An Atheist in Christian Clothing: What Should He Do?

I heard a fascinating story from one reader recently.

He has been working at a Christian university for several years, but during his time there, he became an atheist.

This is a problem for several reasons.

For one, he signed a “faith statement” when he accepted the job. If his bosses found out about his atheism, he’d be out of a job. As it stands, though, he plays an “influential role” in the organization. He agrees with many of the things the organization does, but not the “doctrine and dogma which drive it.”

Also, his wife doesn’t know. She knows he’s not an Orthodox Christian. She knows he doesn’t buy into Hell and Satan and the “exclusivity of Christian salvation.” She knows he has doubts. She knows he’s frustrated by many church beliefs. But all that has led her to believe he is Agnostic. She doesn’t know he has actually gone to the other end of the spectrum. If she found out, would it end their marriage? Probably not… but it would hurt her. He wouldn’t be the same guy she married.

For obvious reasons, he chooses to remain anonymous.

So what caused this complete switch? He writes:

You see, several years ago, it occurred to me while reading The God Delusion that I no longer believed in a god, and probably had not for a very long time. I had written off these feelings as “doubt” or “backsliding,” but the writings of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and others coalesced these feelings into a certainty that I did not believe any of it.

I had ceased having any confidence in scripture as having any authority. I found myself repulsed by destructive and delusional end-time views. Concepts of hell and universal judgment of humankind became representative of the most inhumane and deeply unethical beliefs that I could imagine. Combine that with the terrible influence of the church on American politics and society at large, and it became clear that I could no longer emotionally or intellectually affiliate with the Christian worldview as a belief system.

He elaborates on the problems:

Problem is, my commitment to family, justice, ethics, and a sense of community is unchanged. With few exceptions, all of my friends and family are Christian, and I love them all and hate the thought of losing them. A few friends and colleagues know or suspect that I am not on the same wavelength, but none know the full extent of my non-belief. To make matters worse, I still enjoy the church I attend. I gain much insight from the minister, and even get involved in music ministry from time to time. I thrive on the sense of community in the workplace and church, even though I disagree with (and in some cases am angered by) many of the core beliefs. I view much of the belief system to be benign — harmless delusion — and I avoid remaining friends with those people who embrace particularly fundamentalist views. Some of the beliefs, however, are harmful in my view, and I’m finding it more and more difficult to be complicit in the mission.

What’s stopping him from coming out as an atheist?

Coming out right now would be financially fatal, as I would certainly be terminated and lose what is a very good salary. My wife (a believer) also works for the organization, and would undoubtedly be ostracized herself. I have no support network who would support me through such a life-changing decision, as I would likely lose all of my friends and most family members (as Dan Barker has so aptly pointed out in Godless).

So I choose to live among them, taking the advice of Matthew’s Jesus and forgiving their delusions and shortcomings. I avoid situations where I would be expected to pray publicly, or to speak in support of Christian beliefs. I keep my head down, and try to slowly bring along family members — not to deconvert them, but to help them understand where I am. I need to find some way to connect to a community of like-minded freethinkers in the hope that I will someday be able to walk away from faith without betraying my entire life.

Is there any advice you could offer?

Is he doing the right thing by not coming out?

  • jersey

    I would say this fellow should move cautiously, over time, to reveal more of his truths. I sure wouldn’t stand on a pedestal and do it, I’d do it while laying low and staying calm.

    Is there any way in the future he could find another job, over time? If so, perhaps he should do so.

    I think his wife and friends would come around, as long as he acts humbly about being an atheist, as in not superior to the others.

    Perhaps he likes his social community so much that he doesn’t want to change jobs or churches. That’s ok too. But I suspect that years and years of living a lie will eventually bite him in the butt, with a depression or life crisis.

    My 2 cents,

    jersey

  • http://personman.com danny

    I would certainly start looking for a new job. I was a pastor and I started having some doubts. After I left my job at the church I was able to examine my beliefs more freely.

