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May 30 2012

Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice

I’m writing a new book — a how-to guide about coming out atheist. And I need your stories, and your advice.

IMPORTANT: Please read this entire post before commenting! I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of stories, with somewhat specific kinds of information. So please don’t just scroll to the comments and pour out your heart. Please read this entire post before pouring out your heart. It’s not that long, I promise.

I’m writing a how-to guide about coming out atheist. I obviously want this guide to reflect a wide range of atheist experiences. So I’m gathering stories. And I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of information. You don’t have to answer every one of these questions, btw — if you do, it’ll help, but partial answers will also be very useful.

Specific Kind of Information #1: I am not — repeat, NOT — looking for stories about how you became an atheist.

I am looking for stories about how you told other people that you’re an atheist.

I want to know:

what you said;
how you said it;
how the person/ people you came out to responded;
what the results/ consequences of coming out were;
how (if at all) things have changed with time;
whether, on the whole, you’re happy you came out or regret doing so

I love hearing stories about how people became atheists. (I’m even gathering those stories elsewhere.) But that’s not what this book is about. This book is about how to tell the people in your life that you’re an atheist. (Or agnostic/ non-theist/ non-believer/ materialist/ naturalist/ humanist/ freethinker/ whatever word you use to mean that you don’t believe in gods.) So right now, those are the stories I want to hear.

Now, if your process of becoming an atheist involved talking with other people and coming out to them about your doubts, that’s fine. Just please keep the story focused on the coming-out part — not the “becoming an atheist” part.

Specific Kind of Information #2: Please specify who you came out to in this particular story. Is it about coming out to:

parents;
siblings;
your spouse or partner;
children;
other family members;
boss;
co-workers or other professional colleagues;
friends;
neighbors;
fellow students;
members of your religious community;
members of a specific non-religious community (shared hobby, parenting group, etc.);
members of your community in general;
strangers;
other (please specify)

If you want to tell more than one coming-out story about coming out to different people, please do.

Specific Kind of Information #3: There are some specific pieces of information that will help a lot. If at all possible, please tell:

where you live(d) when you came out in this story;
where the person/people you came out to lived;
whether you came out in person, over the phone, in email, on Facebook, etc.;
whether you came out to just one person, or to more than one person at a time (i.e., one parent or both at once, one friend or everyone at a party, etc.);
whether you came out voluntarily, or were involuntarily outed

Specific Kind of Information #4: If there are particular circumstances to your coming-out story which may have made your coming out either harder or easier, please say so. In particular, I’m looking for coming out stories from:

people of color;
LGBT people;
people in other marginalized groups/ identities;
students (high school and college);
people in the military;
people in the clergy;
people in conservative and/or very religious communities;
people in liberal and/or more secular communities;
people who live in theocracies, or whose families live in theocracies

If there are other particular circumstances I haven’t listed here, and you think other people coming out as atheist in these circumstances would benefit from your experience, please say so.

Specific Kind of Information #5: If at all possible, please talk about what you think you did right, and/or what you think you did wrong. What, specifically, do you think made your coming out go better, or go worse? If you had it to do over, is there anything you would do differently?

Specific Kind of Information #6: How, if at all, did your coming-out experience change over time? Did the person/ people you came out to respond differently after a day, a few days, a month, a year, a few years? Did you have just one coming-out conversation, or more than one?

Specific Kind of Information #7: When you came out, were you connected with an atheist community — either online or in person?

Specific Kind of Information #8: How has your life changed since you came out? Are you, on the whole, happy that you came out, or do you regret it? Do you think it was the right decision? Do you think your answer to this question would change if you’d done it differently?

Specific Kind of Information #9: If I quote you in the book, what name do you want me to use? Real full name, your real first name, your online handle, or a made-up name? (If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you want your online handle used if you reply in comments, and a made-up name if you reply in email.)

If there’s anything else you want to tell me about your experience of coming out atheist, please go ahead and do so.

You can reply in the comments here — or, if you prefer more privacy, you can email me, at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. If you email me, please put the words “Coming Out” in the subject line.

BTW, if you read through the comments and think, “Oh, so-and-so’s story is really similar to mine, I don’t need to tell mine” — please, please, please, don’t think that. I want to hear every story that people want to tell. In fact, if certain kinds of stories come up over and over again, that will be very useful for me to know.

And also BTW: If you’re an atheist and you’re not out — I want to hear those stories, too. But I’m going to gather them separately, in a separate post.

Thanks for reading this whole post. Pouring out your heart begins — now!

95 comments

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  1. 1
    1000 Needles

    I’m looking forward to this book!

    Do you read PZ’s daily ‘Why I Am an Atheist’ column? If so, you should consider following up with some of those authors. There have been quality submissions with unique coming-out stories.

  2. 2
    mnb0

    Believe it or not, I can’t remember my coming out! Neither as an agnost (I was still a teenager) nor as an atheist (22 or 23). Of course I can remember discussing the subject, but the point is this. Being not religious always has been normal for me ánd for the people around me, even if they disagreed. The few dorks who reacted in an intolerant way always have been the exception.

    GC, if you want my personal information I’ll send it to your email. Then I’ll do my best as well to be more specific; on this my memory needs to be freshened.

  3. 3
    Kristin

    My brother died some years ago, in his mid twenties. And his death was a very hard blow for our family. One of the difficulties concerning his funeral was that we simply didn’t know what he would have wanted.

    So it was a few weeks after the funeral, I was driving with my mother, and as we passed the cemetery I told her i would prefer a humanist funeral and cremation in case i died.

    She shrugged and said. “ok”

    It was all very dramatic…

  4. 4
    Chris Hallquist

    Greta,

    I wrote a blog post about this, see trackback above. If you pull out a quote from it, I’d suggest this from the end:

    The post by Greta this is responding to was specifically asking for advice, which I feel sort of unqualified to give because I never had any real problems coming out. And I am pretty unqualified to give advice to people in high school whose parents are crazy fundies.

    But when I sat down to write this, I realized I think there need to be stories like mine. People shouldn’t only hear the coming out stories about how hard it was. They also need to hear the stories where the moral was “It was fine and I wish I’d done it sooner.”

    Here’s the requested specific information in list form:

    2) parents, one teacher, new acquaintances, indirectly to old friends

    3) In Oshkosh, WI. Almost everyone I was coming out to lived there too. I always came out in person, unless you count the old friends who word trickled back too. It was mostly voluntary, again unless you count the people who word trickled back to, but I hadn’t told anyone to keep it a secret.

    4) I was in high school. You could count the nice liberal Protestant church I was raised in as a liberal community, and my Boy Scout troop as a more conservative community. My hometown in general was in the middle politically. Not hick town, but when a Gay-Straight Alliance started at the high school while I was there, it was a bit of a controversy.

    5) If I could do it all over again, I’d have told everyone immediately and make other friends before I was even an atheist.

    6) I had a number of conversations. All went pretty smoothly, so there was no negative reaction that faded over time.

    7) Nope. That happened after.

    8) My life has changed a bunch, obviously, given that I went from high school student to guy with a masters degree, job, and slot blogging on Freethought Blogs. And of course I’m happy I came out. 

    9) Full name!

  5. 5
    thaismcrc

    I’m a 24 year old woman living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’ve only ever come out to people in person. My story is a bit different than most because my parents are atheists and I’ve never believed in god and was never a member of any kind of religion. I started telling my friends and classmates that I didn’t believe in god in primary school. If ever anyone mentioned religion, I just said I didn’t believe in it. I remember being 10 years old, in art class, and having a friend tell me I should read the bible.
    I make a point of telling everyone I interact with socially that I’m an atheist – partly because I think it’s important for us, as a movement, that we come out and partly because if I ever get into a discussion about religion, I want people to know where I’m coming from. Since high school, people have mostly reacted in a very positive way (except for one person who said “Oh no!”, I can’t think of a single bad comment). I think this has more to do with the fact that I live in a big city and mostly interact with college and grad school students.

  6. 6
    Matthew Prorok

    If you’re not yet aware of it, check out The Great Project on Reddit, as well as the AtheismComingOut subreddit. I’m pretty sure that everyone there would be happy to share their stories with you; after all, they’re sharing them with the Internet.

  7. 7
    thaismcrc

    Oh, and I was not connected to any atheist community, I can’t say my life has changed because I’ve been out as an atheist for pretty much as long as I can remember, and if you do quote me, please use my name: Thais Camargo.

  8. 8
    Erasmus

    I can’t remember coming out as atheist, my earliest memory were it came up was refusing to be blessed when I was at a catholic school. No one cared, they knew I was atheist when they accepted me, they wanted to improve their stats through use of my intellect so the deal was they don’t push and I don’t leave.

    Next time religion came up was a christian girl in college (age 16-18, I’m English) saying some creationist nonsense. The teacher told her she was being silly and to not derail the class with fables. Most everyone else just laughed.

    At University I had to break it to a friend that not only was I atheist almost everyone else he knew was too. He tried to convert me then which is the only time he and I ever had a vitriolic argument as he ended up in tears over the offensive shit in his holy book, we agreed not to discuss it again. His father is a bishop he went on to lead the CU at our uni and know does.Christian outreach, I happily turn up to some of his programs to tell people what he is peddling is crap. We’ve been friends a decade.

    Most recent time religious belief came up was when it turned out someone at work was religious, if only in the mildest way as religion is seen by most people were I work as a dangerous plague on society and a sign of being a bit nuts this was weird. Fallout from that was the woman in question is having a think about the basis of her belief through rational analysis, she’s not finished thinking yet, so don’t know where it will lead.

    I also have to occasionally point out to my hyper religious nicaraugan cousins, who are christian, or my Muslim brother in law that they are making a wrong headed decision clouded by woo. My cousins mostly listen with my brother its 50/50.

    Don’t know if that’s helpful… I obviously live in a mostly atheist community so ots the religious who come out. I now wish I’d been less harsh on some of the earlier examples, but I was a kid/teenager and thus an arsehole.

  9. 9
    Erasmus

    Apologies for typos and random caps Phone does weird things.

  10. 10
    Coolred38

    1. After being muslim for 20 years, I eventually “converted” to atheism several years ago. The first person I told was my girlfriend, who is still muslim. She has encouraged me every step of the way and supported me against others who just want to condemn me. I have not directly told my children (who are still muslim, mostly…all nearly grown) that I am an atheist but they understand from my new direction in life, my online comments etc. It actually went smoother than I thought though there have been haters.

    2.I tell anyone that I engage in religous talk with…friends, family, strangers. For some it is no big deal…for others I might as well have admitted to murder or something.

    3.I lived in the middle east (23 years) and came out in that country though I kept it to just a few people. Not a safe thing to do to apostate from Islam. I had no wish to antagonize anyone when the consequences could have been dire. I had my children to think about…as well as myself. The people I came out to were from there as well (muslim/arabs mostly)…but since being back in the states I don’t hesitate to tell anyone and everyone.

    4. As many will know here, muslims can be dealt with harshly for apostating from Islam and so caution is necessary; however, I have found that most arab/muslims don’t care as long as you keep it to yourself. Don’t broadcast the fact that you have given up Islam as it is a shame based society. You shame yourself then you shame your whole family. It can be very dangerous if the wrong person/people find out so it’s best to keep your status secret or between those you trust with your life really.

    5. What I did right was trusting my intuition (after years of indoctrination and giving up my ability to think for myself). It was one, of just a few times in my life, that I allowed myself to believe in my reasoning, my conclusions, my right to self determination. What I did wrong was take so long to make that leap as I had doubts for years but hesitated through fear and familiarity. Having the support of my gf made all the difference in the world. Having just ONE person that believes in you can give you bravery and strength you never knew you had.

    6. In the beginning I was extremely angry and would argue with anyone and everyone, not about god existing period as my atheism had to be kept underwraps, but about religious practices etc. I antagonized a lot of people but I couldn’t help it. I felt like I had been duped and wanted and needed satisfaction. I have calmed down a great deal and still argue with believers but I keep the anger in check. It just causes defenses to go up and nothing is achieved. My kids, the ones I most cherish how they think of me, have handled it well. My sons are the more devoted muslims but after the initial awkwardness they have accepted it more or less. I’m assuming their love for me allows them to push aside the beliefs Islam has instilled in them about apostates…but who knows.

    7. When I came out I was not connected with any atheist community as such. I didn’t know any personally but read their thoughts on line etc. I was basically alone in my little world but it was a nice sort of isolation. Hard to explain. Now I’m quite involved and it was amazing to learn that I was not alone anymore.

    8. My only regret to coming out atheist is that I did not do it sooner. I wasted years of my life in the pursuit of a entity that did not exist. Do to my abusive marriage (and childhood)I needed to believe it all meant something. I hung on too long when I knew it was not real, not productive. Since coming out I have lost a lot of the anger I had before (anger due to many things in my life, not just those related to religion) and simply dropped many of the burdens religion forced on me. I still have problems in my life and within myself…but religion ain’t one of them (other than how the beliefs of others affects me and those I love).

    9. If you quote me you can use my internet handle, Coolred38.

  11. 11
    sambarge

    I do have a story that turns this mem on its head a bit. My mother came out to me but as a believer.

    Although I was raised nominally Catholic, my siblings, my father and I made no bones about not believing. My mother was non-committal but I got no sense that religion played any role in her daily life. I don’t live in the same city as my mother and, after my father’s death; she started to attend the Jehovah’s Witness church/hall/whatever. I knew about it but didn’t take it very seriously. After all, I had been there with my mother when she sent Witnesses packing after they knocked on our front door. I assumed she was looking for a community or friends and that eventually the doctrine would drive her away – or that she’d be a Witness the same way we were Catholics (i.e. in name only).

    Then, eight years ago, my mother called me to ask if she could list me as her next of kin for medical reasons. My sister lives near my mother so it struck me odd that she would ask me to do this. The thing is she wanted me to promise that I wouldn’t allow any blood or blood products to be used if she was incapable of denying the treatment herself – a promise she could not extract from my sister. I sat there dumb-founded while she explained the doctrinal reasons for her decision to embrace death rather than, say, a blood transfusion, if it came to that.

    I said no. I could not watch my mother die if treatment was available just because some misinformed charlatan convinced her that God would want it that way. My exact words were something like:

    “Don’t ask me to do that. Because I won’t do it and you’ll hate me but I won’t care because you’ll be alive and I can’t live with the knowledge that I let you die for no good reason. Don’t ever ask me to do that again. Don’t list me as your next of kin.”

    We didn’t talk about her faith again until last month (if you can believe it!). That’s when I found out she was a young Earth Creationist and that she worries that my family and I, along with my sister and her family, will all burn in Hell because we don’t accept God (and, let’s not be sweet about it, she means the right God because I am happy to accept Thor if he looks like Chris Hemsworth). At that time I told her that I was sad and angry that her faith caused her pain but I accepted a scientific explanation for life and rejected the existence of a supernatural world. We stopped talking about it because it made her so upset.

    I’m still pissed off at her shitty church and their shitty tactics.

  12. 12
    Pat

    I find I have to repeatedly come out to my coworkers. Around a Christian holiday (usually Christmas), someone will ask “So, what are you doing for Christmas?” And I tell them I’m an atheist so we don’t celebrate it. It’s all very low key, and that’s probably why I have to repeat the process. There have been no negative reactions from them. I work at a university in upstate New York, so people are somewhat accustomed to a diverse environment. I’m a member of the LGBTQ community as well, so have a bit of practice at coming out in casual conversation. I find that’s the easiest way to come out to people you have low-level relationships with.

  13. 13
    bubba707

    I live in a small town in Wisconsin, pretty conservative and mostly Catholic. I’ve never really “come out” but never made any secret of being atheist. Everyone that knows me pretty much assumes I’m an atheist and it’s just not a real subject of conversation. The closest to it was a while after my Dads funeral an Aunt asked if I was religious at all and I told her no, not at all. Nothing more was said and we still get along fine. As for the atheist community, no, and I’m not part of any other community either. Other than the company of my wife, my grown children and a very few relatives, I far prefer my own company as I find people in groups to be obnoxious and annoying. I could be quite content as a hermit. There’s really no drama in any of it and at this point in my life I don’t want any.

  14. 14
    Flimsyman

    I’ve never been particularly outspoken or aggressive with my opinions or worldview, but I’ve also never shied away from discussing them if a topic that’s really important to me comes up.

    To specify one aspect of my continual coming out, I was raised in a very conservative, rural southern Illinois town, in a very conservative Baptist church, where my parents were (and are) very active.

    I started seriously doubting Christianity when I was eleven years old, and have been progressively coming out to my parents (and everyone else) bit by bit ever since, right along with those doubts.

    More often than not, that’s how such conversations start; openly questioning some aspect of Christian doctrine or scripture. I remember a particularly vivid conversation with my mom, when I had just read 1 Samuel 18 (this is verse 27): “Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.” I was just curious what a foreskin was! The Bible actually has kind of a weird fixation on foreskins, eh? So in all innocence, I asked my mom. Without any context for my question, she answered primly that it’s a part of a boy’s private parts, and we don’t really talk about it in public. Of course, I’m completely horrified. I think I was around fifteen years old at the time, give or take a year or two.

    The disturbing part is that I tried to explain to my mom why I was so disgusted, and she literally refused to believe that the Bible contained such a horrible story. She said that I was “smart enough to talk about the Bible intelligently, without resorting to making up nasty stories.” I argued, and pretty soon I just went and got the Bible that I had been reading, and she wouldn’t look at it. She had caught on that I wasn’t just making up horrible stories, and sent me to my room instead of admitting that she was wrong about the Bible.

    Similar discussions about my doubting, or my questions, or my “rebelling against God” happened frequently all through my teenage years. This was always far, far more intense with my parents than with anyone else. My peers have never really made a huge deal of it. The other adults at my childhood church would only ever respond to a teenager with blunt criticisms of Christianity with a condescending, “Oh, well, you’re still searching” or something similar. To this day, my parents still answer their fellow church-goers’ questions of what their son believes with “he’s searching.”

    Not sure if I would change anything. I was doubtless a horrible debater, as goofy and amateurish as can be. Not entirely sure I can blame older religious people for dismissing my doubts relatively quickly, given how awkwardly I probably expressed those doubts.

    It would have been nice to know of some kind of atheist or skeptical community, though. I had never even thought to look into atheist or skeptic communities until I met my wife, Christina, who currently co-blogs with JT at http://freethoughtblogs.com/wwjtd.

    If anything here is any good to you, Greta, you can use my real full name, Christopher Stephens.

  15. 15
    Marnie

    I grew up in the southern New Hampshire, where people who work in or near Boston live to avoid paying income tax. It was a weird mix of rural and suburban, poor and wealthy, liberal and conservative. My school system was very well rated and taught comprehensive sex education from grade school through high school, and also taught evolution with no mention of creationism, so I think it’s safe to assume it’s more liberal than what one might expect from the most republican state in New England.

    Anyway, I was raised in a generically christian household that was, for all intents and purposes, non-practicing, though both parents identify as Christian on some level and their families have some pretty devout members.

    I realized I didn’t buy the whole god concept sometime around 6th or 7th grade and, while I was at it, I wasn’t too comfortable with blindly standing up and promising my loyalty to a piece of fabric so my “coming out” to the community was my refusal to stand for the pledge each morning at school.

    Generally, whichever teacher was my homeroom teacher, would ask me on the first day of school, why I didn’t stand for the pledge and I’d basically say that I’m not obliged to do so. I don’t remember my exact wording. Sometimes classmates would press me and I’d explain that I don’t believe in god and I don’t believe in blindly repeating a promise of loyalty. I was sometimes called a communist and/or satanist, which both seemed like odd insults but I was a painfully unpopular individual already and standing my ground neither lost me nor gained me any friends so I don’t recall being particularly bothered either way, which made the taunting pretty short lived. In other words, I gave a lot more f**ks about what I believed than I did in what others thought of me, which made the process largely painless.

    Since I had very little religious pressure at home and I came to my conclusions pretty early, there was no big “coming out” for me and not a heck of a lot of drama involved in it. I don’t bring it up with friends or family, but if someone else brings it up, I’m honest without being provocative with my choice of words. If I’m unsure of a situation, I may say I’m, “not religious” which can be interpreted as meaning “I don’t go to church” or “i reject a lot of the dogma of christianity” or some other interpretation a person might choose if they aren’t terribly open to atheism.

    If I’m talking to someone at work who seems to be pushing the subject, I generally just say that it’s a personal matter.

    All that being said, I try to avoid hedging and avoiding the topic, when it’s brought up. I feel strongly that when ostensibly “normal” people say they are atheists without immediately ripping the head off a nearby child, or invoking a dark lord, I think it subtly changes the way people view atheists. I don’t think atheists need to be perfect or exceptional in any way, I think the most powerful thing they can be is relatable. I try to never give the impression that I am defensive or uncomfortable with my views. I come by them honestly and I feel that I should be able to defend what I believe on its own grounds.

    If there were anything I’d say about what I thought I could do better, I wish I had taken the time to educate myself more so that I could discuss the topic more thoughtfully, when I was younger. I knew, in a very visceral way, that the idea of god didn’t make sense to me, but I couldn’t verbalize why. I wish I had read up on world religions and read up on topics of critical thinking. Eventually, I did, and I feel like my life is better for doing so, but I feel like it would have been even better to explore those ideas at a younger age.

  16. 16
    Stephanie

    I’m French, grew up in a fairly secular and liberal family. France is far more secular than the US, I think. When I told my mother at 15 that I didn’t want to go to cathechism anymore, she was sad but she did not force me to keep going.
    Most of my friends are also pretty secular. I’ve had many conversations with my friends (including the religious ones) and with my close family about my doubts about religion, and felt that my opinions were accepted. But I did not call myself an atheist until recently. But these days, if beliefs come up in conversation I am comfortable prefacing my opinion with “I am an atheist”, whereas in the past I would have said “I have many doubts”, “I have serious issues with organised religion but I’m not sure about divinity/spirituality” or “I am an agnostic”.
    Where this story may be relevant to you is that my close friends, my sister (a practising Christian but not a devout or bigoted one) and my aunt (who believes lots of new-age-y nonsense), when I said this to them for the first, time, responded by dismissing it. “You? No, you’re not really an atheist.” Several people had that reaction. This is presumably based on previous conversations we had had. I let it go, but it annoyed me.
    I’m not part of a community and I probably have a lot more thinking to do on the subject, but I was annoyed that my own assessment of my personal position was dismissed like that.

  17. 17
    Enkidum

    I was raised an atheist, but in a fairly religious small town, a village really, that was largely Irish Protestant surrounded by French Catholic communities (this was rural Quebec). My parents were some of the few in the community who weren’t raised nearby. I can’t recall the first people I talked to about being atheist, but I’m sure that many people in the village must have known long before that, since I didn’t go to Sunday school, my family never attended church, and so forth.

    I do remember two incidents clearly. The first is more of a joke than anything else, and has become something of a family legend. This was one of these bitter winter nights you get up there, it must have been around -30, not even counting the brutal wind chill. We lived at the top of a large hill with the village to one side and a highway and hundreds of kilometers of provincial park to the other. My mother at the time was sick in bed with what turned out to be double pneumonia, and details of the story show that I can’t have been older than 8 (since this was before Trudeau retired, and I was born in 76). Some time close to my bedtime this young man showed up at our door in jeans and a thin cotton shirt, having walked from the highway/provincial park side. He explained to my father that he was looking for Meech Lake, where the Prime Minister has a summer cottage, in order to warn Trudeau that the Americans were invading because he had seen fighter jets overhead. My father, not surprisingly, was somewhat worried – he had an extremely ill wife and two rambunctious kids, but he had to let this clearly unstable man in the house for quite a while because it could literally be murder to do otherwise.

    At any rate, at one point I asked him who he was, and he told me he was Jesus Christ returned to save the world. I told him that couldn’t possibly be true, as Jesus wasn’t real. He was very sad for me, and spent some time sermonizing about how important it was to believe in him. But I didn’t back down, and was very pleased with myself. Thus endeth the first coming-out story. (For those who are interested, eventually my father managed to get him to talk about reality for a few minutes, and it turned out that a former student of my father’s was an acquaintance of the guy, so he managed to get in touch with him and someone came to take him away, hopefully back to somewhere with medication. I believe the story is that he was both schizophrenic and a heavy acid user, both of which seem plausible.)

    OK, perhaps a more useful answer… A few years later, I guess I must have been 10 or 11, my parents were out of town for the weekend and I went to stay at my friend Tommy’s house for Saturday night. The next day was church, which I was required to go to. I was actually kind of interested, never having been to a service (so far as I can recall, I’ve been to two regular services in my life – that one and one in Inuktitut, aside from weddings and funerals). But the night before Tommy mentioned that we were going, and I again just flat out told him that I didn’t believe in God. I think this sort of shocked him – I don’t think he’d ever considered that as an option. I don’t recall him saying much to me about it, but a little later he was in another room talking to his parents, and I overheard him very worriedly telling them that I didn’t believe. Unfortunately I also can’t recall what they said. But I do know that I was never very close friends with Tommy after that. I don’t think this was an active shunning because of religion, rather I think this was one in a long laundry list of reasons why I was never going to be one of the popular kids in school (to be fair to them, I was also kind of a snotty egotist, so I can’t really blame them).

    In order to try and hit the remaining pieces of specific information you’ve asked for…

    I was, as I said, in a fairly conservative religious community (we were told Bible stories every day at school, for example). However I come from several generations of academics, scientists, and atheists, and so I always had a connection to that world. Whenever my parents had friends over, they were likely to be highly secular, maybe even very forthright about their atheism. And I’ve continued into higher education (I’m currently studying for my PhD) in cognitive psychology, where there are extremely few religious people. Indeed, I know that those who are religious, especially students, tend to keep very quiet about it because they are uncomfortable with the generally explicitly dismissive attitude to religion the rest of us take. So I think I’ve largely always been in an unusually safe space for atheism.

    I don’t think the particular stories I’ve mentioned here were really handled well or poorly by me. I’m not sure what else I could have done, frankly. I was always going to get “found out”, and it was always going to lead to uncomfortableness. Since then, I’ve had discussions with religious people that I’m not proud of, where I adopt a more hostile attitude than I think is helpful in that context (note: this does not mean I’m a hardcore accommodationist). But in general I’m very open about my beliefs (or lack of beliefs) and I’m fortunate enough to be in a community where that doesn’t matter very much.

    OK, that’s enough of a novel. Hope it’s better than useless.

  18. 18
    John Horstman

    My situation is similar to @2, as I was not raised religious, and most of both my parents’ and my own social circles consist of other atheists. I’m always shocked to find out someone ISN’T an atheist (though, knowing the statistics on religious affiliation, I shouldn’t be).

    #1: Most of my coming out has to do with being in conversations with new people in which they (I tend to avoid this in unfamiliar territory) casually disparage Yahweh or a specific Christian practice (in my experience, it’s almost exclusively atheists who are openly critical of Christianity here in USA – people of other religions tend to take pluralistic approaches, likely due to their marginalized religious affiliations) followed by some mutual riffing on the absurdity of religion. The “coming out” part is almost always implicit, and since my default assumption is that a given person I don’t know doesn’t believe in any given god(s), when I’m NOT interacting with other atheists, the coming out happens on the part of the religious, and MY coming out occurs as a response to that (along the lines of: ME “Wait, Jesus? Seriously?”; ZE “Yeah, wait, you DON’T believe in God?”; ME “No, of course not.”; ZE “Oh…” [subject change to something unrelated to religion]).

    Again, this is pretty infrequent; religion is almost never brought up in my wider social circles except disparagingly, by other atheists, and the overwhelming majority of people with whom I connect closely turn out to be atheists. I imagine it has something to do with being socially attracted to people with similar worldviews, which result in similar interests and similar perspectives on specific issues being discussed. I work in a university office, and a good half of our professors, a lot of our students, and my sole peer co-worker are atheists. Religion is technically not allowed as a topic of discussion (nor political affiliation) due to requirements of allowed discourse while engaged in a professional capacity at a public university, but it still comes up casually in conversation. The response is similar to if I said I was gay or enjoy bicycling or like Thai food – neutral.

    #2: My immediate family is majority atheist (my oldest half-brother and I are atheists, as are both my parents and my half-siblings’ mom, my younger – though still older than I – half-brother is Catholic as is his wife, my half-sister is a sort of agnostic deist and her husband is a solid atheist), so there really wasn’t any sort of coming out, since a lack of belief is the norm. My co-workers and other social groups are mostly described in my response to #1.

