How do I talk about my new-found atheism with my family?

Humanist Network News column by Richard Wade

Dear Richard,

I've been an atheist for only a year or so now. My mother passed away when I was only 16 from a terminal illness, which sort of set forth my disbelief and doubt (I am 20 now).

Now that I acknowledge that there is no God, I have found it more difficult to enjoy the holidays with my semi-religious family. (I say semi-religious because they are more so "part-time Christians." They only take notice of God during the holidays, or during my doubt.)

When my sister-in-law and I got into an argument a few months back, I revealed that I was an atheist. Now my family makes a mockery out of my irreligious preference. I've also felt the sudden need to lie to my father, uncles and aunts about it to avoid confrontation. I don't initiate any conversations on religion, but in recent months I've been asked a dozen times if I believe in God. I've also felt the need to excuse myself when asked to say grace or even when I'm in the same area where people are praying over dinner. With Easter coming up, being a "closet atheist" has appeared to be more difficult than I had originally imagined.

Do you have any suggestions on how I should go about being honest with my family and telling them I don't believe in God?

--Closet Atheist

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Replies to This Discussion

That is such a great question!!!! And such a great topic for discussion. (I'm really only posting so that I can follow the posts!)

I bet we all handle this problem differently, and differently at different times and in different situations. From childhood, I knew that I had to play at some kind of religion game. Everyone assumed everyone was "something," so I was Lutheran on all the forms and when asked.

I used to just join hands and bow my head at other people's houses, while mentally upchucking.

I used to tell myself I had to "respect" them, until I looked closely at that issue.

Then I started to find that people I had to pretend with, were people I didn't have much else in common with either. And they started to fall away from my life, kinda like Republicans and Johovah Witnesses. Now I'm left with only non believers, a few closet believers (who mind their manners), and a lot o liberals around me. Suits me.

But what do you do if you like your family? I guess I would ask for a truce from each of them. "You don't tease/egg on/mock me and I won't quote Dawkins/Hitchens/etc to you." If they won't play nice, are they really worth it?

And maybe they're just wanting you be honest with them, so that they know, for sure, where you stand. Maybe they mock so that you'll jump up and get angry and spill the beans once and for all. Are you or aren't you? Be honest with them, and then how they react is up to them - not your job.

How would you handle any other decision that you have or will make that you family doesn't agree with: being gay, communist, vegetarian, etc. Just dawned on me that maybe you have a bigger problem then you're seeing with your family.

Bottom line: I'd say: be honest, be firm, be loving. Act, don't react.

And I can't wait to see what others write!

Just to be clear, as you appear to be replying directly to me, I didn't write this and I'm not in any situation even remotely close to the person who did. I just found it via Humanist Network News and thought it would make for an interesting discussion.
oh , okay
Sorry, I thought the link and reference to "Humanist Network News column by Richard Wade" made it obvious.


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