Exclusive Excerpt: David G McAfee’s The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer

This is an excerpt from Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer by David G McAfee (Dangerous Little Books, 2012). Reprinted by permission of the author.

Your chance to win a copy of David’s book is below!

This excerpt is from Chapter 7: Confrontation.

Confrontation is a natural part of any interaction involving a member of a family dissenting from the others, especially when it comes to the topic of religion or politics. But, on a more fundamental level, confrontation results from these religious discussions for one simple reason: You’re telling them that their most fundamental beliefs are wrong.

In many cases, religious beliefs are firmly held ideas that have been reinforced since a very young age. When you tell someone — even if it is a family member or close friend — that you don’t believe in their God, a defensive reaction isn’t surprising. Oftentimes, you’re telling them that everything they’ve ever known, everything their parents and their childhood idols ever told them, is wrong. For some non-believers who used to be active within a religious institution, this point is well understood. Letting go of these principles can be one of the hardest things to do, so having a loved one who previously agreed with you holding the opposite position can be jarring. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every situation needs to be handled with “kid gloves,” it simply means that one must take into account the amount of indoctrination that has often occurred in a given individual.

Even if you aren’t intending to set out persuading people to give up their religions, even if you couldn’t care less what other people believe, when you say, “I don’t believe in god(s),” it will always mean that, if they do, you believe they are wrong. This fact is one aspect that separates religious identification with other disagreements and discussions common within families. And it is about a topic that some people hold closer than all else — religion. In fact, that is one of the distinguishing features that separates “coming out” as an atheist and coming out in the traditional sense as within the LGBT community. It is not as if saying, “I’m gay,” inherently means, “Straight people are wrong to be straight.”

That’s part of why coming out as an atheist is so confrontational and one of the main reasons that many people who disbelieve choose to simply remain silent about the issue. Unfortunately, taking that route doesn’t progress tolerance toward a secular mindset or educate the believer about secularism, nor does it make it easier for future atheists to be open about their beliefs without fear of reprisal. In fact, an atheist who remains completely silent and/or complies with religious norms out of cultural familiarity may actually make coming out more difficult for others by playing into the assumption that everyone is a theist and increasingly separating people of no religion from the public view.

If there is a familial confrontation as a result of your coming out, it is important to recognize that if your position is by definition opposed to theirs, then the opposite is also true. Just because their position may be more popular (in most regions of the world, including and especially the United States), it does not make it any more reasonable or obvious — in fact, it is quite the opposite. After all… without cultural indoctrination, all of us would be atheists or, more specifically, while many may dream up their own Gods as did our ancestors, they would certainly not be “Christian” or “Jewish” or “Muslim” or any other established religion. That’s because, without the texts and churches and familial instruction, there are no independent evidences that any specific religion is true. Outside of the Bible, how would one hear of Jesus? The same goes for every established religion.

Misunderstandings about atheism also contribute to the “controversial” aspects of coming out. It is not uncommon that a religious person sees your disbelief in their particular Creator as an affront to said Creator. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been accused of “hating God” for simply not believing in any deities — a rather contradictory concept if you think about it. But that does not stop some people from taking another person’s atheism as a personal attack on their ideas and their God. This type of cultural stigma is common and can generally be counteracted by education on the basics, starting with the definition of atheist…: a lack of a belief in a god or gods.

As an “out” and vocal atheist, I’ve gotten used to hearing religious objections that result from conflicts between believers and non-believers… one of the most common from Christians is the claim the “Jesus still loves you.” While there are often good intentions behind this phrase, for a non-believer, it doesn’t provide the comfort that it may for a Christian. I, for one, honestly care more about the love here on earth than the possibility of being “loved” by an unprovable and unknowable being. I’m more concerned with the love I share with my family and close friends… it is love that doesn’t come with the price of faith and rejection of their love doesn’t result in eternal damnation.

“I’ll pray for you” is another popular phrase uttered by religious people in interactions with non-believers. While some no doubt have positive intentions, this is usually seen as a condescending remark. If a believer really thinks their god will alter its divine plan to satisfy his or her requests, I like to suggest that they focus all of those prayers on the sick and the dying, and leave me out of them.

