Coming Out Atheist, pg 51

Apr 11, 2016

“There is not a damn thing wrong with you being an theist. So don’t apologize for it. When people you care about act as if you’ve wounded them by not believing in God an by telling them about it, it can be painful to deal with. After all, when people tell us that we’ve hurt them – especially – people we care about – our instinct is often to feel guilty, and to apologize. That instinct is understandable, and as a general rule, it’s even admirable. But you haven’t done anything wrong by being an atheist. And you aren’t doing anything wrong by being honest about it.”

–Greta Christina, “Coming Out Atheist” pg 51


12 comments on “Coming Out Atheist, pg 51

  • When people you care about act as if you’ve wounded them by not believing in God an by telling them about it, it can be painful to deal with.

    I suppose that parents might feel wounded when their own child comes out of the closet as an atheist. If the parents are devoted theists themselves then they may view the situation as a parenting failure on their part. Is there any parent who hasn’t thought that they could have done better or differently for a more successful outcome with their offspring? Society is quick to judge parents harshly even if they don’t initially do so themselves.

    I know that religious family members are fearful of what will happen to the atheist amongst them both in life and especially after death. My own parents and a friend or two have all mentioned that they are worried about me and how I could possibly handle the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that is part of every life without asking for help from God. They believe that prayer is a strong foundation to lean on but I see it as a weak crutch that they use to avoid the sad truth of certain matters.

    Even though I do agree that it might be more difficult to process through tragedy and disappointment without prayer, I find that as years go by I’ve had enough practice at dealing with problems and sadness that I really won’t shrink from this reality in the future. Just let me have it straight up. Let me crumble into a heap. At some point when I’m ready I’ll pick myself back up and start to take some steps forward again.

    The fear that religious others have for atheist loved ones after their deaths is very real to them even though it seems ridiculous to me. Some have said to me, “But you won’t be with us in heaven when we’re all dead.” I haven’t found any answer to this that would be acceptable to both of us in this conversation but I can tell you that it’s extremely upsetting to people who believe that they will be in heaven with their whole family minus the one in front of them.

    The part about telling them that I am in fact a Godless person is the point that I am more assertive about. Did they want me to lie to them? Do they require me to present a facade to the world as a personal favor to them? Are they embarrassed to have an atheist in the family?

    This is really much more negative than the fear responses that I mentioned above. The person who wants others to remain in the closet because they themselves can’t or won’t deal with the new reality they happen upon is acting out of selfishness, not love. What I learned from the gay community years ago is that denying someone the right to be honest about what is such an important part of themselves causes that person to suffer a psychological wound. This is cruelty and selfishness and can’t be tolerated.

    I’m willing to work through these coming out of the atheist closet moments with the people around me who are taken by surprise at the announcement. I answer their questions happily and expect some transition time for them to process the information, but after that, their acceptance or denial of this is a litmus test for the future of the relationship.

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  • “There is not a damn thing wrong with you being an theist. So don’t apologize for it. When people you care about act as if you’ve wounded them by not believing in God an by telling them about it, it can be painful to deal with.

    I know I’m starting to sound like a stuck record, but why doesn’t the person who posts these paragraphs ever proof-read them?

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  • I guess this is about integrity, really; being true to yourself and honest with others.

    We all need to feel happy about ourselves and hiding deep feelings about spiritual beliefs can work against that. And from a practical perspective, being honest with others can prevent potentially embarrassing situations, like being asked to pray in public or perform some other overtly religious act.

    However, other people’s opinions can impact on this in a big way. Anyone who cares to look can see stories about people coming out as atheists and being shunned by friends and family, even having university funding withdrawn or being kicked out of the family home.

    Indeed, I can speak from personal experience. I used to be a christian, of the born again variety. My wife and her parents still are, as are our son and daughter-in-law. My wife knows where I stand now and so do about 4 friends at church. But we haven’t said anything to our son or the in-laws.

    The church is quite controlling. In fact, I think that it is becoming a cult, if it hasn’t already arrived there (you can’t express opinions, can’t disagree with the leaders, no financial accountability, everyone should tithe and they know who isn’t tithing because in the UK they get tax relief on donations so they have to know what you have given in order to claim back the tax, leavers are shunned and we are told not to associate with them, the pastor retired and handed over to his son-in-law – you get the picture). Because we are not supposed to make friends of non-believers and shun those who disagree with the church we daren’t say anything to our son. He is more pragmatic and hasn’t bought into all the teachings, but we aren’t sure about his wife. She is more hardline then he is. So if only to keep in touch with them and the grandchildren we are keeping quiet and I keep with the ritual of going to church to be bored for a few hours every Sunday. Other parents have left the church and been ostracised by their children and/or had reduced access to their grandchildren, even though they still believe but choose to go to a different church. Unbelievable! We don’t want to be in that situation.