  • PrimeNumbers

    I’d read Dan Barker’s book, if he’s not already done so. Take things carefully, but you’ve got to look after your own mental health, which means, to me, not living a lie. Turn this into something positive like Dan did.

  • anon

    Like one who remains apathy at a time when action is necessary, a closeted atheist aids the enemies of all non-theists by their silence and self-censorship. An atheist who remains silent for fear of choosing luxury aids in keeping enslaved those who gleefully bind themselves down with chains.

    This kind of shameless cowardice and intellectual cuckoldry makes fools of and betrays the courage and sacrifice of all atheists and of philosophy itself–empowering those who aim to eventually render atheists eternal slaves to a totalitarian in the sky while presently rendering them third-class citizens and “untouchables”.

    Living a lie in order to reap the benefits and royalty garnered by the abuse of truth? I fear that you may be a Christian at heart, my friend–one who would rather live on your knees than die on your feet.

    “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.” – John Stewart Mill, “Utilitarianism”

    I lost my job, friends, and loved ones at the cost of my non-theism; but the weight of choosing comfortable falsehoods to uncomfortable truths was a risk I was not willing to take.

    Have the courage of your convictions; let the love of truth dictate your actions and your mind.

  • MH

    Psychology Today had a story called “The Atheist in the Pulpit” which claimed that a fair number of clergymen wind up having crises of faith and end up agnostic or atheist. Their crisis is compounded because their career being predicated on faith and acceptance of dogma. They had interviews with clergymen who outed themselves and anonymous interviews with those who for financial reasons felt they couldn’t. If he can find a copy that could be a helpful read.

    Honestly I think its fine for him to stay in the closet for social and financial reasons. Not everyone is cut out to be an activist.

  • http://WeAreTheFounders.com Kawlinz

    It depends on how much he values his signature. He made a contract, if he wants his signature to have any meaning, he needs to quit, no matter how silly it seems.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    It is much easier to live a lie than live in a cardboard box.

    I would advice him, though, to start to think about what it would take to get a job at a “heathen” university… Most universities do about the same kinds of things.

  • stephanie

    Buff that resume and get somewhere where your integrity is not at odds with your physical well being post-haste. But I don’t think making some sort of life altering statement is the way to do it. I’m a fan of evolution over revolution- it just seems so much more sensible.

  • Jen

    I would switch jobs, but if that isn’t possible, I would live the lie. In part, that is because I think its unethical to make someone sign a faith statement. Who can promise they will be religious for as long as they need to have an income? There are some circumstances that make a faith statement especially unethical- a person in a smaller town, who might own property, be supporting people, or otherwise be unable to move. In some smaller university towns, there might not be a place to go to get another non-university job. And has anyone been job hunting lately? There are not a lot of jobs.

    I would tell the wife, too. I don’t think relationships require total and complete honesty, but something like that is bound to come up.

  • http://leavingeden.wordpress.com Lily

    I really feel for the guy. If it were me, I would be keeping mum about it too, for the time being anyway. But eventually, he will probably either realize that he can no longer go on pretending, or that it doesn’t bother him enough to give up his job and social community.

    On the issue of the faith statement he signed, it can take time to muster up the courage and conviction to reject everything you’ve known, even when you value the integrity of your word above all. I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong answer for what he should be doing now, but I would hope that he’s moving in a direction of finding a way to come out and move on.

  • http://bornagainblog.wordpress.com Justin

    An atheist in a Christian university setting could do a lot of good for a lot of people. You’d just have to be careful about it. I for one would love the opportunity!

    There must be atheists in the student population as well as not only him on the faculty. The students are there because they were expected to go to a church school and their parents are paying for it. The other faculty are in the same boat you’re in. An underground support community isn’t a bad idea. Use the code word doubt as a descriptor. Everyone doubts, you’re just being honest enough to act on it.

    Also, given the commitment to social justice and so on, I think you could do a lot of good just advocating those good things which can be taught within the scope of Christianity. I know from my conversations with Christians in university towns that there is a lot of progressive thought happening in the higher halls of Xian academia. Check it out and see what good things can be moved forward by your presence.

