I suppose that this was bound to happen sometime. From the moment I started this blog, it has gotten harder and harder for me to keep my big secret a secret. I feel as though I’ve spoiled myself by being open about my atheism with my roommates and through writing.
When I’m home or with my family, there’s no question that it’s nowhere near the time for me to come out with them. I still rely on them, and those relationships are too vital for me to possibly ruin them. When I’m at college, it’s a different story. I’ve always been unfathomably frustrated at having a secret this huge that I can’t tell to anyone, but as time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to keep private, for a variety of reasons.
At a Christian college, obviously, unless you profess that you are not a Christian, everyone assumes that you are. I’m not exempt from this; I know for a fact that there are more closeted atheists at my school, but I don’t know who they are, and unless someone would tell me that they’re not a Christian, I assume that everyone there is. Most people there have no idea that there are any religious anomalies among them, which is why they are so open to criticizing atheism as well as any views that oppose their own.
My classes last semester weren’t particularly Christ-centered, aside from one class that focused on practical implications of science on religion, which at least had my attention, if not infuriated me, as it continually shamed atheism as well as personifying Richard Dawkins as a hypocrite by taking multiple quotes of his out of context. But I digress. Most of my classes focused on my major, and therefore they didn’t have much of a Christian basis. (Although I wouldn’t put it past these people—they can make anything revolve around the bible.) This semester, however, I have two classes with one professor that does incorporate Christianity into everything that he teaches.
These two classes are primarily discussion-based, and this professor specified on the first day of class that he wants everyone to be absolutely honest about their opinions and views in discussions, but I don’t think he knows quite what he is asking for. Additionally, at the beginning of every class (six times a week for me), he asks a student in the class to open in prayer. This always causes a long awkward pause, as everyone is hoping that someone else will start speaking. All I can do is hope that there’s not a day when I’m asked to be the one to pray, because at this point, I don’t think that I could physically do it without making it total BS that offended everyone. It would be so much easier to admit that I simply can’t pray, and assure everyone that they truly wouldn’t want me to.
One day when I walked into class, there was a question written on the board that was left over from the last class that had used that room. The question was simple enough: “what is your favorite book that you have recently read?” The problem is that the only book I have been reading recently is Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It’s not that I can’t lie and say I haven’t been reading, but it feels so much better to be honest with your peers as well as be proud of yourself in your own skin.
Coming out is an interesting thing. You have to be able to sense who could take the news that you’re an atheist and who can’t. The scary part is when you don’t know how someone will react. I decided around April that I would come out to my roommates in the fall, but it took me until December to muster up the courage to do so, and of course they didn’t mind at all. It’s a terrifying conversation to have. Now is the time for me to decide if I’m ready to make myself known to classmates, teachers, and acquaintances, for my own sake, so that I can make it through the day without lying and pretending constantly. You want to be able to tell those who matter most to you, but at the same time, in the case of my family, those are the most delicate relationships that would be the most devastating to lose. You would think that you can tell those who you don’t know as well, but if they don’t know that you’re indeed not a bad person, they will be quicker to judge.
It’s a sticky situation, but after coming out to my roommates and to the World Wide Web (and my 50 followers!), I realize just how much better it feels to be open with those around me. Those who do know tell me that it won’t be as bad as I make it out to be, and sometimes I just believe it. My life would be a lot easier if I started to open up around school; all I need is the courage to be honest.
29 thoughts on “The Next Step”
It is sad that you have to worry about this situation. I certainly understand, yet especially with your family you SHOULD be able to be honest and be yourself without the fear of rejection. If people would look past the labels we apply…such as atheist, christian, gay, straight, muslim, jew etc. and see the human being, I think we would be able to accept each other even in our differences.
There is a line that has to be crossed to ‘come out’, whether it’s religion, or sexual orientation, or whatever you feel strongly about. And just as people who have ‘found God” feel a strong pull to testify, so do many of us on that opposite shore.
