Coming Out Atheist Story

Given a majority of the population of the United States associates with a religion (89.7% from a 2007 Pew Poll) and a majority of the population is Christian (78.4% from the same 2007 Pew poll), it is likely a majority of the population was raised in a Christian household.  It then follows that a majority of atheists today were raised in Christian households.  Statistically speaking, the typical atheist in the United States started out as a Christian and/or was raised in a Christian family.  The same holds true for my story.

Growing up as a child, as early as I can remember, my parents took my siblings and I to Sunday School most Sundays of the year, excluding the summer.  Sunday School was not taught at our Methodist church during the summer months.  My parents, however, never attended church.  Sunday School took place before the church service.  My parents dropped us off, went back home, and then picked us up at the end of Sunday School.  I bit out of the ordinary, I know, but that’s the way it was in my family.  The only time I consistently went to church as a child was in the 8th grade when I was required to attend to pass confirmation class.

Outside of church my family was very non-religious.  Religion was never brought up in daily discussions.  We never prayed at the dinner table.  We celebrated Christmas and Easter, but never in a religious manner.  Aside from Sunday School, church and religion were non-existent in my family.  I started working at McDonald’s as a junior in high school and soon moved to the morning weekend shift.  I stopped attending Sunday School and my parents made no comment on it.

After high school, in college (both undergraduate and graduate), I never attended church nor did I think much about religion.  It played no role whatsoever in my life.  During graduate school I met and married my wife.  We were married in her family’s home church.  If pressured, I would describe myself at the time as a believer in God, but with a deistic attitude.  To me God was someone who created the world through the process of the Big Bang and evolution, but now takes a hands-off approach to His creation.

After finishing graduate school and moving across the country, my wife and I started attending church on a semi-regular basis.  Part of our reason for attending was to find and meet new friends.  A couple of years later I started suffering from anxiety, resulting in insomnia and an overall cranky attitude toward life.  My wife and I decided together to put a greater effort in religion and place ourselves in the hands of God, so to speak.  We found a church we enjoyed and started attending on a weekly basis.  After a year we increased our giving to the point of tithing (giving 10% of our annual salary to the church).  I even spoke in front of the congregation on the importance of tithing, something that absolutely amazes me today as I look back on my life as a Christian.  It was also during this time that I officially labeled myself as a Christian.

A couple of months later the pastor of the church asked me to serve on a leadership/advisory board to the church.  I agreed and it was here that my faith in God came into question.  Through this leadership board I saw the internal politics that affect most churches and it really made me question the church.  At the time I didn’t question the existence of God, but I began to question the value of organized religion.  This led me to books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.  This also led me to several atheism themed podcasts.  There wasn’t any one source that caused my conversion to atheism, but by researching and critically thinking through religion, I realized there are many atheists out there and atheism isn’t a bad thing.  I concluded that it is okay to be an atheist.

I served on the leadership board at my church for 8 months.  I came out as an atheist to my wife a week before our church was set to have a huge welcome/recruiting event.  We talked for several hours that night.  There was some crying and there were more conversations after that.  My wife always suspected that I didn’t believe in God and I think that’s what made my coming out to her easier to accept.  She has always been more religious than I, but even she has had many questions.  She would not describe herself as an atheist, but she definitely does not believe in the God of the Bible.  As a couple, my wife and I have grown much stronger since my coming out.  We’ve had many conversations on religion that have lasted the entire evening.  In addition I’ve come out to my friends and family.  They are all accepting for the most part.  There are some issues with my in-laws, but nothing like the horror stories you hear about.

As for my church, I attended the big recruiting event, but immediately resigned from the leadership board and never returned.  In fact, in the last 14 months I haven’t set foot in a church.  I will still walk into a church building for a wedding/funeral/etc., but there have been no weddings or funerals since I came out as an atheist.

So there you have it.  My coming out atheist story.  It’s probably not the exciting, action packed coming out story that many atheists have, but it’s my story and it means a great deal to me.  Coming out atheist was a huge relief to me.  A weight was lifted off my shoulders.  I’m finally able to life my life to the fullest without worrying about what the church and/or God thinks.  I end by saying that although I’ve always enjoyed life, I’m now enjoying life to a level that I’ve never enjoyed before!

