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 had a really hard time deciding to come out to my family. It wasn't too difficult with my sister because she's sort of nominally religious (believes in a god, but doesn't adhere to organized religion), but my parents are and always have been very active church people. They go at least twice a week and my dad is constantly reading and studying the Bible and books on Christianity.

When I did finally come out, I realized it was best to simply make them aware that I was not a believer anymore (I had been very devout until about age 22), answer their questions, but I don't bring up the subject of religion myself--if they are already discussing it, I will contribute if I feel it's necessary, but otherwise I don't talk about it. I think that makes it easier for them. I still live my life as I always have, minus the church and Jeebus stuff. They know I'm an atheist now and I'm allowing them to process it in their own way. I know my dad hates the idea that I'm a nonbeliever, but he's accepted it and is moving on, as has my mom.

So I guess my advice would be to give them some time and space and don't talk about the subject unless they do first. Your actions and the way you live your life will speak louder than words ever could.
You might use the analogy of racial prejudice. In some families, it would be considered heresy to mix races.
It would "hurt" those families in the throes of this kind of bigotry. An unintentional "hurt" has to go with asserting your values. There are points of discussion that may not be able to take place rationally with your "prejudiced" family. In that case, avoid these discussions and move on.
I cannot relate at all, since my dad and my brother were already on the brink of accepting the fact that they were atheists and I introduced them to books/podcasts/etc. and then they decided they agreed with me 100% about religion and atheism. However, I still think it's good that you got a chance to be honest, and not have to torture yourself by keeping it all inside every time you talk to them. It's a new kind of torture for you now but at least it's all out in the open. I'm sure over time it will get better, and there won't be as many tears involved at the very least. Also at the very least if you have a family of your own one day, you can make sure the same problem never arises. You can truly respect your child(ren) regardless of what they believe and remember what pain and heartache religion caused for your family and explain it to them so that they know. Regardless of what your child ends up believing, YOU don't believe in heaven nor hell, so you won't be scared that your child will be spending eternity in a torturous afterlife for whatever reason. You'll be able to avoid the insanely horrible fear and pain that your mother is going through all because you (her child) was honest. If your child is honest with you about WHATEVER, nothing would be as painful for you (I'm guessing). (If you didn't come out ever, and then had a child who was raised as a freethinker, it'd be hard to keep that child from sharing with your mom/sister /family that you didn't attend church and whatnot - I know I had a friend who's grandmother was a devout Jehovah's Witness and her children (my friend's mother) didn't really buy into all the Jehovah's Witness nonsense/crap but she pretended to believe and follow all the Jehovah's Witness rules when she was around the grandmother and forced her son (my friend) to pretend to believe and follow it too. She even forced him to do Jehovah's Witness Bible studies every Friday afternoon with his grandmother, just to please the grandmother. (I sat in on one once when I was 12 or so because I was curious... it seemed like a really cool way to look at the world at first and then started to sound really scary and insane LMAO.) My friend's mother let her son stay at his grandmother's house a LOT, so didn't let him read Harry Potter because it was against the religion and the grandmother would be likely to see him carrying the book, but my friend's mother took him to see the Harry Potter movies, just making him swear not to tell his grandmother that he saw them. It's a ridiculous and horrible thing to put your children through just because you're caught in a catch-22 of not believing in your parent's religion but also not wanting to hurt your parent. Now you can avoid being caught in a situation like that. (Also my friend's uncle, his Jehovah's Witness grandmother's son, was gay. Everyone knew it but he couldn't come out to anyone, especially his mother, because of her beliefs. It's such a sad situation! To have to lie to your mother and feel obligated to lie to the rest of the world too! about such a key aspect of yourself for your entire life. I would never want that.)

Welcome to Think Atheist, I'm happy to have you as a new member of our community. :D
Lie. Tell them you have found your faith again.

You have to remember that the reason your family are in this situation is because some body else lied to them for all the wrong reasons (to get their money, to control them and so on) you will be lying in order to stop their pain and to help them eliminate it at some point.

I gave this advice to some one on here in a simiar position:

If you really want to help your family you have to take a completely different tack.
Take a step back and look at the reality of the situation. You said yourself that no amount of proof either through contradictory bible passages or anything else will shake their belief. This is because they are all suffering from delusional disorder. It is only the political climate that prevents the medical establishment from declaring any religious belief as such. Take a look at the symptoms: http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx11.htm Just in case you doubt that it is a mental disorder.

Once you recognize it for what it is you can help them. Therapy is the cure, but treating this disorder is a very delicate, long and drawn out process. Any form of confrontation or direct contradiction of the belief system will result in the subject at the very least withdrawing from you and can even lead to anger and in extreme cases violence. You do not want them to cease listening to you, so directly questioning their beliefs is a complete no no.