    So sometimes, it isn’t that straightforward about declaring where you stand. You have to take everything in your circumstances into account before making that declaration of independance.

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  • Aside from the few odd typos that rendered parts of this somewhat difficult to comprehend without extrapolating the correct word(s), I think she makes a very valid point that no one is guilty of causing harm, when no actual harm was done, except in the mind of the believer.
    I think that everyone can believe anything at all that they want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with how I conduct my own affairs, and I’m not interested in hearing how offended someone else feels because of my lack of belief in whatever thing it is that they are fond of believing in.
    That’s their problem.

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  • Otharian #4
    Apr 13, 2016 at 11:38 am

    I’m not interested in hearing how offended someone else feels because of my lack of belief in whatever thing it is that they are fond of believing in.
    That’s their problem.

    The reversal of some attitudes in theists, has been notable in some posts on this site!

    Having gone to great lengths expounding how atheists “should be open minded” in respect of their personal god, they casually respond to my question, “Which god would that be? – There are, and have been, so many of them, with equally dedicated believers”, by simply dismissing all those “false gods”, and reasserting that everyone should be open minded about their (default) god (which is clearly in a different class – allegedly)!

    It’s basic “faith-thinking”!

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  • We have a small bible belt in Holland, and if you wish to live there and open up a business, you’d better pretend to be religious, otherwise you will not get friends or any customers.
    So, it’s a value thing; how much is your family, friends and business worth to you, compared to being open about your secularity, and everybody who wants to come out will have to go through that process. You can be an atheist but keep mum about it (Pretty much what Obama does, I think), but if there are no serious consequences about it, declare yourself secular publicly. Likewise, if you’re high up in the power structure of a religious organisation, you would lose your shirt by coming out, even if you’re convinced the others in the organisation are cynic pretenders. The clergy project is a prime example of what happens to the clergy when they want to come out, but have no other skills to fall back on. This can be a real conundrum!

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  • I don’t think an atheist has to tell people she or he is an atheist if they don’t feel like it. I did not tell my parents before they died – I did not see a point, and I also did not put it past them to disown me. Judge away.

    I also think that being who you are despite the reactions of those you care about is one of the hardest things in life, but, weirdly, if you try to hide your true self people sense you are not really who you pretend to be. And they don’t like it, and they don’t like it when they find out they’ve been misled

    So. What to do? For me, I don’t engage on attempts to gain my acceptance or approval. If people tell me they are religious I react the same as if they tell me they believe in crystals or acupuncture or Bigfoot (sorry, Macropus). I act as if I’m doing my best to politely ignore an embarrassing admission, and I move on.

    If someone asks me directly I answer directly and move on. If the person were someone I held dear, like my parents,and they were fearful for my eternal life, I’d reassure them that the god THEY believe in can do anything even grant me eternal life. So no worries.

    I think Greta Christina is right that apologies are unnecessary. I think the most effective response is to be clearly happy as an atheist.

    I guess if I were stuck in a situation where I couldn’t escape the pressure, I might say “would it make you happy if I said I believed?”

    But even as I write this I’m aware that I can only say that because I’m not in fear I will be hacked to death with machetes for my atheism. I cannot express my admiration for the Bangladesh atheists, agnostics and also the believers who also stand for freedom of religion and non-belief. Those bloggers and writers have courage I cannot hope to ever possess.

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  • Hi Paul and Michael,

    What you have pointed out is the tribalistic Old Testament nasty side of theism.

    “We are terribly nice people”- to those who agree with us and share our delusions. – but discrimination (in various degrees of severity), against anyone who dissents, is par for the course!

    Hence inter-religious wars and discrimination against atheists – where bigoted theism is strong enough not to be held in check by secular law, or to suffer reprisals for such actions, from those they attack.
    Of course when bigots are legally constrained, or are subject to reprisals the claims of “victinisation” can be heard braying in a deafening chorus!

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  • There is not a damn thing wrong with you being a scientist. So don’t apologize for it. When people you care about act as if you’ve wounded them by believing in the scientific method and telling them about it, it can be painful to deal with. After all, when people tell us that we’ve hurt them – especially people we care about – our instinct is often to feel guilty and to apologize. That instinct is understandable and as a general rule it’s even admirable. But you haven’t done anything wrong by being a scientist. And you aren’t doing anything wrong by being honest about it.

