Monday, December 05, 2011

"This season, tell your family." -- stories of coming out atheist

For many cultural traditions, this time of year -- the solstice, the winter revels, the New Year, Christmas, Sinterklaas, Ashura, Hanukkah -- brings families together for celebration. For atheists who aren't yet out of the closet, these gatherings can be tense. And even for atheists who have been open about their worldview, the holidays can be a succession of confrontations between their values and beliefs and the disapproval, or hostility, of family members.

I'd like to invite members and friends of the Boston Atheists community to share their stories of coming out about their atheism to their family, friends, and co-workers. How did it happen, when did it? Do you have advice for people who are wondering whether or how to come out of the closet themselves?

In these last weeks of the year,  many of us could use the comfort of knowing that our difficult choices aren't unique; that there are lots of folks -- hundreds in our local community alone, I suspect -- who have faced these challenges and come out on the other side with greater peace of mind.

Feel free to post your "Tell Your Family" stories on the mailing list, by replying to this message, or at the Boston Atheists Facebook page.

From "How Do I Tell My Family I'm an Atheist? A Question of Moral Atheism" (PDF format) by Dominick Cancilla:
Some religious people associate atheism with immorality or with a rejection of God that leaves no accountability for indulging carnal desires. If your family falls into this group, you can reassure them that you are still the same good, honest, moral person you always were, but that now you are moral because it is the right thing to do, not because you fear eternal punishment.
From "How to tell your family you are an atheist", by Chris Jarvis:

Saying things like 'While I respect your world view I don't feel comfortable with it, I need to find my own way.' is the way to go. This does not put the other party in the position of having to fight for their view. It also leaves the door open 'I need to find my own way.' This is giving them a place where they can accept your current position as it could well not be your final position. A number of religious figures have spent time on their own finding their own way. I seem to recall Jesus is supposed to have spent 40 days and 40 nights doing exactly this. So you're in good company.
From "Coming Out to Your Family: Should You Reveal Your Atheism to Family, Parents?" by Austin Cline:
Precisely because telling others about your real beliefs and real feelings can be difficult, it can be an important step towards becoming more self-confident and mature. You could also being doing a lot to encourage better attitudes towards atheists by demonstrating how they can be moral and mature people. Perhaps there are other members of your family who also have doubts or who disbelieve — by speaking up, you will find that you share more in common with them and will also help them come to terms with who they are.
From "How Do I Reveal My Atheism To My Family?" by Austin Cline:
So, you've decided that you cannot rationally or reasonably continue with the religion which you have always been involved in and which your family continues to belong to. Indeed, you can't even continue to call yourself a theist anymore — you find belief in the existence of God to be unreasonable for one reason or another have to abandon the label altogether. Now what?

From "Coming Out to Family and Friends Without Offending" by Richard Wade:
Emphasize that your lack of belief does not reduce your love for them, or your interest in their well-being. Tell them that even though you are not convinced of what they believe, you are very convinced of their goodness as persons. Then ask them to consider you in the same way.