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"Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 03:53 PM

Over the past several years, my spiritual life has been full of exploration and turmoil. Finally, I feel like I've figured it out. I had a hard time trying to reconcile spirituality and atheism, but thanks to studying Buddhism I feel...at peace.

However, it's so scary! I dread being asked what religion I am, if I'm an atheist. My own mom frequently talks about how it bothers her that I'm not a Christian, and she has very strong (negative) opinions about Atheists. Clearly it's not something that comes up a lot in polite conversation, but it DOES come up sometimes, and I fear the prejudice that comes with it. Part of me feels like if I were ever asked, I should just say "It's a private matter," but I also feel like I have a duty to be proud of my beliefs.

I know I'm over thinking this, but it's been weighing on my mind. Does anybody have any advice or experiences to share?

27 Replies to "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?

re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By LeSoulierVertmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 04:08 PM
Reading this, I'm wondering why you have to put a label on what you are. It sounds like you're doing a lot of soul searching these days, and while you may be leaning toward atheism, you seem to have some other beliefs that probably don't fall under a certain category, and truth be told, they dont need to!

If I were you and someone asked me what religion I was, I would tell them that I have beliefs, but they do not directly correlate to any organized relgion. You could also mention atheism if you really wanted, but you really shouldn't feel compelled to label yourself for other people's sake.

On another note, if you are doing some searching right now I recommend you read "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle is not part of any religion or group (though he learns toward eastern philosophy), and only espouses living in the present moment and being at peace with the world as it is. It is an truly amazing book that I think you might enjoy. You may have heard about it on Oprah.. she put "A New Earth" one of his other books on her book club list. Anyways, it's just sometime to check out if you'd like some new ideas.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 07:22 PM
Thanks for the book suggestions! I added them to my list (I'm hopefully getting an eReader for my birthday in two weeks, yay!).

As for the label, I'm comfortable with atheist. I don't believe in a god or goddess, and the extent of a "higher power" is my belief that love and humanity connects us all...nothing supernatural. I'd feel like I was lying if I was asked "do you believe in god, are you an atheist" and I said "yes I do, no I'm not."

As I write this out, I'm almost embarrassed because religious beliefs are generally considered inappropriate to discuss in polite company. However, I've been asked several times, usually because I practice yoga (actual yoga, not just YMCA gym hour yoga).
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By sjerosemember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 08:17 PM
This is not directly pertaining to your concern, but you did mention that you studied Buddhism. Do you continue to follow its teachings? Because while it doesn't center around worship of a deity, it is still considered a world religion generally. Would you consider yourself a Buddhist? The only reason I ask is because that may have an easier sound to it to family who are trying to figure out your current spiritual journey.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Nyssasisticmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 08:35 PM
Were I you, I'd probably say something along the lines of "I don't like to classify religion, but if I had to I would most closely align with Buddhism".

Although most people are probably just curious and you're really gracious to not tell them this, it's NOT any of their business and you certainly don't need to feel obligated to tell them exactly what's on your mind regarding religion.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By lee_britt
On Wed Aug 04, 2010 09:31 PM
When people ask me, I usually say something like "I just have my own beliefs that are different than anyone elses" and leave it at that. If anyone starts questioning it, I change the topic.

I've found that religion is one of the MOST personal decisions that a person will make in their lifetime and because of that, it's easy for a person to get offended or judgemental when discussing it.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Elfiemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 03:40 AM
There is nothing wrong about being an atheist! I don't even think of my atheism as so much a label, because it's just a lack of something, instead of a belief in a traditional sense.

Though it is strictly a personal decision and I don't think OP should feel obligated to go either way, this thread just made me wonder if this tread was about being gay, how many of you would give the advice to just stay in the closet? (Not that I think the gay closet is in any way wrong either, sometimes one does just need to protect oneself.)

