Coming Out As An Atheist Isn’t Easy

From PostSecret:

It’s easier said than done — and I know I say this as someone who still has a relationship with his parents despite disappointing them with my atheism — but if your family can’t handle your newfound logical beliefs, you may be better off without them.

You would hope, in time, they could at least accept your beliefs, but religion has a way of warping peoples’ minds so that they can’t just deal with issues like this in a rational way. It’s not just life or death to them; it’s about afterlife and eternity. So I’m not holding my breath for them to come around.

The fact that this person came out at all, though (probably knowing this would be the reaction), strikes me as remarkably brave.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    There were several atheist PostSecrets today.  Post Darwin Day influx, perhaps?

    • Pureone

      Nope. Evolution (or “darwinism”) is not equal to Atheism. 

      • Anonymous

        It’s a science-based holiday that many atheists celebrate.

        • Pureone

          By sending in postcards to PostSecret? Coincidence and randomness…

          • Anonymous

            Three postcards mentioning atheism were posted this week.  Frank typically only posts cards from that week’s mail.  There are a couple assumption that could be made.

            Assuming that Frank randomly selects from that pool, a higher number of secrets posted of one topic suggests there was a higher influx of secrets on that topic that week.  Darwin Day has a good chunk of publicity from atheist groups (Secular Student Alliance, as one example), which could trigger responses to PostSecret on atheist issues.

            Alternately, assuming Frank doesn’t randomly select from that pool, he often chooses cards based on holidays and common issues (Valentine’s Day and gay marriage rights, as examples).  He selected three secrets on the topic of atheism following a holiday many atheists celebrate .

            Either way, it’s not unreasonable to make the suggestion.  More evidence (such as a complete count of secret topics over several weeks, and running a simple ANOVA comparing differences would provide statistical strength) would lend support either way.

  • Anonymous

    I was baptized twenty years ago when I was 13.  I started doubting around age 18 and finally came out (to myself) a few years ago in my mid to late 20′s). 

    I’m scared to death of officially coming out to my parents.  It’s quite likely that I will be shunned.  They may just refuse to speak to me until their dying days.  I hate that idea.

    I have a child now and the dynamic has changed.  My parents and I video chat every day with my son (8 months old) sitting on my lap.  So far, as long as I keep quiet about my lack of belief, things are good.

    I feel like with one phone call, I could be the guy in this post card.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa

       Guy or gal in this post card. (Lady atheists represent.)

      • Anonymous

        Good point.  If I work really hard I could be the lady in the post card!  :)

      • Human

        Since the speaker is a male (seemingly) and the author of the post card is unknown it is correct to use ‘guy’.
        You, being a female (seemingly), would be correct to use ‘Gal’

        It isn’t wrong to say ‘guy or gal’ or any of the other ‘inclusive’ variants – but no need to call out someone for using ‘guy’.

        • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa

          I’ve generally only seen the phrase used with reference to the person not present. Ie it’d be correct to say “Now if I had run for office, I’d be Obama here..”

  • Silent_Service

    The idea that parents could completely abandon their children is stunning to me.  Incomprehensible.

  • Chris

    I came out and told my family I’m an atheist and they told me, “you don’t actually mean it.” but I didn’t loose faith because of an event, I just researched enough about religion to realize it’s all one big lie to control the weaker minds of the world and profit from their ‘charity’. But asking an atheist to respect religion is like asking a black man to respect the KKK. Not going to happen anytime soon… My grandparents and one of my aunts keeps telling me about how good god is if I just let him into my life, but you all know where that argument goes when they start their circular reasoning/logic. I feel much better being open about it though and hope other closet atheists come out now that we can network together via the Internet and social media.

  • Jeannebeanie1

    When I say I am an atheist, I say its like being gay in the 80′s..not widley accepted but will be!!!! There is more of us every day.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_A3OAFDTFTUEX6ZHNS2R7S56IIM fester60613

    I have a cousin who – literally – threw his pregnant 16yo daughter out of the house in a snowstorm. In her pajamas. I literally tremble to think what might happen if one of their kids came out as an atheist!

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I never told my mother that I was an atheist because she was dying from cancer and she had a lot of faith in God. She once told me that God appeared to her in her kitchen and stated he was healing her cancer… Well, God lied.

