Atheists Coming Out – New Series
In the coming weeks, I will be publishing testimonials from atheists all over the world who have experienced coming out as a non-believer to less-than-supportive family, friends, and other loved ones. In some cases, the people featured in this series will have been ostracized or rejected by fundamentalist peers. And, in some, they have been met— as should always be the case— with love and respect. Each testimonial featured in Atheists Coming Out will help give insight to the large percentage of atheists who, for fear of rejection or misunderstanding, have not been open about their lack of faith. I will choose five (5) of the featured stories to be included in an upcoming book on this very topic. To submit your 1000-1,500 word de-conversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.com with “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.
To begin the series, I’ll publish my own coming out story:
“It is an interesting and demonstrable fact, that all children are atheists and were religion not inculcated into their minds, they would remain so.”
– Ernestine Louise Rose (January 13, 1810 – August 4, 1892)
In order to properly understand this guide to “coming out” as a non-believer, some might wish to learn more about the particular context in which I, as a secular author, am writing. Now, the way I see it, everybody is born an atheist and, without submersion into religion as a child, we would most likely maintain that position… more often than not, however, this is not the case. I don’t remember a particular time in my life in which I believed in the validity of a particular religious tradition but, eventually, even I had to break the news to my family and become “open” regarding my secular mindset. My parents were not always religious people… They may have abused substances religiously— but, when I was very young, church was probably the last thing on their minds. When I was two years old, my parents divorced and began their separate lives pursuing drugs to feed their addictions; thankfully, my grandmother volunteered to care for me until my mother or father could afford (financially and emotionally) to raise me. She never mistreated me or abused me, but she was the first person in my life to introduce me to religion and the authority of the church. My grandparents with whom I spent the majority of my childhood considered themselves Baptist Christians— and I was raised in a way that, they thought, would encourage similar ideologies in me.
When I was a bit older— around six years old— I went to a Christian church at the discretion of my grandparents; this was my first real experience with a religious institution. The church, located in a small town in Northern California, considered itself “non-denominational” and usually consisted of a pastor reciting well-chosen biblical passages for about an hour and providing some minor inspirational interpretations. Needless to say, I was not moved by the experience— and didn’t take the idea of church seriously. Even though this doctrine was being force-fed to me for as long as I can remember, I always had questions about its veracity— questions that, I quickly learned, were considered inappropriate to ask. My grandmother was a self-described traditional, god-fearing, Christian woman— though it wasn’t until much later that I would realize the closed-mindedness that this mindset bred in her and others. She saw that I was not excited about attending church on a regular basis and, at around age eight, she mandated that I attend a weekly children’s class at the same church in an attempt to force my involvement and encourage participation within the “House of God.” I recall my first day at this Sunday School very well; I remember that my younger step-sister was there with me in a classroom-like setting learning about Jesus Christ and his message, obviously at a superficial level that could be absorbed by young children. I also remember the tactics utilized by the “teachers” in order to keep the attention of the children and get us excited about church— such techniques included giving gifts of candy and other prizes for active participation. I do not doubt that the intentions of these people were positive but, in hindsight, I cannot help but see the gifts as a type of mild bribery in exchange for the willing indoctrination of a child. After we earned a certain amount of “Bible Bucks”, which were awarded for correctly answering trivia questions about the gospels and participating in Christian songs, we could cash in these vouchers for prizes like candy, toys, or even a ten-minute break to play on the trampoline behind the church.
The bus ride to and from Sunday School was the most exciting part of the event for me and my step-sister; we would play games, sing songs, and we were always given a large amount of sugary sweets. My point in telling you this is not to glorify the practice of forcing a religion on a child, but instead to illuminate the ways in which this act is carried out within the Christian community and other religious traditions. My step-sister was always delighted to attend church in order to receive candy and prizes… it didn’t take long for this connection to become a subconscious one, which created an extremely positive outlook of church and religion in her mind. For one reason or another, I did not have this reaction— I simply didn’t take church or religion seriously. I remember thinking of it more as a pastime or a game to occupy my time on Sunday mornings, acknowledging that the “miracles” portrayed in the Biblical Texts could not have possibly occurred. There is no point in my past in which I would have considered myself “Christian”, or affiliated with any other religion for that matter. But, as my family took Christianity as God’s inherent truth, I was afraid to voice my opinions on the subject. It was this disparity between my family’s faith and my lack of faith that spurred my interest in the study of religion. It wasn’t until age thirteen that I became interested in actively studying the various religious traditions in the world and their effects on society at large. It is because of this curiosity, and my sincere hope to avoid familial confrontation, that I decided to remain silent about my skepticism surrounding Christianity— and all religions. I continued to accompany my family to church on Sundays— as a silent observer. After years of attending the same Christian church nearly every week, however, I had a lot of unanswered questions about the religion’s history, principles, and how it has become the most followed tradition in the world. But, out of fear of being ostracized, I remained silent and did not raise my concerns to my family.
At age fifteen, I decided that I wasn’t getting enough information out of the weekly sermons to justify any sort of divine revelation— I decided to read the bible to get a more complete picture of what it teaches and why. It is at this time, after seeing first-hand the violent, discriminatory, and hate-filled passages that our pastor had neglected to read aloud, that I decided that I was definitely against the notion of organized religion. I could have remained silent for years as so many of us do, but instead I decided to confront my family head on. It is at age fifteen that I first told my family that I didn’t want to go to church anymore because I disagree with the religion on a moral level. I was honest and respectful about my opinions, but that didn’t stop them from attempting to force my participation in the church— they probably thought they were doing the right thing, trying to “save my soul”. I remember them being upset with me at first— as you would expect. But, because of my straightforward and honest attitude toward the subject, and because I broached the subject rather early in life, it blew over relatively quickly. From age fifteen on it was known to all those in my family that I was a Religious Conscientious Objector and, while some of the more closed-minded family members looked down on me for this rather bold decision, I simply turned the other cheek. Now, I am an open atheist in my private and public life and believe that I am truly better off for it. While keeping your opinions hidden might help to avoid small confrontations, being honest with yourself and others will be more rewarding in the long term and I truly empathize with those people who are still being forced to hide their non-religiosity.
I understand that, because I never fully believed, my de-conversion wasn’t as divisive as some of my friends and colleagues. Those of us who were more invested in church might have a more difficult time sharing their new-found skepticism with friends and family. This includes those non-believers who were once clergymen or preachers or otherwise associated with a religious tradition— this dynamic presents its own set of unique challenges. But the reason my de-conversion was not a traumatic moment in my life, is precisely because I didn’t wait. By telling my family as soon as I was sure that I didn’t want to be involved in the church, it became a soon-forgotten aspect to my developing personality— in other words, my family got used to it. By the time I was eighteen and decided to attend school for Religious Studies, nobody in my family or circle of friends was surprised that I was interested in studying the phenomenon of religion from a secular perspective; and, though I catch flak from strangers every once in a while, my true friends and family love and respect me for who I am, regardless of religious and ideological differences. This is, in my opinion, how it can and should be for everybody, provided that you are honest with yourself and others in a respectful manner; here, I will outline some steps to make the process easier for you and your loved ones, provide testimonials from non-believers of all ages who decided to take the enormous step to become open about their lack of belief, and provide helpful information for resources and support systems for open non-believers. The intention is that these instructions and stories will help people who are being forced to hide their thoughts and feelings from family and friends in a society largely dominated by religion.
To submit your 1000-1,500 word deconversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.com with “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.