Confrontation is a natural part of the coming out experience and in many interactions. And dealing with confrontation is something that people get used to in the context of a family. It may help, however, to make it known that you aren’t seeking to change the way they think, but instead that you should have the same freedom from religion that most modern governments guarantee their citizens. The fact that, as an open atheist, you are telling believers they’re wrong does not necessarily mean that it is a bad thing. In a modern context, being able to voice your opinions and challenge those of the majority is critical. It is these challenges from non-religious people all over the world that cause believers to give a second thought to the archaic traditions that they identify with and, in many cases, also ignore. If a situation arises in which the conflict is out of control, it is always best to seek professional guidance in the form of therapy and/or counseling.

Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer is now available in Kindle and paperback.

If you’d like to win a copy of the book, leave a comment below telling us about the best or worst reaction you’ve ever received after telling someone you were an atheist! Just use the hashtag #McAfee after your comment and you’ll be in the running for the book.

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.

  • greenlee24@gmail.com

    My parents, especially my mom, thinks my lack of faith is some kind of hindrance. My gay brother feels a bit minimalized.

    • Golfie98

      It’s odd, when I was reading this I was thinking that it reminded me of how I felt as a young gay man (not yesterday) but also that in my society, which has it’s share of right wing religious wingnuts, my atheism is not something I have ever had to hide or be careful about exposing as it is just not an issue. We have had more trouble in terms of discrimination and hatred between the religious factions that they probably never thought or had the spare time to focus on the non-religious. I am not saying that religious parents don’t fret over their non-religious children or friends it is just that in the main most people live a secular existence outside their personal lives. Having said that the religious wingnuts I mentioned earlier can be just as nasty as any I have heard about on here when they find out their child is gay (conversion therapy, chucked out of the house, beaten etc) but when their child is an atheist or just not interested in their religion there is little societal pressure which bears down on the child in other words there is an accepting society which doesn’t care if you believe in god or not.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        i think it depends on where you live. “societal pressure” can be as bad in some places as it is for out gays.

        It is not as if saying, “I’m gay,” inherently means, “Straight people are wrong to be straight.”

        actually, for some of us, that’s not exactly the case. when i came out as a homosexual to my father, he spent a long time telling me he loved me, he was cool with it, etc., but that i was rejecting the only “right” way to live life and that lesbians were all unhappy haters of men who were ruining golf (no, really!) and making hobo alcoholics look like upstanding citizens when they weren’t making the men they tricked into marrying them before they came out miserable.

        it’s not exactly that he thought i was saying “straight is wrong,” so much as at the time he bought into a lot of the whole “you faggots and dykes want to ruin everything that makes straight culture wholesome, with your rainbow flags and hairdressers and other corrupting influences.” lucky for me, he got over it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hugh-Kramer/1217598709 Hugh Kramer

    My parents were dead by the time I came out as an atheist and my siblings didn’t care, but would you believe I lost my accountant when he found out? I still chuckle when I think of that.

  • BeasKnees

    My mother: “Here, take this footprints poem for your apartment wall.”

    Me: “Mom, really? I don’t want this. Did you hear anything I just said?”

    My mother: “Just take it! I really don’t want you to burn in hell!”

    Me: “But…*sigh*.”#McAfee

  • SomethingCompletelyDifferent

    I slowly worked up to telling my wife I was an atheist. She came from a conservative religious family and I actually met her because I co-founded a religious youth group with her parents. We were married in a church, attended services with both her family and mine over holidays, and had the requisite crosses and iconography in our apartment. Fast forward a few years and I had gone from religious to questioning to agnostic to firmly atheist…and I was worried about telling her.

    When I did, she started crying, smiled at me and said, “Me too. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
    #McAfee

    • Barbara

      I literally cried (tears of joy) reading this. I’m so happy your coming out was a positive one!

  • bm

    Best reaction ever when I told a friend I was an Atheist. She said, “Really? Well, I’m agnostic, so there.” #McAfee

  • Ward

    My fundamentalist father-in-law started screaming at me in the middle of a restaurant when the topic of my agnosticism arose. The best part is, I never intended to discuss it with him at the time. He brought it up, and still got mad at me! #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.kivett.3 Scott Kivett

    I posted this joke on Facebook: “I found Jesus today, he was behind the couch all this time with bigfoot and the loch ness monster.” It received a response from my born again aunt who chastised me for my blasphemy. I then came out to her and calmly explained why I am a non-believer. She responded with a long tirade about how I was brought up as a Christian, how could I do such a thing to my family. She also wrote my mother and asked her “do you know what your son just told me?” My mother, who is not overly religious, defended me, saying I am free to believe what I want and she loves me regardless. This happened over 3 years ago and my aunt, who I used to be very close to, has cut off all contact with myself, my children, and even my mother [her oldest sister]. The rest of my mother’s family accepts my beliefs. My aunt sees this as them choosing me over her, so she has shunned her entire family, including her own mother. All in the name of God. I can’t begin to understand how she can throw away a lifetime of relationships over a simple difference of opinion.