    #3: I and the people to whom I “come out” live in Milwaukee, WI. I pretty much always do this in person in the course of conversation, as mentioned above. Of course, anyone reading my Facebook page or blog comments can discover I’m an atheist, and this is my real name, so I’m not sure about the people who find out without specific action on my part. It would be impossible for me to be involuntarily outed, since I have no desire to hide my atheism.

    #4: A lot of the ease I have around openly identifying as atheist is likely due to living in a large city, spending time and working at a public university, and traveling in radical leftist social circles that generally regard religion as yet another vector of authoritarian control. My best advice for people who don’t necessarily feel as secure or safe identifying as atheist is to put out subtle feelers in conversation. SA I said, I don’t usually make a point of outing myself in conversation unless it’s relevant to something that comes up. For example, if someone tries to use Yahweh/Jesus/the Christian Bible as a plank in a argument or discussion, I will proceed to shred the idea that it’s a legitimate basis for argument, either aggressively or, more often, using the Socratic method to force the person to confront rhetorical questions highlighting the logical flaws in the given religious narrative raised. The Socratic method has the additional advantage of plausible deniability should it become necessary: by simply questioning someone on inconsistencies or contradictions, one can avoid asserting an active stance if one wishes to do so.

    #5: I’m not really sure about what I’m doing ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and I don’t much care, since I have no real desire nor need to get along particularly well with theists. There isn’t any major coming out event that stands out in my memory about which I could speak in terms of what went right or wrong.

    #6: It’s an ongoing process, all through casual conversation. Any change has generally been an increase in my visible antipathy toward religion, thanks to the unapologetic nature of the Gnu movement. I’m less likely to take a conciliatory demeanor, and more likely to take an oppositional or antagonistic demeanor (this also relates to a larger shift on my approaches to feminist and Leftist advocacy).

    #7: I only discovered FtB a year or so ago, and it is my sole specifically-atheist ‘community’, so I have both been not connected to and connected to an atheist community. That said, many of my friendships through my life have been with other atheists, so I’ve always had an informal community of atheist friends. This has doubtless contributed to coming out being a non-issue for me – I have no fear of being “outed” and rejected by family and friends. None of my support networks are or ever have been contingent upon religious belief.

    #8: As I’ve never been in the closet, except perhaps by the default assumptions of others, this question isn’t really relevant. There was no ‘before’ to which to compare the ‘after’ of being ‘out’. The only change I’ve noticed in specific individual cases is that others’ knowledge of my atheism frees them up to make more incisively critical comments about religion than they might otherwise.

    #9: I suppose my preference would be for internal consistency in your book – if most people are using pseudonyms, first names only, etc. go with that for me (my handle here is my actual name). I find differences in naming conventions, for example, to be slightly jarring when I’m reading something. There’s also an implicit credibility differential in, for example, comments made by randomatheist43 and Samuel Smith; I’d like to avoid implicit differentiation between the rhetorical weight of my comments and those of most others, irrespective of whether that gives them more or less weight. If you need an pseudononymous-internet-handle-style name because that’s what most people are using, go with my standard Johann7. Also, if you’re quoting directly instead of paraphrasing, and because this is written and not spoken, please leave any typos, grammar errors, etc. intact. I find written misrepresentations of someone’s written words, even with the intent to make the person in question look ‘better’, to be disingenuous at best and outright libelous at worst. Bracketed clarifications of pronouns that become confused when not in the original context are fine, as are most standardized citation practices.

  19. 19
    Lauren

    I first came out as an atheist in 1965 at age 12 while in preparation for my confirmation in the Lutheran church. I grew up in an area of upstate New York that was predominantly German Lutheran – it was so insular that I didn’t know any non-protestants until middle school, nor any Jews until college. In my “American Lutheran” church I think maybe the only thing worse than a non-believer would be a Missouri Synod Lutheran. For the most part, people didn’t seem particularly pious, and the ones who were stood out as weirdos. Nevertheless, this was the era of getting bussed from elementary school to “religious education” once a week, of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Bible Camp.

    I had become an atheist two years earlier after failing to reconcile the old testament with the idea of an omni-everything god. At that time, I asked my mother to be excused from Sunday School because “I didn’t like it,” and was naturally refused. Even at that tender age I knew a shitstorm would follow any departure from orthodoxy, so I was too chicken to declare my atheism then. However, once I faced the prospect of having to declare a lie in front of the whole congregation, I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of my silence any more.

    First I told my mom (a believer but not much of a church goer) that I didn’t want to be confirmed or go to Sunday School because I didn’t believe in god. She was really pissed, and I basically got the “my roof, my rules” routine. I think that my defiance plus dumping one more headache into her already busy schedule was what she reacted to – my immortal soul did not seem to be on her agenda. It was more “shut up and go because I said so,” and not “you’re going straight to hell.”

    Next I told Pastor Luther Knauff after confirmation class that I didn’t want to be confirmed because I didn’t believe in god.

    Pastor: Everyone has doubts sometime.

    Me: I don’t have doubts, I’m positive.

    Pastor: Pray for faith.

    Me: I can’t get up there and say stuff I don’t believe.

    Pastor: Please stop disrupting class with your questions. This is a special time in everyone’s life – don’t ruin it.

    The upshot was that mom forced me and Pastor Knauff acquiesced, so I had to go through with the confirmation ceremony. I did remain silent through the responses. This was quite a traumatic experience because two people who were supposed to be my moral guides knowingly tried to make me profess a lie, and I felt like the world’s biggest hypocrite and coward for even appearing in the ritual.

    I discovered later in life that my dad was a closet atheist who was under a gag order from mom not to infect her kids with that claptrap. Turns out he was proud as a peacock of his little logician for figuring things out by herself and having the courage of her convictions. Gee, thanks – I could have used a little backup at the time, even if it was just, “let’s go along to get along for now.”

    Other than that, being an out atheist has proven fairly easy. Turns out there were a lot of other closeted atheists in the family. Also, it usually doesn’t come up until a friendship is well established. My devout friends learn quickly not to proselytize too much, because they will be asked uncomfortable questions they can’t answer. Mostly they just pray for me – that’s a handy escape hatch for believers who want to remain friends with a godless heathen. I don’t normally discuss atheism or religion with people I don’t know well. If someone brings it up and wants to get into it, I explain what paradoxes and deficiencies in logic led me to atheism, without trying to deconvert them. If they think about it, they’ll deconvert themselves.

    One big area where I remained closeted was with my clients – coming out to them would not have been worth the potential loss of business, so I just stuck to the no politics/no religion rule in business life. I don’t regret that choice, I just regret that it would matter. Clients who also became closer friends are aware of my proclivities.

    What I would do differently would be to refuse to go along with the whole confirmation debacle – that has bothered me my whole life. My disappointment in myself for being a hypocrite has been a far worse burden than any disappointment I ever got from others for my non-belief.

  20. 20
    Markus Ismael

    I came out as an atheist to my mom over the phone when I told her that I proposed to my then girlfriend in 1998. My parents raised me in a strict Protestant family since I was born. I was born in Indonesia in 1970, in a predominantly Muslim country (over 88%), where our family represents a religious minority. I moved to the United States in 1982 with my family when I was 12; when my dad retired in 1996, my parents moved back to Indonesia, but I stayed. I had served in the United States Air Force as an enlistee from 1993 – 1997, and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2004.

    I had been an apostate since circa 1995, and my girlfriend was also (and still is today) an atheist. One of the questions that seemed to naturally pop to my mom’s mind when I told her that I had proposed to my girlfriend was whether my girlfriend shared our faith, so really, in a way she coaxed my outing moment out of me, because the answer to her question had to reveal not only my girlfriend’s atheism, but also mine. That was the first time I had ever told my mom that I had lost my Christian faith, and that I had become an atheist. I did not sugarcoat my answer. I simply told her that I lost my faith while I was serving in the Air Force, and that I am an atheist. I told her that my fiancée and I were spiritually compatible, because she is also an atheist.

    My mom remained relatively calm, but she made it plainly obvious how disappointed she was in me. In the end, my parents gave us their blessings, and they came to attend our wedding, but their attitude and stance toward our lack of faith never changed. Every time we spoke on the phone since then was an opportunity for my mom to reiterate how much she would like to be able to see me and my wife in heaven after we’ve all died, which of course, was only possible if I regained my faith in Christ. Her tenacity only grew after our kids were born; then it became an excuse to tell me how much they’d like to be able to see their grandchildren in heaven someday. Even mere moments after my dad died, while we were at his bedside, the first thing my mom told me was how my dad’s last wish was for me to “come back to the Lord.” My mom was relentless all the way to her death. I suppose she probably brought her disappointment in me to her grave.

    Did I regret coming out when and how I did? No. My mom asked me a question, and I answered truthfully. That’s what matters to me; the truth, and my integrity. All the positive qualities I was raised with by my parents, and imbued in basic training by the USAF I retained as an atheist. If time were rewound back to 1998, and I find myself facing the same question from my mom, I would not change a thing. Coming out to my mom became a defining moment in my life.

    You may use my full name.

  21. 21
    IasasaI

    My story occurred way back in the high school years, either in 7th or 8th grade – I’m not too sure anymore. [Yes, 7th and 8th grade were part of high school at my school - weird, I know, but the way it was.] This would have been in 1989 (assuming 7th grade). It was at my dad’s parents’ house during christmas. Those grandparents were so catholic that they went to church six days a week, tithed 30% [ish], baked a birthday cake, and sang happy birthday jesus. Everyone involved lived either in Cincinnati, Ohio or its pseudo-suburb Cheviot, Ohio – most of the people involved still live in the same places. Who was involved? My immediate family, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles and cousins.

    So that year, my grandparents decided that rather than spend lavishly on gifts for their grandchildren, as they usually did, they would instead buy us all expensive rosaries. They did in fact buy us some other presents, but those were a surprise after the rosaries. Several hours later when we were leaving, I made sure to leave my rosary behind on the table since I wanted no part of it but didn’t feel particularly compelled to bring it up. But my devious plan was foiled by my grandmother who noticed the rosary and told me that I forgot something, holding up the jewelry box with the rosary. I still remember the conversation, though only my original response do I remember verbatim.

    me: No, I didn’t.
    her: Yes you did, Here’s your rosary.
    me: I don’t want it. I won’t use it. You keep it.
    her: Why wouldn’t you use it?!
    me: Because I don’t believe in any god.
    her: How can you not believe in god?!
    my dad: Umm, we’ve gotta go now. We’re supposed to be at her mom’s house soon. [referring to our usual split of time between the two sets of grandparents for holiday get togethers]
    her: Well be careful out there, but this conversation isn’t over.
    me: Yes it is. [I then walked out the door.]

    The main result of all this is that my grandparents then expended a LOT more effort on making religious commentary towards me, mainly in the form of cards in the mail, birthday cards and holiday cards. For the next couple years I attended the family functions, but as it got increasingly annoying dealing with the jesus talk, I just stopped going and have seen them only a dozen or so times since – they don’t visit our family, ever. They visit my aunts and uncles and their families, though. It was nothing new that they didn’t visit us. You see, my dad left home on his 18th birthday and joined the Navy because he couldn’t stand the jesus talk anymore. The rest of my family didn’t change their interactions with me in any way that I ever discerned, though I have no idea what may have been said when I was nowhere around. Even when I came out, no one other than my grandmother said anything – my grandfather was in another room or else he would have chimed in and been a lot harsher about it.

    The only special circumstances involved would have been the extreme religiosity of that family. As for what I did right or wrong or what may have been done better, I really have no idea. I’ve never been terribly good at social interactions, even to this day. Everything I say or do makes perfect sense to me and I don’t really care if I happen to wound someone when saying or doing them. Well, I shouldn’t say I don’t “care”, rather I DO care, but it won’t stop me from saying or doing anything but I’ll just have to deal with any repercussions as they come.

    Later on that year in school, for some reason or another, I ended up discussing this very story and so de facto came out again. My friends pretty much already knew, having encountered over the years my casual dismissal of going to church like several of them did. My teachers either weren’t aware of it or were actually competent professionals who didn’t make an issue of it. It helps that I was going to one of the best academic high schools in the country at the time, so I guess the rationality was strong. As for my peers, we had an extremely diverse background of students, so everyone was pretty much used to differing opinions. The only particularly religious people at my school that I was ever aware of as such were actually orthodox jews, none of whom acted egregiously concerning such things.

    After a little while, I became pretty forthright about my atheism and I think it unlikely that anyone who knew me did NOT know I was an atheist. My later comings out have all been pretty matter of fact and I tend not to hide it, except when I am newly employed. At those times, I just keep quiet in general until I get to know everyone and know how open I can be. This isn’t just because of religion, but because I have never been particularly comfortable around people I know poorly and when I DO get to know people, I tend not to censor what I tell them. In other words, I wear myself on my sleeve. Actually, the main reason I’m reticent to open up in a new work environment is because of one of my vices that can get me fired quite quickly – I rather enjoy cannabis.

    Since the initial coming out was so long ago and I was so young, I didn’t even have a clue concerning the existence of atheist communities, let along belonged to any. Even had I known of some, I doubt I would have been involved anyway – I’m not really a joiner. I have in fact been to only one atheist gathering and that was a small local thing at a pub (which I normally never step foot in, having an absolute unabashed hatred of alcohol, which has reduced my appearances at my friends’ music gigs considerably over the years) just prior to PZ’s visit to the unfortunately nearby creation “museum”. [I just fixed a typo where I had creation as cretin. Perhaps I should have left it as is...]

    Do I regret coming out? Not in the slightest. I don’t like hiding. I don’t even hide my cannabis usage except when it can get me in immediate trouble. Obviously I think I made the right decision and I would do it all again. Differently? Such a question doesn’t make much sense to me – if things had happened differently, they would have been different and anything I would have to say about it NOW wouldn’t be borne out of THAT difference. In short, who knows?

    Note that there are some “proper” nouns above that I do not capitalize. If you happen to use my material, I please ask that the miniscule be preserved. I cringe EVERY time I see such things in majiscule as it gives undue respect to them. Since you so graciously have set things up such that we can use pseudonyms, I will happily use my ‘nym of long standing – IasasaI. In case you wonder at the significance of such a ‘nym, it’s an acronym for “IasasaI’s a schizophrenic and so am I”. Yes, I know I’m mildly torturing the proper usage of schizophrenic, but poetic license and all that. If you had insisted, for whatever reason, that we use real names, I would have been fine with that as well, but since you haven’t, it is omitted. Not that it would take long to uncover my secret identity based on other specifics… I hope you acquire more than enough responses herein and bid you a hearty “Vale!”

  22. 22
    UDS

    Ok, here’s a slightly unusual constellation (if not overly dramatic as little personal risk was involved).

    I’m an ordinary pale German male, and in my late teens spent my senior year of high school in the heart of the bible belt as an exchange student. I had been an atheist ever since I was, say, 14, but as is customary in Germany for “cultural Christians”, my family and thus me were registered as members of the protestant church. I had no idea that there were actually people who take this kind of thing seriously and thus never bothered to change my status. This led my designated host family to assume that I was a regular bible belt style protestant, and maybe even a YEC like them.

    So there I was, friendly atheist and anti-theist, suddenly entirely surrounded by nice fundamentalist YEC family and friends.
    I went to their pentecostal-style charismatic church with them every Sunday without complaining, as I felt (and had been advised) that one should make an effort to absorb the culture and traditions of the host family. After a few months, my guest status slowly evolved into a “temporary family member” status as is the goal of such stays, and at the same time I became increasingly uncomfortable with joining the Sunday services which to me more and more felt like brainwashing sessions after the novelty status wore off.

    At first, I tried to get out of them by having sleepovers with less religious friends on weekends, but there came the day when I simply couldn’t take it any more, and had to confront my ersatz parents with the fact that I was not willing to join them for service. This was a big deal for them for several reasons – first of all, they were concerned for my soul of course, and secondly, it was very important to them that the entire family, of which I was an honorary member, was represented in their church, which formed *the* backbone of their social life. I was not well-versed in this kind of discussion or even counter-apologetics at all back then (I had never needed these skills until then), and clumsily began to explain my lack of belief. As I was not their actual child, the reaction was one of slight shock and disbelief, and I am sure they had never entertained the idea that any sane and non-evil person would be an atheist. They basically told me that they did not understand how I could not believe in God as everyone knew that evolution had been long disproven (!), to which I didn’t really have a smart answer back then. They related stories about how visitors had accepted Christ, and were noticably disappointed that they would not be able to share this wonderful gift with me. After a half-hour or so conversation we basically settled for a compromise.

    It was clearly very important to them that I was part of their community, and due to the very fact that I had made my beliefs clear to them, felt considerably less under duress when spending time with their congregation or even going to services. I don’t know how our relationship would have turned out had I accepted Jesus Christ on the spot, but we managed to have a cordial one for my remaining months. My beliefs were never again discussed, and no direct attempt was made to save me as far as I can remember.

    So much for my host family. I accidentally came out to a young woman in my class during school lunch in a discussion. The next day, she produced a Bible for me to have, signed by her pastor, with all the verses marked that were particularly important for me. I was impressed by the amount of work that she put in saving me, and thanked her not too enthousiastically. Several similar situations occurred.

    Of course, my status as a relative outsider and temporary guest there does not allow to compare my experience directly with that of natives for whom coming out in a comparable situation would be much more severe.

    tl;dr:

    1 – Said I was an atheist, plain and simple
    2 – guest family, fellow students
    3 – german fish out of water comes out to bible belters
    4 – everyone involved was as white as it gets, so no special circumstances

  23. 23
    Chad

    My coming out to my wife happened almost as soon as I realized that I considered myself an atheist. We were both living and still live in Wichita Falls, Texas, a somewhat conservative Christian community in North Texas.

    I went through a period where I knew I wasn’t a Christian anymore, but then gave all religion a once over before chucking all of it. My wife’s cousin was over visiting and we were all talking in the living room. The cousin had been to church with my wife, I had stopped attending, and was commenting about how devout the service had seemed to her. She asked me if I was that way, and without thinking I replied, “Me? No, I’m an atheist?”

    My wife’s initial response was, “no you aren’t, you’re just searching.”

    I assured her later, that I was in fact an atheist. For a month or so there was a tension in the house, but that was the extent of it. In retrospect, I think I may have been more tense than her because in a way, I felt as though I had let her down. I in no way regret telling her how I did. I was up front and I didn’t have to deal with her feeling as though I did t trust her enough to tell her. I had learned in my first marriage that it is better to be oneself and deal wi others than to hide and be miserable. This once principle more than anything guided me. I had found it to be true in other areas of my life, and it just naturally carried over to atheism.

    I think that The Atheist Experience was the only online resource I had accessed at that point. My involvement online was very limited.

    I believe that one factor that made it easy for me to come out was that after my divorce, I didn’t really have a social life. The friends I then made were of a diverse background and were not tied to a church, so I never felt that coming out as an atheist would affect my social life. I work for a large corporation with set diversity policies which also made me feel that if anyone at work were to find out, it wouldn’t affect me in terms of losing my job.

    Just refer to me as Chad if you use any of this.

  24. 24
    Sally M

    I’ve been an atheist since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized it was ‘a thing’, and something that distinguished me. I didn’t really know until then that people sincerely believed in a god. I always assumed everyone had the same view I did: it’s a nice story, but a story nonetheless. So I ‘came out’ in high school, just because that was when I realized I had to point it out.

    My parents assumed it was a phase when I made them aware. We were in the car one day and I said, ‘Wow, we could have just crashed into that pole and died horribly, that would have been absolutely awful, and [my sister] wasn’t even wearing her seatbelt, her body would have killed you for sure!’ (I was in a mood, and I was a teenager…)

    My mother was horrified and responded, ‘What would you do if that really happened?’

    I said, ‘Well, I’d be dead, so I guess I wouldn’t notice?’

    And she said, ‘I mean when you get to heaven!’

    I was kind of taken aback at this point because she sounded pretty serious, and said, ‘I’d be dead and there is no heaven, it’s fine. What are you talking about?’

    ‘The Bible! God!’

    ‘Um. Mom, those are just stories. They’re not *real*.’

    She got all hushed and stared at me. ‘How do you know? What if it is and you just said that and God HEARD YOU??’

    So I stared at her with incredulity painted all over my face until she dropped the subject and started driving again. My dad just grumbled and looked annoyed, but his opinion hasn’t ever been very important to me, so I never really bothered to check what he thought about me being an atheist. We don’t talk much.

    The whole family has always treated church like a chore, so they probably assumed I was claiming atheism to get out of wasting my Sunday. If my mother had to drag herself and the rest of my siblings out of bed, there was no way I was getting out of it. It honestly didn’t ever occur to me that being an atheist would work to get me out of church until I moved out, and it didn’t occur to them either. They wanted to stay home as much as I did. It wasn’t about believing or not. It was about my father’s enormous Catholic guilt complex.

    Ever since I realized being an atheist wasn’t the default state (something I still wrongly assume about people I meet), I’ve always just been upfront about it, with friends, family, co-workers, everyone. If religion comes up in conversation, I just say ‘well… I’m an atheist’, with a hint of ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand why you asked me such an obvious question?’ I’ve found that if I say it as though it’s the normal, proper, obvious thing, most people become a little bit embarrassed and start trying to downplay their own religious beliefs. I’m the normal one, they’re the weird one who has to explain themselves. I use this tactic for a lot of things, actually. Act like you know what you’re about, like you are utterly confident in yourself and your opinions, and people who disagree will tend to double back and fall in line with you or just not bring it up. High school (and being an atheist in high school) was pretty easy with that strategy, whether I was going to a rural school, a big, white-washed middle class high school, or a school with metal detectors at the entrance (we moved a lot).

    The results of my being open about my atheism were negligible, except that a couple of my religious friends would take me with them to their church to argue with their pastor when they felt he was getting arrogant. I was the go-to atheist, the one people came to when they were freaking out about a crisis of faith or when they just wanted a logical answer to a question. I think it actually made some of my friends trust my opinion more, because they knew I’d give them the objective viewpoint on their problems, and not try to preach at them about the morality of the situation, like some of their other friends.

    I didn’t get into the atheist community until late college. I didn’t do much with my atheism before then, outside of being ‘out’ to everyone I know. I wasn’t pushy about it and I didn’t try to ‘convert’ people. I just was. It didn’t bother me if other people weren’t, though they were aware that I thought their belief systems were just bizarre myths. I didn’t push, and they didn’t either. That changed when I got older, but live and let live was my natural state when I was a kid.

    Over time, my mother accepted that I really am an atheist and started thinking about the idea in detail. She used to be really superstitious, but once the idea of atheism occurred to her, she got over a lot of that. My siblings have almost all followed me into atheism, and the two that haven’t made that jump still respect my beliefs (even though one is Pentecostal).

    I can’t imagine hiding a part of myself, but then, my life hasn’t been the kind where I’d have to. I’m a white female from various parts of America, most notably New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. I make friends easily, and people tend to respect my opinion and respect me enough to point out when my opinion is flawed somehow. My parents are pretty liberal, and my home life was complicated by issues that were much bigger and more immediate than whether or not one of us believed in god. It just wasn’t really important in the long run. We might have gone to church most Sundays, but it really was an afterthought. We usually hid and hoped my father would forget.

    I don’t think there was any other way for me to come out. It was largely a non issue, and making it one would have definitely allowed people, my family in particular, to take advantage of what would be perceived as a vulnerability on my part. I made it clear through my casual delivery that this wasn’t something anyone could make me feel inferior about or hurt me with, so they prodded at it to test the waters and then left it alone. Confidence really will get you everywhere in life.

  25. 25
    Robert B.

    I honestly don’t remember when I told my family. Religion is not a big deal with them, and intellectual integrity/independence definitely is, so it was just a thing. Here’s the conversation I do remember. This is at our home in Connecticut, and I was in high school I think – sixteen or seventeen. My mother and both sisters were present.

    Sister: [standing in the kitchen, amidst a conversation about religion and/or going to church] …and Robert, you went atheist, right?

    Me: [a little put off by the way she phrased that] Yeah.

    Sister: Okay. [conversation continues]

    So, I can’t tell you much about technique from that, they already knew. I’m certainly glad that I can have that kind of unthinking openness with my family, though.

    Now, currently, I work in a store in Maryland that has a kind of Christian overtone to it. It’s an educational supply store, supposedly secular, but it has a small but somehow insistent section aimed at Sunday School teachers. Once or twice I’ve found religious products shelved with character education or vice versa (and moved them, without mentioning it.) When the owner wants to put something unobjectionable on the radio, he puts on Christian Rock. That sort of thing.

    I mostly haven’t mentioned being an atheist at work yet. (Or, for that matter, being gay.) I have been feeling out my (Christian, active in church) manager, though – he’s awesomely geeky and we often spend whole shifts talking about science and science fiction. I’ve confirmed that I can talk with him about evolution, about gender roles (omg, don’t get me started about the gendered toys we sell), and about criticisms I have about capitalism with no hint of negative reaction, in fact generally with partial to complete agreement. So I’m pretty confident that if it came up I could tell him without negative consequences.

    I also have another coworker I often talk with. She’s Catholic, and often talks about the Catholic schools she went to and her Catholic friends and family. So, religion has become, if not exactly a common topic, at least a common presence in the conversation. So, once, when she was about to explain some interesting point of Catholic ritual to me:

    Her: Wait, you’re not Catholic, are you?

    Me: [deliberately casual] No, I’m an atheist.

    Her: [surprised blink] Okay. [continues with story]

    Once, a customer offered me a religious tract after I’d checked her out. “Actually, I’m an atheist,” I said. “Oh! Well, you can just take it for interesting reading,” she answered. “Sure,” I said, and took it. It was not interesting reading, it was pretty basic “redemption by faith not deeds” Christian stuff – not nearly so eye-catching as Jack Chick’s tracts. But aside from the unfairness of proselytizing to someone who’s required by his job to be maximally polite, it went about as well as it possibly could have.

    Generally I’ve had good results from treating the issue casually, as thought telling people I’m an atheist was no more controversial than claiming any other religious affiliation. But then, I’ve been both lucky and careful about not coming out to any real fanatics.

  26. 26
    otrame

    Kristin @3

    Yeah, the first person I came out to was my mom (who was a non-specific Christian) I was sixteen. I said, “It just doesn’t make sense.” She shrugged and said, “You’ll figure it out.”

    Actually, she figured it out. She is an atheist today.

    I don’t remember specifically coming out to my dad. At the time he was away on TDY (temporary duty–he was in the Air Force) quite a bit. I don’t think I knew at the time that he had been an atheist since he was a young kid, but I did know that he did not attend church and rarely said anything at all about religion. Today all of my family are either atheists or very progressive Christians, with the exception of two nephews and their wives. We just don’t talk about religion when those four are around.

    The point is that my parents raised me to think for myself and didn’t consider it horrible when I did, even when they thought I was wrong. Over the years I’ve learned how lucky I was.

    I believe absolutely that atheists should come out, because the more people realize they know an atheist and that atheist isn’t a depressed nihilist or an evil demon, the more people will be unwilling to let others mistreat us. BUT each atheist has to evaluate their situation. If you are still a kid dependent on parents or others who will mistreat you or if your job depends on it, I think you are justified in not coming out. Those in that kind of situation who do come out have my respect.

    I have not, since I was an adult, ever made a big deal at work or with friends about being an atheist, but if the subject came up, I always said right out that I was. But I worked in an academic environment, so there was nothing particularly brave about that. It took no bravery and there was no threat that I would lose my job if I was honest. It’s just been easy for me. I almost have a twinge of “survivor’s guilt” about that when I hear some of the horror stories and often wonder if I would have the courage to do it if my situation was different.

    In most situations where people I don’t know ask, I used to say “I’m not religious” but these days I just say “I am an atheist” and find that usually ends the conversation, though I have to say they don’t actually run screaming away from me. Well, there that one Jehovah’s Witness who came to my door while I was trying to give my dog a bath. Annoyed, I told her I was an atheist and when she visibly girded her loins and started to try to have a discussion (with me holding a wet, squirming dog) I looked at the 11-12 year old girl with her and said, “It’s all lies you know. All of it”. That did it.

  27. 27
    Maria

    I only really have to come out online! Growing up in Sweden, there is really no closet to be in. Quite the other way around. When I was 13 my best friend shocked me by coming out as a born again Christian. Her family wasn’t remotely religious, but her mom was sort of a rather loveless person, and I guess she had – very understandbly – fallen for the “lovebombing” of a pentecostal type Christian group. For me it was utterly strange, but we remained friends, and still are very close. She stayed in the church for about 20 years, but later became an atheist, and can now look back at what happened with open eyes.

