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.
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?