    The big deal is your spouse. Has she said the word “Agnostic?” I’d put a dollar that, unless you’ve only been married for a year or so, that she knows what’s up already.

    Even if not, she’s your wife. You may feel the need to be totally open with her if not with anyone else in the world.

    Frame it like this:
    I love you… I’m scared of losing you but I need you too much to not tell you… I don’t believe in god…

    Then go on and just be honest and be really appreciative with her for listening. Let her know how much you care about her. I think that if she knows she’s loved deeply, maybe more deeply because you know this life is the one chance you have to be with her, well, it might help.

    (It just occurred to me that if you frame it like this she might think you’re going to tell her there’s another woman and that you’re just an atheist won’t be any big deal. So you might want to choose another approach unless that’s ok with you.)

    Best of luck, man.

  • Cindy

    For me it would be very important to tell my spouse and talk about it. As the partner in your life a spouse should be there with you to work through your challenges. You don’t have to agree, but I hope you strive for a relationship in which you can talk about these things and share your fears and hopes. I don’t want to come off all sappy huggy newagey, but when you go to bed together and something is eating at you a sympathetic ear in the dark is the best remedy.

  • http://jicksta.com Jay Phillips

    As atheists, we all acknowledge that we only live once. For me, this means never getting stuck in a cubicle working for someone else. Though we all die, our names and accomplishments can live on long beyond us. If I were in your shoes, I’d ask myself “If I die, who will remember me? How many generations in the future will have reason to remember who I was?”

    I accomplish this goal by pursuing entrepreneurship and trying to “make meaning”. If you find yourself with no possible employer, consider starting your own business and maximizing your positive impact on society. Your wife can even join you as a business partner. Buy the book “Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki to help build an energizing understanding of how the entrepreneur’s mind works.

    Best of luck in whatever you choose!

  • Doreen

    Although I definitely support this guy finding a new job, the best advice probably is to wait the recession out. Then find a new job, wait a bit to get settled and slowly out himself to friends and family, starting with his wife. Wait a while between outings to show that he’s still the same good guy because having support, for instance his wife, will help with telling the next person and the next and so on.

    Also, he doesn’t have to let go of the social life at church. Just as an atheist can rock out to Christmas music, we can find meaning in things without accepting all of it. I don’t see a problem with it, as long as he doesn’t have to frequently defend himself.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I think you have to tell his wife. I don’t think you can have a good relationship if you keep something so important about yourself secret. I recognize that this is easy for me to say, and that I’m not in the difficult situation you’re in, but that’s my two cents. Hopefully, even if she’s upset, she’ll be supportive, and can help you figure out how to navigate the issues of whether to tell others, look for a new job, etc. . . She’s in a much better position to help you figure out how you’ll feel if you keep silent, what you’re ethically obligated to do, and what the likely consequences of coming out are, than a bunch of random yahoos on the internet

    Best of luck. I know it must be scary.

  • MrMarkAZ

    It takes tremendous courage, particularly when living among and with the religious, to honestly acknowledge one’s doubts and/or non-belief.

    However, if he thinks the feelings of conflict and turmoil will ease over time, that he can live with living a lie, then he is seriously mistaken. Even in the best case scenario, the strain of living a duplicitous life will eat away at his mental and physical health and possibly manifest in more self-destructive behaviors.

    If he is an honest man, with any sense of ethics at all, and not a complete sociopath, he will have to tell his wife and his employer. He won’t be able to NOT tell them; at some point, the truth will come out. The question now is, who comes to harm as a result of it, and to what degree?

    It seems to me that the sensible course of action is to start planning for the inevitable day when that happens, so that when the ugly truth is revealed — not about him, but about his spouse and his employer — he does not come to any more harm than he has to.

    If it were me, I would assess the worst-case scenario that could potentially happen and make an escape plan accordingly. At the very least, secure alternate means of employment, get a good divorce lawyer, and squirrel a little money away on the side, just in case. Whatever his plans, he should be prepared to let go of a good many people and things that he holds dear … and to the fight for the things worth fighting for: visitation rights or custody of children, for example.

