Standing on the Precipice - My introduction to the atheist community

I'd like to immediately get some demographics out of the way so you may have a better grasp of my situation. I'm 29 years old. I am a computer technician at a small company. I am happily married with two kids, ages seven and nine. I have always lived in Alabama. My hometown is located in south central Alabama, deep in the bible belt. Now that that is out of the way...

I want to thank the atheist community and the creators of this site for give people a place to communicate. I'm hoping that joining in the conversation, I can lift a great burden off my mind. Using this as an outlet to express my feelings will also help me greatly.

About six months ago my wife started to notice that I wasn't joining in when we said grace at dinner. I was always polite about the custom and waited for the act to be done before beginning to eat, but had quit saying "amen" along with the rest of the family. I explained to her that I just didn't get religion anymore. It didn't make sense and I was done with it. I would continue to be respectful to her and how she wanted to live but I wasn't going to do it anymore. We had a long talk about it. She has her own reservations about religion, Christianity, and specifically Southern Baptists, but still remains a theist. We've had our rough moments since then, but it's not coming between us and she is respectful of my belief (or lack thereof) as well.

A couple of years ago, I was helping out with the technical stuff at a small church that my in-laws attended. I ended up creating a website and recording sermons to post on the website as podcasts. I enjoyed the technical aspect of going to church. It gave me something to do and I felt like I was contributing it some small way. I even got my boss and his family attending this church and he is now the youth leader. Well, the hat of church tech guy got old and, along with some other contributing factors, we quit after about a year. (My boss ended up taking over as the church tech guy after we stopped attending.)

My family on my mother's side is deeply religious aside from a couple of "heathens". When my mom learned from my wife that I had "gone to the dark side", she was upset but understanding. She just keeps saying I've bumped my head and will come back to reality soon. I do laugh at her when she says stuff like this. She still thinks no different of me and our relationship has not changed in any way. Aside from her, no one in my extended family is aware of my atheist beliefs.

My friends and co-workers (including my boss, previously mentioned) are not aware of my beliefs either. I am worried about how I will be treated or looked upon if/when they do find out. We are all computer/network technicians and we all get along well. One other co-worker is also a youth minister and has some kind of religious degree from some faith-based college. We are a small but close bunch and are very into each others lives.

So, I stand here at the position in my life where I feel like I'm lying to my friends and family by not letting them know I'm atheist, but at the same time I do not wish for their perception of me to change. I am afraid that everyone will assume I am unfeeling, heartless, and spiritless. This is not the case. I love and hate and have fear and joy just like someone with religion, except I don't have to attribute my love and joy and good fortune to a god. I don't have to fear being judged and spend my after-life in eternal damnation or walk on eggshells to make sure I make it to heaven. All I have is this life. Nothing more and nothing less. I have to live this one as best as I can because it is all I've got.

I know I have to overcome my worry of what my friends and family will think of me and out myself to them. Whether I should do this by a public statement or just handle it with a one-on-one basis is what I am really struggling with. Most of my friends and family are on Facebook, and as of now, my religious views on my profile are blank. Should I change it to "Atheist" and brace for the onslaught of criticism, or just leave it be and work my way though each individual conversation as the topic arises?

What have some of you done? How did you handle dealing with a highly religious community when announcing your atheism?

Again, I thank the creators and administrators of this site for giving us a place to communicate.

Views: 29

Comment by Dissenter on August 19, 2010 at 2:02pm
Dear Wayne, I think you will know what is best for you when the time comes.

I am from a big Catholic Family, and some of my little cousins are on facebook so I hesitate to put anything overtly atheist in case they tell my grandfather or bring it up at a family party, but I want to. I feel with you, However I think there are a lot of people just like us, hiding in the shadows so to say, that might be encouraged by us if we do take that leap. I wish we could all come out, and make ourselves known - especially to politicians. I don't say grace with the family either, or attend church, even on Christmas but pursue my atheism online and through discussions with both religious and atheist friends.

I went to school at UWF in Pensacola so I understand the religious climate down there, but you are not alone!

Comment by Galen on August 19, 2010 at 7:26pm
I simply put my "Religious Views" as "Atheist" on Facebook and just let it stand. I don't feel any desire to specifically let people know, but I feel no need to hide it either. It's there on Facebook and it's my response if someone asks what religion I am. I'm rather indifferent toward the whole thing with regards to my family and friends.

I also hesitate to put anything anti-religious on Facebook. I'm an elementary school teacher in small-town Georgia and about 30 of my FB friends are former students who are now in middle and high school. Frankly, I worry about complaints from parents to the school board if I should post anything overtly anti-religious, so I simply don't because I like my job.
Comment by willailla on August 19, 2010 at 9:09pm
It's hard to give advice. You are obviously growing as an individual which is what happens if you are intelligent. You must pursue your own goals. The people who love you will not stop loving you. Neither will your real friends. I was once in circumstances where I lost everything--job, family, friends. I was totally abandoned except for a handful of real friends who stuck by me without hesitation. Life isn't always easy, but you have to do what you feel is right.
Comment by James on August 19, 2010 at 9:51pm
Thanks for sharing, Wayne. Everyone's situation will be different, so it's sometimes difficult to give absolute advice to follow. But I feel that a slow process will work best in your case. Simply stop taking place in anything religious with your whole family. Just like you wife noticed, they may too and may ask why. Then you have the opportunity to explain in your own words. In my opinion, the sudden face book status change may seem impersonal. Plus with that, you'll find yourself responding to everyone at once. With the slow approach family will still talk, but you will be able to send them along better informed to tell the next person. Work is a tougher cookie sometimes. When I came out to my bosses (co-worker/friend already knew before hand), I simply changed my desktop background to one of the TA wallpapers while I was on vacation and knew they would have to use my computer. Eventually they said something when discussing a related topic. I think that waking that statement, while still being the same person I always have been helped a good bit.
Comment by Ashli Axtell on August 19, 2010 at 10:10pm
Your position isn't an easy one to be in and I suspect a whole bunch of us have been in similar circumstances. I haven't spent much time posting here but I definitely read here daily and finding T/A was a bright spot for me. The people here are really amazing.

