Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice

NOTE: If you already replied to this request when I first made it back in May, there’s no need to reply again, unless your answers have significantly changed. I have all the old replies. I’m just doing one more round of collecting stories before I finish up the book.

I’m writing a new book — a how-to guide about coming out atheist, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” And I need your stories, and your advice.

IMPORTANT: Please read this entire post before commenting! I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of stories, with somewhat specific kinds of information. So please don’t just scroll to the comments and pour out your heart. Please read this entire post before pouring out your heart. It’s not that long, I promise.

I’m writing a how-to guide about coming out atheist. I obviously want this guide to reflect a wide range of atheist experiences. So I’m gathering stories. And I’m looking for somewhat specific kinds of information. You don’t have to answer every one of these questions, btw — if you do, it’ll help, but partial answers will also be very useful.

Specific Kind of Information #1: I am not — repeat, NOT — looking for stories about how you became an atheist.

I am looking for stories about how you told other people that you’re an atheist.

I want to know:

what you said;
how you said it;
how the person/ people you came out to responded;
what the results/ consequences of coming out were;
how (if at all) things have changed with time;
whether, on the whole, you’re happy you came out or regret doing so

I love hearing stories about how people became atheists. (I’m even gathering those stories elsewhere.) But that’s not what this book is about. This book is about how to tell the people in your life that you’re an atheist. (Or agnostic/ non-theist/ non-believer/ materialist/ naturalist/ humanist/ freethinker/ whatever word you use to mean that you don’t believe in gods.) So right now, those are the stories I want to hear.

Now, if your process of becoming an atheist involved talking with other people and coming out to them about your doubts, that’s fine. Just please keep the story focused on the coming-out part — not the “becoming an atheist” part.

Specific Kind of Information #2: If I quote you in the book, what name do you want me to use? Real full name, your real first name, your online handle, or a made-up name? (If you don’t specify, I’ll assume you want your online handle used if you reply in comments, and a made-up name if you reply in email.)

Specific Kind of Information #3: Please specify who you came out to in this particular story. Is it about coming out to:

your spouse or partner;
other family members;
co-workers or other professional colleagues;
fellow students;
members of your religious community;
members of a specific non-religious community (shared hobby, parenting group, etc.);
members of your community in general;
other (please specify)

If you want to tell more than one coming-out story about coming out to different people, please do.

Specific Kind of Information #4: There are some specific pieces of information that will help a lot. If at all possible, please tell:

where you live(d) when you came out in this story;
where the person/people you came out to lived;
whether you came out in person, over the phone, in email, on Facebook, etc.;
whether you came out to just one person, or to more than one person at a time (i.e., one parent or both at once, one friend or everyone at a party, etc.);
whether you came out voluntarily, or were involuntarily outed

Specific Kind of Information #5: If there are particular circumstances to your coming-out story which may have made your coming out either harder or easier, please say so. In particular, I’m looking for coming out stories from:

people of color;
LGBT people;
people in other marginalized groups/ identities;
students (high school and college);
people in the military;
people in the clergy;
people in conservative and/or very religious communities;
people in liberal and/or more secular communities;
people who live in theocracies, or whose families live in theocracies

If there are other particular circumstances I haven’t listed here, and you think other people coming out as atheist in these circumstances would benefit from your experience, please say so.

Specific Kind of Information #6: If at all possible, please talk about what you think you did right, and/or what you think you did wrong. What, specifically, do you think made your coming out go better, or go worse? If you had it to do over, is there anything you would do differently?

Specific Kind of Information #7: How, if at all, did your coming-out experience change over time? Did the person/ people you came out to respond differently after a day, a few days, a month, a year, a few years? Did you have just one coming-out conversation, or more than one?

Specific Kind of Information #8: When you came out, were you connected with an atheist community — either online or in person?

Specific Kind of Information #9: How has your life changed since you came out? Are you, on the whole, happy that you came out, or do you regret it? Do you think it was the right decision? Do you think your answer to this question would change if you’d done it differently?

If there’s anything else you want to tell me about your experience of coming out atheist, please go ahead and do so.

And again: You don’t have to answer every one of these questions — if you do, it’ll help, but partial answers will also be very useful. Please don’t avoid answering at all just because you don’t have time or energy or inclination to give complete answers.

You can reply in the comments here — or, if you prefer more privacy, you can email me, at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. If you email me, please put the words “Coming Out” in the subject line.

BTW, if you read through the comments and think, “Oh, so-and-so’s story is really similar to mine, I don’t need to tell mine” — please, please, please, don’t think that. I want to hear every story that people want to tell. In fact, if certain kinds of stories come up over and over again, that will be very useful for me to know.

And also BTW: If you’re an atheist and you’re not out — I want to hear those stories, too. But I’m going to gather them separately, in a separate post.

Thanks for reading this whole post. Pouring out your heart begins — now!

Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice

10 thoughts on “Coming Out Atheist — I Need Your Stories and Advice

  1. 1

    May I suggest another question?

    What surprized you about your coming out experience? In my experience that question can jiggle something that might not otherwise get jiggled. Sometimes peoples faces light up when asked that question, sometimes not. Also the response to that question may arise later…..oh yeah…it did kind of surprize me that…..

  2. 2

    I am not out publicly due to my fear of my ex using it against me for custody. However, I have told a few friends that I suspected were also atheists and my siblings. My mother assumed, over the years, infact she assumed before I even knew myself.

    #1 I texted my eldest brother in January 2013. I had seen him at out father’s house for Christmas, so I felt comfortable confiding in him because he and I had a few good, long conversations. We’d not seen one another in at least eight years. My text said, “I have something to tell you. I’m bisexual and an atheist.” I’d realized I was Bi in December. Or rather, I’d accepted I was. But I also wanted to finally tell SOMEONE that I’m an atheist. My brother comforted me and assured me it didn’t matter that I’m bi. He didn’t care that I was atheist and said it didn’t matter.

    #2 I told my middle brother on the phone in February 2013 that I’m bisexual and an atheist. My brother assured me that was okay. He’s always been an atheist. He warned me not to tell our mother though, as she is a believer. And to be careful with our father as he’s a bigot when it comes to sexuality. My middle brother then found reasons to avoid talking to me ever since. I’m not sure what to make of it.

    #3 I e-mailed my father about my doubts and worries about being an atheist during the summer of 2010. My father called to talk to me and said to not say a word about it due to the issues I was having with custody at the time. He then told me to research Jesus and how even if he’s not the son of god, he was probably a real person who did good things. The older my father has gotten, the more obvious he makes it that he does believe in god. I had thought, when I was a child, that he didn’t believe. Now I’m realizing the things he said were against organized religion, but he still believes there’s a god.

    #4 My mother apparently has known for many years that I don’t believe. Before I realized I was an Atheist in 2010, I was very; angry with god and I hated organized religion because of my experiences with it. I think my mother assumed that because of that anger, I had simply stopped believing there was a god. I still believed, just hated him. It’s rather funny that my mother knew before I did that I’m an atheist. She told me in the fall of 2012 that she is sad over it, but that she will believe for me and still pray for me.

    #5 I came out to two online friends of mine. They both showed signs of not being believers so I bit the bullet and told them via gmail chat. The first friend, a soldier who is half Philippino and half black, approved. He’s an atheist as well, despite being raised catholic. The second friend, a freelance video specialist and armature director, is an agnostic and was supportive as well. Those were comforting conversations because they were people that have known me only from my online persona and they readily accepted my confession and offered me support and solidarity.

    Once my daughter is 18 and a legal adult, I’ll add my real name to this online tag and continue onward. Until then, I simply don’t trust her father to use this against me in some way. I hope to have a conversation with my daughter eventually, when she is an adult.

  3. 3

    My life has been a constant process of coming out and trying to feel acceptable, accepted, but like WS Burroughs I have never wished to belong to a movement that would have me, sadly, to my own sense of mattering, belonging, companionship. Having lived in some 30 different communities my coming out has taken a surreal twist of Groundhog day, an existential crisis of creating meaning in the faces of others forcing their meaning onto me with a kind of rapidity that teases my identity to some sort of frilly mess.

    In 1964 in Corpus Christi Texas, when I was 7, during the early evening I saw a girl playing on the porch across the street at a house where usually no one was outside. I was familiar with the yard only because it had fruit trees and my friends and I would steal the large, red fruit and play Army with these handy grenades, scrounging through the bushes to avoid their solid thunk.

    She had medium length hair, dark black and was playing on the cement stoop. We talked a bit and she came out with how the devil was made by god. I had no idea how to respond. Not having been taught anything religious by my long-divorced mother I had no clue. She went on that her mother had told her the devil was god’s way to make people be good. What the hell did that mean I thought? (and yes, I have cussed all my life) I remember being totally stupefied, speechless. I mean I had heard about god and wondered but had no idea of any of this.

    I told her I didn’t believe in god. Her eyes became big, round circles and I was doomed. Conveniently, her mother came out, took one look at me, and sternly spoke to her that it was time to come inside. I never talked to her again and rarely saw her.

    Swirling through me were a rush of emotions with which I had no idea how to parse, I immediately sought safety, my mother, and asked how did god create the devil. She said something about how there were three parts to god and continued with a mumbo-jumbo to which to this day I still do not find intelligible.

    That was the first of many times people would look at me with that withering, fearful, speechless deer-in-the-headlights look. Someday I may feel acceptable, accepted but I doubt it as I have grown resigned to this giant burden of a wart on my spirit that people graciously call contrariness. I’m just not sure about the rest of me. Cheers!

