Closeted Atheist Comes Out to His Christian Wife

I shared a story last week of a person currently working at a Christian university. He was religious when he was hired (and even signed a “faith statement”) but he has since realized he doesn’t believe in God.

He obviously can’t tell anyone at work about his atheism out of fear of losing his job.

He even worried about telling his wife (of twenty years) out of fear it could hurt/ruin/end their relationship.

She knows now, though.

Last night, he told her he was an atheist.

… I learned that she really has suspected that something like this was going on. She felt that I had been somehow “broken” a couple of years ago, but didn’t know what it was about or how to help. She admitted a degree of agnosticism herself, but that she fell on the side of belief in God, although she doesn’t believe in the exclusivity of the Christian faith. She admitted to having friends who professed no faith in god, but who were more “Christian” in their ethics and treatment of others than most Christians. This led to a discussion of atheism, religion, and morality.

In the end, there were no tears, and the whole conversation was encouraging for both of us. She accepts where I am in my life and agreed not to try and “save” me. I said I am happier than I have been in a long time.

So now I am thinking about all the anxiety I have been experiencing in being afraid to “come out” to her, and I regret I didn’t say something much earlier…

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to make this big step. It was worth the risk, and I feel like a great weight has been lifted. Life is good.

Congratulations to our friend. He’s not going to tell everyone he’s an atheist — not yet. But this is a tremendous first step.

I think it also offers a lesson to anyone who is afraid of coming out to friends and family: Don’t keep it to yourself.

Tell a close friend — someone you trust — what you are thinking. Tell a friend you don’t believe your old religious dogma anymore. Tell a friend you’ve been questioning God. Tell a friend you don’t want to hide your atheism any longer.

A real friend will be there for you.

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

    The first step is always the hardest. Good on you and good luck with the rest.

  • http://www.themanversion.net TheManVersion

    And people roll their eyes at me when I compare being an atheist to being gay. You could replace the word in this post and it would echo a lot of gay “coming out” events.

    I hope he’s looking for another job. This is a bad time to get fired.

  • http://www.nullifidian.net/ nullifidian

    Despite my reluctance to use the word, I find this particularly heartwarming. Kudos to him for having the courage (I think that’s the right term) to to discuss this with his wife, and kudos for her for her understanding and acceptance.

  • Steven

    Having been one of the voices that urged this gentleman to speak to his wife I’m relieved that it went well. I’m also not surprised that she knew “something was up” – it is pretty difficult to hide things from a perceptive partner.
    What is really interesting is that his wife has a few doubts herself but is still choosing belief. I grow increasingly suspicious that I’m surrounded by atheists like me(or agnostics, if you prefer)who stay low-key regarding their lack of faith.

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

    (wiping tear from eye). I love a happy ending! It sounds like a wonderful relationship with good will and good sense on both sides.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    She admitted a degree of agnosticism herself, but that she fell on the side of belief in God, although she doesn’t believe in the exclusivity of the Christian faith. She admitted to having friends who professed no faith in god, but who were more “Christian” in their ethics and treatment of others than most Christians.

    His wife sounds like she’s where I was a few years ago. I’ll just say that for some Christians, there’s little difference between that stance and total unbelief.

  • SarahH

    It’s so nice to hear that love and closeness trumped any religious divide here. I had similar fears and was similarly happily surprised when I ‘came out’ to my mom. It really is a testing of the relationship, and I’m so happy that this man now has someone he can confide in, an ally, who loves him whether he’s a Christian or not.

  • ash

    congrats to the guy both for having the courage to tell his wife the truth, and on the relief brought by knowing a loved one is truely on your side. hope both your relationship and your life only gets easier and better from now on (next step; new job!).

  • LG

    I’m Italian. I’m not baptized thanks to my parents’ kindness but everyone around me is and, you may know, in this country religion is, say, pervasive but I still have problems understanding what is so difficult in admitting to be atheist. A parte of job related stuff as in this case.
    Maybe…I’m dead inside (joking). This is one of the reasons I like reading this blog (via feed). thank you, and everybody else who shares his/her experience.

  • http://starseyer.blogspot.com Mikayla

    How wonderful, both his courage and his wife’s acceptance! It’s always good to know that the person closest to you isn’t going to slam the door in your face over your atheism.

  • vagodin

    Not such a happy resolution in my life. When we met I told my Baptist future wife I was agnostic. As often happens, a little deeper digging into Xianity turned me atheist.

    Somewhere along the line I mentioned I was now atheist. Since then, all I hear is, “If I’d known you were an atheist I would have never married you.”

    Oh, well, at least she loves me too much to leave.

