. I’m assuming it’s obvious to the people I hang out with at the CFI and Skeptics meetings. I do bring it up when people make statements linking patriotism and religion, because I belong to a number of pro-military groups. I think it’s as important there as “coming out” about being a Democrat and pro-marriage equality to my anti-illegal immigration movement friends.

    But atheism, to me, is less a thing about me than a thing not about me. I am not religious. I don’t believe. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about how I don’t ride horses or don’t follow football or don’t live in Seattle or don’t listen to popular music. I talk about the things I do and am interested in: cats, rhythmic gymnastics, talk radio, Southern California, science, our local library, crocheting.

  • I never did anything nearly so official. There wasn’t much reason to. I haven’t had any friends that were that religious since high school, so it was never that big of a deal. My mom was the only dread for me. She knew I wasn’t religious, but didn’t know that I had stopped believing entirely when I was pretty young.

    I came out to my mom when I was 30 during a rather heated discussion regarding evolution. She kept going on about the bible and god and I kind of blurted out: “good grief mom, I stopped believing in god not long after I stopped believing in Santa!”. The discussion went downhill from there and she tried to guilt me into taking it back, which I did not do.

    All in all, it worked out ok. As it turned out, the only person in my family (aside from mom) that reacted badly was the one person I thought would actually be supportive. Funny how that happens.

    My mom has gotten over the shock and our relationship did survive and she doesn’t push the matter…much.

    My atheism hasn’t been a secret in my personal life since I can’t remember when. It’s never been a big deal to me and I’ve never made much, if any, effort to keep it secret. It’s part of who I am.

    I commend Brian for showing such courage in what was undoubtedly a very scary situation. Showing that kind of honesty can leave one feeling naked and that’s not easy. Kudos.

  • Jeremy

    I did mine by email. My wife already knew that I wanted to stop attending church because I no longer believed, but the email was to the church leaders, my closest friends, and my siblings and father. I found it much easier to write my thoughts than say them verbally, especially at an emotional time. And it gave them time to compose their thoughts into a response.

    I started like this:

    I’ve been putting this off for quite a while but [my wife] convinced me it’s time to let everyone know, and that it would be better if you heard it from me than second-hand. I’ve decided to stop attending [church name], or in fact any church, for the foreseeable future. This has absolutely nothing to do with [church name] or anyone in its congregation; it is strictly personal.

    I then went on to briefly explain that I no longer considered doubt to be an enemy and that I could no longer reconcile the things I knew to be true with what my faith demanded that I accept. I also emphasized that I still wanted to be friends with everyone, and everyone was still just as welcome in my home as ever before.

    I think when revealing something like this it’s really important to not be confrontational or to go looking for a fight. For that reason I wouldn’t have included the final paragraph of Brian’s letter. I would save that for when/if someone tries to argue with or persuade me to change my mind.

  • tim

    I never understood the whole needing to publicly and loudly “come out”. When asked if I believe in God or go to church I kindly explain I don’t believe. If asked if I’m married – I generally make a snarky remark along the lines of “my boyfriend may have a problem with that.”

    There is not long letters, crying, or other bullshit that goes along with that whole process.

    For those over the years that can’t deal with the fact that I’m gay or an athiest (and there have been a few including my closest friend from school) – well guess what – we don’t talk to each any more and we’ve both made new friends.

  • I came out to everyone this past Christmas. I created a website at http://leftchristianity.wordpress.com/ to explain why I chose to leave Christianity after 20 years as a devoted believer. I included a short explanation of my journey and a link to my website in our annual family Christmas letter. I also posted that letter on my facebook page. I didn’t hear back from too many people and the ones I did hear from were either encouraging or just expressed some level of concern. Everyone was decent and respectful. I was nervous about doing it but I’m glad I did. It’s nice not feeling like I’m hiding anything.

  • Kev

    My coming out was messy. It was Christmas, 2005, I was at my sister’s,who is an evangelical. After consuming a great deal of wine, she stood up too fast, got dizzy and immediately fell to the floor. Before I knew it half the room was on their knees, nattering on about how she had been touched by the hand of god.

    Usually I just chuckle to myself,but this time I guess that I’d had enough and said that there was no hand of god,she is just falling down drunk. I was immediately accused of not being a good christian, to which I replied that thankfully I’m an atheist and not a christian anyways.

    And there you have it.

  • I’m a second generation atheist so I didn’t need to come out to family or close friends. I did “come out” to all my red-state high-school classmates (in 1979) by wearing a tee-shirt that said “I swear to God I’m an Atheist”. I thought it was kind of clever. My best friend also came out at the same time wearing a tee-shirt of his own. He chose “Atheists Unite”. It caused quite a stir back then. Perhaps it wouldn’t cause so much now. I did get quite a bit of attention from several classmates after that in trying to save me. This led to many interesting and humorous conversations. Interestingly, with Facebook, I’m now “friends” with many of my old high-school classmates and the same group of folks are still talking “Jesus this, Jesus that” just like they did back then although no one has directed their evangelism directly towards me (like they did in high-school).

  • Mihoda

    @Larry

    How did that letter go over?

  • By the time I realized that I didn’t believe in god anymore, much of my inner-circle of Christian friends had moved to Texas, so I sent them a message on facebook.

    If you are reading this message, then you are a person who played a role in my becoming a Christian. This is really hard for me to tell you, but I feel like I am being dishonest if I keep it to myself, so I am just going to blurt it out.

    I am not a Christian anymore; I am an atheist.

    I can’t really explain how it happened. I just had a lot of doubts about things that seemed inconsistent or false to me. The more questions I had, the more questions I found. Eventually, the doubts just piled up and I had to ask myself some tough questions about whether or not everything I believed was really true. I came to the conclusion that it is probably not.

    At first, I considered myself agnostic, in the purest sense of “not knowing.” But as the weeks went on, I started to realize that I really don’t believe in anything.

    It was hard for me to deal with the loss, because it is a loss. A loss of a god that I believed was a part of my life, a loss of the culture I had been a part of, a loss of the music I had been listening to, and other losses yet to be realized.

    Right now I am going through a period of figuring out who I am and how to live life and make good, moral decisions in a world with no god. It’s really exciting and fascinating, not scary and bleak, as I feared it would be.

    I wanted to just keep this to myself, but when I found myself privately telling a friend of mine that knows not to mention anything about it on facebook, I realized that I was sort of living a double life and I don‘t want to do that. I want to always be true to myself no matter how scary it is.

    I sent this via facebook because I do not know everyone’s e-mail address. Bear in mind, if you reply to this, everyone who received it will see the reply.

    I still love you guys and consider you good friends.

    Peace,

    Charity

    One friend e-mailed back right away, saying that it was obvious I was in pain and needed someone to talk to (or else why would I even think about leaving Christianity). I actually hadn’t been through anything painful, which was the funny thing.

    One friend e-mailed back that she was having doubts, too, and coming home for a visit. That was awesome.

    But the hardest part was the silence. No one else said anything. Not. One. Word.

    That hurt.

  • Jeremy

    @ tim:

    It depends on your situation. If you’d spent 15 years preaching in Christian churches as I had, it’s a pretty big life change to stop attending and stop believing. Since family and friends were going to learn anyway, I wanted them to hear it from me, and an explanation as to why. I wanted to make it clear that I didn’t leave church because I had a fight with someone, I left because I stopped believing in the basic premise.