    Then, when the time is right, he can make his stand at the time and place of HIS choosing, not theirs, in whatever manner he feels is best.

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  • http://notapottedplant.blogspot.com/ Transplanted Lawyer

    It’s easy to say “I’d come out and walk away from the job,” but a really good job is quite hard to find and academia is a very competitive place to look for a well-paying position. And it’s not so easy to be principled when you’re not able to pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

    If it were me, I’d keep on doing the job, and look elsewhere at a non-religious institution (or at least one that would not require that he sign a “faith statement.” In the meantime, if the “agnosticism” or “atheist” issue comes up, it’s possible to say things like “Well, a lot of people have doubts, but I’m reading and thinking about the issue a lot and right now I think I just need some space to work things out.” Lots of Christians have doubts (that is, incipient moments of clarity that they labor to suppress).

  • laterose

    I do think the wife deserves to know. Even if the secret is never revealed to her, just the stress of him trying to keep the secret could put the marriage in jeopardy. It seems better to me to get the secret out there before that damage is done.

    As for the rest of the world, I don’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing. The harm done by atheists pretending to swell the ranks of the religious is tempered by the influence they could have over the religious communities. As long as he’s not actively contributing to religious bigotry, he shouldn’t have to come out until and unless he’s ready to do so.

  • http://steingrueblwe.blogspot.com Heather

    I never had a serious relationship with religion before I dumped it for free thinking, so I might not be the most qualified here.

    Realizing that you’re an atheist is a big deal in your own life, but it looks like you are at a time and place in which it would be imprudent to shout it from the rooftops. I’ve known a few ex-Christians who got all up in the grills of their families and friends about their newfound intellectual freedom, and it didn’t go well for any of them. Or their families. Or the atheist friends of their families.

    Find a way to make your realization an important milestone in your life. You can choose to involve others dramatically or not. If coming out is important to you, Stephanie’s point is a good one-evolution over revolution is an excellent way to be honest without alienating very confused family, friends and colleagues. You have an opportunity to demonstrate that “atheist” is not a synonym for “immoral,” and I think that is much more powerful than any grand statement.

    Don’t sell yourself (or your skills) short. I imagine you’d be happier somewhere that doesn’t have quite so much explicit religious tension. Think about what you want out of your professional life, and think about what kinds of jobs would be a step in that direction. No issues of religion, no fuss, “just” a career decision.

    And, with life at home, think carefully about how you envision your life with your wife. What do you do of a Sunday morning now? What would you do after coming out? Dale McGowan’s book Parenting Beyond Belief has some very good and thought-provoking essays on mixed marriages. Everyone changes over the course of a lifetime and over the course of a marriage. I am not the woman my husband married, nor is he the man I married. And we’ve only been at this for a little over 7 years! The key to surviving those changes as a couple is to do your growing together. Talk with your wife, and don’t let this be the elephant in the room.

    Hang in there-you’re thinking about this and asking for help and advice as you plot your course so I think you’ll be just fine.

  • sus

    New job. The aspects he likes about the job can probably be found in other secular jobs, and he wouldn’t be living a lie. If it were me, as much as I might like some aspects of the job, it would be outweighed by the amount I hate having to lie about who I am. One of the reasons my partner and I no longer want anything do with the military is because of the religiosity and the pressure to conform to it. It’s terribly difficult to feel like an outcast in your place of employment, to feel attacked for who you are. I would imagine it’s much worse if you actually sign a statement of belief, and that belief is part of your mission.

  • Vincent

    He should definitely be planning for separation from that job. Let his wife know he is worried about his job security but not why. Start saving and looking for somewhere else. Better to quit than be fired.

    One comment though. “several years ago” he read The God Delusion? It’s copyright date is 2006 and I guess 2 counts as “several” in a technical sense.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    First, I would say: In the same way that I would never judge a queer person who was living in the closet (unless they’re actively working against queer rights), I would never judge an atheist who was living in the closet (unless ditto). It’s too difficult, too complicated, and too personal a choice for any of us to think we can make it for one another.