  • RobertoTheChi

    After I told an aunt that I do not believe in god /gods, she said to me ‘you still believe in jesus, right?’. Needless to say that she is in fact a simpleton. #McAfee

  • Alan Bloor

    I want to join the British Army after university. When I told my Grandma that I was an atheist she just said in a smug tone “There are no atheists in foxholes” to which I replied “Maybe if more of us were atheists there’d be less foxholes” #McAfee

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      I’m fond of Justin Griffin’s “There are no chaplains in foxholes” response.

      • Alan Bloor

        Not heard that one before, I may use it next time =)

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          It has the advantage of being absolutely true, due to the legal status of chaplains as noncombatants. Even if a chaplain who was walking by a foxhole tripped and fell in, there wouldn’t be a chaplain in a foxhole; the foxhole would become just a hole, according to international law.

          • Alan Bloor

            I find that concept rather funny for some reason… =P

  • Octoberfurst

    My girlfriend, who is a believer, took the news of me becoming an atheist very hard. She wondered aloud how we can maintain a relationship if I think her beliefs are “stupid.” (I never said they were but she figured that I did now that I was an atheist.) The weird part was that I DID think her beliefs were silly as my belief used to be. But how could I tell her that? She went on to say that her spirituality is a part of her and if I reject that I am rejecting her. I didn’t know what to say. (Frankly I think she was waaay over-reacting.) We are still debating this and I would appreciate any help as to what to say to her when she says that by rejecting spirituality I am rejecting her since she is a believer.

    • OverlappingMagisteria

      I come from a similar background with my moderately religious wife. The way I see it, I do not reject her even though I reject her religion because I do not reject her right to her hold her beliefs. I have made sure that she understands that I have no intention of changing her mind on her beliefs and that I love her as a believer. I see it in a bit of a post-modernist way: her beliefs are important to her and they work for her, but I am a different person and they do not work for me.

      Maybe this analogy will help in case my description was not clear. My wife loves shopping. It is part of who she is. I don’t care about shopping at all. I still love my wife, the shopper, and would not do anything to prevent her from going to the mall, so she does not have to worry and her personality is not threatened by my differing views. Obviously, religion is much more ingrained than shopping, but its a similar idea.

      I would hesitate to say that she overreacted (though I wasn’t there so I can’t really say.) You essentially just told her that you think that something very important to her personality is false. That is going to hurt. This is why it is important that she knows you are not trying to take her spirituality away from her.

      Although many religious beliefs are silly in your and my opinions, in our culture, it is not silly to hold these beliefs. We are brought up and surrounded by people who believe things that are very emotionally rewarding and tempting to believe. So although I find beliefs very silly at times, I find it completely understandable that people do believe them. Keeping this in mind makes it much easier to respect believers intellectually.

      Hope this helps and wasn’t too much of a ramble.

      • E

        I had a similar experience with my fiancee now wife. And it is something we deal with still anytime the subject comes up she gets very emotional about me “thinking she is stupid”, which I don’t but that is how she perceives it. I try to never be condescending about religion but just mentioning the topic can illicit offense.

        • Octoberfurst

          It does get maddening. My girlfriend does the same thing every time the topic of religion comes up. She says things like, “You think I’m an idiot for believing in God don’t you!” I tell her I don’t but it doesn’t help because she “knows” ALL atheists think theists are total morons. It becomes quite frustrating.

          • Alan Bloor

            Have you pointed out that she’s just assuming all atheists are the same?

      • E

        It is interesting that I was “out” as an agnostic for a long time with little blow back but when I specified that I would call myself an atheist that word just set things off. “what do you mean?” “you don’t believe in miracles?” “you don’t believe in god?”. me- Yessss, that is what atheist means, but even as an agnostic I felt that way. “WHAT!”

      • Octoberfurst

        Thanks for the response. I have told her that she is free to believe whatever she wants but yet she says her spirituality is the “core of her being” so for me to reject her religion is, in essence, to reject her. I don’t see it that way at all of course and it puzzles me as to why we can’t just have a live and let live attitude.