  • Tina in Houston

    I was never a Christian as a child or young adult. The Christ story just seemed too unbelievable to be real. In fact, I remember being embarrassed for my very religious relatives that they believed these stories like a child believes in Santa Claus. I kept quiet and nominally believed in a Higher Power for years.

    With access to the Internet and to others who felt the same as me I let go of the higher power and self identified as an atheist in 2004, about the time my father died. It was bad timing and everyone in my family noticed that I was not comfortable with all the Jesus talk before, during and after my father’s death. It was horrible how they treated me and I’m still shunned from them to this day.

    I’m actually much better mentally without them. I have no room for such hateful people in my life.

    OTOH, when I out myself with friends and acquaintances, whenever the subject comes up (rarely), no one has reacted badly or discontinued our friendship. There have been some very interesting conversations though…

  • all my family and closest friends are agnostics, pagans or atheists. so there was no big coming out moment for me. i went to divinity school to study the history of religion, but even though i took plenty of theology and faith-based courses, none of the religious belief parts of those ever “took” nor was i pressured to believe even by my faithful peers and instructors.
    i wasn’t as militant about my atheism until the Bush era, which demonstrated to me the need for more vocal, militant atheists in our society and political discourse. so i’ve spent much more time writing about atheism than i ever would have if the religious had acted decently and kept their faith out of government. so in a way, fundamentalist christians made me the atheist i am today, and perhaps even a few more who have been convinced or given doubt about faith by my work.

  • Douglas Kirk

    I donated money to the freedom from religion foundation. They sent a freethought newsletter to my parent’s address; my mom found it and went berserk. I’d been an atheist for a while, but had never told anyone. She started asking me why I wanted to attack God and eventually asked if I even believed in God. I won’t lie to someone’s face about something not life or death, so I answered truthfully.

    That lead to literally weeks of my parents using every guilt trip in the book to get me back under the fold including my father telling me that he would rather I told him I was gay. [My father, by the way, has said repeatedly to me (before he found out I was an atheist anyway) that he felt gay people were sick, should be sterilized and put in mental health facilities or prisons away from normal society. So it wasn’t exactly a laughing matter.] Eventually they gave up after I successfully refuted every one of thier arguments, imploring me to go talk to a priest about it as if I’d never thought about doing that. I said I would if they came too and just listened. They’ve never taken me up on that offer.

    I promised them that i would not tell the rest of the family until I had a place of my own (should have a place now but the job market is kind of awful in MI, so I’m stuck home), and they asked that I not let my 10 year old brother know that I’m an atheist. because he looks up to me and I need to set a good example. That’s where I am right now, basically; with bi-monthly arguments where my dad will say something snide, “What do you want for christmas? Do atheists even celebrate christmas? Well of course you do; you’d want the free present.” and I’ll as politely as I can call him on it and he’ll get blustery. Biding my time and keeping my head down during family prayers until I can finish my degree and move out.

  • @Brian
    “What choice did I have? A man may defy his mind if his heart is into it. He may defy his heart if his mind is into it. But a man cannot defy both mind and heart, and that’s precisely what I would be doing if I clung to faith in Jesus.”

    That’s a fantastic way of putting it! Is that an adaptation of something particular you read, or original so far as you know? I want to give proper credit when I quote it in the future.

  • Tim

    I never came out to any big groups. Basically I just talked to friends and family as it came up. I made sure that I never made it out to be a big deal. It was just another part of me.

  • @Tim

    I never understood the whole needing to publicly and loudly “come out”.

    A lot of people say that, and I understand that view. But for those of us who were raised in very devout, conservative religious homes, it is more of an issue.

    Since grade school I was in church at least four times a week, often more. I was ushered into participating in everything from bible drill to choir to foreign mission trips to Christian bands.

    My childhood and early adulthood was defined by church. That’s why those of us from that background feel like we need to “come out.” We need to say “I am not that person any more, and here’s why.”

  • Antigone

    I wrote this in a note on my Facebook page. It got me the enmity of my parents, but, oddly, most of my evangelical friends praised me for writing it and sharing my views with them. My parents aren’t hardly religious at all and they refuse to talk to me ever again over it:

    When people ask me how long I’ve been an atheist, I usually say ‘about two years’. When they ask me what I was before that, I have a long list. Before that, I was an agnostic, before that a pantheist, before that a pagan, before that, a Wiccan, before that an agnostic again, before that a born-again Christian, before that a Presbyterian and before THAT, well… before that, I was an atheist because I was a baby. So, really, I’ve come full circle.

    If I think about it, though, the real answer is that I’ve been an atheist … forever. I never really thought that I’d go to heaven if I was good, just like I never REALLY thought that Santa Claus brought presents every Christmas. My first real understanding of mortality, though, came when my grandfather died of pancreatic cancer when I was eight. My grandparents both spent a lot of time babysitting me when I was younger and we lived nearby, so me and my grandfather became rather close. In fact, he contributed to my first memories of video games – playing pac-man with him on their old TV. So, you can understand that when grandpa got sick and eventually died, I was left in a lot of turmoil about mortality, life, death, and everything in-between.

    At the time, we had a little apartment in Irvine literally just across the street from the elementary school I attended. Being a natural introvert, I didn’t have many friends and being a lot poorer than the other kids who attended that school, I got picked on by nearly everyone. At age eight, literally, I had a friend who looked at me like a charity case. She’d hang out and tolerate me, telling me about the maid that she had and who drives her to school, all the while sheltering me from all of the ‘mean’ kids, only to mock me behind my back. I was eight and experiencing something that could have been right out of ‘Mean Girls’. For this reason, I did a lot of living in my head, and I did a lot of heavy thinking.

    On one particularly bad day, our teacher, Ms. Wright, asked us to each come up in front of the class and tell us one thing we hated. Kids came up and said th ings like … they hate it when it rains so they can’t play outside, or they hate it when their older or younger siblings did certain things. I, on the other hand, was apparently a closet goth. I got up and pronounced, after a particularly hectic morning, that I hated life.

    Now, at the time, being eight, I didn’t mean it in that ‘I-Hate-Life-And-Wanna-Get-Out-Of-It’ way. It was more in the way that people say ‘I hate my life’ when they’re stuck in traffic or having to sit through a particularly boring meeting, or going to get a root canal. Ms. Wright, however, didn’t quite see my subtle humor and immediately looked alarmed. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the counselor’s office while they called my mom to tell them that their daughter was on the verge of being suicidal … at eight.

    I felt enormous guilt after that day because my mother kind of, well, panicked. On top of holding down a job and taking care of my baby brother, she now had to deal with a suicidal kid. There were cookie making parties and play dates and quite a few talks that went on before I think she realized all was good and I wasn’t going to jump in the bathtub and slit my wrists with my play-doh knife. The guilt, of course, came because I knew I wasn’t going to end my life, in fact I was rather attached to it. The guilt was over the extra work that everyone around me seemed to have to do to make sure that I wouldn’t end my life… and there was so much of it that I didn’t dare tell all of these very concerned adults that I was just having a bad day.

    So, you might understand that by the time grandpa died, I wasn’t so interested in sharing with everyone just how I felt on certain rather heavy topics, like hating things. Instead, I puzzled a lot of things out in my head. Like, what it would be like to simply cease existing.

    I used to sit on my bed, close my eyes and imagine not being able to imagine anything. Not being a ‘self’, not having an ‘id’ or a consciousness or a soul or any of that. Being unable at all to process what it was that I saw because I had no eyes, just … not … existing … anymore.

