How To Come Out as an Atheist

Austin Cline has a great roundup of issues dealing with coming out to your family as an atheist.

Some categories he delves into:

  • How Should You Reveal Your Atheism to Your Family?
  • … you should avoid attacking your family’s religion. Even if you have come to conclude that it is evil, saying so will only serve to exacerbate the conflicts being created and the confusion being experienced by your family. It would also be wise not to take this opportunity to try and deconvert others from your family’s religion. They are still dealing with the shock of your atheism — don’t make it worse for them just yet. In taking the high road, you will also be showing that being an atheist doesn’t make you an immoral and rude person.

  • What if Your Family Says You’re Just Going Through a Phase?
  • If you emphasize that your beliefs are not simply a result of your questioning and studying but that you continue to question and study, then even if they keep believing that you are going through a phase, perhaps they won’t believe that you aren’t being serious.

  • What if Your Family Wants You to Keep Going to Church?
  • If you are young and living at home, there probably isn’t much you can do no matter what your family’s motivations are. If there is no way you can reasonably get out of going to church, the most you can do is try using the trips as a learning experience. Consider, for example, writing down some of the things said in the sermons and then writing critiques of them — perhaps publishing them on the web.

  • Is Revealing Atheism to Family Worth the Risk?
  • On the other hand, precisely because telling others about your real beliefs and real feelings can be difficult, it can be an important step towards becoming more self-confident and mature. You could also being doing a lot to encourage better attitudes towards atheists by demonstrating how they can be moral and mature people. Perhaps there are other members of your family who also have doubts or who disbelieve — by speaking up, you will find that you share more in common with them and will also help them come to terms with who they are.

There’s a lot of good stuff in the article. Go check it out.

I’ve been “out” to my family for a few years now, and while they’re more accepting, they still want me to endorse Jainism everywhere I go…


[tags]atheist, atheism, coming out, family, Austin Cline, church, Jainism[/tags]

  • http://atheistself.blogspot.com David W.

    Thanks a lot for that link! My atheism / family dynamic got a little more interesting lately, and it’s good to hear others discussing similar situations.

    Is your family Jainist or are they considering that a middle ground — like how a Christian family might tell a deconverted son, “Well, at least go to a Unitarian church!”?

  • http://danharlow.com Dan Harlow

    I made the mistake of doing it on Christmas evening. I strongly recommend never revealing to your family you are an atheist on Christmas evening. In my defense I am a complete and total idiot sometimes.

  • http://undiscoveredfuture.blogspot.com Rebecca

    Woa, that is exactly what I do – I still have to go to church, so I bring along a notebook, jot down quotes during the homily, and blog about them later that day.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant

    David– My family is Jain. I don’t think they’d mind if I found religion somewhere else, though. The funny thing is many Jain values are found among the atheists I deal with, not the least of which is being vegetarian.

    – Hemant

  • Devika

    I love the suggestion to take notes in church and blog about it later! I wish I had done that when I was a teen, instead of sulking in the pew and day dreaming. I think that if I had been taking notes & blogging, I would have embarrassed my parents enough that they would have let me stay at home!

  • Karen

    Dan:

    I made the mistake of doing it on Christmas evening. I strongly recommend never revealing to your family you are an atheist on Christmas evening. In my defense I am a complete and total idiot sometimes.

    Yeowch. That must have been quite painful for all involved. I’m sorry.

    What I’ve found is that it’s much easier to say “I’m an atheist” to friends and acquaintences that I know are not particularly religious. Once that phrase starts rolling out rather fluidly in neutral settings, it’s easier to let it rip in more sensitive settings, like amongst friends who are still believers.

    I still haven’t “come out” fully to my closest relatives who remain in evangelical churches. But we are having a family reunion over spring break, so I may get an opportunity during that time.

    Something tells me that I might want to avoid making the pronouncement at Easter Sunday dinner, though. ;-)

  • MTran

    Gee, I’ve been an unapologetic atheist for most of my life but really can’t recall any “coming out” about the matter. My family always knew I was a natural “questioner” about any issue.

    I dimly recall that when I first strongly corrected my mother, who wanted to characterize me as an “agnostic” rather than an atheist, she looked terribly worried. But, hey, mothers worry about practically everything their kids do or say, don’t they?

    On the other hand, when I was 18 and first allowed to vote, US politics were rather heated. There was no family consensus, either, in our household. But we were all very opinionated and activist.

