Coming Out Godless: What Was Your First Step?

photo by DerrickT

photo by DerrickT

The delightful and thoughtful @hyumen documented the beginning of a long journey on her blog.

Well, I did it. I told my family that I am an atheist. Sort of.

After posting the results of the “Do you believe in God?” CNN poll (which strongly favored “No” at the time of its closing), a discussion about doubting God’s existence broke out on her Facebook page. Two family members joined her in vocalizing those doubts, while another, a theist, spoke back about why God is truly there.

The good news is that at least a part of my family knows how I feel now. We all know what the bad news is. I will have to hear the hellfire and brimstone sermonettes at every turn, as will my nephew and daughter. However, the family doesn’t know there are several more in the family who have yet to come out of the atheist closet. The holidays this year should be very interesting.

Make sure to check out her blog and support her as she navigates this family situation.

As the aphorism goes, “Everyone is coming from somewhere”. Some atheists were raised without religion and faith; others live in areas that are unwelcoming to the non-religious.

For all of you atheists who had to come out of the proverbial closet as non-believers: What steps did it take to be completely public and honest about your identity? Was it a confession to one individual at a time or perhaps a more public approach like @hyumen’s? Were the people around you welcoming and understanding of you or did they evangelize and debate? How long were you “in the closet” before coming out godless?

Cast your vote:

Are you an "Out" Atheist?

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September 25, 2009  |  Christianity, god, questions, religion, society

42 Comments


  1. I've been atheist since birth, so I never had to come out. My dad is also atheist, but my mom is a minister for a multi-faith church. She desperately wanted me to believe in something–anything–so I studied religion like crazy when I was a teenager hoping to find something I could identify with that would get her off my back. I found a couple things about wicca that I liked (the "harm none" thing and the reverence for nature) and that seemed to appease her. So, we're all good.

  2. I remember talking to my brother in our room about five years ago, when I was about 17 and he was 16, about something er other. I said something about being an agnostic. This made my coming out easy, because I said this not realizing what I was revealing whilst (I'm purposely being pretentious with this word to reflect my belief that I am right in my beliefs?) my mother was in the room. Upon hearing these words from my mouth, she turned to my brother and asked, "What does he mean by agnostic?" My brother made the whole situation easier on me by stating, "He means he is agnostic. What the hell else would he mean?" To which my mother replied, "What does that mean?" My brother and I looked at each other. "It means he doesn't pretend to know anything," my brother told her. She gave up at that point. I no longer call myself agnostic when asked if I believe in God. Part of being agnostic means I worship no gods, which makes me an atheist. I feel calling myself this is more direct. It's a word people seem to fear, and I feel hiding from it isn't going to help anyone. So I embrace the term, no matter what trouble it gets me into (which is surprisingly little).

    My mother might actually be the one that made it easiest for me to come out though. I tell her one thing, and I'm quite convinced by this point that she will never hear or understand what I have to say because what I say can never be heard over what Christ (?) is telling her. Luckily, I got her mildly interested in Bad Religion, but I again doubt she has any idea what they are saying. Maybe thought truly is just too much for so many of us to handle. God bless us, everyone.

  3. I came out as an atheist to my parents (my father is an ordained minister and my mother is 'more godly' than he is) via email. I sent them 10-15 questions I had about religion (pointing out the rape, racism, ect, in the bible) and then at the end said

    "oh yeah, and if you can't tell by now, I do consider myself an atheist".

    Needless to say I had a lot of heated arguments with them. My mother now says "I'm not talking about this anymore, I will pray for you". go figure. lol

  4. My father and mother were both atheists and, as a child, I was subject to no religious indoctrination whatsoever. Even so, I found it difficult to admit I was Godless.

    I remember once, as a kid, I had to fill in a form which asked the question 'Religion'. I asked my mother what I should put there, and she said, "Put down Church of England. It's easiest." (She'd been a Jew in Hitler's Germany and had been persecuted.)

    I finally admitted I was an atheist at a writers' meeting once when I was sitting next to a large African-American woman. We had to share something with our neigbour about beliefs. I nervously told her, expecting a negative reaction. But she laughed and said "I'm an Atheist too."