        • ruth

          My spouse feels the same way. We have lived this way for years. He believes I disrespect him by not believing. Which I think is screwed up. God (metaphorically) knows why we remain married.

        • Agrajag

          That’s ultimately up to her, then. You don’t believe in God – but you love her, and would like for the two of you to stay together.

          She has to make up her mind: Does she absolutely require a partner that believes in God ? If yes, she must seek someone else.

          Harsh, but true.

          • Octoberfurst

            Good point.

        • eonL5

          Perhaps communicating to her what YOU see as “the core of her being,” separate from mythology — all those things that make you love her — would help her see that she is more than the sum of her spiritual beliefs.

          • Octoberfurst

            That’s excellent! Thanks!

    • WallofSleep

      I had a girlfriend who was perfectly happy with my rejection of Christianity. In fact, she had a real hate-on for all things Christian, so that was never an issue. But oh boy, once I started taking the piss out of astrology/tarot…

      Like I said, I “had” a girlfriend.

      • Octoberfurst

        I have to admit that I chuckled when I read your post because I had a similar experience. I was commiserating with a friend of mine about how crazy right-wing Christians can be and she was in total agreement with me. She even said she didn’t understand how Christians could believe “such nonsense.” But later we started talking about astrology and I found out she is a true believer in it. I told her there was no evidence to back up any claims that astrology is real and she had a fit! We ended up getting into a big argument and didn’t speak to each other for awhile after that. But we now have a live and let live attitude. She doesn’t talk about astrology to me and I don’t tell her how idiotic it is. :-)

  • DetectiveCabbage

    On the day of my road test, my driving instructor informed me I was going to hell for liking Lord of the Rings. I passed the test and told him I was a happy unbeliever. Luckily, I only had the drive home in total silence to contend with after that. #McAfee

    • Zen_Trekkie

      It always makes me laugh when religious people knock Lord of the Rings – Tolkien was a devout Catholic. Other than his outer appearance being based on Odin, Gandalf’s “death” and rebirth is reminiscent of Jesus. Then there’s
      the “good vs. evil” theme. Also, the Dwarves in The Hobbit were based
      on Tolkien’s romanticization of the Jewish people – a people without a
      homeland, wandering the earth, doing what they need to do to survive.

      Luckily, the Christian themes are similar to much older themes in literature,
      so they don’t bog down Tolkein’s novels. I’m an unapologetic Tolkien fan – the
      vaguely Christian themes don’t bother me one bit! :)

      • eonL5

        I’ve had to struggle lately to see ANYTHING as not having shades of Christian mythology. Any book, movie, story that leans toward the Epic tradition. But that’s just because Christian mythology stole/incorporated every mythology that came before it. It’s those “universal” memes of our species: Superman (God), Underdog (wandering tribes, downtrodden minorities) etc. The Platonic ideal, etc (can’t remember the right terms from my college philosophy class).

        • Zen_Trekkie

          Christian mythology is very much a part of Western culture. I remember Dawkins saying something to the effect that it really is worth getting to know those Bible references. You seem to lose a little bit of the nuance and subtlety of western culture when you don’t know your bible. Plus, you can miss out on some really good jokes.

          For instance, I mention Bible references every so often (it’s part of being raised vaguely Christian), such as “ah! The prodigal son returns!” or “Seek and ye shall find,” etc.
          One time, while sitting at the dinner table, I asked my husband (raised secular) to pass “Lot’s wife.” He didn’t get the joke, but I found it quite amusing. ^_^

      • DetectiveCabbage

        Exactly! I didn’t say anything until after the test because… well, it’s nerve-wracking enough! Of course, I didn’t tell him my favorite fantasy series of all time is _His Dark Materials!_

        Someone like that has obviously never read the books to see for themselves, and so any sort of intelligent discourse will be futile.

  • Chris B.

    When I came out as an atheist to my wife, who is a conservative Christian, she became very upset. She said that she didn’t know me anymore, and that she would need time to “mourn” the loss of the idea of the life that she thought we would have together. I still love her and we are still together. Fortunately, the issue of religion doesn’t come up a lot in our everyday lives, so life has more or less returned to normal since that time.

    #McAfee

    • ruth

      My spouse, who is Hindu also mourned the los of the idea of the life he though we would have together. Unfortunately, we live in detente. Separate lives, married in name only. What a waste.

