I may have only started using the term “closet atheist” recently, but I have been a non-Christian living a Christian life for about ten years. During most of my deconversion time, I told myself that never ever in a million years would I ever tell anyone that I wasn’t a Christian. If I had stayed the apathetic nonbeliever that I was in my teens, not really caring one way or another, it might not have been that hard, but the more it becomes an integral part of who you are and how you think, the harder it is to keep private.
I mentioned in my first post that my boyfriend is also an atheist. Until recently, he was the only person that I had ever told. We have been together for a little over three and a half years, and I think that I told him about a year into our relationship. It took a lot of trust because I didn’t know what his beliefs were, but the bubble that I was raised in caused me to almost assume that everyone I came across was a Christian unless they told me otherwise. Back then, I wasn’t using the word “atheist” yet, and I wasn’t too comfortable thinking or talking about it, so when I “came out” to him over the phone, it went a little like this:
Me: “you know, uh, Jesus?”
Him: “uh, yeah?”
Me: “well, um, you know, I’m not really into ….that.”
Fortunately, he wasn’t a Christian either, obviously, but he’s the only person that I have that serendipity with. Going to a Christian college means that everyone is a Christian, and there’s (usually) no question about it. This includes all of my friends, teachers, and roommates. However, after living with the same two girls for two years, it became increasingly difficult to hide my secret.
Before I told them, I would keep another book cover over The God Delusion so that no one sees what it actually was. I would have to make sure that no one sees this blog up on my computer or sees me writing on Sundays. Once when trying to send them a link, I accidentally sent them the link to 6 Struggles Only Atheists Understand that I’d copied earlier. Neither of them thought anything of it (everyone watches all kinds of stuff on Buzzfeed), but I considered my secret essentially gone, and I figured that trying to hide it anymore was futile. Still, I debated whether or not I could tell them, obviously Christians, without our room being permanently awkward at best or me being murdered at worst.
My roommates are some of the more open-minded Christians I know, both of whom accept evolution and neither of which are anti-gay. I knew that they would be more accepting than my Lutheran family or most other students here, so I considered coming out to them almost like a test-run to see how my atheism was generally accepted. Nonetheless, I was still prepared for awkwardness, and I could only hope that it wouldn’t damage our friendship.
The first day I told myself that I would tell them, I chickened out and didn’t know how to start the conversation, and instead I told them that a few days from then, there was something I wanted to talk to them about. They asked if it was something I could just tell them now, and I refused because I wanted the time to prepare.
I’d written down a whole sheet of how I wanted to introduce it and lead up to the abominable truth, but when the day came, I knew there were only four words that I had to say. Anyone that knows me, however, knows that it’s hard for me to talk about serious things, no less tell someone that I have a worldview that they believe will send me into eternal hellfire. Eventually, though, I strung together those four words again, and I just said, “I…am an atheist!” and heaved a sigh of relief.
My friends’ reactions were pleasingly underwhelming. Neither of them was particularly surprised, and they told me that they actually have siblings and other close friends who aren’t Christians. We had a great conversation about my experience in religion classes and in a religious family, their thoughts on Christianity and atheism, and the fact that we can all believe what we want to believe and that shouldn’t get in the way of our friendship.
I could say that my “test run” was pretty successful. I now have the actual book cover on The God Delusion and I can openly express my irritation at different annoying Christian quirks of our school and our peers. Coming out for the second time out of who knows how many was terrifying, but I had no reason to be scared. I know it doesn’t, and won’t, always end up well, but at least my first few steps out of the atheist closet were nothing to be afraid of!