My coming out...umh...well, I was born in a mildly and vaguely believing environment in an otherwise pervasively religious country. My parents are religious at Christmas, occasionally Easter, at confirmations, funerals and weddings. As for the rest, they've never been convinced apologists of what they profess being their faith and actually often criticise the RCC's policies on just about everything. I grew up that way, taking Christianity for granted, thinking of it as the only possible way but without really pondering the deep, theological aspects of the whole thing. I went to church, messed around with my friends, was even an altar boy from time to time. Then, when I was thirteen or fourteen we moved to where we currently live and for some reason stopped going to church entirely. I live about one kilometre from the local parish and I've never seen its interior. I'm not really sure why it happened, if my parents simply figured that they no longer needed to play the churchgoer part or that me and my sister were already old enough to make our own decision. However, high school came and entrance in the bright world of unbelief was pretty much downhill from there. Biology, physics, history and philosophy classes just gave the final blow to what probably was still a cautious agnosticism. I've been an evil, filthy, child-eating heathen for the past six years or so.
Of course, as Murphy's Law demands, my actual coming out to my parents was somewhat more upsetting. I don't think we had ever seriously discussed religion before, yet I was somehow drawn - perhaps naively - to think that they wouldn't have much of a problem understanding my reasons. Needless to say, I was kinda wrong. I remember the exact episode. We were driving down town as we were planning to eat at a yummy Indian restaurant. While in the car, the radio was spouting the report of who knows what latest mindless declaration of the Pope - I think he was implying that atheism is one of the great evils of our time, stuff like that. Apropos, I thought. I don't exactly remember how the conversational focus shifted upon me, but I remember that I came out as atheist in just about one sentence. Then my father, an engineer, a man who's supposed to be fairly rational, said something I will probably never forget because it made me feel quite bad. He said, "I don't get it, atheism is pointless." I'm not sure whether what actually hurt me was his not understanding my reason or the fact that I was actually naive enough to expect that he would, but still, I dropped the topic at that. Maybe I wasn't ready to have an open debate about the topic with my parents, although at times I still regret missing that one chance to open their minds to an alternative.
I was thinking about this very question earlier today, and I haven't answered it in any of the other forums (or anywhere, ever, really) so this seems like a good place to start.
I was raised in the Church of England, where a lot of people find comfort in the ritual, but there isn't a lot of real in-your-face god talk. Once I was out on my own and exposed to a variety of different faiths, as well as a bunch of people who seemed a lot more sure than I ever had been about their beliefs, I started asking questions in earnest. I took some Psychology of Religion courses, explored a number of mythologies, attended a few cult-like fundy services--much akin to the other sorts of experimentation one tends to conduct while in college, only a lot less fun
And then I stopped. I had, at that point, never met anyone calling themselves 'atheist' or even 'agnostic'. I was somewhat agnostic about the possibility of some Universal oversoul type of deity (I really dug Emerson and the whole Transcendental American Lit period), but quite convinced that the Abrahamic god was as much a creation of humans as Loki or Pele or Zeus. Nothing further seemed required, however. There was no apparent 'next step' to take, other than to live a completely secular life, nod and smile politely when other people talked about their churches, and mind my business.
Two things happened to change my mind, some years later. One was that I got more involved in politics and became more aware of the incursions by the Religious Right, up to and including the outcome of the 2000 Presidential Election. The other was that I became a mother.
My son, it turns out, is one of those deep thinker types. He asks amazing questions and has been able to understand fairly detailed, complex answers from an early age. As soon as I realized this, I made a commitment to always answer his questions honestly. By the time he was three, we had already had a number of those conversations that a lot of parents seem to dread--birth, death, reproduction, etc. (all in age-appropriate terms, of course). His questions about mortality, supernatural beings, etc. required me, for the first time, to be articulate about my own beliefs, and in doing so, I finally identified myself as atheist. As soon as I actually verbalized this, I had a kind of epiphany--I remember one millisecond of letting go, consciously asking myself: "Do I really disbelieve all of it?" and answering "Yes!" followed by a sense of awe that I had finally recognized and embraced the thought which had lain dormant in my mind for the past 10 years. Since then, and especially after reading the works of Dawkins et al and finding Pharyngula, I have become increasingly unabashed at 'outing' myself, when appropriate. I think I have shocked more than a few of the soccer moms in my community with this revelation, but only because they have never known anyone who was openly atheist before. I've put a lot of effort into making sure my kids have strong moral values and lead by example with a lot of charity and volunteer work for our school, so hopefully a side effect of this will be that a few of the fellow parents will be able to say they know at least *one* atheist who isn't a mass murderer :)
Mine's more of a Going In story. I've always pretty much been out, although I've usually said agnostic rather than atheist until I got to know the person. Over the past several years I've felt that I've had to go INTO the closet in various parts of my life; I started working for an extremely religious Catholic boss, I joined a band which, although I love the music and many of the people, seems to be chock full of christians, and the owners of the place where I keep my horse are fundamental christians.