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  • A tale of two siblings: one – the younger – rebelled and declared he wasn’t going to do the church thing any more. The other kept quiet and always went to church on visits to the aging parents. Later the younger one also went to church, on his rare visits, strictly on a keeping-you-company basis, don’t expect participation. Like the Prodigal Son, this was greatly appreciated and pleased the old folks. Perhaps they kept alive the delusion that this son would return to the faith, eventually. Maybe their prayers were working, be patient for it is a virtue. Pray, don’t nag.

    While the silent sibling got no such attention, simply kept on going to church when near the oldies, behaving as expected, and never a word of praise or even acknowledgement of being (or doing) better than the rebel.

    Neither had a scrap of faith, just a different take on how to present to the old folks. Fortunately, the old folks were none too demanding, didn’t push that hard, maybe because of the younger sibling’s rebellion early on, maybe they didn’t want to test the bond with the older sibling. Speculation, and much unsaid.

    But all was conducted in a society that didn’t care too much about such things, where people kept their opinions to themselves, and nobody hacked anybody to death over it. That, now I think of it, is pretty much as much freedom of (and from) religion that anyone needs.

    So come out loudly, or not, as your circumstances and needs demand. But if you stay in, do try to soften from within, make it easier for those who do come out. Remind those intolerant insiders of things like “judge not lest ye…” and any other turn of scripture that reminds them (if xtian) of the love/charity/be nice side of the teachings. Remember there are probably a lot of others still inside who don’t believe either, so make it easier for them to jump ship, when their time comes.

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  • Back in 1969 I wrote about gay lib. I wrote that what we needed was something that made all gay people’s left hand turn green. When the general public saw how numerous we were, and asked some questions rather than just believing myths, the problem of discrimination would be fixed overnight. Atheists have the same problem. It is even easier for them to stay in the closet, and hence perpetuate the myth that everyone unquestioningly believes the Christian con. They think it does no damage to stay closeted. They think it is only their business.

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  • As an (militant) agnostic who doesn’t really care one way or another whether or not there is a god, I also find it hard to care one way or another whether or not someone is offended that, presented with the same facts, “evidence,” and assertions of the religious, I have arrived at an opposing conclusion about the existence of their deity.
    The religious do not care how I am impacted by their assertion that I am going to “burn in hell.”
    They are not the least bit concerned with how I or my progeny might be impacted by laws passed based on a faith I do not share.
    They are not the least bit concerned with wasting my hard-earned tax dollars by furthering the interests of groups of people with whom I disagree by giving them my said tax dollars.
    They are not even remotely affected by their own cruelty toward others, when they inflict it, intentionally or not.
    It is high time that the gloves came off, completely, and that truth and reality be allowed to “fight” fairly. No one deserves that which they are unwilling to provide. I know that love (especially that of a family member) makes this easier said than done, but religion does (always has and always will) cause more harm than good. “Religious morality” is something that we (non-believers) recognize as an oxy-moron. Religion is an intellectual disease. In effect, is it more cruel to abate the symptoms and discomfort caused by cancer, or to start healing the cancer, itself? Healing the cancer will STOP the painful symptoms, in the long run, permanently. Treating the symptoms will only render the sufferer unaware, albeit more comfortable, while the cancer continues to consume the body, ultimately causing the inevitable death. Humankind is fast approaching the point where it must either choose to cling to religious stupidstition, or advance the species. Of the two (religious/irreligious), which of the two is more likely to offer humanity a longer chance at survival?
    While I don’t intentionally “hurt” the ones I love, BEING hurt by someone else’s contradictory conclusion is entirely the choice of the religious believer. That they PERCEIVE disagreement as a slight or an attack is their own choice….

    The one who loves lasagna does not have a moral right to be offended by someone that loves hamburgers, BECAUSE they love hanburgers…
    The one who loves The Beatles does not have the right to be offended by someone that loves Vivaldi, BECAUSE they love Vivlaldi…
    The one who loves blue does not have the right to be offended by someone that loves red, BECAUSE they love red…
    The one who loves dogs does not have the right to be offended by someone that loves cats, BECAUSE they love cats…
    Feelings are not self-validating. Why should we feel compelled to grant validity to the notion that someone has the RIGHT to be offended by someone arriving at a different conclusion? The very feeling of offense is invalid, unless offense is intended. The feeling of offense is every bit as ridiculous as the belief that the invisible sky faerie is listening to prayers, and I dismiss it, as such.

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