    But based on my years in the queer community, I will say this:

    If my advice is asked, I will always advise people to come out. Always, always, always. Not necessarily right away — immediate circumstances may make it unwise — but eventually.

    Because a life lived as a lie is an untenable life.

    Anonymous guy: It’s not like you’re an insurance adjuster or an electrician pretending to believe in God. You’re an influential employee of a Christian university pretending to believe in God. This might not be a big lie for everybody… but it clearly is for you.

    You’re an atheist. You presumably believe that this is the only life you have. Do you really want to live it telling an enormous lie to everyone you care about? Forever, until you die?

    Start looking now for other employment opportunities. Don’t be stupid; don’t jump off the ship without a life preserver. But you’re not doing anyone any favors by giving them the fake version of yourself. You only have one life to live; you only have one self to give. Make it your real life and your real self.

  • Rustilocks

    The article that MH referred to, “An Atheist in the Pulpit,” can be found here:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20071228-000003.xml

  • Closeted in Academia

    Hey everyone. I’m the guy that Hemant referred to. Thanks for all the great comments, and please keep them coming. I value all the time that folks are putting into this. I’m going to read through the advice more carefully this week, and I’ll post a more substantial response in a few days. You all are great!

    -Closeted

  • http://magdalune.blogspot.com/ magdalune

    Speaking as someone in a very similar situation, I don’t know whether my advice means anything.

    But as far as advice goes: Find another job when you can that provides the same kind of benefits as your current job. Once you do, once you are secure and can support yourself on your own income, tell your wife.

    Until then, I understand your silence. It’s not fun, and it’s not honest. It can be psychologically torturous. But hold on until you can stand on your own.

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  • Neil

    You probably could live your life as something you’re not, but there is no reason to do so. There are other jobs out there. I’m not aware of your financial situation, but if your current job’s “faith statement” is enough of a burden to merit advice from the internet, another job would be your best bet. If it means a cut in your income that you can afford, so be it. If you can’t afford a cut in income, tough it out until you can. As for your friends and family, you need to tell them too. Don’t be confrontational, and allow them as much space as possible in which to maintain dignity, but don’t compromise your own beliefs either. I hate to be negative, but if your bonds with the people you love are contingent upon ideology, then I would rethink the value of those bonds if I were you.

  • http://mylifeintheblender.wordpress.com Laurie

    I was in this same situation as a minister’s wife: my husband would be out of a job if they found out he was such a terrible spiritual guide as to have an atheist as a wife. I was expected to be at church functions and put a smile on my face. I got through it for awhile by pretending I wasn’t an atheist; that I was “searching” or in a rough spot on my “spiritual journey.” When I attended a university for graduate work that also required professors to sign faith statements, the constant pressure to be someone I was not finally caused the collapse of my marriage and my education at that institution.

    It is best to be honest with your wife and find another job. You can pretend to be someone you are not for awhile. Maybe even a long while. But the truth comes out. Better now than after a long period of depression. What you will eventually realize is that you are wasting your life on something that you don’t believe in. Take a chance: quit your job, tell your wife and let the chips fall where they may. I lived on $5 and the generosity of friends for awhile after shunning my own past life. I decided I didn’t want to wake up in 50 years and realize I had wasted my life on a man that didn’t care about me and a religion I didn’t believe in. And I never felt so free. I didn’t realize how fully I had lost myself until I took the chance and jumped. I have a boyfriend now who supports me whatever my beliefs are–belief in God or not; and I am back in school and on the path to living the life I wanted, but didn’t think I could have.

    And that, believe it or not, is the short version of the story. ;) Feel free to email me: little_red22@hotmail.com

  • Stephen P

    I’m with Jen on this one: it’s unethical for an employer to demand that employees sign a faith statement. Your reader should not in any way feel guilty that he does not comply with that statement. Yes, he should look for another job, if necessary one a bit less well paid. But if one isn’t to be found, it does make life very difficult; I’m not going to advise him to come out in those circumstances.

