Atheists “coming out” to religious friends and family

April 6, 2007 at 9:23 am 28 comments

Ashamed?In response to the questions, “Why do atheists hide their atheism from their families? Are atheists ashamed?, Austin Cline from Agnosticism/Atheism Section wrote:

“Not all atheists hide their atheism from friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family, but it’s true that many do. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily ashamed of their atheism; instead, it often means that they are afraid of the reactions of others if they find out and this is because so many religious theists — especially Christians — are intolerant of atheism and atheists. Thus atheists hiding their atheism isn’t an indictment of atheism, it’s an indictment of religious theism.

Revealing atheism to loved ones, especially to religious parents, can be a very difficult task — at least as difficult as it is for someone to reveal that they are gay.”

For those of you who grew up in conservative Christian or Muslim homes, I would love to hear your “coming out” experiences. Feel free to post your responses as a comment to this blog or directly on your blog with a link back to this post.

Personally, there are still many of my family members and friends that I have not “come out” to and would love to learn from your experiences. If I do decide there is a need for me to take this action, I’m especially concerned about my aging mother who will spend the rest of her life praying vigorously for my soul.

If you have not yet “come out” but desire to, please also feel free to share your story on the circumstances surrounding your reluctance to face this issue.

– Agnostic Atheist


Entry filed under: agnostic, agnostic atheism, agnostic atheist, atheism, atheist, christian, christianity, faith, Family, freethinking, Islam, Religion, skeptic, skepticism, spirituality.

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28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BFD  |  April 6, 2007 at 11:07 am

    I haven’t had my “coming out” experience yet, although I plan to here soon. I just haven’t had the balls (nor the need, really). My mom is not extremely religious, per se, although she certainly believes in God and has her moments with God and symbolism and signs from passed family members and so forth. So, while I’m not ashamed of being an atheist, what Austin writes is dead on in that what I’m more afraid of is how she’ll react and how disappointed she’ll be in me (and, if so, how long it’ll last!).

  • 2. Mike  |  April 6, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I know I can’t “come out” yet. I’m not ashamed to say that atheism is now becoming a principle that is guiding how I live, but I am afraid of my family’s reaction. If I came out I know these things would happen:

    1. I would immediately be asked to stop attending church. ( I would be considered leven that levens the whole lump.)

    2. My family – both my parents and my in-laws would call at least a dozen people to organize an intervention.

    3. Some of my current friends would disown me.

    4. I would be ridiculed by the larger faith community which I used to belong to.

    But really, even though these things scare me (in the sense that I would become pretty isolated) I would be more scared if I lived in a society that was based on theocracy. Even a Christian one. A community that believes in the absolutes of Christianity, it’s literal interpretation, would only be one step away from purging the unbeliever from it’s ranks. People think Christ was a peaceful man; obviously they havn’t read Revelation. It is the doctrine of the evangelical Christian church that Christ will slaughter all who oppose Him. They call it justice, I call it murder.

  • 3. tobeme  |  April 6, 2007 at 11:51 am

    It is true, many people do not ”come out” as you expressed for fear of reprisal from freinds, family and society at large.
    The question I have for you is, why do you feel a need to come out? What purpose does it serve you to come out? I would think there would be few circumstances where you would have to talk about your beliefs. Even during a dinner time prayer that some people have, you could choose to sit in silent respect of others beliefs and not feel compelled to speak out against their beliefs.
    I would imagine that there would be times that you may have to come out, such as your own wedding, however other than that I don’t see the need to come out. Help me understand.

  • 4. agnosticatheist  |  April 6, 2007 at 12:46 pm


    Those are some excellent points and that ultimately is where I am today. I will always respect the beliefs of others even if I was more open about my atheism (outside of the internet).

    My reasons for wanting to come out are twofold.

    1. As I learn more about atheism, the rebel is me is rising up to want to stand for our rights, privileges, and overall acceptance. It’s hard to do that from the shadows.

    2. I’ve read many ex-Christians writing about missing the “community” and “cultural” aspects of Christianity. I would love to be involved in efforts to fill these voids.


  • 5. Mike  |  April 6, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    I simply want to be free to express myself. I think honest discussion of ideas should be allowed and not shunned. But that isn’t allowed or fostered in my current faith community. Maybe I do not yet have the courage to articulate why I believe what I believe. I don’t know; but I do know that a healthy environment would be one where I could talk freely about my beliefs without the threat of excommunication.

