Got this email the other day (a follow-up to an earlier email), with a “coming out atheist” story partly inspired and influenced by my book. I’m posting the email with permission, with only slight edits as requested by the letter-writer.
I sent you an e-mail back in May after reading your book, and was pleased to get a direct response from you! You indicated that if there was a second edition of the book, you might be interested in putting my experience in it. My original message is below in case you need it for reference. [Original letter is here – GC] Since then, a lot has happened! I came out to most of the rest of my family. I did it all in a weekend. Most of my family was in town for Memorial Day weekend. I managed to get some alone time with my mom, and I told her. She was calm and less upset than I thought she’d be. I don’t think she quite grasped what an atheist is, because she kept saying “but you won’t go to heaven if you don’t believe in god!”. She is worried about me, and she asked a few questions. When I told her I had studied the Bible and was shocked at all the things they glossed over in Sunday school, she admitted she has had some of the same thoughts about the extreme violence in the Bible.
The following day, I told the rest of my family. One of my aunts was genuinely curious. She is married to a minister, and I was the first atheist she knew (that she was aware of anyway!). For the most part, they seemed surprised, but moved on. I got a personal email from one of my aunts telling me she felt it was very important to accept differences, and that she loved me. Probably the most negative reaction I got was from another aunt who never said a word, but just silently cried. I directly told her I wasn’t trying to hurt her and was sorry she was feeling hurt. She didn’t say anything. Her daughter said it was my business, not hers, but the look she gave me was similar to what one would expect if I’d told her I enjoy popping heads off of kittens. I directed everyone to a blog I wrote about my experience, and some read it. The crying aunt and the cousin both spoke to me later in the week and acted as if nothing had happened. I still don’t know what the crying was about (anger? fear? hurt?). I left the door open by telling them I was willing to answer questions, but I won’t bring it up again.
Tonight, I came out to select facebook friends, including many who are religious. I did it for some of the reasons you mentioned: mainly to let people know it is ok to be an atheist, and to let Christians know that they DO know atheists even if they think they don’t. The response is positive so far. I have has 3 people say “me too!” (including one I never would have suspected), and I have had a couple of Christian friends thank me for sharing. So far, no unfriendings and no threats of hell (this is almost certainly due to my thoughtful selection of whom to share it with!). Anyway, please feel free to share my story on your blog or book, but just don’t use my name since I will remain closeted to some people.
Jean (not her real name)
Two: This is why I wrote this book. This is why I do this work. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy it makes me to know that atheists are coming out because of my book, and that it’s going well. If you came out to anyone as an atheist after reading Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, please let me know how it went! However it went, and whether or not you want me to post your story to my blog, I want to hear about it.