Letter from an ex-believer.

While on the road a couple years ago, I met a friendly young woman who was a Christian.  We didn’t argue, but she knew who I was and what I did for a living.  Several years later, that allowed this conversation to take place:

JT, these people are going to give me an aneurism. This chick, ohh this chick posts something about how god views such and such as an abomination. Granted her post wasn’t as bad as some out there but I’ve just had my fill lol.
I want to comment “I’m glad you were homeschooled and got knocked up before going to college so you’ll never be in charge of making decisions that affect other people… Except your kid… May she be a lesbian. Good day.
Or something along the lines of: I’ve always viewed god as a bit of a lacklustre author, he let editors run rampant with his book and hasn’t published anything in over 2,000 years. And you thought we had to wait for Harry potter.

Basically I’m moving to either New Zealand where this is no longer an issue. Or Norway where it is considered extremely rude to talk religion.

That ends my abridged rant. I figured you could sympathize

I wrote back and told her that I was flattered she could confide in me and that I was surprised because I had thought she was a believer.  She wrote back?

Less and less recently. I am just getting frustrated with how hypocritical most believers I run into are, or they’re just wholly uneducated. And they’re cherry pickers!!!
That pisses me off more than anything. I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone like minded, we both are agnostic leaning (heavily) toward atheist.
For me admitting it is a process, mostly because my family would be super pissed lol. Which is why no one knows but me that my brother is an atheist.
I used to really want there to be a god, but now I’m not so sure. His followers are assholes, if I were a supreme being I’d do something about that. Mostly now I’d prefer for Doctor Who to be real…

I know people asked to see these emails when they come in (this makes 154 such emails I have kept track of).  She said sure, and expressed gratitude that she could write to me and not be judged.  I responded that I did judge her, but judged her positively.  It speaks highly of her that her moral compass is attuned such that she can detect immoralities within her religion.  That’s tough.

She just wrote back:

Well not yelled at lol.
Is it bad that I don’t view it as my religion? I wasn’t really raised in a church, and it’s always seemed forced. But it was always something that I was supposed to believe. Though, even as a kid I knew to take it with a grain of salt.

So yeah, basically an atheist in all respects… But just not admitting it because its a bit of a big step. Shucking off what you’ve always been told is right.

Many atheists express frustration at never getting anywhere when speaking to religious people.  They’re wrong.  We make all kinds of progress.  Most atheists were helped out of their faith, but it takes time.  And even when you’re not making outright arguments, just by being out as an atheist you’re giving the closeted people someone they can speak to – even if it’s years later.

Be patient.  Be out.

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.

  • Silent Service

    Oh I’m out as an atheist. I’m pissing off more and more family members all the time. How do I piss them off? By telling them that every time they demand that non-believers get out of “our” country they are being offensive to me as a non-believer. Then I point out to them that I gave 20 years to my country while they were too busy drinking beer and crying about how they have to press 1 for English on the phone half the time. Lazy selfish snots, every one of them.

    It is so damned hard to both love and hate your family, but I’ve gotten used to it.

    • Ryan

      Oh, how I know how that feels. The more religious elements in my family struggle to reconcile my military service (and, correspondingly, their lack of the same — several were even draft-dodgers) and my atheism through the lens of their religiously-inspired prejudice.

  • Heather

    I know exactly what she means. I was pretty devout for a while as a kid, because I was raised thinking that everyone was a Christian and that everyone just had to believe because that was that. Since around the beginning of high school, though, I started questioning things and when I didn’t find the answers in Christianity I turned toward science. I eventually “outed” myself as an atheist to my grandmother, who raised me, after I’d entered college. That’s led to many awkward outbursts and silences whenever I come home…it sucks.

  • Loqi

    To the author, welcome to the world of atheism (when you’re ready). An unfortunately large number of people will see you as a villian, but at least you no longer have to struggle to believe unbelievable things. And you don’t have any dilemmas where your faith tells you one thing while your concience and compassion tell you the opposite. It might be harder to live with other people, but it’s easier to live with yourself.

