Advice please!: Atheist family heading into the Lions Den

My wife and I are heading to a family reunion and I need some advice from the community.


First some background.


My wife Jeannette (new TA member!) and I are both atheists/humanists. I come from a very conservative evangelical Baptist family, where the matriarch & patriarch and most of my aunts, uncles and cousins are either deeply involved in the ministry. I myself was once a youth and worship pastor, fully dedicated to serving Christ, but that’s another story altogether.


The members of my family are very loving and kind people, however their faith is stronger than their reasoning skills. On the last day of our last family reunion a few years back, my aunt told my wife she was going down the “Golden Path” to hell based only on her beautiful Egyptian tattoos. I know this came from the kindest place in her heart … she really didn’t want her to go to hell! However, at the time it truly hurt Jeannette who, coming from a Catholic background, didn’t understand the concept of evangelizing or that it came from a place of love. At the time, I was a very green atheist, so I didn’t have the strength or knowledge to say or do anything about it.

I abhor this kind of behavior from Christians and when it coming from my family it somehow felt much worse.

So … fast-forward to today. We’re heading out to another bible-soaked family reunion. Imagine jesus-themed campfire sin-alongs, grown adults performing plays and skits about how much they love being redeemed and every new conversation starts with the question “So, how is your walk with Jesus going?”

I’ve grown as a freethinker and I know exactly why I’m a humanist. However, I really don’t feel like outing myself to my family during this reunion, especially since both of my grandparents will soon be gone and I really don’t want to stress them out with thoughts of my eternal damnation. However, I KNOW I’ll be asked how my walk with God is going, and I’ll be asked why my family will not be going to church on Sunday.

This is severely stressing us out. We don’t want to come out, but I need some kind of loving response to these questions. I want to say something that will not incite more questions, but that will let people know were just fine with our lives and don’t need to be preached to.

We’re at a loss. If anyone else has some personal experience or advice on the matter, we’d be SO appreciative!

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Hi Marc,


This is something so many people face and I wish I could give you more advice but coming from a jewish background I didn't have to deal with the reprocussions of coming out. I think former christians will be more helpful.


Having said that, I think you should weigh the importance of what your non-belief means to you versus the backlash that will happen to you and your family at the gathering as a result of you coming out. Not being honest about your lack of faith as to "tolerate" your family and especially your grandparents is something that will not be looked down upon by anyone in this community. If your discomfort at being part of this is more tolerable than the stress at the thought of coming out then I would choose discomfort. The alternative is not to go at all but it sounds like family means a lot you. Just because you say to some people yes god is great, blah blah blah does not mean all of a sudden you are a sell-out and you will be rejected by fellow non-believers. There are some excellent blogs in the site that deal with the same question and how delicate it is to deal with family.


In terms of your wife and the what people say to her, I think that is her fight to deal with. People say to me all the time my emblem of a t-rex eating a jesus fish on my car just means I am on the fast track to hell as do my atheist t-shirts but honestly it doesn't bother me. They can have their opinions and I can sleep at night knowing I will not in fact go to hell. It really does not bother me because I am so comfortable with my non-belief. They are one's who are not comfortable or happy or accepting.


I wish you luck on this and hope you will let us know how things go.

Wow, I can't even fully place myself in such a situation.  I've always been able to casually say "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm not religious."  That usually shuts down any Jesus talk pretty quickly.

Go and make the best of it.  Pretend you and your wife are secret agents infiltrating a cult.  Make a game of it.  Ask people how their walk with Jesus is going.  When they ask you, compete with your wife over which of you can give the best/corniest/most fun answers without blowing your cover.  Go to church service and learn something, even if it is only about this delusional aspect of humans. 


If you can't stomach that or can't tolerate the extreme religiosness of your relatives, then I would ask why you are going at all?  I would think that the prospect of alienation from people you can't bear to be around could not be a motivator.  Could it?

Use it!
Oh yes I love the secret agent idea too.  I recently attended a funeral in a catholic church and took in all the "hooplah";  it was  interesting  to look at this stuff as an outsider.  If yours is a large group of family, I imagine there is at least one cousin who thinks like you and hasn't come out...see if you can spot them.  I can sort of see which of my distant cousins hasn't de-friended me. And I am thinking they might just have a grain of doubt.
I <3 Reggie so much for that post.
Just for once, I'd like to be loved merely as a sex object.
Honestly, I think your best option would be to not go. It sounds more like a revival meeting than a family reunion. It also sounds like both you and your wife are now at a point where it will be impossible for it to not be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for everyone - not just yourselves. Unless you're really consummate actors, there comes a point where you just can't lie convincingly anymore. If you can't get on board with the religious fervor, the rest of your family will probably end up offended and insulted. True believers are very seldom accepting of religious neutrality. Would it be possible for you to plan another trip to visit with your grandparents separately from the family reunion?

“So, how is your walk with Jesus going?”

Answer "Presently satisfactory" and leave it at that. For them to judge what that means.

You are going to need at sometime to come to an understanding with the family but you can do that when your ready.

Families love each other FOR WHO THEY ARE and stick together for no other reason.

A Christian's piety is no excuse for judgementalism.  A Christian follows Jesus and Jesus tell us that judgement is God's alone.  Coming "from the kindest place" in one's heart is merely a cover for being rude.

Adults are no longer "dependent" family members.  Jesus himself, in Matthew 19:5, pointed out that "A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh".  If you remind your relatives of this verse, perhaps they'll feel more compelled to respect your (you AND your wife) independence from them.
I like this.

I'd just reply, "In unexpected directions."  Or, "It's personal."  You can still hang with your family without alarming everyone with the fact that you're hellbound.


And I agree with Atheist Exile: rude is rude, no matter how much you try to dress it up with faith. 


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