  • http://twitter.com/TimWicklund Tim Wicklund

    My mom started buying me Christian Apologist books to try to sway me. She’s very kind, and doesn’t like to argue, but figures Francis Shaeffer will be able to turn me around. So far I’ve learned that the evidence for God is that music and art became dark after humanism becomes part of it (The Line of Despair). Still waiting for the evidence but I’m proud of my mom for trying at least a somewhat legitimate approach, and for not freaking out. #McAfee

  • BradC

    “Here, read this book by CS Lewis.” (Yes, I’ve read it, I even taught a class on it)
    “Here, read this book by Lee Strobel.” (I already own all of his books.)
    “Have you actually read the bible?” (Yes, I even have a Bible degree)

    #McAfee

  • zilchnise

    …I’m still technically in the closet. Only a couple of close friends & family know as well my wife. Our entire marriage, family, friends and life together has been centered around the idea we were “living faithfully’ to God. When sharing about my lack of belief with her she exploded into a rainbow of emotion, all bad. It had been about a year at this point that I was a closeted atheist, and so I exploded back in a bit of repressed anger at all the disinformation, indoctrination and disappointment I had in myself for having believed for so many years. In case you can’t imagine, that type of situation isn’t the time to share the reasons why you learned the bible isn’t inerrant, evolutionary biology, the Synoptic problem or bring up anything related to the Euthyphro dilemma. That night didn’t end well, with suggestions of divorce & pastoral counseling left on the table.

    As a deeply devoted Christian woman, my wife having had a husband that used to pray with and for her, that would read & share the Bible together with her, that would share & talk about the wonderful ways god was working in our relationship and family together…a husband that was everything she was told by God that she needed, and then, it’s taken from her…her agreement to ‘work through it’, well that was the best reaction for me. (Although I am sure she has no intention of losing her faith, she has every hope that I will regain mine.)

    …aside…
    Despite all the anger and resentment I went (and still go) through at myself and the faith, I still love her, our kids, and our life. I agreed to meet with whatever trusted Christian councilor or pastor she wanted to keep our life together going, and I still do to this day. I know & don’t see any road “back” to the faith I had, but my agreement to meet with people and ‘try’ provide hope for her and our family that I will someday come around.

    I still live within the Christian ethos we started with, carrying the uncertainty of the future of my family, and the hope of acceptance. I share openly and honestly with our kids the doubts & understandings I have of the Bible, church and religious thinking in general. Outside of ourselves, her parents and a couple of close friends, the majority of our family and acquaintances still think I am the person they used to know. So, I’ll probably buy the book anyway, as I am sure it will be helpful. :-)

    #McAfee

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      i hope this isn’t offensive to you, z, but i feel very sorry for you. what a horrible place you must live. i have believing friends and coworkers, but they are a tiny minority. i’ve never struggled with being an out n proud atheist, including when i was at (the university of chicago) divinity school, where i had a staunch atheist prof/advisor as well. i can’t imagine the world which you describe.

    • Agrajag

      I’m sorry ! I hope your wife can find a way to get over it, and are capable of discovering that all the things that tie you together, all the things that caused you to fall in love in the first place – are still there.

      She also *really* needs to get that there’s not anything “wrong” with you that needs to be “fixed” by councelling. I got the impression that only you go to councelling, and that’s completely wrong. If you went together – to talk about and resolve the problem — with a neutral concellor, then okay. But this way: that only you go, and you visit a Christian councellor, it implies that there’s a problem with you (and you alone) that needs fixing.

      And that’s an attitude that she *must* change, if her relationship to you shall have a chance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Quirky.Briar Chelsey Fletcher

    I’m relatively open as an atheist – but one of the best/worst reactions I had when someone found out was them typing out, via Facebook, an exorcism… later claiming they would pray for my ‘unsaveable’ soul. I couldn’t stop laughing.
    #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/thebarkingatheist Daniel Mоran

    In high school, a friend of mine, who was kind of apathetic towards religion and everything else that I deem important, asked me, when I told her that I was an atheist, “So you’re like a Scientologist or something, because you believe in science?” #McAfee

    • Dezzydez

      That’s too funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000238587399 Butch Miller

    Just the typical worried condemnation/exclusion from some of the family…nothing unexpected or too absurd. #McAfee

  • http://twitter.com/BFreudel Brittany Friedel

    I told my mom I was an atheist when I was 19, and I had been a nonbeliever since I was 8. I was so nervous to share this with her. But I couldn’t keep my secret from her, she needed to know my true feelings. I think the anxiety and fear I was feeling must be similar to LGBT kids getting ready to “out” themselves. I finally came out with it. “Mom, I’m an atheist. I’ve felt this way a long time and I hope you can accept me. I can see any reason to believe in a god and I hope you still love me.” Her response, “Oh okay. Thanks for telling me.”

