How do you deal with family, and in-laws over your lack of faith?

Daniel Florien at Unreasonable Faith wrote a great article this week about handling criticisms with friends and family (

That is great advice for once you've already come out, but how do you come out when you know you will be flatly rejected? When I came out as an Atheist my Mom exploded on my telling me she was going to force me to go to church and that I had no say in it (I was 15 or 16). She came back half an hour later and apologized and said she understood my reasoning and we have been cool ever since. My Dad never cared, but since I came out we have fantastic discussions about religion.

As great as my parents have been, the rest of my family is not so easy. Specifically I have two very religious, very conservative uncles. They are great to me, and fantastic hosts when I visit. However very often I listen and grit my teeth when they talk about politics, which ultimately leads to religion (we don't have enough good Christian politicians). I never speak up, because they have said incredibly flammatory things about Atheists. A couple times I have said little things "I have Atheist friends who are good people", but ultimately anyone who supports abortion is evil in their eyes. I know when I read stories about family members it is easy for me to think "just forget them, they're not worth it". But I love my uncles, they have been great to me, and there for me in hard times. Ultimately I don't know that they would shun me if I told them my beliefs, but I am very scared that they would. I could handle discussions (even if they become heated), but I want to avoid being shunned by them at all costs.

Further making this difficult is my girl friends family. My girlfriend was raised in a VERY conservative christian household. And although she still is a Christian, she has eased up and many of her beliefs (same-sex marriage, abortion,etc.). She is just fine with my beliefs, and I am just fine with hers. Her father is probably neutral, but we rarely talk to him (for completely unrelated issues), and her Mother would use this to prove how terrible a person she is (not a great relation there either, for other issues). However she is very close with her grandparents, and they are very similar to my uncles.

The grandparents have been a huge outlet for my girlfriend, they have helped her through some really, really tough times, and are all around good people. However, they come from a very conservative area where Atheists are a clear enemy (Liberals too). If I were to come out to them it would be a disaster. The last thing I want to do is put a distance between her and her grandparents, but sometimes its hard for me to reconcile that if they knew who I really was it would be a huge problem.

This is a long winded post, but I'm just curious as to how the members of TA deal with these situations.

Views: 23

Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on April 29, 2009 at 11:46pm
It's your life.
What would you rather live with? Gritting your teeth in silence or knowing that your life could be made into a disaster by "coming out."
Coming out is a choice... one you get to make. Only you know your family well enough to decide if it is worth it. I don't say this out of purely selfish reasons, either. If you were once Christian, then you'd know the suffering some people would go through realizing a person they loved is doomed to eternal damnation. That's worse than you dying, getting sick or any other tragedy in life.
Why bother?
I've always been very "out" when it comes to politics and places where my rights are being infringed upon. That is necessary. In a personal sphere, I'm only out if it matters. I don't want to bother anyone that would be sincerely traumatized by it or make my life anymore complicated.
Good luck!
Comment by David on April 30, 2009 at 11:19am
I agree with Misty. The time, place, and circumstances of "coming out" are entirely up to you. I can't even pretend to understand what's appropriate in your situation, but I do have to wonder if the fear of rejection is greater than the actual risk of being rejected and shunned.

How did I handle it with my family? I really didn't "deal with it". It just came up in conversations. My parents weren't surprised, my grandmother denied it (she says I'm just trying to get a reaction), my brother gave me a look of disgust, but promptly got over it. His wife, one of the more religiously-inclined folks in the family, didn't react at all and didn't really seem to care. It probably put her out of her comfort zone. Otherwise, I don't run around proclaiming atheism, but if it or religion come up in conversation, well, game on. I'm called the "Dr. House" of the family: I say what's on my mind, for better or worse. I just can't bite my tongue. Sometimes one or more of us get upset, but eventually the balance is restored. I have a few other extended family members that I suspect are non-believers as well, so I never really worried about being shunned.

Cheers and best of luck to ya!


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