You’ve already made the first step, with your roommates. Widen the circle a little more, gradually. It may not be as horrifying a big deal to other people as it is to you–obviously if your roommates accepted you, people more distantly attached should be okay with it too.
Something to consider: do you HAVE to tell everyone? Do you HAVE to tell anyone? My inclination, if’n it were me, would be to not bring the subject up directly, but if someone asks, and only if they ask, tell them.
And do you know, I’ve been atheistically inclined for probably 30 years or more, and no one has ever once (with one notable exception) asked me what my religion was. The only one who did ask was my real estate agent, but he was a Mormon and was proselytizing. I could have told him I was a Muslim with werewolf tendencies and he wouldnt have cared.
Just choose your spots, you should be fine.
I think that my issue is that people do ask questions that can’t be honestly answered without me revealing that I’m an atheist: questions like “do you want to join me for the worship service?” “can you pray for us?”, even “what’s something you’re really passionate about?” and in cases like these, it would be a lot easier to just come clean and say it.
Just a couple of suggestions.. If someone invites you to service, simply say you have other things to do … or you just aren’t in the mood. If questioned further, you could be vague (yet truthful) in your answers. In other words, being direct isn’t the only way to reveal your new position. There are always answers you can offer that will gently get your point across and begin preparing your circle of friends/family for your new perspective.
Certainly, it will not be an easy journey, but living under false pretenses will eventually harm both you and your family.
I know. It’s probably best if I can try to drop hints without being direct, especially with my family. At school, I should still be careful, but if I offend someone that I wasn’t too close to anyways, then I don’t really lose anything. I don’t necessarily need to come out and tell people when asked about things like praying and going to services, but sometimes I’m just so tempted to be open and straightforward at school.
I do not feel the need to convince anybody to be an atheist. What I do feel strongly about is not acquiesce to anyone’s religious beliefs. That does not mean that I need to speak up in every situation, but I do most of the time when it is assumed that I share their same beliefs.
I wish you the best in coming out to your professors, classmates, and family.
When it comes to coming out to your professors: I would meet separately with each one, during their office hours, and explain how you chose to become an atheist. Make it clear to your professors that, for the sake of being open and honest, you don’t want to hide who you are anymore — make it clear that, if you truth is what sets you free (John 8:32), than you want to live “truthfully”: You don’t want to live a lie by hiding who you are.
When it comes to coming out to your classmates: You won’t be able to please all of them. So: Keep the classmates in your life who love you and respect you regardless of your atheism, and kick the ones who don’t out of your life — you’re better off without them. If you can’t “kick them out” — if they’re an unavoidable part of your life — than, in all situations, do to them what you’d want them to do to you and, eventually, they’ll either change their ways and no longer treat you negatively, and/or you’ll grow so much as a person that their negativity won’t bother you anymore.
When it comes to coming out to your family: They always want what’s best for you. So do what you can to make it known to them that you believe that atheism is what is best for you.
No matter what happens, I’m glad to be a follower of this blog and know someone as thought-provoking and kind as you.
Thank you for the advice and for being supportive of me and my blog. 🙂
You’re welcome. I’m glad to support you. 🙂
I don’t think I’d ever use the phrase “chose to become an atheist”. We choose what we investigate, what lines of questioning we pursue, what sources we read, who we listen to. But in the end, If what we find leaves us no longer convinced, that part wasn’t a choice. I didn’t “choose to be an atheist” anymore than I chose to stop believing in Santa. It’s just a consequence of things I learned.
And this part: “When it comes to coming out to your family: They always want what’s best for you.” I’m not convinced that’s always true. And even when it is true, some families are so deeply indoctrinated that they can’t accept that anything other than their religion, in the exact way they practice it, is going to be the best for their child. So, caution in how and when to come out to your family is called for.
For a lot of us, it took years to come to terms with the idea that we were now non-believers. But if you just dump it all on your family at once, it’s asking a lot from them to just instantly accept it all. If you can give them the gift of time to get used to small changes, and let them into your journey a piece at a time, that might help.
I wish you the best of luck in coming out to your classmates.