  • Cindy

    I’m so glad for you and your wife. It sounds like his will bring you closer in the end. What a weight off both of your shoulders. Heartwarming is a cheesy word, but it is apt here.

    One thing I have always found lacking in atheist communities compared to religious ones is a strong support for marriages. As we shape the direction of atheist groups I hope marriage (or the equivalent “till death parts us” relationship) can be more supported along with community volunteerism.

  • mikespeir

    This is wonderful. Alas, it doesn’t always turn out that way. If I remember correctly, Dan Barker’s first wife wasn’t quite so understanding.

  • Chris

    So what happens now as time goes on and he gets further steeped in atheism? Learning more about the gross contradictions in the bible and in its followers. Knowing his wife is one of those people who can overlook the bigotry and hatred which are stated just as authoritatively as the “loving Jesus” parts of the bible.

    Will he be able to view his wife in the same way knowing she is willingly shutting off her ability of critical thought as it suits her?

  • Gabriel

    What a heartwarming story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Polly

    I’m really glad he did it and even more glad it turned out well. There’s no point in holding this back. Why keep a secret between yourselves?

    I had no trouble coming out to my wife. No sooner did I know that I was an atheist than I blurted out, “I’m an atheist” to her. There was a sweeping hand gesture to go along. It was quick but dramatic.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would feel hesitant to come out and tell their spouse, if they’re close, about this. Now, as for telling everyone else, that’s a different matter.

    I sent a co-worker of mine an e-mail “confessing” that after all our talks with me professing the goodness of life with god, that I no longer believed. I got absolutely no reaction to that e-mail and everything is still the same. What a relief!

  • http://elisverse.wordpress.com/ Elis

    Truly heartwarming.

    I was in his position myself few years ago, but my wife didn’t take it well. Things are getting better and I’m a lot happier now.

  • Ann

    It’s wonderful that he found the courage to tell his wife, but now he needs to find the integrity to leave his job. When he finally does, his employers will be more shocked at his dishonesty than at his lack of faith, and with good reason.

  • Anonymouse

    I am living vicariously through this guy! Congratulations!
    My partner and I share similar values/beliefs. He’s atheist and I am atheist-leaning agnostic so we won’t have a problem communicating our faith or lack thereof to one another.

    The problem is that I will never be able to come out to my family, especially my mother. I was raised Baptist and my mother would feel real suffering because she would TRULY believe that I’d burn in hell forever, regardless of how untrue or true that is. She’s a kind person and has always loved me so I keep it to myself for her sake. She believes that god has put her family right where it is and that she is blessed, etc.
    We recently had an accident and she was injured. Even I felt gratitude it wasn’t worse than it was. Mostly it shocked me into realizing she is -actually- mortal. I love her very much and just feel that her not suffering is worth more than me being “out”. She knows I am very liberal to begin with but I think this would push her over the top.

  • Polly

    Ann,

    his employers will be more shocked at his dishonesty than at his lack of faith, and with good reason.

    Excellent point. There is a cost involved in delaying the inevitable. The longer the deception goes on the more hurt it will cause. *said Polly, while pointing a finger at himself*

  • http://travelfork.blogspot.com/ Sabayon

    And people roll their eyes at me when I compare being an atheist to being gay. You could replace the word in this post and it would echo a lot of gay “coming out” events.

    I was thinking basically the same thing, of course coming out as gay to an opposite gendered spouse would be much more traumatic (a same gendered spouse would presumably be underwhelmed by the announcement), but I think it sounds a lot like many gay people’s experiences coming out to friends and family.

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

    Hey all. Thanks again for keeping this important conversation going. I’ve posted a few responses on my blog.

  • http://sunnyskeptic.wordpress.com Crystal

    That’s a great story.

    I was talking with a woman at one of our atheist meet ups recently who was religious when she married her husband, and is now an atheist. She is having a much harder time than this, her husband is extremely angry. I told her I hoped it all worked out for the best, but I didn’t see much hope for that relationship. Of course, that could be because I sought out someone to share my life with who also shared my world views…

  • http://saganist.blogspot.com/ Saganist

    This is a great outcome to a tough conversation. I had a similar conversation with my own wife about a year and a half ago. It didn’t go as smoothly at first, but things have gotten much better.

    It can be seriously scary. You can never predict how someone will react, even someone you think you know very well. I’m really happy that our friend and his wife are able to talk with each other about their beliefs respectfully, and without becoming defensive.

  • Wandering Kangaroo

    A true friend will always be, regardless of being an atheist or a christian – atheist shall wish and christian shall pray.

    Nice to know the story has come to a happy ending.

  • http://msatheists.org Oliver

    What a wonderful story! I’m glad you have an understanding wife. May you have equal luck with your work situation.


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