Hardest thing about coming out Atheist....causing pain to my religious family

First off, these first 2 paragraphs are an intro to me and my stance since I haven't posted here before.  I come from a very Christian family.  My mom attends church every weekend, and church get-togethers and everything like that.  She plays guitar in church.  My younger sister is damn near just as devout as is the rest of my family.  As for me, I only went to church when I was young because I had to, because it made my family happy.  I never truly submitted to any of it.

I was always skeptical of religion even though I never said a word of it the first 22 years of my life so I got to thinking:  This isn't right, I should be able to voice my beliefs to my family and friends.  At the ripe age of 23 (two months ago to be exact)  I did, and so far the results of doing so have been tough to say the least, more so for the rest of my family, but if it hurts them, it hurts me.  I love my family and I hate putting them through this but I just couldn't stay quiet any longer.  I couldn't keep going to church and thinking how ridiculous everything was. I couldn't keep pretending I was a Christian when I wasn't, and never truly was.

This has truly been hell for me seeing what I've put my family through by coming out Atheist.  I know I've really hurt them, but there was no other way to do it.  It had to be done.  My mom and sister came to visit me this weekend for the first time since I graduated college and I have discussed my decision and the religion topic in general a few times with them over the past few days.  I can tell they are devastated.  To me, it's my decision and is no big deal of course (at least it shouldn't be) but what is tearing me up is the fact that they're actually crying over it and making me feel like I'm lost, like I don't actually know what I believe in.  My mom asked if I would still go to her funeral, being an Atheist.  I was like 'WTF?!  Of course I will'.  She said she couldn't stand the thought of me being at her funeral and not believing she was in heaven.  They made it so that I honestly didn't want to defend myself, not that I couldn't.  I just didn't want to defend my Atheist stance because I knew whatever I said would just hurt them more.

Anyone else have advice for me that isn't cold and unrealistic?  I know my family is ignorant and I love them, so I don't want to abandon them or anything.  I also don't want to cause them pain because of my stance.


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I'm going to remain open but at the same time defend what I believe should they attack it or attempt to reconvert me or anything. Maybe when I defend myself enough times with enough confidence, they'll know that I mean business and I'm not giving in and they'll give up on trying to convince me back into Christianity. I've told my mom numerous times that this wasn't a quick decision, that instead it was a decision that I've been pondering nearly my whole life, and I think that fact alone made her slightly more at ease.

My whole goal is to prove to them that I haven't changed at all since coming out Atheist, that I'm no different before I said I was Atheist than I am now. I think that's the best reassurance I can give them that I'm still the same loving son I always have been, but now I'm the loving son that won't go to church with them anymore....

Welcome to the site Brady. Luckily my family isn't overly religious, so they didn't take it bad or get upset at all. Just a few questions to be sure that it wasn't a snap decision on my part. When they saw that I had given it a lot of thought and done plenty of research, it hasn't really been an issue. Sadly, HOW you cam to be an Atheist doesn't sound as if it will help in your matter any.

I think that it sounds as if your mothers main concern stems from worrying that you will change and that you will eventually go to hell. More so concern for you, rather than judging you. If you don't want to hurt her, I obviously wouldn't challenge her beliefs or debate her in any way. I would however reveal that your doubts are nothing new. You were a good person then and that you will continue to be the same loving son you've always been. You can mention that you've given it much thought and that there is no reason for her to worry for you. State that if you're wrong and that the loving God that she believes in does exist, that surely you won't have to worry. You will ever strive to be a good person, and surely that is what will matter to a just God. But I can't stress enough, how much importance there is in assuring your mother that you still love her, respect her and always will. Your beliefs may differ, but there is no force stronger than love.
I'm not challenging her beliefs or belittling them in any way. In fact, my preference is to completely avoid the subject, but like I said, they bring it up and then I defend. I don't defend in an angry way; I do it calmly and confidently and I think she's beginning to realize just how much thought I've put into it. I've let her know that the decision wasn't spare of the moment and that I've arrived at my stance after nearly my whole life's worth of thought. Like you said though, I think she still might be thinking that my disassociation with religion was perhaps an attack on her. I'm trying to remedy this false understanding right now though by assuring her that I haven't actually changed at all and that I love her and the rest of my family just as much now as I ever did.