This means the first thing you have to do in order to help them is lie to them. You have to tell them you are not an atheist anymore. You have found your faith again.

This may not seem like the right thing to do. Nobody likes being dishonest but you have to remember the reason your family are caught in this trap is thanks to the lies and unscrupulous behavior of a religious oligarchy that simply wish to control people in order to serve their own selfish requirements (I am fairly certain that 90% if not 100% of the higher ups in any religious organization are atheist but realize what a great control tool religion is and so use the facade of faith for their own ends)
You have to think about the ultimate good of your family. If they believe you are one of them again you will gain their trust once more. This may take some time, weeks, months or longer of church visits etc. Basically following what they consider as a normal way of life.

Once you have gained their trust then you can begin to treat them.

You do this by encouraging them to edit their beliefs in very small ways. This is possible because each individual has their own idea of God and what they want him to be. It is usually not the terrible tyrant of the bible, but rather an all loving, all forgiving supportive father who will do anything to help his children. You can take advantage of this.

The person in question said his/her sister suffered from terrible bouts of guilt for minor sins she felt she had commited so I gave this advice:
For example, the situation you described about your sister.
You said she was suffering from terrible guilt due to making god feel sad. You could explain to her that God did not feel sad about her behavior, he feels proud because he knows she is a good person. You could explain that God expects her to fail and is not saddened by this because he loves her. He made Humans and understands they are not perfect. He never feels sad or angry with individuals, he simply wants them to know he is there when they need him. He is always happy when they turn to him but is not at all sad when thy do not because he gave them free will and is proud that they choose to use it.

Now this may not sound like the kind of thing an atheist would say. But you are not working from that standpoint. In this situation you are simply changing her belief in a way which will benefit her psychologically. It may not work the first time but every time she feels like this you can encourage her to believe god does not want her to feel sad or guilty because he is proud of her no matter what she does. Eventually she will accept this and cease to feel guilt when she commits the minor sins that obviously concern her so much right now. If this happens she will then stop worrying about being a sinner and she will have taken a large step in the direction of cure. And she will not be troubled by pointless guilt and sadness again.

Later down the line you can start to discuss all kinds of things that trouble the religious. For example science. When people start to discuss science and its “terrible implications” you can discuss how you feel that God inspires scientists and always has. He gifts them with amazing intellect and the ability to see into his work with a clarity far superior to that of ordinary people. He does this in order to better do his work. God does not want millions of people dying from sickness so he gifts the world with people who can find cures. You can advance these arguments in all areas of science and explain how thanks to scientists we have energy, communications and so on and people have much happier healthier lives. How can this not be the work of an all loving God?.

When it comes to the sticky subject of evolution, you have to point out that evolution only shows how life develops and not how it came about in the first place. Not even scientists know how that happened.

You can explain that the bible stories about genesis are basically true. Life did come from the clay of the earth. God simplified the stories to suit the understanding of the people alive at the time they were written. Since that time he gave us science and all the knowledge that came from it in order to advance our understanding of His work. To turn your back on science and the knowledge it gives is to turn your back on God. The object of science is to understand the workings of the universe. When we understand that we understand the mind of God. When we finally achieve that ,we become what God wants us to be. Because if we understand the mind of God completely we can follow his word with complete accuracy and never fall from the path.

This may all sound almost as bad as what they are hearing now but it is not. What it will do is open their minds to the world. Once they open their minds they will also be capable of critical thinking and most importantly questioning their original beliefs. It is very likely that from that point on they would then become at the very least agnostic.

But you must be patient. It could take years. Remember every time you attempt to edit a belief you have to be very gentle and very convincing and always appear to come from the point of view of faith. Its not an easy task but it is probably the only way to help them without forcibly deprogramming them.

I hope I was able to help.
You are wrong. You can change them it just takes patience and application of behavioral cognitive therapy.
Keith, never lie. That makes you no better than the worst of them. Most theists are lying to themselves and deep down they know it. It's fine to reason calmly with people and even to be non-assertive in your atheism, but don't be dishonest about your real beliefs.
I cant agree. Motive is what determines whether you are bad or not. My motive is to help free them from the shackles of their brainwashing. The only way to do this is to get them to think. The only way to get them to think is to come at it from their point of view.
As soon as you tell them you are an atheist they stop listening. How can you help them then

The people that control them currently, lie to them in order to take from them as much as they can. I am not doing that.

There is nothing wrong with lying to help people.

German SS Guard: Are there Jews in that room
Man: yes .. I cant lie, it will go against my moral code. yes they are hiding in the chimney
German SS Guard: okay take them away and kill them!

Nothing is black and white, and to act as if it is, is to be as bad as the religious zealots that you are calling the worst of them.

If by lying I can save somebody a lot of pain and improve their mental health then I will do it. Especially if its somebody I love. I don't have to worry about being judged after death and so I dont. I worry about the mental health of those I love and those around me.