  • http://irritablereaching.blogspot.com/ Irritable

    I’ve been there. To some extent, I am there. There are reasons for staying, and for wanting to stay, in the Christian milieu (and what I assume is a fairly conservative evangelical milieu). There are ways of dealing with it. I’ve tried many of them.

    To those who suggest a new job, even if it means a pay cut, I’m not sure that’s the real story here. First, if this college is anything like the Christian colleges I am familiar with, a pay cut isn’t the problem. Secular universities often pay much better since they can’t count on one’s “commitment to the Kingdom” to justify getting paid poorly.

    But depending on one’s specialty, there may not be a readily available secular analog, and taking such a job, even if available, would be a social marker of apostasy. People would wonder. They would talk. This would not solve the attendant social issues. Of course, in a perfect world, those social issues shouldn’t exist. They do.

    To the person in question: if you’d like to make contact, leave an anonymous comment on the “Irritable Reaching” blog. I swear nobody reads it, and we can work out some way to discreetly communicate without jeopardizing your identity (or mine).

  • http://theframeproblem.wordpress.com Ron Brown

    I’ll list a few thoughts, which I don’t intend to be decision-makers in themselves, but are simply worthy of consideration.

    1. I dunno if you looked into the Scientology protests at all, but one of the major figures in this movement – Tory “Magoo” Christman – gives a personal story that is of relevance. She left the cult after being a member for 30 years. Over the last few years she had been becoming gradually more doubtful, but still very committed. A major job of hers within the cult was to work for their secret service unit (the Office of Special Affairs), which is in charge of, among other things, silencing internal and external dissent and criticism, including through intense harrassment. Anyhow, while she was spreading lies and harrassing people on anti-Scientology online chatboards, she got into a conversation with a leading critic of the cult – and this was at a point when she was really on the edge with the cult. Upon telling him that she wants out, she specified the following fear: If I leave, I will lose my husband and all my friends of 30 years.

    The critic’s response was: What kind of friends are they if they’re going to abandon you for changing your mind.

    Something to consider.

    2. Following from above. The fact that you feel like you will be betrayed by many close people is one of the strongest reasons to not support such an organization. Not only are people believing in utter nonsense, but they’re just so committed to the beliefs that they will abandon friends, family and spouses of many many years over it? Of course, I realize that saying this is very easy to say. Again, as I mentioned above, all I’m trying to do here is mention relevant considerations.

    3. Some critically important steps to be taken in deflating these branches of organized religion as well as delusion-based religion as a whole, and open people up to the possibility of living meaningful, prosocial, and fulfilling lives without dogma. So many atheists who are active in promoting nontheism and arguing against theism seem to be focusing on rational debate and pointing out the social costs of religion. But what about simply living well? Just as well as religious people. A huge factor in promoting the deflation of extreme religious communities as well as faith-dependence altogether, I think, will be individuals leaving religious communities and not only not having their lives fall apart, but have good lives. Leaving but continuing to live well – having an enjoyable and morally upstanding life – is huge.

    Anyhow. These are just a few considerations. The situation that the reader is in, in which is decision seems to pit financial rewards and security, friends, family and community against the desire to not live a lie, to not support something that you morally disagree with, and to not have to live in secret suffering is – I’m having trouble thinking of a word to convey the magnitude of this situation…

    I imagine that the individual would probably be best off to come out with the truth to his family. This is his life! When it comes right down to it, it’s as big as it gets. To subject yourself to a life in which you are intellectually and morally disconcerted, thoroughly uncomfortable, and simply living a lie that you can’t really tell anyone about (and thus are completely alone with), well how can you do that? Every social relationship that you are trying to protect has already been permanently soured as it is, because of the dissonance you will always feel.

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

    First and foremost, I agree with everyone who has counseled to share with his wife. There is no reason to shut her out of this crisis, when that is the reason that people get married. You need her, dude, just for this kind of thing.

    The rest, you will have to play by ear and come out slowly, testing the water each step. Find another job, but you don’t have to say why until you are gone from the old one.

