How To Come Out As A “None”
It may turn out to be the most difficult conversation you will ever engage in. But you’ve thought about it, wrestled with it, and in the end have decided to tell those closest to you of your non-belief in religion. Voicing your feelings on this matter can be especially strenuous if you were brought up in a devout household. However, if you are tired of hiding who you really are and want to come out as an atheist or agnostic then you should try to make the revelation as smooth and painless as you can.
It is important to note is that you are not alone. Recent surveys suggest that those identifying as religious “nones” is on the rise. Because of the stigma attached to atheism, many non-believers refuse the label in favor of a more innocuous description of their metaphysical convictions. As polls indicate that atheists are one of the most distrusted groups in America, calling yourself an agnostic or spiritualist or some other form of “none” may make it easier for those you love to accept your attitudes toward religion.
However, even if you are a hardcore atheist it may still be wise to break the news gently to family and friends. There is no reason to alienate them by being rude, sanctimonious, and aggressive. Indeed, as an atheist you have no doubt acquired a great and enduring appreciation for reason. Learn to apply it to matters involving both ultimate truths and practical situations.
If you can divulge your secret to the most religious person in your family without undue strain, then you can probably tell anyone and get the same result. There are more than enough horror stories of individuals being disowned after telling their parents about their atheism. I suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule. Most families are held together by more than the bonds of religion. And if you approach the parent who has the most influence on how everyone else thinks and acts you may be able to get through the process of coming out in a sane and civilized way.
Take your mother or father to a restaurant that they enjoy. A public place is the best space in which to break such news; not because it will discourage a scene, but because it will likely encourage conversation. Your loved one will be more likely to ask you questions in a calmer tone in a public place, no matter how alarmed and surprised she may be. This will give you the opportunity to tell her how you’ve come to this point of view and to explain that you are still a good person. A good meal and good wine may help her take the news in a more charitable fashion.
This is ideal of course. It may happen that the person you tell handles the news gently while you’re in public and then rages and storms later on—either at home or through email. The best response is to let her empty her spleen. Don’t return the vituperative; nor should you degrade, impugn, or otherwise berate her for her attitude. Continue to speak—in person and through the virtual medium—in a respectful and rational way. Know that it will take time for her to adjust, but eventually she will come around and bring everyone else in your family with her.
Coming out as a “none” with friends and religious work colleagues should be a little easier. If you work in an office in which certain individuals or cliques assume that everyone shares the same faith, you need not feel the need to explain yourself to any of them. Simply refuse to participate in any event or conversation having to do with religion.
Avoid being overly aggressive in this setting. You don’t need to live with your colleagues; you only need to work with them. My personal experience bears this out.
When I was in the Navy, I received an email from someone I didn’t know containing a biblical verse in the guise of a “thought of the day”. I was one of only a few black officers on the ship, so the person who sent it probably assumed I was a Christian and put me in the group to which he sent such emails. My intemperate response was to essentially call the man an idiot for being religious. I also shared the email with someone outside the group, which led to him receiving even more abuse. The man in question turned out to be a pretty good guy, and I later regretted the way I handled things. Although I have always held strong views about religion, I didn’t need to make a political statement in the workplace. And that is the moral of the story: in the workplace you can come out as a “none” by politely declining to participate in religious or religiously-inspired activities of any kind.
Telling your friends is, in most cases, pretty straightforward. If you are an atheist or agnostic, then it is not likely you’ve befriended highly religious people. If you have, then they should be tolerant enough to respect your views on morality, goodness, and the ultimate truths of reality and human experience.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.