Coming out Atheist

Lately the idea of coming out as an atheist has really gotten under my skin. I feel like I need to be open and honest about who I am and what I believe, but to be completely honest I’m a bit terrified.

I was raised in the Church of Christ, a pretty conservative flavor of protestant Christianity. My family went to church 3 times a week every week- twice on Sunday once on Wednesday- and for a few years in junior high I also went to Monday night youth group. Around my senior year of high school, I just got tired of going. I was having some doubts about the whole thing; my budding liberal politics were in conflict with some basic church teachings. Did I believe this religion because it was true or simply because my parents believed it and said I should, too? But mostly, I just wanted to sleep in on Sundays and didn’t bother much with the big theological questions.

As soon as I moved away to college I stopped going to church. I am not a morning person and was glad for the extra sleep. I lied to my parents about it for a little while, until they caught me in the lie. They came to my college town once or twice to drag me to church. I distinctly remember my mom’s advice that I should “fake it ’til I make it” in regards to going through the motions until my faith returned. But, it didn’t stick and I only attended church when visiting my parents for a weekend, not under my own volition.

Jump to junior year of college. I was in medieval art history class and we were studying images of “the women at the tomb” – when Mary and Co. went to dress Jesus’s body after the crucifixion and burial. There were so many different representations! Different numbers of guards, angels, women, etc. So I pulled out my roommate’s bible to see which image was correct. Turns out they all were to some degree. The gospel accounts of the event all differ in pretty significant ways. I had a similar experience when doing a project about the Last Supper.

It was quite a revelation to see how contradictory the gospels were and thus started my quest to answer those questions about my faith. After all, if there was a god I’d better be on his good side, right? And if not, then why waste my time? I started reading books and blogs, talking to people about it, and eventually came to the atheistic conclusion. But for a long time I was reticent to really admit it.

Senior year of college I started dating Ben who’s been open about his atheism for as long as I’ve known him and it’s been a one way trip out of the atheist closet ever since. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised how many friends I’ve discovered hold similar views, and I’ve built up a great group of atheist/skeptic/free thinking friends with whom I am openly atheist. This semester at a Secular Student Alliance meeting was the first time I ever said “My name is Jessica, and I’m an atheist” out loud in front of people who didn’t already know that. It was scary and exciting! Granted, in a club called “Secular Student Alliance” I wasn’t likely to experience any backlash for my non-belief.

The hurdle I now face is coming out to my family. I’m a strong supporter of LGBT people being open about who they are, but I’m finding it hard to practice what I preach when it comes to exiting my own proverbial closet. About 2 years ago, my sister found me reading a copy of The God Delusion, at which point I professed my atheism to her, and the reception was less than spectacular. My sister is the most liberal of my relatives, and doesn’t attend church either, but even she found atheism to be a step too far. It was awkward at the time, but thankfully it didn’t damage our relationship in the long run. However, it did put the fear of familial judgement in my heart. If she had a little freak out, just imagine what kind of reaction my conservative, church-going parents, grand parents, etc. will have. Atheists are, after all, the least trusted group in America (although I have seen some other polls suggesting it’s the Scientologists or the Tea Party- not exactly good company to be in, regardless of who is officially least trusted.)

Last week was LGBT coming out day, which is a time some atheists take to come out as well. I considered writing a letter or calling my parents, but ultimately didn’t do it. Then over the weekend I was listening to a Dan Savage podcast (he’s an awesome sex/relationship advice columnist- go look him up!) and a caller was asking about if/when/how she should come out as lesbian to her family. Dan’s advice was that it doesn’t ever get easier. Extra years only add to the deception and feelings of hurt and misunderstanding her family is bound to feel. And anyway, she should live with integrity and be honest about who she is.

Argh! I know his answer wasn’t directed to me explicitly, but damn if it didn’t make me feel really guilty about still being in the atheist closet at almost 25 years old!

Parents are smarter than they get credit for. It seems to be the trend that parents of LGBT children have it figured out before they ever come out officially. My folks are bound to have some inclination- I don’t go to church, Mom and I are Facebook friends where I long ago gave up hiding my atheism, I’ve recently gotten worse at holding my tongue around my family (in a recent conversation with my parents/grandparents I described the book “Heaven Is For Real” as a naive child being exploited by his parents.) Hell, the internet isn’t exactly private and Mom’s probably reading this blog right now. Hi Mom!

So, it needs to be done officially. But I don’t know how. I could do it in person, but that goes against my deeply rooted conflict avoidance, or over the phone-but I tend to get flustered and blabber nonsensically when trying to explain things to people who I know don’t agree. Right now, a letter is the winning idea, but how do I even do that? “Dear Mom and Dad, Surprise!”

I don’t know. That’s where I am currently. Anybody reading this have any advice?

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About Essential Everyday Pineapple

Crazy cat lady extraordinaire, liberal, atheist, feminist, vegetarian, engineering student with an art degree. Essential Everyday Pineapple is just a phrase from a random word generator that had a nice ring to it. What? Blog names are tough.
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5 Responses to Coming out Atheist

  1. I was raised in a conservative, religious home and can sympathize with your struggle to tell your parents about your atheism. When asked whether I go to church anymore, I am honest about my personal convictions but don’t attempt to convert my family to my views. I no longer hide the wine bottles and coffee maker when family comes for a visit.
    Because I love them and they love me, we generally avoid the topic of religion. About once a year, my parents or sister might bring up religion to see where I am at. I keep the conversation short and try to focus on what we share rather than what we no longer share.

    • My family and I never talk about religion anymore, but if anyone in my family told me that they believed wholeheartedly in God, and asked if I did. I would most likely say yes. Because I don’t want anyone I love to feel like there is nothing after you die. You know?

      I know there is nothing but I have a theory. But if you really think about it, thinking that there is death and darkness forever can be a scary thing for a believer..

      Take Care All!!!

  2. It seems like most families would just be in denial and hope you work through it and find your faith again. I am sure they will be upset and will pray for you. Ultimately it will probably be treated like any other hot topic of disagreement and be swept under the rug I would think. It may occasionally come up for some awkward moments but mainly be ignored. I say wait for the next time they ask if you found a church and just say no, and I wont be….and just go from there.

  3. I was raised to go to church every Sunday (Only once thank Henry) but I went, and I also went to Sunday School mainly because my mother was slightly religious, but mostly a single parent and so she welcomed Sunday coming along when she would have a few hours of peace. LOL (I have a twin brother and two younger brothers. No Sisters, so needless to say we were a handful) She normally used that time to study her Nursing books and finally graduated. I should get to my point though. There was a time that I prayed to god habitually, and then my Best friend killed himself, My father left us, and my mothers new boyfriend molested my brothers and myself. That was the beginning of the end of my belief in God. I read the bible at least 2 times straight through looking for answers and finally realized that, at most it was a pretty ok work of fiction, I’d sooner believe in Harry Potter than God now. Just be proud of your beliefs and if anyone disagrees then bust out “What would Jesus do?” HAHA Stay Safe, and Happy!

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