My advice: Don't let other people define you! Their prejudice is just and only that, nothing more. If you can by positive example change those even a little - great. But even if you can't, it's not about you, just only about them and their narrow mindedness.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By lux
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 06:37 AM
I hope what I'm about to say doesn't come across as too presumtuous, sorry if it does!

I almost wonder if your discomfort at publically identifying as atheist is because your beliefs don't completely align with the public perception of atheism. I think the layman's understanding of atheism encompasses not only a lack of belief in an all-powerful deity, but also a lack of spirituality in general. Which, of course, doesn't describe you at all- it sounds to me like you've put more thought into this than a lot of people I know who follow conventional organised religions.

From the small amount of information you've given here, I think my belief system is pretty similar to yours. However, I don't really feel like I'm giving a truthful portrayal of myself if I say "I'm atheist"- the beliefs I do have in the things you talked about (humanity & the way it connects us etc) is just as important to me as say, God might be to some of the Christians I know.

Or maybe I'm completely missing the point here :P But I can definitely sympathise with you!
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Heartmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 10:49 AM
Eh, hang out with more atheists. There's a LOT of them out there. Honestly, I know very, very few people who are actively religious or believe in a God. Especially with people our age. It's not a scary thing and I've never experienced any sort of prejudice, and I've ALWAYS identified as atheist/agnostic, even as a kid.

You sound like more of an agnostic than an atheist, though. I have similar beliefs and I identify as an agnostic. If not that, you sound like a spiritual atheist. I will correct people if they call me an atheist and specify that I'm an agnostic, I think it's that important of a difference. I believe in something, but not a strictly defined something, and not a "god."

If someone asks, say what you are. I think you'll be surprised how many people don't care. The vast majority of people who do yoga don't "believe" in it, so to speak. You should avoid the subject with your mother as much as possible, of course, but there's no sense in lying by omission if someone asks you outright. There's nothing wrong with being an atheist, and it's not polite to debate religion in casual discussion, so it's highly unlikely that would happen. In that case, you are free to say "I don't want to discuss that right now."

If you're gonna be an atheist, man up and be one, hon. I know you've got the balls to do it!
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By d4jmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 12:39 PM
If someone asks what religion you are, just say:

Oh, I'm ____ (insert atheist, Buddhist, a-religious, whatever suits you, and then quickly change the subject, "Did you hear about ____ (insert newsworthy item)?

By changing the subject quickly you have sent the message that asking someone's religion is pretty rude - unless it's amongst personal friends where there is honest interest and you have the time to have a real discussion, otherwise the question is being asked as a way to categorize you into some box and I HATE that.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By NadiaLadidamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 02:13 PM
Kayla, we should talk. As a longtime ex-southern baptist living in the bible belt, I can identify. While I don't exactly consider myself an atheist, I have a hard time explaining my beliefs to people who ask - and not many people do ask - actually, I can't remember the last time I was asked, so it's pretty smooth sailing. I think it's terrifying because in our society, atheist = no morals and non-christian = heathen. I think that it's time to let go of letting the judgment of others affect you. I'd love to chat with you about yogic principles and spirituality. We should make a chat date. Let me know.

I second the Eckhart Tolle recommendation. Great book, "The Power of Now".
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By girlwithghilliesmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 04:53 PM
I get that question sometimes too, although most people who know me know better than to ask for my opinion on religion (not a fan). I have no interest in labeling myself, but I would probably fall under the agnostic umbrella. This may not be a great idea if you're concerned about offending the questioner, but when asked what religion I belong to, I either say that I am a conscientious objector or that I am a devoted disciple of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Alternatively, just say, "Wow, that's a really personal question. So how 'bout those Red Sox?" or something like that.

