Bravery Has Its Rewards

A while back I posted an email I got from Allie asking how to be an activist even when you’re afraid.  In the email she talked about wanting to have the atheism talk with her religious parents.

I want to be able to ask my Christian parents – my good, kind, loving, amazingly supportive Christian parents – how they can love a god who created the ability for them to fail and then cursed them for failing, who demands they love him or suffer eternal torture, who commands slavery, mass rape, and genocide, and is enraged when people only do it halfway.

I get so many emails about that.  When responding, I try not to think about the good coming out does to the atheist movement.  How quickly would the stigma on atheism evaporate if people started realizing that atheists were not banded together in a dark place plotting the unmaking of the country, but that believers were already living unmolested in the presence of atheists – atheists they love?  I try not to think about that because individuals are important, and forced separation from one’s family or the loss of a job may not be worth that contribution to the movement on an individual level.  The best thing is to make sure people come out only when the time is right for them.

But if you’re thinking about coming out, please understand that it’s almost never as bad as you think it’s going to be.  Allie sent me a very happy email updating her situation. [bold mine]

Hey, I wanted to thank you for the advice you gave me when you posted my email. The fact that you took the time to answer meant a lot to me, and it was really good advice. Your post, the encouragement I received in the comments, and the encouragement I got from friends went a long way toward making me feel confident enough to put my voice out there. I started commenting on blog posts that sparked a reaction with me, rather than just reading the comments and being like, “Pff WRONG! It’s really like this…” And I started blogging ( and I found some CFI meetups in my area.

I also had the god discussion with my parents (aka how can you believe this bullshit?) and it went really well. I had an answer to almost every argument that came up, and I knew where to find answers for the arguments I couldn’t counter well. (My roommate got me The Greatest Show on Earth for Newtonmas, so I get to learn the nitty-gritty details about how evolution works for the first time ever! Yayyy christian school science…) My parents didn’t get mad at me, which was nice, but I also found myself not worrying about it as much. I figured, they’re my parents, they should love me for who I am. Turns out they do.

I can’t think of any coherent way to end this email because I’m exhaused, so I’ll just go with this: *hug*

If you’re worried about your family loving you, give them the chance to love you as you truly are.  If you’re presenting your loved ones with a charade you think they’re more likely to love, they’re not loving you.

We are all in the middle of a culture war, for which the stakes are incredibly high.  They include civil rights and the insistence that reason is the best way to preserve our species and to maximize our happiness.  There really are people on the opposite side of those causes, enough to vastly outnumber us.  Our weapons are as many minds and as many voices as we can put on the battlefield.  It’s not easy.  Most worthwhile things aren’t.

Allie has begun adding hers, and I’m proud of her.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • H.D.Lynn

    Her blog is good. Go and visit it. It’s nice to hear people who haven’t had a difficult time coming out to their parents.

  • kerfluffle

    Try to remember the flip-side as well – if you’re lucky enough to have supportive parents, love them for who *they* are. This doesn’t mean you need to shut up or stifle your views. Accept that they might never be god-free and remember that they love you more than they love their religion.

  • allie

    H.D Lynn: Thank you! Your blog is good too. :)

    kerfluffle: I’m incredibly lucky in the parental area. My parents are fine with me being an atheist, and they’ve actually encouraged me that we can talk about religion anytime. It’s all really civil and afterward we hug and feel good about the fact that we love each other enough to have opposing views and still find each other fantastic. And now that I don’t feel I have to tiptoe around, I’ve discovered that my parents and I agree on things I never thought we would. For instance, I found out my mom is a humanist. I don’t get why she includes embryos and fetuses in her definition of human, but that’s not as important as the fact that we can sit and talk about privilege, rape culture, and the silencing of minorities and agree on almost anything.

    There’s one thing about religion my family and I completely agree on: the ridiculousness of ecumenalism. There’s a church across the street from my parents’ house, and the churchgoers told my dad that their church has something for everyone, whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist. My dad now refers to them as the Moonies, and says he’d go to a service and troll them if he didn’t live within evangelism range.

    • Richard

      I’m glad it turned out good for you, welcome to the club of people who came out and it didn’t blow up in our faces. We’re small, but growing. I hope one day our club wont have to exist and being an atheist wont be regarded as such a horrible thing by so many people.

      I still fight about the existence of ghosts with my father, he is obstinate on the issue to the point of extreme frustration.

  • Sean

    For anybody who is considering coming out and needs some encouragement, I recommend you go and watch Milk. It’s an excellent film about the gay rights movement in the seventies and what struck me when I watched it was just how similar things were to the atheist movement in the US today. The people against progress were using exactly the same tactics as they are today and some horrific acts were committed against good people but the film does a brilliant job of showing how people stood up for their rights and especially how effective large numbers of people coming out can be – it’s comforting to know that the same tactics that the gay rights movement used are being used by the atheist movement and it’s been shown to work – we just need to keep pushing.