    I must have the best mother ever. #McAfee

  • Diehl Stacey

    Me: I’m an atheist.
    Friend: YOU WORSHIP SATAN?!!!
    Me: That’s a satanist…
    -facepalm-
    #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.s.carr.1 Wendy Sterling Carr

    They treated me like I was a witch and tried to get me fired from my job. I work at a Catholic hospital. #McAfee

  • baal

    I recently reconnected with an old friend. When I found out that he married a biochemist, I asked if she was an atheist (most are). He said, no but she is agnostic why do you ask. I said that I am an atheist. He replied that all the atheists he meets have a god belief in there somewhere and began asking a ton of questions. At the end he concluding that i was, in fact, an atheist and that my atheism, “was turtles all the way down”.

    #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/kc.halas KC Halas

    I’m out of my league here. My Mom called it dogshit dogma. I didn’t understand at all. When I was 5 I begged to go to Sunday school to be with the other kids. I came home and said “Those people are crazy! I KNOW dinosaurs are real.” I never went again and played Gobi Desert Paleontologist in my yard the rest of the summer.
    The only trauma I suffered was missing out on the chocolate chip cookie they gave you after the indoctrination talks. This was 1969. :-)

  • eliautsumsmom

    all my sister could say was ” I don’t understand” smh!

    #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jasyn333 Jasyn Taylor

    I have an Atheist bumper sticker on my window by the front door, which has the word “Fiction” spelled with religious symbols. A guy came by one day selling Bibles and asked what it meant. I had the joy of explaining why each religion was based on false hopes. All was well until I began discussing Christianity. Needless to say, he was poorly educated and unable to comprehend the secrets of the universe would not be found in his book of scripture. He did promise me he would read his Bible again and think about what I said. In all his 25 years, he had never met an Atheist. I told him he had, but most just want to avoid arguments and so remain quite.

    Had I read a book such as this one, I may have left religion behind long before u did.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Jasyn333 Jasyn Taylor

      Phone messed up. Meant to write, “… Left religion behind long before I did.”

  • Mike Rice

    First, a positive: I asked my fiancee if she was an atheist, she replied “of course!” Almost 24 years later that’s one thing we still agree on! (love ya babe)

    Second, a negative: We lived for a time in a quite religious part of the Great Plains. All of our neighbors attended a fundamentalist church, as many farmers and ranchers do. One of my wife friends asked her if we were atheists, as we seemed like awfully nice people, but didn’t go to the church. Well, the answer was indeed yes, we are atheists. The friend appeared to take it in stride, but didn’t call us for a while. About a week later our landlord gave us 6 months (he had to keep it legal) to vacate the house! He went to the same church as everyone else, and there were no secrets between them. The move actually did us well, and we learned a thing or two about tact along the way. #McAfee

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    I’m not sure whether to classify this as the best or worst coming out experience I had, but it was certainly the most bizzare. I was at my mother-in-law’s house, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses were there trying to convert me. After a 30 minute long conversation or so, in which I had explained to them that I was an atheist, my mother-in-law’s nurse, a devout Pentecostal woman, arrived for her daily duties. She overheard some of the conversation, and decided to talk to me after the JWs left. I I told her the same things I told the JWs–I’m an atheist and see no evidence for the existence of God and am living a happier life now that I’m no longer a Christian. She told me her experiences of faith healing and told me that she would give me $100 if I didn’t “feel the power of the Holy Spirit” after visiting her church. I politely declined the offer, but that $100 was tempting. It was a strange reversal. Usually believers say God will appear to you AFTER you give THEM money, but she was offering to pay me. Bizarre!

    _____________________________
    On a slightly related note: The next time the JWs visited, my 3 year old daughter tried to spray them with the water hose. I was once again torn in my sentiments, conflicted as to whether to say, “We don’t hose down visitors,” or “That-a-girl!” I went with the former. Being an atheist in East Texas is….interesting….

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Props for the Ernestine Rose quote on the cover! She was profiled in my favorite book of famous women from elementary school, and it was neat to learn (when I read Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers years later) that she, like many of the others, was a proud atheist.

  • Zach

    It’s a cliche, but after telling the wife that I was an atheist, I got the “you must hate God” response. #McAfee

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charles-Stearns/100001316360952 Charles Stearns

    Best: “Well, duh. You’re way too smart to believe that crap.”