  • FlightedChemist

    See, I sympathize with the author. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just bow out. It’s tough to know that there’s very real possibility of losing your family for good if you’re honest. Personally, as much as I might disagree with my mother, and as much as I recognize that her histrionic panic attacks at the thought of my leaving the Catholic fold (one taken so far as to require a 911 call because she convinced herself (and everyone else, for that matter) that it was a heart attack) are nothing but incredibly manipulative emotional games, it doesn’t make the very real pain I’m causing her any easier to take. She’s my mom and I’ll always love her- whether or not she decides to recognize that atheists are capable of love.

    Worse, manipulative tactics on the part of one relative can sometimes extend out to affect the lives of other relatives- grandparents, siblings who live at home, the other parent, etc. Revelations that might feel like a huge relief on the part of the individual (ex. “I’m just coming out as an atheist to maintain my integrity- my family is going to have to accept it and move on.”) might cause decades of pain for dozens of people, whether or not it should. It some cases, it might even be the more humane thing to live in the atheist closet around a sub-set of folks who just might never be able to come to terms with it. I am thoroughly convinced that knowing one of her children is a non-believer would lead my mom to a full on fatal heart attack. I don’t want to put my sister, brother, or dad through losing her. Thus, I’ll keep my mouth shut, at least for now.

    What this means for me and my immediate family (immediate family meaning my lover and I)- and what it might mean for the author- is keeping up appearances in so far as to keep the peace around family. If that means going to church with them, sleeping in separate bedrooms (if we don’t get married in the church, our marriage isn’t recognized by the family… we have no intentions of involving the church…), not eating meat on Friday, etc. while visiting, so be it. No one needs to know whether or not those provisions are followed when the couple is on their own turf.

    However, I feel that it is our turn to stop the cycle. While we might toe the line, our kids won’t have to. And when the generation of religious nuts die off, the family line will be free of drama (and dogma) forever more. It’s just tough to be the couple at the turning point.

  • SparkyB

    I’ve always been an odd mix of religious and secular in both actions and thoughts. I tend to mostly think secularly and so I usually think it is a ridiculous waste of my time to act religiously, but as I was raised to act religiously, when I do (like holidays and stuff) I would do it pretty seriously. I always identified with my religion (Jewish) even if I didn’t totally believe it. However, lately I feel like I can identify more with atheists, thanks to this blog.

    It wasn’t obvious how big a change in my thinking this blog as caused until this week. I was visiting the more religious part of my family to celebrate Passover. We do the same thing every year and so it isn’t new to me that I feel that I’m not as serious about the religious study/belief/practice as some of the rest of them, but this was the first time I actually felt like an outsider. The first time I noticed that almost everything we read felt wrong to me. It was a bit uncomfortable to sit there (especially the section that specifically says to punch skeptics in the mouth), but it kind of makes me happy because I know it means I am evolving.

    I didn’t come out to anyone then, but several times I had the urge to. What I don’t know how to handle is that I still really like some of the traditions. I still like being part of Judaism as a culture. I don’t want to stop celebrating these holidays with my family that I love. I don’t even mind following the silly rules and rituals while I’m there, if that’s what it takes to be part of the ones I enjoy. I am disappointed with the unnecessary limitations they put on themselves, but I don’t think it is hurting anyone but themselves. I haven’t heard any of them oppose gay marriage or reproductive rights (I would stand up to them on that if I did, whether I was out as atheist or not) even if they themselves choose to limit themselves to sex inside heterosexual marriage. But I kind of want to be out. I want them to know that I like sharing their tradition, but I do not share their belief. I’m not sure how to do this.

    Also, even though I want to date people who shares my beliefs (or rather, non-beliefs), I’d still prefer someone with a similar Jewish background who has that shared understanding and culture. Is it wrong for me, both with family and relationships, to want to be Jewish and atheist at the same time?