    But yes, you’re in the majority if you don’t believe in God here, and there aren’t really a closet to come out of.

    I was rather naïve about that things could be very different in other countries, and it wasn’t really until 1998 – when I got access to the Internet at my own home for the first time – that I started to understand this better.

    I had hobbies and interests that none of my real life friends shared, so I started to look for friends online to talk about stuff with, and eventually I met several nice people, many of them from the USA. It was after I made some off hand remark, at one of my special interests forum, about not believing in God that I was REALLY questioned about that fact for the first time in my life.

    It wasn’t that I was unaware of Christianity. I liked to read the Bible when I was a kid, after Thousand and One Night it was probably my fave storybook. And there were still many people who was culturally Christian where I grew up, at least around the bigger Holidays, even though very few really took all that “God-stuff” seriously. Our old medeival village church was just a really pictoresque place to get married in, and listen to Yule music in, and so on. So, I had some basic knowledge of the mythology, just as I had about Norse and Greek/Roman mythology.

    But yeah, I had met very few people who actually really believed in it, and really practiced it. My best friend didn’t really talk about her beliefs or what they did at her church. Very religious people were a minority and generally considered to be a bit kooky – harmless, but… kooky – and not really taken seriously in society at large. I had never before met a Christian who was shocked to learn I was an atheist and who peppered me with questions about it.

    She asked if I was really telling the truth, and how I could find any meaning in life, and how I could even find the strength to get out of the bed in the morning if I didn’t believe in God, and that it was okay if I didn’t believe in God, he still believed in me, and so on… I tried to answer, but I was mostly just sitting at the screen with a O__O look on my face, going “What? Uhhh… what?? No meaning in life…?? Uh… Must be depressed because of lack of belief in fictional character… ??? Uhh… What??”

    She spoke as someone whose beliefs are in the majority, and now her new Internet friend had just come out as a *gasp* atheist! So, yes, it wasn’t that religion was unknown to me, it was only that I hadn’t really met someone before who spoke of it, and questioned me about it, from THAT position.

    This was a few years before I started to look for skeptic forums (99 % of people around me in real life don’t believe in God, but most of them are rather wooish about other things, and since I had discarded all my woo beliefs since some years back, I felt alone in this kind of thinking, and so it was the skeptic debunkers that I looked for first. That there could be a need for an atheist movement I didn’t at all get back then.)

    So, yeah, since then I’ve realized that I’m often in the closet in my online life (because it’s often much more likely there are religious people online, outside of this movement), but there are no closet in my real life. If I’m on a craft community for example, it often doesn’t come up, and I feel no real reason to mention my atheism either. But if it does come up, I’m honest about it of course.

    It’s way easier to “come out” this way though, since I only risk some Internet acquantancies. But outside of the skeptic and atheist movement online, I actually do often find myself hoping it won’t come up, because I might really enjoy to be on that craft forum, or whatever. And even though I’m SO MUCH MORE prepared for answering questions like the ones above these days, I didn’t really join those places only to get all focus shifted from beads and mixed media art techniques onto how it can be possible that I can find meaning in my life without a silly storybook character.

    So, yeah, coming out: Only occassionally to online friends.

  28. 28
    Jon

    The first time I came out as an atheist was when I was very young, probably 7 or 8 years old. I was with a friend of mine and we were playing in the yard or something – I’m not sure how the subject came up initially, but I can remember this clearly even after 30 some years. I said “I don’t believe in god.” My friend talked about the punishment I would receive in the afterlife and asked why I didn’t want to live forever. At the time, I had no answers for that other than that I didn’t believe any of it – I didn’t even know the word atheist. I had never been to church and had no real religious guidance so not believing in god wasn’t absurd to me. I was aware of religion since I was in cub scouts but it was an abstract awareness – something that didn’t apply to me.

    It was pretty painless to be honest. The conversation didn’t continue much past that point. We were little kids and had little kid things to do.

    I have never been a part of an atheist community until the internet at which point I was able to discuss this with other atheists. I’ve never felt marginalized because I didn’t believe in god – in fact, being a part of the punk and metal scene as a teen, it served to bolster my credibility as a part of the scene.

  29. 29
    Tyrant of Skepsis

    being a part of the punk and metal scene

    punk and metal scene? When did that happen??? These young whippersnappers don’t even respect the deep rifts any more!

  30. 30
    rwahrens

    My story’s pretty simple. I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist after my mother’s death back in late ’05. I’d simply been a no-show at church for decades before that, ever since a distasteful episode with the preacher at my mother’s church back in Texas.

    We live in Maryland – Rockville, to be precise, that bastion of liberalism, just south of the Md bastion of conservatism, Frederick County, where I own a house I rent. (Yes, its relevant, just wait) I belong to the Washington Area Secular Humanist group and host an atheist discussion group at my home monthly.

    I kind of kept quiet about it, my sister and nephew, then in Texas, are Baptist fundies, and I wasn’t sure how they’d react. My cousin and her husband live in Florida, retired, and are both of the secular variety, so they weren’t a problem, they figured it out quickly.

    I simply (once the family was on Facebook) began subscribing to and liking atheist oriented sites and Facebook pages, including Meetup, which advertises the discussion group (atheist) that I host every month at my home.

    Now, people I know see that and understand. I’ve had no negative reactions (except as noted below), even after having visited my sister in person finally. Even in Frederick County, where folks are pretty conservative and religious, there haven’t been any comments, even among those who converse with me on Facebook. I have a blog on Blogspot, The Cybernetic Atheist, which I post to daily, and post updates on Facebook when I put up another one. No negative reactions there, either.

    In all, I’ve been lucky, but then, I’ve kept it low key. I haven’t made a big deal out of it at work, as I feel religion isn’t appropriate there anyway, and since I work for the Feds, nobody ever brings it up.

    The biggest problem I’ve run into was from my middle daughter. (I have three daughters, ranging from 25 to 33 to 35) The oldest and youngest were not surprised at all. But my middle daughter married a Catholic, and they have been getting more and more fundamentalist until they are now pretty similar to the Quiverfull group (there is a Catholic equivalent). (They have six kids now.)

    My wife and I are forbidden to visit and see the grandkids unless both parents are there to “supervise” to be sure we don’t say anything inappropriate. My wife has since refused to visit at all (she is German Lutheran, but estranged from the organization) and is very insulted. I am sad about it, but do go over occasionally just to keep in touch. Visits are often awkward.

    Needless to say, she did not take my de-conversion well.

    But, over all, I’ve been happy with this change in my life. It was gradual, my coming out, which isn’t really complete, since the topic doesn’t really come up very often in normal conversation with most people.

    The biggest worry for the future is the issue of if/when my wife or I get sick, and the kids have to get involved – my middle daughter will, of course, take the Catholic line of “pro-life”, while I and my wife have explicitly, both verbally and in writing (living wills) noted our desires to not have extraordinary methods used to keep us alive should the worst happen. We just don’t trust her any more to follow our wishes. Since she is the only one of the three to live here, that could turn into an issue someday. The other two know and understand and have indicated their willingness to follow our living wills.

  31. 31
    Daniel Schealler

    Specific Kind of Information #1: I am looking for stories about how you told other people that you’re an atheist.

    What you said:

    1) “blah blah blah, but because I don’t believe in God, I find that blah blah blah blah blah…”
    2) “blah blah blah, but because I am an atheist, I find that blah blah blah blah blah…”

    How you said it:

    It comes up every now and again in any conversation where my views on religion are relevant to the discussion. IRL it’s largely a non-issue, like mentioning my hair or eye color. It’s only online that things ever become contentious, and even then it’s only because I’m seeking out contention in the first place.

    how the person/ people you came out to responded:

    Total lack of suprize, mostly. Occasionally raised eyebrows. Occasionally the conversation dies off quickly afterwards. But that’s pretty much the extent of it.

    what the results/ consequences of coming out were:

    Nothing that sticks out that I’m aware of. Possibly people may have chosen not to pursue a friendship with me in the past, but I’m pretty introverted so it’s not as if I’d notice. I have my core group of mates and that’s enough for me.

    how (if at all) things have changed with time:

    Business as usual, mainly.

    whether, on the whole, you’re happy you came out or regret doing so:

    I’m happy that I’m able to come out in such a consequence-free way.

    It should be like this for everyone, and I’m angry that it isn’t.

    Specific Kind of Information #2: Please specify who you came out to in this particular story. Is it about coming out to:

    parents:

    Never really ‘came out’. Just had changing opinion over time. Never really a secret. My position shifted over time. That’s all. No biggie.

    siblings:

    Same for parents.

    your spouse or partner: Actually, I do remember this. Digression time!

    I met my fiance through a mutual friend. One Saturday evening after we’d been out as part of a larger group, we splintered off and went to the mutual friend’s office for a drink and a chat to wind down before going home.

    The mutual friend said something about being hung-over at church the next morning, and I laughed and said that one of the nice things about not believing in God is sleeping in on Sunday mornings. So far, that’s pretty normal for me.

    The woman who would become my girlfriend then said something like: Yeah, I think most people don’t really believe in God. But I think there’s something out there.

    To which I replied: Yeah? Not really me, ay. Pretty hard-line atheist over here.

    She said something back along the lines of: Oh. Well, I guess compared to you I do believe in God then, and smiled.

    Interesting point of this was that my stronger position of non-belief caused her to redefine herself in stronger opposition than she initially did when she thought I was a bit softer in my non-belief.

    Her background is as a Malaysian Muslim, but she was never really particularly devout. She identifies as Muslim, but if I were to impose my own label for this audience I’d peg her as a culturally Muslim pantheist.

    children:

    Don’t have any.

    Fiance and I have agreed that we’ll be honest about our views when we do have kids. Our children will get access to as much information on all religions as they can be bothered to absorb, and will be free to make up their own minds with our love and support along the way.

    other family members:

    I don’t make a point of conversation. If it comes up, it comes up. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So I don’t think I’ve actually said it to every single family member. But it’s not like I wouldn’t if it came up. Possible exception of my grandmothers because I know it would bother them a bit more – but again, I’ve not been in a position to decide.

    Only really big exception is with my fiance’s family. We go out of our way to hide both my atheism and also the fact that my fiance is basically a weak pantheist and cultural Muslim from her parents. Pressure here is worse than usual because my partner has lupus, which is an incurable autoimmune disease. Every now and again my fiance needs looking after. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, her support network is gone. For health reasons she cannot afford to risk being disowned by her parents. Which means that I will have to go through with a Muslim ‘conversion’ for a smaller wedding-before-the-actual-wedding to maintain the illusion with her parents. I am less than thrilled about this. If it wasn’t for the health concerns I’d push back harder.

    boss:

    As per others: Not a big deal.

    co-workers or other professional colleagues:

    Unwritten rule in my workplace that politics, economics and religion can possibly get backs up, so typically we don’t discuss them in working hours. I know that at least one current staff member is Christian, and two others aside from myself that are not religious. But otherwise, I don’t know the alignment of everyone. I’m not sure if everyone knows my alignment or not: As I said, it’s just not an issue at my workplace. Not a secret – just not interesting.

    friends:

    They all know. But it’s not an issue, except in as much as they know it winds me up to repeat bad creationist arguments while pretending to be serious. My friends are assholes.

    neighbors:

    Never really been close to any of my neighbors.

    fellow students:

    Not currently a student. Religion was a hotter topic at Uni, of course… But while at Uni I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought yet. It’s only post-university that I’ve settled into atheism.

    members of your religious community:

    Haven’t had one since primary school.

    members of a specific non-religious community (shared hobby, parenting group, etc.):

    I neither have nor need such a community at this point in my life.

    members of your community in general / strangers:

    I’m unlikely to get into a conversation that touches on religion with casual acquaintances. But I wouldn’t hide it if I did.

    other (please specify): n/a

    Specific Kind of Information #3: There are some specific pieces of information that will help a lot. If at all possible, please tell:

    where you live(d) when you came out in this story;

    Only settled on my current position after moving to New Zealand. Prior to this I grew up in Australia.

    where the person/people you came out to lived:

    Mainly fellow Kiwis.

    My fiance’s family live in Malaysia, so they’re not a regular feature in my day-to-day life, which cuts the costs of maintaining an illusion to them down considerably.

    whether you came out in person, over the phone, in email, on Facebook, etc.:

    Wherever appropriate. Pretty sure my Facebook page has me pegged as an atheist.

    whether you came out to just one person, or to more than one person at a time (i.e., one parent or both at once, one friend or everyone at a party, etc.):

    Depends entirely on the size of the audience for the conversation at the time it happened.

    whether you came out voluntarily, or were involuntarily outed

    It’s not a secret, so if someone else talks about it behind my back then it’s no skin of my nose. It’s not possible for me to be outed involuntarily unless someone told my fiance’s parents, which hasn’t happened and I’m pretty confident won’t happen.

    Specific Kind of Information #4: If there are particular circumstances to your coming-out story which may have made your coming out either harder or easier, please say so. In particular, I’m looking for coming out stories from:

    people in liberal and/or more secular communities:

    Probably the only one that applies to me.

    The New Zealand center would be considered a bit left America. We’re don’t have a constitution or anything, but I can pretty much take basic secular liberties for granted. Some religious political groups are around but they’re yet to get enough of any significant vote to be more than a mere nuisance. In your face ‘King’ Brian Tamaki. ^_^

    Specific Kind of Information #5: If at all possible, please talk about what you think you did right, and/or what you think you did wrong. What, specifically, do you think made your coming out go better, or go worse? If you had it to do over, is there anything you would do differently?

    Not really applicable to me as it’s a non-issue.

    One thing I think I do right is that I don’t push it in conversations. If religion comes up naturally, I go with it. But otherwise I try to keep my hobby-horse online given that the people I associate with aren’t as keen on it as I am.

    Which isn’t really a coming-out technique so much as just being polite. But that’s the only thing I can think of.

    Specific Kind of Information #6: How, if at all, did your coming-out experience change over time? Did the person/ people you came out to respond differently after a day, a few days, a month, a year, a few years? Did you have just one coming-out conversation, or more than one?

    Not really applicable. People are generally fine with it.

    Specific Kind of Information #7: When you came out, were you connected with an atheist community — either online or in person?

    Sort of. I’ve been arguing about atheism online for a long time in one venue or another. So I guess there’s a connection there.

    The online stuff helps to think about and refine my thoughts and position. But I don’t think I personally need the atheist community as a support network kind of way – although I do understand and acknowledge that it could be very important to other people in that way. It’s just not something I personally need.

    Specific Kind of Information #8: How has your life changed since you came out? Are you, on the whole, happy that you came out, or do you regret it? Do you think it was the right decision? Do you think your answer to this question would change if you’d done it differently?

    Business as usual. Happy that I don’t have to hide it. Would be absolutely furious if I did have to hide it. Am incredibly frustrated that I have to hide it in front of my fiance’s family – but again, they’re not around on a day-to-day basis, so I can put up with it when I have to.

    Specific Kind of Information #9: If I quote you in the book, what name do you want me to use? Real full name, your real first name, your online handle, or a made-up name? (If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you want your online handle used if you reply in comments, and a made-up name if you reply in email.)

    Real name is fine. If my fiance’s parents go looking for the information I’ve mentioned here, they’re going to find plenty to incriminate me before anything you publish. ^_^ Just typing my name into Google brings up all kinds of pro-atheist related posts and comments. The anonymous atheism ship has sailed for me, and I’m happier for it.

  32. 32
    rodriguez

    The first person I came out to was my mother. She is a fully committed Catholic with no liberal or even moderate leanings at all. She is also from Cuba, a country with many Catholic believers in Santeria, even though she is not one.

    what I said: “I cannot believe in god any more than you can believe in Chango” (Yoruba/Santeria deity). I also told her that I could not believe because she herself had taught me to think. This is untrue, I was trying to flatter her. It didn’t work though.
    how I said it: Standing on the front steps one day, as I was leaving her house, on a impulse. Clearly I subconsciously looked for an escape route.
    how the person/ people I came out to responded: She didn’t believe it. She said I would surely change my mind as I got older. I found that insulting.
    what the results/ consequences of coming out were: There were no consequences other than me feeling free to snipe and snark about religion to her. I don’t admire that aspect of my personality.
    how (if at all) things have changed with time: Later I realized that she probably forced herself to forget it. I came out to my uncle, her brother, in her presence. Her face told me that she was surprised all over again.
    whether, on the whole, I’m happy I came out: Yes.

    where I live(d) when I came out in this story: We both live(d) in New York, apart, but now we live together.
    whether I came out in person: Yes
    whether I came out to just one person: My mother was the first. Others followed, one at a time.
    whether I came out voluntarily: Yes, it was voluntary. Or maybe I should say it was involuntary: I just blurted it out.

    I don’t think I did it too badly, although other people have better more diplomatic ways of saying things than me. Even if I had thought it out, I still probably would have blurted.

    There aren’t any special circumstances I can think of in my case. I wasn’t connected to any atheist community at the time. As for changing over time, well, it’s funny that my mother sort of reverted to something close to her previous state of ignorance about my atheism. If anything it’s probably worse now, because she is quite elderly and starting to lose it.

    I’m generally happier now in my relationship to her, at least from this angle. I can’t imagine how trying it would be to disguise my true beliefs, to my mother, every day, in my own home. Religion and Catholicism are a frequent topic of conversation for her. But not so much with me other than logistics: like how she is going to get to mass and whatnot.

  33. 33
    Sara K.

    I am an American who lives in Taiwan.

    While I do not go out of my way to out myself as an atheist in Taiwan, if the topic of religion comes up, I will usually say I’m an atheist at some point in the conversation.

    The hardest part about coming out as atheist to Taiwanese people is that they do not understand what an atheist is. First, some background:

    In Taiwan, most people practice some combination of Taoism/Buddhism/Confucianism, though some people are more committed to Buddhism or Taoism and do not identify with other religions (I have never met a committed Confucian). About 5% of the population in Taiwan is Christian, and they do not have privilege in Taiwanese society.

    Sometimes, when I say I am an atheist, Taiwanese people will say ‘oh, I’m an atheist too’ … and then later in the conversation talk about their religious beliefs. It is sometimes difficult to get them to understand that I simply do not have religious beliefs.

    There are also many Taiwanese people who say that they actually do not believe in Taoism/Buddhism/Confucianism, but just practice the religion, worship at the temples, etc. because it is a part of their cultural heritage. And there are many Taiwanese people who have chosen to completely neglect religious practice because they have other things to do in life. But I have yet to meet a Taiwanese person who explicitly identifies as atheist/secularist/etc. I have met Taiwanese people who say they are agnostic, but if I talk with them further, it turns out that their idea of ‘agnostic’ is quite different from what ‘agnostic’ means in the United States (usually, ‘agnostic’ means that they are not sure whether Buddhism or Taoism is better, so they combine them).

    I do not think it is too important for Taiwanese people to understand my atheism, but it is still frustrating that communication fails. It generally does not change my relationships with Taiwanese people. They do not expect foreigners to share their religious beliefs, so it does not make a difference to them whether I’m Christian or atheist.

    Taiwanese Christians usually have a better idea of what I mean when I say I’m an atheist. However, as I said, they are not privileged in Taiwanese society. I do not know what they privately think of my atheism, but on the outside, they have showed no hostility.

    My experience in Taiwan has helped me get a better appreciation of how much atheism is defined by Abrahamic religions. I think Taiwanese society does not have a clearly defined atheist/secularist group because there is not enough pressure for such a group to form.

    Oh, and sometimes there are the foreign missionaries. When a Mormon missionary talks to me, I will not bring up the topic of religion, and sometimes we chat without religion ever coming up. However, if they bring up religion, I’ll say a short ‘I’m an atheist’ and terminate the conversation. No Mormon missionary in Taiwan has ever tried to get further with me that that, maybe they figure that someone who so upfront about being an atheist is not worth the effort? One time I encountered a foreign Christian missionary, and she got on with the proselytizing really quickly. I also gave her the ‘I’m an atheist’ line, and she was more bewildered by that than any of the Mormon missionaries. Unlike the Mormon missionaries, she actually tried to continue to convert me after hearing that, so I actually had to walk away to end the conversation.

    If you want to quote me, you can call me ‘Sara’.

  34. 34
    Safron

    I was raised Mormon in the midwest United States. My parents were both very religious. I would classify my dad as a fanatic.

    I pretended to be religious as a child/teen because life would have been even more unpleasant if I had not. While I didn’t go around proclaiming beliefs I didn’t have, I did what was expected of me: I went to church every week, attended Seminary in the mornings, etc. Then, even though I knew that I was an atheist, I attended BYU (a religious college) for two years. I was manipulated by my dad and too young or naive to realize I had other options. There, I practiced a kind of passive resistance. Starting out as a Mormon and becoming atheist could have gotten me kicked out of school, so I was not open with my beliefs unless I completely trusted the person. I went to church with my assigned church group as infrequently as I thought I could get away with it, and broke church rules with only a small group of trusted friends.

    While I was away at school, my parents shocked me by getting a divorce. My dad was emotionally abusive to my mother and she came to realize she didn’t have to put up with it any longer. That is also how I started to feel about religion: I was an adult, and I didn’t have to put myself in situations where I felt the need to pretend. I transferred to another school, one where no one assumed I was Mormon and most people just didn’t talk about religion. If it ever came up, I told people I was not religious and did not volunteer my Mormon past. It was very liberating for me to not have to confront religion and religious culture every day.

    I came out to my mom, who is still religious though very accepting of anyone. I knew that she would still love me and accept me, so I felt safe telling her. I brought up the conversation in person with just her, and told her that I did not believe in any gods or religion. In the beginning, she would occasionally express some sadness or mild disapproval. An example is that she told me that she needed to let me know that she didn’t think it was a good idea for me to move in with my boyfriend. She wasn’t expecting to convince me, and once she got her opinion out she didn’t let my actions bother her or change how she felt about me. One of my younger brothers and my younger sister have also come out as atheist to her, and she doesn’t treat us any differently than she does her true believer children. Over time, her own feelings about religion seem to have changed, but she doesn’t talk about it and I don’t press her to talk about it.

    After my parents divorced, I no longer had a close relationship with my dad, so I neither felt the need to hide my atheism from him, nor felt the need to have an actual “coming out” conversation with him about my lack of belief. I felt that it was none of his business, really, though I did not hide that I don’t go to church, or that I don’t have any desire to seek religious approval/marriage for my relationship with my partner of nine years. For Mormons, these are obvious indicators that you don’t believe in their religion any more.

    I am not good at telling casual acquaintances who are clearly religious that I am an atheist. I regret this about my personality because it is good for religious people to know that their perfectly normal friends and neighbors are atheists. I hope some of your stories will inspire me to be more open, though in general I feel that religion is not a polite topic of conversation unless you are close.

    I do come out to acquaintances who are not overtly religious, and to friends that I trust. I usually work it into a conversation where it fits rather than introduce the topic myself. For example, if someone asks me about Christmas or Easter plans, I will tell them that I am an atheist but that I still exchange presents with family because it is fun.

    In some places where I’ve worked, I’ve felt paranoid about being an atheist because I don’t want to alienate people whose good opinion of me would affect my career. Fortunately, I currently work for a small and very liberal non-profit, where it is clear no one cares, and I am open about my atheism there.

    The only thing I would like to change is to be more open with religious acquaintances. I am very happy that I am open with my family and close friends because pretending, or wasting energy going through the motions of a religion you don’t believe is not worth it.

  35. 35
    tomforsyth

    Coming out as a pastafarian is much much easier than doing it “cold turkey”. I’m serious – obviously nobody believes your opening statement at face value, but it gets the conversation about religion started in a pleasantly humorous way. Plus if they do make a “noodly appendage” joke back, your masonic handshake is complete and you can cut straight to moaning about Rick Perry and Bananaman.

  36. 36
    fronkey

    1) I grew up in an atheist family, so there was no issue there, but for a bit over 3 years I worked in a workplace with a number of very outspoken conservative Christians.

    I went about outing myself at work by wearing the scarlet A from the RDF Out Campaign. I wore the pin to work every day for about a month before I had my first query about what it meant. I explained that I was an atheist, and the answer was something along the lines of “Oh, ok” – it was no big deal. Nevertheless, my heart rate had jumped to something alarming.

    After that the queries gathered speed as people noticed that I was wearing this badge all the time. Despite the fight or flight response I had every time someone asked, I never had a bad experience. Most people didn’t care. Quite a few confided to me that they were either atheists or agnostics. I got into one discussion about why I didn’t believe, but it was very cordial, and didn’t come up again. The most negative reaction was, “Why do you need to tell people that”, to which I responded that I felt that there was anti-atheist prejudice in the community, and wanted to be visible as an atheist so that people didn’t just deal with abstract stereotypes.

    I’m very happy that I came out at work, and about the way I did it. I felt that by wearing the badge, it left it up to other people to ask, and so I didn’t ever have to start an, “Oh, by the way, I’m an atheist” conversation, which would have been awkward.

    2) It was pretty much all co-workers, but the badge also happened to be noticed by my JW in-laws, which lead to a difficult but not unpleasant conversation that needed to happen.

    3) We all lived in Australia in a area known for being conservative (by Australian standards)
    In person
    One person or small groups – whoever was around at the time the question was asked.
    Voluntary

    4) My community was more conservative than most in Australia, but nothing crazy

    5) I’m happy with the way I did it, and I will go about it again the same way, as I’m currently looking to move to another city.

    6) Each time was a little different, and it didn’t really get less nerve-wracking as it continued. However, once again, there was never actually a bad experience.

    7) I was reading blogs, but not active in the atheist community.

    8) Nothing in my life changed. I hope though, that things changed for some of my co-workers, in having a friendly face of atheism that will make it more difficult to stereotype in the future. I think if I had been more in-your-face about it, the experience for me would have been more negative, I would have alienated some deeply religious co-workers that I get on with brilliantly.

    9) Lucy Mayne

  37. 37
    naath

    I live in the UK, which is a fairly secular society in general, most of my friends are atheist and those who aren’t are openly atheist-friendly. So really there wasn’t much “coming out” to do there (I think my church-going friends might say that they had to “come out” as being actively religious).

    However I was raised Catholic, my Mother is definately a devoted church-goer although I couldn’t tell you how devote she is. Coming out to my parents is an ongoing process, hindered by their stubborn ability to simply not listen to things that they don’t want to hear or to swiftly forget them; so although I have told them (more than once) that I don’t believe I’m not sure they actually got that… they know I don’t go to church though.

  38. 38
    Paul

    I grew up in UK and moved to the US. In the UK, it’s not an issue because religion just doesn’t get talked about as much and differing views are more accepted. In the US, religion is so embedded in the political discourse and in everyday conversation that it is hard not to face an ‘outing’ situation. However, for me it has not been a single event. Every new job, new address, new acquaintance, etc. has been somewhat of an event. Usually I try to avoid telling people unless asked directly. I don’t lie, but I know that it makes people uncomfortable and living in the heart of the bible belt, it is usually easier to ignore opportunities to make my views known.

  39. 39
    Mathematician

    I am a mathematician and physicist in a Catholic College in the Midwest. This is about my atheist identity at the workplace.

    I’ve always been straightforward about my non-belief when interacting with other faculty. They have never had an issue with it, nor have I ever had difficulty with the administration. I get along very well with all of the religious faculty in the philosophy and theology departments as well as religious staff. I am particularly supportive of many social justice programs and I had an especially good relationship with the nun who was the religious counselor. (She has recently been sent to Rome.) When occasionally queried by students, I honestly answer that I am an atheist. Religious belief seldom arises in physics or mathematics classes, although my professional critque of the Creation Museum is well known and generally supported by the college community.

    While I’ve never had an issue at my college, I did receive complaints when using Ken Binmore’s book, _Natural Justice_, at a state institution one summer. I had no such complaints when I used it at my own college. The book is about the use of game theory to understand the evolution of moral codes, and I was using it as a text to learn some game theory. Binmore mentions that Jesus did not invent the Golden Rule, briefly mentions the history of such rules, and analyzes the consequences using game theoretic arguments. The complaint occurred at a summer program for gifted high school seniors and originated from a fundamentalist student in my class. The consequence was that I was asked to justify the text to the administrator of the program. We continued to use the book and I was not disciplined in any way.

    Professionally, I included in my application for promotion and tenure information about my involvement with Camp Quest (a founder and board member) as community involvement. This is, in some sense, officially reviewed by the Board of Directors of the college. I have no idea if anyone looked at it, but I am sure that the dean was well aware of it. I specifically included the information to preclude my removal on religious grounds, should an attempt be made. In such a case I would have the following points readily available to me.