22 thoughts on “Coming Out Atheist Story

  1. My childhood was similar to yours – except my family was Catholic and my mother did drag me and my younger brother to church every Sunday until I was confirmed. Apparently that was good enough because no one went after that (not even my unconfirmed brother!) – except my mother went to Xmas mass. She said she liked the singing.

    I’ve read a couple of your posts about crazy Bible verses – some really are. But I’ve always been puzzled by why Christians read the Old Testament (as it’s called) at all. Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, and 2 Corinthians 3:6 all say Jesus gave a new covenant with god. I’d think clinging to the old covenant would be contrary for Christians. But beliefs are hard to understand.

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  2. Reading your article gave me inspiration for a quote.
    “As life gets hard, people turn towards God. As life gets harder, people realize that God doesn’t exist.”

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  3. Isn’t it funny how we are terrified at first to allow ourselves the freedom to begin thinking in an atheistic manner because we think that somehow becoming atheist will remove all meaning from our life-but just the opposite actually happens? I haven’t come out to everyone in my life yet. My mother-in-law would be broken hearted and I just can’t make myself hurt her. She’s pretty old and feeble, so I figure I’ll let her die with the delusion that I believe in god-she’s a Jehovah’s Witness so she already is going to die with plenty of other delusions. 😀

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    1. Gloria, I really appreciated how you said,about your mother-in-law, “I just can’t make myself hurt her” with regard to coming out as an atheist. Ironically,it illustrates that being atheist doesn’t mean that we lose all sense of right and wrong – morality, if you like and that we don’t need to internalize some stern father-figure god to do what’s right.

      Some make a fetish of truth at all costs, but I 100% agree that causing distress to an elderly person for the sake of your truth would actually be harmful, not ethical. Sometimes that kind of confession is like buying one’s own peace of mind at the expense of someone else’s.

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      1. Thank you so much for your insight, David! I read somewhere that atheists are more likely to give to charities than non-atheists, which I found interesting (assuming it’s true…I can’t remember where I read it).

        As I’ve aged a little and gotten more comfortable with who I am, I’ve also gotten more comfortable with allowing others to be who they are, delusional beliefs and all. What I didn’t mention in my last post was that my husband and youngest son are also Jehovah’s Witnesses and there are never any religious debates or struggles in our house because we all respect each other’s viewpoint and love each other as we are. Of course, they pray every day that I will see things the way that they do and convert, but they don’t actively try to convert me or shove their religion in my face.

        I guess the bottom line for me is that there were very traumatic times in my life when I was religious that my belief in god helped me get through. I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through those times without believing that everything would work out ok and there was some father-figure taking care of me. Even though that belief was a delusion, I needed it at that time. You never know what someone else is going through, or whether or not they, for one reason or another, need to hang on to that fantasy to get through some difficult circumstances. Yes, it’s a delusion. But it’s THEIR delusion, and they have a right to have it if they need it. This is why I try my best to avoid any discussions (or arguments) with people who are religious regarding their faith. Usually, you will not be successful in convincing them that there is no invisible man in the sky who grants wishes. You MAY be able to plant a seed of doubt, but to me, that feels a little bit like taking Santa away from a 6 year old. Am I the only one who thinks this way?

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  4. Your comments on the Bible verses are very funny- thanks for making me laugh this morning! I understand how hard it is to believe, but I don’t believe that makes atheists bad people., as some Christians do. Like you said, humans and their religions are so flawed, that it’s hard to see past the people who put themselves out there as representatives of Christianity.

    My blog has Christian themes, because that’s just what helps me view the world, but my real goal is to help everyone be happier, not just Christians. And I don’t think it’s my life calling to convince non-believers to become believers, so I don’t want to take that route. I just want to help people be happier in general, spreading goodness for the sake of it. But do you think the average atheist would even consider listening to the point of view from a Christian self help/personal development article/book? Or does that render it useless to you before you even read it?

    Not trying to judge you at all for your beliefs, just want some help seeing things from your point of view!

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    1. Hi Sarah. Thanks for the comments. To answer you questions, no I don’t think it renders it useless before having read it. I will say that any atheist is going to be very skeptical of a Christian themed self-help book. There are many, many secular self-help books out there. If a self-help book is going to use the Bible as a source of help, it’s going to be difficult for a secularist to begin. I guess it all depends on if the Christian themed book has something to offer a secularist book does not. If it’s Bible verses and God’s love or something like that, most secularist will say no thank you.