  4. 4

    So… I am going to write this post with the preference that…

    I live in NY, so it is very progressive.
    I came out in my early 20’s.
    I have no white friends, so everyone I came out to was either black or brown. (modern segregation, look it up)
    I came out around the same time that I became an atheist.
    I did not encounter any serious trouble while coming out, so these stories are almost all positive and probably not useful/boring. (No one, except one, really cared that I was an atheist)
    Everyone I knew, except one, was a liberal christian who probably believed you can get into heaven merely for being nice (you do not have to believe in the jebus)
    I talk slang in real life, so excuse the language.

    With that, here are my boring stories, in order of occurrence…

    First person I told was my cousin. I stopped believing in god, and I was kind of tired about keeping it to myself. I like to have a strong community of friends that I can talk to about anything. So I started to feel isolated because there was this “new thing” in my life that I was kind of afraid to talk about with other people because they might have a negative reaction. Eventually I grew tired of not being able to talk about it and on a whim I called my cousin. The convo went like this:

    “Yo, I got to get this sht off my chest. You ready? I got to tell you somethin real serial.”
    “What’s up?”
    “I think, that I do not believe in god no more”
    After a brief silence…… “mmm… OK, neither do I. so what?”
    “WTF? Really son? How come you neva told me?”
    “Sht never came up. I did not think it mattered”
    “Well, it does fcking metter asshole. I have been keeping this clogged up for months and now I find out you one too? You little sht.. you should of told me!”
    “Aight, so now what? Is that all you had to tell me?”
    “I mean, yeah that was all. Hold up hold up….. when did you stop believing?”
    “Man, I stopped a long time ago. Religion is just fcking stupid.”
    “Does ____ know (my other cousin who I am tight with), and does your mom know?”
    “____ is a fcking athiest too!”
    WHAT? Word… yall are asses.. keepin this sht from me. What about your mom?”
    (bursts out laughing) “Hell no my mom don’t know! She would kill me! Your mom know?”
    “FCK NO! I can’t tell her. I might tell her later tho… to be real. We see how dat would go…”

    That was how my first comming out went. From there we just started to explore the issue of religion together, and I made my cousin into an even stronger atheist than before. Before he simply did not believe because he thought is was silly… I am an academic and he is not. So over time as I read philosophy, and I discussed various issues with him, I noticed he become a stronger advocate for atheism himself. Instead of not caring about the issue to even mention it, he started coming up to me sharing stories about he is frustrated with religious thinking as well. I sort of influenced him into becoming a skeptic. He used to believe in ghosts but not god, and as we explored the rational to stop believing in gods.. he stopped believing in ghosts too. My “comming out” actually influenced him, someone who was already an atheist, to be more outspoken and more rational about his atheism while making him drop other supernatural beliefs.

    Second person I told was my sister. We were driving in the car, and I just got kind of bored and decided to tell her. It went like this..

    “Yo, I want to tell you something.”
    “What is it”
    “I am an athiest”
    “mmm.. Yeah, I kind of knew that already”
    “Wait.. what? Fck you talkin about? How you know?”
    “Meh, it was kind of obvious. I mean, you do not believe in ghosts, or luck, or astrology…. I mean, you don’t believe in anything. I kind of just figured you did not believe in god too”
    “Sht..I had no idea I was so fcking obvious! well, that sucks.”
    “Yeah, I mean… I got friends who do not believe in god either…”
    “Really? damn…”
    “Who else did you tell?”
    “I told ___ and ____ (my cousins). I have not told ____ or ____ and ___ (college friends) yet, not sure how they ganna react.”
    “You think they going to have a problem”
    “I do not know, but they kind of religious and religious people are wierd. I heard of fundies disowning family members off of this sht. Kind of crazy out there.”
    “Yeah, I never got that. I do not see what the big deal is. I mean like the only question I ever had for people who do not believe is… you know… how can you have morals and stuff”
    “Ahh.. that one is easy. You just really on empathy and agreement. I do not want to get hurt, and I do not want to hurt anyone.. so we just reach an agreement. Most moral just come from empathy anyhow. You do not really need a god. I mean…. I do not see how not believing in god.. all of a sudden wants to make me murder mther fckers.”
    “Yeah… that makes sense.
    “Do you believe in god?”
    “I do not know.. I am not sure. I kind of just believe cause you know… I want to get into heaven! You ganna tell mom?”
    “Ahh….. not yet. Maybe later.. mom is like super into that sht. So she may take offense. Plus I kind of already hinted to her… I asked her how she would feel if I stopped believing, asked her if she would disown me and stuff. Mom said that no of course not, she might be disappointing but that is about it. She still thinks I believe tho….”

