I'm getting ready to "come out" to my family and church. I've written a letter to send to the church or any family member in the event that I cannot personally talk with them for fear of my own safety. I intend to go about this in the least dramatic way possible, and only use this letter if I have to. If there is any drama, it will be caused by the church or by my family- not by me. I played a very active role in the church (I'm their best worship leader, they keep saying), so I expect some backlash. If you have any advice, please comment below. If you would like to provide moral support, that is encouraged as well. Here it is: 

 

To Whom it May Concern:

 

In my nearly seventeen years of life on this planet, no congregation has ever been so loving, considerate, and supportive as my family and the Church of Christ at {CITY NAME WITHHELD}. For that I express my overwhelming gratitude. They have unwittingly saved my life on more than one occasion by giving me a sense of purpose and belonging. The days in which I found solace in the church are long gone now, as my hormones continue to steadily settle down. 

According to the bible {PREACHER} gave me a few months after the fact, I was baptized into Christ on March 12, 2006. I seem to recall it being March 11, but the memory has since been sandpapered away to only a handful of images and sensations. I remember being baptized face-down and floating to the top of the baptistry. I remember taking communion for the first time. I remember hugging everyone. I remember {FORMER YOUTH MINISTER} inviting me to bible class with the teenagers. I remember my grandmother giving me advice about Satan’s temptations over a pepperoni pizza. I have a few pictures from that night, but I don’t recall where we put them. Mom surely kept them in a safe place. It’s a special memory for me, still.

Then complacency set in, as it always does. I rededicated my life in secret several times, although I feared that I would go to Hell if I didn’t walk the aisle and rededicate my life publicly. Something kept me from doing it. Even so, I maintained a strong, almost unshakable conviction that God was real and that he was watching my every move. Two years went by, and I never questioned anything that I was told. The child’s mind is biologically set up to accept anything it hears from its elders. 

I’ve always been a thoughtful person, but when I became a teenager, my thought processes began to work independently. I started to do things that I previously thought were “bad” or “wrong.” Most of these were petty things, such as playing The Sims, watching YouTube, and displaying my interest in becoming more physically fit. This was a time of self-exploration, but apart from just trying things to see what I liked, I also developed what I called the “third person” philosophy. It basically stated that in order to answer large questions, such as “Should the government have a role in business?” or “What happens after we die?”, we must first detach ourselves emotionally from the problem, and look at it from a third person point of view, considering the evidence and/or what is best for society. With the types of questions I was examining, God’s existence would inevitably surface. 

Since I was 13, I knew that there was a chance that God didn’t exist, labeling myself as an agnostic theist, but I had never been brave enough to look into it. When I was 15, I decided that God would forgive me for trying to make up my mind, and if I didn’t believe in God by the time it was over, then I didn’t really need forgiving. I set out to make the most informed opinion I possibly could about this matter. Why wouldn’t I, if the state of my eternal soul hung in the balance?  

To be brief, I reviewed all the evidence I had come across at the end of a year, expansive as it was (I must have read at least 5000 words worth of it every day, and watched a whole lot more video), and concluded that God probably didn’t exist. Religion became so much more interesting than before, and I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I dug deeper, and found my interests expanded into biology, theology, church history, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and archeology. As I write to you now, I want you to realize that this is not rebellion. I’m not going through a phase. I feel like if I decided for some reason to turn back and actively participate in religion of any kind, I would feel like I was kidding myself. 

If you attend the services of the {CITY NAME} Church of Christ, you might be confused or shocked by this revelation. Let me reassure you, my behavior around you was not a facade. I feel like I can be very genuine around you. My enthusiastic song leading and the recent lesson I delivered to you all I have summed up to be compensation, my mind making up for not believing in God, by acting more faithful than ever.

I hope that now that I have gotten these things off of my chest, even though I am an Atheist, I can still manage to have a friendly relationship with all of you. I do realize, however, that this is not possible with some of you, and to those I say thank you and goodbye. Please make no attempt to change me or create friction between myself and the people who still accept me for who I am. 

 

Still your friend,

Bryan J. Casey

 

Views: 429

Tags: agnosticism, atheism, baptism, christ, christianity, church, coming, family, letter, out, More…studying, theism

Comment by Meghan McWilliams on August 11, 2011 at 12:46am

That is pretty brave of you to come out and tell your church you are an atheist. I would never have the balls to do that if I was in your place. Personally, I think just thanking them and telling them you have decided to take another path in life would suffice. You should never hide or be ashamed of who you are, but at the same time you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. When I was 17 I told my family I was an atheist, but in a subtle way. They just thought I was young, dumb, and being rebellious.