    If you can do it… if you can momentarily trick yourself into not thinking about or processing anything (or at least as close as you’re voluntarily able) it’s a pretty chilling experience. I realized then that I didn’t /want/ life to just end like that, but that sometimes it just happens. Like grandpa dying. Everyone talked about how he went on to a better place and in a way I believe that. Grandpa was wasting away and in a lot of pain. His skin was yellow and his eyes jaundiced. He’d talk about seeing things that weren’t there and couldn’t carry on a real conversation anymore. For him, death is a better place, even if there is no heaven. But, I didn’t believe, even then, that grandpa was really sitting on a cloud and watching all of us. He was dead. Gone. We’d never see him again, never get to do things with him again, and never is a really big word. Especially for an eight year old.

    So, if I really think about it… that’s when I became an atheist. When I sat on my bed imagining what it would be like if I just died… I just spent a large chunk of my life hoping… just hoping… that maybe there was some alternative. I reached out to every religion that I could find, yearning for some sort of meaning, some understanding, some clear event or another that would make me truly, completely, believe. So many people around me had that sort of fuzzy, warm understanding and belief… to them, faith was a warm, cuddly blanket that made everything seem okay. To me, it was a little patch of flannel that rather poorly covered up the things I observed in life… no event happened. God didn’t talk to me or guide me on a path, angels didn’t watch over my every move and whisper words of encouragement in my ears, pagan gods didn’t rise up out of the great ‘all’ to give me guidance. Nothing.

    When all was said and done, all that was left was a thin thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, we don’t just end. That thin thread of hope, to me, was calling myself an agnostic.

    Then, about two years ago, I discovered Audible and Julia Sweeney’s ‘Letting Go of God’. I’m a programmer, and as such, there are some days when I get to do fun, exciting things like create whole new programs and solve interesting puzzles… but, then, there are some days when I have to slog through endless amounts of tedium. It was during one of those days with all the tedious bits that I popped in the monologue, thinking it would be a nice little diversion. I found, though, that I was transfixed and hardly able to work while listening. I think, in fact, that this is such a perfect piece of work that everyone, regardless of their beliefs, should listen to it. In telling her own story, she hits upon the same journey that nearly all atheists have walked in their lives… the yearning, the searching, the pleading with god for some kernel, no matter how small, of truth and understanding. She gave me the courage to drop ‘agnostic’ and call myself an atheist. Ever since then, I’ve spent a lot of time explaining it to people who never seem to ‘get’ why I don’t just consider myself an agnostic.

    Atheist, it turns out, means to a lot of people, “I know that nothing happens at the end of life and there is know God. Therefore, even if God were to present himself in front of me and prove that he were God, I would not believe it.” People find the use of the word ‘atheist’ to describe yourself as downright egotistical and presumptive. The world is far too big and complex for us to completely understand, and saying that you’re an atheist is saying you completely understand it.

    I try, at least, to patiently explain to people that atheist, a-theist, simply means that one does not believe in a god, just like saying you’re a Christian says that you believe in God, or saying you’re a Buddhist says that you believe in Buddha. It doesn’t presume anything about any other part of the rest of the world and, in fact, there are a number of labels just like that that would fit me. I’m an atheist because I don’t believe in any gods, I’m a naturalist because I believe in the natural order of the world and I’m a humanist because I believe in the amazing power and responsibility inherent in all mankind. No one word could ever completely describe all of the things I deeply feel within me, no one word could ever completely label me. That one word just tells you one little part of me… and, really, it’s terribly presumptive of anyone who would read more into it.

    I seldom get through this whole thing, though. It turns out that people who really strongly believe that ‘atheist’ is too presumptive also believe that interrupting you is also alright. Yet, I gamely try every time the conversation comes up… and just two and a half weeks into our baby relationship, when Rob and I had just barely managed to fall madly in love, I explained it to him as well… and, to his credit, he let me get a lot further than other people had. Though, I’m not sure he entirely got it until, four months later, I finally made him listen to ‘Letting Go of God’.

    We were on our way to Phoenix for Thanksgiving, stuck in horrible traffic, and I got a chance to play it for him. I’d been itching to for four months. After all, like Julia, Rob was once a Catholic. Now, he considers himself an agnostic (though, maybe after listening, a naturalist, I’m not sure), and I rightly guessed that many of the same things Julia journeyed through, he did, too. I didn’t realize how much of the monologue I’d forgotten until I was listening to it again and smiling, laughing, and nodding to various parts of it… and crying to one particular part. The part on death.

    It’s this part that I think I connect the most deeply to. It’s that big ‘ah ha’ moment, that giant epiphany, that moment when the light goes on in your head and you can no longer accept anything else. Everyone dies. Everyone dies and they’re just gone… and one day, I’m going to die too. One day, I’m going to die and just be gone and that’s it.

    The day I realized I was just going to die was pretty sad. I consoled myself with thinking that I was only thirty-something and still likely had a good fifty years of my life left, so I didn’t have to really think about it now. And, hey, whenever I do die, it’s not like there’s going to be anything of me around to be sad about dying… but then there were the moments after that sadness faded… the days, the weeks, the months, the years… when I suddenly realized just how amazing, precious, special and beautiful the world really is… and how lucky I am to get a chance to live in it. Everything. Everything is more amazing.

    There’s a part to the movie Fight Club, where Brad Pitt’s character goes to a convenience store with Edward Norton’s character, then, at gunpoint, they pull the clerk out into the street and threaten to kill him if he doesn’t get out of there and go back to school to become a veterinarian because that’s what he’s always wanted to do. When Edward Norton asks Brad Pitt why he did that, he comes back with this:

    “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”

    Yeah, that’s exactly what it’s like. That lingering hope, that feeling that I had that I wanted there to be something in the hereafter evaporated. That warm blanket of faith I was searching for wasn’t necessary. I realized, all along, that I had a warm blanket, I just kept looking past it. That warm blanket is my life. My experiences. My loves. The things that I see and do, the chances that I embrace. Life is now less about what might come after it and much more about what happens during it.

    I can’t wait to see what happens next…

    Oh, a PS to this… at the time I wrote it, I didn’t actually believe I was “coming out”, I thought all the people around me who needed to know already did. Turns out, I was wrong. Either my parents didn’t rightly know or they were pretending it was a fad that would soon go away. They were furious when they saw this.

  • Silent Service

    The first time I mentioned not really believing in the bible of God my Mom’s only comment was, “How can you not believe in God?” She really couldn’t comprehend how people could possibly not believe. The really funny part is that I’m pretty sure my Dad doesn’t believe in God. I know for fact that he doesn’t believe in the Bible. They’ve been married almost 48 years now and she has no idea Dad is agnostic. Her belief gives her comfort so he isn’t willing to rock the boat.

    I’ve never lost any friends over being atheist. I guess my irreverence and general dislike of organized religion stopped anybody from believing I was ever devoutly religious, even while performing in church plays as a kid. I don’t sweat telling people that I don’t believe; even the more evangelical of my friends. I generally worry more about telling people that I’m bi. So far there haven’t been any great blowups there, but I know when my parents and extended family eventually find out it’s going to be un-fun. They won’t disown me but I will get nothing but grief from my Mom and her family and from the cousins on my Dad’s side of the family. I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a miserable year when it finally happens.