    That is pretty much how it went. I was kind of shocked she believed you could not be moral without god… but I decided not to make a big deal about it and just explain why it was silly. It was a pretty easy going conversation. After that conversation, my sister started to come to me over time and ask questions about her religious beliefs. In that she used me to explore what she believed herself, because apparently, she never thought about it. I was the only one who ever had thought about it, and she just sort of started to think about it, instead of going with the flow, with me. As we explored the issues together, she started to see more of my side of things and became less and less religious… As she did, I pretty much just validated her lack of belief… and eventually she turned atheist as well. So now me and my sister are atheists. She was a fuzzy agnostic/liberal believer who never explored Christianity and instead believed simply because it was tradition… upon realizing that yes.. there is an actual option to just not believe… she sort of just ran towards that option, with my support.

    The third and forth person I told were two my college buddies mentioned above. My conversations with them just went rather jokingly and they did not care much at all. The filth person I told was another college buddy. We were having a conversation about lots of things, and it somehow connected to god… because all my previous conversation about this topic went so well, I just found enough courage to say it plainly.. and the conversation went like this…

    “Dude, I am an atheist.. I don’t believe in any of that sht”
    “What mther fcker… you don’t believe in god? So.. like… dogg… what do you think happens to you when you die?”
    “Nothing fck face. I just fcking die. I am my brain, my brain stops working… so that is it.”
    ‘Wait… (laughs).. so you fcking know what happens when you die… I see you already been dead then. Tell me about it fcker.”
    “Man, don’t play that BS game to me. No I never died… but I don’t have to die to know what happens when you do. I do not have to smoke a fckign blunt to know that when I smoke one I get fckin high. The fact is that, all scientific evidence points to the fact that everythingI am is stored in my brain. So if my brain is fcking gone… is stands to reason that so am I. think before you speak assface.”
    “Yeah yeah… ***** (ethinic slur) you dumb”
    “What about you? What you think?”
    “Yo, I ain’t egotistical enough to think I know anything. I think that maybe something happens or maybe not, there could be one, or there could not. I don’t really give a sht anyway”. What about ghosts.. you believe in ghosts right”
    “***** you now I don;t believe in that sht. Don’t as silly ask questions bro. Dont be that ****”
    “Damn man.. so like.. you don’t believe in anything… dog.. you like.. super fcking evil then.”
    “Whoa don’t judge me son…. especially after all that skeezy sht you be doin on dah side. I just do not believe in anything supernatural. I think if it exists it can be proven.. and probably with science”
    “Damn.. you fcking crazy”

    That is how what conversation went. Despite how it may seem to those who may not understand the tone of the conversation… it was not a hostile one, we just talk like that. It was more of a light hearted conversation where we were exploring each others views, and we were having fun with it – plus we were drunk. he is still like my best friend, and religious stuff just does not come up anymore… we too busy talking about racism and politics and real life sht.

    Now, after that.. all of my close friends and family members knew I was an atheist, and none of those conversations about it are useful for this thread. The one I had yet to tell was my mother, who is not strongly religious, but thinks that believing in god is central to being a good strong honorable person. As for my mom.. I decided not to tell her I was an atheist. Instead, I would allow her to discover that for herself. She talks about a belief in god a lot, and goes to church for emotional support… instead I would just act the way I want, and eventually I figured, she would catch on like my sister and just flat out ask me. I decided this was best. Instead of blindsiding her with my atheist and perhaps traumatizing her, I decided to simply start to figure it out and then ask me. This way it does not surprise here.. you would not ask someone if they believe unless you started to pick up hints that they did not, and you wanted to confirm your suspicions. That route, I felt, was one that was better for her.. it allowed her to prepare for an answer that she may not like.. instead of my just flat out bringing it to her unexpectedly. I prioritized her feelings over mine.. because.. well she is my fcking mom.. and I had a community already, so I did not need her support. I would like it, but I also did not want to cause a drift between us. My mom and I had two different conversation, accumulating to me not saying I do not believe, but leaving enough bread crumbs such that she figured it out.

    The first conversation was about the authenticity of the bible. I forgot how it came up but it went sort of like this… AFter noticing I was reading a book about the bible…

    “What are you reading?”
    “I am reading a literary analysis of who wrote the bible. Cause.. you know.. Mathew, mark, luke, and john did not really write the bible.. and Moses did not really exist. So I just kind of wanted to know who wrote the bible, so I can understand it more.”
    “Yeah I know… I know a bunch of old white guys wrote the bible.”
    “Yeah.. they say a lot of fcked up sht in it too”
    “Yeah ____, the bible is not a nice book! In the old testament god is horrible! He does some really fcked up stuff! I know they are all stories and stuff, but there is a lot of things you can learn from it.”
    “I am not so sure.. I mean… If a bunch of old white guys wrote it.. why should anyone trust it?”
    “_____, You have to have faith in god. You can not read it without having faith. Faith is what makes us good people”
    “I don’t know.. I think I can be good without it. I do not think god wrote the bible…”
    “God did not write it.. humans did.. that is why there are so many mistake. But there are also messages in the bible that god left. ones we can learn from”
    “Meh.. I am not so sure”
    “Yeah… sometimes I feel like the bible is stupid. That is where faith in god come in though”
    “Mom.. you really want to get into this? I mean you know where this is heading right?