  • 6. agnosticatheist  |  April 6, 2007 at 1:16 pm


    I agree. I’m acutely aware of the situation within the church but my eyes were opened to where American society is in general on this subject when it was such a big deal that 1 congressman came out as an atheist.

    Funny how easily “Christian love” will disintegrate when someone steps out of their environment. It can happen even within Christianity with folks leaving one denomination for another etc.


  • 7. HeIsSailing  |  April 7, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I would not say I am an athiest, but I have definitely left Fundamentalist Christianity. I have had to come out to my wife, obviously – and while it has had its painful moments, she is gracious enough to at least try and understand my thoughts and decisions. In the process, we have both taught each other quite a bit. I have two friends in Church, one in a small group I used to lead, who I confessed to having serious doubts about Christianity. So far, one has been very understanding, although sometimes she really quizzes me about why I am even doubting. The other friend is not so understanding. Every time I see him, I end up having to defend myself. I think the pastor of our church is suspicious, since he has called our house several times, and has asked about my “faith crisis”.

    Other than a few close friends, I have no desire to come out. If the topic of our beliefs come up in conversation (which it probably won’t – let’s get real), I may bring it up then, since I am not hiding anything. I just don’t feel the need to bring further pain and confusion on old freinds of mine.

  • 8. agnosticatheist  |  April 7, 2007 at 9:45 pm


    Thanks for sharing your experiences.


  • 9. VanBad  |  April 22, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    I am just so frustrated by the prevalence of Chistian morality in society and their dogmatism over ruling all else in conversation and even politics, as if to be right in this world you must side with Christianity. There is a reality of being moral and just in this world aside from Christianity. Their justifications of hypocrisy are allowed to grow by those who remain silent, so please speak up against them. We must prove that there is good in this world born from outside God’s kingdom.

  • 10. pumpladder16  |  April 30, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    yeah disbelieving in religion was easy. disclosing it to family and friends wasn’t. it’s just the worry that they’ll react drastically to the news. religion is just so pervasive in my community that coming out openly is bound to cause me some social difficulties. but with all the attention atheism is getting from the media, hopefully more people will declare themselves as atheist… safety in numbers 🙂

  • 11. michael  |  January 24, 2008 at 8:02 am

    I grew up without religion forced upon me and was encouraged to learn for myself what religion was about. I always questioned faith and at the age of 19 I can comfortably say that I do not believe and am agnostic…for I simply do not know. However, I know this isn’t the “coming out” experience you may be looking for but I have very religious aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. When I discuss my views with them and why I feel this way, they always seem to focus on the what and not the why. They then proceed to shoot back at me the fundamentals of Christianity as if I do not understand them, and that is why I believe the way I do. However, I fully understand why they believe and why they are Christians in the first place, I just don’t agree with what they think. But it always seems that whenever I speak out about my agnosticism to those who are religious they don’t UNDERSTAND why I don’t believe and why I am agnostic. They automatically pass judgements and don’t care why I’m not religious, just that I am not. They won’t even make the effort to understand or tolerate the fact that I am not. Through this lack of understanding resonates a common view that what I believe to be true is completely ridiculous and not worth understanding. Even more so, when I express my views it is automatically offensive to them. No matter what I say, they write me off from the get go and immediately throw their views back on me, as if it were common knowledge and shouldn’t offend anyone. So basically, through my experiences of expressing my views I have found that to express views of non-belief is rude or offensive whereas the imposing of any religion on anyone is acceptable. Just be prepared for this type of close-mindedness. It won’t be easy to make them understand why you are atheist/agnostic and they will probably shoot the same kind of shit right back at you and get upset that you are in fact atheist. I find it most successful to explain to them that you understand why they believe what they believe and that I only ask for the same in return, even if they may not agree with it. After all, the existence of God isn’t a fact, that’s why it is called faith.

  • 12. aagnostic  |  March 8, 2008 at 12:30 am

    I have the same problem

    In some ways I think it would be easier if I were Gay, at least then i would have some kind of support system. But there is no support for secular people “coming out” to their friends and family.

