How important is it to let people know you're an atheist?

Hullo everyone! :)

I was just wondering-how important do you think it is to tell people you're an atheist? I suppose I'm talking about both people you're close with and just people in general. I came out to my parents about a month or two ago, and my mum in particular was surprisingly supportive, but I never actually used the 'A' word. I just went about it by saying, "I'm not a Christian." And afterwards, she mentioned that even saying it that way was a bit harsh, so when I tell other people I know I should maybe rephrase myself.


This sort of took me by surprise, since telling the rest of my friends hasn't really been the biggest priority in my life. I've never really thought, 'I'm an atheist, so every single person I know MUST know of my lack of faith!! *Cue demonic laughter*'. The only reason I told my parents was because I'm going to university next year, and my dad kept going on about Christian clubs I could join while there. (He actually started networking a bit with some of their leaders, so I felt a bit bad breaking the news to him.) All-in-all, I just hadn't really planned on going public with my atheism, but ever since I voiced my lack of faith to my parents, I have felt a little more awkward about hiding my atheism, and have been wondering about breaking the news to some of my friends. (Who, of course, are all devout Christians)


I've only really got two friends in mind:
-One is a girl I've grown up with pretty much my entire life. Her family are MEGA christians with a capital 'M', and while we never exactly had a lot of religious conversations when we were little, and while she MUST have noticed I haven't been coming to church or youth group a lot lately, she's been having a bit of a religious calling recently. I'm happy for her-I wish I was as certain about what I want to do with my life-but every now and then she says something like, "I really feel God's spirit, and I feel like he really wants to move the world through me," and then there'll be this awkward moment where I go, "Right", and start eyeing the fire escape. (Okay, the fire escape is a joke...but I think you get the point. It's kind of awkward.) I'm also VERY pro-gay, and there was another awkward moment when I mentioned homosexuality while we were hanging out at youth group, and she just gave me this really long, disbelieving look and said, "We're in a church." So yeah...I think it's kind of obvious where she stands.

-The other, who I haven't known for quite as long, is REALLY close to god; only not on a rule-following, religious level like the first girl, but on a more personal, spiritual level. She's actually planning on being a pastor, and loves being a christian. She's probably the sweetest, happiest, most friendly person I've ever met, and has always struck me as being open minded. (In comparison to friend #1, she's also pro-gay.) The only thing is she doesn't go to the same church as me, so probably doesn't have any doubts about my 'faith'. (Since she doesn't know I haven't been attending church that much since I came out to my parents.) We're in philosophy class together, and we have these fun little debates about the meaning of life, etc. Sometimes she'll ask me a philosophical question that has a bit of religion in it, genuinely interested in what I have to say, and I'll try and give her to most honest answer I can without totally letting it out that I'm not religious. She's always looking out for other people, and I have the feeling that if she were to find out about my atheism, she'd be completely heart-broken.


Honestly, my social skills aren't really up to par. I have a bit of trouble making new friends, so I'd really like to hold on to these two. So basically; in your opinion, should I be telling them, or anyone else from church, etc. that I'm an atheist, and also, should I consider telling my parents that I'm not just non-religious?

Also, just as a side note, I'd like to say that I'm kind of new to the site, and it's by far the most supportive, friendly resource I've come across. It's just so nice to find a community like this where everyone's so open-minded! :D 

Thanks everyone! (And sorry about the rant-it's just nice to be able to properly talk about all this.)

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Hi Rose!

Letting people know you are an atheist should be something you do as you feel more comfortable in anticipating what the responses and reactions could be.   Meaning are you are prepared and ready to handle anything from acceptance to outright hostility?  There will be different reactions from many different people.


But your post said how important is it? I feel it is very important to stand up for what you believe in. Atheists, in this country especially, are stigmatized against, stereotyped, and are a huge minority.  I feel like we are in the middle of an atheist awakening right now and groups are coming out and speaking up more than ever. So it is important to be part of the process and to support those around you who might have similar views but may be too scared to be vocal or even come out.


Do it at your own pace, but do it. And if you need help with reactions and responses and arguments, you will find support here.

Part of what turns me off when I meet new people is the "are you a christian?" within moments of meeting. I think it is a lack of respect on their part to even ask. It is something you have to "stumble upon" in conversation. Otherwise, we are defined by our differences, and that is no way to make friends.
I love this!   I was asked once to play piano for a church ... I was offered a communion wafer and I just made a nod that said I wasn't interested.  How DARE they presume I wanted their cracker!  I was just there to play the piano and they put me in an awkward position.

I hear ya! Just today, going into Walmart, I was accosted (TWICE, going in & out) by some church people trying to raise funding for a mission trip to Brazil. Like Brazil WANTS southern baptists! :)

A woman, my age, jumped right in front of my buggy as I'm leaving the store and barks out, "You KNOW you want to donate for the "Lord's Cause"!" I told her "NO" in front of my children and when she bugged me again, I pretended to be interested in her for a bit, then scolded her with a "How DARE you try and change other people's indigenous beliefs! Stop trying to trade their superstitions out for your own." - I said a lot more than that, nicely too, I might add. (those church folks, not so nice after I told them to stop peddling filth to native cultures). ;)

(Please read the long version of my answer on my blog)


In short, To answer the question of how important it is to let people know about your Atheism. Very!


