Living in the Closet: It's Dark, Yes, But It's Also Warm and Cozy!

For anyone who hasn't read my blog posts, I am still a "closet atheist": I don't publicly identify as an atheist, and in fact, part of my income comes from church music.  I am Director of Music at a small Methodist church in Nashville, TN.  That's right...the buckle of the Bible belt!  I honestly can't see myself admitting my atheism to anyone in the near future, as my family's harmony and financial security rely partly on my keeping my church job.

Being honest with myself, however, I have to admit that I don't really believe in any of the religious activities in which I participate.  I am fascinated culturally by religion, Judaism and Christianity in particular.  I know so many sincere, intelligent people, who see no disconnect between their intelligence and their faith.  (My wife is one of of the smartest people I know.)  And so I stay in the closet. Several people here at TA have criticized me for "living a lie."  They ask, wouldn't it be better to "live in the light," so to speak?  I admit, it's dark here in the closet.  I often feel like I can't see the light, metaphorically speaking, and yet, just as in a real closet, there's a certain coziness and familiarity to living that way. (I'm not inclined to claustrophobia, you see.) Also, as a musician, I can't deny that there is an awful lot of amazing music written by deeply religious people: Handel's Messiah, the Bach B-minor Mass, Verdi's and Mozart's Requiems, and so on.  So I'm on familiar ground when I speak the language of faith.

Would I prefer to be open about my atheism?  Sometimes, yes, I would.  It's not always easy to play a role in real life. And when people around me talk about the power of prayer, or all the blessings of their lives, or about so-and-so, who's "looking down from heaven," I tend to squirm a bit.  My parents, for example, aren't really very religious.  And yet, they still go to visit my brother's grave, and often talk about how they "know Sean is looking down on us."  Awkward.  

I still have a collection of about 250 Bibles.  Sometimes, I stop and consider, what's the point?  I don't believe in all the supernatural gobbledygook that's in the Bible.  I recognize the Bible's role in world literature, of course, but really, what is the point, if you don't believe in it as the "Word of God"?  Well, I don't collect stamps or rocks, but I do collect Bibles...and Shakespeare's works, and Sherlock Holmes books.  So what does it really matter if I believe in it or not?  It's a collection, just like some people collect dolls or Beanie Babies.

So I remain a closet atheist, and continue to wonder if I'll ever leave the comfortable darkness. Meanwhile, I take the occasional peek outside...thus, this blog.  Thanks for reading.

Shit, maybe if I picture my "closet" like this one, I'll never leave!  ;-)

Views: 599

Comment by Simon Paynton on August 12, 2014 at 2:20pm

Again, seconded.  Sorry for preaching, it's just my opinion, I don't have to live your life. 

Comment by James Cox on August 12, 2014 at 5:04pm

@ Heist:

I do love chant and some spirituals. An atheist can still feel beauty and calls to transcendence...


Comment by Peta M on August 12, 2014 at 8:15pm

Have you ever considered the clergy project -  they are a tower of support (discreetly) for exactly people in your situation check em out I think they do an amazing job of supporting those who just have to live in the closet. :)  

Comment by Simon Paynton on August 13, 2014 at 6:35pm

Kris - "Hardly anyone shares everything about themselves with everyone."  - you have to admit, this is a pretty big thing.  It's almost like telling someone close that you're gay.  Almost, not quite, but in the same general ballpark. 

Comment by A.T. Heist on August 15, 2014 at 10:44am

Meanwhile, I have to admit that I've been feeling pretty near the breaking point.  I don't know how long I can continue leading a sort of double life.  Sooner or later something has to give.  I am thankful for this forum here at Think Atheist, because it is like a pressure valve for me.  We'll just have to see what happens.

Comment by Davis Goodman on August 15, 2014 at 11:29am

I live in a place (Belgium) where being an Atheist is a piece of cake. My two religious friends are the meek and semi-closeted ones.

When I lived in Iran I was in the closet (two closets). I had great friends but I could never allow myself to give into a false sense of security, even with my closest friends. So I wouldn't dare judge someone who stays in the closet (unless they use their faith to menace people).

What about your children? Have you helped them develop critical minds? Are they highly religious?

Comment by Physeter on August 15, 2014 at 4:54pm

I feel similar. I don't need the apperance of faith to keep my job. But all my friends, and my parents especially, are very spirit-filled Christians. Them learning the truth would cause a lot of heartbreak and pain. They might become mad at me. They might hate me. If they don't it would still make things difficult. I want to be honest with them, but so far I have been too afraid because I don't want to lose them.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 15, 2014 at 6:19pm


Not everyone I know is aware that I am an Atheist. It is not something I generally discuss with people I don’t really know. However if I find that they are being overly zealous in discussing their faith or start talking about Jesus or Allah in my company I will engage them in conversation. I do this to make them aware that not everyone is interested in their beliefs. Theists seem to take it for granted that they can tell me about their faith and demand my respect for doing so. If they prayed in silence as their book tells them to and stopped knocking on my front door to tell me I am a fool or that I lack humility then I might give them more leeway. Until then I will not allow them any breathing room. They must play with their toys amongst themselves. I am unable to remain silent.

Comment by captain kingsway on August 16, 2014 at 9:59pm

HI there, well it may that it couid be that you are suffering from ' two stage ptsd '. That is the same illness that combat troops suffer from after being in action & have killed the enemy. The person cannot get proper sleep afterwards.

Comment by Raymond Baker on August 18, 2014 at 4:57pm

Seems you just have to choose between honesty and security.  Depends on which you value more.  If you take the security over honesty you'd be taking the most traveled route, just expect to live a life of discordance and disillusionment with life's purpose.  


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