Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

On my semi-closeted atheism

Posted by Kevin on April 14, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking about whether to come out as an atheist to my family. As I’ve written before, I don’t hide my beliefs from people, but I don’t really advertise them either. And yet I don’t think anyone in my family (aside from my in-laws) knows I’m an atheist, whereas pretty much everyone outside my family who’s in any way close to me does.

It’s mostly because they’ve never asked about it; I think for the most part they assume I share their beliefs, or at worst that I’m apathetic about religion. If they asked, I wouldn’t deny it. For instance, I came out to the pastor who was to preside over my wedding. Rebecca and I were meeting with him about the ceremony, and he asked me, “Oh, by the way, what religion are you?” And I told him. It didn’t seem to bother him at all, although my mother-in-law later mentioned that he said he was “shocked.” No negative consequences came of it, though, except possibly for the uber-long sermon at the ceremony. [BTW, it wasn’t my idea to have a religious ceremony. Long story.]

But still, I worry about what might happen if my family knew. I’m reasonably certain I wouldn’t be disowned or anything, but any atheist will tell you that there can be real social consequences for coming out, since a large number of Americans pretty much expect atheists to have horns and cloven hooves. I worry that they won’t understand, or they’ll think I’m a bad person. In some cases, I’m worried I’ll have to argue about it constantly.

So, why did I suddenly start thinking about this? It happened a couple weeks ago, when I went to a speech on campus by Cheryl Jacques, former Massachusetts state senator and president of Human Rights Campaign. She mentioned that one of the reasons gay rights and/or marriage are becoming more acceptable is because more Americans, especially young Americans, know (or know that they know) gay people than ever before, and once you know gay people it’s harder to not think of them as real people, rather than just negative stereotypes.

It occurred to me that maybe the same thing could apply to atheists, which got me thinking back to those all those right-wing chain letters I get from my dad and grandmother (a subject I’ve written about here and here). Sometimes I get ones demeaning secularists, as I briefly mentioned here.

Maybe the next time I get one of those I should write back saying that I’m an atheist and it’s incredibly hurtful when they forward me stuff like that. Maybe they’ll reconsider their positions. I have no illusions that any of them will let go of religion anytime soon, but perhaps it will dispel some of their myths about atheism. Or maybe they’ll just stop bashing secularists in earshot or filling my inbox with it. That in itself would be a nice change; at least then there would be a lessened sense of impunity for attacking nonbelievers.

Mostly, I’m tired of feeling like a coward, like my atheism is something to be ashamed of when I’m around certain people. It feels like I’m hiding a big part of my life from them. In all other aspects of my life I’m proud to be an atheist, and I’m not sure I have a justifiable reason for keeping it hidden in this case. How proud of it can I be if the people closest to me, whose opinion of me I value a great deal, don’t know about it? As I said, it’s not like I have to worry about being cast out. There are many people who have come out and suffered far worse consequences from their families than I would likely face. It’s kind of dickish of me to stay in the closet out of fear of a stern talking-to.

I don’t really know when or how I’m going to do it, but Rebecca suggested that I come out to my dad first as a sort of trial run; he would probably be a bit more understanding than my grandparents. I’m already used to all of them looking at me like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick when I speak my mind on political issues; this couldn’t be much worse.


3 Responses to “On my semi-closeted atheism”

  1. JS said

    this is pretty legit, actually.

    love and cupcakes
    your friend and faithful reader

  2. Coming out is always a good thing, just be smart about it. I don’t always tell everyone, if I say, have a teacher, or boss, that is rather religious, or I don’t want to have the same theological argument the 1000th time. 🙂

  3. Leviathan le Large said

    If you read the bible, you would understand this:

    The God of the old testament is the God of the new testament. The God of the old testament is presented as a bloodthirsty, hedonistic, genocidal sadist. (Just ask the Midianites) You also learn that he had a son who was a little more liberal, he sacrificed himself because he loves us. In this case, human sacrifice makes goat sacrifice unnecessary. So I ask myself: “Would I worship Caligula?” If no, then why would I want to worship an all powerful tyrant who also happens to be bat-sh*t insane?

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