    From there the conversation stopped… she knew I was strongly hinting that I did not believe in god, and I knew this made her uncomfortable. She agreed… and we just stopped talking about it.. for neither of us wanted to alienate the other, and we both knew this was a touchy subject. The next conversation went like this….My mom started to notice a rabid change in my religious behavior,and this caused her to panic. In an effort to help, like most parents she was dropping hints everyday to try and make me into a stronger believer. One morning she invited me to watch a sermon with her on TV.. I refused because I told her that I hate sermons…. but she eventually guilted me into it. AFter the sermon was done… it went liek this…

    “So what you think of the sermon”
    Honestly… I thought it was BS.”
    “Bueno! no es desgraciado!”
    What? I thought it was dumb… what you want from me?”
    “Dehar de acer tonto! Why did you have a problem with it?”
    “I thought that guy was a giant fcking hypocrite. He is talking to poor people telling them to give to the poor.. but this mther fcker is making madd money on TV. he ain’t givin to the poor.. but he is up their telling me to give? Fck dat dude.”
    “That may be but he is still right”
    “Look mom.. I don’t want to talk about this… I just look at things differently than you do. You look at him and see all the good.. I look at him and notice all the bad.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “K look… You know I am a man of science right? I just see things differently. Let me read you a story I just read. There were two people driving down the road. One of them was someone who was a man of science, the other guy was a man of faith. Just like you are a woman of faith, and I am a man of science. Anyway, these guys are tight… and one day driving down the desert and they see this big canyon ridge, with all these pretty colored layers in the canyon. The first guy said.. look at that! You know what I see in that canyon, the work of god!. The second guy said.. I don;t see the work of god.. While yes it is beautiful,what I see is lots of sedimentary rock layered out over billions of years. After that drive was done… you now what happened to those two guys?”
    “Que paso?”
    “The man of faith never talked to the man of science again. That.. that is what I do not want mom. Look, I just see differently than you do. It is part of my education as a scientist.. I don’t see miracles, I see billions of atoms smashing together. It is that kind of beauty that I like, but I know it is that kind of beauty you do not see. I do not want to let our different visions drive us apart. That is what I am afraid of, in these conversations.. you are going to point at things and say look god.. and I am going to so.. no, here is this scientific explanation for it.”
    “mmmm ______. I think this is just a fad you are going through. Everyone goes through this. I went through it too, I questioned once in a while… but I know you believe, when you get older you will understand”
    “OK MOM…. you keep believing that.. I think, that I am not going to change and that this is who I am”

    Now, after that conversation… my mom, in an attempt to make me a man of faith… every time I conversed with her… she brought up the importance of faith and church. To the point where is started to become over bearing and annoying. I even got complaints from other family members telling me how she is complaining to them about my lack of faith in god…. still thinking that I am not a full fledged atheist and that she could help me. what I decided to do was allow her to be the aggressor… and just offer a counter argument to anything she put up…. If she said faith could move mountains… I said… You are really just talking about emotions.. not faith. Things went on like this for a while…. and then this conversation happened….

    “”____ Believing in god is what makes me strong. Every time I had trouble raising you, I went to church and I came out ok. IT is my faith that allows me to be strong.. and I think that you are missing out.”
    “Mom, what you are talking about is therapy sessions… not faith.”
    “____ you have to have faith”
    “I think I am doing just fine without it. I want to believe what is true, not believe whatever makes me feel good”
    “I do not think you understand… You are just a spoiled brat. You live in america, you do not understand how hard life is back in El Salvador. Faith is what made us able to get up everyday and live that life.”
    “I am pretty sure that there are people who think like me back home… even if they are not as spoiled as me. I feel like you are using faith as a crutch… maybe you should just believe what is true, not what you want to believe.”
    “That is what I am talking about… you did not live the life I lived.. and I guess that is my fault for not making you understand. ____ you are rich.. you are rich compared to all your cousins back home”
    “Mom.. I know my place. I know that although we are poor here in the US.. that back in El Slavador by comparison we are rich. I know I lead a good life here and I am thankful for that. I now that you lived through sht I could never fcking imagine… and I am glad I did not have to live through that. I do not see what this has to do with faith though….”
    “You are so arrogant.. you think you know everything. You do not know everything _____. You have to have lived that life before you judge me.”
    “Mom, I think you are stronger than that.. I think you are stronger than you think. I do not think you need this false believe to make you strong… I think you can do fine without it.”
    “Dios mio.. what the fck do you know?!!! You are nothing but a spoiled child! I get up everyday and I clean sht off of toilets to raise you.. and the only thing that keep me able to get up is praying to god that you had a good life! You then come here and start talking bout that no creas en dios? Tan buro.. you are so niave. It is all because I raised you in the US.”
    “Isn’t that what you wanted? Ain’t that the entire idea? Ain;t the idea that I am supposed to be better off than you! WTF mom!”
    “Enough! mejor que te calles! No puedes entender me! I live this live, and I have lived this life because of my faith in god. I DO NOT CARE IF IT IS TRUE! Faith makes me able to get up everyday.”