  • 13. Laura  |  April 11, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I would never “come out” to my parents. Their religion is extremely important to them and I simply don’t see the point of telling them. They would fret and worry for the rest of their lives. I cannot be responsible for something so cruel as to cause that. I don’t feel the burning urge to tell them because I don’t need to prove anything to myself that it’s okay to be an atheist. I often wonder what the true motivation for this “coming out” is for others? Do they simply need the shock value of being different? Are they trying to piss off and alienate their families? is it something more benign like a misplaced trust that the family is so kind and tolerant that they would understand and respect those beliefs? I would pay great homage to the family that is capable of that, but unfortunately in many cases, christians are taught to be intolerant of this group and shun them. I know that sounds cynical, but sadly it’s reality.

    I guess my question to the atheist population at large is: what do you hope to accomplish by telling your religious family that you are atheist? What will that do? If it’s about validating your own beliefs to yourself, perhaps you have some self-evaluation to do and decide if you really believe this or not. If it’s in the hope that your family will respect it, well, test the waters first.

    I know my family knows I don’t believe in their God, but they choose not to make an issue of it, and rubbing it in thier faces would not only be rude but disrespectful and cruel. Hence, I shall never tell them unless directly asked. Just be careful how you handle the feelings of others, even if you are not shown the same consideration. Be the better person and set a good example.

  • 14. Mel  |  May 11, 2008 at 1:58 am

    First of all, I came out to my family, because one Easter, my dad decided it was time to try going to church. (Little too late, right?) All I knew about his religious background is that he grew up in an extremely religious family, which made telling my parents harder.

    I don’t really ever remember believing in a god; I just never thought about it. When I did take the time to sit down and think about it, I realized that I was an atheist. I didn’t really feel the need to tell anyone then.

    One day, a friend was over for the night. We got into a few deep discussions about a few different things. First, we were talking about religion, which led to abortion, and she eventually said she didn’t believe in God. I said I was, too, and we talked about it a lot. Even though we don’t talk much these days (approaching finals), I still consider her a really good friend.

    After that, I realized I couldn’t really have good relationships with family or friends if they don’t know about me. After that, I told my mom (a Catholic), my dad (an agnostic), my brother (nicknamed Bible Boy), and a few friends. So far, none of my friends have stopped talking to me, and my family is fine with my decision. My dad actually did say, “Why aren’t you just agnostic? Atheism is pretty far to go with this.” My response was, “I don’t think we have no way of knowing about God. I don’t believe he exists.” That was the end of the discussion.

    Anyway, the point of this (as mentioned before) is that no one can really be your friend without knowing all of you. Telling my friends and family has nothing to do with pissing anyone off; it’s because I want to have friends who accept me for me. If they don’t want to be my friends because of my beliefs, they weren’t good friends in the first place.

  • 15. Laura.  |  August 28, 2008 at 6:56 am

    I hid my doubts and beliefs as long as I could until I came out during an argument at eighteen. Over all it is not a good experience at all but I could not continue to waste my time and pretend to care about something I had grown to hate so much. Previously I had been close with my parents and I could talk to them about my life and problems but now it is like trying to reason with the carpet.

    My parents do not respect me in any way. They claim to love and care about me and my emotional health but their behavior is very toxic. I am often told that I am going to burn in hell nonchalantly (but seriously). I have had problems with depression for most of my life and sometimes I really just want to kill myself, after being treated this way by some of the only people I thought I could depend on. I have told them this before and they do not care. They seem to believe that I deserve the pain. I wish that I was never born.

  • 16. Max  |  December 22, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Here is a twist to this.

    My family is atheist. I have recently converted to Christianity. Have not yet done my “coming out”. I know it will come out one day. I know it is going to be hard just like it would be the other way around. I know it because of the comments they make about other relatives who live their lives according to their religious faith.

    Going from one to the other (Believing family/atheist or Atheist familly/Believer) is just as hard.

  • 17. Michelle  |  July 7, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Last year I came out and told my family the truth about my beliefs. Mine are a little bit odd, I guess: I’m agnostic, but I do believe there is a possibility that there is an afterlife and that spirits do exist. However, I do NOT agree with any fundamentalist religions, and unfortunately this is what my family holds as truth (they’re fundamental Christians).