    1. I am known publicly, through letters to the editor and newspaper articles, to be an atheist.
    2. Faculty, including religious faculty, are well aware of my position.
    3. I have been given tenure and promotion having fully disclosed my beliefs and I was chairperson of the department for several years under these conditions.

    I feel that this has worked well for me, specifically because I treat the atheist community as one to which I contribute and support just as others list their church involvement as community service. My particular Catholic Diocese is very conservative in many ways, but harassing atheists in the professions does not seem to be on their agenda. My experience is that such harassment is associated with the Evangelical Protestants.

    I should also note that I was raised a Catholic and when students present personal difficulties to me that seem to involve their religious beliefs, I refer them to one of the religious clergy whom I most trust. In teaching a first year seminar on intellectuals (not a mathematics or physics course), I deal with personalities of many faiths. We have discussed Gandhi, (Woody) Guthrie, Turing, Bonhoeffer, Merton, Einstein and Francis of Assisi, among others. I have been told that the administration and faculty appreciate the variety of beliefs represented.

    If you would like more information or wish to quote or use some of this material, please contact me via e-mail.

    Regards,

  40. 40
    Brandon

    1 & 2)The Reason Rally gave me the opportunity to “come out,” as an atheist to my co-workers without any fallout. People did not seem to care either way. When I was asked “what did you do over the weekend?” I told them that I was in Washington DC over the weekend where I attended an atheist rally. There were no negative consequences I did not lose my job or get any flack from my co-workers. The responses I got were mostly along the lines of “I love DC!” or “That sounds like it must have been fun!” They couldn’t have cared less.

    3) I came out freely and mostly in person, sometimes over the phone. I live in Western Pennsylvania where there is a church on every block and no one ever talks about religion.

    4) For me at least it was as easy as falling off a log. I have sympathy for people who are in more difficult situations.

    5) My casual attitude garnered casual reactions. I didn’t make a big deal about it and people didn’t think it was a big deal. Humor was effective in at least one situation. A co worker was talking to me about big deals that we were both about to close. He said “I’ll be praying for you,” and I responded. “Funny you should mention that, I’m actually going to be at an atheist rally over the weekend so I’ll be…hoping really hard for you.” He laughed, I laughed no worries.

    6) No change in the months that followed.

    7) No.

    8) Not at all.

    9) Brandon

    Hope this helps. Thanks!

  41. 41
    Kate

    I came out as an atheist to my family before I ever knew what the word ‘atheist’ meant. My mother is a cafeteria Catholic who grew up in a more traditional Polish Catholic family, and my father is a vaguely Presbyterian deist. I went to Sunday School during the summers, and we went to church every Sunday for several years before it became too much of a hassle for my parents to corral the three children and keep them quiet during the service. When my mother picked me up after my first class to prepare for my first Holy Communion–I was about seven–I tugged on her hand and asked her why I was there. She responded that I was preparing for my Holy Communion, and must have said something about God, because I responded “But don’t you know I don’t believe in God?”

    At the time I didn’t realize how shocking that would be to her, but she only responded with a very thorough questioning about why not. I talked about how I had learned about the Big Bang in science class, and dinosaurs, and evolution, and how the earth was really old, and the people who’d written the Bible didn’t seem to know about the continental plates or anything, and how most importantly the idea of God just didn’t make very much sense. I had a children’s Bible that I enjoyed reading very much, which led my mother to ask why I liked it so much if I didn’t think it was true–and I pointed out that I also had D’aulaire’s Greek myths which I liked equally as much but didn’t think were true either. After that she pretty much left the topic alone for several years, though my presence in church at Christmas and Easter was mandatory, despite my protests.

    Every so often she would bring up the fact that she felt like she had failed me by not making me a Christian, and when I was around eleven we had a long conversation about morality and where it comes from, during which I pointed out that I didn’t need an old book to teach me wrong from right, especially when that book had so many wrongs. I think that really started her thinking about morality as distinct from Christianity/religiosity which was a pretty big step. I got very interested in comparing different religions and religious texts and would bring up cool similarities or differences between them in casual conversation, and talk about how I felt about different religions. At first she didn’t really like talking about it with me, but she slowly came around. I think talking about the reasons I didn’t believe the teachings of other religions as well as the reasons I didn’t believe in Jesus was useful in getting her to understand my point of view.

    The first year after I came home from college my mom told me that she was proud of the person I’d become and had finally accepted the fact that I didn’t and wouldn’t ever believe in God. It helped that my dad didn’t particularly care either way, and that both of my parents were open-minded people who enjoyed discussing the world and encouraged me to ask questions and debate them as equally as I could.

    In terms of coming out to non-family members, I am always very open about my atheism. I recognize that it’s easier for me to treat it like it’s not a big deal because I live in NYC, as opposed to a more religious place, but I’ve found that people respond best to it when I’m very matter of fact. (“What denomination are you?” “Oh, I’m an atheist.”) I think smiling as you say it is also helpful. Sometimes people will have questions (“So, wait, you worship the devil?”) but most of the time they just accept it and move on. If the conversation gets too heated or long, generally I say something like “If I live my life as a good person who doesn’t believe in God, and there actually is a God who would send me to eternal torment in Hell for the sole sin of not believing, that’s not a God I could stomach worshiping.” I find that “I” statements are particularly useful in defusing potential arguments if you’re not in the mood for a debate. “The idea of God just doesn’t work for me” tends to be an easy out.

    Most often I come out as atheist to people in my peer group, which since I’m twenty has been fairly young and open-minded, but I’ve also had easy encounters with adults and other, more religious branches of my family. My name is Kate, if you want to use any of this. Also, I just want to mention that I love your writing and have enjoyed going through your posts since I discovered your blog a few weeks ago!

  42. 42
    Will

    My first “coming out” incident occurred as a very young child when my mother and I lived in Bozeman, Montana. I was only about 5yrs old (1982). Since my mother had to work alot, I was often in the company of various babysitters. I remember being at one such family’s house when we were all at the dinner table. The family began the ( unfamiliar to me ) ritual of saying grace. At that moment I noticed the atmosphere in the room changed from being light-hearted and easy to one that was palpably tense and heavy. I remember them thanking God for the meal, as is standard fare in such formalities, at which point I began to laugh and poke fun at them for what they were doing. The family then asked that God forgive me for my naively disrespectful actions. I remember they were still nice to me after that but something seemed a bit different. I think their enthusiasm for babysitting may have cooled off a notch or two. Or maybe they were just worried about my prospects for eternity… they were nice people after all.

    The next incident was in, what became my hometown, of Terre Haute, Indiana. I was probably 8 yrs old this time (1985-ish). I was living with my parents who were both nonreligious. My mother was a disillusioned ex-Catholic and my father a secular humanist. In fact hey never told me anything at all about what to believe. I never even recall having a single conversation about religious topics as a child. Anyway, our apartment was in the same building that my mom’s brother’s family lived in. And they were practicing Catholics. One of my cousins was the same age as me and we were very close. We were always playing around in the yard and carrying on like children who grow up near each other often do. I remember one day, as we were playing, she told me in a rather solemn tone “Will, I learned in Sunday school that Jesus rose from the dead.” My immediate reaction was to laugh and say “that’s like saying that Star Wars is a true story”. At which point she became visibly agitated by my failure to take her newly acquired information seriously. I think she said something like “No, this really DID happen!” And then the subject was kind of dropped. But later, in the same week my mother received a call from her brother about the incident. My mom then came to me and said “Jeff told me that you told Jessica there was no God.” And I honestly can’t remember how I responded. I would like to think that I owned up to the charge, and I may have. But I honestly don’t know. It is possible that I backed down once I got the clear indication that I had stepped into an area that could have negative repercussions. But the interesting thing was that my mother didn’t punish me over it. I think she just said something like “Well don’t say that to her anymore.” And that was the end of the matter.

    About a year later after my uncle’s family moved out of that building, a related incident occurred. I was visiting them in their new home outside of town. We were playing, outdoors again, with some of her other cousins from her mother’s side. I didn’t know them well. But somehow one of these other kids brought the “G” word up. I remember chuckling and saying “Why do you believe that? There is no such thing as God.” They reflexively recoiled and looked at me like I was carrying the Bubonic plague. They even seemed to withdraw from me physically and decided to not play in the same general area with me. I don’t remember getting into trouble over this one though. At that point I began to realize that this was a taboo position that I was unknowingly staking out.

    Anyway, I have to say that as I reflect back on these three incidences something occurs to me. My reaction was not the result of any abstract philosophical considerations. Nor was it the result of repeating something that someone else told me. No one said “God doesn’t exist” to me in that period of my life. I was simply reacting out of common sense based on my personal experience of the world. I had no reason to believe that such invisible beings existed and I had no knowledge of any dead people ever coming back to life. But I did have knowledge of people telling tall tales. And so when confronted by others with such tall tales I treated them accordingly. But I do regret being so disrespectful and mocking them for something they obviously took seriously. When I think about it I cringe over having been so obnoxious. And I also must admit that had I been included in the same in-groups of religionist participation, I would have most probably believed exactly what they believed. And I would have similarly recoiled in the presence of someone that reacted so negatively to my core beliefs. Thus is the power of social conditioning I suppose.

    (I should add in a note of sweet irony, that my uncle, whose family featured in two of the above incidences, is now a rather assertive atheist. I’m not sure exactly when his transition occurred but from past conversations with him I gather that the cause of his deconversion was the problem of suffering. Like so many others, he has noticed the jarring inconsistency between the world as it is with the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient benevolence in charge of it. He even admitted to me that he was angered by how long he had been taken in by that “stupid shit”! It could happen to any of us, but kudos to him for making the jump. Had I been raised religious, who knows if I would have been able to make such a leap of unfaith? It takes a very stable and grounded person to do that. Anyway, my uncle and I are now in the small minority of confessed atheists/agnostics in the larger family of my mother’s siblings. But fortunately our family is as warm and accepting as they are intelligent, even despite their varying degrees of indulgence in such antiquated superstitions. So it has never been a divisive issue among us.)

  43. 43
    OurSally

    Grew up in England, university education, engineer, moved to Germany… agnosticism is the norm here; “don’t know, don’t care either”. So if someone asks I say I’m an atheist and it’s nothing special. We went to Sunday School but no adults in our family ever went to church.

    I realised I was an atheist at 14 years old, which gave us something to talk about in religious education at school, but no big deal. I was the only out-and-out evangelising atheist. But the god-botherers were seen as the weird ones.

    My husband’s family are traditional Bavarian Catholics. Uff! I told them I was raised Anglican and this was very hard for them, but they always accepted me, so I didn’t go the whole way. After my father-in-law died my mom-in-law eased up a lot so I have mentioned it to her but it’s no problem. I never push the husband about this, but am pleased to say he left the Catholic church a while ago.

    As a musician I often play in church (oh, the gorgeous accoustics!) and the young ones notice I don’t mumble or wave, and they always ask, but accept that, ok, some of us don’t do god, fine.

    Now on the interwebs it’s entirely different. I have been thrown (quite nastily) out of a forum (a software forum!) for being atheist, so I keep to software in fora like that. (That forum is dying out because people are stopping going there. Ha!)

  44. 44
    Debra Mathewson

    If you quote me please use my first name, Debra.

    I figured out that I was atheist as a teenage. I lived in Anaconda, MT, a hard working, hard drinking town whose claim to fame was the most bars per capita in the US. My mom was religious, but gave up trying to get us to go to church, because we fought it, and my dad also refused to go. He believed in god, but said that church was where old ladies go to gossip. It’s been 40 years and I don’t remember what I said to my mom, but her comment was “there’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant, so just shrugged it off. When I put it on my college application, my mom insisted that I shouldn’t do that, but I did it anyway and got accepted to MSU, Bozeman, MT.

    I told my best friend in high school. She was a preacher’s daughter and told me she found me fascinating because I wasn’t out drinking and being promiscuis. We had many discussions about religion, which really helped solidify my atheism. I thought a lot of the stuff she told me about religion just didn’t make any sense.

    Back in Anaconda for a summer job as an aide at the local nursing home, I told a co-worker, a girl about the same age, and she told me I was going to hell. After that, for the next 20 years as an RN, when the subject of religion came up at work I just kept my mouth shut and didn’t participate in the discussion. Then I got a job with Hospice, in Boulder, CO. There was some religious discussion and prayer at staff meetings and I came out at work, because it was very uncomfortable for me to have it be part of work. (It had never been a part of staff meetings at anyother place I had worked.) After that they toned it down and tried to make that part of meetings more secular or didn’t have it at all.

    #7. There were no atheist groups that I knew of when I came out. I felt very alone as an atheist until I discovered groups on line in about 1998 or 99.

  45. 45
    malani

    I’m half way through and this has taken me years, I can’t come out to my parents just yet, so I started with my closest friends. Since my whole life was revolved around religion and living in Mexico where most of the people are catholic (but my family is not, so my community is even closer), having uncles as ministers and my family being an important part of our religious community, it’s not hard to think that my oldest and closest friends were from church. I don’t remember how long I’ve known “A” but I think we potty trained together.
    I invited her to grab a coffee and told her I needed to tell her something, I started explaining how I have felt for the last 12 years, everything that I’ve read and investigated and all the questions I had. I remember telling her “I know you believe in god, but have you really questioned yourself if it’s all bullshit?” she was petrified. I started pouring questions and she tried to answer them all but she couldn’t respond to most of them, at the end she said “that’s what happens when you let yourself think and question stuff”… That left ME petrified.
    She remained being my friend and I actually feel we are much closer now, we still speak about people at church and how things are going (especially since the minister – my great uncle – passed away after 50+ years of ministry) but we don’t talk about her beliefs or my lack of, we respect each other, and I am really glad I was able to come out to her that gave me peace of mind and allowed me to come out to my sister later on. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come out to my parents, or the rest of my family, but for now I’m ok and if I had to do it all over again I think I would do the same thing.

  46. 46
    Brian Nolan

    I have always been a non-believer, but recently I found it important to come out as a Atheist. I started with status updates on Facebook. It is very hard to be a Atheist in Eastern Kentucky, where I live. I have been shunned by family and friends. My step-son, a devout Catholic, no longer speaks to me. But I have to stand up for what I see as the most important issue of my life. We need more people to think about the subject critically and speak their mind. I have had some who have sent me private messages of support, and they told me they share my beliefs, but they are not brave enough to say so publicly. I always live by the motto: I would rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I’m not. My advice to people who live in my area or any area as conservative as mine is, read up on the subjects thoroughly first; be educated in your beliefs. When you speak about why you feel this way, make sure you are honest, accurate and civil, it will be the most effective approach.

  47. 47
    Jesse Daw

    To start off with, I’m a 33 year old gay man living in and around Fort Worth, Texas. My father is the minister in a very conservative Church of Christ congregation, though for that particular denomination, he’s considered a moderate. My mother is a very spiritual person who talked her father into taking her to church at the age of six, even though no one else in her family went to services. I have two jobs, a nurse in a Trauma ICU and an organ donation coordinator. You may use my full name, Jesse Daw.

    I came out as gay to my parents when I was 21. While “accepting” would be too strong a word to describe their response, they are fairly tolerant. Despite being raised with some classic fundamentalist Christian ideas like creationism, heaven, and hell, I was always taught to think for myself and that integrity was the highest virtue I could have. Coming out as a nonbeliever was a slower process, and harder on them. They knew I had rejected organized religion first, followed by mythological teachings. I don’t think there was ever a specific “I’m an atheist” conversation, except one where I told my dad that I didn’t think an all-wise being who fine-tuned the universe would hold up faith without evidence as the pinnacle of virtue. He told me I was relying on human ideas about god and that the comparison was flawed. My mom still puts books like “The Shack” in my stocking, hoping that I’ll eventually find my way back. My parents are very loving people though, and I rarely regret honesty with them for long.

    Coming out to coworkers can be tricky in Texas. It’s usually easier to come out as gay than as a heathen. Once they know I’m gay, they already know something is wrong with me, so atheism is less of a surprise. But I never use the word “atheist!” A typical conversation:

    Them: What church do you go to?
    Me: I’m not religious.
    T: But you believe in god, right?
    M: No, actually I don’t.
    T: What do you believe then?
    M: I believe that logic, rationality, and science can tell us what we need to know about the universe, without resorting to unprovable claims written by people thousands of years ago.
    T: But you aren’t an ATHEIST are you?

    Where I live, it’s mostly ok to be gay, to not go to church, and even to not believe in god, as long as you aren’t an atheist… Once you get there, god doesn’t try to save you anymore, apparently.

    As far as the other information you want, I don’t generally regret being honest with family, friends, and coworkers. Along the way, I’ve learned to emphasize that I respect everyone’s right of conscience, belief, and self-expression, and that I am happy to have respectful conversations about religious and philosophical issues. Humorously referring to myself as a gay godless heathen seems to help defuse the occasional bit of tensions. I also tell people, truthfully, that I am a spiritual person, and that I would love to believe that there is a radiant loving father-figure waiting to embrace me after death, but that I was raised believing that and have already rejected it as a likely scenario, and that I will happily run to the nearest church and start singing if someone proves it. But until then, I’m happier being honest to myself than living a lie.

  48. 48
    Phil

    I was raised in New York till age 8 then London till I was 17.
    I went to religious Christian schools all my life but was always an atheist.
    It was easy because my family wasn’t really Christian. My family is from Asia, my mother was Buddhist, my father’s family converted Catholics.
    I told most of my friends in school I was atheist in the UK and they didn’t care less. I think many of them were too.
    Friends in college in the USA, we talked, and all accepted it even though some were Christians. We would discuss the existence of God and evil and they never had an answer for me. And that was the end of the discussions, no one changed their minds or got mad, we just accepted that was it.

  49. 49
    snowball

    When I came out as atheist to my parents, I was a first-year university student. It was actually an extended coming-out following an equally drawn-out realization of my loss of faith, which I tried to soften (unsuccessfully) by hinting that I had doubts some time before the actual announcement and indulging my parents by approaching church leaders and reading works of apologetics. My memory of that night is a little fuzzy, because I’ve tried hard to forget it, but basically I said I didn’t believe, and got into a long argument about *why*. I do recall I repeatedly emphasized I still respected my parents’ faith and had no wish to damage it, I only wanted my own (lack of) belief to be respected in turn – though eventually I got so pissed off I did pull out the stops and pour on the criticism that Mom and Dad basically went ‘lalala’ and ‘why don’t you want to be in Heaven with your loved ones?!’ to.

    It’s been two years since then and we don’t really talk about it. I still go to church and attend weekly youth group meetings, and basically pretend my confession never happened. My mother alludes to it now and then, ascribing all the unfortunate events in my life to my being “against God” and constantly pushing me to serve in church. (I’m gonna start on the PA crew this week. Cheers.) No one else in church knows. And it sucks, because sometimes I want to tell somebody…and I’m scared that history will repeat itself.

    My best friend also knows, as well as a few of my classmates. There was no drama there, though. I live in a secular country (Singapore) with ‘regardless of race, language or religion’ in our national pledge. She’s a Buddhist, and I’ve had friends who simply happened to be of various religions and never godbothered anyone. Perhaps it’s something of a generation thing…I hope so, at least.

    And yeah, I regret telling my parents. I don’t think there’s a way things could have gone differently.

    That’s all.

  50. 50
    'Tis Himself

    Like Greg Hallquist I grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (albeit about a generation before him).

    I was raised in a Catholic family and went to 12 years of Catholic grade school and high school. When I was in 8th grade I had an argument with the monk who taught the religion class. The upshot was that I started examining Catholicism, then Christianity, then theism in general. I read books (including the Bible cover to cover three times), talked to people, and prayed about the subject. Finally, when I was 15 I came to the realization that Jesus in particular and gods in general were figments of human imagination. There was just so much obvious nonsense being peddled as “you have to believe this or gawd gets a snit” and “gawd wants you to give me a noticeable portion of your pay” and “gawd hates sex so you should save it for someone you love” for me to buy into it.

    I first came out to my father. His response was quite literally “I was wondering how long it would take for you to tell me about your atheism.” He was a lukewarm Catholic with a strong dislike for the conservatism displayed by the hierarchy.

    My mother was another story. She was originally Jewish and had converted to Catholicism. (I was raised as a Catholic and have a Jewish mother, that gives me twice the guilt.) Like many converts, she was a staunch Catholic. She was highly intelligent and well versed in Catholic doctrine and dogma. At first she dismissed my atheism as me being a rebellious teenager. We had several discussions along the lines of “it’s just a phase you’re going through, you’ll soon return to Holy Mother Church.” After she realized that I had given the matter a great deal of thought and my atheism wasn’t just an excuse to sleep in on Sundays, we had a series of discussions about specific Catholic dogma. When I told her about how the idea of the Assumption of Mary came about* she accepted that I was knowledgeable about Catholicism. My 90 year old mother still prays that I’ll go back to being a Catholic.

    I was the valedictorian of my high school class. After I gave my speech at graduation, the bishop congratulated me and told me I was a great example of Catholic youth. I told him, “Thank you, but thanks to Br. Louis I’m now an atheist.” He smiled and didn’t respond.

    Coming out as an atheist has caused me some problems. A good job offer was withdrawn when I told my prospective employer I was an atheist. I’ve had several friends shun me when I’ve admitted my atheism to them. My twin brother is estranged from me because I fail to give the Catholic Church the respect he feels it warrants. I don’t bring up my atheism but I will admit it when asked.

    Greta, if you want to use any part of my story you may attribute it to Michael.

    *Catholics hold that Mary did not die but she was “assumed” bodily to Heaven. This was the opinion of St. Juvenal, the Bishop of Jerusalem, given in 451. Juvenal was told by the Byzantine Emperor Marcian to send some relics of Mary to Constantinople. Juvenal couldn’t produce any so he invented the story of the assumption to get out of trouble. Later this story became official Catholic dogma.

  51. 51
    Jeff Pedersen

    I grew up very religious in rural Central California, and to the best of my knowledge, all four of my siblings remain religious. I am cis, heterosexual, white, relevantly well off, and male. I became cognizant of the fact that I was an atheist around the time I graduated from a college on the central coast of California (2007ish), and less than a year later I moved south to Orange County.

    The one conversation I remember well from that time was with a co-worker while I was finishing college. We both worked in the Student Union building as janitors, and he was speaking of going into politics, and wondering at his chances as we mopped floors. A study recently out about the general electability (or lack thereof) of atheists had been going through my mind, so I asked “Well, you’re not an atheist, are you?”
    “Oh, no, no,” he replied, “I believe in God.”
    “Well, you’ve got that advantage then,” I told him. After a bit more talking, he asked if I had ever thought of going into politics.
    “No, I probably couldn’t get elected,” I let him know.
    “Why not?”
    At this point, I remember getting that sense of anxiety and adrenaline before I answered. I’m pretty sure this had been the first time I’d ever admitted to anyone of my lack of belief, and my body was treating it as if I was going to get into a fight. “I’m an atheist. I’m the least electable demographic,” I told him, trying to pass it off as much more casual than I felt. At this, he was a little shocked, and it led to that sort of peppering of questions that you often see on earlyish episodes of The Atheist Experience, where I had to correct various misapprehensions of what I did actually believe (“How can you not believe that there must be ‘something greater?’”, “You don’t think there’s any intelligence outside us? Do you not think aliens could exist?” and the ever popular “what keeps you from just going out and killing people?”)
    I’m glad that I did let him know, because after that it became a lot easier to admit to other people, and it led to interesting discussions that involved more of my co-workers as well. There was one other atheist that came onboard about 6 months after that exchange, and I was glad when her voice was added to mine, but the rest were theists, either firmly, or at least in the casual hadn’t-really-thought-about-it sort of way that most people have in our society.

    I have taken a bit of a passive “line in the sand” approach to coming out as an atheist, where I just decided I wouldn’t hide it anymore, but I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to tell anyone. Having said that, because my interest in debunking religion was keen, it simply became obvious to any of my Facebook friends (many of whom were religious people from my past, either high school acquaintances, or my nephews, and one of my more overtly religious siblings) that I was an atheist from the posts I made and the articles to which I linked. And because I’d decided not to hide it, I had made all my posts public. Also, because I was moving near the time, it was easy to establish myself amongst new friends to whom lack of religion is not huge negative trait.

    When it comes to other face to face discussions where my atheism came up, the only time I have thus far actually broke my resolution to not hide my atheism was the almost cliché situation of my dying grandmother asking if my wife (also an atheist) and I had found a church yet in Southern California. By telling her merely that I hadn’t found one yet after a pregnant pause, I intentionally deceived her, mostly because she had been losing touch with her mental faculties for a few years, as well as being near the end of her life, and it was too much for me to deal with at the time (and I assumed it would be too much for her to deal with as well). I do sometimes regret not saying something, but I still can’t think of anything that I would have been willing to say at the time to her.

    In actually telling people I am an atheist now (which usually comes up when either people haven’t been paying attention to my FB updates, or in getting-to-know-people-better-at-parties situations), the two responses I receive are either casual acceptance, or (more rarely) a bit of surprise followed by casual acceptance. I have never been sorry that I have been open about being an atheist, and on the whole, I feel happier.

    The main caveat to my “coming out” is that I haven’t told my parents yet(though I haven’t actively concealed it like I did for my grandmother), and my very religious (at least in a “religious-right” sort of way, and not so much in a “going to church” sort of way) father would likely not react favorably…but I intend to take a long camping trip with him in a few months; maybe it will come up then.

  52. 52
    carolw

    I announced my atheism in a very low-key way. I changed my “belief” on FaceBook from nothing to Atheist. Then I started to post Atheist-relevant links and comments. I thought at one point that one of my old high school friends had un-friended me because I called her out on some Christian BS she posted, so I posted an “if you don’t like it, you can unfriend me now” rant, but it turned out that the minus-one in my friend numbers was another friend inactivating her account temporarily for a completely different reason.

    With my FB outing, that pretty much covered all my friends and family. I’ve had a lot more in-depth talks about it with my mom than with anyone else. Sometimes I think she really gets it, then she’ll say something stupid like, “But I still think you’re a godly person.” Grr! I’m not a genocidal psychopath, thanks, Mom!

    I was and am living in Austin, TX. Kind of a free-thought mecca in a really conservative state. Most of my friends live here are or from here. The ones who are still drinking the Christian kool-aid are old high school friends (mostly) who never got out of Bumfuck, TX.

    I was raised in the Methodist church, in a small town that you couldn’t spit in without hitting a church of one denomination or another, mostly Protestant.

    I think my coming out was okay. Maybe I should have done it on a special day. Is there an Atheist Coming Out Day?

    At first I was scared to come out. Again, that was Mom’s doing. She’s so concerned that I’m going to post something on FB that’s going to get me fired. I’ve told her probably a million times that if they fire me for being Atheist they’ll have a big fat lawsuit on their hands. Things are kind of weird with my sister, too. She’s a big bible-thumper. She and her family go to some charismatic Christian church, and whenever I talk to her, I sort of feel like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t.

    FTB has been my Atheist community. I’m kind of a lurker on most of the blogs I read. I rarely comment, because usually someone has already said what I was thinking. But it feels good to have my virtual friends out here on the interwebs.

    I’m SO glad I came out! At work, my close friends know that I’m the skeptic, debunker, atheist. They tease me – “look it up on Snopes!” But I do have a few work friends I haven’t come out to yet. I feel bad about it, but I feel like I’d be bursting their bubbles.

    Please use my handle if you quote me.

    As far as anything else about coming out, I’ve got to say it’s great to say “I don’t believe in god” or “I’m atheist” and have whoever you’re talking to say, “me too.” One of my best girlfriends at work is atheist also, so I feel like it’s me and her against the goddists. I don’t feel so alone. I’m so glad I found your blog. You rock, lady!

  53. 53
    Sarah

    I first came out about my atheism to my husband, who is agnostic, and then later to a close friend of ours who also shares our views. Those were easy coming-outs because we all think alike.

    The more interesting story was when I came out to a larger group of friends. This was just a couple years ago, when I was 24. Three or four friends and I were talking at a party, and the conversation turned to religious beliefs. One of my friends said something about being okay with whatever people want to believe, even if they don’t believe in anything. She said, “I don’t know anyone who’s an atheist, but that would be okay.” I debated for a split second but then thought, Oh what the hell, put my hand up and said “I am”. My friend exclaimed, “Oh my God!” and hugged me! She said, “Wow, I didn’t know you were an atheist.” And I think I said something like “Yeah, it’s good to know I can talk to you guys about it”. I wasn’t expecting this kind of reaction. I live in Arkansas, the middle of Bible Belt country, and I knew this friend of mine was a pretty devout Christian (goes to church almost every week and thanks/praises God in every other Facebook status update). The others in the group reacted the way I expected, with silence or conversation topic changes.