    The other thing that changed me from being silent to being vocal and 'out' was reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion". If you haven't read it, do so. It's marvellous.

  5. It's complicated with me. I actually came out to my father as Wiccan in high school, and he finally accepted it and eventually was suportive, so I thought telling him I was now an atheist would be cake. Strangely, he seems to be more unnerved and saddened by the idea that I believe that what we see is what is, than when I believed in fairies. It's because he felt comforted that I at least believed in something intangible, as he did, and now that I don't, he wonders if I'm missing out or if he's missing something. It's very sad.

    • I am still somewhat surprised at this view, even though I hear it often. Apparently it is more admirable or desirable to believe in *anything at all* rather than to be a naturalist and skeptic. One ex of mine said "Well everyone has to believe something's out there! You're being silly."

      I'm not sure any theist or supernatural believer can understand just how easy it is and how unnecessary those unfounded beliefs are until they empathize on our side. I don't think telling them it's okay will ever make them believe it.

      • Agreed. When I told my mother that I wasn't Christian a few years ago, she cried to me, "just don't tell me that you don't believe that nothing's out there, because I know there is!" She seemed so upset that I might "not believe in anything." We seem to naturally assume that a lack of belief is tantamount to despair and is going to lead to depression and an empty life. That's what my parents' reactions seem to point to, anyway.

  6. I came out as an atheist by writing a letter to my parents that I sent along with returning a religious book to them unread. They, a fundamentalist and a Catholic, were quite upset and wrote back with all the "reasons" to believe in god. They seemed convinced that I was just in a period of doubt and that I'd eventually return to xianity. 27 years later, I'm as much an atheist as ever, though I'm less evangelical.

  7. If you’ve been following my blog for the past week you know that I’m out to a few right now but I am in the closet to most. This is because a) my income right now depends on the church and b) my family are strong believers and my father is a pastor and I’m not sure how I would even begin to come out to them.

  8. i FINALLY came out to my mother as an atheist about two weeks ago and i was astonished at how receptive she was. she didn’t act like it made me not as good of a person or ANYTHING. she also admitted that the only reason she had me baptized as a baby was to get my great grandmother to shut the hell up.

  9. I grew up in an atheist household and didn’t realize that religion was that big of a deal until late in high school. I just thought that some people went to church and some people didn’t, but no one really cared that much. Now that I know better I am constantly thankful to be able to come home and find my parents reading books like “The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas”.

    After reading the stories on this blog and around the internet about people – very young people – having to face coming out to their parents and loved ones, I can’t even begin to tell you how much respect I have for people who are able to summon the courage. Bravo to all of you!

  10. Now it’s time to submit a story! ;P
    http://comingoutgodless.com/submit
    Read mine here: http://comingoutgodless.com/2007/08/08/my-godless-journey/

    Very cool. Everyone has different types of coming out experiences. I was always hostility towards religion but my family blissfully ignored it until I came out. I was pretty much always an atheist but not until I met my current husband (then boyfriend, of course) that I realized it. I was raised in reform Jewish household. I always assumed talk of god and the afterlife were just niceties everyone said but knew were BS. Now I see that that’s usually not the case. Anyway, my family hates my liberalism WAY MORE than my atheism. So what ever.

    In any case, glad to just be myself!

  11. Combination of “hells yeah!” and “not safe here”. Scandinavia in general is loosing it faith, fast, (I’m Norwegian), so it’s not a problem. I have several friends from what you can call atheist-families.

    But, my maternal side of the family is batshit crazy and thus religious (or okey, I don’t know if they are batshit crazy because of the religion, or religious because they are batshit crazy!)

    I can never tell them. God fixes everything, you know? Just pray a little bit. God is there. I have enough problems justifying just about any other aspect of my fairly NORMAL life.

    But to everyone else? Yeah, they know.

  12. It’s funny, I had a sort of similar experience with my friends and family, only it was with them finding out that I had begun attending church and had decided to become baptized. I was genuinely surprised at the level of anger and even hatred it prompted from some of my friends (I was raised in a secular family, the majority of my friends are non-religious). I guess there are zealots on every side of the equation.

