How to “come Out” of Yourself As an Atheist Without Ruining Your Relationship

There are many reasons why you might choose to keep your religious beliefs—or lack of them—to yourself. In a society that does not usually adhere to a particular faith, it can be intimidating to “come out” as non-believers. Atheists can sometimes be seen as jerks who want to discuss or ignore other people’s religious beliefs. But your desire to declare yourself an atheist may not have anything to do with arguing with anyone, but everything to do with the desire to live honestly and in accordance with your own principles.

Often, by the very nature of atheism, what you care about is not spreading your faith or following some atheistic code. Instead, it is about transparency and truthfulness. Depending on where you live and the beliefs of your loved ones, there can be practical problems with belief systems. Will your parents expect some religious leader to marry at your wedding? Do they expect you to baptize your child? Do you feel like you are hiding something from your family and friends?

If you have decided that you are ready to declare yourself an atheist (and it is safe for you), you may not know how best to express yourself. Is there a proper way to minimize conflicts with believers in your life? Greta Christina, author of Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why , writes that “there is no one magic formula for coming out that works for everyone.” The deadlines are different and continuous for everyone, because “exit is not one step that we take once and that is over.”

Here are some tips and reminders on how to make confessing as an atheist as discreet as possible.

First, define what “going out” means to you.

Only you know how deep and detailed your output should be. Here are some practical questions to help you understand what your atheism means to you:

  • Do you need to convince your family that you are happy without religion?
  • Is someone you care about likely to react negatively?
  • How will this affect your family decisions in the future, such as marriage, children or no children?
  • What will this mean for family and community traditions?
  • How will this affect your daily life?

At Coming Out Atheist , Christine shapes your decision based on the difference between secrecy and privacy. If you feel like your atheism is about cheating, then your coming out should be safe about anything that makes you feel like you’re hiding who you are.

Focus on yourself

The declaration as an atheist must express your beliefs; Now is not the time to change someone else’s. Keep in mind the questions above about how to define your atheism as practical as possible. Again, this will be an ongoing process with the opportunity for more conversations that will delve deeper into what you and the people around you believe. For now, focus on the “I” statements to keep the conversation as down to earth as possible.

In general, the sooner the better.

The earlier you get out, the more likely you are to be able to choose the time and place and avoid potentially uncomfortable (or even unsafe) instant revelations. Christina lays out the less-than-ideal situations that can arise when you endlessly put off revelations:

The earlier you leave, the less likely you are to be singled out by someone else (accidentally or intentionally); that someone in your life will force the issue (insist on a question and not accept a vague answer – this happens more often than you think); or that the crisis will force you to quit right now, even if the timing is bad (such as a health crisis or a death in the family, when religious beliefs and lack thereof suddenly become very relevant).

Plus, you’ll give the people in your life more time to get comfortable with the idea, if needed.

Plan everything

Once you’ve figured out when and where you want to go out, take the time to plan out what you’re going to say. As with any difficult conversation, it’s helpful to physically rehearse the script. Speak lines in front of a mirror or write down your points in notes on your phone. Just be prepared to go off the script – despite your best efforts, you can’t plan other people’s dialogue in real life.

It’s also a good idea to think about when and where you’ll have this conversation, especially with family.

“Choose a place where they can express their feelings in privacy, and a time when you have time to discuss everything if you need to,” Christina says. “As tempting as it is to have a conversation in a restaurant where no one can throw a temper tantrum, it’s not exactly fair.”

Look at relationships first

Take this conversation step by step. If you are trying to keep your relationship as good as possible, then the moment you go outside is not the time to question and attack religion itself. Instead, focus the conversation on what (if anything) will change in the relationship.

Remind your loved ones that you don’t change. You are asking that this part of you be respected, just as you respect their own choice to believe what they want. And if you don’t respect what they want to believe, then this can become a more serious and final conversation about your relationship.

Prepare for confrontation

For most people, the main problem with being an atheist is that by expressing your own beliefs, you will inevitably contradict someone else’s. So, you are immediately preparing for a step-by-step refutation of the family religion? Or are you simply expressing a desire to personally abstain from certain religious practices? Confrontation may be inevitable, so be prepared to choose your battles.

rest assured

Make it clear that your coming out is not an invitation to group introspection. You’ve probably thought a lot about this decision, so make it clear to those present that you’re open to discussion, not debate.

Christina writes: “When people you care about act like you hurt them by not believing in God and telling them that, they can be painful to deal with. If people get upset when you tell them you’re an atheist, you can show compassion for their upset without taking responsibility for it.”

You may be upset that they don’t feel well, but you don’t have to say, “I’m sorry I did this to you.”

Be a big man

The reality is that the more open you are about your atheism, the more you open yourself up to anti-atheist hostility. As we said above, you will have to choose your battles if you don’t want every conversation to turn into a fruitless debate.

Where, when, and how you draw the lines around your atheism may change over time. Get ready to be a big person and let some anti-atheist comments roll off your back.

Finally, if you claim to be an atheist and expect a backlash, be sure to build a supportive community first—friends, select family members, online, and so on. If your coming out doesn’t go as planned, appreciate the fact that you made the big decision to be true to yourself. It means a lot.

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