    None of us were very close to start with, but since my coming-out, I think a couple of those others avoided me for a while. But the friend who hugged me and I became much closer after that conversation. There weren’t any really negative consequences, so I’m glad I did it. I think it was a good way to come out, in casual conversation like that, and I don’t think I would change anything.

    I’m not connected to any atheist community (I wasn’t back then either). I read some atheist blogs, like this one! :) But I don’t feel the need to be more involved in a community, I think because my atheism has never been a problem or caused any drama. The only people I’ve told so far are friends, and they mostly react positively (they’re curious and ask questions) or neutrally (they just move on with the conversation).

    The way I start the conversation now is different. When a religious topic comes up, I’ll make a comment like “I used to be Catholic, and back then I thought…” It’s kind of a round-about way to bring it up, but I don’t like to be confrontational.

    You can use my real first name: Sarah. Thank you for listening! :)

  54. 54
    Chris H.

    I kind of feel like I was tricked in to telling my family I’m an atheist. My parents knew I’d been teetering between atheist and agnostic throughout middle/high school and were fine with it, but I hadn’t planned on telling the rest of my (rather Catholic) family for quite some time.
    I came out at a family gathering in our home town of San Diego, where my dad and his siblings were planning my grandmother’s 70th birthday. At one point, the discussion turned to my dad’s girlfriend talking about how her son needed a teacher/sponsor so he could be Confirmed to the Catholic faith. It was at this point that my dad sarcastically (but playfully) said I should do it. I said “no”, he asked why not and, without really thinking, I said “because I’m an atheist”. All the conversation in the room stopped, and all of my aunts and uncles just stared at me. I distinctly remembered one of them saying “so you think life has no purpose?” and how much that stung.
    For the most part, my family avoids the issue in person; I know they’re a little uncomfortable with it, but it’s not something we really discuss, and I’m fine with that. My grandmother is surprisingly supportive, though we share a lot of opinions on related topics. The uncle that asked if I thought life had no purpose, however, doesn’t seem to be able to accept that I don’t believe in gods. I’ve received several emails from him about how much of a shame it is that I apparently see no value in life (in response to my request to not be included in the exchange of Christmas gifts), and he’s recently removed me from his Facebook. I know that it’s stupid and petty, but he won’t bring it up when we see each other, despite my repeated offers to discuss it. That, more than anything, has been especially hard to cope with.
    I responded to most of this uncle’s emails with explanations of the things I enjoy in life that give me purpose, including links to relevant information (music, science, etc.) where possible, and I’ve tried to not touch the specifics of why I don’t believe, so as to not offend him, but it doesn’t seem to have mattered.
    Fortunately, I was somewhat involved in atheist communities online when I came out, and had a large circle of friends who were at least not religious by the time my uncle flipped out on me (The two events are about 5yrs apart). They both helped me sort through the issue to some degree, though I don’t know that I’m going to be able to reconcile this without sitting down with my uncle/family and hashing this out.
    I think that, if I could have gotten more control over coming out, I would have preferred to bring it up on my birthday. That way, I could’ve said that all I wanted was a discussion about it, and possibly a Q&A, to get as much awkwardness out of the way without taking up a holiday like Easter or Thanksgiving or something, and thus not ruining someone else’s special day. I’ve never really been one to skirt issues like this, so it feels weird to be sort of forced to do it now, but I don’t want to feel like other relatives have disowned me over what is, to me at least, a minor philosophical disagreement.
    I don’t regret coming out, it would’ve happened by now one way or another, but I am definitely not happy with how it happened. Overall, I’d say it was a good thing. I’m not very good at keeping quiet about sensitive issues like religion, so having it out in the open at least deadens the shock a little when I make some off-hand remark about the pope or something.

  55. 55
    MMC

    “Coming out” as an analogy to announcing ones sexuality or whatever has never been necessary to me. Religion is not a significant force in day to day life in New Zealand and it is rare for anybody to make any assumption about another persons religious beliefs.

    It really is how it should be.

    So being an atheist is really only something that I need to bring up when somebody steps outside the social norms.

    Similarly I’m now in South Korea, meeting people from all around the world- Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and plenty of non-religious people too. Both in Korean society and in the international communities of Korea, religion is seen as a very, very personal matter- as it should be. I’m rarely asked about religion, if I am then I give a brief answer and keep off the topic. If somebody were to try to proselytize to me then I’d give them a piece of my mind, but it doesn’t happen.

    Is this the way it should be? Should belief be “hush-hush,” a personal secret? At very least, this means there is one less thing to divide the international community in Korea.

  56. 56
    akitamix

    Would this be applicable for someone who is not American or in U.S?

  57. 57
    Lay

    I came out to my brother in Jerusalem, where we both live. We were meeting updowntown because I’d just been in the States for a month visiting our parents. My brother and I walked, talking about our lives, catching up and the subject of our friends came up and I mentioned off-handedly that I didn’t feel I belonged with my Ultra-Orthodox Jewish circle of friends anymore. I felt I didn’t belong in this religious circle anymore. My brother, who is very relaxed in his observance and in general a very accepting person, asked me why I felt this way. I said vaguely I felt I had different values than my friends. He asked what specific value. I trust my brother completely and told him the truth, I don’t believe in god. His response was priceless. He just said, “O, yeah that’s a pretty big difference”. He didn’t question whether or not I was really an atheist or try to convince me of anything. He just took the knowledge in stride and has since been really accepting in the past few months since I told him. It’s allowed us to be a lot more honest with each other about everything . It’s been so refreshing to have someone who knows about this part of me. It’s allowed us to be more respectful and honest with each other. I’m so glad I told him. I think I’ve I’d have made a big deal about it, sitting him down and coming out it would have created a lot of unnecessary anxiety. I feel, for our relationship, it worked. I’m still not out to the rest of my family or my friends but I’m involved in the community online of atheists.

  58. 58
    Delphinium

    I live in a very conservative suburb of Atlanta, GA. I never specifically came out as an atheist to my family, but my wedding was completely secular, so I am assuming they know. Before having kids, I didn’t really care who knew, but was not particularly overt either. Once my children were born, however, I felt it necessary to guard that information to protect them from negative repercussions.

    Religion in the South is much different than it was when I was growing up. Then, it was very personal, so people did not go on and on about their beliefs and which church they attended. Now, it seems to be a contest to see who can incorporate God, prayer, and Bible verses into the every corner of their lives. Even plumbers and appliance repair men will advertise their religion on their work trucks, because the word “Christian” has become synonymous with “honest” and “moral”. I think this phenomenon is the result of an evangelical influence that was not around when I was growing up.

    Only one of my fellow “stay at home mom” friends knows my religious beliefs and it happened quite accidentally. One day she sent me an email asking if my husband and I would like to go see Bill Maher’s movie, Religulous, with her and her husband. She suggested that afterwards we could grab dinner and discuss our thoughts about the movie. I forwarded the email to my husband, adding, “I would rather cut off my arm than watch, and then discuss, this movie with her.”. Only, I didn’t actually forward the email to my husband. I inadvertently replied to her with those comments instead.

    Aaaahhhh! I knew I had made the mistake a microsecond after clicking “send”! I immediately replied, again, with a full confession about my lack of religious beliefs. I explained that I didn’t want to spend the evening pretending to believe, but I also didn’t want her to know I was an atheist for fear of rejection of me and my kids. I told her I would have been more than happy to see every other movie in the theater other than that one. And then, I waited for the fall out.

    It turns out that she had suspected I was an atheist and hoped that seeing this movie would spark a discussion about it so she could ask me everything she ever wanted to know about non-believers. Through out the years since my outing, she has asked many questions from “What do you think happens when we die?” to “If you don’t believe that Christ is our savior, why do you celebrate Christmas?”.

    When adversity strikes my life, she lets me know that she is praying for me and when I, in turn, help her out, she tells me that God put me in her life for a reason. These statements are never in the context of trying to convert me; she has already declared that, atheist or not, I am the sort of person God wants in heaven. Recently, she finally saw Religulous and told me that it is entirely possible that the existence of God is a delusion that just makes her feel better “like a security blanket.” But, she says she will keep believing because she needs it.

    How nice it would be if all atheists and believers could live in this sort of harmony! In reality, though, I got lucky that I was forced to reveal myself to one of the few people in my community who would still accept me. It would take another act of chance for me to reveal my true beliefs to any more peers, at least until my kids are grown.

  59. 59
    Terri

    Specific Information #1-5 – This is the story of how, after years of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was forced into an impossible situation with my parents, and how I recovered.

    Briefest background possible: I was the most devout of a family of fundamentalists and was the only one who went to bible college. This was the experience which caused me to lose my faith (another story). I married, had children and moved to the Pacific NW. My Wyoming parents were visiting my home for Thanksgiving and we were decorating the Christmas tree with them when my Aunt phoned, hysterical. My grandmother had been severely beaten during a home invasion in California. My mom got on the phone and slid to the floor, collapsing into tears.

    The next half hour was a flurry of panic. I worked to soothe my frightened kids and ease my horrified parents. They threw their things into the car, preparing to drive all night to Los Angeles to be with my grandmom (who would, sadly, die before they arrived the next morning).

    Standing in the driveway, I was overwhelmed with helplessness and the brutality of what had just landed in our world. My mom had always been a very emotional person and this was absolutely carrying her away. She grabbed ahold of me, her face just a few inches from mine and pleaded. “Pray for me. Pray for Gramma.”

    One thing about me. I never lie. Not ever. And mom knows this. She also knows … right now, she’s got me. What could I say to this?

    I said “I love you mom. So much. Please be careful. “

    She repeated, “Will you pray for me?”

    I tried to dodge again. “I want to come with you. Are you SURE I can’t come and help you drive?”

    She grabbed my face with both her hands. “I know you and I believe differently. But you do believe in GOD, don’t you?” She’s shouting at me at this point. Her face is wet with tears
    and her eyes look almost feral.

    And what could I do, standing there, looking in her eyes on the worst night ever? I lied. “I believe in god, mom.”
    And THAT was what she needed.

    They left, and I joined them the next day, flying down to help arrange Gramma’s funeral, sort through what was now her crime scene of a home and deal with the detectives. My siblings were all not so interested in going to California at that particular time, spending their time ‘helping’ mom and dad through prayer.
    But it bothered me. Though the situation was extreme, I’d been manipulated into lying to my mom. Lying about a fundamental part of who I was in front of my kids. Denying my beliefs as though they were something to be ashamed of.

    The next summer when they came to visit, I was ready. I got them alone and had a separate talk with both mom and dad. I talked about why I lied, and why it bothered me that I lied.
    Specific Kind of Information #5: I was very, very prepared. I had done the talk in my head so many times, even written it out, so I was over-ready when it happened. I told them that I loved them, a lot. I also addressed ‘the elephant in the room.’ I told my father (who was being treated for prostate cancer at the time). “I know that the most important legacy you would leave for me is your faith, and I’ve rejected that. I know it causes you great pain. But you should know dad, it causes me pain too. I love you.” I reminded him that his legacy, his life lessons, will continue in my life and in the lives of my children. That I’m the same daughter with the same morality. I just have one key difference.

    I reminded them that they already have close friends who have very different religious beliefs than their own. I assured them that they were loving and accepting of differences and told them that they’d taught me about accepting others and I knew they could accept me as well. (OK, I was idealizing it, but sometimes a little optimism goes a long way.)

    The final, most important rule, which I had to use more when coming out to my siblings than to my parents, was to insist upon a calm and fair discussion place. This means that I refused to allow tempers in the conversation. The instant that sibling would start to flip their shit, I’d say “I love you too much to have this conversation in anger” and I would physically leave the room, effectively enforcing my ‘no yelling’ rule.

    I also learned, after being far too patient with siblings, to stop allowing it to be a one-way conversation. If they insist I read a certain book or watch a dvd, I would only agree if they would be willing to watch one of mine. If they pushed me to answer a series of questions, I’d be fine with that, as long as I was free to ask them questions in return. THIS little aspect I should have instituted from the start. It would have saved me rereading a lot of circular crap by C.S. Lewis.

    Specific Kind of Information #6: My parents grew more accepting as time went on. My siblings have generally mellowed as well. This process took a few years and I feel was primarily influenced because some of their own children have also embraced atheism.
    I have had to have several talks with one sibling in particular. After more than twenty years of this, and dealing with a several hours long, emotionally draining conversation the day after my mom died, I finally told her. “Two decades of having the same conversation with you needs to end. You and I can talk about anything but religion from now on.” No, we’re not close, but then, we never were. I didn’t lose anything but her relentless proselytizing.

    Specific Kind of Information #7: The event with my grandmom was in the late 90s and I was connected to atheists on IRC.
    Specific Kind of Information #8: I’m absolutely happy I came out. It’s also helped my children to live authentic, unashamed lives. It was the right decision, both to lie to my mom on the night her mother was killed and to have an honest, calm conversation with them later, when the y were better able to cope with it emotionally.

    Specific Kind of Information #9: If I quote you in the book, what name do you want me to use? Whichever name works better for you. My real name is Terri Garrett, but you can go ahead and call me anything 

  60. 60
    David A Musick

    I was a very devout, 18 year-old Mormon, living near Salt Lake City, Utah, preparing to go on a 2-year mission for the Church when I had the sudden realization that I had no strong evidence for God – after months of unanswered prayers for some kind of confirmation of my beliefs.

    I suspected that all the people at church who professed a sincere belief didn’t either. Instantly, I lost my belief in God and became deeply suspicious of all the other things people in my life had told me out of sincere belief. It was very disorienting.

    After a week of thinking about this, I decided I needed to tell my mother and my bishop, since I decided I was not going to go on a mission for the Church, and there was no good way to avoid telling them this at some point. It seemed only fair, since I had told them I was going, which affected them, and they needed to know I was changing my mind.

    So, I talked privately with my mother and one of my older sisters and explained my loss of faith. They were incredibly supportive and were more concerned that I was okay, as far as feeling so disoriented by realizing that I couldn’t trust anything I was told growing up – if people got the whole God issue so wrong, how could I trust they got anything right?

    At church the next Sunday, I asked to speak with my bishop privately, and I explained how I stopped believing in God and was’t going on a mission. He was far less supportive, and he demanded to know what books I had been reading and who I had been talking with. He accused me of being possessed with an evil spirit. He wanted to arrange a “blessing”, where he and some higher church leaders would put their hands on my head and pray to have the evil spirit removed. I politely declined and told him I simply stopped believing on my own.

    After that, I was committed to finding out what was true, reading a wide range of books, especially science books.

    I have no regrets with being honest with others about my loss of faith. There were no negative consequences to me for being honest about my atheism then, and there has not been since, as I have continued to be honest about it.

    The biggest negative consequence for me was the extreme psychological distress of realizing that everyone around me was deluded so I couldn’t trust them on anything, even if they were sincere.

  61. 61
    Andrew

    I grew up in a pentecostal family. Very conservative, very religious, very serious about faith. I had just graduated Bible College when I took those steps necessary to finally see the world of reality. My wife was on a similar journey, and we were expecting our first child. I thought it was time my mother knew where I was at. I live in Toronto, she lives in Sarnia, about three hours away. We met halfway at a restauraunt and I told her that I no longer believed in God, Jesus, or Christianity. She immediately went on to urge me to consider the awful repurcussions of such a decision, clearly saddened that I would be going to hell, and trying to convince me based on the ‘what if you’re wrong?’ argument.
    I didn’t dwell on that though, and immediately told her the wonderful news that she would be a grandmother. We all decided to focus on that, and it went very well, turning a time of potential conflict and sadness into a time to share joyful news. My mother is still a hard-lined Christian, but we have learned to accept our differences, and no significant negative situations have arisen. Our daughter is now 4 years old, and while my mother does send her Christian material, we realize that she has good intentions, and wishes heaven on us from a place of love and concern, as opposed to a place of self-righteous superiority like some Christians. I love my Mom, and don’t expect her to change her mind. I’m sure she wants and expects me to change my mind back. Perhaps those unanswered prayers will give her cause to reflect.

  62. 62
    Rocky

    Hi Greta,
    #1: I sent an email to virtually everyone that I know. It was lengthy and quite detailed. I’d pondered the issue for months and talked with a couple of close friends (and my Christian wife) about it. My primary reason for sending it was to try to counteract the impression that all atheists are vile, immoral, devil-worshippers.

    I sent a rough draft to a half dozen or so friends and family members who already knew my beliefs and received constructive criticism from them. I made a few revisions based on those responses.

    I received email or in-person responses from about a third of the 117 people that received my “manifesto”. All have been supportive and “nice”. No one yet has damned me to hell.

    Nothing has really changed that I can see. There may be some that I sent it to that I haven’t heard from who’ve now written me off and that will never speak to me (or email me) again. But I’ll probably never realize that.

    Yes, I’m happy I did it. Perhaps it made a small difference to a few people.

    #2: The list included close and extended family members, my adult children, members of my ex-wife’s family (all of which I’m still on good terms with), co-workers, fellow club members, past co-workers, members of my tennis team and past tennis team-mates with whom I’ve stayed in email contact, school-mates from 40 years ago, and others who know me.

    #3: I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and most of those to whom I sent the email live here too, but some are elsewhere in the US.

    This was completely voluntary on my part.

    #4: Many of my family members and acquaintances are pretty conservative and some are quite religious. I received a handful of responses that were supportive, but that also said, “I’ll pray for you.” I’ve saved all of the responses (and my responses to them) and would be happy to send you that separate document if you’d like to have it.

    #5: I think the right/wrong question would be answered by what I’d change if I were to do it again. I think it went well and don’t think I’d change anything. I wish I’d received responses from everyone to whom I sent it, but “say la vee!”

    #6: As I said, I’ve had several email and in-person “conversations” with a few of the recipients. And a couple of lunch dates where the specific purpose was to talk over the subjects.

    #7: Online, yes. Athiest Nexus and Think Atheist—though I’m not an “activist” by any means.

    #8: No, all’s the same. No lasting effects—either positive or negative. I have no regrets about having done it.

    #9: Rocky or Rocky S. Stone or Rocky Stone (Yes, that’s my real name.) Or RockyABQ (that’s my usual online personna).

    If you’d like a copy of the email that I sent out (or all the responses and my responses back to them), please send me email at that “personna” name along with @yahoo.com.

    Take care and good luck with the project,
    Rocky

  63. 63
    Ryan

    I was 18, almost 19, living at my parents’ house. They were beginning to be annoyed by my complete lack of ambition, and getting ready to kick me out of the house. One evening at dinner, I brought up college, and mentioned a few I would apply to. They nodded approval and continued eating.

    “Oh, and also,” I said, “I’m gay.”

    Really?” said Mom, sounding more surprised than hurt and more surprised than I expected. We had a long conversation about that, just discussing how I came to realize it and so forth.

    Then Dad, the most religious of us, asked if I had any conflicts about this with church. “Oh yeah, that’s another thing. I’m an atheist, too, so that won’t be a problem.”

    Later that night, Mom would tell me that Dad was more shocked and hurt by the atheist thing than the gay thing. Oh well, he got over it.

    It’s been over ten years since then, and a sister and her family have also come out as atheist, and Mom stopped going to church. Dad is pretty much the only one who still holds on to the faith.

  64. 64
    kmhughes

    I have been an atheist for years after being rather religious through high school, but never said much about it except to close friends. I have become much more outspoken about atheism the past few years (wearing the occasional atheist t-shirt, telling more people, reading books and magazines about atheism on the subway), but had been avoiding telling my parents who are religious Evangelicals. I don’t see them very often, I live in New York City and they live in California, so the topic doesn’t seem to come up. I suspect they had some suspicions over the years, but nothing had ever been explicit, perhaps it was the elephant in the room, and I really wanted them to know so struggled over the past couple of years with how to tell them. I was not entirely sure why I felt they needed to know before, but they have always been happy to talk about things like Celebrate Recovery and other things they do with their church, and I felt I had to be honest with them about my views, which they never really asked about. Greta’s book helped push me over the edge.

    The Reason Rally and the Lobby Day before the Reason Rally gave me what I felt was an excellent opportunity because I could talk about being in DC and slip in why I was there without a glaring “Hey Mom and Dad, I am an Atheist, God doesn’t exist, So whatdyathink”. I wrote them an email describing the weekend and how much fun my wife and I had, mentioning the Lobby Day, briefly saying what it was, how interesting I had found the entire process meeting Congress folks, and how I felt being on the Mall for the Reason Rally and what it was, all very low key. I nervously hit the Send button and waited.

    Email to my parents is never answered quickly, so I waited nervously for a few days, wondering if I had been excommunicated from the family. Finally, one day I see a response from my Mom in my Inbox and I nervously clicked on it.

    “Did you see the cherry blossoms?”

    That was it.

    My mother has always been very big on ignoring chunks of my emails, so I wasn’t sure whether telling her was a non-event, something she’d always known, or was a case of “I can’t hear you… nah, nah, nah”. So, after a birthday greeting from her a week or so later I wrote another letter thanking her for continuing to include me in her life as I had heard about many people telling their family that they didn’t believe in God and found themselves booted from the family.

    Nothing was ever acknowledged. I went to visit her for Mother’s Day since I was on the West Coast. Nothing came up. I rode with my Dad to the restaurant. Nothing.

    So, all in all, a non-event. My wife had suggested, knowing their penchant to talk about themselves and never ask about us, that they might not say anything at all, and her prediction proved true. My mom continues to say how she thanks God I am in her life. I am sure she’s trying to convince God to change my mind. So life is the same as it always was.

    Yes, you can use my full name should you use this: Keith Hughes

  65. 65
    Beyond_Dimensions

    So I came out to my parents and little sister on a family vacation in Panama. It wasn’t even intentional really. I was watching Glee in the hotel room while my parents and sister were present. Before anyone judges me, the show is pertinent to my coming out. Also, I like Glee. ;p

    Kurt was singing (That would be one of the gay characters for those who don’t watch the show) something that required him to go into a very high key. I love Kurt’s voice and I always thought he got some of the better songs.

    Anyway, my father said something hateful regarding the character’s singing and the character’s sexuality. I responded with that the actor was also gay and that I didn’t see a problem with his singing or his sexuality and that, in fact, he was my favorite character on the show. I wanted to see this episode in particular because I knew it would focus on him.

    This caused my father to start in with “Well, Melissa, God says its unnatural in the Bible…”

    Which was when I cut him off. I love my father, I really do. But the older I get I cannot deny the fact that he has some serious hate in regards to those who are different from him. And that makes me so very, very sad for him. I also know that my father has not read the bible like I have in terms of critically or in terms of how much/how many times.

    I asked him specifically what passages of the bible he was referring to. Of course, I knew exactly where they were, but he didn’t. So at that point I started asking him why he chose to wear blended clothing and eat pork and shrimp because those were sins, too. And I don’t remember where the argument led from there, but when he gets angry he gets loud. That’s where I get it from, but until that day I’d never raised my voice like that to him.

    Finally, in a moment I’ll never forget I told him, and consequently my mother and sister, that I did not believe in god and that the bible was utter bullshit.

    His response verbatim: Well, I guess we’ll see who’s right.

    Greta, I laughed. It was the funniest, most absurd thing in the world to me. And then I said, I guess we will. And laughed some more. He left the hotel room shortly after that. At first my mom didn’t react, however, since then she has tried to engage me in matters of faith and the soul. I shut her down as gently as I know how, but she still holds that I really do believe.
    My sister has come out to me as an atheist, herself, but seeing my parents’ reactions has yet to tell them.

    At the time I was 25. I live about 150miles from my parents in a house that I own with my significant other. I am financially independent. My father handles it by steering clear of any religious/faith based topic. Thankfully, my family has always been somewhat secular. Church stopped being a regular thing once our particular church angered my father when I was 10. And, in truth, I’m probably one of the luckier ones because I know there probably isn’t anything I could do that would make my parents stop loving me.

    I think I answered everything.

  66. 66
    Blaine

    My coming out as Atheist was relatively easy actually, at least compared to other stories I’ve heard from fellow non-believers. Perhaps I was aided by the fact that I had come out as gay several years before that. Or perhaps it was the fact that despite growing up (and currently living in Spokane, WA) Conservative Christian, my parents and siblings (and friends) are far less religious than they once were (if, in the case of many of my friends, they were at all). At first, the only person I told was my oldest sister. She didn’t care. She was going through her own journey trying to find where she stood with respects to God and religion and I helped her along. We’ve always been very close so I knew it would be no problem to say “I’m an Atheist” as I did one day about 4 or so years ago (which would have made me 22-23 years old).

    I gradually came out to other siblings face to face within the next year or so, my brother and my other sister; and because neither of them are particularly religious or have a non-traditional view of religion they both were perfectly accepting of my Atheism.

    About a year ago, I finally came out… Formally… As an Atheist to my parents (at 25 years old). I had used terms like “non-believer” or said “I’m not religious” before then so I think they were a little prepared by it. But I had posted a story on my Facebook wall railing against the Pope for disparaging Atheists and Agnostics as a scourge to society in which I said that “We Atheists…”. I had dinner with my parents the next day and my Dad actually brought it up while we were eating. He was curious about the post and I told both him and my Mom about my own personal beliefs a little more in depth. They were both more than accepting and didn’t seem to care one bit.

  67. 67
    Clarissa

    I came out as an atheist for the first time in March. It was the first really beautiful spring day, and my older brother and I were driving to pick up a pizza for dinner. (I’m 17, he’s 20.) Among other things, we were discussing politics: now, I’m about as liberal as it gets, whereas he’s a staunch Ron Paul supporter, so usually this doesn’t go well, but somehow we managed to find one thing we could agree on.

    “You know,” he said, “I wish they’d just keep religion out of politics.”
    “Me too,” I replied. “It only hurts people.”

    There was a brief silence. Then my brother spoke up.

    “I’ve got something that needs to be said. I am an atheist. I do not believe in God.”

    I had been struggling with my religion for months. Both of us had been raised as rather liberal Christians; I still attended a local megachurch (much to my dismay). A year ago, I had considered myself a Christian… then a Deist… then a– a something. An agnostic? An atheist? A nothing at all? I didn’t know. But in that moment I felt this enormous weight I had never even noticed being lifted off my chest, and a sense of relief– of complete freedom– washed over me. There was nothing wrong with me. Someone I knew and loved and respected, raised in the same environment as I was, had examined the universe with a critical eye, and he too had found it godless.

    I took a deep breath. “You know,” I replied, “I don’t think I believe in God either.”

    From that moment on, I’ve considered myself an atheist. Neither of us have come out to our parents yet; we’re both still financially dependent and still worried about the consequences. Only my brother and a few of my close friends know about my nonbeliefs; I still don’t know how far “out” my brother is. What I do know is that we aren’t alone– and that is powerful.

  68. 68
    Omaar Khayaam

    My name is Omaar Khayaam (not my real name). I live in a city called Bradford in northern England. This city has a large Pakistani Muslim minority.

    I’m thirty eight years old. After over twenty years of struggling to believe in God and in the religion of family (Islam) I embraced my atheism. This struggle ended back in 2009 when I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe any of it. To be honest, atheism was the position I wanted to avoid at any cost. My reading of literature, philosophy and science simply confirmed my existing doubts.

    I’m going to break it down into categories. I’ll start off with the closest and most important people and then take it from there:-

    My wife;

    What I said/how you said it?
    My wife was slightly aware of my struggle. I told her one night just before we slept. I simply said that I didn’t believe in God anymore.