  13. I’ve been struggling with my belief about God a lot this year. Not so much “Why doesn’t God listen to me?” More like, “I just don’t think I believe anymore.” But being afraid to cross the proverbial line into full-blown Atheism. I’m afraid I even declare myself as one because of the label. The label makes it official. I don’t believe there is a God, but I just can’t bring myself to call myself “Atheist..”

    My fears stem from having such a positive experience as a Lutheran growing up. My dad is a good, faithful man. I think it would kill him to know I don’t believe in his God, or the works of his church. I’m not certain I’ll ever “come out” of the Atheist closet. At least, not with the term “Atheist”. What a tricky thing, words can be. Out of all of this, the thing I’m most afraid of is a word.

    Is it strange?

    • I should say I don’t NOT believe in the works of the church, more like I don’t agree with the practices and the general “Having rules for believing in God”

  14. Becoming Free

    From my blog at: http://slrman.wordpress.com/2012/05/08/becoming-free/

    I also have a video of this at: http://slrman.minus.com/mAEiVfUtX/1g

    Blame it on my parents. They always told me to “think for yourself”. I doubt they ever considered what would happen if I really did that.

    Now, I suspect what they meant was, “Think what we tell you but do it in your own words.” Too late. When I was 13, I began to question everything and soon the total absurdity of religion became apparent.

    Because I have been “encouraged” (forced) to read the bible several times, it was easy for me to see the contradictions in the book, what christians professed to believe, and how they really lived.

    When I refused to go with them to their church, they said they would “Make me go.”

    I asked them, “How are you going to make me? How will forcing me to attend church change my mind?” Already, their attitude was starting to harden me against everything else they would tell me.

    Their next idea was to have their minister talk to me. I told them it was a waste of everyone’s time. They persisted and had him come to the house to “Talk some sense into me.” (as if they ever works for anyone) After about 15 minutes of him quoting the bible to me and me pointing out that he was either wrong in his quotes or showing him how it said something else in another place, he became very angry and told me I was going to hell. I suspect it was because I knew the bible better than he did and was, at age 13, able to prove how ridiculous his arguments were.

    I told him, “If there is a Hell I’ll see you there. Save me a nice place, OK?” He said I was an impertinent, disrespectful child. By then, I was angry myself and for the first time, I told a christian that he was a hypocrite, a liar, and a fool. My parents insisted that I apologize. I refused and left the room to a lot of yelling and threats.

    For the next four years, I heard about this at least once a week. So the night I graduated high school, I left my parent’s home and didn’t see them again for well over a year. By then, with the credits I had accumulated in high school and summer school, I had completed a couple of years of college. Fortunately, I was able to pay for this myself. I was entering the army and wanted to try to make peace with them, but had to listen to the same old recriminations and arguments again.

    The next time I saw them was two years later when I was getting married. After several years of an on-again, off-again relationship they finally agreed to just not discuss it any more. I’d like to say that worked, but subtle hints slowly became outright condemnation. Then I took a job transfer from Ohio to Arizona, so family meetings were rare enough to become occasions for something other than contention.

    I do have to say that I appreciate the other things they did for me, like encouraging my education and equipping me with the work ethic and attitudes I needed to survive and thrive at that early age. In those areas, they were excellent parents and I am grateful for those things.

    What did I learn? Even your family can turn against you if you refuse to share in their illusions. There are times, if you are to become your own person, you must stand firm in what you know to be true.

  15. Long story short, I was raised catholic and now believe I am somewhat of an atheist. I don’t believe in a God and although I think our world is surely amazing it’s hard for me to believe that it all came about in 7 days. Well my Aunt has always been a hard core bible thumper and she has noticed that throughout my twenties I don’t go to church and we’ve had a few conversations over the years about how I don’t agree with the catholic church. Well I recently moved back home, didn’t go to church one day and she had my parents (who did, but they go once in a blue moon, my Dad says he likes the organ..ha) and I over for brunch after mass. When I got to her house she joked in front of everyone that I would have to do the prayer before we eat and said something about Kumbaya (since I’m a treehugger of some sort) …I didn’t think it was very funny but didn’t feel like being confrontational. Then a week ago she had a few books for me to read and one was labeled “The bumps are what you climb on” ..well it sounded okay and then I opened it. The pages were full of scriptures and not one sentence would have been meaningful for me. I feel as though I want to nicely tell her that I wish she would respect my decision and to stop pushing her faith onto me. I respect that it works for her and that she is a strong woman. I also would like to tell her that I don’t try and change her beliefs. I strongly agree with to each his own. How do you think I should approach the situation when I return that book? I’m 28 and obviously not a child anymore.