    I knew she was dying and no God of any sort was going to heal her but her faith is what kept her going and I was not going to destroy that.

    My father is a drunk who choose beer over his children but he also has faith in a God. He doesn’t go to church but he does have faith. When we do talk via phone which doesn’t happen often God is never the topic so it is easy to ignore.

    I didn’t declare myself an atheist though until I was around 37 or 38 years of age but even when my mom was healthy and she would say something such as “God is great” or “God is love” I just ignored it and moved the conversation along. Deep down I think she knew because I never would respond to those sort of comments.

    For me when it comes to my parents it is easy. Mother is dead and my father is a drunk that I don’t speak to often and when I do it is about a 2 minute phone conversation because he has no clue what to say to me anymore.

    Now I’m ranting but in ways I’ve had it a lot easier than these young folks and in ways I have not. Lost my father at an early age to beer and lost my mother at the age of 64 to cancer.

    If I had the choice I would rather have my mother alive and well, even if she disowned me for being an atheist. At least my daughter would still be able to speak to her.

    As for my father I could care less. Sadly the drunk who has made a lot of wrong life choices is still alive and kicking. Amusing how that works but maybe this God liked him more than my mother.

    I’ll end my rant now….

  • Stephanie Thayer

    This post secret really stuck out to me today. My Mom was pretty accepting, but my father’s side of the family hounds me on Facebook about it. I tried avoidance ( not responding to their messages) much to no-avail. After another message about it, I  blatantly said, “let’s agree to disagree” and still got hounded by a relative of mine. It hurts when your family rejects you.  But I think the worst thing you can do is lie to yourself or deny your feelings entirely to please your family.

    • Anonymous

       Facebook allows you to hide your posts from certain people. If they are responding to your posts, this might be an option (you can create lists and then block whole lists from seeing these posts). If they are just posting directly to your wall, then that is a harder issue. You might have to just delete their posts without reading them or if worst comes to worst, defriend them on facebook.

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        “if worst comes to worst, defriend them on facebook”

        Facebook is, fundamentally, just a database, and like any such system if you fill it with bogus data it will give you bad results. If you lie to it and tell it that someone is your friend when they’re actually not then these things will happen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Garneau/100001037513758 Jonathan Garneau

    I was baptized Orthodox Catholic shortly after I was born because my dad is an Orthodox Catholic priest, and he still is. One of my friends on Facebook was asking me things like why I quote the bible at certain times when I call myself Atheist. I do so to point out the hypocrisy of many Christians. My dad saw and asked me if I was in fact Atheist, but I told him no, but my beliefs were in question. He was cool with it, but a couple months later I told him I’m an Atheist, and to my surprise, he was okay with it.
    He’s asked me a few times why I don’t believe, and tries to give me “evidence” of a higher power every now and then, but not often. I’m currently 20, but I actually questioned and lost my faith when I was about 15 or16.

  • That Other Guy

    I didn’t have a problem coming out to anyone as an atheist as I make fun of the whole god thing all the time.

    Now only if my parents would stop throwing me back into that damn rainbow-colored closet…

  • Aruban34

    A very striking postcard. I feel exactly the same way…

    As sad as this likely reality is, the challenge is for us, atheists, to strive to continue to be compassionate individuals.

    Very fortunate to have this pseudo support-group by way of this blog. Cheers Hemant!

  • solarsister

    Ugh, I still haven’t come out to anyone in my family. The worst is that, although I grew up in a conservative religious family, we weren’t crazy fundamentalist-types – just your standard, regular churchgoing Methodists. But as I started to question things and my faith gradually became much more liberal – while at a Christian college, no less – my parents joined a different church, got heavily involved, and began to get noticeably more conservative in their own beliefs.

    Eventually I came clean about my much more liberal viewpoint (I was attending a United Church of Christ church at the time, very progressive and “open and affirming” to all sorts of people). Doing that was difficult enough, but my parents mostly seemed able to accept that while of course I was wrong and had been too influenced by people at my secular grad school, at least I was still a Christian, and we just avoided religious topics.

