One woman's story of leaving religion

A friend of mine emailed me her story about leaving religion, and I thought it was so revealing that I asked if I could share it. With her permission, please check out her story:

Leaving religion was a very hard thing to do and there are still people from my former church who still do not know that I have completely given up God; although since they know my husband is an atheist, I am sure it would not surprise them. I do know they still pray I return.

I grew up Catholic but was really apathetic about it once I got to college. I wasn’t very religious after college; but as soon as I got married and had our first child, I rejoined a church because I “just knew” I had to have our son baptized. We moved a lot when our kids were younger and finding a church home helped fill the void of not having family near. My husband travelled a lot as well and here was a great group of people offering to help out; a welcomed support for a mom of two children, eighteen months apart and in a new town. The MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in my town became my life line as I met other young moms.

With church comes Bible study and I participated in one called The Excellent Wife. This book reinforces your hypothesis Jen, that as a woman our place is in our homes raising our children, taking care of our families and supporting our husbands and church. I fell into it hook, line and sinker. I was extremely grateful that Phil’s job gave us the freedom to allow me to stay home with our children. (Being a SAHM is something I would do again without any hesitation.) So I thought it best to do as this study taught and live by those guidelines. I did the woman work of the church: Sunday school teacher, vacation bible school leader, etc., and took the advice of this study and let Phil be the head of the household: not shared responsibilities. From the outside looking in I had the best Christian family out there. Inside looking in, not the greatest; that decision put a great deal of unnecessary stress on Phil.

Then three things happened: Phil became a vocal atheist, I am diagnosed with bipolar and Phil and I agreed to do a book swap. Phil left the church and of course this spreads like wild fire. I get pitied wife looks, lots of prayers, etc. Then I am diagnosed with bipolar. This too spreads like hotcakes but now I am told that this is God’s punishment for marrying an atheist. Here I thought God was going to help me through this horrible illness of up and down mood swings. My pastor even said so. An older member of the congregation thought otherwise. To be fair, my inner circle of friends at my church were amazing, understanding and incredibly helpful while I went through those early days of a correct diagnosis and figuring out the best meds to help stabilize me. However, cracks began to form.

The last thing that pushed me out of religion was a book swap. Phil asked me to read one of his books and I gave him one of mine. His choice was Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation. Another crack.

Through what would seem like a careful orchestration of events by my husband, I finally left religion completely behind. Those events involve TAM, Phil Plait, an LCMS church behaving like a Pentecostal one, and an insensitive pastor during my grandmother’s final days. Leaving God was easy. Leaving the church family, I had come to love, was not. My routine was hijacked, which threatened my stability. I had to go through the death of my grandmother without the comfort of God, and felt as if I had no real sense of purpose for awhile. I still miss a good potluck; Lutheran woman know how to cook (I just pretend the fruited jell-o mold isn’t there).

I have attended many skeptical/atheist events but I am tired of always hearing about god. I would much rather have a glass of wine and hear about your kids, your partner, your school work, your job, than about god. This is what Christians do very well; they have lunch with you before they try to convert you. I attended a leadership workshop on evangelism that pretty much said: have a picnic with someone, make a vested interest in their life before you bring up god. I was never a good evangelist, but I loved the getting to know people part.

I have a feeling that this is a common story for women. Like I said before, religious women often find their only source of power within the religious community. Leaving that can be shattering. Imagine how hard it is for women who don’t have a godless spouse to encourage them. Being aware of the particular difficulties women have in leaving religion is the first step to making atheist communities more welcoming and diverse.


  1. says

    One thing that struck me was “I have attended many skeptical/atheist events but I am tired of always hearing about god. I would much rather have a glass of wine and hear about your kids, your partner, your school work, your job, than about god.”I’ve run into that a bit, as well. In fact, there’s a spin off atheist group in my area that’s specifically more about socializing than about proving god doesn’t exist. I do attend both now, but got my feet wet with the socializing one first, tbh.

  2. breadbox says

    Indeed, and I suppose this is one reason why I’ve never attended an atheist event. I’m already comfortable in my nonbelief; I don’t need to spend another hour a week talking about religious subjects (of all things). If only we atheists could get together and, I don’t know, trade baby-grilling recipes or something.

  3. says

    I actually have a similar complaint. My partner and I are both atheists, have been since childhood. I didn’t even grow up in a religious house. While my partner loves to go to events and debate the existence of god, I find it boring. I’d much rather socialize, talk about how great my dog is and exchange bread recipes. I wish we could find an atheist group which focused more on just making good friends who like to drink.