 

Comment by Rick on August 11, 2011 at 1:07am

 

This is a very thoughtful and well written letter. I’m sure you’ve put a lot of thought into “coming out,” but before you go through with it, I think there are other possibilities worth considering. I’ve stated my objections to “coming out” several times by now on this site, but some have found my objections useful, so I offer them to you to consider. To me, the idea of coming out is like admitting you’ve done something wrong and are asking for forgiveness or acceptance. The reality is that the beliefs you hold are just as valid as anyone’s and the act of “coming out” can diminish the validity of your stance and seem like a cry for help. I guarantee you, no matter how eloquent your words may be, this is how many will view the situation. Some may even take you’re “coming out” as a personal attack on their beliefs. Instead, consider simply living your life as an atheist. There’s no need to hide it. If someone questions you about your beliefs, tell your story, but do it with conviction and confidence. If you state your beliefs as a matter of fact then there’s a better chance that the others will sense your sincerity and won’t simply dismiss them as confusion or a crisis of faith. This approach also lets you deal with the reactions on a case by case basis. By submitting a letter to your congregation, they may feel obligated to address you as a group, which can be extremely overwhelming and terribly difficult to manage. I understand that this is not an easy decision, but know that whatever you decide to do, you will have the support of the TA community. Good luck and please keep us informed as things develop.

Comment by Ralph Day on August 11, 2011 at 7:00am

I agree with Rick.  Writing something out can be cathartic and help you work things out for yourself, but you don't necessarily need to "publish" the work.  Take the informing people tactic one at a time (or at a family dinner if you like drama).  Sometimes the less said the better.

 

In other words...get on with life.

Comment by Michelle Phelps on August 11, 2011 at 7:48am
I wish I was brave enough to tell my family that I'm atheist.
Comment by CJ on August 11, 2011 at 8:17am

Good luck.  I understand your situation.    I don't have any advice and I am sorry for that.  I am a atheist also and have not told many people.  Just those who I know would accept it.  And that is less then a handfull.  I admire that u are being true to yourself. 

Comment by Nate on August 11, 2011 at 9:15am

This is a very well written and very considerate letter.  I know your anticipation and desire to share your views as an Atheist, partially because part of you feels like you constantly have to hide or protect how you think from theists, or that people will assume you think like them and you get roped into a discussion that leaves your ears bleeding from the idiocy.  And it really does feel good to stop hiding who you are, its one less thing you have to worry about (life is too short you know?).  However, (There always is) I would have to agree with Rick.  I think it’s good to "come out" but not call it that, just tell people as it comes up.  Start living your life not hiding that you’re an Atheist, and people will find out as they find out.  If someone asks you about it, tell your story and explain what you so eloquently stated in your letter.  The problem with making an announcement on such a wide scale to so many people is that you’re putting yourself in worse danger so to speak.  Some will still see it as a phase or that you’re calling out for help (Christians are kind of crazy like that... ESPECIALLY Church of Christ/non-denominational churches... I was one too so I feel your pain).  You will most likely be approached by a LOT of people trying to "save" you or worse they will band together and then approach you.  This will happen regardless, but at least it would be bottlenecked into a more manageable situation rather than an attacking hoard.  Keep the letter in case the need should arrive to send it to someone if they approach you in email, it would probably save you a lot of time replying.  Tell your family that you are an Atheist (since they will be around you the most out of anyone) and explain how you feel and what you expect (or rather what you don’t want to expect) from them: understanding and no conversion attempts.  I know it’s not easy but at least you will have support from TA and other Atheists from all over regardless of how you decide to handle this situation.  Be Strong and the best of luck to you.  Keep us informed if you would be so kind, and feel free to ask for advice from this community.

Comment by Cody Kirchner on August 11, 2011 at 11:29am

   I have to disagree with those who said that you should not come out. I think being secure in who you are means not taking the easy road of just keeping it secret. I fully accept that it will be difficult, it was for me when I told my family, and yes they will try to approach you, but that is manageable. It will be difficult for a while, but if you don't tell them, imagine what could happen.