    Now, for the past year or so, I’ve stopped attending any sort of religious services and have considered myself an atheist. And I’m terrified for my parents to find out. I’ve always had an incredibly close relationship with my parents, and I’m afraid that coming clean about this will mean an end to it. Not that they’d cut me off – I have no fear of them ever doing that – but that they’d be so incredibly disappointed in me, and that the fact of  my disbelief would constantly be coming between us, even in unspoken ways. I mean, in their minds, I’m facing eternal damnation, and not only would that break their hearts, but they’d feel duty-bound to do everything they could to bring me back into the fold. I just hate the thought of being the subject of so much disappointment and heartfelt prayers.

    So, yeah. As much as I’d like to be brave enough to come out, I just don’t know when – if ever – I’m going to be strong enough to do it. Part of the problem is that I feel like I have almost no support network other than my family sometimes -  I live alone in a place where I haven’t made too many new friends, none who are declared atheists, and all of my old college friends are still devout Christians. So if my family were suddenly not there to support me, I don’t know what I’d do. It’s really frustrating for me.

    (Sorry, I wrote a novel)

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      solarsister,
      Do what works for you in this regard, and shrug off any pressure from within or without about what might be the “virtuous” thing to do, such as being “brave.”  There is no absolute right or wrong in your decision. There is only, in your assessment, what might be gained and what might be lost.  Love your family and yourself as best you can. It’s never perfect.

    • Grinch

      We’re in about the same boat. Just remember that you’re not alone and there are others out there like you. And I go to a private Baptist university :-p

    • http://twitter.com/apsalartoll apsalartoll

      Me too, very similar situation. My parents know I don’t go to church, and every once in a while they bring that up, but I’ve never told them that I don’t believe at all anymore. I don’t think they would cut me off but that whole disappointment thing every time we talk – yeah, I think that would be there. I’m pretty sure they don’t know any open atheists. They live in a small town where everyone either wears their Christianity on their sleeve, or they just stay quiet. 

      Eventually I hope you find some friends who are at least not so devout that you might be able to be more open with. Good luck.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    This is the most common of all the topics I get in the letters people send me; they speak either of their well-founded fear that their family will abandon them, or the heartbreaking reality that their family has done so.

    Of all the destructive and hurtful things that religion can do, this, in my mind, is the most reprehensible, and the most incomprehensible. To think that a system of superstitions can override so primal and powerful a human instinct as familial love, devotion, and protection still leaves me in horrified awe every time I witness it. 

    Nothing destroys religion’s credibility so thoroughly as this; nothing cancels out religion’s “benefits” so completely as this.

    • Ndonnan

      well said Richard,as a christian i couldnt agree more…but it really has nothing to do with christianity,this is a human response.choosing God is just that,a choice, and God dosent want it any other way,otherwise thats religion,and Hes so over that, but people love it,it helps to control things and people and gives them power . Most people who have children will be dissapointed or even devistated at the choices they somtimes make,but the older they get you realise they are adults and can make their own mistakes…the question you need to answer is if your children turn toGod what would yourown response be? no doubt you would try and make them see the errors of their ways im guessing!!!

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        I have only one child, my daughter. Currently, she is an atheist. If she were to “turn to God” as you say, she would always be welcome in my heart and in my home. That would be very easy. She and I would have lively and interesting discussions, because we have always been honest and frank with each other. We would strive to understand each other, but not to change each other. That is the primary expression of our respect and love for each other. I would never, ever stop loving her, or treat her disrespectfully, or spurn, shun, shame, or abandon her, or any of the other abominable things that I have seen formerly loving Christian families do while “filled with the spirit of Christ,” just because one member becomes unconvinced of a belief.

        You say it’s a “human response.” No, it is not. To abandon and shun one’s child is the response of a dehumanized person, someone who has had their humanity sucked out of them and had debasing levels of self-righteousness, selfishness, and fear injected into its place.

        Nothing so trivial as a difference in beliefs in spooks and magic can ever be worth giving up something so precious, so essential as love.

        • Ndonnan

          You are absollutly right,i hope i would respond in the same way, but what you call the”lively and interesting discussions”, is exactly what people have with their children,friends,co-workers, that you call bible bashing. Whilst i do not doubt you would continue loving your daughter[your obviously pastoral,Hermunts the evangalist,ha] ive no doubt you would be very disapointed.