  • 4AK

    I was on a swingset in Bellevue, Nebraska with my girlfriend in 1999 at 14 years old. The guilt, doubts, and fear had built up over the past 6 years of my adolesence to a breaking point. As I was telling my girlfriend about how much it hurt to cling to my beliefs which condemned my youthful lust as sin and how painful and exhausting it was to try to freeze my critical thought and rational mind every night, she asked a simple question: “Why don’t you give it up?” That was all it took: the gentlest nudge of a suggestion from someone I trusted. I felt relief and fear. Relief because I knew the pain and guilt were over. Fear because the threat of hell, demons, satan, and the end of Earth as foretold in Revelations had been an unhealthy, years-long obsession in my young mind…and choosing to stop being christian still scared me. The fear and guilt would eventually fade and give rise to a rational, skeptic’s mind and a bitter distrust and anger towards religion.

  • My high school friends got to see my beliefs gradually fade away (I was the only one at my table, freshman year at a Catholic high school, who’d pray before eating lunch!). People found out gradually as it came up, but my most notable “coming-out” was to my parents, a couple weeks before I was due to start junior year at a public school (having transferred out for a variety of reason, including how objectionable the in-your-face religious environment was even as a believer).

    I sat them down one night, a set of talking points in my hand to keep them from flying out of my brain with anxiety. I explained the rationale for agnosticism (the undis/provability of God), that I figured that reduced me to directly experiencing the presence of God, and I had no such experiences that weren’t otherwise explainable. I told them that I couldn’t in good conscience keep up the act as I had for the past several months since I had firmly decided I was an atheist (in the meantime I was still an altar server and lector at our church — talk about cognitive dissonance). As much as I knew they would like me to keep up the illusion, I would no longer go to church.

    I told them they could feel free to ask me questions, particularly right then. My dad’s first question was which of my friends planted such ideas in my head, so he could keep their influence out of his house. (Needless to say, I was insulted on two levels. First that he didn’t believe I could reason for myself — after I went through Catholic confirmation as an “adult” — and second that I’d be dumb or subservient enough to tell him, were that the case.) He was angry; my mom was more sad than anything. My extended family found out through them, and it’s never been brought up at family gatherings except that I’m invited to come with them to Sunday church services, which I politely decline.

    Not bad, considering.

  • flatlander100

    What TychaBrahe said.

    I had no dramatic scales-falling-from-my-eyes de-conversion moment. I just sort of out grew the soft-core Catholicism in which I was raised. Like out-growing a belief in Santa Claus. Nor did I see any reason then, or now, to send a statement of non-belief to friends and relatives. I neither hide my non-belief, nor do I make a point of announcing it to all and sundry.

  • Roxane

    Some lovely letters here. Thanks for sharing, everyone.

  • Angel Vigo

    I came out “indirectly” to my dad. It sounds strange but my father was smart enough to connect the dots.

    Technically, Puerto Rican/Cuban family is Catholic but the closest thing to being a “Catholic” was that I was baptized when I was younger. We never went to church nor did we really make a big deal about being catholics. I would say that my mom and dad are more “spiritual” than religious in that they definitely way more New Age than Christians in that they believe in psychics, astrology, and so on.

    One day, my family was having lunch at our home when my dad started to talk about astrology. My mom knew that I thought astrology was a load of bullocks (to put it lightly) and so she deliberately started a “debate” about it.

    Long story short, I argued that astrology had no scientific evidence and that various disciplines such as astronomy and psychology easily could debunk astrology.

    After I left to my clean the dishes, I heard my dad talking to mom about how “they went wrong”. Strangely enough, to this day they call me “scientifically minded” and “practical”. I guess to them that sounds more pleasant than being an atheist. But, I still get along fine with my mom and dad.

    On the other hand, when I had a facebook in high-school I put in “Atheist” in the Religion/Belief box in my profile. I guess my classmates didn’t care since I never got any questions about it.

  • Kari

    I realized I didn’t believe in the Christian god when I was about 9 years old. I was at an evangelical summer camp and all the kids were rolling around on the floor speaking gibberish and I was sitting in a pew thinking “Are we gonna do this talent show? Because I didn’t learn this stupid song in sign language for nothing…”
    Then I dabbled in Paganism in my teens until I realized I didn’t believe any of it.
    My parents just kind of found out when they found me giving the Jehovah’s Witnesses a hard time. My other family members don’t care. Some don’t talk to me, but that may be because I think critically about everything and give my painfully honest opinion on it.
    Now when I tell people, it’s usually in an academic setting where people don’t care.

  • John G

    A little background: I am a pastor’s son. My parents were missionaries for about 30 years. They converted to Christianity when I was very young & of course raised me to embrace their beliefs. I attended a Pentecostal Bible college and spent a couple of years in Australia as a youth pastor, where I met my wife. For the 40+ years I was a Christian, I wholeheartedly embraced a fundamentalist mindset: young earth creationism, the Bible was the inerrant inspired word of god & etc. I loved studying apologetics and theology. I wrote worship music which was getting used in various churches in the U.S. and other countries.

    In 2010 while preparing to teach an apologetics/Christian worldview class, I began what John Loftus calls the “Outsider Test for Faith” (I was unfamiliar with the concept at the time, but it perfectly describes the process. Basically, I realized that I had never applied the same truth-tests to the foundations of my own religion, that I applied to other faiths which I rejected. The process began in late February and by August I realized that I could no longer could believe the claims of Christianity. I had been talking with my wife through the whole process and to my great relief, she also came to the same conclusions. For the month of August, my wife was still on the worship team, having to sing and say prayers, and I was helping run the sound board. We were trying to figure out the best way to make out exit, and were dreading the reactions we knew would come from church members, friends, and family. I knew that people would not understand, and would leap to conclusions, so I drafted a letter detailing some of the reasoning which led to our decision.
    We knew that we needed to let the Music Director know, so that he wouldn’t schedule us for the month of September and beyond. I did 4 rewrites of the letter. There was so much to say and it kept getting longer. Time had run out. I called the Music Director and let him know to take us off the schedule and that we were no longer believers, and that I would send him a letter detailing why. I told him we could talk in person if he wanted after he had read it. I sent the same letter to our pastor. Both declined to meet with us. Our pastor gave a very brief reply in which he said that he skimmed the letter and had “heard it all before” and that it was “a feeble attempt to justify your actions.” He didn’t try to dissuade us, or rescue our souls (isn’t that a pastor’s job?). I think I detected the scent of fear in his reaction. He wanted us out of there so we couldn’t cause any trouble.

    We made the letter available to close friends, family, and anyone who really wanted to know. A number refused to read it. They were offended that I would question Christianity, or expressed the fear that I might persuade them. My siblings are all devout fundamentalists. Only one of them took my deconversion reasons seriously, and is currently studying through them with an open mind. Since virtually all of our friends were Christians, we lost most of our social network in one fell swoop. Those who remained in touch didn’t feel like they had anything in common or to talk about any more. When we saw them in the supermarket, they acted uncomfortable, as if we had done something shameful. Some family members treated us differently and warned us that we were in danger of their loving god causing a tragedy in our life, and of course eventually sending us to Hell.

    Because of health and stress issues with my parents, we delayed telling them, but two of my sisters ‘outed’ us as atheists on Christmas Eve, while my parents were staying with them. I did one more revision of my letter to personalize it for my parents, and to include additional information I had learned in my studies. Two months later, my Mom has still not read the letter, but insists on trying to evangelize me back into the faith. Because of my father’s health, he is not really aware of our situation.