    And yeah… that was an intense one. You see… by that time, we had so many back and forths about whether or not a god exists… and every time, in part because I am more educated than my mother, and in part because I am right, I kept being on the wining side. I believe, that I started to convince her that god did not exist…. keep in mind she was the aggressor… I never brought it up.. she brought it up to convert me, and I just told her how I felt and offered counter arguments. In the end, logic was on my side.. and the conversation turned to this. I believe she knew I was right about god…. and I also believe that I was being an asshole… and I should have never pushed it that far. I should of just let it be…..

    So allow me to explain this point….. to the rich white people or the people who are not POC.. because I think there is a generality here that can lead to an understanding about how POC’s approach this issue.

    Let me just offer a quote to how most POC’s feel about atheist right now.

    “Atheism is like the highest level of white privilege. It’s like having a black belt in white privilege”

    What does this mean? You know, crommunist a while back linked to this black comedian who described an experience with a white athiest. Where the white atheist told him… he know knows how it feels to be an oppressed minority due to atheism. Which is just fcking laughable… So let me offer some insight on this issue…

    Look… athiest do get discriminated against. We all know this and have all felt it. However, if you think that being labeled as an atheist is anywhere near the level of oppression other minorities like gays, women, people of color, and trans people feel.. you are a giant fcing idiot and I kind of want to punch you in the fcking face. I will make that clear… so while yes atheists do get discriminated against it is no where near the shear amount of volume other minorities face… so do not try to say things like… “know I know how it feels to be black..because of my athiesm… blah blah”.. FCK YOU RACIST FOOL. So there, that is the starting point, I am not going to defend this point any further right now.. but trust me it can be defended easily…. just think about it for more than a second. With that preference lets look into what religion does for blacks and latinos, indians and middle eastern peoples… (this may seem like a side issue, but I assure you it is not. I assure you this perspective is necessary if you want to understand how POC’s interact with their communities when they are atheists. It will relate to the last conversation I had with my mother as well. Then I promise I will STFU about race for a bit and get back on point)

    It is just a brute matter of fact that the churches in POC communities are strongly connected to social justice issues. While yes churches can be the ones that cause discriminatory views to other peoples, they also work really hard to promote a lot of social justice within that group. Churches have traditionally been the staging point for many POC communities when they want to speak out. As a result of this embedded history.. churches in POC communities usually offer lots of social services related to helping brothas and sistas out. It is no small thing to distance yourself from the very foundations that frequently give you a hand on social justice issues. As a result, in POC communities, it is very hard to be an atheist because you are giving up a lot of social support that was previously your primary support mechanism when facing oppression. Know that before you enter minority spaces begging them to come out… you are asking them to risk a lot. Most will decline and stay within their communities because that is the support that matters to them.

    Let me give you a quick example from someone of Salvadorian decent. Oscar Romero is a hero in my country. He is a priest who decided to speak up during a war where the US backed Salvadorian government were murdering people on the streets… he wrote letters to the US asking for a cease fire during the civil war. This priest was a community leader and a hero. He was assassinated by the Salvadorian government – and there is strong evidence that the US knew and sanctioned the assassination. This man… I weep for him.. and “I hope to god” that I had half his fckign strength. Being an athiest puts me in a position that distances myself from activists like him.. and puts me in a position of things like… advocating that Romero be regarded as a saint by the catholic church…. while at the same time detesting the catholic church. There is lots of internal cultural contradictions that come up. The fact remains the same though, that Romero is a person that is part of my culture, and as a result the church is a part of my culture as well…. I can not disassociate myself from this so easily.. not without giving a lot of things up. Of course, I made my choice a long time ago… but understand that there are lots of cultural strings constantly pulling me in the other direction.

    The other point is that because churches are so ingrained within POC cultures… many POC’s can not imagine life without them. They relate their strengths to their belief in god.. they belief that strong faith can give them strength to perceive over the unfair bigoted ways this society works. So when you challenge that belief.. like I did with my mother.. you may be shaking the very foundation that they believe is their greatest strength. Considering that they are not taught about other ways to cope, and the fact that closing the door on the church means closing avenues to get social justice…. this is not a fcking game. This kind of stuff hurts, and it runs deep.