There are many millions of us throughout the world, and if we don't come out and let it be known how many of us there really are, we'll always be persecuted and looked down upon. We've endured thousands of years of prejudice. We have ancient roots that run deep through the annals of history. Being vocal with your Atheism creates solidarity within the community and allows more to have the courage to step up and come out. It's as important as breathing to let people know about your Atheism because if you don't it will be many more hundreds of years (and perhaps thousands) before the vice of oppression of humanity and suppression of knowledge is released by religion.


The fight for Atheism is exactly like the civil right movement back in the 60's. It's about equality and freedom. It's about advancement of science and humanity into the future. That's how important it is. It's time to stand up, speak out, come out and fight for equality then comes freedom. Atheists have been oppressed long enough.


In the words of Richard Dawkins. "Enough is enough!"

I'll tell people if religion comes up in conversation.  But since all of my friends and most of my acquaintances know, the topic rarely arises. I also wear, very frequently, my "Damned Atheist," "Friendly Neighborhood Atheist," "Atheist," "Godless American," and "'God' Is Twaddle." sweatshirts and t-shirts, so.... (?) And, of course, I google "atheist t-shirts"
I've found that the people most likely to be offensive about my atheism are also the most likely to be offended by it, and that this goes hand in hand with being aggressive about their own religion.  I don't mind upsetting them because, let's face it, they're not running at baseline tranquility.


Among my circle of friends (the majority of whom are atheist), religion and atheism comes up frequently because we all follow the news and various blogs and things keep happening that rile us up, and we turn to one another for discussion and support.  As a result, we're all throwing our beliefs in one another's faces all the time (and not just about religion, my friends know I have nothing but disdain for the homeopathy some of them practice).  That said, we're all friends, we know and like one another and feel free to let our hair down.


With strangers I try to be more circumspect, if only because there's no group more despised by Americans than atheists.  Atheists top the dislike meter and bottom out the "Who would you vote for" tally.  They think someone who's been divorced three times shows better judgment. 


I tend to hold back with strangers, if only because I don't particularly feel the need to justify myself to every random person out there.  One of the first questions is often an incredulous, "But why?", which is followed quickly by, "It's so obvious that there's a god!  And he's awesome!  And are you calling my mom a liar?"  The arguments tired retreads ("There is nothing new under the sun", Ecclesiastes 1:9) and although sometimes you can genuinely educate people that 1) what they believe to be certain isn't viewed as such outside their circle and 2) atheism =/= satanism, villainy, immorality, or etc., very often the conversation turns ugly and mean-spirited.  I've no particular desire to deliver or receive invective, so I usually wait for it to come up organically in conversation, or if my dander's already up.


But it sounds like what you're far more concerned about is how to approach these two people who are very dear to you and discuss something that's very important to all of you.  I googled "how to come out as an atheist" and got a string of polemics on the importance of doing so, but little good advice on how to do so.  Once I shortened it to "how to come out", the information became more relevant and only needs a little tweaking.


1) Try to be as certain as you can in your beliefs.  When you're in a questioning stage, that can be a good time to reach out to a close friend for advice and support, but coming out should occur when you're ready to take active steps in living your life as an atheist.


2) Make sure you'll be safe.  People have been kicked out of their homes and threatened with violence for having different beliefs and lifestyles.  When you do tell people, be in as safe an environment as you can manage, and try to have an escape plan ready.


3) Start with your close friends.  They are the ones most likely to accept you and provide you with safe haven.  You've already come out to your family, so this isn't the main issue for you.


4) Come right out and say it.  Don't waffle or beat around the bush, as that will just confuse and frighten your loved one.  And don't be ashamed.  Say something like, "I'm so lucky to have a good friend like you that I can confide in. I've been going through something and I'm hoping I'll be able to count on you for your friendship and support once I let you know that I'm an atheist."  Then follow up with discussion as necessary.


5) Give them time.  Some of your friends may need time to assimilate and deal with this.  You didn't come to this overnight, and you should give them the time and space they need as well.



Remember that everyone will react differently.  Some people will be drawn to you for good reasons (sympathy, agreement) some for bad (a need to "cure" you).  Some friends may drift away for good, some might detach for a short time before returning.  If you fear a particularly negative reaction, have a script ready beforehand.


And, above all, remember that discretion is the better part of valor.  If your community is particularly devout and conservative, then it may be that coming out would just make your last few months at home miserable.  If, on the other hand, you trust your friends; love and support, it could make these last few months so much better and happier if you don't feel you have to live a lie.  If you do feel you have to wait until you're safe in the anonymity of university, remember this old saying, "There's a time and a place for everything, and it's called 'college'."


It sounds as if your second friend is from a more open, liberal background and may be more supportive.  If you feel comfortable, or if you simply feel it necessary, I'd start with her.

I think I'm midway on this.  I don't bombard others with my feelings about Atheism just like I don't want Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc bombarding me with their beliefs.