As willailla said, the people who love you will not stop loving you and neither will your real friends. With some, you can be straightforward and others need to be told in a more gentle way. I don't really think your lack of theistic belief is the concern of your coworkers, but stuff like that has a way of coming up.

If you addressed it in a public manner, like via email, it would allow for the opportunity for people to approach you when they became comfortable, but it would also be incredibly impersonal. You may want to talk with the people who are most important to you about the matter and leave the rest to find out as they may.

Just be true to who you are and what you are and like Dissenter said, you will know what's right when the time comes.
Comment by Sophie on August 19, 2010 at 11:58pm
If you need help defending yourself post screen shots of your facebook discussion and post it into a blog in here. People will help you sort out a rational discussion before you blow your top and get de-friended on facebook or vise versa.
Comment by CJoe on August 22, 2010 at 12:43am
Everyone makes great points. I haven't officially "come out" myself, but most of my friends and family have figured it out. I changed my religious status to "atheist" a long time ago and no one ever mentioned it. Ever. I have no idea if they saw and chose not to say anything, or if they simply never checked my info on FB out. A friend that I've known since I was 11 gave me a book called There Is A God for my birthday. Apparently, it was written by a former atheist scientist who converted (turns out most of the book was written by a Christian and Flew, the alleged author, was suffering from dementia). She didn't want me to open it while we were together so, yeah, she knows I'm atheist now but has fortunately never brought it up other than giving me a book.

I have no desire to discuss why I don't believe there is a god with people who believe as strongly as most of my friends/family do. I let my mom know I was struggling with doubt before I ever lost my faith there was a god; I desperately wanted her to understand what I was going through and why. I wanted her to know it wasn't rebellion driving me, or bad experiences. But she seems to willfully misunderstand. We've finally learned to avoid the topic of religion or politics. We have a decent relationship now.

I have a few other friends who know that don't like it and make assumptions, but they still love me and are still there for me. I do think it all comes out naturally and on its own. Don't rush anything. Be prepared that many will not have the reaction you hope for. It's really difficult but it gets easier. They don't know what I'm up to though! [actively seeking to diminish religion]
Comment by Mark Bray on August 22, 2010 at 12:45pm
Wayne, I know how you feel brother. I'm from the "edumacated" bible belt state of Tennessee, LOL. I have kept my Atheism under wraps for several years. My wife was the only person aware of my atheism, until 2 years ago. Still to this day, not everyone in my family knows, or either they refuse to discuss it. Some of the family members that found out, seem to ignore my existence, but they are people I'm not in a close relationship with anyway. My wife still claims I'm going to hell, so I mock her god every chance I get, all in good fun of course. I was lucky enough to find a good natured spouse.

The fact that I never formally announced my atheism, gave me time to learn more about other religions, and about the one sect I knew I would be debating. That delay also presents the opportunity, in family or friend debates, to say that I have been that way for "X" number of years and they never knew otherwise. I would definitely have to throw in some sarcasm and ask, "Your god never told you I was Atheist, after all of these years?"

My boss and co-workers took things a little differently when they found out. We are only a few in number, and things tend to be too personal sometimes. My boss is a Methodist, and my co-worker a non-denominational fundamentalist. They constantly argued about what each others bible states. One day my boss said I should come to their church, and I told him I don't do church. The co-worker chimes in about being saved. Then of course, that presented the opportunity to be a smart-*ss, and I had to say that I was saved from religion. At that time I was claiming agnosticism, and I had to explain to them what that was. There was a little animosity in the beginning, but soon everything was back to normal. My boss still jokingly states that he's going to enroll me in their church, and I have to tell him that I'm staying home on Sundays to save 10%.

On your Facebook account, you can type in something as your religious preference, rather than select one that's provided. I copied a statement from one of my friends and put as a religious preference, "It's not mainstream yet." If you type something in the space, it doesn't alert everyone that you made a change to your religious preference...well, it didn't on mine.

Being prepared for a tactful debate is the hardest part I suppose. It's easier for me to take them one at a time. But as Cara stated, don't rush anything, and it does get easier. Try going into other forums where people discuss religion and get the feel of how the others debate, and you'll usually find the same arguments over and over. In local forums, I try to steer the debate toward how the person's thought process is flawed and contradictory. When their argument becomes unsustainable, they want to become rude and claim that I'm calling them stupid, when I never do that. That's when I call their non-judgmental benevolence into question, and thank them for proving the true christian belief system. Then the apologists will chime in. I'm sure that christians in Alabama do the same. Try it out, if you haven't already. It's kind of a sport for me to prove their hypocrisy. Only a few people remain calm and stay in a debatable mood. Most get mad only to never return, or return under another alias.

That's some the things which helped me. The local religious debates have, by far, been the best stress relief, LOL. Just take your time and make little changes at a time. Good luck on your journey.
Comment by Wayne Edgar on August 23, 2010 at 11:07am
Thanks for all the comments. It really helps to be able to talk about this. I was thinking about changing the Religious status on Facebook to read "No thanks. I'm okay." I'm also reading the "Defend Yourself with Knowledge" booklet. I'm also thinking about starting a local group. I do have several friends that I'm pretty sure would be interested.

Looking forward to talking more with all of you! Thanks!


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