    You see, in the conversation above with my mother. I neglected to think about what it would mean for her to realize that there is no god. If someone was convinced themselves that “faith” is the only thing keeping them from falling… and you swipe that out from under their feet… how do you think they will react? probably something like my mother. My mother just said flat out…. that it is not about whether it is true or false, it was about its utility…. if she realized it was false, I took that utility away from her, and… then what is left? I know there are other options, but at that point in time she did not… she was simply scared. She was scared to stop believing because then…. where would she find her strength when the unjust world is beating her practically to death? I just.. it made me mad at religion even more.. because it fooled strong women like my mother into thinking… it was the only option. It also made me angry at white atheists who may not understand what it means to leave the church behind. Some white guy yelling at me to stop believing? Some white american telling Muslims their god is false? Man fck you! At least that is partly how I feel. I know they are right, but they lack the cultural awareness to approach such an issue with tact. White atheist European telling middle Eastern people that they are ignorant and savage because of their religion… that is the kind of tactless racism that these images bring up. Even middle eastern atheist probably hate Dawkins, that ding dong.

    The idea is this… I felt like an asshole because, even though my mother was the aggressor, I forgot to empathize with what her faith means to her. I feel like I could have handled that conversation better such that I did not cause here to get that pissed at me. I started to understand that for many POC’s the church is something much more to them than they are to white people… and I don’t think they can ever understand how deep the church runs in these communities. Truth of the matter is that my mother has lead a traumatizing life due to the bigotries and inequalities in this society… and if I had to pick supporting my mother and family or banging away at this atheist issue – that runs the risk of running them away – you can see why I would not callously bang away. Not that I would be silent either…. but I am not confrontational about the atheist issue, because I think there are other ones that matter to me more.

    Anyway.. sorry for that long diatribe.. it just happened to come up so… yeah.. anyway…

    After that conversation… my mother finally accepted that this was not a fad, and that I am an atheist. She got so comfortable with it.. that she fcking blabbed to my family back in El Slavador that I am one… even though I wanted to keep it on the down low… (in part because of the above reasoning). Anyway.. we cool now and I think I managed to make her more agnostic on the issue…. She still has faith and stuff…but it is not as strong, and I think that because she sees how I manage without it just fine.. she is beginning to see how it is not necessary for strength as she previously believed.

    From there, everything was fine and I decided that now that I told everyone in my life that mattered.. I did not care as much to be “out” as an atheist. I would be willing to honestly share my opinion about god if asked, but I would not go searching for conversations about it with theists. What changed my mind however, was that my cousin, the first one I told, started telling me how he is just plain out. He had no qualms about telling people he did not believe. I asked him how it went and he said for the most part people did not care… I guess in NY.. very few are fundies about it. He actually empowered me to be more or less non chalaunt about my atheism.. which brings me to my final two stories about being out..and how I am not just full blown out there with no inhibitions of calling myself an atheist.

    So I while at work… a bunch of sixth grade students were talking during free time. One of them comes up to em and says…

    “Mr.____ there is a rumor going around that _____ is gay”

    Now, I actually strongly suspected this student of being gay.. so I handled it as such.

    “OK.. what do you want me to do about it?”
    “They are calling him gay.. don’t you think that is wrong?”
    “mmmm.. it depends.. are they trying to say that there is something wrong with being gay? I do not think there is anything wrong with being gay? Maybe that kid is gay.. why does it matter?”

    At this point anther kid comes in and says..

    “My mom said that being gay is a sin, and that is is against the bible.”

    At this point I am like… crap….so I say…

    “Well… I don;t know what to tell you. Everyone has different beliefs and to be honest I would not believe everything in the bible. I don;t really believe all that stuff”

    At that point more kids jump in an say

    “ooooooo!!! Mr. ___ does not believe in the bible!”
    “Mr. ____ do you believe in god?”
    “No, in fact. I do not believe in god. Bunches of people have different beliefs”

    Then all the kids get roudey…

    “OMG Mr. ____ is an atheist!”
    “He said he does not believe in god!”
    “Mr.____ how can you unto believe in jesus!”
    “Mr. ____ do you believe in an aferlife?”
    “Mr. ___ how can yo be an atheist… you think we all came from nothing!”
    “Mr.____ how do explain the big bang and evolution!”

    etc…etc… These kids were adorable with all their questions. So I said…

    “Look.. just learn some science. When you get older you going to learn some more science to answer all that stuff. In the mean time.. do not be homophobic, and don;t be using your religion to be a bigot”

    “What is a bigot?”

    “ahh.. look… just don’t be little racists… you know how I don’t like that stuff. No get outta here peopless”

    So I shoo them away. Then a few minutes later some student come p to me and says..

