What Was It Like to "Come Out?" (To Be Openly Atheist In Your Society)

I've been an atheist for 2 years, so far, and I am still afraid to "come out." I live a secret life as an atheist. I'm a grown man and I'm afraid to tell my parents about my belief system (which is: reality-based, rational thinking). I won't even tell my best friend. I'm afraid I will be ostracized by the people I love. 

If anyone asks me to pray at a family event, I'll just kindly decline and say something like, "Someone else should do it. I don't feel comfortable doing that," instead of telling my family members I'm an atheist (incidentally, I did tell one of my sisters about my non-belief, and I told her not to tell anyone). I still bow my head during mealtime prayers as an act of respect. 

Sometimes I fear social situations where the topic of religion comes up and someone (like a friend, a family member, or a work colleague) might ask my opinion about something. I'm faced with the dilemma of lying in order to feel 'safe' or just admitting I'm an atheist. Has anyone decided to be bold and come out in public? If so, what happened? Did you lose your relationships? Did people make fun of you or scorn you? 

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I've been an atheist all my life. I was never indoctrinated into a belief system. The whole concept of different religions fascinated me and probably formed my adult opinion that since they can't all be right, they're most likely all wrong.

I have never hidden my lack of belief in gods, and although people have commented on some point or other I've made, "there speaks a true atheist", it doesn't really register on me that there might be an implied judgement.

I think one of the problems here in the USA is that the system encourages its people to fear being judged by their fellow man. Peer opinion is utilized in TV commercials, to pressurize the consumers to buy. Most people I've come across seem to care what complete strangers think of them. I haven't noticed a similar trend in London, UK - which is where I was brought up.

It honestly doesn't worry me if others decide to form opinions about me. We are all in our own bubbles of reality, and I simply have no influence on what others choose to perceive from the inside of their bubbles. If someone declares a religious standpoint to me, other than making me feel a bit of pity that they seem to need an artificial crutch, it doesn't really bother me. To each his own.

Now when you have organized religion trying to impact the rights of people who do not adhere to that religion, I am vocal and active, supporting those who would resist such behaviour.

But proclaiming I'm doomed because I don't believe in the God of the proclaimer is simply weird and ridiculous. If your family judge you negatively because you are an atheist, that is their prerogative. But if lying about your views is going to improve your interactions, then I feel genuinely sorry for you in that situation. If that were me, I'd be planning my escape!

When I was a teenager, I decided to "give my heart to Christ" and become a serious Christian. I felt an obligation to do so after a few Bible studies with someone who was very knowledgeable. Yet, even then, I would defend the rights of atheists to live in a secular society. I've always believed that one's religion was personal and should never be dictated to others or sponsored by a government that represents all people. 

Religion and belief have, and always will be, touchy topics, and must be handled delicately and specifically upon the situation at hand. That is my opinion. If you can adapt to an ever-changing environment, then life seems to treat you much better.

To overcome a fear of "coming out", I suggest you start somewhere besides the possible outcome including a negative, hurtful reaction. I'd start by examining the origins of the feelings first, such as who you want to reveal your atheism to, and then why you want to in the first place.

For instance, everybody, or primarily you're family? If it's everybody, then you are going to have to convince your fear that there are 7 billion people on the planet and you are most likely going to piss 99.9999% of them off in some way, shape, or form. Do yourself a favor, don't try to make them happy.

If it's primarily your family, then I first suggest thoroughly concluding whether or not they will be positively responsive. You could always do the easiest thing and make up a story about an atheist friend coming out to HER family and the family reacting poorly. See what your family member's opinion of that is. Try it on a few of them, and if two or three people react in a way you find bearable, then gather your immediate family and tell them all. In its most basic form, Asch Conformity only requires a two to one person ratio to upset the balance of opinions, but in a bigger group, it's obviously better to have more on your side.

Then I suggest asking yourself why you want to come out. Is it because you don't want to lie? Because it's your family and you understandably
want to be honest, and accepted for who you are? Wanting to be "liked" is a natural biological instinct, because if your liked, you're most likely in a group that enhances your chances of survival. Pack animals (what we and the majority of other mammals are) have often been seen to change their behavior to better fit into a group. This is the asch conformity I was talking about.

That said, though the same principal applies to today, there's a little more to it. We're intelligent, or at least different, enough to be capable of doing something that doesn't necessarily correlate with our true feelings. This is where I suggest to you a Sociopathic Tactic. If you're in a situation where it benefits you to do the opposite of what you feel, then do it, kind of like how you say you've been doing. Balance the pros and cons. See what benefits you first and foremost.