          • amyc

            I’ve had plenty of lively and interesting discussions with Christians and other theists that I would never call “bible bashing.” My definition of “bible bashing” is when somebody incessantly quotes Bible verses without addressing any points and without making any points. Essentially, it’s fideism gone mad.

          • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

            I don’t know what you mean by “Bible bashing.” I don’t use that term, nor have I heard it before. For my daughter and myself, “lively and interesting” would certainly not be hateful, hurtful and destructive, if that is what you are saying that you and/or others mean by “Bible bashing.” 

            You say that you have no doubt that I would be very disappointed. That is you projecting. Do not predict people’s behavior using only yourself as a sample. I am not emotionally invested in my daughter “being an atheist.” I am emotionally invested in she and I continuing to have a loving and respectful relationship.  Only if her religious beliefs caused her to end that, would I be “very disappointed,” and far more hurt than that, but I would still remain open to her reconsidering.

      • Erp

         I suspect my cousin and her husband were a bit disturbed when their daughter became an evangelical Christian at university  (that part of my family is multigeneration humanist).   They accepted it and enabled her to go to Malawi for a summer to a mission school (the daughter mostly taught maths).   I understand the daughter has  moved to more mainstream Anglican in the years since.    Another cousin became Buddhist; the parents accepted it.   This is not to say all atheists/humanists/agnostics would be so accepting.

      • Matto the Hun

        ” God is just that,a choice, and God dosent want it any other way,”
        Really? The choice God offers is love, fear, and worship me or spend eternity tortured in hell. Doesn’t sound like much of a choice to me. The Bible makes it clear that people outside of God’s-super-special-holy group are, at best, “less than”

        With such divisiveness and hate baked into these “holy” books, it is very clear where the motivation of these parents who reject their children comes from.

        • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

           “I can’t be guilty of robbery, your Honor.  I let that man choose between giving me his wallet or getting shot in the face, and he freely chose the giving me his wallet option.”

          • Atheist

            Clever!! :)

  • Robyman444

    It’s so very, very difficult to be compassionate and keep our hearts open when the people who mean the world to us decide one day that we are no longer important to them. In my case I’m referring to friends rather than family, so I know some people have experienced even greater loss than I have, but I do get the point…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Leithiser/593361421 Chris Leithiser

    Seems to me there are innumerable changes/differences which cause “irreparable” damage to the parent-child relationship.  Most are lumped under the general term “growing up.”

  • Keulan

    This is one of the things I really despise about religion. That so many people are willing to abandon relationships with friends, family, and significant others solely because they don’t believe in an invisible-man-in-the-sky irritates me greatly.

    • The Other Weirdo

       However, if they are Christian, they’re being true to their religion. Jesus did say, after all, that no one who loved his/her blah-blah-blah more than him could follow him.

      • amyc

        This. It’s one of the main problems I have when people (even those who aren’t Christian) try to say how amazing Jesus was (or the New Testament in general).

  • Pureone

    I never told anyone in my family (pretty much all evangelical christian) I am an atheist, but they have pretty much figured it out. 

    My deal is the opposite- I told them in a round about way – through one cousin who is slightly more tolerant of my position-that if that is a problem, or if they make it a problem for me, then I will just leave the family- Pull a reverse shun. Cut all ties for good. They know I mean it and have enough of other support systems that I could easily do it.

    Surprisingly, (or not…) none want to be the one to cause this to happen and then have to face the rest of the family. I get silently handed  the occasional tract  (I just hand them back) and hear subtle wishing on their part, I don’t really hear any overt overtures or standard “I’ll pray for you”sorta stuff- because they know if they do- I’m gone.  I just mostly ignore the subtle stuff, since I know that if it gets to a level that I don’t find slightly amusing anymore I can just walk away. 

    I don’t really want to leave my family for they are pleasant to talk to, religion aside. They have all realized how serious I am about this and have adjusted their behavior accordingly. Win-Win.

    Granted, I know not everyone is as lucky to be in such a position.