    How she responded?
    She thought I was going through a phase and said that surely I’ll snap out of it. This was her initial reaction. She did in time come to accept that this was the conclusion of a long struggle.

    parents;
    My father had been an atheist since before my birth and before he married my mother. My parents had divorced when I was eight so I lived with my mother. My fathers reaction was indifference. My mothers reaction was disturbance. She didn’t take it well and prays for my eventual redemption. We have had a few heated discussions which were all emotional rather than rational.

    siblings
    Both my sisters are Muslims and follow the religion strictly. We don’t really discuss the issue and they know where I stand. My younger sister has at times asked me to revert back to Islam.

    children;
    I have four children, the eldest is seventeen and the youngest is ten. My children are not really that bothered and the older two have expressed non-belief. I have told them that these questions should be taken seriously and not rejected on a whim. I have told them that they must think critically and arrive at their own decision. We don’t really discuss religion or even atheism at home.

    other family members
    There are family members I have told such as my uncles and aunts. Most of my cousins know through word of mouth. I don’t really have such an intimate and close relationship with my cousins to warrant any kind of discussion. I’m a pretty private person and don’t pry into their lives. I expect the same from them. One of my uncles on my maternal side is an atheist and we discuss the issues whenever we see each other. One of my older maternal aunts expressed concern but now doesn’t bother.

    friends;
    This turned out pretty sour and bitter. Two of my best friends expressed huge concern and in the end it led to the break down of our friendship. I am aware that their concern was sincere and genuine. The irony was the sheer surprise that they showed considering the fact that they were privy to my doubts. We had discussions every time we got together. They had spoken to the clerics and were advised to break contact with me and not keep my company. At first I was pretty saddened but in the end, it was their choice. If they wanted to sacrifice our friendship then fair enough. With other friends I’m a bit more guarded. It’s like playing Russian Roulette. I have to be careful who I tell and who I don’t. Especially when over ninety percent of my friends are Muslims. I have made other ex-muslim friends since my apostasy. Both online and face to face. Some of them are much braver than me and have declared their apostasy to anyone who listens. Some of them, particularly with large pious families have kept it hidden and for some, their family life has been destroyed.

    co-workers or other professional colleagues;
    My co-workers know about my atheism except for one or two Muslims. It hasn’t made any difference to our relationship and it’s simply business as usual.

    members of your community in general;
    Again because my community members tend to be Muslims. I don’t go out of my way to broadcast my atheism because there is no need to. It might be a novelty to do so. But I’m not sure what I’d achieve by doing so. I eat and drink what I like when I’m travelling and these discussions hardly ever come up in the community. I don’t attend the mosque or any religious gathering so I don’t run into any kind of trouble on that front. I have to bear in mind that I have family here who will face consequences from the wider community if I’m more liberal with my views. Whenever any banter about religion comes up, I just let it pass through one ear and out of the other.

    strangers;
    It depends on who it is and the situation. For example, my diabetic nurse asked me how I cope with my condition during Ramadan? I just replied that I’m an atheist and I don’t fast. Once Jehovah’s Witness’ came to my sister in laws house while I was staying there. I opened the door and was asked about my beliefs. I told her point blank that I was an atheist. She was very polite and didn’t engage in any discussion.

    where you live(d) when you came out in this story;
    I’m still living in the same city. I live a few miles away from my extended family and generally only meet on special occasions.

    where the person/people you came out to lived;
    All the people I told who are close to me live in the same city with the exception of a few cousins living in London and abroad.

    whether you came out in person, over the phone, in email, on Facebook, etc.;
    I told my wife, siblings, mother and children in person. With others I came out during conversation and with friends over the phone. My non-belief status is on facebook. Either nobody has noticed or if they have, there has been no objection so far.

    whether you came out to just one person, or to more than one person at a time (i.e., one parent or both at once, one friend or everyone at a party, etc.);
    It just depended on where I met the person. I didn’t go out of the way to tell them. My immediate family is important to me and it was only fair that they knew.

    whether you came out voluntarily, or were involuntarily outed
    I came out voluntarily. Simply because I was sick and tired of constantly struggling.

    What makes it a little bit more tricky for someone from my ethnic background is that religion is tied up with culture and is part of your identity. Although I don’t live in a theocracy, I might as well! I think things would have been different if I was single. I could very easily pack my bags and move. But my wife and kids reputation is more important to me than my open atheism. I guess the option to move out of the city is open to me. But I’ll cross that bridge once my kids are adults.

    My coming out was very militant and reactionary. If I could change anything it would have been that initial stage. I could have been a bit more pragmatic and chosen my words carefully, especially to my friends.

    I’m a bit more calmer now than I was three years ago. I don’t really care if others believe in God or not. As long as they don’t tread on my toes. I don’t actively oppose religion because my experience with religion and Muslims has been a good one. All my former circle were sincere and humble. I have nothing bad to say about them at all. They are still the same people as they were when I was Muslim. It’s me that’s changed. I don’t even argue against Muhammad or the so called infallibility of the Quran. I can see that it’s a seventh century invention and that Muhammad was a man of his time.

    On the whole I am happy and glad that I came out. I no longer try to square the circle anymore. I still enjoy reading atheist literature. But the time has come for me to put all that behind me. The only regret I have is that I should have come out much earlier. Preferably before my marriage.
    There have been small changes in my life. My family life has stayed the same. I’ve lost a couple of friends and made new ones. I don’t have to look for the vegetarian or halal variety in restaurants anymore. Although we cook halal food at home because I have relatives who come over and I think it would be ethically wrong for me to feed them non-halal food.

    What would be useful I’d like to add is a greater understanding of the dynamics of being an ex-muslim and ways to help those from this community. I do sometimes get the impression that atheists and freethinkers who are not from the ex-muslim community have a naive understanding of the ex-muslim situation.

  69. 69
    Alice

    I came out the summer between my junior and senior years of high school to my best friend and former boyfriend. We had broken up due to my increasingly liberal views and his distaste for the arguments I loved to have between our conflicting views. I thought because he lived in Washington state and I in Florida that he would be a good first person to tell. With him isolated from the rest of my friends and my family I thought I could use him to test the waters. He took the news as a massive breech of trust. Although I had shared my doubts with him before, he accused me of keeping it from him to trick him
    Into staying with me. Our relationship grew icier with each conversation. We would try to talk about other things while anger and hurt bubbles under the surface. This all came to a head when he called to say he was canceling his visit to see me. Since my coming out to him had rubbed us both so raw, I had decided to wait until collage to come out to my parents, but that night while I was mourning the loss of my friendship with him, he called my mother and took the decision away from me. My usually supportive family turned against me. Three years later it is hard to recount the things they said without crying. My caring, funny dad opened a bible and started barking scripture and arguments at me that I was too emotionally beaten already to address. My smart, barely religious mother grounded me from my car because I was “demon possessed”. We sat in the living room like this for ages, them yelling, me sobbing, until my youngest sister came out of her room where she and my other sister had been praying. She saw what was happening and ran to me and gave me a big hug. That ten year old girl yelled at my parents for me. Told them this wasn’t helping. Told them to stop yelling at me and then she gave me some ice cream they had brought back for me while I was still upset about my ex. Sometimes I forget how much I still owe her for that act of compassion. Any way, three days, a visit to my old youth pastor, and way too much pain later, I decided that being truthful wasn’t worth it, and I told my parents I was a Christian again. I didn’t act any different, and I purposely did nothing to bolster the lie, but my parents wanted everything back to normal so badly that they ate it up anyway.
    That used to be the end of the story, and during that time I lived with growing anger and resentment at my family and at religious people in general. My senior year of high school saw the systematic termination of my Christian friendships that I attributed to their bias against me, but now see was due to my constant attacks on their beliefs. I sought out fights and was basically a dick to everyone. I lost some of the best friends I’ve ever had that way, but then something really magical happened that changed everything: collage. My family moved away to California the year I went to university in Florida. For the first time, being an atheist was pretty normal. I couldn’t push people away by dropping the “A-word” and my anger didn’t have anywhere to go really. I let my parents know about my atheism again this time slowly and over the phone. They weren’t okay with it but they didn’t want to fight either. The defining moment that put the conflict to rest was when I put my atheism up on facebook of all things. My mother was furious. She called to yell at me because it looked bad for everyone to know she had raised an atheist. I was hurt, but I resolved not to give in this time. She threatened to cut me off, she told me I was being selfish, told me I was being decieved by my friends (all of whom were at least tangentially religious). I was driven to tears when she brought up how angry my dad was and that I should talk to him. It looked like a repeat of last time until my dad sent me a strangely light hearted text. I shot back an angry reply, asking why he was cutting me off. He had no idea what I was talking about. It was just my mom who was angry, apparently, and she was lieing about cutting me off. My dad called me and I told him everything. He took my side this time and told me everything would be okay. He risked fighting with my mom on my behalf and a few days of silence later she called me in tears to apologize. After that I forgave my dad for the things he said the first time, and eventually restored my relationship with my mom.
    This is way too long already, but if there’s one thing I can prescribe to those who aren’t out yet, it would be to tell no one until you’re ready to tell everyone. Also, people might be mad at you at first, but if they’re worth telling they’re likely worth forgiving as well.

  70. 70
    Brennan

    I had already come to the conclusion that I was Agnostic, but held off on telling my dad. He is moderately religious and very liberal, and even though we had watched Religulous several times together, I felt uncomfortable telling him. One day he insisted that we go to church, and I just came clean. I said that I couldn’t go in good conscience because I did not believe in the church anymore. Most interesting of any possible response was what he said when, during the course of a long conversation on the issue, I told him in no uncertain terms that, as an Agnostic, I thought the idea of god was ludicrous. He gave a slight, condescending chuckle and said that he was “ok with the fact that you’re Agnostic, as long as you still believe in god.” After that I just dropped the issue because I knew he was not going to be able to engage me in a worthwhile conversation on the issue.

  71. 71
    Kimberly

    I am a 19 year old, white, female business major living in Northeastern USA.
    I came out gradually, as I discovered my own beliefs – my dad’s an atheist and my mom’s a Catholic., and my mom raised me Catholic. My mom was actually OK with me being an atheist, but she was really, really upset when I told her I would not go to church anymore. She wouldn’t talk to me. She got over it though and our relationship was not damaged.
    My dad obviously was fine with it. My dad and I don’t particularly get along, but we can level with each other on religion. We share good atheist articles, blog posts, and books with each other.
    I haven’t had any particularly bad reactions to my atheism, except maybe to my politics that are partially a result of my atheism. I generally don’t bring it up unless asked, in which case I am not usually willing to debate with a theist (since I do not think one can use logic to combat illogical arguments), but I will explain my reasoning and direct them to literature about atheism.
    I have only become more atheistic with time. I am not unhappy that I came out. I think that atheism actually makes me respect life more, because I do not believe in an afterlife. I think that since this is the only life anyone gets, to be especially careful with it. I consider myself to be a moral person; I volunteer for worthy causes and even donate part of my earnings to charity.
    I generally don’t hide my atheism from people but I also don’t mention it, mainly because as a business major I feel that it would be best for my future career to appear non-controversial. You never know who will be looking over your application and what might offend them, and I need every chance I can get to get a good job.
    I don’t really consider it “coming out” to people at this point, I just kind of mention it if it’s relevant to the conversation. I don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s just part of me. However I am passionate about the atheism movement, because I do not believe that religion and government is sufficiently seperated, and it makes me quite angry when atheists are discriminated against in general. I think that atheists are fairly misunderstood by the general population, who apparently think we are an evil, baby-eating group of satanic heathens (yes, I have met people that think that Atheism and Satanism are the same, or at least equivalent in evil – although I don’t actually think Satanism is inherently evil, just illogical).
    Hope this helps! Good luck with your writing!

  72. 72
    Bob Barnes

    Hi Greta:

    This is the letter I sent to about 500 people who live in the gated community in whichI live at in Sarnia Ontario, Canada

    An open letter to residents of Bluewater Country

    I am reluctantly sending this letter as I am well aware of the social discomfort attached to openly discussing someone’s depth of faith or personal belief.

    Although I was never very religious, I did attend Sunday school as a child and church as an adult.

    After living sixty years of not knowing very much about religion, but always having some doubts, I developed a keen interest to explore this in more depth. I was willing to go to wherever the search led me. Anyone who knows me personally, knows I am honest and analytical

    The truth is very important to me.

    After about six years of research on the internet, reading many books and watching many DVD’s. listening to hundreds of podcasts, attending several debates and meetings, and attending several conventions, I can say that I am now an atheist with a capital A. I know lots of people don’t like the word atheist and choose to call themselves agnostic, freethinker, humanist etc, but the word atheist only means being a non theist or a non believer in a god. Most of us are all atheists when it comes to gods like Zeus, Thor, Horus, Allah, Mithra, etc, but I just go one god farther.

    Statistics prove that roughly twenty percent of the population does not believe in a god and if this is true, there must be at least a few non believers living at Bluewater Country.

    I was very surprised to find out how many friends and associates are unbelievers and just how many will admit it to me, but choose to stay in the closet for fear of what the consequences would be if they admitted their unbelief to friends and families.

    My wife, who I love and admire with all my heart, chooses to maintain her own beliefs without any strong desire to follow my search, and I am very comfortable with that; as she is with my pursuit .She, like I am sure plenty of you, is comfortable with her faith and has no interest in other opinions. I have trouble understanding that position as I figure any belief that cannot stand up to critical scrutiny is on shaky ground.

    The purpose of this letter is to seek out like minded individuals or anyone else who has a similar curiosity and have friendly dialogue. Anyone who is interested, can contact me as a have a library of books, videos, podcasts, and other information I am willing to share.

    Please feel free to contact me in the strictest of confidence at

    Yours Respectfully,

    Bob Barnes
    Unit # 82
    519 542-3840 [email protected]

  73. 73
    Kim

    Sorry, I can’t answer your question because there was no need to come out as an atheist. I was raised in the absence of religion; the only exposure to religion I really had was the “weird” Jehovah’s Witness aunt whose kids got screwed out of cake and presents (they didn’t believe in celebrating holidays or birthdays).

  74. 74
    Taran Meyer

    I grew up in a liberal and secular community—urban Western Canada. I can’t say that I ever had a “coming out” moment—to this day I don’t think I’ve ever told either of my parents I’m an atheist. It’s just not the sort of conversation we would have. I think my father’s an atheist, and would probably put my mother in the “spiritual but not religious” category, but I don’t actually *know*. We don’t talk about it. My extended family is still Christian, at least the older generations, but we don’t talk about that, either. I suppose my parents “blazed the way” before I was born when they respectively stopped attending church, but during my lifetime, the issue just never came up.

    I’ve always been matter-of-fact about my atheism when it does come up (which isn’t often). Some of my friends find it puzzling, but we don’t really get into it—either it’s not important, or it’s upsetting to discuss, so we don’t. It’s listed on my facebook profile, but the only comment I’ve ever gotten about it was supportive, from a fellow atheist. It wasn’t until I started exploring the wider “atheist community” of podcasts and blogs that I even encountered the idea of prejudice against atheists, or of “coming out” as being a big deal in some communities. I must admit I find it both fascinating and horrifying.

  75. 75
    frog

    I have several massive advantages that make it easy for me to be an open atheist: I’m white, upper middle class, college educated, liberal, and East Coast urban (native NYer, now in Philly working at U of Penn).

    Which meant that we didn’t talk about religion very much in my world growing up, except in comparative discussions. I was raised Catholic in a mostly Jewish neighborhood; and it being upper-middle-class New York, we knew plenty of other good people of even more religions (Hindu, Shinto, mainstream Lutheran, Greek Orthodox), so my parents never crammed the “there’s only one true religion” nonsense down my throat.

    My parents didn’t go to church, so my decision to stop going was shrugged off, and since it happened before I realized I was atheist, I didn’t have a complicated discussion with my parents about it. I officially became an atheist when I was 16. I did not mention it to my parents in specific, but I didn’t have any occasion to hide it–religion simply didn’t come up often enough to worry about it.

    I went to other people’s religious-based ceremonies (weddings, baptisms), but it was obvious that most of the folks around me–liberal, college-educated urbanites–were going through the motions for the social/community/habit reasons, and were in fact deist at best.

    In my mid thirties I was at a family reunion talking to some of my cousins (age range: mid-20s to early 30s). They had been raised in a much more religious Catholic household than I was, but they were now (you guessed it) college-educated liberal urbanites, and at some point my cousin Mike just flat out said, “I don’t believe in god.” I said, “Me either.” My sister looked at us and said, “I kind of do, but not really.” And then the other three all said variations from watchmaker-deist to atheist. We had a good laugh and went on with our evening.

    I officially came out to my mother six or seven years later. It was very matter of fact. We were talking about my father, who had died a couple of years earlier. Mom said something about Dad being in Heaven. I said, without even thinking, “Well except for the whole thing about there not being a Heaven. But he’s with us in our memories, which is nice.”

    My mom kind of blinked at me. I said, “You know I’m an atheist, right?”

    She said, “I suspected, but didn’t really think it possible.”

    I said, “What, you don’t think Dad was an atheist?” and she acknowledged that yes, he probably was, but they didn’t talk about religion and she never asked. I didn’t out my sister to her–not my place to do that–but I suspect my mom knows.

    And that was that. My mom is pretty smart, and even if she feels some disappointment, she knows that arguing about it is stupid and useless. She had gotten more religious after Dad died, but seems to be backing away from it again now.

    And this is how I handle it most of the time. Religion doesn’t come up in most conversations. If it does, I usually start with “I’m not religious” and see where that goes. I’m matter-of-fact about it, e.g., “Oh, I’m not religious. I don’t go to church,” as if it’s completely ordinary. This is easy for me because where I come from it is completely ordinary.

    Being this straightforward and unapologetic helps reframe the other person’s view. It’s very hard for them to act as if I’m strange for my lack of religion (or atheism, if the conversation gets there), if I don’t act apologetic about it. But again, see the first paragraph list of Privileges that make it easy for me to be unapologetic.

    My staff and friends know I’m an atheist, from some conversation or another where it came up, but since none of them are evangelical crazies who think I need to be “saved,” it doesn’t make any difference. I have several friends who are fairly religious (liberal/lax Christian, Jewish, Quaker) but their religions don’t require them to be assholes to their non-religious acquaintances, so we get along fine. They don’t get all goddy on me, and I don’t insist they’re stupid for believing, and mostly there’s no reason for it to ever come up in conversation.

  76. 76
    Josiah Allen

    Mine might be interesting.

    I was raised a liberal Methodist in New England. My father’s father was a Methodist reverend, though lived about 8 hours away.

    It was the Christmas service, and I thought I would be able to tolerate it. This was the church I had gone to my whole life, though as I doubted more I attended less. Now I knew that religion was false, and even the pretty hymns felt hollow in my stomach. During that service I decided it was not right to live a lie.

    So I refused to go up for communion. And my parents were the ones breaking the bread and serving the wine. I probably broke their hearts.

    I drove home (by myself, we had driven separately as they had to be their early). When they got home, my mother approached me cautiously. I don’t remember too much, but I remember telling her that I didn’t want to pretend anymore, and that it just didn’t make sense to me anymore, that I had not really believed for years, and that I had done a lot of research.

    My father I don’t think talked to me about it.

    Well, it was forgotten the next morning. My parents being classic New Englanders decided to ignore the problem.

    But then in the mail, I got C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and some book about how the Matrix and Christianity were related. Then went unread by me.

    So that was the big moment I guess. I suppose I didn’t use the word ‘atheist’, but when it comes to rejecting your parents faith, at least in my case, it was necessary to clarify my exact philosophy.

    To ensure I hit your points:

    how (if at all) things have changed with time.
    -I felt better obviously. I even went to church again one year out of respect, though I did ban my father from praying at my wedding. He loves me though, and supports me. It’s just a taboo topic really, we never discuss religion anymore.

    whether, on the whole, you’re happy you came out or regret doing so.
    -I regret the way it happened. I wish I could talk about religion with my parents. But my father is really intimidating and his ‘look of disapproval’ cuts to the bone. I think it had to happen that way because I felt like I had no voice. A physical action was clear and simply required me to not move. But I do wish I could have done it in a way that would have hurt them less.

    Specific Kind of Information #7: When you came out, were you connected with an atheist community — either online or in person?

    I was not really connected to the community yet. I had deconverted based on my own reading and musing, though I did enjoy the Invisible Pink Unicorn website.

    Specific Kind of Information #8: How has your life changed since you came out? Are you, on the whole, happy that you came out, or do you regret it? Do you think it was the right decision? Do you think your answer to this question would change if you’d done it differently?

    My life is great, and obviously it’s nice not to have to lie every time I go home.

    Specific Kind of Information #9: If I quote you in the book, what name do you want me to use? Real full name, your real first name, your online handle, or a made-up name? (If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you want your online handle used if you reply in comments, and a made-up name if you reply in email.)

    My name is Josiah Allen, which you may use, I’m one of your facebook friends too, if you need to ask more questions :p

  77. 77
    Josh

    Background: I live in Australia, which according to census data has a Christian majority, but the majority of these are almost certainly “cultural Christians.” People here, especially young people, are typically not very interested in religion. So, I guess you could say that the wider community I live in is secular, although my family is made up largely of devout Catholics.

    I came out to my parents during high school; it might have been grade 10 or 11. Because my parents are Catholics, we went to church on Sunday. My sisters and I were never asked if we wanted to go to church; it was just assumed that we must go. Given that I had never thought much of their religion, this irked me greatly. So I ended up admitting my atheism to my parents in a moment of exasperation, just as they were getting ready to leave for church. I said something to the effect of, “I’m not going to church. I don’t believe in your god and I think it’s a waste of time.”

    They didn’t take it especially well. My dad tried to play the authority card, tried to tell me that I had to go, but I would have none of it. He then threatened to move me to a state school, on the grounds that I shouldn’t be going to a religious school if I don’t believe. I objected to this, mainly because I didn’t want to have to go through being the new kid, and because the state schools in that area have less-than-stellar reputations. Nothing came of that in the end. I didn’t ever go to church again on Sunday with my parents, although they did ask me to go (and try to guilt-trip me into going) many times while I was still living with them.

    At that stage in my life, I hadn’t come out to any friends, but I didn’t really have to; despite attending a Catholic school, most of the students had little interest in religion. My experience since school has been similar; most people are quite accepting of atheism; it’s just not a big deal.

    If I had to do it again, I’d want to do it differently. I had been getting gradually more annoyed with having my Sunday mornings wasted, with pretending that I didn’t think my parents’ religion was a load of crap, and it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I think I should have spoken to my parents long before it got to that, and told them gently that I don’t believe. For them, my admission must have, I think, come completely out of the blue.

    My parents are fine with my atheism now. We’ve even had discussions during which I’ve criticised religion, and especially the Catholic church, quite strongly.

    At the time I came out I wasn’t connected to any atheist or freethinking community. At that time I didn’t even consider that such a thing might exist.

  78. 78
    Kat Car

    ‘Coming out’ was easy to people my own age (university students, 18-24 age band). You just change ‘religious views’ on facebook, and lo and behold, your whole friend group knows. Few people I know of my own age particularly care about religion; the most common ‘religious view’ is ‘I don’t know/care’. As it turned out, my sister was beginning to lean that way, so I lent her ‘The God Delusion’ and she agreed.

    I do have one friend that is an ardent Christian. She keeps posting pictures of pregnant women and stomping over her own rights and those of others, or claiming Einstein to be a Christian. If it were not for her, my atheism would have been one post. And yes, it has wrecked our friendship, and no, I don’t regret it. It has shown me her true colours. Prevent rape victims getting abortions? Sneer at those who don’t believe in your one true god? Not a person with whom I want to be friends.

    Coming out to my grandmother was by far the worst. I was outed against my will. I never intended to tell her. She is an active church member; not a fire and brimstone guilt type, but very firm in her views. She is also one of the people I love most in the world, and I had recently lost my grandfather. I had no intention of ever telling her I thought he was just gone, that the world we can see is all we have.

    I was at university, and she and my dad had come to take me and my boyfriend out to dinner. My boyfriend made a silly joke about my atheism, as he often does. My dad had known for years, and was if anything slightly bored by it, but my nan turned to me and said ‘Oh, you’re being an atheist now are you?’ like I’d decided to be a Goth, or a footballer. Another silly phase I would grow out of.

    I laughed, slightly hysterically, and said yes, but I wasn’t about to begin worshipping Satan or eating babies. She nodded, disappointed. I was caught out in a situation I had already decided never to deal with. I didn’t think it was fair to add her worry about me to the million other things she has to contend with. It was only the hope of seeing her in an afterlife that kept me clinging to belief, and telling her I thought that wouldn’t happen would be unnecessarily painful. I suggest you brief the people that know if you don’t intend to come out to certain people. Let them know you’re not going to tell person x, and why.

    She does occasionally mention God to me, and seems to have decided that I do believe deep down, but am angry at the church structure, the inequality and hypocrisy. I do everything I can to encourage that. Being English, we generally avoid awkward topics, and it rarely gets mentioned, never discussed, thankfully.

    I am a lot happier as an atheist, but coming out is overrated. It is not necessary to come out to everybody. There are certain people that would be happier without knowing, and if you can keep up a pretence for their sake, especially if they’re old, do it. As long as they’re worth the hassle of church at Christmas and Easter, and feeling awkward at times. If I could go back and kick my boyfriend under the table before he spoke I would. I am an atheist, pretending very hard to be a disenchanted Christian. For her, I would pretend to be anything. My sister has very sensibly not said a word to her about it.

  79. 79
    Joseph

    I live in a small town in northern Wisconsin, so I’m not exactly near the “Bible Belt,” but Christians are still the majority. I am but 14, so the “coming out” experience is not over, I suppose.

    My mother has gone between being a Christian, an Agnostic, and a Deist throughout her life, and I think my brother and I have a lot to do with this swinging, because he is a very..opinionated..Atheist, and I would consider myself more of an Agnostic.

    My father could be best described as an Agnostic or Deist, because he makes no moves to defend any organized religion, but he always would say (and still does say) something along the lines of “How can anyone know? How can we hope to understand the supernatural if we’re only human?”

    My father raised me to trust no one by just what they tell me, and he did this by constantly playing little tricks on me. I didn’t like it at the time, but I appreciate that great parenting technique. Anyway, my parents gave me a children’s bible book around 6 or 7, because I was ahead in my reading skills. Looking back on it, they did it out of guilt because they felt that I needed to be educated about what the majority believes. I didn’t enjoy reading the book, because I was amazed that people would actually believe things like this.

    Now, the actual “coming out.” The first instance of this was caused by some comment I made to my mother, that I can’t seem to remember. My dad called me outside the house to talk to me about something.

    “So I hear you’re an Atheist.”

    “What’s an Atheist?” I honestly didn’t know the word.

    “Someone who doesn’t believe in a god.”

    I stood there for a few minutes thinking. I knew I didn’t believe in a god, because at this point (10-11 years old) I realized that the whole “Hell” thing was just trying to scare me, and that it was the only reason I pretended to believe in such a thing.

    I told him that yes, I was an Atheist, though I now identify with Agnosticism. His reaction was as I said in the overview of him earlier.

    My other family members have been pretty accepting, though my mother still tells me to keep my mind open, which I do. I haven’t told any of my grandparents, and I have no intention to, because my mother’s side is pretty deeply religious, though they do not go to church as far as I know.

    I’ve struggled with my girlfriend’s parents heavily. At first they liked me, seeing me as a respectable person for their daughter to be with, but when they saw my awkwardness at their prayer before a meal one time at their house, things changed. After I left for my house that day, they asked my girlfriend about it. She told them I was Atheist, as at that point she’d gotten the point that I’m non-religious, but we hadn’t had many in-depth discussions about it yet. After that, we’ve had more discussions about such things, and she understands my Agnosticism more. She has told her parents about the truth of my lack of religious beliefs, but this hasn’t changed anything.(that sentence was an abomination) I was forbidden to see her for quite awhile, and now it’s calming to the point where we’re allowed to “be friends.” Not trying to get too personal with this section of it, but of course my girlfriend and I have secretly been together throughout this. It just pains me that all this conflict is caused simply because I do not share beliefs with the parents of my girlfriend.

    If this is quoted for some reason, please refer to me as Seh. Due to my curiosity on why anyone would use this, please tell me what you’re using it for at [email protected]

  80. 80
    William

    I was raised as a non-denominational Christian in a small town in the Midwestern US. I became an atheist when I was sixteen, after two or three years of doubting and questioning my beliefs.

    It became hard to force myself to sit through church service with my family every Sunday once I no longer believed, so I began to excuse myself from going. I think my parents assumed this was just typical teenager behavior at first. After a long stretch of not attending church, though, my mom finally confronted me and asked me why I didn’t want to go anymore.

    I confessed that I didn’t believe in God. She cried and tried to talk me into going to church again, to give it another shot. I vividly recall her saying “Where did we go wrong?” at one point. As the golden child who excelled in school and never got in trouble, it was pretty upsetting to know that my parents were so disappointed in me. I still haven’t told my parents I’m gay because I can’t bear to disappoint them any more, though I’m sure they would still love me and would eventually come to accept it.

    I had a few more tense conversations with my parents after the first in which my mom cried and my dad made various threats (such as not paying for my college education) if I didn’t convert back to Christianity. I told them I would never forgive them if they couldn’t accept me as I am and, fortunately, they dropped the issue.