    All in all, it has been a very surreal experience. In some ways, our whole world was kicked out from under us. We have had to rethink our whole approach to life. My wife and I are now happier than we have ever been and are more honest an open with each other. Contrary to what Christians think, we are not depressed and hopeless in life. We have a sense of the joy of discovering the wonder of the universe in which we live. Our minds and thoughts are our own, not what we are told to believe. Our son and daughter have the freedom to choose whether they will be religious or not. I have a voracious appetite for learning about science, and seek to analyze my experiences as a Christian so that I can help others find the mental freedom which I now have. I am working on articles for a blog and hope to write a book geared at helping people to deal with transitioning out of Christianity.

    Here is a link to the letter I gave to my Mom:

    Letter

  • Oliver Rush

    Telling people about you being an atheist is hard, basically because you are telling what you do not believe. If there is something I learned from Douglas Adams (who were also an Atheist) is that people are willing to accept better if you tell them what you do believe, so here come my idea of that.

    I believe hell exists, and it’s here and now, it’s made by us. I believe there is no magical help coming from outside, so if we want our homes, our cities, our countries to be better places, we have to move our asses and work hard toward it. I believe we are only beginning to find answers for life, and the fact that we do not have all the answers is not an excuse to turn to beliefs, it should be an excuse to work harder to find convincing answers.

    I strongly believe we can learn from our past, and religions are mistakes we can learn a lot from. I believe we are always looking for excuses to justify our atrocities and selfishness, because it’s hard to accept deep inside we are still animals, and religions are the greatest excuse we ever made. Now it’s time to stop hiding behind imaginary friends and take responsibility for our acts.

  • Silent Service

    soft-core Catholicism

    Reading that line I can’t help thinking about Paul Tobin and Phil Hester’s character, Chernobyl Red from their cult clasic comic, Fringe. I never could get Phil to explain where the idea came from.

  • M1n

    I’m actually still in the closet. Sort of.
    I came out to my husband and he was relief because he wanted me to know he didn’t believe anymore either (and that explains why when we got married we made sure god wasn’t mentioned, although we both were “believers”).
    Then I came out to my sister who has an atheist boyfriend and she’s going through a lot of pain with my parents because of that. So I thought it could be a good idea to tell her despite she never misses church (if she has an atheist b/friend and stands up for him, she at least have some respect for freedom of beliefs).
    And then to my closest friends (2).
    That’s about it, I’m not sure what I’m going to do now that I’m pregnant and I want to raise my kid in a religion-free environment with such grandparents from both sides

  • Steven

    As an experiment, I decided to change my facebook information to “atheist” a few months ago. No one said anything at all so I guess they already knew or don’t really care. Being an atheist in Ontario, Canada is pretty yawn-inducing as very few folks get excited about religion. In fact, I’d say tolerance is practically a religion around here so I don’t experience any backlash at all.

  • Ryan

    Those who know me well probably always knew I was an atheist. My ‘coming out’ to my more casual friends on Facebook was simple and effective (though still done with no small amount of trepidation): I changed my religious affiliation to “Atheist” in my profile. No big post or letter – if people are perusing my information, they’d see it, and that’s it.

    Funny thing is, some of my other friends, who I never previously knew were atheists, were the only ones that responded or said anything.

  • Brian

    Glad to see I’m not the only one that came out via e-mail, guys!

    @Charity Ouch. I’d rather get hellfire and brimstone than nothing. At least the hellfire people care enough to say something after such a personal revelation.

    @Barry That was very well-put and well-articulated. If I had a time machine, I’d steal some of your points and put them in my ‘coming out’ e-mail. :p

    @Garren That is a Brian original as far as I know. It is entirely possible that I jacked it from someone more famous and awesome than me, though.

  • Because my friend group was not founded on religious similarity, I have been out to my friends since I started identifying as an atheist. It wasn’t until I turned 18, however, that I finally confronted my parents about my atheism. I was too afraid to tell them to their faces; I wrote them a letter, hoping that it would help keep things organized and understandable, instead of the inevitable misunderstanding and blame that would accompany a shouting match.

    Foreseeably, they were not at all happy with the revelation. My mother screamed about it and forbade me to identify as an atheist in the house or any of the family, saying, “You can’t be an atheist because you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist!” My father tried to “reason” with me, but refused to give credence to any of my arguments. I tried to hold my own for a while, but eventually gave up in the face of their utterly dogmatic refusal to consider my position as anything but heretical and ludicrous. They still insist that it is “just a phase,” and do not want me to discuss it with my younger brother.

    I intended to come out to my extended family in the same way, but because my parents wish to keep the whole “embarrassment” under the rug, so to speak, I have respected their wishes in light of the fact that their relationships with my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are stronger than mine.

  • Nik

    I never formally “came out” to anyone – most of my friends know I am, and the people in my family I’m closest to (my brothers, my dad) already know. I never said anything to my mother, but then again, we never really talk about anything significant, and I assumed she knew (or at least suspected), since she never asked me to pray at our family dinners…until this past Sunday. Everyone at the table looked at her like she was nuts. She couldn’t understand the problem: “Agnostics still pray!” Um, no, they usually don’t. And I’m not agnostic, I’m atheist.

    I ended up reciting the Buddhist Dedication of Merit. Considering my mother’s knack for ignoring things she finds unpleasant, and pushing her point to the extreme, I’m sure this will come up again in the future. I haven’t decided how to handle it.

  • Ross

    On facebook, I have my “religious views” labeled as “against”. I’m still waiting for certain family members to figure that one out, after it being there for as long as I’ve had my account (at least 2005).

    Also I have a cousin who always posts dumb religious crap. Sometimes I can’t resist the urge to respond. One was when he made his profile picture one of mary with the words “god with us”. I linked the wikipedia article to the nazi ss, with their motto “gott mitt uns”.

  • Ross

    I have had my facebook “religious views” listed as “against”for at least 5 years. still waiting for certain family members to notice and comment, though I’m sure some have noticed and been afraid to ask.

  • I never cease to admire the moral courage of anyone who was theist and came out to friends and family about their worldview. Really. To many of us who were raised non-religious, you’re an inspiration.

  • I’ve never not been an atheist, so when I first heard about people “coming out” about their atheism, it struck me as rather strange. I didn’t realize there was such a strong stigma associated with atheism, or that there were many people who felt they had to keep it hidden. Growing up in a secular family, my atheism was never an issue. We didn’t talk about religion, so I never had a need to tell my parents that I didn’t believe in deities, although I suppose I must have mentioned it at some point. I’m also fortunate to live near San Francisco. For most people here, religion is considered a private matter, so you don’t get strangers or acquaintances interrogating you about your beliefs. I’m not sure how long I would last in the Bible Belt!

  • Mihangel apYrs

    It’s only an issue in religious societies or theocracies.

    In secular western democracies the main response tends to be “meh”. Religion is a private thing, and a politician spouting about god they way they do in the US would be considered weird. Only once ones reaches Poland does the church start dabbling big time, and faith is an important societal factor.

    Over many years I have discussed religion with friends, including clergymen, and watched my (un)belief develop. I have received no adverse comments from them – indeed I sought advice from one when standing godfather and was advised to do it because there was no reason why not to….