I was promoted at work, and I'm not sure that I would have gotten the promotion if it had been common knowledge that I was an atheist. I could have been wrong, but I didn't want to find out, so I kept my mouth shut. I hope I was wrong.
I somehow became chairperson of the band, and that has been a nightmare even though most people don't know I'm not christian. I imagine it could have been much worse. For a while I was toying with coming out of the closet in the hope that I would be impeached. Unfortunately, I'm too stubborn, and feel that I can't just quit, so, again, I have kept my mouth shut. I'm termed out at the end of August. YAY!
My horse has many problems including blindness and a wound that won't heal. He's happy and enjoys life though, so I won't consider putting him down. He needs special accommodations, and stables where I can safely keep him are few and far between. I just nod and make noncommittal sounds whenever the owners come out and tell me about how great their god is to them.
Like others have said, I often tell people I'm agnostic until I get to know them. After people get to know me, they find that my agnosticism is on the same level as I have for Santa. Most people I know are open-minded enough to not be offended by my beliefs, although nearly all of them are Christians.
The owners of the small company I work for are Catholics, so I fear offending them and have no reason to bring it up to them anyway. However, I would very much like to be able to wear my scarlet "A" OUT Campaign pin to work, but am afraid to. This didn't, however keep me from adding a tail and feet to my Ford emblem on my truck along with an "A".
My boyfriend is an atheist, but his family doesn't know either of us are and he worries about what they might think. However, there was a sticky moment last night: He and his brother were here at my apartment and I was looking over/joining this site while they watched TV. I tried to keep the "Atheist Nexus" header scrolled off the screen most of the time, but his brother must have been paying more attention than I thought. My boyfriend had paused the TV to speak to his brother and after they finished their conversation there was a short pause. Then his brother said, "So, Jude, are you an atheist?" I said, "yes". He said, "hmmm". There was a long, VERY silent pause and I wondered what the best response was. I decided there was none needed. If he had had more questions, I would have been very happy to discuss the answers with him (atheistic discussions run short in Indiana), but alas... not. I considered replying, "are you?", but decided that may seem somewhat confrontational. I want everyone who knows I'm an atheist to know I'm open-minded, nonconfrontational, compassionate, and most of all happy, well-adjusted, and a great lover of science!
It's appropriate that it's called the "OUT Campaign" because it must have felt somewhat like homosexual people feel like when they're forced to answer a personal question with two response options: (1) lie, not be real, and decide not to represent your 'kind' or (2) face the awkward silences and possible negative judgements (or even much worse for some people). I'm quite proud to be an atheist -- someone who tries to live a life structered on Reason, rather than delusional, ancient, unbelievable, dangerous, illogical myths. I will never answer "no" to the "are you an atheist?" question and am happy to be better off than some who are forced to hide.
Does anyone out there wear their scarlet A for the "OUT Campaign" to work?
What do you think about this?
Remarking on a few posts above this one on the scarlet letter pin, and OUT campaign. Isn't the whole point of the OUT campaign is to have people come 'out' so that others wont be afraid. If we, who consider ourselves exponents of this program do not wear the pin, don't we just add to the 'problem' this campaign seeks to mend?
I understand that jobs are at stake, and that it is not easy, but it will be easier in numbers. When the fundies see that we are not a few lone nut-jobs (not that I think the famous atheists like Dawkins are nut-jobs, exact opposite really) then we will begin to find more acceptance. Maybe some people you work with are in the same position, and you each are so good at hiding and conforming that you each feel alone and alienated. Perhaps there are atheists you meet everyday who are unaware of sites like this, that let atheists know that they are not alone, and maybe by coming out and letting them all know you can simultaneously enlighten and encourage other, more ignorant atheists.