My parents are devout enough though that they believe there is no way I am going to Heaven at less I believe in God himself, no matter how good I am. I brought up, in our conversations, that if there is a good God and he knows that I was a good person in life, then he should forgive the fact that I didn't believe in him (because he never made himself apparent to me) and let me into a heaven. I hope that gave her at least some comfort.

In the end, I think acceptance is something that only time will bring though.
Sorry to here she's that devout. And I think you are doing everything right in trying not to make waves. It sounds like this will be something that will just take time for her to get used to. In the mean time, good luck. And congrats on being true to yourself.

Your words are beautiful, and I relate to them very much. In facing the pain that religion causes many each day, as well as realizing how common the situation described by Brady really is.
I also have kids, and can almost relate to how a parent might feel let down in a situation such as this. I grew up in a very religious family.
Brady, I also must commend you for having huge brass balls. I have come to my current view on life through a long process. At this point I do think atheist, but still remain quiet in certain situations with a few family members. I for one respect you for the openness you've shown, and being completely honest with your family.
I, for one, hope to have the courage to be as open and honest as you have been. We need more people to be.
I completely understand their mindset also, I believed in Heaven and Hell for a long time. My accumulation of doubt was a gradual process that happened over quite a few years. Then I went to college, still doubting, but never actually admitted to anyone including myself that I was Atheist yet. Then when I got a job after college, about 6 months ago, some Atheist coworkers acknowledged my doubt and recommended some books for me (The God Delusion, End of Faith, etc) which I read and that pushed me over the edge to the point that I identified myself as Atheist and actually felt OK about it. After a few months of studying it more (and by studying Atheism, I mean studying religion because that's what we do) and becoming more confident in my beliefs, confident enough that I could easily defend them, that was when I decided to tell my family. What I didn't think about as much, is what thoughts would go through their mind about my decision. I guess I was a little reckless in that sense about telling them.

I think the hardest thing for my mom, putting myself back into a religious mindset, is thinking that her only son is going to burn in hell for eternity which is really hard on her (and my sister) and hard on me upon seeing them. What made me feel the most guilty throughout this ordeal though is when my mom said, as she was crying, that she doesn't want me to be at her funeral and not believe she is in Heaven. That was really hard for me to reply to because I know exactly what and how she was thinking, because I was there before and I just felt horrible because it sounds so insulting to her beliefs how she put it. I think it'll get better in time though, it's still new to them.

Thanks for the advice, I'm working on it :)
Thanks for sharing your story, Brady. I had an experience very similar to yours when I explained my atheism to my mom. She was very, very upset by it and could barely speak to me for weeks. That was three years ago, and things have gotten a lot better. I think you're handling the situation very well by only talking about the topic when they bring it up and by continuing to show them that you love them and that you're the same person you were before. You shouldn't feel guilty, but I certainly understand your feelings. I felt the same way. I think it's very likely, though, that your relationship with you mom and sister will get better with time, and that they'll feel less bad about your beliefs. The Bible can be interpreted in so many ways that your mom and sister could very well find some passages to justify a belief that you'll be let into heaven after all, if you're a good person, and you sure sound like a really nice guy. So hang in there.
Thanks for the encouraging words. I know I'm going to stick to it no matter what, it's their problem, not mine. I am also confident it'll get better and it's comforting to know I'm not the first person who has gone through this.
the only solution is to eduate them over time while making them think you believe as you do. Most Christians want to believe that God is a reasonable all loving all forgiving father. You can use this to strenghten your arguments. I recomend study of behavioural psychology and a great place to start is a book called Feeling good by David Burn. You can get it for a couple of dollars on the internet. It gives you great insight into dealing with people who have unreasonable assumptions, arguments and beliefs, without antagonising them. Using these tecniques you can slowley edit peoples beliefs and eventually they become open minded and willing to explore other possibilities. I know it works since I used the tequnique on my sister, who was very devout and eaten up with guilt over her sinful thoughts and family for a number of years. It took me three years of gentle discussion with her, but eventually she completely changed her outlook. This was 20 years ago. These days she still goes to church (since as a catholic school teacher her job depends on it) but she is agnostic and has no problems with guilt or dealing with other peoples beliefs. She also now knows I have always been atheist but she doesn't resent my lying to her since it helped her so much.
You are very welcome :D


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