  16. I find this blog very intriguing. I am a most definite theist, with absolutely no doubts of my belief. Take away any form of religion and it still seems evident that theism is quite logical.

    It seems, though I may be painfully mistaken, that atheism is caused by doubt. Doubt, because deity cannot be proven. Atheism seems safe. Atheism does come across logically. Philosophy and Science have many explanations for a godless universe. It’s definitely an interesting, though rather disheartening, prospect.

    • Atheism is caused by examining the facts and by objectively reading the bible or other “holy book” and realizing what total nonsense it is.

      Theism is caused by brainwashing, rejection of rational thinking and discarding of truth.

      Theism seems safe because it’s much easier than thinking.

      What is disheartening is that many people find myths and lies more attractive than truth.

      • That is a very interesting view! I beg to differ, though.

        Theism is caused by rational thinking against brainwashing.

        I find theism not safe at all. I think… enjoy thinking. I enjoy philosophy and explanations and I am happy to observe and learn from facts.

        I find that quite disheartening indeed. I find it also extremely unfortunate that people are happy to blindly believe that they are correct in finding the truth. Truth is wonderful, but I’m interested to hear why you think that you are so confident that you have found it if there is such a thing.

        • How is theism caused by rational thinking? It is accepting as true that for which there is not a single shred of evidence in favor of it and lot of evidence against it.

          If you enjoyed thinking, you would not be a theist.

          I am confident that I have found the truth because I have read the bible and other “holy books.” If you were able to note what you actually see instead of what you want t see, you would have noted I mentioned that in my first post.

          You can disagree and dislike what I say as much as you choose, that doesn’t make it untrue, though.

          Show me undeniable proof of anything, including any religion, and I will change my position. That’s only rational thinking.

          What would it take for you to change your position?

          • Atheism involves rational thinking? I don’t see evidence disproving the existence of a god.

            That’s quite an absolute! I think and I conclude. Mock my conclusions and insult my intelligence, but that will not change 😛

            I do note and see more than what I want to believe. I simply see things and I interpret them. If I am wrong then I am wrong.

            I will not show you undeniable proof, but I’d love to see some undeniable evidence that points to the fact that there is not God.
            Things can and never will be proven. Undeniable proof doesn’t exist.

            It would take me looking through facts and at the world and at science and life and finding no trace of a god in any of these aspects. Show me these things and I will happily join you.

            • FYI, the person making the claims must provide the proof. You claim there is a god. I say, show me the proof. You do not, you evade the question by trying to turn the burden of proof to those who are asking for proof.

              No, nothing will change your opinion because you have chosen to believe what is clearly not true because it make you feel good and smugly superior.

              You “interpret” things? That means you decide they mean what you want them to mean.

              No, you will not show me undeniable proof or any proof at all. That’s because you have none.

              Plenty of things can and have been proven. Gravity, for example. If you think it has not, drop a large rock on your foot. Will that be undeniable evidence for you?

              Look through facts, the world, and at science and find any trace of any god. You will not do that because it will destroy a cherished delusion.

              Try reading this:

              Why the arguments for God’s existence are wrong

              On 11.18.09, In Atheism, By The Antichrist

              There are many arguments for God’s existence. They range from the absurd to the compelling.

              Teleological argument
              Sometimes called the “argument from design” or the “fine-tuning argument”, the teleological argument, I believe, is the most persuasive. After all, how is it possible that a sunset is the product of chance? Why are flowers so beautiful?