  • http://kerrysheadybrew.blogspot.com/ Kerry Miller-Whalen

    I’m a Christian, and reading through all your comments, I find it heartbreaking too.  In my own case, I know my family would love and accept me whatever my choices.  That’s not to say there wouldn’t perhaps be tears and remonstrations… but there would also be love, and that wouldn’t change (haven’t had cause to test them out on that particular issue, but there have been others…)

    For me, this kind of blind cruelty represents all that is wrong with religion.  I believe people very often (perhaps even mostly) use religious dogma (whether it be Christian or something else) as a means of shielding themselves from their own humanity.  They can act from a platform of belief, rather than from the heart.  Or perhaps the problem is that it allows them to act unthinkingly from the heart, absolving them of responsibility for their own inhumanity.   I have not abandoned belief (to the frustration of some of my atheist friends :) However, I do believe it should be grounded in love, and therefore something that helps you to explore the world confidently and honestly, with the freedom to think and question and to accept yourself and others.  And yes.  I am very aware how rare that is.  I’m so sorry to hear your stories.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Kerry, those are very humane and insightful views. I hope you can persuade your brethren once in a while to see things more your way. I wish you well.

      • http://kerrysheadybrew.blogspot.com/ Kerry Miller-Whalen

         Richard – I’m working on it… trust me!  (& the hopeful news is that I’m far from the only one out there, even if we are a minority :)

  • Anonymous

    My wife is currently struggling with this. She’s very close with her family, especially her Mother, who doesn’t attend church, but does pray and walk around talking to god about everything from thanking him for the wind and asking for a cloud to cover the sun for a minute. I’ve been completely out with my family for many years, and when my wife and I were dating, her Mom came to me to talk about what exactly it is that I believe in, and how it is a good idea to at least “pretend” to believe. She can’t understand how,or why, I don’t believe the same way as she does, but this just isn’t a subject we have talked about since that night. Otherwise, She and I have a great relationship.
    However – She would be extremely disappointed to find out her daughter has also been slowly losing her religion. Broken-hearted would probably be more accurate. My wife is concerned that if she were to come out to her family, that it would cause friction, not only for her, but even more for me. I would be viewed as the evil influence that stole her from god.
    I’d wouldn’t have a problem to stick with her initial plan of  just pretending she’s still a believer, but we now have a young son that we won’t shield from religion, but we will talk to him about all aspects of science, reason, and truth. He’s still too young to understand such things, but within the next year,or so, we’ll need to start talking to him about what his Grandma, Uncles, cousins, etc are doing. I’m not sure we should send him the message that Mommy is pretending that these things are real because Grandma will be sad if she doesn’t believe it.
    If anyone is in, or has been, in a similar situation, please let me know how you have handled it. The older my son gets, the more sleep I’m losing.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t have any kids, but I’ve heard a lot of atheist parents recommend the following website and the books it promotes:

      http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/

      You might want to check out the forums there to see how other people in your situation deal with it.

    • Liptip14

       You’re wise to see this.  As your kids get older, the subject of god is going to be absolutely unavoidable.  Here is what I would tell your wife.  I am a daughter who disappointed my parents terribly with my atheism.  But this is her turn now  and to live a lie isn’t good for her (nor your son).  She isn’t doing anything wrong by believing what she believes – in fact, she’s been living a lie out of love.  But love is a two-way street and her parents need to respect and love her as well.

      When she has ‘the talk’ – this helped me: 
      1.  Most importantly.  Do not have the talk in anger.  If voices become raise say “I love you too much to have this talk in anger,” then physically leave the room.
      2. Tell them you love them.  You cannot say this enough.  They can see rejection of their faith as a personal rejection of them.
      3. Remind them that they respect you!  “Mom, you’ve always taught me to respect others.  I’m asking that you respect my beliefs as I’ve always respected yours.”
      4.  Tell them that it only has to come between you if they let it.  Remind them that they already respect (insert family member or friend with different religion).  “You respect Aunt Betty and she’s a mormon.  I know we can have a great relationship too.”
      5.  Back off.  Don’t talk it out right when you come out of the closet.  They’ll want to react emotionally.  Give them a little time to process things before you engage in a lengthy discussion as to why.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks so much for the response.

