I know, the knee-jerk answer is "of course not!" But this man has been my pastor, teacher, neighbor, and boss at various points in my life, and while he is very religious, he is also a very, very good person (sad that I need to make that distinction). I've been an atheist for years now, and my parents are well aware, as are most of my close friends, but I've always stayed in the closet regarding him and anyone who might tell him, because I do respect his opinion of me, and I really have no idea whether it would make him upset to find out.

I've always imagined he would officiate my wedding some day, though, and that might be coming up relatively soon, but I would absolutely hate to do the whole marriage counseling thing and have to lie all the way through it. Maybe I should just leave him out of it entirely, but a big part of me wants to tell him what I think, without being disrespectful or distasteful, and explain that I still would like to maintain some sort of relationship with him and with the church.

On the other hand, I do a lot of volunteer work that is associated with the church, and would like to keep doing that. It worries me that he might decide I shouldn't be there if I tell him I don't believe in God. Especially since he's newly becoming a higher-level pastor in the church, and would definitely have that kind of sway. That particular church is a whole community of people that I'd rather be accepted by, for now (I know a lot of people on these forums will want to respond that I should just not be involved in a church at all, but it isn't that simple).

So, should I email him/set up a meeting and talk to him about what I think? Or should I just keep going the way I've been going?

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I think there is absolutely no reason not to, and every reason to do so.  Here are a few points;

Do you feel any better deceiving someone you respect constantly than you would if you let your position be known and let people take you for what you're worth?

Would you want to work for an organization whose good deeds are predicated on your buying into a lie? (this only applies in the case that you are ostracized from the church community for your atheism);

Can you, in good conscience and presumably as someone who has an interest in promoting ideas of secular morality, go without at least letting your views be known, or perhaps even doing a bit of proselatyzing for the cause?  If a naturalistic worldview has brought you the least bit of happiness, reassurance, wisdom or experience, I would say it's worth sharing, no matter what people's response to it. 


I have had personal experience with this kind of thing (ostracization from my social-religious community for my lack of belief, getting turned down at Christian volunteer organizations because of it etc.)  and I tell you that there is no person whose respect I value more than the ability to express myself freely, and no good cause that I couldn't further in some way without buying into the bullshit of the other people in charge.  Like you, some respected people in my life have predicated their regard for me on the condition that I believe in God; fortunately, I have come to a point where the notion of such extortion makes my respect for them evaporate.  If your pastor is a decent guy, and if you present your objections to religion in a respectful and articulate way, there is no reason for him to lose any respect for you.  That said, there's a good chance that he will anyways, but I think that would speak more to his own failings as a person than yours. 

lying in a relationship is not the best solution to anything, yet it would bee weird to tell the truth  

My recommendations:

1) Stop going to and/or supporting this church monetarily - find a reason to not go to church - work, fishing, exercising, etc.

2) Keep volunteering if that is what you are compelled to do (I occasionally do volunteer work with a local church even though I think Christianity is nonsense).

3) Do not have a religious marriage if you don't believe in the religion.

4) Tell him you don't "believe" when he asks you why you don't go to church anymore.

Dear Folks:

In my experience 'good persons' can come in many forms and from many backgrounds.

Most of these people seemed to have atleast a few things in common, they are realistic/worldly, deeply experienced,  balanced, and have a sense of humor.

I remember one person I meet at a 'Jack In The Box', about eleven years ago. He was ordering a sandwich and had made some funny remark that I pickup on, but now can't quite remember. I asked him if he would like to sit down and talk, and he said yes. I commented that I was philosophy major at OSU and sometimes run into people that are interesting. He said that he was taking Mortuary Science and had begun prepairing cadavers for burial/showing. He had come from a religious background, but now was having some second thoughts. He had been repairing people for burial after accidents, and had to accept the realization that humans are mostly 'meat' under the exterior. This had deeply affected him, by deepening his appreciation for the complexity of biology and mechanics, but also the absence 'soul' . I could tell that in some way his 'soul' had been deeply touched by the experience.   