But if someone else instigates a discussion, argument, or says something completely ignorant regarding religion or a topic on which they derive their opinion from religion, you can bet I'm going to let it be known.


So, to answer the question directly, yes, it is important.  But, in my opinion, we should not become that which we despise.  Direct confrontation doesn't seem to amount to anything anyway; if anything, i think it tends to entrench them further in their beliefs.  Those who are going to have their minds changed seem to need to make the decision on their own terms.

I had the same problem here when I was faced with coming out as an Atheist. Being Serbian, all of my friends and their families are Orthodox Christians. Because of the culture, Orthodoxy is directly integrated into everything and is part of our national identity. I started first with my brothers. My younger brother was 13 at the time and didn't really care, but my older brother was another story. We spent hours debating and arguing over everything until he decided my mom should know. I obliged and told her. This was the hardest part for me. After coming out to her, I was said to be "not Serbian because it's part of our culture" and I was violating that. That being said, it was they were more accepting than I had anticipated. We had decided soon after that telling my father would be a mistake. As Surgoshan mentioned, make sure you're in a safe environment. He's a huge nationalist and because of the fore-mentioned reason, he would probably kick me out of the house. This was three years ago and he doesn't know to this day.

As the days, weeks, months passed, my brother always started debating with me when we were with our Serbian friend circle. The same accusations of not being Serbian arose, which I couldn't care less about because it's not logical in any sense. The _real_ problem came when their parents found out. I was looked down on constantly when I was around them. I was always the "black sheep", but this took it to a whole new level. Listening to rock and rap that wasn't really mainstream and being obsessed with computers rather than soccer was one thing, but not believing in God was an entirely different story. Over time, my friends became accepting and just thought of it as stupidity, which I was completely fine with because I felt the same way about their beliefs.

Atheism has been a social stigma throughout history, but we're finally getting somewhere in this world now as the newer generations become more and more open minded. It's good to know who you are and you should take pride in it. Telling people you are close to drops a very heavy load from your shoulders. If I were in your position, I would start with the second friend. Being as open-minded you make her out to be, there should not be too many problems, but do expect some resistance, and moreso from the first friend. The best advice I can really give is to be prepared. Set up a battle plan of sorts because questions will be asked and you will be expected to be able to answer them. Identify your descent from the faith because it will be brought up. My last piece of advice is to try not to sound like the stereotypical Atheist that society expects. Know what you are talking about. I'm sure that the "monkey evolution" question will be brought up, so make sure you do as much research as possible not just on that, but typical questions that would be asked. Some great questions that I found and had to answer for myself are here. Do some research to find the answers. It _will_ help.
I try to avoid such people, but I have a few evangelical friends, and they know what I believe (roughly), just we try to find common ground. I'll ask them a few questions about the bible every now and then, maybe bring up any recent events that embarrass Christians as a whole, discuss scientific concepts and so on...

One girl though, Emily, I'd hate to see her lose her faith completely, it seems to be the driving force in her life. I'm trying to teach her that life is so much more outside of one book, that good things come from the human experience, learning new things, helping others enjoy and fulfill their lives as well and not blocking people from innocent happiness.

When directly questioned or a statement is directly addressed to me, I hit it head-on, no ifs or buts about it.  I am who I am and I won't have a religious person force me into the closet to suppress my views. 

At work it finally came out one day in a meeting when another employee during a meeting started flinging religious references out with regards to work and the management did nothing.   I stood up turned towards the door and said "This is BS" and walked out the door.  My manager called me in his office after the meeting and I knew what it was going to be about, so I cut him off before having to listen to the whole BS.  I said "I apologize for walking out of the meeting, that was wrong BUT if the religious discussion continues, which has NOTHING to do with work, then I'll be contacting the Human Resources Dept..  And that there's no place OR need for religion at work.  If they want to worship, they can do it at their own house.  I don't believe in that crap and I shouldn't have to be subject to this at work.   Then I just looked him directly in the eyes and waited for his reply.  He was definitely in shock.  He fumbled to find words but was really at a loss.  Finally he just told me that he'd have a talk with the other person and that was it. 

I know it definitely changed his views of me (not for the better since he's religious also) but I'm good at what I do at work, he knows it and the other managers know it also, so it's not like I'm risking my job or anything. 

From that point on I've had a number of employees come up to me and start discussing how I needed to be saved and each and every one of them get an ear full from me about religion until they walk away.   90% of them now know not to even bring the topic up to me because they risk being pushed into a corner to answer questions about their god that they don't want to have to answer and it makes them uncomfortable.  And I'm glad it does...because they've needed that feeling for a long time!

When I go to a religious person's house, that's off-limit for any discussion of Atheism, I give them the respect of their house.  In the public, there is no respect the door is open to attacking they're views whenever the topic comes up.  It's that simple.  I don't go searchin' to spread the word of Atheism to religious people unless I'm addressed by religious statements, then it's fair game!  I'll respect their personal views as long as they keep it to themselves and in their house (NOT in our government) and I'll do the same with my Atheist views.

Have I lost people that once were thought to be my friends?  Yep but that's ok because now I know they really weren't such a friend after all.


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