I know what it’s like to have to hide things from your family about yourself. It isn’t easy at all, but in my case it must be done. Take care 🙂
Baby steps and do it when you’re ready and comfortable. That first time can scare the shit out of you, but it does get easier. For me it was much more worried about hurting those I loved than about a bunch of Christians I barely knew knowing. I found it much easier telling strangers than my family.
The best encouragement I can give you is that when you it does become known, then you’ll probably find that fellow non believers come and find you and you guys can hang out together. Maybe being picked on to pray would be that good time for that, you can say it on your own terms and in your own words, it solves the problem of people guessing.
My best wishes. Being true to yourself is best. But you don’t have to tell everyone. Some folk will work it out themselves.
I have found Atheists are more Christ-like than most Christians I see out there. For me personally I am still a believer because there are good things happening among the hate and intolerance being seen out there. Grace and peace to you.
Thank you for your kind words! 🙂
I would not want to be Christ-like. I do not find the biblical Jesus to be a very nice person. Being god he can act any way he wants, just look at the Old Testament. Anyway, I find the Jesus portray in the gospels to be insensitive, a bully, and mean. He talks the talk, but rarely does he walk it.
I certainly do not belief in Jesus or any god, and there are good arguments that Jesus was a mythical person.
I see where you’re coming from, Steven, but I think you have to consider the context. Whether or not I find the character of Jesus to be pleasant is irrelevant; if a Christian calls me Christ-like, I would consider it a very high compliment since they hold him in such high regard and strive to be like him. Similarly, if you called someone unChrist-like, you would probably mean it as a compliment, as you dislike the character of Jesus, but whether or not they would see it that way is another story.
Reading you is very encouraging. Even if it took you a few more months to actually face your roommates. Family is, of course, a bigger deal, but the sooner you deal with it the better. I wish I had that courage when I was in college. Now I’m married and have a daughter who slowly but steadily will be guided into becoming a believer. To come out now is harder than ever, because of the inevitable consequences and to be separated from my family would be unbearable. So, I’m bearing the weight of belief. Every single prayer. Every time I’m asked to read the bible. Every time I’m asked to talk about how “God has changed me”. Every time somebody goes “Because it’s God’s word. It’s written in the book, right?”, I cringe and clasp my fists within my pockets and with my head down I reply “Right”. Every time I have to “like” any Christian contents on Facebook just because it was posted by a close relative or friend. Every time I’m asked to thank God for the food, or anything for that matter. Every page read to my daughter that imprints the though of God being behind everything, without reasoning.
It is a lot. But I bear with it. Because living without them would be unbearable. But my anxiety grows every day. It’s like rust.
So, gather more courage. Get a job, pay whatever debts you may have, become independent, and surround yourself with good friends to lend you support. If possible, do not fall in love with someone who does not know you’re an atheist. My wife was a mild believer when we met, some years later she felt the ”need” to become closer with God. She was a catholic. Later she gave up on Catholicism and turned to Evangelical Christianism. It’s so much easier to be a closet atheist within Catholicism. Now, I’m supposedly evangelical as well. My guess is I’ll be here until it becomes unbearable as opposed to tolerable. Then we’ll see.
Yours is truly a sad story. 🙁 I’m not sure I could do what you’re doing. I truly hope the opportunity arises in the not-too-distant future when you can are free to be who you really are.
Thank you so much for sharing. Your story sounds nothing short of agonizing. I wish that there was a way for your family and for mine to know that, if we ever tell them, that they understand that the reason that we hid it and went along with the facade for so long is because we value our relationships with them over our own liberty to be ourselves. I wish you well and I hope that one day you are able to be honest with them, especially when raising your daughter.
I’m a pro-life atheist and everyone I work with in this movement is religious. When I first meet them, I shake their hand and say, “I’m that rare pro-life atheist and I’m here to defend the human right to life and I look forward to walking this path with you.” This gets the atheist issue out of the way upfront and we then get to work focusing on what’s really important. Almost every one of them realize that what we have in common — our humanity, is far more important than our differences.
