Why I Won’t “Come Out” as an Atheist

I’m a listener first, a thinker second, and a speaker last.

I am lucky to live in the northern states of the USA. Up here, we don’t really care that deeply about religion. We have churches, we celebrate Christmas, and we have a lot of believers, but religion is fairly subdued. I can go all week (months, years?) without someone asking me if I’m saved, or inviting me to church. My culture is not dripping with religion, and I do not feel the need to speak out against assumptions that may or may not are being made about me.

My Social Circles

There are two groups of people in my life when it comes to this topic. The first is a larger group of people: acquaintances, old high school friends, old church camp friends, co-workers, etc. These are people that I remain in touch with to some extent, but are not really part of my everyday life. They are a mix of all genders, races, religions. I am not worried about these people at all. I couldn’t care less what they think of me. When interacting with people from this group I am usually less guarded, and if asked directly about my personal views on god I would answer without hesitation.

Then there’s a small group of people that I deeply care about, and I want them to remain a permanent fixture in my life. Telling these people that I am atheist could come as a very big surprise, and possibly even disappoint them. I don’t think they would “disown” me, but they might passively distance themselves in passive ways, unconsciously even. Currently there are five people in this group.

So I find myself in between these two groups. I am not secretive about my atheism, but I am not loud or aggressive about it either. Nor will I ever be. It’s just not really my style.

Real Conversations

Sometimes I’ll have general discussions about religion with people, but the odd thing about these discussions is, the person you are speaking with rarely comes right out with a direct question like, “Well what do YOU think about this?” Because of that, it’s pretty easy to let people carry on with whatever assumption they have about me in their head. I’m pretty much fine with that.

Here are some of the mini conversations I’ve had with people. I find it somewhat amusing that a lot of these short encounters are regarding my son’s religious upbringing, and how little curiosity these people have in understanding my nuanced replies. I get that I’m being rather evasive, but if they really wanted to know, they’d ask more questions.

  • (Not out to this person)
  • Person: Gosh, it’d be so nice if you could find a church so that you can teach little one about the Bible
  • Me: Oh, don’t worry. He’ll learn about the bible.
  • (Discussion Ended)

 

  • (Not out to this person)
  • Person: You thinking about finding a church up in the cities?
  • Me: Hmm, that’s just not really where I’m at in my life right now.
  • (Discussion Ended)

 

  • (Not out to this person)
  • Person:  Are you going to dedicate your little one?
  • Me: (awkward laugh) Naw, we don’t need to do that.
  • (Discussion Ended)

Here’s one conversation with two of my family members where I was asked a direct question. I was not out to them yet. We were having a good time, socializing, having some beers, etc. I forget the bigger contextual topic that even brought forth this discussion, but it illustrates my willingness to answer honestly when asked.

  • Person: Well I assume you’re Christian/Church of Christ, right?
  • Me: Well, do you really want to know?
  • Person: Yeah!
  • Me: I’m atheist.
  • Person: (shocked look on their face)
  • Me: Technically I consider myself humanist, but people might not know what that means. It’s not a big deal or anything, and it’s not even a secret. I just don’t go around wearing my atheism out loud. I tell people when they ask me. (smile)
  • (Discussion Changed Topic)

That last encounter pretty much sums it up. Atheism is a normal state, and I shouldn’t feel the need to “come out”. I build rapport with people. I carry myself as a rational thinker. I enjoy a good conversation about deep topics. I let other people state their opinions. I’m a listener first, a thinker second, and a speaker last. When I do reveal my atheism, people are only shocked at first because, well, gosh I’m such a nice, normal, friendly, reasonable person!

And just like that, I’ve changed that person’s worldview on atheists forever.

Image source: Giuseppe Milo

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