  • Margy

    @Antigone: What an inspired, reflective, well-articulated letter you wrote. I am completely mystified about your parents’ response, especially because they are not particularly religious. I never had kids, but I would be thrilled to have such a bright, thoughtful, intelligent daughter! If I could meet you, I would give you a hug and tell you that I think you’re amazing.

  • JustSayin’

    Anna said:

    I’m not sure how long I would last in the Bible Belt!

    It’s tough some days. I mean, just driving around can suffocate you with the Jebus crap. I swear to Zeus that 90% of the cars here sport a fish emblem. And more than a few have these large magnetic signs plastered on them that bear bible verses and statements such as “ARE YOU SAVED?” It grates on your nerves after a while.

  • Lee

    I was one of three preachers in a small church when I realized I was no longer a believer. First I told the other main preacher to take me off the preaching list. The next week, my second-to-last week, he asked me to pray in the service and I declined. Realizing that he deserved an explanation. I composed the following, based on a testimony I read online. Then I added the second portion and sent both parts to many old friends and family.

    I would change certain parts, but I can stand by most of it.

    What I need to say to you is probably best expressed directly. I am no longer a Christian. What? you might say. It is true. Well then, what are you? I don’t feel much need to define what I am, but I suppose agnostic or skeptic or humanist will do. I don’t think of myself as an atheist, but it’s probably pretty close, also. Some days it is.
    This is not a sudden thing. I’ll admit there was a sudden realization, but it came after years of struggle. It is not caused by a trauma or single event. You might put the finger on, very generally, life experiences and human desires and intellectual difficulties in combination. It does feel like some kind of culmination of a journey, a spiritual journey you might say, that I have been on for my entire life. And expect to continue to be on for the rest of my life.
    You might wonder what the ‘intellectual difficulties’ or ‘life experiences’ were that contributed to me arriving at this place. I love good conversation, but I don’t want to mislead. I wouldn’t say there is one or even a list such that if they were answered or dealt with or resolved, I would happily rejoin the Christian camp. That’s not how it works. If you would like to discuss philosophy or theology or interpretation, I would love to, but I don’t want to mislead you as to the utility of such a discussion.
    This decision took a lot of time, a lot of thought, a lot of conversation. This was not easily arrived at. This step was not taken lightly or quickly. And I am not angry or upset or bitter at all. I am not a disillusioned ex-Christian. I have no grudge to bear nor am I on a mission to deconvert other believers. I have come to understand that I do not believe most of what I professed to believe, but I have no demands or expectations about others and their beliefs. This is my realization – my decision, not yours. I still respect you and your beliefs and acknowledge firmly that decisions are yours to make.
    I want you to know that I feel like the same person after this step that I did before it. The same things make me laugh as before; the same things still make me cry. I enjoy the same things as before; I have the same strengths and weaknesses. I still like talking about the same things. I would still enjoy spending time with the same people – including you.
    I am well aware that this might be too much for you to accept, and I may never hear from you or see you again. This is a great source of pain and sorrow. To deliberately step away from a community I dearly loved is a difficult thing, but maybe that will help you see the seriousness with which I take this step. My naïve hope is that this message would have no negative effect on our relationship.
    I am more than willing to discuss any of this with you. I hope to do so with grace and respect, and you can hold me to that.
    Yours,

    Lee

    In the midst of recent developments, I was asked to discuss what I do believe, instead of what I no longer believe. Immediately, I thought that was a fantastic idea. Here’s my current attempt.
    I believe in human dignity. I believe in love, kindness, grace, forgiveness, respect. That’s only a partial list of the great human virtues that I value — that I think we all value. I think these things clearly lead to better and more fulfilling and productive lives here and now. I believe seeking to make life better for myself and for those around me and for others is a worthy project. I believe life is as close to a miracle as anything else I can conceive of, and I believe we should treat it as such. Life is amazing in so many ways.
    I believe in beauty. I believe wonder and awe are appropriate responses to life and the world around us. I believe in the power and force of human expression and art.
    I believe in knowledge and human achievement. Learning and education are ways we participate in that which is greater than our selves. It is also a way we participate in changing things for those around us and those that come after us.
    I believe in relationships. I believe there is something special, something in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, in many relationships. I believe people need to be connected to one another. I believe I am a better person because of the people who have blessed me with their friendship and conversations. I hope to return the favor.
    I believe in responsibility. I believe we have duties to ourselves, to the people with whom we are connected, to our communities, and to the world around us. We are part of a long train of history and we should not treat that lightly. We are all part of much that is larger than ourselves – that will last beyond ourselves — and I believe we should treat that with a measure of respect.
    If these beliefs sound familiar to you, I think they should. I learned so much about them during my time as a Christian! It was many of these things that drew me to Christianity and I take many of those lessons with me now as a non-Christian.
    I believe that — ultimately — it is down to me. And to you. I believe we take the best of the resources we find, we take our thoughts and emotions and life experiences, we take the best advice we find, we take these things and we do the best we can. We make the best decisions we can, take the actions we find most suitable. I believe we should do these, we must do these. We have no other option.
    Yours,
    Lee

  • Sinistra

    Like a lot of people here, I never really had to “come out” to my family or friends. I have self-identified as either agnostic or atheist most of my life. I realized there was something wrong with religion when I first studied Greek/Roman and Egyptian mythology in elementary school and it occurred to me to wonder why there are certain gods nobody believes in anymore.

    The closest experience I had to “coming out” was during a religion class I took during a summer program in high school. We all had to present on our religious beliefs and why we had them. The teacher picked me to go first after I told him that I was an atheist. This was the first time I’d ever discussed my lack of belief with total strangers, but I was shocked when another student in the class started interrupting and arguing with me as I was trying to make my points. It turned out she was a Southern Baptist (I live in Tennessee where that kind of delusion is rampant). Fortunately every other student in the class was very polite and supportive, which made the Baptist look like a crazy bitch. Even though none of them had self-identified as nonbelievers, many of the students actually started to defend me when the Baptist got really strident. Some of them even came up to me afterward to tell me how much they liked my presentation and that they had experienced similar doubt. Overall, the other students’ reaction made the whole thing a really positive experience.

  • martha

    John G, your letter to your mother was beautiful and well reasoned. What a journey you traveled!

  • Ben

    I figured out that I didn’t believe any of it when I was teaching in Catholic schools and we had to see “The Passion of the Christ” and I was so offended by the movie and by what the priest said about the brutality that it “had to be brutal to take away all of the sins.” My thought was that I didn’t want this person to suffer and I did not take part in this and don’t want the salvation that would come with it because it would be immoral (vicarious redemption).
    Did a bit of searching online and found “The God Delusion” and realized that this was what I was thinking all of the time. I just couldn’t put it together.
    But coming out…I only say anything about it to people who bring up religion. Or to my best-friend who is a Catholic theology teacher. We have some good debates….I always win….he just ends it with “That’s why it’s called faith.” Yeah..believe shit you know isn’t true.

  • Stephen Brady

    I came out at age 10 (1964). My father told me it was my decision, but I would have to go to church (Methodist) as long as I lived in his house. My mother bought me a bible. Neither one of them preached at me, but I was lucky. My dad’s father and his (my dad’s) 3 siblings were all open atheists. So I had adult models. I never believed – I always thought it was a load of hogwash. I am still the only atheist in my immediate family. I continue to be baffled by intelligent family members who continue to cling to any excuse to keep believing. None of them are fundamentalists and 2 are deists. But, I fear for out world – if my family mostly doesn’t get it, how address the ultra religious hoardes all over the world.