By demonstrating that you share their values but not their beliefs, they will welcome you. Never make the mistake of debating whether or not their god exists, even if they start the debate. If you begin to shake their beliefs, they will see you as a manifestation of ‘satan’ trying to place a wedge between them and their faith. This will drive them away and erode the relationships you may mutually share because they will warn others about you. If they attempt to draw you into an argument, simply pivot to each of your shared values and explain that religion is not required to have faith in humanity, nor to be a moral person. Most importantly, make sure your actions speak louder than your words.
Though I am not a perfect human being, I strive to improve not only my lot in life, but to lend a helping hand to others working to do the same. This philosophy is in alignment with Christian teachings and goes a long way toward earning their trust.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” — George Addair
That sounds a lot like the way that I try to conduct myself with Christians. Especially when commenting on their WordPress blogs and meeting them for the first time, I do my best to emphasize our similarities rather than our differences. We need to get rid of the way that Christians view us as hateful and arguers, and all cooperate as people.
Memorize the following: “This isn’t an argument.” And “I am not going to argue with you.” I’ve discovered in what little coming out I’ve done that argument is unproductive and emotionally exhausting… at least at first. Get past the coming out part first and argue/debate later.
I’m going through a similar situation . I’m in my 40s and I’m now questioning the faith I was brought up with. Nobody knows, except a coworker who could care less. But I have not shared my doubts to anyone close to me, which I think may be time to do so with perhaps one of my brothers, who I think share the same thinking pattern as myself. Kudos to you for taking that step. Be strong and live.
I hope that you find the courage to talk to your brother. It’s always hard to predict how someone will react, but it’s an important conversation to have, and since you think he could be in a similar situation, it’s worth a shot. Good luck!
I’m so sorry you felt afraid to be honest about your beliefs. As a christian, my heart breaks when I see others of my faith (or at least, others who seem to be of my faith) criticizing those who believe otherwise and attacking them on personal levels. It leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m sorry this has been your experience as well. I apologize for the many christians who fail to show the love they profess to follow, although I understand if a blanket apology like that does nothing to make up for the harm you have experienced. As weird as it may sound coming from me, I’m glad that you have chosen to be honest, in whatever scope you feel comfortable, about your beliefs, and I hope that more and more you will be able to be honest about your thoughts. It’s harmful to force someone to pretend to believe something, and what would be the point, anyway? If you don’t believe what I believe, it’s not my job to control you. Obviously I am still going to wish that you saw things from my view, because I care about you and see my set of beliefs as being the way to peace, but the moment I step past presenting my beliefs to you as an option, I cross a line.
Please know that, regardless of your beliefs, I hold no animosity towards you.
Here’s what I think. The classics have a lot to teach us. Have you read Julius Caesar? Antony, I think that was his name, was told not to discredit Brutus, who assassinated Caesar (if you haven’t read it, then these references would be going over your head)
Now, Antony was Caesar’s friend, and he wanted to turn the public against Brutus. So he supported Brutus sarcastically, and then at the very last moment just nudged the crowd towards going against Brutus. And it worked. So you could try something similar. For instance “Yes professor, I love the Noah’s ark. It’s sensible. Bring animals from all parts of the world together using God magic, then using God magic make animals not each other, and using God magic drown the world, and using God magic make all animals fit in, and let an old man build the ark and not use God magic to help him. It does tell us how God is very sensible and will let his Creations help themselves, unless of course they’re living in North Pole, in which case He has to use magic to teleport them to the ark. It does make a lot of sense professor. It also makes sense how he only saves some animals of each specie and let’s all others drown, because obviously those animals were evil as well, somehow. And it was very nice of Him to rescue the eye eating parasites from the Flood so they could be with us today. “
*not eat each other
It’s a truly difficult situation, no question about it. I certainly see the value of being honest with your schoolmates, but it’s tricky to do that without it leaking back to your family. Have you begun preparing the way with your family by letting them know you are questioning religion?