    I am not sure what sort of work you do at the Christian University, but if you are active in leading people along a path you believe to be wrong because of your atheism, then you are being a hypocrite.

  • Obermeister

    I went through similar issues when I deconverted at least regarding my wife. I was lucky that she wasn’t really that strong of a believer either, and had been concealing that from me, too. I still have friends who are Christian, even though I am not anymore.

    I’m reminded of something I read in a graphic novel called “Maus” about the holocaust. The son of a survivor is talking with his son, who’s friends laughed and rode away when he fell of his bike and got hurt. His father said “Friends? Try hiding inside an outhouse for a week with nothing to eat, then you will find out who your friends are.” Kind of extreme I know, but I think the same point applies. If you lose friends over this, then they were not true friends anyway.

    My advice is to be honest with the people you care about. You’re not doing yourself or them any favors if you’re not.

  • Steven

    I couldn’t help but notice that the common theme in many of these comments is “tell your wife” and I’ll add my voice to the chorus. My wife is aware of my atheism and although she hasn’t admitted it I suspect that she shares it. I just couldn’t see hiding that part of who I am from my spouse.
    It does cause some tension at times, especially when my mother-in-law suggested Sunday school for our daughters and my wife blurted out “Steven is the biggest atheist and cynic there is!”. I’m really not that cynical and nobody likes cracks about their weight.
    So far only a handful of people are aware of my disbelief – my wife, my mother-in-law, and anyone at work who notices the “Friendly Atheist” bracelet on top of my PC.
    My reasons for not being more open are probably the same as most folks – I don’t want to hurt people that I care about. While my father is at least twice as cynical as I am, my mother and sister really believe and it would sadden them that I don’t share their belief.
    In a just world, no one would have to face the loss of their livelihood, their marriage, and their friends and family because they don’t share a common delusion. I think we can agree that it is not a just world and aside from “confessing” to his wife I would strongly suggest that in this case discretion is the better part of valour. Time may provide a better solution in the form of a new job and contact with others who have passed through the other side of faith.

  • http://vaneramos.livejournal.com Van

    I went through a similar dilemma as an evangelical Christian when I arrived at the conclusion (with help from my doctor) that I needed to accept my sexual orientation. My struggle was not a secret, and people supported me as long as I regarded it as a sin, for which I needed to constantly pray and repent. As soon as I treated it as something I needed to accept, I became subject to abuse and ridicule from my religious community. My wife wanted to end our marriage though I had no intention of acting on my sexual feelings. I wanted to persuade people to change their beliefs about homosexuality, but did not have the option of remaining in that context because I was severely depressed. I had to leave. When I did, I was effectively ostracized by everyone I knew except my parents, who were not religious. Subsequent to those events I suffered acute anxiety and was unable to work for a number of years. I have been told that is common for people recovering from living in a cult. I dropped my fundamentalist beliefs immediately but did not become an atheist until a few years later.

    It sounds like this person is a little more stable than I was, but I would encourage him to be very careful who he tells about his beliefs. He might do some good, but it will probably be outweighed by the damage done to himself, unless he is prepared to receive insults and rejection from people close to him. The hope that his wife and friends will support him is tenuous. I thought a few of my friends would be supportive, but I had only one who said, “I don’t understand your decision, but you’re still my friend.”

    The best thing this man can do is start planning how to extricate himself from the situation. He should find a new job and build a support system with people who share his beliefs before he starts telling his wife and friends.

  • http://yangandcampion.googlepages.com Margaret Y.

    Adding my two cents to the above.

    I, too, left my church gradually. For many years, I told people “I’m in a spiritual place of seeking answers and doing a lot of reading and thinking.” That was a quiet and dignified answer that left the door open to friendship. I let friends and family get used to this, first, before I told them anything else. That took years, which seems like a long time, but they have to see you skipping church two Easters in a row to get the idea. (One is only a fluke).

    Some friends cut me off at the “seeking” stage, some didn’t cut me off until I admitted to full-blown atheism. But it was only a total of five people, and I don’t miss them. When you are not caught up in churchy stuff, you suddenly have time to look around your own community and find like-minded friends. New friends and a new support system are out there for you. Really.