    Full acceptance & a compliment to boot :P #mcafee

  • http://www.facebook.com/AdamantineTimex Bobby Winland

    Most of the time I get a positive or neutral reaction to letting the baby out of the bag, but, one time I had a really negative reaction. About nine years ago, when I was 12 and in seventh grade, a girl that I kind of liked caught me doing something that I shouldn’t have been doing at school. We sat next to each other in English, so we talked from time to time, and she knew that I was an atheist. She said that she wouldn’t tell the teacher if I agreed to go to church with her, and, since I didn’t want to get suspended, I said okay.
    Her mom came to pick me up that night. When we got to the church, we went to a youth group called Awanas if I remember right. Well, the person talking to us got to talking about how the world was only six thousand years old. I was in a room with young earth creationists. Interesting note, we were studying geology in school at the time. I got in an argument with him, which ended with me calling the idea of god bullshit and the guy a crazy asshat for believing. Rude yes, but I was 12 and my grandpa had just died, so I didn’t give a damn at the time. To be fair, I did apologize later for using curse words, but they couldn’t get me to apologize for the sentiment. I sat on a bench outside and waited for the girl and her family to come out and go home.
    A lot of kids that I went to school with were in that room when I acted like an asshat. Two days later I was cornered in the gym locker room by about five guys who were there when I acted out. They asked me if I was an atheist, and I said yes. Scared as I was, I was surprised that I could say anything. They commenced to beat my ass so bad that it took the help of the PE teacher to get to the office. They also hit me with the spine of a bible on my forehead because they thought that it would burn my skin.
    When the principal found out the whole story, he decided that a week’s detention was appropriate for each of them. I feel they should have gotten more, but, at the that time I didn’t know anything about how to file a grievance and I didn’t want to tell my parents because I was afraid that my dad would be disappointed that I let myself get beat up.
    That’s my story. If there are any kids reading this, don’t let what happened to me discourage you from being proud and open about who you are. #McAfee

    • Alan Bloor

      You have my respect for being able to do that in such a hostile environment. My mum took me to church till I was 16 despite me having been an atheist since about 13 and I just gritted my teeth whenever something came up I disagreed with.

  • blackbeltatheist

    I haven’t come out as an atheist. I want to, but there are so many things keeping me from it.

    First, as a teacher in a predominantly Christian, rural, black belt town, the overwhelming majority of my colleagues would ostracise me, including my direct supervisor and my superintendent (both of whom are ordained ministers). The community would turn its back on me, despite the good I’ve done over my eight years in education (you should have seen the letters to the editor about an atheist who tried to stop prayers before football games just a few short miles from me) . This would effectively end any chance I have to climb the career ladder I’ve set up for myself.

    Second, as the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, I worry about what coming out as an atheist would mean for my parents. I love my family, and I don’t want to see them lose their livelihood because of things that are out of their control. That may sound crazy to some of you, but in this small, Southern town, I’ve seen them run a preacher out on the rails because his teenage daughter had a baby out of wedlock.

    It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to keep my atheism secret. On almost a daily basis I am subjected to ignorant statements about Christian morality (if I have to listen to one more abortion speech at work, I may scream) and egregious violations of the First Amendment (I don’t want my superintendent to ask me to “pray at the pole” or for some of our elementary students to be bused to a church for an “assembly”). I long for the day that I can live my life in public without having to keep my beliefs hidden. Until then, this will have to suffice as my coming out story. #McAfee

  • Barefoot Bree

    Several years ago, I was living in a small town in southern Georgia. Our next-door-neighbor, a generally very quiet and sweet little old lady, came over one day to invite me to join the group she was hosting – discussing Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life (it was at the height of that craze – or at least, I hope that’s died down somewhat by now). I hemmed and hawed a bit, then told her that we didn’t believe.

    Oh, was she shocked. “But Jesus is coming back any day, and he’s going to lift us all up into the sky!”

    It was all I could do not to laugh. I settled for, “Well, we’ll just have to wave at you from here on the ground instead!”

    #McAfee

  • Keulan

    I came out as an atheist to a couple of my coworkers a few months ago. Both of them are older men, I would guess late 40s or 50s, while I’m a guy in my 20s. We have a radio where we work, and one of them listens to conservative talk radio a lot, while the other seems to prefer NPR. They were talking to each other, and somehow the topic of religion came up. It turns out they’re both different kinds of Lutherans, so I just listened while they talked about that for a bit. Eventually my more conservative coworker asked me what my religion was, so I told him I had no religion. He asked if I was an atheist, and I said I was.