    As it turned out, we ended up with posters for 3 competing candidates strung across the front of our house and lawn. My father and one brother had a Nixon sign, my mother had a Humphrey sign, and my other brother and I had a McGovern sign. And I was the one who obtained all of the signs. As we said at the time: Divided We Stand! Not such a bad motto after all.

  • Rob

    OK. How about this?

    Our (then) 13 year-old daughter left a note to a “friend” laying on the floor in our house. She warned him to stay away from her because she was an atheist and was, therefore, going to “burn in hell.”

    Obviously unclear on the concept.

    She’s now 15 and more concerned with her cell phone than her place in the cosmos. I’m sure the issue will come up again, however.

    By the way, my compliments on this blog. I enjoy the thoughtfulness and courtesy expressed here.

    All the Best!

  • Dale

    My father was a fundamentalist preacher and I was also an minister for a time. I no longer believe, but my family are all staunch Christians. I told my mother that I no longer attended church. Now she considers me a “mission field” and goes aroudn qoating the Bible at me. My wife’s mother is elderly and in bad health. It would kill her to know that my wife and I are atheists. Whenever she visits we feel like we have to pretend to be believers and take her to church every Sunday. We are between a rock and a hard place.

  • AnonyMouse

    I really, really need to vent.

    I tried “coming out” to my family once. ONCE. It was about two weeks after I lost my faith (the worst two weeks of my life, incidentally), and it was a complete disaster.

    Let me explain. My parents attend a fundamentalist church, and while they do not hold completely fundamentalist beliefs themselves, there is one thing that they hold: YOU. DO. NOT. QUESTION. GOD. You can question the Bible a little bit, but only to the degree that it reinforces your faith. Losing your faith is not an option. If you – like me – find some way to disprove Christianity using the bible, it is only because a demon has shown you what to look for. On the offchance that you do stumble upon something entirely by accident, the reason it looks like it contradicts the Bible is because God has not given you the wisdom to understand it.

    The three days in which my parents knew… it was as though everything I had gone through the past two weeks had been compressed into a single weekend. They proselytized. They threatened me with Hellfire. They tried to guilt me into reconverting with tears and much wailing. It wasn’t until Sunday evening, when all of the emotional stress finally built to a head, that we were able to resolve the issue – and I was able to decide once and for all where I stood.

    Unfortunately, it landed me on the “wrong” side of the fence.

    I am in ways grateful for the event. It allowed me to break down the web of confusion and self-deceit that I had lain out in my mind as a child. It allowed me to look at both the Bible and our religion as what they were, rather than what I had been raised to want them to be. It allowed me to find much more satisfaction in life on the whole. By removing the smothering shroud of an omnipresent God, I also cast away the self-loathing complex that was vital to our belief system.

    But my parents know none of this. They think that I have returned to Christianity, and that is how it has to stay. If they learned that I had not returned to The Path, there would be weeping and wailing and Bible-Thumping and threats of damnation and accusations of consorting with demons and… well, you know how Christians will accuse you of “never being a real Christian” when you tell them you lost their faith? My parents covered that, but it was nothing compared to the other things they said to me. They were planning on throwing both me and my sister out of the house, knowing fully well that we would have no place to go.

    In so many ways, my parents are wonderful and loving people. And I love them dearly. But atheism is one subject that I will never be able to broach. Based on what happened the last time, I am certain that they would never forgive me and probably spend the rest of their lives beating themselves up over their “failure” as parents.

    At this point, I would like to say something important to any religious parents who might be reading this: Please do not dwell on your children’s beliefs. It may seem inconceivable to you that they could possibly reject your religion, and your first instinct will be anger and pain. But please, put this aside. Instead, I ask you to take a look at the good things about your children. They are probably kind, wonderful, and intelligent people. And I have very little doubt that they love you very much, despite your differences in belief.

  • Siamang

    Great Story Anon.

    Hemant, if you’re reading this, perhaps it should be promoted to its own post.

  • ellie

    i went through a similar thing though not nearly as bad. My mom keeps telling me that her and my dad failed me since I’m an atheist. if my dad were still alive (he killed himself almost 4 years ago) I don’t think he’d feel the same as my mom does, but who knows… obviously can’t ask him.

    thanks for sharing your experience.

  • http://tuibguy.com Mike Haubrich, FCD

    I feel very fortunate to be able to be open about being an atheist within the family that is very important to me. Anonymouse, us out atheists will continue to work to make atheism an “acceptable” declaration and I hope that through our efforts future generations don’t need to go through what you are going through.

    This is doubly poignant considering Hemant’s story on the post written by Paul Spinrad.

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