First of all, I love that so many sites out there use the phrase, "coming out," to describe this process. It very much felt that way for me, and at the time I felt very alone.
I grew up in a strict, catholic family. As a little girl, my imaginary friend was Jesus (I was probably just a bit confused about prayer at the time). We went to mass every Sunday and I went to class once a week. My father read the bible every night. If I missed mass because I was camping with girl scouts, I was brought to Spanish mass even though I didn't speak a word of Spanish. My father had me out on a picket line with pro-life signs at the age of 12. My father would tell me that we knew the truth, and everyone else was wrong. I was raised to think that I had to be catholic to be a good person, and I so very much wanted to be a good person and a good daughter.
It wasn't until high school that I remember starting to question some of the things that I had been taught. I didn't have many catholic friends, and I didn't understand why I had to think that they weren't good people. I knew otherwise. My friends were fantastic, thoughtful, wonderful people. I started to learn more about their faiths or lack thereof, and I discovered more common ground than difference. When it came time for confirmation something felt off, I didn't want to do it but I couldn't quite explain why. I was essentially forced to go to the retreat and I ended up completing confirmation. I even taught an 8th grade class for our church after that.
I went off to college with big plans to study and learn and start a fantastic career. Sadly, my father didn't lecture me on keeping my nose in a book. He, instead, talked to me about the importance of finding a good man who believed the same as me (ugh inherent sexism). I continued to go to mass for a while, but those nagging thoughts and doubts started to creep up again. Within 6 months or so, I had put my thoughts on religion aside. I only went to mass when I was with my family, and I was content with that for a few years.
My senior year of college, I went away to France for a year abroad. There I engaged in more debates and thought experiments than ever before. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was forced to take a good hard look at myself. It was a challenging but rewarding journey of self-discovery.
I returned for home to my family for the summer (I had to go back to college for a 5th year to complete my double major with the year abroad). At home, I tried to go back to the hum drum of going to mass with my family on Sundays, but this time I felt like a complete and total fraud. My parents will tell you that I was being melodramatic, but before I came out to them, I honestly felt like I was dying inside. I forget exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of - I'm not catholic and I'm not going to church with you anymore. This announcement was followed by a lot of yelling and crying and telling me that I'm going to hell. I distinctly remember my mother telling me that she had failed me as a parent. This hurt me so much. I thought, "You failed? You failed as a parent? Your daughter is a dean's list student at a great university, she's going to graduate with two degrees, she volunteers at an orphanage on the weekends, she plays clarinet in the pep band, she speaks two languages fluently, she has a great group of friends, she doesn't do drugs or binge drink or sleep around, and she loves with all of her heart, but you failed completely???" Arguments like that with my mom and dad continued for most of that summer. I remember spending a lot of time walking the dog or escaping to the park.
The conversation went from I'm not catholic to I'm an atheist rather quickly. My mother would say things like - okay you're not catholic, but at least tell me you're agnostic. Due to common misconceptions about what it means to be agnostic or atheist (which are not mutually exclusive), I knew I had to be more honest and definitive in what I told them and that I had to do so in a way that they would understand.
I went back to finish college and things began to calm down. My parents would still ask me to mass on Sunday during weekend visits. My dad would send me jesus cards in the mail and sneak pamphlets from church into my luggage. I ignored this and just went on living my life and loving my family as I knew how. They eventually stopped. I'm sure they eventually hope that I will ask to go to mass with them again one day, but they've accepted that things are as they are for now. I can live with that. There's no more anger, no more pretending - just honesty and love and that, my friends, you can have with or without religion.
Excellent coming out story :) My parents/family have stopped sending Jesus cards and trying to convert me over the phone as well. Of course, they occasionally remind me that they're praying I'll come around, but I an handle that. I've also dealt with the invalidation of them not seeming to acknowledge all the ways in which I have succeeded, and am not out "sinning" even though I'm not a Believer. I'm still an ethical person, but their Christian lenses seem to blur reality completely. Oh well. Good for you for being strong!
Just a quick update: Today I received flowers from my parents for my 30th birthday with a note that said, "We are very proud of the person you've become." I don't think they really understand how much that means to me. When I came out to them eight years ago, I didn't know if they'd ever say or write or think those words again. Things have been peaceful and loving between us for quite some time now, but for some reason, as silly as it might be, those cliche words on my card today really struck me. I'm so very happy to be right where I am today :).
Thank you for this post! I am on the verge of telling my parents as well. Whenever I have conversations that show a hint of my secularism (or anything that my parents disagree with) my mom says "I have failed as a parent". I have the same reaction as you! She sees it as an insult to herself, when it is actually an insult to me. It's good to know that others have gone through the same thing and have pulled through OK. It gives me strength to just go through with it!
Looks like you left the forum, but if you ever come back you're more than welcome! I'm always happy to listen or share. Best of luck to you, and know you're not alone.
When I told my dad about my non belief, he asked if I had become a devil worshiper. We seem to be getting on well since he has stopped signing of his messages with god bless you.
Haha, yes thankfully they do not believe that atheists are satan worshipers. My dad still ends every conversation and visit with me by saying, "god bless you my darling." I take it to mean that he loves me and cares about my safety. Perhaps he finds it comforting to think that someone is watching over me. I simply reply, "I love you too."
I tried joining a local pagan group once, and stuck it out for a few years. The more I was involved, the more it just felt 'off'. I could not really be a good pagan anymore than a good catholic. Oh well, the sweats were nice....;p)
You should sneak some atheist pamphlets to your dad's closets or suitcases :D
I always love hearing these stories! Congratulations on finally reaching a happy place with your parents. I'm there with my own immediate family but everyone else mostly just thinks I'm a "back-slider" who no longer goes to church. We live in a very rural area and my in-laws live very close to us. I think they have some idea that I doubt religion but it just hasn't been discussed. I have 2 amazing little daughters and I have enjoyed every minute of forcing them to watch how amazingly "christ-like" we have raised our 2 little godless heathens ;) They are so sweet, thoughtful, and well-mannered little girls that most people have ever met, and I especially like it when they find out they have never been to church! The big issue we're having now is that the in-laws have been taking it upon themselves to teach my daughters (5 & 8) about the Bible, Jesus, Heaven, etc. I was furious and could only get my wife to tell them that WE wanted to teach them about religion, not them, and their response was "well you need to teach them the TRUTH!" My wife is still under their spell and scared to death of ruffling feathers since they live so close and we don't want to cause any awkwardness for our girls, but I'm wanting to sit down and explain to them in great detail exactly what we believe and why. I talked to several preachers during my own deconversion and realized that I knew more actual things about the Bible than they did. Most people really have just not read it, and my in-laws are in that group. So any suggestions anyone has with experience along these lines would be helpful :) My main concern is that if we tell them we're atheists, they will ask why and I'll feel the need to attempt to justify how ridiculously insane believing that an intelligent human, much less a deity, wrote the Bible...
Have you considered telling your daughters about all the major religions in the same depth? Perhaps if you explain Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, and possibly Buddhism and explain "some people believe" this, or that, but ensure they're all addressed in a balanced way, then you can explain why you reject them all, if you want to go that far.
Also, ensure you point out that each one negates the others. This way, when your in-laws proselytize their faith, your kids will identify them as "oh, one of those kind" instead of anything else. You could add that they have to be "kind" and humour these people if you want to.
This, I find, is basically the solution to the problem of religion being taught in school.
If, indeed the class were to be even-handed I'd have no problem with it.
Alas, at least in the US when such proposals are made it's blatantly obvious the fucks are hoping to use the class to indoctrinate the kiddies into Christianity.