    Well, telling them the truth was not an easy nor fun process to say the least. My family was shocked and thought I was going through one of my “rebel” moments. I stood my ground though, and for a while they tried to re-convert me: trying to drag me to church, preaching at me about the Bible, and so on. I got fed up and finally had a painful, full-blown discussion of why I think the Bible is wrong, and why I believed what I believed.

    After that, things were not calm for several days. Part of me was happy to finally not have to lie anymore, while the other part of me felt alienated and miserable. Now my family tries to be understanding, though every now and then they still try to convince me to go back to religion.

    But I NEVER will- I refuse to believe in any religion fundamentally, because I know that there are so many hypocritical and corrupt parts to it. I can not understand how someone views a religion to be just and loving when they believe people are going to a place of eternal suffering, all because others refuse to follow their religion…that is the exact opposite of love. And don’t get me started on apocalyptic books like Revelation- if that isn’t evil, I don’t know what is.

    And I’ll say this much to anyone who is thinking about “coming out”: be certain that that’s what you want to do and make sure you understand what lies ahead. I was afraid of the reaction I would get from my family, and it took me seven years (I’m 24 now) to finally tell the truth. And whatever happens, do NOT let anyone put you down just because you believe differently from them- you have a right to your own thoughts, and they have no right to bully you.

  • 18. agnostic firebird  |  July 8, 2009 at 3:17 am

    Michael, my man! (not michelle, even though she is cool too) I have no idea how you just explained my current situation in detail but you did. I have been raised in a Christian family my whole life and all of a sudden, at the age of nineteen, I have questions and can freely admit that I don’t know. Plain and simple. Conversing with an average Christian or especially a Christian extremist is unbelievably difficult. The thing is, I know where they are coming from and the values and information they wish to impose on me because I have been there and wished to impose those same values or I would, as a Christian, talk to an agnostic/athiest with a pre-conceived notion that they are not following the path that god has laid out for them. Now, as I have done research, I realize where those people were coming from in having questions and not all the answers. For some reason the Christians that approach me already judge me and want me to change my ways and it is big time bull shit. It is all they know and all of them say, you just need to have faith. Muslims have huge amounts of faith and devotion, but they are “going to hell” for worshiping a false “god.” Faith alone cannot let you enter the gates of heaven. If you are out there, in that deep dark abyss we call the over-powering Christian community, comment back and maybe we can get more to understand. Thanks

  • 19. Shinzy  |  October 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I thought I’d throw my two cents in.

    I haven’t really ‘come out’ since I haven’t gotten my own beliefs in order, but I realize that I might not ever be able to do so. Perhaps the word agnostic would be fit for me, then (I had never really considered it before, when all I saw was the negative connotation attached).

    Though, while questioning, I want to keep an open mind about these things. It’s a bit difficult, however, because when some younger teens in my family asked me on my religious standings, I ended up being barred from ever discussing them with the family ever again.

    Growing up, I seriously never thought one bit about how much religion (Christianity to be exact) had been ingrained into my family. They refuse to even acknowledge that someone who does not believe can function in society.

  • 20. antiemavis  |  December 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I live in the UK and it seems pretty much normal here to be either agnostic or atheist. I grew up in a stiflingly fundamentalist Christian household in South Africa and all my sisters and both parents are still very religious. Although I try not to discuss religion with my family, I have no problems or negative reactions when I tell British people that I’m an atheist. At my place of work, there are about 150 employees and I know of only four people who ever attend church. I must say that this has made me bolder to admit to some of my family that I am indeed an atheist. They still treat me with respect, although I’m sure they’re praying for me a lot. That’s fine by me and I appreciate their concern. The point I’m trying to get at is that the attitudes of the society you live in can have a major effect on whether you’re going to come out of the closet or not.

  • 21. Chase  |  February 28, 2010 at 2:21 am

    I grew up in church, and was a youth leader. I was a mentor for youth in grades below me, and was considered an “up and coming” young person the kingdom of god.

    But somehow I never believed in it. I questioned a lot of things. Much of religion does not add up in any way, shape, or form with any semblance of rationality or reason.

    Religion as I see it, is like a child’s “blankie”. It offers the child comfort, even though there is no empirical reason for it to do so. But this does not mean that the “blankie” should be taken away or looked down upon. I cannot begrudge the right of another human being to seek their own happiness, especially as an atheist.