I told him about my life, how I had to give up all or most of my religious training, due to the seeming inability to fit that experience into my growing understanding of the world. I had another friend that several years before, that had a similar experience with the 'meat' observation during an anatomy class. And my experience with disection of pig and sheep brains during a study in neural anatomy. The experience of deep study and experience takes the blinders off, and we are left with the raw realities. Our romance of ideals confronting a growing awareness of realities. What is 'said/believed' VS 'what is!'

I think pastors have a kind of codependent attitude. If you confess to your loss of faith, I suspect you'll become a project for him. He'll want to fix you. So, I don't think he'll be mad at you or shun you. You'll be giving him something to do. However, you may find it annoying.

You are confirming something I've long suspected, namely that most of the people who go to church aren't really believers in the church's catechism and theology. They just like the socializing and enjoy the rituals. I had a friend tell me she had joined a church. I wasn't familiar with it. It wasn't a major denomination. I asked her what they believed, what made them different from other Protestant religions and she said she didn't know and didn't care: she just like socializing with the people there.

Volunteering opportunities aren't hard to find.

YES. Now apply that theory to all the polls and surveys and statistics on how people identify themselves religiously. The percentage of real believers plummets; the fall of religion.

That seems like a hasty generalization to me. You may be right about my becoming a project, though.

I say let it happen organically. Like next time there's a prayer circle, get in there and hold hands but don't bow your head and pray. Just look around. If someone asks you about it later just casually mention that you don't believe in magic and that you're simply there for the cookies (or volunteer work, or whatever your "cookies" is).

Emily; I can see your reason for hesitating on this issue.  Your relationship with your pastor and the church community is, as they say on Facebook, "complicated".  You would "rather be accepted by" them, and you will definitely put that acceptance at risk if you "come out".  Ultimately that's what this all boils down to: a risk-vs-reward analysis. How bad will you feel if they totally reject you and ostracize you, and what's the likelihood that that will happen?  How bad will you feel if you choose to continue those relationships by "posing" as one of them?   Those are the key questions, and nobody but you can answer them accurately.  Perhaps all we can do here is help you gain clarity and perspective on the questions.  And lend a sympathetic ear, and a shoulder for you to lean or cry on when they do mistreat you.

I understand your desire to continue doing volunteer work with the church.  Just because you disagree with their tenets, doesn't discount the many good projects they do at the local level.  Feeling part of a group that is accomplishing real results is a powerful sensation, and difficult to walk away from.  Established community relationships are hard to part with, or even put at risk.

I do wish you the best of luck regarding this situation.  (I say luck, because, like any other decision in your life, eventually you just have to make it, then cross your fingers and hope its the right one.)

Keep us posted!

Wow! - might as well be gay and in the closet - it's the same misery ...

I'm both gay and an atheist. I came out about the atheism first simply because I knew about it first. Because I had wonderful parents and because I was lucky enougn to live in a place like New York City, I got away w/both. Religious relatives and friends tease me but in a genuinely good natured way. And I've become the go-to person for others who want to come out (mostly as gay but some atheists, too). And straight believers confide their deepest secrets in me, as well. Honesty is a very attractive quality to people who are in pain.

Sadly, there are still places where coming out of the closet to be openly gay or atheist would be an insane act. Not everybody is lucky enough to live in an area where the mob has at least learned to keep its hostility to taunts.  But you say that you are "out" to many people - any chance that one of them has talked to your pastor? Maybe he knows!

A lot of churches, I've noticed, have signs that say "Everyone Welcome!" - nice sounding but probably a lie. Find out. If you are not welcome, take one of Jesus' better bits of advice - "Shake the dust of the place from your feet" - in other words, be done w/them. It'll hurt, but it'll be the pain of giving birth to a new you as opposed to the pain of suffocating in the tomb of the closet.

Good luck. And I hope that your intended knows!


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