              You and I are very lucky to be alive. We live in a world filled with beauty and wonder, a world of near limitless possibilities. There is so much to learn, to experience, and to share with others. We hit the cosmic jackpot.

              Obviously, this was all designed. When we look at the elegance of a cheetah running through the African plains, we know that it had to have been designed. It couldn’t possibly be the product of random chance.

              If we look at a painting, we know there must be a painter. If we look at a watch, we know there must be a watchmaker. Surely, when we look at the machinery of nature, which is much more beatiful than any painting, and much more complex than any watch, we are struck with awe and the knowledge that this must have been designed.

              The fallacy:
              First off, we’re being selective. The vast majority of the universe is deadly to human life. If you weren’t on this planet, you would most likely die almost instantly, either from the vacuum or the freezing cold of space, the unbreathable, toxic atmosphere of another planet, or the massive heat and energy from a star.

              Even on this planet, we’re faced with the reality that the majority of it is inhospitable to human life, which, at the very least, doesn’t help the argument that the universe, or even the earth, was designed specifically with humans in mind.

              Then, of course, there are the earthquakes, tsunamis, plagues, deformed babies, viscous predators, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, meteor impacts, droughts, psychological disorders, and many other examples of cruelty, violence, and the cold, uncaring and brutal disasters that this “intelligently designed” planet has to offer.

              I know, I know – you have excuses, eh, reasons for this, involving Satan and the fall of man, because there is obviously a logical connection between a man eating from a magic tree and a tsunami killing hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia. Maybe there is, but you don’t really believe in God because of that, do you? No, you believe in God for another reason.

              Cosmological argument – Argument from first cause. Nothing can come from nothing.
              Obviously, something can not come from “nothing”. Everything we observe in the universe comes from something else that pre-existed it. The logical conclusion to this is that the universe itself ALSO needed a pre-cursor, and this pre-cursor is obviously best described as the particular god that you believe in.

              The fallacy:
              There are actually several things I believe are wrong with the cosmological argument. For one, it is entirely dependent on unknowns. We don’t know what happened before the big bang, therefor there was a first cause? We don’t know what could exist outside of the known universe, therefor it is this first cause? We don’t even know if this universe had a beginning. However, this is completely irrelevant. In fact, let’s assume that the cosmological argument is completely, 100% valid. What does it actually prove if it is?

              It proves two things:
1) That there was a “pre-cursor” to this universe.
2) This “pre-cursor” operates outside of known space-time.

              And it suggests one:
1) This “pre-cursor” may have massive amounts of energy.

              That’s it. Nowhere in this argument can we get extrapolate ANY ADDITIONAL ATTRIBUTES about this first cause, such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, or even sentience. We simply DEFINE god as meeting those minimum requirements, and then ASSUME that he is the first cause, with all of his OTHER ATTRIBUTES, however unestablished by the argument.

              Transendental argument – Argument from Reason. Truth must be based on something.

              All logical arguments must be BASED on first principals. These first principals must be universal and can not be transient. If you do not have any universal, immutable, eternal first principals to base your argument on, the argument is inherently invalid. Since God meets the criteria of being the source of such first principals, only he has the “ontological stature” to be the source of such first principals. Thus, only belief in a supreme being can be logical, as any argument from a non-believer can not be valid because there is no foundation for the logic that they use.

              The fallacy:
              This one is very easy to see through, and can best be answered with a question:
Where does god get his “first principals” from?

              In other words, is a statement logical because it truly flows from first principals, or is it logical because GOD SAYS it is?

              If the laws truly are immutable, then God is BOUND by them himself (It logical because it is logical, not because god says so). If that’s the case, we do not need a god to explain them.

              However, if God is the SOURCE of logic, then they are dependent on him and NOT immutable, eternal, and universal. God could say that A = B and !B at the same time, and we would all be slaves to this “logic”.

              Finally, when we are talking about “logic”, what we are actually talking about is inside our own heads, a way to understand our reality. We debate and discuss to find flaws in our thinking. We study the universe to see if our principals really apply “universally”.

              I believe it is important to note, though, that the term “universal” here is limited by our own perceptions of the universe.