In any case, I agree with everybody who said that you should find some like-minded people. Hearing different perspectives is well and good, but it's also really nice to hang out with people on the same wavelength. Even in the Bible belt, they're out there!
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By toroandbruinmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 05:18 PM
lux wrote:

I think the layman's understanding of atheism encompasses not only a lack of belief in an all-powerful deity, but also a lack of spirituality in general.
NadiaLadida wrote:

...in our society, atheist = no morals and non-christian = heathen.
Sadly, I think this is too often true. Even people who don't think badly of atheists or agnostics don't know how to "classify" you. After all, if someone says, "I'm a Catholic" or "I'm a conservative Baptist" or "I'm a liberal Jew" you get a general idea of the way they try to live and relate to the world in general. Of course, simple labels really are insufficient.

If someone asks me what I believe I tell them, "Denominationally, I'm a Unitarian. Ethically, I'm a Humanist. Theologically, I'm an agnostic; however I slop over into an Emersonian-type transcendentalism, especially on camping trips." More often than not the new acquaintance's eyes glaze over and I realize he/she has no idea what I'm talking about.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Thu Aug 05, 2010 11:15 PM
Wow, thank you all for the advice and support!

Some of you hit a good point with me; am I an agnostic, or am I an atheist? I don't believe in a god or goddess, so I've always thought that makes me an atheist. However, I do have a pretty strong spirituality, so perhaps I align closer to an agnostic (though, to be honest, I've always thought that agnostics believe in a higher power/some type of god). I've been pondering why I obsess so strongly about finding a label...I suppose it's just the human in me. I like labels, I like being able to find the appropriate title for myself.

Nadine, I'd love to chat :)

I added Eckhart Tolle to my eBook list (I'm getting an eReader for my birthday next week), and it's the first one I'm buying. I can't wait to read it, so thank you both for the recommendation :)
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By SiyoNqobamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Aug 06, 2010 01:05 AM
Edited by SiyoNqoba (34789) on 2010-08-06 01:06:28
Going purely by the meaning of the word, I'd say you were an athiest, seeing as "a" + "theism" = "without" + "belief in deity." But if that's not what you want to label yourself as, then dont. When people ask your religion, you can always just say "I'm not religious."

Though I am speaking from the experience of having lived in a rather different society in this regard. I've read a lot that in America, it's quite hard to say that you're not religious? In New Zealand, most people would find it the other way round. We have one of the higher percentages of athiests, and a lot more people just aren't religious. I actually really struggle with telling people what I do for a living, because there's no way I can hide the religious side of it. So it's always really interesting for me to imagine what it must be like for you in like a topsy-turvy version of the same scenario.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By LeSoulierVertmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Fri Aug 06, 2010 02:53 AM
I've read a lot that in America, it's quite hard to say that you're not religious?


It really depends on where you live/who you are around. The U.S. is a really big place haha.

I live in Seattle, which is generally extremely liberal about religion and most things. Other parts of the country aren't so forgiving. I would never have a problem telling someone that I'm not religious though no matter where in America. It may be awkward, but it generally isn't that big of a deal.

And Kekoa, I'm soooo glad you're getting his book. I have a feeling you're going to love it/be blown away. He's amazing.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By tybalt
On Fri Aug 06, 2010 04:18 AM
I think ot is essential to respect all religions as long as they teach loving and respecting all men and nature. I prefer an atheist helping me to a "Christian" man bothering me. It's by far more important to bring peace to your next ones and neighbours than to strictly believe in Christ as redemptor of mankind who will judge all mankind on the latter days.
I think if there is a god governing all the world or if it is the law of nature is more a philosophical question. You can define the law of nature being god, so deity is in every creature. It's hard for so many people to believe in God as a person and not being an abstract principle, but they remain "Christians" because they are used to. It's very courageous to confess your convictions. I hope you have good discussions with your mother convincing her, "you are by no means lost".
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying? (karma: 3)
By Cienmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Aug 06, 2010 01:18 PM
I usually think of atheist as "There is no God" and agnostic as "I don't know if there's a God or not." My favorite is militant agnostic: "I don't know and neither do you" :P
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Sumayah
On Fri Aug 06, 2010 01:52 PM
I can see how it might be unnerving, especially as holiday season presents itself. My question is, are you trying to find a label because you're changing the former norm (i.e. not celebrating Christmas this year if you did last year) and need to find a way to describe your place to family and friends or are you trying to find a label because you need it to feel secure?