    I was expecting him to make a big issue of my atheism, but to my surprise he didn’t seem to care. My other coworker didn’t care either. We still get along pretty well.

    • E

      Work is the part of my life where I am most “out” and I get the most positive reactions even from Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestants, Muslims and other atheists/agnostics. This probably due to working in such a diverse workplace in NYC. Meanwhile back where I grew up in small town CT if you aren’t a WASP or a Catholic you are not normal.

  • formerHACgirl

    When I told my mother that I was an atheist, after a lifetime in the church as a pastor’s daughter, including a Bible college education, she replied, “Well, if anyone has a reason to be bitter, I guess it’s you.” #McAfee

  • Gringa123

    I was married Catholic and at the time, doing the whole Catholic thing seemed important to me. My husband was not religious so this was a point of contention. Since then obviously things have changed. Anyway, when I told my husband, he said “I wish you had decided this before you made me miss the Steeler’s game to go to that stupid marriage prep class.” #McAfee

  • allein

    I’ve never really felt the need to “come out” to my family or anyone. I was raised rather benignly Methodist, in suburban NJ, and though I have some more religious family members of various denominations (including an uncle who told me once that evolution is impossible and a cousin whose 19yo daughter quoted Mike Huckabee on her facebook page after the Newtown shooting), religion isn’t really a topic that comes up much. When they say grace at holidays or whatever I just sit quietly and look around to see what everyone else is doing, or if I’m in another room when they start I just stay there until they’re done. Since their religious beliefs don’t really affect me, I don’t bother telling them mine. There are at least a few who I’m pretty sure are atheists as well; aside from that I have no idea how anyone would react if I did say something. There are a few people at work who know and don’t care; we discuss religion at lunch occasionally but it’s just sort of a matter-of-fact acknowledgment; one is mostly a cultural Catholic and the other is perhaps a deist at most. I have one coworker who lists “atheist” under religion on his facebook page and several others who are probably “nones” as well. It’s not a big topic around here..

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      That’s how it is for me, too. It’s not really something I have to “come out” about because it’s almost never mentioned. I spent a very nice Christmas with extended family, many of whom have supernatural beliefs, but there was no prayer, and no one talked about anything other than kids, sports, college, travel, home improvement, etc.

  • Vicki Crosson

    When I was in high school, I told my younger brother, since he was going through similar questioning as I had. He was a lot worse at keeping secrets than I was, so my parents quickly found out that he didn’t want to go to church for that reason. He immediately said “but Vicki’s an atheist too!”

    I got disowned the next day, and I can’t help but think that at least a bit of that was the fact that I didn’t get in the first word…

  • http://www.facebook.com/henrik.s.olsen.71 Henrik Staal Olsen

    The bedst experience i had telling that i was an atheist, was when i told my parentes, they were both, “we kinda atheist aswell” the worst is trying to explane my islamic(imigrants from the middle east, i’m from Denmark) friends why i’m a atheist and why i can’t see the logic in beeing religious. it’s like they can’t understand why i’m questioning the exsistens of a God. and the more questions i ask the less they try.

  • ccaldwell314

    When I told my father I was an atheist, he told me he was going to pray that I would get cancer, because that would bring me closer to god.

    #McAfee

  • marelin

    When I was 14, for telling my Morman father that I did not believe in god, I was ‘given’ to my stalker, a 20 year old return missionary (who felt that god wanted me
    to belong to him – him being the very creepy 20 year old. That is what Mormans really believe, that god speaks to ‘priesthood holders’ and women are only to obey).
    I despised this man from the first time I saw him, and never had anything to do with him other that what was forced on me. But I was ‘given’ to him as punishment for my non-belief and not obeying my father. For 10 years I was not allowed outside, or to talk to people, and was beaten. (When I got away at 19 my family found me and forced me back.) I gave birth to two of this man’s children when I was 16 and 18 (a third pregancy was terminated by a beating).
    People want to think that this type of thing does not happen in America, that things like this are only done by Muslims. They are wrong, any “TRUE BELIEVER’ is capable of such attrocities.
    (Though, it could have been worse, if I’d told my father I was a Catholic, he probably would have beaten me to death then and there, instead of giving me to a middleman to do it for him.)
    #McAfee


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