  • I came out to my dad and stepmom about a year ago. My stepmom was so upset about it that she said some enormously hurtful things to me. We’re on speaking terms, but the relationship is damaged.

    While I don’t regret being “out,” I regret that I wasn’t more thoughtful about how I did it. Because my dad is an open-minded, liberal Catholic, and my stepmom seemed to be the same, I told them in a rather off-hand way, and, unfortunately, in conjunction with a conversation about Catholicism.

    My best friend and her husband are also atheists, and my husband and I are Unitarian Universalists, so we have a lot of extremely supportive people in our close circle who are humanist/atheist, but I have deep regrets about the rift in my family.

  • Dan W

    I have not came out to my family yet. My parents and sister are not very religious anyway, so I don’t feel the need to tell them that I’m an atheist. Meanwhile, I’ve came out as an atheist to several of my college friends when were hanging out and the discussion turned to religion. They seemed to be okay with it, and some of them are also atheists.

    I also became open about my atheism on Facebook over a year ago. It didn’t effect my number of friends there much, even though some of them (mainly people I knew in high school) are very religious. I find it strange that, unlike some atheist coming out stories I’ve read, my instances of coming out as an atheist have not involved a lot of negative reactions from believers yet.

  • nocommentatthistime

    I am currently trying to decide whether I should make a sort of pointed “coming out” statement or just go about my life without making an issue of hiding anything. I was a pastoral intern in a pentecostal church and a small group leader and lay leader in the evangelical world for over a decade as a Christian. I am now a secular humanist and a skeptic. I feel it might be good to post something as a way to avoid explaining everything many times over and as an act that would feel freeing for myself. However, I also know this would cause intense conflict with my parents. I do not want them to feel this is open for discussion. As a measure of preserving my and my partner’s mental health and general well-being, we have tried to limit contact with them. I want a relationship with them very badly, but every attempt is met with manipulation attempts and much pain all around. They taught my siblings and I to avoid discussing anything uncomfortable, to pretend it doesn’t exist. I do not feel this is healthy and want to be learning and practicing positive conflict management and communication skills. I’ve been going back and forth on this a lot lately, and think it will come to a decision point soon. I welcome any input. Thanks!

  • James

    Another person here who never really did any coming out. I just quietly changed my facebook info to atheist. I eventually got a call from my dad about it but I didn’t think it was a big deal. Now I get the feeling that he’s slowly becoming an atheist. He started making jokes about church lately and I came home from college once and there was a copy of Religulous in the DVD player.
    I don’t think my extended family knows though.

  • Oana

    Oh My FSM he came to Romania?!

    i’m so very sorry for him. the uber-religiosity(is that a word?!) of this place must have been overwhelming.

  • sven

    @Lee

    I believe your statement is one of the most beautiful, realistic views on reality I have ever read.

  • HP

    As an older, grey-haired dude who reads Friendly Atheist, I thought, “What is this bullshit about coming out?” Just live your Godless life. The problem is, people see you living your Godless life and assume something’s missing.

    Via email, my sister (whom I admire beyond reason — she’s really great) just invited me to attend her church (a megachurch complete with coffeeshop and bookstore). And I had to (initial caps) Come Out. I’m still waiting to see what the fallout is.

    It’s totally weird, because, as a child of the 70s, I’ve not faced this before.

  • dave

    I haven’t “come out” to everyone I know. But here’s a quick story…
    Was hanging out with a friend and his wife. She noticed my “A” necklace, and asked what it was. I said it was A for Atheist. It took several minutes to convince her I was serious. And even then, she wouldn’t believe me. Eventually, all she ended up saying was, “But… you’re so nice”. We spent a lot of time thereafter talking about what atheism is.

  • I came out in a FaceBook note, as mentioned in the article here 🙂 I got a very mixed reaction from my old church comrades – varying mainly from “it’s OK, we’ll still be friends”, to the stereotypical Christian response of “lalalalaaaaa…” *fingers in ears* “I can’t hear you…” to responses that seemed to be genuinely angry about my decision – though why they felt it was their place gt be angry is beyond me.

    It takes a lot of courage to “come out”, especially when, like me, you have by that stage long depended on your church group for the bulk of your friendships. It’s hard to risk all of that, because there’s no way to be certain how they’ll take it. I consider it a matter of integrity, though, and I think in the long run – integrity will always stand to you.

  • StuffAndWhatNot

    Here is a letter that I’ve been thinking about sending for a long time. I sent a variation to one of my brothers who replied…That’s funny, I’m an atheist as well. My Dad has been in the ministry for the past 30 years and holds a Doctoral degree in Old Testament theology. My Mom is legalistic in her beliefs. At this point I still hide half of my bookcase when they come to visit. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    My loss of belief has been a gradual process that I’ve finally and firmly accepted. The amount of indoctrination I’d received at church became apparent to me when I was at college (christian “university”). I initially put this off as merely being the fact that the church was made up of people and people are errant, but god isn’t. When I moved back to South Dakota I became more aware that church for most of the people, including myself, seemed to be a social event with little to no influence in daily life. As I went back to complete my degree I finally was able to study History and Science objectively and come to the conclusion that christianity is a bronze age mythology that co-opted the earlier beliefs of Judaism to lend it credibility.
    I went through the new testament and looked back at the “prophecies” and saw that they were clearly cherry picked after the fact by the writers and were so vague that they could mean almost anything. Then I started looking at the specific attributes of who god is because this is something that is continually talked about in church. In the old testament he is vengeful, angry, jealous, genocidal, malicious, uncaring. Jesus clearly states that he is a continuation of old testament law and did not come to change it “one jot or tittle”.(which kind of sounds dirty) So you can talk about love and grace all you want, but in the end he is the same god that told Moses in the book of Exodus to kill every Amalekite (except the virgin women) and destroy every crop and animal they have. I was no longer able to delude myself into having faith in a god that clearly deserved no respect and took to calling myself spiritual for a while. I just was no longer able to associate myself with something that is so patriarchal, bigoted and generally small minded.
    About 6 months ago I finally was able to talk with **** about what I’ve been going through and my thoughts on religion. While she doesn’t yet share my skepticism she is open to debate and I can see that it is opening questions in her mind that she may not have thought of before. I’ve been reading books by Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Victor Stenger, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Bertrand Russell, and others to try and understand the science of life and physics and find it fascinating.
    I guess the thing that gets me the most is that I want to talk about how amazing it all really is when you actually stop denying reason/logic and stop blindly accepting absurdities. I’m definitely rambling now and probably sounding mad, but I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my life believing something that, when viewed from the outside, is cultish and asinine.

    In summary: 1. If there is a god, (which I deny on the fact that there is no evidence) he is a dick and not worthy of adoration.
    2. I was a christian by the merest fact that I was born in a predominately christian society to christian parents.
    3. The universe, world and everything in it looks exactly like it should if it was created through biological processes over billions of years.
    4. The bible is at most a mythological history with some truth in it. The truth found in it isn’t true because god says so, but the writers attribute the truth to god because it’s true (free of any alleged overseer) and the god they want to believe in has to be true.
    5. Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. ~Seneca the Younger

    Enough for now, I would love to hear your thoughts

    Thanks for listening, J***

  • Harmonika Savingsbonds

    I vomited up the body of christ the first time I was made to eat one. I was born without the faith gene, so I came out to my family & friends immediately. In my 57 years on this earth, not once have I ever believed.