    They still occasionally try to push their beliefs on me, but for the most part we just don’t talk about it and manage to get along well enough. I think hearing that their child was an atheist was such a shock at first because they had never known any atheists before and thought we were immoral, unhappy people. They became much more accepting once some time had passed and they saw I was the exact same person I had always been.

    Changing negative perceptions like those of my parents is why coming out and being visible as an atheist is so incredibly important. It makes it easier for everyone after us to come out and just be themselves without fear.

  81. 81
    Rosie

    I grew up on a farm outside of a small (population 500) town in southwestern Minnesota. I was raised Catholic. Both of my parents were Catholic and came from devoutly religious families; out of 10 children in my mom’s family, one uncle is a priest, an aunt is a nun, and my mom was even a nun for 6 years prior to getting married (with temporary vows until she decided not to become a permanent nun—whatever the correct terms are). My family went to church every week and said a prayer before every meal. We kids were sent to catechism once a week and a one-week Sunday school in the summer. Despite all this, we weren’t an overtly religious family. We never discussed it or read the bible. (Being of stoic German descent, we never discussed any matters of a serious nature, actually). We didn’t say prayers before bedtime.

    As a sophomore in high school I started dating my boyfriend of four years. His family was also Catholic, and he was an altar boy. To make a long story short, his older brother was an atheist, which influenced my boyfriend. He and I talked about it, and it was a revelation to me (forgive the pun). It had never occurred to me before that a person could not believe.

    I never really came out to my parents. At first, I would pretend to drive to church every Sunday (my parents started going to church in a different town because my dad, a stubborn old coot, got pissed off by our town’s priest for some reason or another). Instead of going to church, I found a nice place to park my car and read for an hour. After a while, I stopped pretending to go to church and just didn’t go (I think I was busted, but I don’t remember the details). After I left for college, when I visited my parents, I abstained from saying the prayer before meals. When I went to weddings or funeral masses, I didn’t kneel or go to communion. So my parents knew, but we never discussed it. My sister and I would joke about it. She was and is still religious, but never tried to influence me. She would jokingly call me a “godless heathen”, but I never got the feeling that she was nervous that I would influence her kids. One of my nieces asked me once if I believe in god. It was so unexpected that I think I changed the subject without really giving her an answer. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries or undermine my sister.

    There was one thing that happened: as senior president of my class, I went before the school board to request that a prayer would not be said at our graduation. I did it on behalf of a classmate, whose religious beliefs would have prevented him from attending had the prayer been said. I did not mention my atheism. It was a bold move for me, but I was nervous and didn’t handle it well. I broke down in tears before the board. I think they admired me sticking up for a classmate, and they agreed to not have the prayer.

    Since then, I have been very open about my atheism with people close to me–everyone I’ve ever dated and my friends. One person that I dated said it troubled him and that he worried that I would go to hell. No one else has seemed to have a problem with it or tried to debate me or change my mind. Actually, the shock and surprise has usually gone the other way: when I found out that some of my perfectly rational and intelligent friends believed in god, I couldn’t believe it. I rarely get into religious or political discussions of any kind, mostly because I don’t like confrontation, and am not good at debate (I like to write and organize my thoughts over a period of time rather than off the cuff). Plus, for most of my life I have simply not cared what other people think or believe, as long as they leave me alone.

    Currently, I live in southwestern Wisconsin. Almost everyone I know is Caucasian and straight (due to availability, not choice) and has a Christian upbringing. My husband believes in god but is not religious. I made sure he was aware of my stance when we first started dating. When our first child was baptized, I felt suckered into participating. I told him I would never do that again. For our second child, he is having him baptized (mostly for my mother-in-law’s sake). I don’t care, as long as I don’t have to stand up in front of people and agree to it. I don’t care if my children attend church with their grandma occasionally, but I will not have them indoctrinated at Sunday school. I intend to raise my children to have open minds, think rationally, use reason, and become educated about as many religions as they can. I recently came out to my manager at work because we’re having a team-building day, including meditation and mindfulness facilitated by a former Buddhist priest. My manager was soliciting opinions and objections, and I said I was fine with it as long as we don’t discuss religion or beliefs. Surprisingly, my boss said that he’s an atheist, too. I’ve worked for him for eleven years, and neither of us knew that about the other, although we’ve discussed lots of things in social settings such as our families and parenting.

    I wouldn’t change a thing about how I’ve come out to the people I have, mostly because I’ve done it so cautiously. I basically only come out to people that I know well enough to feel secure that they won’t reject me. I usually don’t plan to “come out”; if the subject comes up and they ask, I will tell them. Or I will tell someone if I feel they should know, such as when I started dating someone or the case of my manager.

    I don’t participate in atheist forums or organizations, although I am an avid reader of blogs and books (I LOVED “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”) Although I am usually disdainful toward religion and beliefs, I rarely show that publically. I have two close friends who are atheists and we regularly discuss it, and that is my outlet for venting about the ridiculousness. But I am hesitant to come out publically, and I haven’t really figured out why yet. Fear, I guess. Of what? Losing family and friends? Being threatened or discriminated against? My first small step was in the recent Coming Out week, I changed my Facebook profile picture to the letter A. Without any explanation. No one seemed to notice or comment. They might assume it stands for Alzheimer’s, as I am active in that organization (my mom has it and her mother before her). Anyway, that was my first public foray, and I am still considering whether there is a need to come out all the way. As I said, I am a private person, and am not confrontational or prone to debate. However, largely because of reading your book, I am considering becoming more proactive and public. I want to set an example as a good, moral atheist and to do my part in providing a safe community for other people to come out and even open up people’s eyes to the possibility of no god. I would also like to stop getting those ridiculous and ignorant religious and political forwards from my cousins, but that may be too much to hope for.

    Sorry, I know this is long—more of a combination of how I became an atheist and how I told people—but it’s tough for me to separate it all out. You have my permission to use whatever you need of this information in your upcoming book; I would love to be a part of it. I’m so looking forward to reading it. I hope you write fast because I could use the help in coming out.

    Rosie

  82. 82
    gotlost

    So I’m late to the party, work has been crazy but I’m catching up on my RSS feed.

    I grew up in a somewhat-Christian home. In college and after I got passionately involved in the local Christian church, eventually becoming a worship leader (song leader). I read anything I could get my hands on about God and the Bible, and eventually got to Rob Bell, which led me to read more about the origins of the Bible, including Ehrman, and the on to Dennett, Dawkins, and on an on. You’ve heard that part before.

    This all took place over the span of a couple of years. My wife (of almost 10 years), also a devout Christian, of course took notice of my reading materials. We had a few discussions over that time but she wasn’t really interested.

    When the day came that I decided I wasn’t going back to church I sat my wife down to talk about it. The conversation went something like this:

    Me: I’ve decided that I’m not going to church any more.
    Her: I know you haven’t been happy with our church – what other church would you like to visit?
    Me: You don’t understand, I’m not going to church any more. Not any church.
    Her: Oh.

    She was shocked, to say the least. She had been confident that all of my reading and searching would lead me back to God. We had a few more conversations about my reasons why, but I couldn’t get too far into it without her collapsing into tears. Over the next few months we did consider divorce, but eventually decided that we could make it work. She still goes to church every week, I stay home on Sunday mornings, and for the most part we just don’t discuss it. It’s been hard, and it will get harder as the kids get older and start to ask questions. Regardless, I’m glad that I did it – continuing to go to church would have been dishonest of me and disrespectful.

    I hear that folks at church ask about me and talk about reaching out to me – so far that hasn’t happened. There are a few I still see socially. I’ve definitely found out which of those church people were really friends and which were just church friends. To be frank most of those people I wouldn’t really wan t to hang out with anyway – most of them think Barack Obama is a socialist Muslim from Kenya and all of the other tripe that goes along with far-right-wing politics.

    The online atheist community has been incredibly helpful to me. There are several blogs and forums I could point to, including this one, that have opened my eyes and made me think. I don’t always agree with what’s being said, but unlike in church, I can disagree out loud and that’s an accepted position (provided I have logic and evidence to back my position). So far I’m still trying to work up the courage to find an in-person group to meet with – there are several nearby but for some reason that seems like a final step that’s too big to take at this point.

    I live smack in the middle of the Bible Belt. 4 of the 25 biggest churches in the country are within an hour’s drive of my house. About 10 more are close enough for a weekend road trip. As an atheist I’m a member of a small minority. I also serve in the military, so that makes me an even smaller minority. At my current workplace it’s accepted for folks to decorate their office how they see fit, and play music in their office as long as it doesn’t bleed over into others’ workspaces – the amount of religious propaganda is at times overbearing. I’m going to school right now so I can change careers into something I’m really passionate about. My new career field has a large majority of Christians, including in the upper ranks who make hiring decisions. I’m concerned about the long-term career effects of making any public pronouncement of my disbelief. I’m upfront when people ask, but I don’t offer that information if I’m not prompted.

    If I had it to do over again, the only thing I would change is the delay. I decided long ago that I didn’t believe what they were teaching at church. I should have left at least a year before I did. That’s 52 Sunday mornings I won’t ever get back.

    Greta, if you want more info you have my email address. Should you use this in your book, just sign me CD from TX.

  83. 83
    Joshua

    I don’t know if you are still looking for these but I just posted my story on my blog. I’d re-post it but it is kind of long.

    http://sexyheathen.com/blog/blog/2012/06/17/from-ministry-to-atheism-my-story-part-1/

    http://sexyheathen.com/blog/blog/2012/06/17/from-ministry-to-atheism-my-story-part-2/

  84. 84
    johnkarpf

    My father was a preacher’s kid and both of my parents were born-again evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. I am the grandson of the minister of the non-denominational evangelical Brooklyn, NY (Riverside Christian) church that I attended as a child. My grandfather, the minister was a strict disciplinarian with 12 depression-era kids and countless grandkids. The whole family pretty much lined up like soldiers and spent Sundays at Sunday School/Church Service and then had Sunday dinner at Grandpa & Grandma’s house, which was the church parsonage. Then there was Sunday evening Service, Royal Ambassadors (youth group) on Monday evenings, Prayer Meeting on Wednesday night and then the youth pastor would take us out on Saturdays to drop off leaflets, witness to the neighborhood and go on revivals at other churches or attend the tapings of different religious radio programs. Whenever the Billy Graham Crusade came through New York, a bunch of us would serve as counselors, so at the end of the crusade at Madison Square Garden, when they played ‘Oh Lamb of God , I Come’, we would be at the front and sides of the crowd to receive and pray with the people who came to devote their lives and give up their sin to Jesus. This was my life until at the age of 13 when we moved away to the suburbs of New Jersey and I joined a new church. At the First Baptist Church of Southard in Lakewood, NJ I fit right in. It was a new church and I helped build the church. I became President of our Young People’s group, I was the pastor’s favorite and he gave me materials so that I could learn how to preach. I helped run the Wednesday night Prayer Meetings and even gave the occasional Sunday Evening Sermon. I was helping bring dozens of people to the Lord. I carried my Bible with me everywhere I went and witnessed every chance I got. I was preparing to attend Bible College and even visited a few. This was bliss for the next three years and I meditated in and prayed to the Lord daily and with every breath I took. I was at peace.
    Two weeks after my 16th birthday, my father lost his job in Long Island City and we had to move again. This time we moved to upstate NY to the small community of Saugerties. I found a church, but was just not as into it as I had been. I was distracted. I think I was just depressed from having to move again. I got a part time job at the cafeteria at the Trailways bus station in Kingston as a bus boy to help out my family, because dad wasn’t making anywhere near the money he used to make, so things were tougher than they had been at anytime previous. I didn’t like any of it.
    My refuge was reading Science Fiction. I discovered that Isaac Asimov attended the same elementary school I did in Brooklyn (PS 201) so that’s where I started, but soon I fell in love with Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon. The more I read the more I discovered that although I liked the fantasy stories of writers like John Varley, Philip Jose Farmer and Anne McCaffrey, I really really LOVED the “harder” sciencey sci-fi books of Arthur C. Clark, Poul Anderson and Ben Bova. It led me to science, the scientific method and a whole new way of looking at the universe. I was enthralled with science.The little bit of money my parents let me keep from my job was almost exclusively spent on clothes for work, and used books. My bedroom, which I shared with 2 of my brothers, had stacks of paperbacks 20 or 30 books high along every wall.
    Sitting on the edge of my bed in our bedroom, I confessed my feelings to my brother who was 13 at the time, sort of stream of consciousness, I was just trying to work it out aloud, and although I told him in confidence, he immediately ran into the living room and said to my mohter; “John doesn’t believe in God”. I was momentarily breathless. I don’t know what I expected. My brother outed me and I was NOT ready for it. I wasn’t even sure what I was thinking. My mother yelled; “JOHN!” and I slowly walked towards the living room. My mother was bigger than life, a loud abrasive domineering woman whose voice could shake the walls and often did. “JOHN, get in here!. What is your brother talking about? YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD!? What happened to you?” I understood her confusion, but I had never seen the tortured look on her face I saw that afternoon. Just the day before my Mother had given me some new brochures for some other bible colleges to consider and I even thanked her for them.
    My mind was racing, but at the moment of that verbal challenge from my mother, everything just crystallized ( I swear I actually heard a sound like a CRACK in my head as everything came together) and with my head swimming I replied;
    “No. It just doesn’t make sense to me any more.”
    “What makes you think you are so smart that you can reject God?”
    “I’m not rejecting anything. The more I read the books of these very smart people, they don’t believe either.”
    “Smarter people than them and you believe in God. Go to your room and think about what this means to our family. What it means to your grandfather and to your father.”
    I walked back to my room and immediately picked up yet another sci-fi book to get lost in it’s pages. I knew I was in trouble, but momentarily I tried to just go on as if we hadn’t had that conversation.
    That evening after I got home from work, my parents were waiting for me at the kitchen table. My father was obviously angry and my mother wouldn’t even look me in the eyes. My father, who was the quieter of my two parents, did all the talking as he now laid down the law.

    First, he and I would go through every book in my room and throw out all of the sci-fi and fantasy books which were obviously filling my head with nonsense. My dad also went through my record collection and removed anything that wasn’t Christian.
    Second, I would attend church with the family, but I wouldn’t sit with them because he didn’t want any facial expressions or remarks to interfere with their church experience.
    Third, after church I could grab some food, but I was to leave the house for the remainder of the day (I could go to a park or the library but nowhere else) so I couldn’t influence my siblings (4 of them) all younger than me.
    Fourth, I was to quit my job and study and read my Bible every day after school and I couldn’t spend any time with some of my new friends and neighbors (the long-haired hippie ones – this was 1970 after all).
    Fifth, I was not to tell anyone else in our family. I wasn’t allowed to use our home phone and in Saugerties, we were pretty isolated, so it wasn’t like I was going to call anyone, but my father didn’t want me to disgrace him.
    Sixth, I had to surrender to my father my driver’s license (I could legally drive during the day, or to and from work).
    Seventh and finally, except for when I was in the bathroom, I wasn’t allowed to spend time alone. If I was studying or reading, there would have to be one of my brothers or sister in the room with me, who would note what I was reading and tell my parents. In the living room I could watch TV with everyone, but I no longer had any say in the programming.

    The guilt of what I had become was overwhelming and I was kind of relieved that the punishment was finally meted out and that I knew what it was. I so wanted the peace I had had when I was younger and I tried to pray and I tried to find answers in the bible I still read every day but no matter how much I tried, I could no longer shut my eyes or stop my brain from finding the obvious holes in the scripture that I had loved so much as a young teen. My brothers and sister were instructed to keep a close eye on me and they obviously felt bad for me, but they were convinced that they were trying to save me and were diligent as they watched over me.
    This was my life for the next two months. My family had Sunday brunch and dinner but I went to the library on Sundays and read every sci-fi book they had. I had a little bit of money saved and I purchased (from a friend at school) a small transistor radio with an ear plug so I could listen to music under the covers at night. My grades improved because I wasn’t working anymore and unless I wanted to read the Bible, I could only read text books or the occasional book for a book report or literature class. [My father, going through my books, threw out Utopia by Sir Thomas Moore as obvious contraband, but since I had to read it for English class, he had to buy me a new one]. After two months of this regimen, I think my parents were reconciled to the fact that I wasn’t coming back to the fold. I hadn’t really broken any of their rules. I never once said a single word to my brothers or sister or even smirked to give away what I was thinking. I was however sullen and serious. My parents just didn’t want what they considered a potential source of evil in their home any longer.
    After dinner on a Monday night, my father told the other kids to go to their rooms and told me to stay at the table. While we were eating my mother had gone into my room and packed a few of my clothes. A pair of jeans, 2 sweatshirts, a pair of sneakers, some socks and underwear and my winter jacket and put it all into two brown supermarket paper bags. These were not all of my clothes, almost all of which I had bought myself with my allowance of money left over from my job. These were just what they were going to let me take. After my siblings left the table my father reached into his wallet and handed me my driver’s license. He talked in an unfamiliar measured tone that sounded rehearsed; “Your mother and I have decided that having you here is much too dangerous for your brothers and sister and too much of a burden on our family. We as parents are responsible for the souls of our whole family.” While my father was talking my mother went into the cupboard and took out a plastic bowl, a spoon and a fork and put them into the bags with my clothes. “We tried with you and it didn’t work. We may have lost you to Satan but we have to make sure that we don’t lose anyone else. You will always be our son and we will pray for you, but we can’t take care of you and our other children too.” I was in shock. I didn’t really believe what I was seeing and hearing. My father then went over to my Mom and put his arm on her shoulder and said; “I want you to pick up those bags by the door and leave.” I just nodded. I was numb. I didn’t cry or say anything but my heart was racing so fast all I could hear was the blood pumping through my head. I don’t actually remember opening the door and leaving. I had no real idea what to do for a few minutes as I stood in the middle of the street just staring. I tried to think of what I could have done differently and I couldn’t think of anything at all. It was cold and the wind whipping around the back of my neck snapped me back to my senses. The inside of my nose froze, it was in the teens temperature wise, so I reached into my bag and pulled out my jacket and considered what to do next.
    This was upstate New York in 1970. I was just three miles from Woodstock and a teenager hitchhiking on the road was not uncommon. I stuck out my thumb and got a ride to a friend’s house and asked his parents if I could use their phone. They were leery of a 16 year old showing up at their door with bags of clothes but they relented.
    On one occasion when I still was working at the bus station cafeteria, the manager of the fast food (it was a Jack-In-The-Box) restaurant across the street told me that if I ever wanted to work for him all I had to do was to call him, and that’s just what I did. I told him my story and he was sympathetic. He hired me, rented me a room over his garage and made sure I had a ride to school every day. I worked full time throughout my junior and senior years in high school. In my senior year my family moved to Florida, so they weren’t in attendance for my High School Graduation, even though I sent them an invitation. That was pretty much it for me and them for some years. Up until that point the goal of my life was to prove to my parents that I was still a good person even though I didn’t believe in God. At my high school graduation I could feel my goals shift. I thought that the best revenge for my parent’s neglect would be to live a good and full life and that MAYBE one day we could enoy the things we shared with each other instead of hating the things we despised about each other. I moved to Austin, and graduated from the University of Texas. I cut off all ties with them for years because they were fuckheads. My parents eventually understood that they were cutting off their noses to spite their face and they missed me. In time, I forgave them so they could see their grandkids. They apologized when they got into their seventies. I realized that they were just people doing what they thought was right and I’m a forgiving kind of guy so I let them know that I had forgiven them many years earlier. They missed out on important events in my life like my wedding and time with their grandchildren for years because they were bigots.

  85. 85
    redwood

    I grew up in southern Missouri as a member of a Southern Baptist church. Neither of my parents were religious but my mother thought the socializing we got at church would be good for us so she had my siblings and me start attending the closest one. I went along but don’t think I ever really believed in it all and by the time I finished college I had no interest in church, religion or god in any form. I had had some arguments with my brothers about religion and we had decided just not to talk about it.

    I came out as an atheist a couple of years later when I was at graduate school in San Francisco, which would be 35 years ago. I was riding the streetcar home one day and saw an elderly woman struggling down the steps with two heavy bags of groceries. I hopped off and offered to carry them for her. She accepted and we made small talk as we walked to her flat. When we got there, out of the blue, she asked me, “Are you a Christian?” For the first time in my life, I said, “No, I’m not. I don’t believe in God.” She nodded without showing any emotion, went into her home and I never saw her again.

    As I went away, I wondered what made me say that to a stranger and I realized it was something that I’d been wanting to say for quite a while. It felt good and I walked home feeling happy. I’ve never regretted what I said and if I’m ever asked about my religion in the US, I don’t hesitate to say that I don’t believe in any kind of god.

    I moved to Japan soon after that and it’s rare for anything to do with God or religion to come up. Most Japanese just assume that Westerners are Christians and if they ever ask me about myself, I say that I’m not one and I’m kind of happy that most Japanese aren’t either. Jonathan Wood

  86. 86
    etcetera

    Here we go,

    I was born in to a moderately religious family, Roman Catholic on my mother’s side and Pentecostal on my father’s. They divorced when I was 3 and both remarried.

    I’m also gay, although I didn’t realize it at the time. My non-gender conformist behavior led to a massive amount of tension between my step-father and me and so I gravitated toward my biological father, despite his own violent nature. He lived on a farm and so my dykish mannerisms were seen as useful instead of odd. He had remarried a heavily-indoctrinated Pentecostal woman and their beliefs became increasingly radical. I ended up absorbing them and even took a degree in theology at a nearby Bible College. It’s still on my wall so that I can point to it whenever believers challenge my knowledge of their doctrines.

    By 14, it was pretty clear that I was gay, but as long as I didn’t say anything explicitly confirming that fact, I was tolerated. I stopped being allowed to have female friends over for sleepovers after being caught “experimenting”. There was a year of ex-gay therapy and I learned to keep my pants on, but I never did get a boyfriend like I was supposed to. By 16, I moved out and stayed at an older friend’s house in exchange for taking care of his kids. His wife, who was also part of that church, had left. There was some sort of mental breakdown as well, but I didn’t press the details.

    I was still welcome at the church, but I was constantly watched. I had no idea what to do with my life when I went to Bible College. I was under the naive assumption that I could translate my rather middling musical talent into some sort of career as a music director in a church somewhere. Unfortunately, the types of churches that allow women in positions of leadership are the kinds that our church considered doctrinally unsound.

    It was in my fourth year of Bible College that I began to liberalize. Bible College was easy. I literally got 100% in two courses. If you showed up for class, you were guaranteed to pass, but I still thought that you had to study. As a result, I spent a lot of time in the library and read a lot. Thankfully, the library didn’t filter their books if they were written from a nominally Christian perspective. The first thing to go was YEC. I discussed it with another academically-inclined friend who agreed that YEC was probably BS and not as integral to the central doctrines of Christianity as was claimed by the College professors.

    Two years after graduation, I accepted abortion as a necessary justifiable medical procedure. I lent my father a book that heavily criticized the end-times preachers and so-called prophets that he followed. It was returned. He gruffly told me that the authors didn’t know what they were talking about.

    I voted for the NDP that year. Until that point, I had voted Conservative. I was taught that they upheld good Christian values – and they did; if your values were based on the prosperity gospel philosophy. It’s the same philosophy that is behind The Family. The poor are punished because they are lazy or because they sinned by having a child out of wedlock or because they throw their money away on drugs and alcohol. The rich are blessed because they spend their money to manipulate government policy. That is why God gave it to them. It didn’t seem true though. I was poor. I was recovering from student debt to finance a worthless degree and working on a second, more useful degree. There was no child out of wedlock. I didn’t drink or do drugs and yet, most of my money went to rent. Why was I being punished? Most of my friends were poor too. Why would I vote for a party that would make my education even more expensive? Or cut back healthcare? Those were things that I needed and I wasn’t doing anything wrong!

    In my second year of University, I took courses on Anthropology and Geology. I loved them. I loved the fact that how we knew what we did was explainable. Before then, everything I knew was defined by it’s implications; if YEC is false, there was no Adam. If there was no Adam, there was no original sin. If there was no original sin, there was no need for Jesus, therefore, YEC. I went home that night and took a hard look at my beliefs.

    If there was no God, I wouldn’t live forever.

    That was extremely difficult to get over, but I knew that it was the same sort of reasoning by implication that supported all of our doctrines. I made a compromise and quietly called myself a Buddhist. I wouldn’t live forever, but my essence would endure in some form or another.

    Buddhism had failed to placate me by my third year. I loved the yoga and the meditation, but who I was wasn’t going to last past one lifetime. YOLO, if you’ll forgive me for such a stupid acronym.

    I went into fourth year with a clean slate. I dropped my baggage and went to the local GSA. And met a woman.

    I told my mother. She told everyone else.

    The first question on everyone’s mind was “what about God?” Nobody asked “how do you know you’re gay” or “have you tried getting a boyfriend?” It was painfully obvious to all that I was as queer as they come. They wanted to know how I reconciled my faith with my girlfriend. “What about God?” I asked back, emphasis on the word “about”. That’s when they knew.

    My father came up for my graduation. It was the last time I ever saw him. He acted all blustery as though he could scare me straight like he did when I was 14. It didn’t work this time. It was a surprisingly short conversation. What do you say to your obviously gay daughter who knows more about your own religion than you do?

    You stay the hell away. You stay away because she might influence the children you have left. You stay away because you don’t want the church to know that she left and is successful; that she isn’t pregnant and still paying most of her salary to some slumlord like every other girl her age in that church. You stay away because you can’t build an argument on implications.

    You stay away because she might convince you that you’re wrong. And you’ve already lived most of your one and only life.

    Marina Stolting,
    Canada

  87. 87
    Alan

    I was raised in a Jewish household in Minneapolis, and became atheist when I was 17. However, I hadn’t yet told my parents when I went off to college near Los Angeles. College was great: I didn’t have this Jewish identity to drag around with me everywhere, and I could just be me. I had planned to tell my parents eventually, but I wanted to do it in person, when I was no longer living under their roof.

    My parents called me one day to see how I was doing, and I replied like usual: I was good, and learning lots of stuff in class, and had played frisbee again that afternoon or something. I hadn’t realized it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Jews fast the entire day (sundown to sundown), and my parents were actually calling to ask how my fast was going. At that point, I had to admit I was an atheist, and my parents were surprised and disappointed.

    Months later, my dad came to grips with this. We discussed things like where I get my sense of morality from, and he accepted that I was atheist and became totally cool with it. He’s a scientist, and my phrasing it as “you raised a good scientist, and I went where the evidence lead me” helped, I think. Years later, he even admitted to me that he is atheist, too, but still goes to synagogue and celebrates holidays and stuff in order to feel closer to his ancestry.

    It’s been over a decade, and my mom still hasn’t accepted it. She sees this as a passing phase in my life, and I’ll settle down and marry a good Jewish girl in a good Jewish wedding and have good Jewish kids. At this point, I doubt she will ever accept that I’m an atheist. She recently bought me a lifetime membership to Hadassah, the Jewish women’s organization, under the rationale that I will want it eventually even though I don’t want it now.

    My advice to people still in the closet is to keep track of the things you would have if you were still religious, so you can keep up appearances if necessary. Don’t make the same mistake I did! On a related note, come out as early as you are comfortable with, so you can control the circumstances and minimize the risk of being outed by accident.

    At the time, I was not connected to an explicitly atheist community, but I was at a math/science/engineering school, and atheism was very common and perhaps the majority there. It was a non-issue, which helped me feel much more comfortable with it than I had felt in high school (where atheism was rare).

    My life didn’t change much when I came out, but it’s nice not to have to lie to my parents every once in a while when religion comes up. I would have come out to them eventually, and by now I suspect things are the same as they would have been if I had come out on my own terms.

  88. 88
    Lexie

    I’m a university student from a religious community in Australia (I rate them between conservative and liberal, probably on the conservative side). This story is about how I came out to my parents which was the toughest coming out I ever had to do. I struggled with how to come out to my parents particularly my mother who is a creationist and was very religious and devoted. I loved them deeply and I knew it would upset them, particularly my mum who wanted me to know that Jesus loved me. The thought of upsetting people you love or being rejected by them I’ve found to be the toughest thing about coming out. I’ve found it easy to come out to strangers or acquaintances but difficult with friends or family (particularly if they’ve religious).