    When I came out, I was ridiculed and scorned and mocked, and pretty much disowned. It was the darkest day of my life, but it was also the most joyous because finally I could let my intellectual curiosity whisk me away into a world of knowledge and intellectual freedom and boundless discovery.

    I do not maintain my contacts with old acquaintances. I have found my intellectual niche in the ivory halls of academia. Here, I surround myself with people for whom atheism was an inevitable result of rigorous, empirical study.

  • 22. Kid  |  April 4, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    Yeah, i come from a deeply religious family; grandaunts nuns, granduncle a bishop. Because im asian, my parents react to digression, erm, violently. Yeah, my parents basically beat the shit outta me till i agreed to go to church and meet with the priest and describe exactly what happened and go to counseling and all that crap. Not that any of that has changed my religious views, but i had to pretend to live sanely. Its scary tho how crazy people can get over religion. I was seriously scared when they were beating me, it was like they weren’t even my parents as opposed to some thug. I was on the ground and bloodied up and they still wouldnt stop, screaming the entire time. yeah coming out, not worth it.

  • 23. Andrew  |  May 6, 2010 at 11:37 am

    I have been an Athiest for years now, but I only told anyone when I was 13 and could not stand pretending anymore. It was not too bad, my parents were a bit disapointed, but they are not strictly religious and although they insist on dragging me kicking and screaming to church, I have not had more than minor disagreemets with them.

    Friends are a different matter. For a while I was baned from writing emails to a friend (I travel alot) but once their parents decided I would not convert her, they let us write again. It took about 3 months before I heard from her again, but it was bearable. I also made some new friends who felt free to associate with me now I was “trustworthy”. In hindsight, that sounds almost ad bad as the friends who would not talk to me for a while because of their religion!

    Either way, it was easier than I thought, so I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t come out yet to talk it over with people and explain it.

  • 24. JJ  |  October 10, 2010 at 5:28 pm

    just what is this “coming out to” thing why should i explain myself to anyone. just as they have a choice over their belief’s so do u.

    • 25. Tom  |  December 29, 2010 at 9:40 pm

      Because friends and family share their lives with each other and when your life changes dramatically (and leaving religion is dramatic for those raised in it) you share those changes with people who care about you. That’s why it may be hard for me. I love my family and we’ve never kept secrets from one another.

  • 26. Tom  |  December 29, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    I’ve recently out grown my faith while serving in the military in Afghanistan. It wouldn’t be kind to my folks to tell them this while I’m stuck in a war zone half way around the world; but I know it will come up when I get home. My family is close and we’ve always had strong spiritual faith in common. They restricted conversation with our Jehovah Witness relatives because every religious discussion turned into an attempt at conversion. I honestly don’t know how they’ll react to me becoming an atheist.
    I enjoyed being a Christian and having atheist friends, I hope I can enjoy being atheist and having christian friends.

  • 27. Josh  |  October 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I’m 14. I knew I was an atheist ever since I was 13, though at that time I didn’t know so i was agnostic.
    I live in a strict baptist family(my mother and sisters, dad not so much),
    My mom has been exceptionally hard on me so I can improve my grades, which my grades aren’t bad.
    Also i’ve been complaining that I don’t have anything to do at home, her solution? Youth group. Every friday starting tomorrow I have to attend. It’s not easy since all my friends know and some of my friends are in my church so it’ll be kind of awkward, and one of them is a complete asshole.
    I’ve been watching thunderf00t and potholer54 on Youtube, because I think those guys are the reason why I’ve converted. My sister found out but she wouldn’t dare tell anyone because she’s afraid what my mom will think of me. It’s bad enough that I have to go to church on sundays but now on fridays too?
    I don’t have anytime for myself besides saturday. My mom has no job, my dad doesn’t have enough money for support, and we’re living off savings. Savings that will be put into my college intuition.
    I’ve been looking good ways to “come out” and tell them but it seems impossible until i’m older. P.S. In my household it’s basically like i have no opinion what-so-ever. Whatever says I go.
    I need help, please.

  • 28. Giant Meat Flower  |  August 25, 2012 at 12:36 am

    It took me 25 years to muster the courage, but I just came out today.


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Agnostic Atheism Wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God, you will be judged on your merits and not just on whether or not you ignored the lack of evidence of his/her existence and blindly believed.

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