    So in a sense, I have never been “in” a closet to have to escape from one. What does that make me? I hope I’m a demon!

  • Carlie

    I’m really enjoying all the stories, and thankful to the people who have shared painful experiences.

  • Harmonika Savingsbonds

    So much for “Friendly Atheist.”

    That’s a joke.

    I was just scolded and told I was not welcomed here. Simply for answering the headlined question. Only specific atheists are welcomed here. Good luck with that.

  • Kate

    I came out as an atheist in two ways. First, to several friends/my former youth pastor with an online letter and second, to my parents in person. Not all of my friends/acquaintances have been told outright, but they all either know or have expressed their assumptions about my lack of belief, which is significant considering the fact that I live and will live in the Bible belt until I leave for college in September (I’m 18). More significant is the fact that I have yet to receive any truly negative feedback from anyone. This is probably more due to the fact that I simply don’t discuss it with some people when I know from experience that such a discussion would result in a stalemate (discussions with my mom, for instance), but my discussions with others have proven to be extremely rewarding. I still have the letter and have provided the full text.

    The letter is titled, for better or for worse, “No Child of God.”

    So I’m an atheist. I do not believe in spirits, gods, faeries, unicorns, mythological beings, angels, demons, the devil, supernatural forces, the Islamic-Judeo-Christian God, or anything else of a similar nature I may have forgotten to mention. I am a heathen, heretic, humanist, non-theist, bright, or whatever you feel the need to call me if “atheist” doesn’t cut it for some reason. Yeah. And that’s fine for an introduction, but really… this isn’t something I normally like to talk about. I don’t care about your belief system as long as it doesn’t harm anyone. You have your right to your beliefs and I have mine. However, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this sort of thing lately, both from my current friends, and some friends I’ll have at college. Because of this, it seemed prudent to get everything out in the open.

    The thing is… I now find it difficult to understand my former desire to believe in a God/gods, especially in light of what I know now. I was raised to be a good Christian kid. Not in the sense that I was meant to be bigoted or anti-science. No, I was raised to love everyone, I was and still am very liberal, I loved and still love evolutionary biology. I do, however, have a problem with theology. To provide the extremely short version of my reasoning, I found that when looking at the Bible I had been raised to believe in, the separation I had wrought between the Old and New Testaments – the one that allowed me to dismiss the cruel God of the Old while embracing the God and Jesus of the New –  could not exist. If Jesus accepted the laws of the Old Testament, indeed, if he came to “fulfill” them, then how could he be the loving God/Son/Whatever I was told he was? How could I want to believe in a supposedly forgiving God who would damn his creation for eternity for various arbitrary reasons? And this isn’t even touching on the factual issues plaguing the New Testament, such as the inconsistencies about Jesus’ life, the timeline in which it was written, why the individual books/epistles were written, and when/why the New Testament in its’ present form was compiled.

    It isn’t simply that I don’t desire to believe in or have faith in the overall existence of spiritual beings, but I am confronted with many reasons for disbelief and seemingly no reasons to the contrary. I have been asked, even as a Christian, how a person could be a moral being without believing in a God. Now that I am what could be called a secular humanist, I am inclined to respond that our God/gods are not moral, rather, we judge them by personal/social morals that have developed over time. If I am capable of looking through the Bible, or the Quran, or the Bhagavad Gita and saying “parts of this are clearly immoral,” then my morals must not be from god. Rather, my morals have developed in response to my biological/psychological needs as they interact with the vast array of needs demonstrated by my family, acquaintances, and society at large. Humans are moral beings. The God/gods of the world’s religions are invisible beings that do not operate within the morals they allegedly promote (and, if one reads “their” works, do not actually promote with any consistency).

    In addition to failing to accept that holy books can act as infallible moral guides, I also can’t in good conscience follow/believe in any God/gods that would condemn his creation for the same so-called “sins” he is guilty of a thousand times over. The God I was raised to believe in was supposedly perfect. However, it becomes clear that this is only because he has claimed perfection. He advocates and/or participates in murder, hatred, incest, genocide, and more. If he exists, even the smallest child is to be held accountable for the sin of a fictional man some six-thousand years ago, all because he cannot bear to be in the presence of the unrighteous. However, nothing but his word – his claim to perfection – could ever separate him from such consequences. Such a double standard is almost sickening to me.

    While we’re on the subject of morality, I have a problem with the idea of heaven and/or hell (purgatory too, if you’re Catholic). I don’t need an eternal reward or punishment to behave morally or to love my fellow humans while I’m alive. As my morals have developed over the course of my life, there are certain things (such as murder, hatred, stealing, or simply being unkind) that are simply wrong. Will I mess up sometimes? Yes. We all do. But I don’t like the afterlife as some kind of cosmic reward system and/or excuse. It isn’t okay to give money for exercise facilities at your church and to withhold that available money from the hungry/impoverished/diseased because you feel that you can assume they will have “riches in heaven.” We accomplish more good for more people if we recognize that this is almost certainly the only life we will have. As far as support for the “cosmic rewards system” goes, how is it somehow more moral to do good because of these “riches in heaven” (or simply to avoid hell) rather than because you have the simple desire to do right by your fellow humans? If such a moral system does not and cannot come from a God/gods, that simply isn’t the case.

    In addition to this, we have science. I have never had what many would call “a religious experience.” Looking at the magnificence of the universe and the world around me, it is beautiful to me that it simply exists. I don’t need a heaven that is somehow more beautiful to make this life appear dull and unsavory in comparison. I like the idea that when I look at the sky on a clear night, I can see points of light that are nearly as old as the universe – that these photons are essentially reaching out across space and time only to interact with my eyes. I am in awe that stars such as the ones I appreciate on these clear nights burned for billions of years and collapsed in furious supernovae only to have solar systems such as ours form and give rise to life… give rise to us. In a sense, we are the stars – descended from the big bang, through stars and supernovae, through the formation of our solar system, through that first blip of life on our planet and countless common ancestors, forced into new, clumsy forms that are capable of love and hope, are lit with intelligence, and sparkle with curiosity. While the universe is incomprehensibly huge (so huge that I feel like one quark in one atom in this entire solar system), the entire human race is inextricably linked as we share in that history and in the sheer endlessness of it all. I could never make myself choose any sort of spirituality over that. All I can do is live, breathe, love my fellow humans, and do my level best with the only life I have to make this world a better place to be for everyone in it.

    Love,

    Kate

  • Steve

    That’s an awesome letter, Kate. I love the last paragraph.

    I feel the same puzzlement when Christians claim that atheism means that this world is all there is and long for more. This world is freaking huge and one person could never learn everything about it

  • JustSayin’

    @Harmonika Savingsbonds

    Who scolded you? How did they contact you? Please be aware that they certainly don’t speak for the rest of us.

  • I came out back in 2007.

    I decided to blog the whole story last summer (with some edits over time):

    http://politicsandpucks.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-atheist-coming-out-story.html

    When I blogged it originally, my parents were really upset and saw it as an attack on them (when actually I said nice things about them). I think they’re not as upset now, and they’re slowly realizing it’s not rebellion against them. I have lost friends, and a family member (a very distant cousin) over this issue, but I’m completely okay with it. I am open and active about my non-belief. In doing so I’ve made a lot of great friends, and strengthened friendships with theists and non-theists.

  • Maaaaaaaaaaaaaat

    I’m an atheist, but my father (who is a pastor) would be crushed to hear me say that.