  4. says

    So I’ll ask, what are atheists groups doing to fill this social void? browneyedgirl65 mentioned one above, but what are the larger organizations doing? I’m lucky in that I’m not an overly social person and I’m fine on my own or with a small group of friends. I go to science fiction conventions to meet people I’m likely to find interesting and whom I’d have something in common with to talk about.Now I’m not really involved with any secular or skeptical groups, but I do have a suggestion for those of you who are. Organize a monthly “No God” night. Not just as a way to declare that you don’t believe in God, but as a way to have a social event where the topic is NEVER BROUGHT UP. Don’t debate about the existence of God, don’t mock the religious or superstitious, just talk to others and find out what interests them. And for the love of all that is real, don’t be a douche! Treat the person across from you as a person and not an object to oggled. I say this mostly in respect of the experience Jen posted earlier about going to an event and a couple guys making crass comments about her breasts, but I think the standard should apply to both genders as women can be just as bad as men in the right circumstance.Anyways, it’s just an idea I’m throwing out there to see if anyone bites.

  5. says

    I live in the ‘burbs with my wife and kids (5 and 8) and most of my friends are atheists . When we hang we don’t focus on God. It’s more about having a good time. Even when I hang with my liberal Christian friends we don’t talk about the Sky Fairy too much. You know, when I think about it I have conservative Christian friends and God comes up but it doesn’t define what our relationship is about.Regardless, I’m thinking about doing an atheist meetup thingy in my area because my buddies live in Boston and I’m out in the privinces (a 45 minute drive). If it happens the gathering will be less about the gnashing of atheist teeth and more about drinking.

  6. Ghu says

    KM has said something that I have been thinking of mentioning for a while. Living in the UK, religion is almost never an issue mentioned at work or socially, unless you happen to belong to a church (quite rare now), when you might discuss religion at a church event, but practically never otherwise.Consequently we don’t have much in the way of atheist groups over here, and the idea generally seems a bit weird.One group I do belong to, though, is Science Fiction Fandom – including going to, and helping organise, Conventions from small local events to World Cons.As a result of this I know quite a lot of fans in other countries, including USA, and I can safely say that the overwhelming attitude is atheist, overlayed by this not being a very interesting subject unless you can come up with some interesting and eccentric slant.You don’t have to be much interested in SF, it’s mainly about socializing over a beer. Just find a local small event and offer to help out; they always need people and it’s the quick way to make friends.Best of Luck

  7. pete084 says

    Avoid specifically atheist groups like the plague, that’s my best advice! I’m part of a group of skeptics, the emphasis ISN’T on disproving god, it is on proving reality, facts, truth and encouraging broader thinking.

  8. jose says

    She describes the church as if it were some sort of social club: somewhere to go and talk and hang out with people. That way, if you stop going, you don’t just get rid of God; you also lose all your friends. Sort of reminds me the attitude of the Other Parents in Coraline. In a maquiavelic way, it’s a good strategy for the church to avoid losing members. Is that how it is in America?I don’t think atheist organizations should use this same idea, dishonest and twisted in my view, of creating bounds based on something other than the very purpose of the organization. Let atheist organizations focus on atheism, not on making people become dependent on them.

  9. Julie says

    Agreed with the, “sick of hearing about god” bits, but not necessarily just for the social aspect of it. Although I do enjoy just getting together in a “safe” space with fellow skeptics where I won’t feel on edge about a slip of the tongue or carelessly harsh comment about religion and just having a beer and shooting the shit. But also because I a skeptic. I enjoy going to skeptical conferences. I do not think that skepticism and atheism need be kept separate, nor do I feel that they are mutually exclusive, but for once it would be nice to go to skeptical event and hear about homeopathy, chiropractic or hell, even Bigfoot, instead of listening to a circle jerk of Hitchens fanboys quoting his books at one another and barely concealing their erections.

  10. ~m says

    jen, i don’t think we define “power” in the same way. sounds to me like she lost community, not power.

  11. Azkyroth says

    Just wanted you to know that I’m talking to a few people who are interested in pushing back against some of the less pleasant elements of our own meetup group (for instance, I haven’t seen that guy who announced on his first meeting that he was “just there to meet women *wink*” for a while >.>). Hopefully that will help.Also, I note the bit at the end, about Christians being advised to befriend people and get them to let their guard down just to try to evangelize them. It makes my skin crawl. For some reason, this seems appropriate (actually, it’s reminded me of predatory Christianity since the first time I heard it. O.o)

  12. Azkyroth says

    Being useful and having a social support and potentially-favors network are both ways for people to have power.