If you want to reveal your atheism because you feel that it is the "right thing to do", then I suggest just keeping it to yourself. I realize that may sound crude or mean, but if you do it for this reason, you're focusing more on what others think of you, and we already covered that.

This is all theoretical, mind you, and I must warn you that there are various influences that could prove me incorrect, although unlikely, if I may say so. I personally avoid bringing certain topics up unless I'm hungry for an argument. If the topic comes up, I'll usually assess the situation and whether or not the person is worth expressing my opinion to. My parents know full well I shun their belief, which I try to make inexplicably clear every time I receive an email completely diluted with denial and heartfelt bible verses. My grandparents are elderly and there's no reason to concern them with something like that, so I indulge their "words of wisdom" because I care about them. When my siblings come to me for questions, I'll tell them my thoughts if I think they are mature enough to truly grasp and contemplate them.

Though I hope so, I don't know if this is helpful to you personally. Best of luck, Peter.

Thank you for your encouragement. I'm not one to bring up the subject of religion or atheism at a family outing or a formal event. If someone were to ask my opinion, I might give it or decline to give it to make the conversation civil. At this point in my life, I just want to live honestly. I don't like the idea of lying to appease the religious folks. I'd like to live in a society where they didn't have a sort of "politically correct" coddling. I suppose I can relate to the other side---having been there. However, during the years when I was a Christian, I was never personally offended by someone who said (s)he was an atheist. I just thought that person was a little weird. ; ^ ) 

"incidentally, I did tell one of my sisters about my non-belief, and I told her not to tell anyone"

Why is it you decided to confide in your sister and not your best friend? Was your sister understanding and receptive to your new position in life? Perhaps you should ask yourself what sort of foundation you have between yourself and your best friend. Why do you consider that individual your best friend? Trust & confidence to be open and honest with one another are hallmarks of a healthy friendship. If you fear rejection from them perhaps you should reevaluate your relationship. If your sister has remained silent about your revelation you could consider recruiting her as an ally in coming out to the rest of your family. Even if she disagrees with your atheist sentiments she may still be willing to support you and defend your right to believe as you see fit. At some point you will be willing to overcome your uneasiness about being forthright with others as it seems that lying or being deceptive does not sit well with you. Do it when you feel prepared and comfortable with your position. I wish you well. 

For a transitional atheist it's not just about coming out, it's about feeling comfortable in your atheism. Sorting through in your mind your approaches to certain situations. Which seems to me is what you are doing. Those who were never indoctrinated (lucky people) may not understand how hard the transition is. You have an enormous respect for those around you because say they brought you into the world, but you just don't believe in what they do & don't respect that . Not only have you had to sort it out in your own mind, now you have to sort out how this relates to others around you.

Make it easy on yourself, just show the people around you your respect & love, as well as dropping in things like your interests in science (most atheists enjoy this subject) or your philosophies on life. Elli's suggestion of dropping in hypothetical conversations based on a friend is a great idea, you can then gauge their response. Perhaps approach your siblings, like your sister & ask for their support to sit down with your parents. Explaining to them you just want to be honest. Also in regards to prayers at the dinner table, when you feel more comfortable or people are more aware, perhaps offer to say something, create a beautiful paragraph in your mind of what you'd like to say instead, then blow them away :), it doesn't have to be a prayer.

As an atheist you have the means through a rational mind to find rational solutions. It will be a slow transition & often frustrating at times, but it will be worth it in the end.

Not a direct quote but Hitchens, in "god is not great" spoke about being in Ireland, during the height of the catholic vs protestant conflicts, and a story of people being stopped at check points and asked, "what are you, protestant or catholic?" If you answered atheist you were asked, "protestant atheist or catholic atheist?".

We're asked to pick our battles. With family it's rather easy for most. In that the whole loving you unconditionally thing. Although some family's have a hard time accepting their child's choice of sexuality let alone non religion. 

Respect for someone's beliefs is not a bad thing. At one point most of us believed in all this hocus pocus. We sometimes forget how hurt we felt when someone spoke ill about our beliefs. 

As time has gone on I personally have found it easier to tell, even perfect strangers, how I feel about religion and theism. I guess when you hit 56 you could really care what most people think. Or maybe it's just me. I can accept most people as they are. Some have a hard time accepting me as I am but it's cool. That's totally on them not on me.

Good luck. Hope you can find a happy medium.


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