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.