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    2. Sarah, that’s an interesting question – certainly your attitude is welcoming, so I reckon I’d cherry-pick! (Just like when I went to AA for years, my “Higher Power” was Beethoven – whom I revere. His later works are as close to prayer as I get). But for a definitive answer, I’ll check out your blog.

      I want there to be a more positive term than “atheist” – which is accurate, but kind of stern, and has all kinds of baggage. It only states what I DON’T believe. I sometimes say “humanist”, which feels right.

      I only really object to religion when believers try to foist their beliefs on others and when they discount science in favour of allegory and myth.

      Yes, I’m atheist/humanist. But I still seek out the good and practice compassion; and I still look up at the stars with wonder.

      DR

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  5. I sit here watching news on the Paris attack and the overall tone is religious belief of the Muslims, their God and justification for the violence, etc. It reminded me of a Bible study years ago where I believe my agnostic views took a root. It was the study of book of Genesis 16:16 and the horrible story of Hagar, and what nasty people the Abraham – Sarah family was, and how God allowed this to happen to some poor young girl/slave. Some God.

    I can’t imagine someone telling me my unborn (Ishmael) son was going to be a major POS. No matter how how Christian interpretation tried to justify ‘sin’, this story is just messed up, with the exception that the descendants of Ishmael are the Muslims! So, I googled atheist views on Genesis and found you. What a breath of fresh air you are! You made me laugh so hard on a topic I tread lightly on with people in my life.

    I suppose this war of the tribes is Historic/Biblical. Whatever, the bottom line is no one knows for sure who God is and why we are here in the first place. I can’t put my belief in content other than I truly believe we are owed nothing. You die when you die and that’s it. Why do we expect more?

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  6. The fool has said in his heart ” No God ” I would say that that fairly describes you . You drive a car I suppose , if I came to you and said that it took a million years to evolve at my door but no-one made it you would rightly call me a fool . Yet you say that no-one designed you yet you are billions of times more complicated than a car !! So complicated that there isn’t a scientist alive who knows all about the human body and its processes . Who’s the foolish one ?

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    1. Your argument boils down to “man must have a creator because I say so”. It then falls apart when I ask you who created God and you say God is beyond space and time and doesn’t need a creator.

      You also argue from ignorance. Just because man doesn’t know the answer to something is no proof God exists. It’s the God of the gaps argument.

      Neither of which is at all convincing.

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      1. The bible talking about fools… I think it’s possibly the root of the concept of fools as secretly the wisest of all, like in Shakespeare. People look down on those fools, but the fool just smiles and mocks the whole world for its silly concepts.

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    2. But Grahame, evolution by natural selection is absolutely not in question. It is a universally accepted scientific theory – meaning it is a complete evidence backed explanation.

      Your analogy breaks down because a car is a machine that indeed was designed; the human body is a biological form that evolved. The difference is plain to see when you realize that human bodies,for all their fantastic complexity, are actually very flawed and far from optimal. That’s because living creatures adapt just as much as necessary to survive, but no more than is necessary.

      And if your beliefs bring you comfort, why could you not think that god “designed” the system of natural selection? As religion offers infinite ways to fail to explain anything, it works just as well as believing the system described in Genesis. God designing it is a completely unnecessary addition, but at least you’d be upping your game a bit…

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  7. My family is /was southern baptist, hell fire and brimstone. It was i believe 1977 I was back home in Tn. Visiting my grandmother, now she has since passed and the one thing that I can say in favor of religion is that it made her feel better about herself and her circumstances. For that I am glad.but I digress.

    I owned a pair of blue jeans and a couple of things shirts and some boots. She wanted me to go to church with her so I did out of respect for her.you would have thought I had walked in naked by the stares I got from the folks in the pews, did I mention I had hair that I could sit on and beard that could have hosed a small family of pigeons. Anyway that was the very last time I ever entered a church. I never really told anyone that I am atheist untill the last several years when I have become quite vocal about it. I try not to be loud or any about it but sometimes … well sometimes it is better to just walk away.

    Thanx for sharing your story.

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