A reader asked me how I came out to my family and my family they responded. I decided to make my answer public in case others had the same question.
Even though I live in the South and my family is Christian, I have had very little fall out from my coming out as an atheist. I’ve been very lucky.
I should clarify that it’s been well over ten years since I came out to my family; therefore, my memory of those events are a bit hazy. But, I will do my best to recount my experiences as well as possible.
Coming out to my husband was not really necessary because both of our views on religion had already been in the process of evolving. We had been having many discussions about religion up to that point. Therefore, the fact that I no longer had a belief in a god was not a considerable revelation to him. While he had not yet come to the same conclusion, he was very accepting of the fact that I had.
I don’t have a clear memory of telling my mother or my grandmother that I am an atheist, but I do remember that I told them bluntly. Even though I knew they would not be happy about my becoming an atheist, I never really feared that they would disown me. My grandmother took it very well. I remember that she asked me if it would be OK to use the religious-themed wrapping paper she had for my Christmas gifts. She didn’t want to offend me. Of course, I didn’t mind. I wouldn’t want her to have to buy new wrapping paper just for me.
My mother was clearly bothered but she never became angry. She did attempt to change my mind. She would say things like “Well I think Jesus is the truth and the light” — but she could never actually explain what she meant by that. She also lent me a copy of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ. I read the book and found it full of really bad arguments. If I had to do it all over, I would say, I will read your book if you read a book of mine. One book I might have used would be Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. Of course, I had not read that book at the time. While visiting my mother, I discovered that she had also arranged for her preacher to visit in order to attempt to talk me out of my atheism. I told her that I was not interested and she canceled it. At the time I didn’t have much interest in debating religion and I just wanted to spend my visit home doing other things. In retrospect, I can now see that it might have been an interesting discussion. I wonder what he might have said to me.
I haven’t come out to relatives who I see once a year or less. I’m not hiding it, but it has just never come up in our conversations. This did make for an awkward moment once when a relative who was going through a tough time; she asked me to pray for her. I didn’t feel like that was a good time to bring up the fact that I didn’t think there was any deity listening to prayers. I agreed to pray for her because she asked me to, and I did pray because I wanted to keep my promise. I don’t think I ever told her that I am an atheist, but I suspect she may have figured it out by some of the things I have liked and posted on social media.
My close friends, who I talk to on a regular basis, know that I am an atheist. Not all of my friends are religious, but those who are took my coming out pretty well. Some were surprised but very few of them had a negative reaction. I had one friend who I was worried about coming out to. She is very religious and I feared that if she knew I was an atheist it might put a strain on our friendship. One day she offhandedly mentioned me being an atheist. I was shocked. It turned out that my daughter had mentioned it to her back when we first met. I had no idea that she knew. All that time I had been going out of my way trying to not let her find out and she knew all along. I had to laugh when I realized it.
Only two of friends seemed to have much of a reaction to my becoming an atheist. One of these friends seemed to take my non-belief personally. Discussing religion seemed to make things worse. We tried just avoiding the topic but I think it did affect our friendship. The other friend is more of an acquaintance. After we became Facebook friends, she put together the fact that I am an atheist from Facebook pages that I had liked. My being an atheist seemed to bother her a great deal. She sent me a few messages I didn’t understand and then unfriended me on Facebook. When I run into her, she is still very pleasant. However, I don’t think our friendship will ever go beyond a friendly hello because of our differences in opinion on this subject.
Even though I have had very little fall out from my atheism, I tend not to advertise it. If anyone asks me, I will tell them. And, if anyone spends a lot of time reading my Facebook page, they will figure it out. However, I still worry that my family members or I will suffer negative affects because of it. I worry about it affecting things such as our future job opportunities. That is the reason that I post to this blog anonymously (so far anyway). My fears may be unfounded; I hope so. Eventually, I would like to be even more public about my atheism than I have been. I realize that the more people who are out, the easier it will be for all atheists to gain acceptance.
Those who are thinking about coming out atheist may want to read
Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.While I have not yet read the book, I have heard good things about it.
Have you come out to your family and friends? If not, why not? If so, please describe your experience?
Have you had anyone come out as an atheist to you? If so, how did it go? If not, how would you react if your spouse or one of your children came out as an atheist?
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