If someone asks what religion you are, why can't you just say that you don't have a religion? If they ask for an explanation, say that you're on a spiritual journey and are researching and exploring different world religions. I know I'm not most people, but my reaction would probably be, "oh, cool." If you get a hard and fast Christian on you who won't let it drop, explain that Christianity has been a part of your journey already and that the opposing and complimentary aspects of other religions intrigue you - for instance did they know that the story of the flood is prevalent in multiple religions, including ones that pre-date Christianity, as well as other mythology/bible stories. More than likely, they don't know that. An either they'll shut up because they'll realize you're actually educated and have done research or they'll keep pushing their opinion blindly and you'll know that there's really nothing you can say because their head is so far up their butt that they can't acknowledge that someone else might have a different opinion then them and that it's okay.

But good luck in your journey, and whatever you believe is what you believe; and don't worry about other people, even if you give them a label to stick on you, they'll have already made one of their own.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Theresamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon Aug 16, 2010 05:53 PM
When I lived at home, I got branded as an atheist without even trying. It wasn't that scary. More irritating than anything.

One of the kids that I hung out with at work alot asked me if I believed in god. Figuring that wasn't really any of his business, I said "I believe in a higher power..." and sort of trailed off. I mean, I like the dude, and I didn't mind talking to him about whatever, but come on? Since when is "Do you believe in god?" conversation for the time clock?

I was a full bore atheist by the end of the night. I never really bothered to correct anybody, because everybody knew I didn't go to church - in that town, Church was Sunday Morning Social Club, so everybody knew I didn't go.

And then it never came up again.

See? Not scary. Just annoying.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Tue Aug 17, 2010 01:14 AM
Well, my mom knows. We were talking about godparents, and I said "hey, mine are Mark and Kiki, right?" She goes "yes, but I think we need to fire them since they didn't do a good job and just turned you into an atheist." We both laughed, and that was it. So...there's that. I still have concerns about being asked by others, but I guess there's not much that worrying will do.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By LizDancermember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 25, 2010 09:29 PM
OP, I sympathize. It can definitely be weird and uncomfortable telling people that you're an atheist. But you're right, there's no use worrying about it. That's what you are, so other people are just going to take that however they take it and you'll just have to figure out how to deal with their reactions because this is just a part of who you are. Like someone else said, it definitely helps to find other atheists so you don't feel like such an outcast.

As for the people who say that identifying as an atheist isn't that big of a deal, at least where they live, I'm from the American South, and it is definitely a BIG deal here. Most people I know believe in God, and many of them go to church regularly. We atheists are definitely in the minority. I hate to get into discussions about religion because generally I'm expressing a pretty unpopular view. I've had people try to convert me. I don't know where the OP is, but SiyoNqoba is right that, at least in some parts of America, it's very difficult to say that you're not religious. And this is coming from someone who lives in one of the more liberal cities in my state. I'm sure if you live in more of the rural South, it would even more uncomfortable by far.
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By Kekoamember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Wed Aug 25, 2010 11:30 PM
I live in Missouri (a suburb with dozens of those big, evangelical churches, not hideously far from the church from Jesus Camp) and I'm moving to Alabama :?
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By TheMidlakeMusemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Aug 26, 2010 08:11 AM
^ But you're also just a short drive away from Westport and West 39th, silly girl. :P

Dani
re: "Coming out" as an Atheist...why is it so terrifying?
By hylndlasmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon Sep 27, 2010 02:39 PM
Just try to ignore it as best as you can. I sometimes will hear it from family as well. But IMO as long as you aren't harming yourself or another life than it isn't anyone's business.

I went from being Catholic to basically a Unitarian. I tried a few times to go back but I found it just wasn't what I needed in my life. I still respect the faith. I just don't agree with everything the church does.
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