The only thing that seems to worry you is pride. Your pride in your atheism. I am not proud of it. I am just don't believe bullshit. Whatever form it takes.
Brady, I have been reading your comments...and I can't believe your mother would ever question your morality. I can see you are a deeply sensitive and caring person. I read someone say that you should be proof enough for your family that one does not need god to be moral and good, and I completely agree with that statement! I admire your bravery, at 23 I still was not brave enough to tell my family that I am an atheist.

I understand your concern with hurting your loved ones, I too struggled with the same issue when I "came out". My father said to me that he felt he had failed somehow because I "don't believe in anything." When he said this to me, it really hurt my feelings. I explained to him that he was misunderstanding the true meaning of atheism, and I asked him if he felt that I am a good and moral person, of course he said that I am. I listed some of the things that I do believe in; love, kindness, empathy, honesty, integrity, etc. Since then we haven't really discussed it. My mom is very uncomfortable with my being an atheist, and in her passive way she tries to sway me by telling me why she has faith. What she fails to realize is while that is fine for HER, it is not fine for ME.

I feel that being honest with your family about who you are is extremely important, not only for your own peace of mind but for them as well. They should know who you are, and they should accept it. We most certainly are paving the way for future non-theists, so stick to your guns! I commend you for wanting to be kind, because if we sink to the level of ugliness some of the theists out there display, we are no better than they are!
James, I find your comments and solutions extremely disturbing.

The levels of intolerance you are exhibiting I have only ever seen before in racists and religious fundamentalists.

It appears you have forgotten something very important.
The families we are talking about here are also victims. The reason they talk and behave as they do is because a religious organisation has brainwashed them. You may be fortunate because you managed to fight off this conditioning, but many do not have your strength.

Unfortunately it seems that though you managed to throw off most of the conditioning you still held onto the bigotry and intolerance.

These people have had their perceptions, thought processes and logic distorted by the powerful and sick minded control freaks known as the religious leaders. They are still the victims awhile we are the fortunate survivors. They still suffer while we are free. We should never forget this and never ever give up on them.

James, its time you realized that you are not entirely over the conditioning and sought help.If you don't want to seek help from others I can recommend a book called "feeling Good" by David Burn. Using the self help behavioral cognitive therapy techniques you are shown in the book you can identify the issues that so obviously still have a negative hold on your outlook.

Good luck.
I completely agree that theists have no right to force their agendas on on others. For the most part they are unable to do this. When they try to pass laws to do this then, yes we must stand up and fight. But we are not discussing that issue in this post. We are talking about how a new atheist should deal with their religious families attitude toward them.

I disagree with you therefore I am arrogant. I think I have heard this argument before and I am sure you have too. How many times have you heard Richard Dawkins called arrogant simply because he challenges the ideas of the religious?

Brady obviously loves his family, is concerned for their mental health and is upset by their rejection of him. Telling him to make things worse by treating them the same way they treat him does not seem like good advice to me. It seems like a fast track to pain and a lifetime of regret.

As far as I am concerned we must rise above the nasty, intolerant, divisive, attitudes encouraged by the religious elite or we become as bad as them.

My attitude is simply try to understand and help rather than refuse to tolerate and create tension.

As I said, you evidentially have serious anger and intolerance issues and you really should address them. Your advice is bad and your attitude is almost a mirror of the religious zealots whom you so obviously hate.
What you do with your own life is your own business, but When you start preaching hated and division then it becomes every bodies business.

I now am finding it difficult to believe you are an atheist since you so obviously closed minded and do not use reason or rationality in your thinking. Perhaps you did once but it seems anger is your guiding light now.
No you are wrong. I am right.
It is my business because you posted it here in a public arena. You encouraged somebody to treat others with intolerance.
There is no doubt of this. It is not I who am arrogant here.
Nor is it I who am encouraging intolerance and division among families , It is you.
I do not need to read all your post about "becoming free" since this one is proves you are still caught up in the intolerance , division and hatred mind set so loved by the religious zealots.
If you believe anything else you are just fooling yourself. I really wish you would take the time to look at this side of your attitude with an open mind.
I just doubt that you are capable of that.

As for the personal attack. Well How can I generalize when it is you who is personally making these xenophobic statements?
You also said "Wake up and smell the coffee. It's a war and the religious reich is winning. If things continue as they are, you will be living in an even worse theocracy than you are now."

On what evidence do you base this statement?
Up to now all the evidence I have seen shows the biggest growth area is that of unaffiliated with any religion.it is a solid and exponential growth and it indicates that within 60 years the majority of the population of the US will feel this way.
The world wide statistics are even more encouraging.

Coffee smelled and tasted and it is definitely a different flavor to the one you drink.


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