  • Roe

    Start sending out resume’s to secular companies and organizations and get a new job.

    He’s living in a situation that is slowly corrosive to his self esteem and will eventually blow up in his face. He should leave that job after finding a better place to land.

  • LMH

    Based on my own experience, I would suggest finding new employment as soon as possible. You may be o.k. with it now, but as time goes by, the overwhelming theism you’re surrounded with is really going to get on your nerves and pretty soon the workplace is going to be a misery-zone.

    I know you want to serve your community – maybe look at this as an opportunity to get out on your own. You can still accomplish good things – I would even say, you can accomplish *better* things, when freed from the confines of a religion.

    As for the spousal situation, I am married to an evangelical Christian. We just have had to learn to let each other be who we are – we are still the same two people who fell in love years ago.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    I’ve never had a job where lying about what I though wasn’t a big part of it. I mean, I think corporations should be destroyed as we know them – so any time I work with a corporation, I have to keep my mouth shut that what I’d really like is for it all to be broken up, control given to the workers with democratic control over all aspects of the economy.

    But, you gotta eat, right?

    If the fella likes his job, he should keep lying. However, I think in the long run, he won’t like the lying and it might slip that he’s an atheist – so . . . he might want to start to look for another job.

    But if he thinks he can keep up the lie without it poisoning the work, and he likes his work, he should keep at it. ;)

  • Nancy

    Can you rationalize your church attendance, and participation in other religious activities, with the reasoning that you are not offending god by not believing, since there isn’t one? That makes sense to me, but every time I go to church I just cannot wait to get out, so I wouldn’t last long in a situation like yours. On the other hand, I’m OK with saying “under god” during the Pledge.

  • http://ununtentionalatheist.wordpress.com Closeted in Academia

    Ron Brown said:

    The critic’s response was: What kind of friends are they if they’re going to abandon you for changing your mind.

    You know I have never actually sopped to think about that question. But a friend lost is a friend lost. Ron is right, of course, in that a conditional friendship really is no friendship. Neither is a conditional marriage I suppose. Time to bite the bullet?

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  • http://ununtentionalatheist.wordpress.com Closeted in Academia

    Thanks everyone. I’ve posted a response on my brand new blog. Hope you all will come and visit.

  • Maria

    I stayed with a company that was strongly Christian for many years because I was well paid. I left this year and I cannot believe how much happier I am. The money wasn’t worth living a lie. Being true to your convictions = priceless.

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  • Flonkbob

    Hard call. Very hard. I’ve lived this situation (not exactly of course, no two lives are that close) and it isn’t easy. I worried that I would lose my marriage, friends, community, support system, everything.

    I did.

    Because at some point my own sense of self respect and self worth was at risk. I worried that I’d lose too much for nothing. But, in comparison to what I have gained in life by being honest and open about who I am and what I believe, I haven’t lost much at all. I’m happy now. And free. That’s worth a lot.

  • http://wishingdoesntmakeitso.blogspot.com/ Vera

    I’m fairly far underground myself. Although I don’t work for the church, my husband does, and until or unless he leaves, I have no intention of getting in his way. It’s painful for him, and he can’t quite understand how I came to this point, but we’re both hanging in there, and rather well, most of the time. I think it would be silly of me to leave him because he’s a Christian, just as I think it would be silly for him to leave me because I no longer believe (although I can be a bit wishywashy on the belief thing). Nonetheless, he is bearing some of the consequences of my unbelief, and that’s painful for both of us.

    Is he doing the right thing by not coming out? Perhaps. Is there only one right action in his circumstances? Depends on where you’re standing.

  • http://ununtentionalatheist.wordpress.com Closeted in Academia

    I came out to my wife tonight….

  • Richard Wade

    Closeted, that was an inspiring story. Thank you for posting it. Everybody, go read it.

    Oh yes. If no one has already suggested it, you should write all your experiences down as you go through this process. I is very good book material. The income could be very helpful if you find yourself between jobs.


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