        The final sentence you wrote on #2 is, by far, going to be the biggest potential problem. Her mother takes things extremely personally. She often tries to give us things like furniture, clothes, etc. It’s rarely, if ever, anything we need or even want. So when we decline, or take it home and immediately give it to someone else, or take it to Goodwill, her feelings get severely hurt. We had a long conversation about this last month. We had a really difficult time explaining that we just didn’t have the space and need unecessary things around, and it wasn’t that we didn’t just want these things because SHE was offering them to us. I still don’t know that she completely understood.

        I’m fairly certain the bigger problem will be that her mother will feel like my wife is rejecting her and her values. The burning in hell forever/no morals/etc will be a secondary issue.

  • Jett Perrobone

    I “came out” (sort of) to my mother about 10 years ago.  It was when I had been studying a lot about religion and freethought on the Internet, and realised that I was agnostic.  I was feeling depressed at the time and basically told her that I didn’t believe in religion anymore.  She sounded a bit disappointed, and asked me if I would still hold the morals involved with Christianity, to which I said “yes” (though I wasn’t being entirely honest).

    Now, I am an atheist.  I haven’t explicitly told my father this yet (who believes in God, like my mother) but I have a suspicion he knows, since I have told him about several atheist websites that I like to visit every day (which include this one and Pharyngula).  Also, there is something else significant.  When we had our last census, he filled out all of the details of my form without my permission.  When I went to check it with him to see if all the details he entered were correct, the were, with one exception.  He had marked the answer to the question asking what my religion was to “Catholic”.  I told him that I wanted it to be marked “No Religion”.  He basically responded with an “oh…”.

    Because of this, I don’t think that my parents would really be surprised if I told them of my atheism right now.  But, I am positive that they would most certainly not shun me.

  • Rebecca M

    This is one thing I am really happy for in my life: I haven’t communicated with closed-minded and bigoted family members for years (since before I came out, my choice). So when I came out to my mom, I knew she loved me and it would be okay. As a smart and loving person she was able to still see me as her good student, her non-profit human services working, abused animal adopting, volunteering child. I know this isn’t typical, so I can’t be anything other than grateful to her that she knows and enforces to others that her daughter isn’t any different than she was before, other than the god thing. :-)

  • Gaby A.

    You think this is tough…I’m 38 and not out to my family asan atheist OR gay. Parents very religious, born-again, and middle easyern. I think it would almost be easier to tell them I’m gay, because in some twisted way they would think me damaged or confused, able to rehabilitate. Telling them I’m an atheist would essentially damn me to hell and give them more limited and possibly less loving ways of interacting with me.

    • Gaby A.

      Sorry about typos…autocorrect was off.

  • russn

    I have 4 generally favorable experiences regarding ‘coming out’ and parent-child relationships.

    My parents were very active Roman Catholics (they have both passed now).  ‘Coming out’ to them was one of the most challenging and emotional experiences of my life.  They must have suspected, as both of my children had passed the age for their holy communion, without receiving it.  When I revealed myselft to them, my parents were  disappointed.  My father was characteristically stoic.  My mother tried to propose that all moral behavior stemmed from religion, by asking  “Does that mean that you can kill people now?”.  I replied, “My conscience and societal expectations demand that I can’t.”  I believe she was too unprepared to explore any further.  The good news is:  Practically speaking, our relationships did not change.  I went on interacting with them as I always had.  And, they responded in kind.  The only anomaly was that when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary mass, they asked me to sing “Ave Maria”.  I consented because I knew it would make them happy.  For me, it was just a song.  I suspect they were hoping it would ‘bring me back’.

    I then informed my brother and sister-in-law.  My brother queried how my children would be exposed to religious values.  More on that in a bit.  Curiously, my sister-in-law indicated that she felt that I should have more reason than anyone else to believe in a higher power.  This was due to the fact that we had almost lost my youngest son as an infant, but he had been saved by heart surgery.  I responded by saying that my son’s survival was a function of science, not faith.  Had he been born 50 years later, with the same condition, we would have lost him.

    To my brother’s earlier point, in the midst of my revelation, my oldest son, through relationships with school friends, became involved in a local church teen club.  When my brother posed the question, regarding my children’s well-being, I told him with confidence that his mother and I supported his participation in the teen group and believed that he should be allowed to find his own path, rather than just adopt ours by default.  I think my brother was threatened by the implication that he might do the same with this children.  My son ultimately discontinued his participation, but maintains a relationship with some of the friends there.  And, my brother continued to treat me as he always had.