    My coming out probably started when I was in high school and knew I didn’t believe in religion and no longer wanted to waste my time at the church. I started there, rather than going straight from good little religious girl (yes I stayed being the good church girl even after I knew I didn’t believe) to “mum by the way I think god is bullshit”. I felt that small steps would be better and I think it’s kind of worked. At that point I said that “I was having doubts and didn’t want to go to church anymore”. Which was not entirely true as I was past doubts I knew that it was bullshit and I have sometimes wondered if I did the wrong thing by lying to her but reflecting on it now several years later I think I did the right thing. For me coming out in stages has worked well and sometimes if your sure your an atheist then stages may require a little playing down of your actual position. However, if you’re coming out to religious family/friends I’ve found it to be the way to go as “I’m atheist” out of the blue may be too much for them. Having said that I don’t regret this technique it didn’t work brilliantly. My parents didn’t handle it well, mum was not really willing to let me stop and there was lots of yelling and screaming.

    I advice trying to avoid out and out fights, I’ve never found it to help to yell/fight/tell them they’re ridiculous. This strategy can work when coming out to strangers but in my experience when coming out to friends and family what it’s best to search for is them accepting your position, not necessarily understanding it but at least accepting it. I think that this was a mistake I made when I first came out I wanted people to understand my amazing revelation to become enlightened like me (yes I was unbearably smug). I just didn’t get why others didn’t get it. Now when coming out I’m initially just searching for acceptance, after they accept they’ve often come to ask more about my position and then you can do a lot of the evangelising (for want of a better word). This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, if you care about them just search for acceptance and even if they’re asking about it don’t push it be aware that you can push too far.

    Anyway back to the story, on Saturday night I came straight out when mum was talking about tomorrow morning and said “mum I don’t want to go to church tomorrow, I’m not enjoying it and I’m really doubting the church”. This resulted in a major yelling and screaming match and mum just said I was going and that was that. I did go to church that next morning albeit yelling, screaming and basically being dragged out of the door (picture a teenager and mother behaving basically like a young mum and tantruming toddler). It was not a good thing, I behaved really badly because I was being forced to be religious but I should have behaved better. I did go that morning but didn’t give up, there were months of fighting when mum was telling me I had to go to church and I was resolutely asserting that she couldn’t force me to be religious. She made me go to a more liberal programme than our regular church for those questioning faith which she thought may appeal to me and at least shepherd me back to Jesus. It was a completely useless programme, even though it was more liberal than the views I’d been brought up with but it was designed to push questioning teens back into the church. It was basically just asserting reasons for why god was important it asked no big questions and wouldn’t tolerate much real questioning.

    Since reflecting on this first coming out I’ve found several things I screwed up. Firstly, I got angry. Don’t expect religious family or friends to accept or even be nice when you first come out. If they get angry or upset, you have to rise above it and not retaliate in kind because this spirals out of control. Stay calm and answer questions, explain that you do understand that this is hard for them (this really helps) and if it’s all going pear shaped walk out of the room (just say I don’t think this is constructive lets talk about it later). The other major mistake was not picking the right moment, Saturday night or right before Church are not good times. Pick a time when there is plenty of time to talk and no one is tired. It’s a really important thing to discuss treat it seriously. The last major mistake I think I made here was that I agreed to go to the ridiculous religious come back to god programme. It was even then against my better judgement, but I agreed to try and be nice to mum but it made her think that I might come back to the church plus it is painful to sit through a programme designed to make you religious if you’re doubting. Don’t agree to go to a programme designed to bring you back, it won’t bring you back because the logic is ridiculously laughable and you’ll see straight through it but it’s just delaying the inevitable you’re still going to have to tell them that you’re an atheist and staying that way.

    I finally won the battle (I am like a stubborn mule when it comes to issues I care about, if I wasn’t I’d probably still be going to church you really need to be in a strong place to come out and need to stick to your guns). Mum thought I was just being a lazy teenager and wanted to sleep in and thought that it did believe at least a little in god and would come back to church when I was older and accepted that it hadn’t worked trying to force me back in to church so settled for the weighting game (she genuinely believed that I would definitely come back). I left it like this for quite a while and I think that this was a good thing. I wasn’t confident enough in my criticism of Christianity and confident enough in my hatred of the brainwashing and ridiculousness of church to fight that corner but I wasn’t yet confident in my atheism. I also felt like at that point that was all the relationship with my family could take, I wanted them to know the truth but I wanted their love and support.

    By the time I was in second year uni I still had no atheist community to chat to (hadn’t yet discovered any wonderful atheist blogs or any real atheist community groups where I lived) but I had found atheist books which sured me up in my atheism and made me more confident that even though I didn’t know anyone else, there were other people like me out there (I know this sounds ridiculous but until my late teens I didn’t even know there were atheists). I learned from my last experience, rather than springing it on them I gave some hints leading up to it i.e. letting them see me reading “The God Delusion”. I also picked a good time and I sat down with them after dinner and told them straight that I was an atheist, I wasn’t spiritual and I didn’t believe there was a god. There were a bit upset but the previous I doubt the church and the things I did to slip in the hint before this chat made it so much easier, they were almost expecting it when it happened rather than it being out of the blue. Mum was quite upset but I left it there which was so much better. I’d been honest but I didn’t push the issue.

    It felt so good to finally be honest with them that at least they knew but actually it wasn’t instantly the easy life I was expecting. My parents kind of pretended it had never happened, they didn’t want to accept my beliefs and ignored it (I suppose hoping it would go away). Initially I did just let it go and thought that they’d never accept me as an atheist and I’d just ignore it. After finding an online atheist community, still don’t have a meatspace community (not sure if there is one in my area) and become a more pushy atheist I decided to push the issue again to finally get acceptance. I knew what I wanted, I didn’t want them to agree with me which was what I wanted at the start I just wanted to be able to openly acknowledge

  89. 89
    Lexie

    Oops just submitted that before I finished.

    I just wanted to be able to openly acknowledge my atheism to them and for them to accept it. I didn’t do a major conversation with them again I just started mentioning thing when appropriate and letting them see/hear me watching atheist videos on youtube rather than hiding my atheism away. It did help that my brother had also come out as atheist (unfortunately my sister went the other way and became even more fundie) so I had someone to chat to about it, initially we both went and hid in a bedroom to chat about religion and atheism but we started actually chatting in the living room and stopped being so secretive. We’ve finally got to the point where mum at least accepts what we are even if she doesn’t understand it, she even uses the word atheist now and will now tell other people (she tried to keep it secret that she had failed (in her view) as a mother for years, I think she still thinks of it as a failure but she at least tells people hopefully soon she won’t think that its a failing).

    So that’s it. My top tips are that I’ve found it better to do it in person if it’s family or friends because like breaking up with someone its something important which does deserve time, effort and showing you care but pick your moment for this chat. Don’t get angry or expect people to be converted just search for acceptance. And do it in stages, it is something big for them to accept, dealing with breadcrumbs may be easier rather than being overwhelmed. Give it time they won’t accept it initially bear with it, just be patient. Related to the last point finally, you have to be confident before you come out because it will be a long time if you’re dealing with religious family members and you’ll need to be assertive and confident to stick it though.

  90. 90
    Taniat

    I’m fortunate enough to live in a liberal, secular area – or at least from my experience in comparison to the US I have judged it to be very much so. In any case; I live in South Australia and although am baptised Catholic, never attended church nor ever heard any utterance of a god pass either parents lips. Despite that, I was sent to Sunday school to please my paternal grandparents, and like many Australians, was sent to private religious high schooling for quality of education and increased career prospects than any religious consideration. The church going kids at school were a small minority.

    Despite the ‘better education’ we also had to suffer through Christian Education. Though I’d likely made no secret of my bafflement with the concept as a tiny Sunday schooler I have no specific coming out memory of then, but can attest I have never believed, and always had a scorn for religion. However, the closest to ‘coming out’ as one can in an entirely non-religious community came after one particularly long suffered through Christian Ed lesson as perhaps a 13 or 14 year old. In the car on the way home I scornfully began to mock the teacher and his idiocy; stating to my mum that how unfortunate it was these fools were so drawn in to a series of novels written probably for some bronze age amusement, becoming such an encumbrance on current life to these gullible modern fools that took the silly novels as gods word and gospel. I said it harshly, with much swearing, in the language of a kid, and my mum simply barked with laughter and that was it. We’ve never discussed god since – it simply never arises – although sometimes I like to mock a nut to extract a laugh again. That’s it really. No biggie for me most fortunately.

  91. 91
    WilloNyx

    For once something I can really give advice on. I have come out to hundreds of people on hundreds of occasions. I am a certified teacher, an out atheist, and parent in a small town in Tennessee. Everyone expects me to be a christian, so I have to correct that.

    I am not going to speak of specific instances, just things I have learned over the years.

    Come out individually. Believers exist in numbers, and if you announce “hey I’m an atheist” while they are making atheist jokes, they will likely get defensive. Wait until they are alone to tell your story.

    Tell it from a personal perspective. You may have been an atheist for years and the belief in god may seem totally silly at this point. Remember, this person is still a believer. If you start out by saying “god doesn’t make sense” you make them think you are attacking who they are.

    This is not the time to convince them there is no god (at least if you care about remaining friends afterward). It might work. Especially if they are a fence sitter. It probably won’t work, so give that part some time.

    Remind them that most people in the world think that atheists lack morals. Don’t assume that they think it. They probably do, but speak about the misconception as if it belongs to others. It gives the person an out for their own stereotypes. Pick examples where they have seen you act morally. Discuss those. Talk about how the goal to be a good person exists inside you, not from a book of prescribed morals.

    Remember that coming out is about you, not them. They need to learn who you are and remember that non-belief in a god is just one facet. We can give the impression that our non-belief encompasses us which tends to create a divide or we can show our coming out audience that atheist is one of thousands of labels we attach to ourselves.

    Lastly, I am not lying when I say I have come out hundreds of times. I rarely come out in groups of more than two and everyone I am even kind of close to knows. I have never been openly rejected. Some friends distance themselves but none of them have said “back devil, back.” Often when I come out I am met with “I thought I was the only one in this town” theme. Actually there are probably about 30 atheists I have personally met here. We are not alone but being out is the only way to know that.

    —-

    You can use this however you want. The name I have attached is the one I use for all online stuff which I don’t attach to my personal name because I am an out atheist but I am not out about my polyamory. You can edit it for flow or grammar or really anything so long as the sentiment remains if you use my name.

  92. 92
    Ainuvande

    I think this qualifies as a “they knew before I told them” sort of story. I figured out I didn’t believe in a Christian god in late elementary school, and pestered the parents of friends of different faiths with questions trying to figure out what I did believe. I didn’t really have any friends to speak of in middle school to come out to as agnostic, but I did spend a bunch of time doing research into different religions.

    By early high school, I’d figured out that I was an atheist and talked openly about it to friends and teachers then. Some of my religious friends (and interestingly, the most pushy were some of my UU friends) repeatedly tried to convince me of god, or that it was worthwhile to attend their church-ish thing. But while I found their insistence annoying, it didn’t make us not friends, it just gave us something to argue about when we were bored. Now, I may have been surrounding myself with people who were already more accepting than average in my suburban Massachusetts town. I was very goth, and openly bi, and had made it clear that I had no interest in the popularity contests you get in high school. I hung out with the people I found interesting, and the “popular” crowd apparently actually feared me once they figured out they didn’t have any power over me. Shouting gay slurs at me was ineffective when my response is “and?”; telling me I was going to hell got old when I laughed them off with “I think you missed the part where I don’t believe in your fiery doom” (fiery doom said with spooky fingers and a dramatic eye-pop). Mostly it amounted to this: I had been hated in middle school for no discernible reason beyond being new and intelligent. When I changed schools in high school, I came in with the attitude that what mattered was that I was myself, and people who didn’t like it could go fuck themselves. So the atheist thing was just one small piece of me.

    I don’t remember sitting my parents down and telling them I don’t believe in a higher power, but I might have let it drop over dinner. I do remember them telling me to go along with church services when we visited conservative relatives. Their logic was as follows: We see them very rarely, lets not turn this once every few years visit into a big argument. I understood the notion that in the interest of my parents’ peace with their siblings I did them this favor. I do remember both of my (liberal christian) parents taking me aside privately and trying to convince me that it was worth it to believe in a higher power even if I didn’t like the history of religion. My father even pulled out Pascal’s Wager one time. I don’t remember any raised voices, I do remember concern and a constant re-iteration of “we still love you.” Interestingly, they never cared that I’m bi. Although they did say that girls I was involved with couldn’t spent the night any more than boys I was involved with. (But I could have sleepovers with my guy friends I wasn’t dating)

    These days, I basically come out when it comes up in conversation. Although I live in a pretty liberal city, and move in a very liberal social circle, sometimes my friends will simply say “that’s you, Liz, not everyone can function without the comfort of a god of some sort.” I don’t press that one. I’ll go as far as saying that I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, just that what they say is not true for myself or other atheists. I will bring up my atheist perspective in conversations about religious morality or religious politics, but more in a “remember that your views are not universal” way than a “you are wrong” way. And I’ll get into as many arguments with other atheists on morality and good behavior as I will with friends who believe. The key is that I’ve chosen friends who understand that we’re discussing ideas, not insulting each other.

    As for my family, once I moved out it became a non-issue. I spend the big holidays with them, including Christmas and Easter, and I’ve made it clear that I like the tradition and sense of family and the food, and the holiday is an excuse. And in return they come over to my place sometimes for “because I felt like making a multi-course meal” feasts that are just as fun and important.

    Interestingly, once word trickled around the extended family that I’m an atheist (it’s useful having a mother who’s a gossip sometimes. I didn’t have to break it to grandma that I wasn’t going to do the high school religious affirmation whatever) I had other relatives come up to me and basically tell me they didn’t agree with the fundamentalist members of the family either. Once again the eldest breaks the ground, and everyone else plants seeds.

    I have been reading Greta Christina since what feels like forever, but I still am not a part of the real-life atheist community. I keep toying with the idea, but right now I’m getting my sense of community from my gamer geek pass-times and contra dancing, and don’t feel a strong need for it.

    By the way, you can use Liz, or Liz H. in the book if you want to reference any of this.

  93. 93
    Liam

    Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

     

    The following is an account of how I told my father (and, incidentally, little brother) that I am an atheist. It takes place on Christmas Eve, about two years ago. I was raised Catholic, and it was assumed I would be attending mass that evening. While me, my brother and my dad were on the way to a restaurant I made some comment – I do not remember precisely what – which vaguely implied that I didn’t want to go to Midnight Mass that evening. At this point my father directly asked me if I believed God existed, to which I replied that I did not.

     

    The immediate response was stony silence from both my father and little brother, which persisted through the (extremely uncomfortable) restaurant meal. A few hours later I was in my room and my father came up to tell him that I had broke his heart and that he was incredibly upset. I took this as a sign that he wanted to discuss the matter with me and so followed him downstairs to continue discussion.

     

    This turned out to be a dreadful mistake. The conversation which followed was very painful. My father invoked the memory of my dead mother to tell me what a disappoint I was to her and all my ancestors, accused me of treachery to all that is good in the world, and implied that I would have to move out. Nothing productive, whatsoever, came of this conversation, and it still ranks as one of my most painful memories. The following day – Christmas day – some sharp words were exchanged, in which my father pointed to occurrences in our life which he claimed to have been miraculous – I countered that while I couldn’t explain all of them, I thought it more likely that there was some mundane explanation for them. This is the last that has been explicitly said on the matter.

     

    That said, things have very much improved since then. I deeply regret having come out in the way I did – Christmas Eve was an awful time for it, and since the question was somewhat foisted upon me I didn’t prepare for it in an adequate manner. However, the fact that it was Christmas Eve was a blessing in disguise. Since we would be spending time with other members of the family shortly after, hostilities were put on hold for the sakes of keeping up appearances – and the peace established there has held ever since. Further, there was gift giving, which immediately fostered some good will between us and went some way to repairing wounds inflicted the other night. Nowadays there is absolutely no tension between me and my father on this issue, we cheerfully discuss matters – including, even, religious matters – and debate disagreements as we always have. The only thing that has changed is I no longer go to Church for the sakes of maintaining appearances, and I value the additional free time on Sunday.

     

    One unspoken but – I think – mutually understood compromise is that I do not tell the rest of the family that I am an atheist. This would be embarrassing for my father and cause arguments with them. I have no problems with this compromise. Being an atheist is not an especially important part of my identity, and nor am I inclined to think it would have much benefit for their life either. On the whole I am very happy with the point I reached on this – coming out was at first very painful and I feel sure that short term unpleasantness could have been avoided. But on the whole I have reached exactly the point I would have liked to on this issue, so in the long run it all worked out for the best.

     

    Talk of identity raises a point which, I think, may be of some interest to US readers. I have often wondered what got my father so upset that Christmas Eve that he was willing to say such dreadful things to me, about how my deceased mother would be ashamed of me (etc). Since he showed comparatively very little interest in the question of whether or not there really is a God, the conclusion I have come to is somewhat different. There was, I think, two key issues at stake, and both of them related to matters of identity.

     

    Firstly, I suspect my father had ethical/political worries. All my family, but especially my father, are politically engaged with the socialist left in Britain. As a child I was told, quite seriously, that Christ was a socialist and that it is because we follow Him that we are too. This opinion isn’t so unusual in Britain as I gather it would be in America – the Christian Socialist Movement is a numerically and politically significant faction of the British Labour Party, and my sense – bolstered a little bit by the graph I link to below – is that most, even non-socialist Christians, associate Christian ideals with a sort of vague socialism. Since he stressed so much that in declaring for atheism I was abandoning worthy ideals, I suspect that dad was worried that I was giving up on these ethical/political goals. Now that I didn’t think God was on the side of social-justice, wouldn’t I just end up a greedy individualistic Thatcherite?

     

    (I note as a matter of terminology – I would say that I am a part of a leftwing community, but the difference between a “liberal” and a “socialist” is felt quite keenly here in England by many – including myself and my father – so I would not say I am part of a liberal community.)

     

    Secondly, there are issues of family identity. The second strand that my father stressed was how I completely lacked loyalty to my ancestors. I am mixed race – although people so often identify me as black that sometimes I even self-identify that way. I am a second generation immigrant: the vast majority of my family is Irish, but my father’s father was Ghanain. To the best of my knowledge, on both the Ghanain and Irish sides of my family there are not now, nor have there ever been, other atheists. I suspect atheism is seen as yet another example of English decadence, of the sort which we as immigrants are to define ourselves against. Indeed, my dad often says things to the effect that “The bloody English don’t believe in anything”, certainly intending the widespread atheism of English culture to be implicated in this, and derides the Church of England for being closet atheists. That I came out as an atheist involved betraying this aspect of my heritage, and rendering myself no better than the colonialists.

     

    These are, to the best I can make out, the things that concerned my father. And although I had for years taken part in internet discussion about atheism, I have to say that my experience there – dominated as it is by non-recent-immigrant-family Americans – would not have been helpful. There, people associate religion with the right (unlike here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/9234005/Lack-of-appeal-to-minorities-costing-Tories-seats-according-to-survey.html), and I doubt anybody there could have prepared me for the possibility that my dad would interpret my giving up on Jesus’ message as my giving up on Marx’s. Likewise, worries about over-assimilation and loss of identity to the still-resented colonial power were just not addressed. So although I am happy with how things worked out, I do wonder if I could have avoided the bad Christmas Eve with this information in hand.

     

    I do not mind you using the name “Liam”, although I doubt this will be of any interest to anyone besides myself! (That said, I would appreciate an email if you do decide to use any of this) This is the first time I have wrote out my analysis of this experience at length; thank you for giving me a reason to sort out my own thoughts on the matter.

  94. 94
    Midori

    I started using the term atheist to refer to myself about a year ago. The first people I came out to were my roommate, friends, and fellow students at college. I came out to my brother and his wife a little later, and I’m still not out to the rest of my family.

    With friends and fellow students, it’s just something I casually bring up if the subject happens to come up. For instance, in an English class last semester we were discussing a piece of writing about Cristopher Hitchens. I took this as an opportunity to mention to a classmate that I am an atheist, and he told me that he is Catholic. That was pretty much the extent of the conversation. This is the same approach I use for coming out as queer, and so far it’s worked quite well regardless of what I am coming out as. No one has ever made a big deal out of it or seemed to treat me differently afterwards. The college I go to generally seems relatively diverse and accepting of differences, and it’s in an LGBT-friendly and moderate to liberal city in the US. This definitely helps.

    With my roommates, the subject of what religion everyone is came up during the whole getting to know each other phase (I live in student housing). I told them I’m an atheist, and they told me what they are (Christian, Buddhist, and spiritual but not religious). It wasn’t really any more contentious a subject than the discussion about where everyone is from or what everyone is majoring in. Both the Christian and Buddhist roommates have told me that I’m welcome to accompany them to religious services if I wish, and I plan to invite them in like kind if I ever get around to going to any skeptic/atheist events or joining the campus atheist group.

    Actually, the religious vs. atheist thing came into play much more when I came out as trans than when I came out as an atheist. My Christian roommate was very supportive and accepting when I first came out as some variety of not-straight (I identify as queer because “it’s complicated” doesn’t really roll off the tongue very well); she was curious and asked questions to try to understand things (which I didn’t mind at all) and never gave me any crap about it. But when I later came out as trans, although it was clear that she was trying to be supportive and accepting, it was also clear that this conflicts with her religious beliefs and that, even though she respects me enough to try to use my preferred name and pronouns, she still thinks of me as female.

    She left me a card right before she went home for the summer that basically said “I totally support whatever you decide to do, but I’m going to quote bible verses at you and tell you that I think you are a wonderful person ‘just the way you are’ (read: female) and I pray you will come to accept yourself ‘as you are’”. This was painful to read. I don’t think she meant to be offensive, but intent is NOT magic. I wish she would have said these things to my face or at least given me a chance to respond. I really wish she would not apply her religion-based morality to me or quote bible verses like they’re evidence when she knows I am an atheist. If I were Christian (or perhaps even just some variety of theist) and came out as trans, I could say stuff like “pray with me” or “god made me this way, so surely he made me like this for a reason” or try to argue why being trans is not wrong from a theological perspective, but as an atheist, making these sorts of arguments feels almost dishonest. Why should I have to try to tell someone else what their religion is and isn’t compatible with? Why should I even have to know enough about someone else’s religion to debate this in the first place? I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to approach this, other than to say “don’t impose your religious beliefs on me” (which will probably go over much more diplomatically than what I really want to say, which is “fuck off about your religion”).

    Over the past few months, I’ve come out to my brother and his wife as queer, trans, and atheist. It seems like I am always coming out as something. Their reaction is usually something along the lines of “We love you and support you no matter what, and if you need anything, just let us know”. They’re awesome like that. When I decided to come out as an atheist, I already had a few clues that they probably wouldn’t flip out on me. They’d already reacted well when I’d previously come out as other things. They hadn’t gone to church regularly in several years, mostly due to a few bad experiences they had. They were openly supportive of gay marriage and suchlike, despite our parents’ religiously based opposition of gay marriage. My brother and I were both raised in an environment where religion was considered to be THE important thing, though, so it was still scary to tell him I’m an atheist. It took me a little while to work up the nerve. When I did, I just outright said “I’m an atheist” and then spent a minute or two clarifying what that means to me. I got the usual (and awesome) “We love you no matter what” response. I discussed with my brother later what his current beliefs are, and he told me that he still considers himself a Christian, although he doesn’t go to church. He also told me he would support me if I decided to come out to our parents, although he and I both know that one isn’t likely to go so well. One thing I really appreciate is that neither he nor his wife has ever tried to blame my atheism on my queerness, or vice-versa. Neither one was caused by the other, although becoming an atheist made it a lot easier to explore, and come to terms with, my gender and sexuality.

    Generally, I’ve been very happy about coming out, especially as an atheist. People tend to say fewer annoying/ignorant/stupid things when I come as an atheist than when I come out as, say, trans. I like being out because I hate hiding things and I’m not ashamed of who and what I am. I also want people to know that I am an atheist/trans/queer/whatever so that maybe people will start to get the idea that, hey, we’re just regular people. Actually knowing a person who is part of a category of people that gets villified or oppressed may help to demolish some of the harmful stereotypes, like “atheists have no morals”, and it may help people to be more accepting. For example, it’s a lot harder to hate gay people if you find out your son is gay.

    As far as coming out advice, make sure to consider carefully who you want to be out to beforehand. If there is a particular person or persons you do not want to be out to, consider carefully whether you want to take the risk of coming out to someone who knows these person(s). If there may be consequences to coming out or being outed, take a little time to think ahead about how you could handle this. Pick a time to come out when there is relatively little else going on, so there won’t be any unusual distractions or stressors to complicate things. If you or the person you are coming out to is upset, it’s not a good time, especially if it’s you that’s upset–the other person might think that being an atheist is upsetting to you, which is probably not the sort of impression you want to make. Make sure you will have some time available afterwards to answer questions or explain things, if needed.

    I find it interesting that I can’t really talk about my experiences coming out as an atheist without talking at least a little about my experiences coming out as queer, or vice-versa. These experiences are very closely related and intertwined for me, if for no other reason than that they happened during roughly the same time frame. However, my atheism is not at all related to my queerness, except insofar as being an atheist made it easier to explore my gender and sexuality. When I was religious, I assumed I was straight, because that was the ‘right’ way to be, and, had I known what it meant, I would have assumed I was cisgender for the same reason. I’m really glad I became an atheist before I figured out that I’m queer, because I got to skip the whole religious guilt step. It does, however, rather complicate considerations of if/when I want to come out to my very religious parents. I would rather not come out to them as an atheist at all (for reasons which look like they’ll make a better response to a different post ;), but I highly doubt I could come out as queer without god coming into the conversation, and I’m not willing to lie if I’m directly asked about my atitude towards god and religion.

    As to being involved in the atheist community, I mostly just lurk on FtB and Skepchick, although I have my own small blog, on which I mostly talk about atheism, sexuality/gender, and dreams (literal dreams- I’m into lucid dreaming as a hobby and think dreams in general are fascinating, even if they do tend to inspire a lot of woo).

  95. 95
    Elena

    I became an atheist when I was about 8 years old, my sweet big sister was 16 at the time and had awful depression, and often used self harm as a way to cope. I loved my sister and prayed every night that she’d get better, of course she just got worse and worse. I began to think, “why wasn’t God listening to my prayers? how could he let this happen? after a few days that thought diminished. My sisters grades went up and she started being much more cheerful, it was almost like nothing ever happened… but that was very short lived. One night I woke up to the noise of screaming and crying… my sister had taked all of her depression pills, the very thing that was supposed to save her. We rushed her to the hospital, after a couple of hours she was asleep attached to a machine, for hours I stood there waiting for her to wake up, and finally my dad had to drag me out of the hospital while I screamed and cried. That night, my mom summoned me to the end of my bed… I refused, when she asked me why I just said “he’s not real” and he wasn’t, for me, God had died that day, and he is still dead, to this very day.

  1. 96
    Coming out as an atheist Eagle Scout | The Uncredible Hallq

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    Coming out Atheist: Greta’s collecting stories | The Crommunist Manifesto

    [...] extraordinaire and sometimes conscience of the atheist community, is collecting testimonials for a new book project she’s working on: I’m writing a new book — a how-to guide about coming out atheist. And I need your stories, and [...]

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    Greta Needs Your Stories | Dispatches from the Culture Wars

    [...] and families. And she wants to hear your stories. So if you have an interesting story about that, go to her blog and tell her. Share this:PrintEmailShareRedditDiggStumbleUpon Posted in Unbelief « Porter: Social [...]

  4. 99
    When I Deconverted, I Came Out To Everyone | Camels With Hammers

    [...] In this post I am going to leap ahead in the story from where I left off to cover the time of my deconversion, focusing on how I told various important people in my life that I had become a non-believer.  I am skipping ahead in order to answer Greta’s recent call for atheists’ “coming out” stories, in which she asks us to address very specific questions she has about our individual processes of coming out. Please read her questions carefully and submit your stories to her.  [...]

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    Everyone’s book is coming out before mine! | Pharyngula

    [...] Christina is working on a new one, she’s asking for your coming out stories. Read her description of what she wants carefully! Share this: Posted in Atheism « Kylie [...]

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    When I Deconverted: I Had Been Devout And Was Surrounded By The Devout

    [...] asks us to address very specific questions she has about our individual processes of coming out. Please read her questions carefully and submit your stories to her. In this post, I am going to reply to the part of her request where she asks for all the situating [...]

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    Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice » Greta Christina's Blog

    […] If you already replied to this request when I first made it back in May, there’s no need to reply again, unless your answers have significantly changed. […]

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    Coming out Atheist: Greta’s collecting stories | Crommunist

    […] Greta Christina, writer extraordinaire and sometimes conscience of the atheist community, is collecting testimonials for a new book project she’s working on: […]

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