I've been thinking about the process of leaving a religion. It can be social and professional suicide. I recently was denied a recommendation I needed for a graduate school application because of my lack of faith. That was a blow! Yes, professional suicide, if your degree came from an evangelical university. I'm thinking of writing an Op-Ed article about it. I've also come to the conclusion that I need to start all over from scratch, since I do not have support anymore. I will probably go get another bachelor's degree and work up from there, this time from a SECULAR and intellectually stimulating university.
I've also joined r/atheism. It's been an eye-opening experience. I've read countless stories of young adults and teens who have been 'outed' to their parents as atheists, and responded to with violence, threats, and verbal abuse. Some have even been kicked out of their own homes as minors. What the hell? Aren't Christians supposed to love people (especially their own children) unconditionally?
Ok, from my former point of view as a missionary kid and active proselytizer, I understand that having an atheist in the family would be shocking, depressing, heart-wrenching, etc. But what I didn't realize was how much of a threat Atheists are to Christians. Ok, I can imagine it. 'Atheist' was such a horrible word in my previous life. Full of mystery, bad connotations and all. But I have found atheists to be some of the most sympathetic, humanitarian, genuine, hilarious, and intellectually stimulating people on the planet. I've met some atheists I want to strangle, too, with their lack of concern about society and injustice, but for the most part, they are good-hearted. Infinitely more than the religious crowds. So, how can you convince a family member that you are not a threat to them?
Well, I was recently 'outed' to my sister and one of my best long-life friends. It was sort of an accident. But they asked me point-blank and I answered honestly. My sister took it very hard. She cried bucketfuls, afraid for my soul, and yes, I understand her position. But she refuses to talk about it. At first I didn't hear from her for over half a year. Then the next email I got from her, she tried witnessing to me. That was very frustrating, because she knows me so well, knows how much of a Christian I was before, and that I know the Bible even better than her. Her best argument was that she knew that I "believed Jesus was just a good person who lived a long time ago, but that was 'just not True.'" And then proceeded to tell me the basic Christian message. I was offended. Offended that she thought I just 'forgot' the gospel message. So next time I saw her (another six months) I tried to gently tell her I was hurt and disappointed that she had reverted to a tactic she should have known wasn't the issue. Sigh. Bucketfuls of tears again. Maybe that wasn't the best way to approach the subject, but she refuses to talk about it. I told her to ask me questions, if she liked. She asked 'what if you're wrong.' I returned the question to her. And then she shut down, refusing to 'debate my sister.'
Well, communication has been a little broken, but I think I'm making progress with her.
So, with that frustrating experience, I still haven't 'come out' to my parents, my brother, and my other sister. I don't know if or when that will happen.
Why does it have to be this difficult?
Here's why, I think: By declaring yourself an atheist, you are immediately a threat to their faith because of their own doubt. Many Christians spend their lives in doubt. They wake up every day and try to suppress their rationality, re-read their Bible, and convince themselves that there truly is a loving God up there who cares about them and their daily activities. Hell is a reality, and Heaven is bliss. But with so many controversies in the Bible, they have to warp their brains to keep believing a message of love and truth. They ignore verses talking about God condoning rape, slavery, child abuse, incest and murder. They read and reread the happy verses, the Jesus verses. That's what I did back in the day! So when you say you are an atheist, you are hitting a chord of rationality that they refuse to look at out of fear. Fear of hell and eternal judgment. Also, they’ve been taught to ‘beware’ of the wolves of the world, and an atheist is the epidome of the ‘the world.’ So, they think an atheist can infect them, like a disease, sucking them into a hole bound for hell.
A second reason I think the term "Atheist" is so threatening to the religious, is that they are convinced that without God, there is no morality. They fight their daily 'sinful' thoughts by cleansing themselves with thoughts and prayers to God. Pleadings, really. They think they are innately sinful, because it is what has been forced upon them from the top down in religious groups. Unfortunately, I bet that the sinful struggles they fight against are really not wrong! Homosexuality, sexual feelings and thoughts, pornography, and doubting God. Bible-based morality is warped. It leads to sexual repression, low self-esteem, and thinking you are a worm, bound for hell because God does not like what you think or do. In my undergraduate studies I went to chapel and listened to a horrifying lecture called "You are a Worm, deserving of Hell." Great, huh? I remember stalking out of the building, angry as Hell. But unfortunately, they also think that without God, they would start wanting to murder people, rape women, and other such horrible things. They truly believe they will do these things if they do not have a god to tell them what to do.
So, when a family member exposes themselves as an atheist, their feelings of being threatened rise up like a storm against their loved one. And they are afraid. Afraid of hell for their family member, afraid they have failed, and afraid for their own belief system.
Unfortunately, this is what we have to face when we are 'outed', whether by choice or accident. The best thing to do? Well, keep being nice, keep interacting as best as possible, keeping yourself out of harm, and insist that you are the same lovable person they've always known. And hopefully things will improve. If not, well, you may end up ostracized. But there is a huge uprising of atheists contactable on ex-Christian forums online, YouTube channels, and sites like Reddit (r/atheism). Look it up if you need the support!
As for me, I am dealing with the question of whether to 'out' myself to my parents. I am afraid for my mother, because she is mentally fragile. She went into a deep, suicidal depression when her dad almost died without accepting Christ. So....it's a touchy business. If it does happen, however, I will definitely be blogging about it!