    Finally, my sister-in-law, who lives religiously, would give my children religious gifts.  The gifts were not appreciated by my children and ultimately sat idle.  My wife and I finally asked to speak to her privately at a family function, and informed her of our beliefs and that her gifts were going unused.  We suggested that if she was compelled to give gifts of a religious nature exclusively, that our sons were fine with not receiving gifts from her, and would prefer instead that the money be donated.  Subsequently, she has honored our request by giving our son gift cards.

    My advice to anyone looking to express their views to their family?  1) Wait until you are confident in your convictions.  2) If the situation becomes contentious, offer to discuss it further at a later time, when the issue is less raw.  3)  Continue to treat your family/friends with love and respect.  4)  Be an atheist who is a positive influence in their community.

    Good Luck!

  • Tainda

    My mother believes in a god but that’s as far as it goes and I think my father is a closet atheist lol  My mom just rolls her eyes at me when I mention anything about not believing.  I am lucky that my parents are so accepting.  People at work are a different story though.  One of my coworkers told me she would no longer speak to me because she found out I was an atheist.  I just said, “Your loss”

    When my daughter was young, I encouraged her to go to church and learn all she could about all different religions.  As she got older (she’s now 19) she has realized she doesn’t believe in a god and labels herself atheist.  No matter which avenue she had gone, I would love her no matter what.  I don’t see how parents can turn their backs on their children for that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tiffany-Jade-Brown/640358790 Tiffany Jade Brown

    I came out as an atheist in a very public way. I write (or was writing) a blog and one of my posts described why I’m an atheist, etc. Soon after, all hell broke loose. My older cousin, whom I’ve been incredibly close to for the past few years (she was like a second mom to me), told me that I was tearing the family apart, that I’m selfish, etc. It really broke my heart and our relationship has never been the same sense.

    Two members of my husband’s family (his aunt an uncle) were so nasty to me about being an atheist that they actually ranted about me on Facebook in what I could only describe as cyberbullying.

    On the other hand, my mother, a once-conservative Christian was actually very supportive when I came out. Funnily enough, in the last year or so, she has become extremely liberal and has come out as agnostic. It was such a drastic change and we’ve become a lot closer now that our values are more similar.

    I wouldn’t say that I regret coming out. But it did mess me up for quite a while. I think it did make it easier for my husband when he came out as an atheist about six months ago. I guess people expected that if I don’t believe in god, there’s no way that he does, either since he’s the extremely logical/math/science guy in the relationship and I’m the emotional/English/writing one. 

    It’s funny, though, that I came out as bisexual at the same time I came out as an atheist and haven’t gotten negativity from anyone about that. I guess in the south, not believing in god is worse than not being straight.

    • amyc

      In regards to bisexuality: It’s the opposite for me. My siblings all know I’m an atheist, and I’m pretty sure my mom suspects (or already knows) and nobody seems to care that much (except one of my brother-in-laws). But the one time I tried to talk to my sister (the liberal one) about my being bisexual, she blew me off and said something to the effect of “that’s gross.” Since then she’s seen me with girls at parties and such and she doesn’t seem to care, but the fact that she won’t engage me in conversation about it at all is a little disheartening. Because of this I haven’t talked to anyone else in my family about my sexuality. It helps that I have a boyfriend, so the subject doesn’t come up often.

    • WhatPaleBlueDot

      It may be that people just don’t believe us married-to-men female bisexuals.  We don’t threaten the social order.

  • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

    I’m still closeted with most of my family.  What gets to me is how much of an effort it is on my part.  My family members can talk about church and God all day long, and I’m fine with it because that’s how they live their lives.  If I so much as mention attending a CFI event, even if I’m responding to a direct question about what I did on a particular day, or if I politely decline to say grace, I’m “rubbing it in everyone’s face.”  I hardly speak around them because I am constantly censoring out the details I know they don’t want to hear.  They don’t flat out shun me, but they do silence me every time I say something that makes them uncomfortable.

    My family complains that I’m drifting away from them, but I’m only going in the direction they’ve pushed me.