   One day you may be sitting in church, because they'll still expect you to go to church, and you'll be feeling awful because your sitting there lying to yourself, and lying to those you care about by trying to act like you like being there. It takes a lot to keep up that facade in the face of such overwhelming self-pressure, and it takes a huge toll on the person trying to perform the act. then, once they do find out your an atheist, they'll think you've been lying to them for a long time, and in part of that time, you will have been lying to them. Hiding who you are is lying to both yourself and those around you. No one likes people who are not genuine.

 Also to consider is the fact that, in most tight knit communities, if you tell a bad thing to one person, they go and spread it to the other members. So, while you may only tell your parents your an atheist, by the time it gets to the preacher, your a bible burning, devil worshipping, baby mutilating, christ hating, bound for hell in a fast dropping hand basket warlock who frequently summons the devil into your bedroom and mates with vampire shedemons. Isn't it much better to just send a letter of visit in person and say "hey, this is who I am, this is what I think, I'm sorry if you can't accept it". You may lose some people you considered friends, but you'll gain a lot of self-respect.

   I respect you for writing this letter, even forming the words is a huge step that many people cannot take. I think it would be a shame if you were to not go through with it. Be true to who you are, and hold your head high when the waves of indignation come. In the end, all you have is yourself, and if you can't be true to that, what point is there?

Comment by Nate on August 11, 2011 at 11:54am

I see where Cody is coming from, I was just stating that there is no sense in painting a target on your back if it isn’t necessary, would you stand up in middle of a WWII Veteran’s assembly and shout out hail Hitler? Bryan's situation is best understood by himself, and your right, not coming out could be worse in tight communities, but I wasn’t implying he should keep it a secret and keep living as if he was still a believer.  It is a very delicate situation, and the outcome could be one of many no matter how it is handled, unfortunately.  But it’s good to get many opinions and viewpoints, gives you more possibilities to ponder and assess for a potential outcome. ^_^

Comment by Rick on August 11, 2011 at 12:53pm

@Cody, I think you may have misunderstood our position on the situation.

You stated “I think being secure in who you are means not taking the easy road of just keeping it secret.”

We are in no way suggesting that anyone hide any aspect of their beliefs. Would I be keeping a secret if I didn’t profess to the world my distaste for broccoli? No. When threatened with the prospect of having to consume broccoli, I would then inform the appropriate parties of my preferences.

Living one’s life as an atheist is far from keeping it a secret. Unlike the religious community, many of us choose not to force unsolicited information on others. We don’t go around littering the world with pamphlets, or asking others what church they don’t attend. We don’t hand out copies of The God Delusion on street corners and we don’t say “Hawkings bless you” when someone sneezes.

There is no doubt that this will spread within the community, but that takes time and allows for the possibility of smaller confrontations as people find out. Think of it like a wild fire that gradually spreads as opposed to dropping napalm. The gradually spreading fire is easier to address even as it spreads.

Either way, I’m not here to say that my view is the only feasible solution, but I did want to respond to your reply with the hopes of clearing up what appears to be some confusion. A good portion of what you stated actually agrees with the views expressed by myself and others who have responded.

Comment by Cody Kirchner on August 11, 2011 at 1:20pm

   I agree with you in the context that slowly spreading it would be a better solution and a much easier situation to handle. However, and of course the situation in question here may not be this way, but that is not for us to decide, slow and steady is not always an option. IN my own personal case, I tried only telling the members of my family who I thought needed to know, and it was only two or three. I thought that would be a good way to keep the situation well in hand and isolated, so as to avoid drama. What I didn't expect, was for the first person I told to go to church that very sunday, stand up, and tell everyone in that church, whom I had known since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, that I was now an atheist. Because I was not there at the time, the word "atheist" became "devil-worshipper" and even worse.

  We can tell from the post that the community has been part of his life for some time now, at least most of his life at any rate. That means that most likely the people he tells, will tell people. So, in my opinion, its a choice between him dropping the bombshell, or having it dropped for him. If he does it himself, he can, as we see in the letter, take the time to explain exactly how he truly feels and believes, and assure them that he is not a devil worshipper, or whatever term they choose to hurl at him. If he allows it to be done by others, he has given up control of the situation.

 I personally like to be in control of touchy situations like this. Of course, the decision is his, for only he can know what the exact circumstances is. But I would encourage him to keep as much control over it as possible, yet to not force it on them; which he seems not to be doing from the wording of the letter.

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