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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You can try to make them understand that you have good reasons to be an atheist, and that you aren't elaborating on them further only because you don't want to further challenge their faith. This might be seen as condescending, though, and if they force you to actually elaborate, it could go bad really fast, especially if you know your atheist arguments.

What about your father? Is he religuos too?
Parents are divorced since I was 6 years old, my dad considers himself a Lutheran but never practices it or anything. I was raised by my mom. No one in my family is going to back-up my decision so I'll just hold my ground I guess. I don't bring it up to them but they bring it up to me, and they just get upset over how I respond to their questions (start crying and saying that Satan has a hold of me and such). It's still relatively new to them, so I'm hopeful that they'll grow more accepting although I know they'll always be disappointed in me. They just make me feel so guilty about it because I can tell it hurts them so bad.
Ok, this is a risky one, but maybe you can ask your family to try and convince you of God's existance. Let them bring the arguments, think them over, and take them apart with as much tact as possible.

Or you can just try to stick it out, if you aren't disowned, they will probably get over it.

Are there any atheist or freethinker groups in your area? They could help you with the company of like minded people.
There is, a few of my coworker friends (who are also Atheist) have let me know of one and they say it is comprised of roughly 20 members right now. I think I'll be going to my first get-together this coming weekend...
Great, I haven't found any such organization where I live. Let us know how it goes.

I must have had an easier experience than most. I was openly atheist by 13. My dad is Catholic and my Mom Episcopalian and I was raised in both churches. I was even baptized Catholic and had my first confession which even then seemed awfully silly. I remember once when we were in Sunday school the teacher gave everyone but me candy because I couldn't recited the Lord's prayer perfectly. I never was confirmed, though. Both my siblings ended up at the same point later on though they're still more agnostic or secular humanist.

My parents don't seem too horribly bothered by it all. We have religious arguments somewhat regularly though no one's minds are really changed. In fact my parents tend to argue more with each other about their beliefs. I guess I just come from a less religiously intense family. In the 1600s one of my ancestors was finded for "repeated failure to attend mass and kindness toward quakers." They aren't lazy or half-assed with their beliefs, though. They do go every Sunday and regularly donate. My dad is even the president of a Jesuit organization and my mom works for nuns. It's a bit unsettling knowing the church got me through school, something my dad playfully likes to point out.

I've talked way too much about me. That was meant to just describe where I'm coming from. On the other hand I've known plenty of people who were much less open to other beliefs are defending their own. Religion is a huge part of life for some people. I imagine it must be really hard thinking someone you love will go to hell. My parents are more of the hell not being a physical place or being open to all decent people, not just chosen christians. It's probably a good thing for them to know someone they love is an atheist. Once they accept it it might soften their views on the subject, like how having a gay family member sometimes forces people to rethink their views on homosexuality.

About the funeral thing, aren't christians not supposed to know where they're going after they die? I thought only god knows that.

I think all you can really do is act like you previously did. Don't bring up religion but if they do explain yourself without getting aggressive or belittling. Given time they'll hopefully come to accept it.

Sorry for the long post. Hope I contributed something.
I imagine it must be really hard thinking someone you love will go to hell.

I think that thought is what my mom is most worried about. That and the fact that she brought up numerous times that she doesn't want me to be at her funeral and not think she's in heaven....
I don't argue about the existence in god. I keep my thoughts to myself. I will however stand up for myself if the issue is pushed. I broke my mothers heart when I came out and now she thinks I am going to hell and this upsets her. Being good with out a so called moral book doesnt make sense to me. Arent parents kind and loving with their children without having a book to guide them on how to raise us. be true to your self man and dont worry about what others may think. one thing about being atheist is that we take responsibility for ourselves and our own actions. Those that believe have been brainwashed from a young age,. and it is not our place to convert anyone.I have friends that are southern baptist and they know I have no belief. I just tell them to pray for me to make them think that they are helping me.....but we know prayer is nothing but wishful thinking. Live and let live.
I don't purposefully argue it or bring it up to them either, but like you, I will defend it if others want to bring it up. I just don't like defending it when it hurts people, in particular, my family. I think I've broken my mom and sister's heart and they both think I'm going to burn in hell which I of course am not worried about but I just hate seeing them so broken up about this. Thanks for the advice....
That's always a tough situation to be in. I've had friends who came out of a similar situation. Emotions were pretty raw for a time, but it did eventually get better. Things calmed down, and everything stopped being so intense. For the most part, they simply agreed to disagree, and now their differences are rarely discussed.

Of course, this situation is not ideal. I don't think that they are as close to their parents as they would have been without these differences. There will always be a part of themselves that they are unable to share with their family. However, they are still able to have a relationship with their family even though it is not perfect.

Arguments and theological discussions are probably the last thing that is needed. Giving each other some space will probably help the most. It's good that you are in a situation where you can do that. It probably would have been much tougher if you were still living at home.

It also sounds like they need some reassurance that your rejection of their beliefs is not a rejection of them. It's really not fair that this task always seems to fall upon the person who is coming out. Coming out can be risky, uncomfortable, scary, and even insane at times, but the person who comes out always seems to get stuck with the burden of having to soothe everyone else's emotions.

I hope the situation improves for you and your family, and welcome to Think Atheist by the way.
That's what I'm thinking right now. I'm sure over time they'll grow more accepting but I know they'll never forget what I am and will always be disappointed in me possibly until the day they die, and I think that is what hurts me the most. The thought that I've completely let down or failed my family just because of my religious stance! It shouldn't have to be this way....
You're right. It shouldn't be like that, and I think that's the real tragedy of religion. Life is short. It can also be brutal and ugly. Obviously, I don't believe that there is some magical friend in the sky who will somehow make it all okay. The only bit of wisdom that I have ever really discovered about life is that our relationships are the only things that really matter. People matter. How we treat them. How much love we have to give and receive in return. And, that can really suck sometimes. Because other people, more than anything in the world, are the ones who can most easily break our hearts.

As atheists, it is very easy to get caught up in the large scale atrocities caused by religion. The worldwide child abuse covered up by the catholic church, or the widespread abuse of women in islam. Yet, every day, religions and ideologies create walls between people. It happens all the time, in thousands of tiny ways that will never be reported on the TV news or written about in a newspaper.

As a parent, I can tell you that I have never felt anything stronger than the love I have for my kids. It is intense, and overwhelming. And it is absolutely terrifying whenever you have to let go of their hand, send them out into the world, and hope with everything inside you that they will return home safe. I cannot imagine any greater tragedy than that of losing a child.

At the moment, though, your mother has lost some part of you because a wall built by religion stands in the way. She has lost this part of you because you are not free to express who you really are without creating pain and sadness for everyone involved, but the pain is certainly not your fault. It is her wall, and only she can choose to climb over it.

However, you do have a choice. You can build a wall of your own. Build a dogma out of atheism to rival the strongest walls of any religion, or you can choose to remain open. To live without walls, and the stifling comfort that they provide. To choose a relationship instead of a prison. Knowing that it will be painful and messy and possibly downright ugly at times as all relationships are.

It's your choice. It shouldn't have to be this way, but it is. Now, what are you going to do about it?


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