              Our REALITY is the basis for our logic. That “immutable” ground for such reasoning is the universe we live in, not anything apart from or outside of it, and it is precisely this logic that leads many, including myself, to dismiss the idea of a supreme being.

              So why DO you believe in God?

              Fear. You’re afraid. You’re afraid of death. You’re afraid of life. You’re afraid of God. You see the problems with the world and you just don’t want to believe it. You see the injustices in the world and you just don’t want them to go unpunished. You see the corruption, the lies, the death, the betrayal, and all of the agony that goes along with life, and you hate it, and rightfully so. I hate it, too.
              I’m also afraid. I’m afraid that we won’t wake up and realize that we have some serious problems in the world that won’t be solved by folding our hands and talking to the sky. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to answer 21st century questions with ancient texts. I’m afraid that we’re wasting too many resources arguing about which one of these beings is the “real” one, and far too much time and effort in a futile attempt to please a non-existent being.

              SO far, you have said nothing logical. If you think I mock your conclusions and insult your intelligence, it’s because that’s what they deserve. Show some proof or admit you have no idea what you’re talking about but believe because it makes you feel good.

            • I enjoyed this answer very much!

              Still you have offered no proof of the non-existence of a god.
              One who makes claims will try to proove, but there is nothing to proove :)

              I’m happy you feel confident in your beliefs.

            • @ Phantom. I do not have beliefs, I have knowledge. YOu have beliefs, you accept as true that for which there is no evidence and even much evidence against.

              You have failed to address a single point I have made.

              You still claim there is a god but you do not even try to offer proof. That tells me what kind of person you are. YOu’re a typical theists, a liar, a foll, and a hypocrite. IN your case, all three at the same time. Either prove something, or STFU.

            • I didn’t say that I don’t have reasons did I? I see that you really don’t care. You don’t think you can be proven wrong. I don’t believe that the balance tips in your favor, though. What evidence have you shown me. Theory, philosophy.

              I haven’t failed to answer your points. I have chosen not to waste my time answering theories.

              You love putting people in boxes don’t you? No, I am no normal theist and I do have my reasons and I have proof and I have theories and explanations and science and interpretations and equations, but what value are they to you?

            • @Phantom NO, I don’t care what you allegedly think. Your every post shows that rational thinking is far beyond your capabilities.

              When did I say I can’t be proven wrong? In fact I said exactly the opposite. “Given undeniable proof of anything, including religion, I would have to change my position.”

              What you have demonstrated is that you only comprehend what you want to believe. You refuse to recognize that I have only said, I have never seen any proof of any god. Read that again, carefully. If shown proof, I will change my position. Understand that?

              I have only shown you theories? You apparently do not understand what is meant by “theory” in the scientific sense. That’s not surprising. It’s another example of your refusal to understand anything that doesn’t support your favored delusions. Do you think that my example of gravity is “just a theory?” If so, someone must have already dropped that large rock, but on your head instead of your foot.

              What philosophy have I shown you? Prove anything I have posted is not true. Prove anything you have posted is true.

              How am I putting people in boxes? By telling the truth about them? If the box fits, get in it and stop whining about it.

              What theories, explanations, science, and equations have you? You saying something doesn’t prove it. I made a long post demonstrating why all the explanations of any god are not true. You totally ignored that. But I expected you to do that. Like most other theists, you ignore anything that you cannot answer and pretend it was never said. That’s far easier than thinking, isn’t it?

              You do understand that every time you ignore my requests for proof or my own proofs, all you are doing is demonstrating that you are a coward, intellectually and ethically. That’s something else I expected. Thank you for showing that I am right.

            • I’ll be praying for you

            • No, I’m not afraid. I’m not confused. I don’t fear death, nor God, nor pain, nor life, nor what may happen. I don’t believe in a god so that my problems can be solved… I simply see things as I see them.
              I didn’t say that ancient text is the answer to our problems. I said that I believe in a god. Are my problems solved… maybe not. I appreciate your thought, though.

  17. It’s been almost a year now that I decided that I was no longer a Christian, but I’m not atheist or agnostic. There isn’t a label that matches what I am. I believe we are all gods, and we make our own destinies.

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