    “Mr.____ I wanna tell you something.”
    “What do you want to tell me?”
    “I don;t think I believe in god either.. I think I am atheist too”

    Then I was like… awww sht!!!! I am ganna get fired now! so I say…

    “..umm… that is cool. Why don’t you like.. you know… keep it to yourself. I know your mother and she seems kind of religious. Keep an open mind and stuff… and you know… that is all chill with me. Keep thinking things through though”

    Which was freaking scary… damn kids… Anyway, I talked to some faculty members after and I asked if I did the right approach. I was afraid this was ganna come back and bite me on the bum…. I would get a bunch of angry parents telling me that I was trying to make their kids athiests. Most staff said I was ganna be OK, and another said that she just does not reveal to the kids what her religious beliefs are because they are so impressionable at that age. After that we all went to a bar and got drunk… I ended up having a debate about god with another faculty member who was a christian fundamentalist. We had a good time, and we all still chill.

    After that… I just come out and say I am an atheist everywhere and I am officially “out.”

    And.. that is that.. sorry for writing this sht long post. Even if it gets moderated, maybe you can use some stuff for the book. Have a good day..

    peace out yall.

  5. 5

    Hi there,

    I was in contact with you about a very similar book (it was a proposal at that time) I was writing way back in 2011. It covers the same topic and subpopulations. I requested a narrative from you, but you declined. That book is currently in press. Can we talk over email? I’d be curious to know how this book will be different.

    Thank you,
    [email protected]

  6. 6

    #1 I actually first came out in the confessional, but I don’t think that’s particularly relevant – what’s said in the confessional does stay there. I got the impression that the answers were routine (“We all have our doubts, that’s perfectly ok. Three Hail Marys and a prayer for me”, which I dutifully rattled off because that’s the routine, and went on my way). Heh, I came out in the closet… never thought of that. It’s difficult to pinpoint what I actually said, then or later. I was 13-14, that’s decades ago now. I think it was words to the effect of “I’m an atheist” or “I think I’m an atheist”. It began in earnest as telling other students in confidence. I didn’t think it would be that big of a thing. Others around me had come out. Responses were varied, but nothing spectacular. Some were good with it, some joined in a debate, sometimes it turned into trading insults the way internet debates go (You’re stupid! vs. You’re evil!). It also led to some really interesting philosophical discussions. I told my RE teacher, he reacted with “You’ll live a life of sorrow and perdition.” I still don’t know how to place that answer, whether it was a snap off-the-cuff retort, attempted banter that was unintentionally heavy-handed (he was known for that) or a serious threat. Didn’t seem to affect his attitude towards me otherwise, which was generally ok. One or two of the other students thought I was trying to be special or controversial. Well… people do at that age, and maybe there was an element of that in my coming out if I’m honest. I had no seriously bad direct reactions from it on telling people, but word got around… well I wasn’t making a secret out of it.

    I’m glad I came out in retrospect, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. You should be more aware of what you could be letting yourself in for in that kind of environment than I was.

    #2 You can use my full nick – it isn’t my real name.

    #3 Other students, single parent (mother).

    #4 I lived at a Catholic boarding school. So did the people I came out to. I came out in person. I only came out to one person at a time. I came out voluntarily.

    #5 Catholic boarding school. Nuff said.

    #6 Difficult to say, as I’m ok with the outcome as it is now… so I suppose I did it right. I don’t know how things would have turned out if I’d done it differently, or not at all. But I was catastrophically naive at the time (just in case I forgot to mention that).

    #7 Most people I came out to directly were fine with it. I got called “atheist” (as an “insult”), “heathen” and similar, but not in actual animosity as far as I could make out. Nothing really changed over time. The problem was that the school got to know about it. I had to fight for everything – absolutely no privileges (even privileges just for being a senior student). I don’t know whether that was only due to coming out as an atheist, or just generally being an outcast, and how much one was due to the other, it was all a blended smoosh. Anyway I was one too many, a nuisance, and they let me know it. There were no explicit explanation for it, so I really don’t know for certain how I got into this position. I have no way of knowing how my Catholic Boarding School Experience would have been if I hadn’t come out. It wouldn’t have been good anyway, but for other unrelated reasons.

    #8 No connections to atheists apart from knowing one, superficially.

    #9 Moved to an atheist environment, different country, different value system, things are good here. No problems with religious people either, they’re very secularized here. It’s not the reason I moved here, but I’m glad I did.

    I’ve talked to people that were at the Workers’ and Farmers’ Faculties, boarding schools in pre-1989 East Germany grooming the party elites. Though attitudes were more liberal in just about every other respect, they handled ideological problem cases much the same way. You didn’t automatically get branded, disowned, or even cussed out so it was easy to think you were free to speak your mind, as long as they thought you’re ok as an individual you’d be fine. The repercussions were such that you didn’t know whether they were actually repercussions from that, or from failing to pass muster in some other way.

  7. 7

    The only semi-significant comings-out as atheist I ever had were when I revealed it in offhand remarks in a couple of public high school classes and the entire classes were disrupted as students and a teacher all angrily confronted me while I relatively-calmly stood my ground. I don’t know if they are stories that would be of interest if I told them.

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