  • Anonymous

    I’m an only child brought up by a single mother. I never new my father. My mother is a Christian but not in a radical sense. I know she is displeased with my nonbelief but she still accepts me and treats me no differently.  Her family for the most part are Christian (Pentecostal) fanatics. I don’t think I have ever believed in any god(s). I’ve always been   very inquisitvie and refused to belive anything at face value. I’m the first person in my family to go to college with a doctorate in pharmacy. I came out about a year ago. I got sick and tired of my family trying to shove their beliefs and views upon me all these years. My aunt said I have no idea what I’m talking about and that I needed to get eduated. I find it impossible to believe blindy and unquestioningly, so shoot me!  This coming from someone who will not watch movies without the approval of her pastor. My other aunt said I was going to hell along with the homosexuals. She said I wasn’t even trying to believe in God. Try?? How do you force yourself to believe in something??

      At 37  I have been suffering from depression for almost 20 years. I have begged and pleaded with this god to come into my life for years. Not until I got on the right combination of meds and learned to cope with my illness and denounced the belief in any god, have I ever been so at peace with myself and the world. I work with people who shun me based on my nonbeliefs. Needless to say I am basically famliless. The last communication I received from my aunt was a birthday card where she convenientally mentioned god in every sentence.  I refuse to associate with people who can’t  accept me for me and not what they want me to be. I respect all people regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation as long as they are decent human beings. I’m so sick of the hypocrisy. Aren’t these people supposed to love unconditionally without judgement. I refuse to tolerate hate and bigotry of any kind.  I aim everyday to help, accept and understand people individually. Really, isn’t this all that really matters? Besides I refuse to go to a heaven with the majority of the so called “saved”. 
    I refuse to believe in something out of fear and superstition. But then again, I’m crazy what do I know?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PWUAB6VWGQWUV4GQTMTPBBU33Q JessicaR

    My parents “accept” my atheism by telling themselves it’s just a phase and I’m only doing it to shock them. The fact that I’m 41 and have been openly atheist since I was 27 is apparently irrelevant. They insist on talking to me about faith, praying with me (with, as in I’m at the table staring at the wall while they natter on), and discussing their latest church activities as if I’m right on board. Oh well, they’re old. I just chalk it up to the religion induced insanity they both suffer from.

    • Anonymous

      “My parents “accept” my atheism by telling themselves it’s just a phase and I’m only doing it to shock them”

      Same with me, with the exception that I am still 18.

      Edit: Why do religious people always say “Well, you have to believe in something” ?

  • ruth

    I went back into the closet after being out.  Life is much easier with the lie.  

    • Senora Grin

      I am in the same boat you are. I hate living the lie, but I got tired of fighting the fight.

  • Anonymous

    I just want to say thanks to everyone who’s participated in this thread and shared your personal stories……it’s been great/fascinating to read.

    (this from someone who has never ‘believed’ and lives in a privileged, progressive world  (southern Ontario, Canada) where I have had the luxury of never having had to consider ‘hiding’ my lack of belief.)

  • Kteeb

    Thank you for your honesty and integrity.

    The Christians that choose to respond are very sad to me.  Based on their negativity, let alone their pathetic grammar, it is clear how small minded and uneducated they are.

  • Pollrakcer

    I work with a women who’s son told her he was an atheist she got mad about it even though she has a wiccan daughter because according to her u have to believe in something. The idea that believing in something somehow makes u better is just ludicrous. I have a friend who is athiest in almost every sense but fells bad because he says non belief makes him fell empty and that he wants to believe. This is a cultural idea it is nonsense and it needs to stop

  • Allison

    I am absolutely incredulous right now! I was searching this topic because I am STILL having issues with this after years of fighting- especially since Christmas is right around the corner. This is my secret that I sent in to PostSecret! I was so surprised to see it on this site… anyway, things have not gotten any better, unfortunately. :(

  • GetHype

    For me, I’m a 15 year old currently living in a Muslim family and I’m having extreme doubts about creationism. I recently told my brother about this (he’s more like a guardian, 27 years old), and he claimed that he was “extremely upset”. He told me that I should start watching some more religious videos on Islam to increase my belief. As if watching videos will cast my doubts about creationism just like that. I don’t know what to do, considering my family is really religious. Hell, my brother already looked at me like I murdered someone.


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