  13. says

    There’s kind of a splinter group dynamic brewing down in Tacoma, too, for the same reasons. Some people wanna get high-minded and yell about atheism… others just want a friendly like-minded place to have a beer and goof off. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.Jose, you’re right on. The social group shouldn’t ever be predicated on anything atheism/skepticism related. Bad news if that happens.There is an atheist visibility movement, and it is important. As is the promotion of skeptical inquiry. There is real work to be done. Activism, communication, education.But it’s also important to just have a cool community. These are two discrete activities. If people don’t mix the two up, I believe it’s possible to do both and even be involved in both.Hey, nobody better miss Ask an Atheist this weekend. It’s about living after faith and the deconversion process, and I’m gonna be on it! With Rich Lyons of the Living After Faith podcast./shameless plug :P

  14. ScottInAL says

    There are lots of stories like this one at, which is run by a friend of mine. The differerence is that the NLQ women have left an even more extreme patriarchalist, anti-birthcontrol form of religion (called the Quiverful movement) that is much nuttier than what this writer described. But if you have an interest in nutty protestantism and the women who have been abused by it, you should check it out.

  15. Gus Snarp says

    I’m a male atheist and I don’t really have much interest in going to skeptical gatherings. Much as I like the company of like minded people, I’d rather just have a potluck or a family gathering. I’ve never liked the notion that atheists/secularists/humanists ought to provide rituals to take the place of those in the church. That’s one reason I’m an atheist, I don’t want the rituals. But replacing the social and family support churches sometimes offer would be nice. And that needs to be in a very low-key setting.

  16. Gus Snarp says

    I don’t think that simply providing some socializing opportunities that aren’t just about skeptical discussions means you are engaging in a dishonest strategy. Sometimes you just want to meet new people and socialize with like minded people without making it all about debates and lectures. Yes, for some cults this can be a devious strategy, but it doesn’t even work that way in all churches, and organizations of all kinds try to provide these opportunities. Even my department in grad school had purely social gatherings.

  17. says

    Skeptics in the Pub in Vancouver (we have three running in different areas) provides a friendly place for skeptical folk to congregate every month. Religion does, inevitably, come up but typically it’s raised by a new attendee talking about how and why they’ve arrived (both geographically and intellectually).It’s really just a space to hang out with folk, rather than to rant about religion/homeopathy/etc.

  18. Eric_Rom says

    IMO it’s better to meet about something you DO believe in, than what you do not.Some of the above is anti-human, IMO: rituals are a long-standing feature of human society, I think they are here to stay. Might as well harness them, instead of grunting into your beard.

  19. jose says

    I’m not against Christmas dinners and that sort of thing. What I’m against is “Sunday school” and “vacation bible” and “Jesus Friday picnic” and things like that. There’s a difference between the occasional bar meet-up, which is cool, and a scheduled set of activities specifically designed to create a demanding social circle that goes beyond what the institution is about, which is creepy.

  20. says

    I am a SAHM and I’m fortunate to have a free, government funded, place I can go with my kids. That’s where I met all my loving mommy friends who couldn’t care less whether I believed in God or not.

  21. UrbanWildCat says

    She’s totally right about Lutheran women and the cooking. It’s the best part about having elderly Lutheran relatives; every time there’s a funeral you’re guaranteed a good meal.

  22. Nicole K says

    I too am an atheist and a SAHM. I live in the South and am a minority amongst my other “mommy” friends. I haven’t been to church since I was a child, but definitely miss the social aspect of it, especially now that I have small children. We briefly talked about going to a Unitarian church just for the sense of community.

  23. says

    I get the feeling that what a lot of people would benefit from, as would atheism as a movement, is community groups that give people that ‘fellowship’ or whatever you want to call it – I don’t think it needs to be religious to give that.

  24. JM says

    My daughter recently moved from California to Toronto and is a SAHM. I brought up my kids without any church, not even Unitarian. So now she’s trying to find friends there. It’s tough. Her CA neighborhood was very friendly, most people meeting around kids’ school and sports activities, plus college friends living just around the corner. A church would easily fill the gap if it were like some of the good ones I know about from my religious friends.

  25. Ekke says

    I realise this is an old discussion but I want to add my 5c. While I agree with you, Sam, I also realise that some of the discussions I have at church after the service are on a far elevated level — we grapple with some of the more difficult questions. This is not something you’ll easily find at a bellydancing/boxing/yoga class. So yes, I can easily find that fellowship at my local hiking/wine tasting/film club but will the people who attend be willing to talk about the more difficult questions? And yes, I realise that I might just be lucky that the people who frequent my church are as perceptive, intellectual and introspective.

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