Reasons for ‘coming out’ as an atheist

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Discussion by: Ben_Griffith

My best friend is a closet atheist posing as a faithful member of the LDS (Mormon) church. He even went on a two year mission to preach what he didn't believe. We live in Salt Lake City, Utah. For those of you that do not know, the church invades every aspect of life it can here. It is engrained in the community, culture, and laws. It has been said that it is social suicide to leave the church, let alone become a baby eating atheist.

He hates religion and god. He has been an atheist most of his life, yet never told anyone except for his extremely religious wife, and recently, me (recently, because up until a couple years ago, I was a devout Mormon myself).

I am trying to help him realize the benefits of being open about his beliefs and leaving the church, but without much luck.

I would appreciate it if you would post your reasons for coming out and/or any ideas, suggestions or thoughts you have.

29 COMMENTS

  1. Your friend must be really suffering. I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be, having to live a lie. It wouldn’t surprise me if his internal conflict manifested itself in physical and psychological ailments.

    • In reply to #1 by Nitya:

      Your friend must be really suffering. I can’t begin to imagine how awful it must be, having to live a lie. It wouldn’t surprise me if his internal conflict manifested itself in physical and psychological ailments.

      This, in especial, I understand.

  2. Your use of the term “coming out” is apposite and I hope you will not be offended if I compare your friends situation to my own coming out as gay as the two situations, in my opinion, have much in common.

    Pretending to be something you are not is a burden but one you only really come to understand is a burden when you are finally relieved of it. I can only say re: your friend that he’ll appreciate coming out as an atheist most when he has actually done so and can expeience life with the weight of on-going deception removed.

    As with coming out as gay there is a chance (considerable in your friends instance) that those close to you, the ones who have the power to hurt you most, may not take it well. You may lose friends, family and so forth (though the love of pets is pretty well unconditional). You will not be able to bring everyone around so prepare for this possibility. The flip side of this is why some stay in the closet as the potential price to be paid i.e. loss of family, friends, social ostracism is simply considered too high. Your friend will have to decide this for himself just like gay people generally have to.

    I can only say that if I were given the choice to come out again or stay in the closet I would come out despite having to deal with everyone else dealing with my sexual orientation. The relief was indescribable like an actor who has spent his life trapped on a stage he could not retire from. It may sound trite but honesty is the best policy, less for the benefit of others but ones own self image. Your friend, unless he is a complete sociopath, must find pretending a strain and a stain on his self image.

    Best wishes.

  3. Normally it wouldn’t be necessary for atheists to speak out so persistently, especially if Christians had some sense of propriety, but as they are ever more intent on imposing their regressive views on every aspect of modern society from legislation to politics, education, science, women’s reproductive rights and the active discrimination against gays and lesbians, we have no choice but to challenge them at every turn. Perhaps, if more people spoke out against the Nazis’ pseudo sciences of race, phrenology, history and revisionism sooner Hitler may not have come to power so readily. Most secularists, atheists and rationalists see this disturbing trend from the Christians Right to be equally as dangerous, corrupting and dreadful. We speak out not to convert, persuade or denigrate any one’s faith, but to encourage embolden and inspire others to challenge them soundly and intelligently. It is our fervent hope that in speaking out the religious right will not continue to go unchallenged, unopposed without conscience. As Lawrence Krauss said recently — our job is not just to impart knowledge, but to destroy ignorance…

    Bill Maher on the Controversial Ground Zero Cross: Remember Norway?http://nym.ag/1fy5skH via @Intelligencer

    • In reply to #3 by mchasewalker:

      Normally it wouldn’t be necessary for atheists to speak out so persistently, especially if Christians had some sense of propriety, but as they are ever more intent on imposing their regressive views on every aspect of modern society from legislation to politics, education, science, women’s reproductive rights and the active discrimination against gays and lesbians,

      not in my world. Maybe the UK is different from where you live (the US?). They do moan about “discrimination” which I understand to mean they are unable to do the things you list as much as they used to.

      we have no choice but to challenge them at every turn. Perhaps, if more people spoke out against the Nazis’ pseudo sciences of race, phrenology, history and revisionism sooner Hitler may not have come to power so readily. Most secularists, atheists and rationalists see this disturbing trend from the Christians Right to be equally as dangerous, corrupting and dreadful. We speak out not to convert, persuade or denigrate any one’s faith, but to encourage embolden and inspire others to challenge them soundly and intelligently. It is our fervent hope that in speaking out the religious right will not continue to go unchallenged, unopposed without conscience. As Lawrence Krauss said recently — our job is not just to impart knowledge, but to destroy ignorance…

  4. Sorry – I have never been a Mormon – But I went in kind of the other direction. I am not a very religious person. The institution of religion feeds on emotion and to some extent on greed within the organization itself. The key, I think, is to separate yourself from the institution of religion and instead search for your own set of truths that may be found within whatever knowledge you find acceptable to live by. Be good to your family and your neighbour. Do no harm. Help where you can. – That is all you need to do to feel good about yourself.

  5. First off, he should leave SLC ASAP…

    Not helpful, I know. Sorry.

    I was fortunate enough to be living on the East Coast when I finally found the courage to come out as an atheist to my family (after growing up in the church and going on a mission but, fortunately, before getting married). It was extremely tough, but being able to live my daily life not surrounded my Mormons made it a lot bearable after the fact. As long as he is still living where he is, however, I honestly don’t know how easy it will be for your friend to deal with the aftermath.

  6. I know I will come across all insensitive and uncaring by saying this but why should I care anything for your friend. He went out of his way to trap strangers into the con trick which is mormonism, without the excuse of being a believer himself. That makes him, in my eyes, nearly as bad as that convicted criminal confidence trickster Smith.

    I agree that just being a member of the “church” makes him a victim, and I will be happy if he makes the break, but, just as criminals should make restitution for their crimes he should make restitution for his proselyting while being a non believer.

    • In reply to #6 by SomersetJohn:

      I agree that just being a member of the “church” makes him a victim, and I will be happy if he makes the break, but, just as criminals should make restitution for their crimes he should make restitution for his proselyting while being a non believer.

      You make an interesting point.

      Mike

  7. I might earn the ire of others here but this isn’t a decision you can make for your friend. If he feels that keeping his true thoughts hidden is best for him then what you should offer is support when he needs it.

    Should he decide that coming out is best then preparing the way might be a good idea – going from devout regular attendance and participation to atheist in one go may shine a spotlight on what could be perceived as a betrayal of trust. I can’t say what might be the best course of action and having never been religious myself any advice should be taken with a large grain of salt but perhaps a more gradual withdrawal coupled with building up an alternative support system would be the way to go.

  8. Hello, Ben. You mention that your closet-atheist friend is married to a very pious Mormon woman, but you give very few details of circumstances. Do you yourself, his closest friend, live in Salt Lake City? Are you too married to a Mormon? What is your friend’s occupation? How old is he? What kind of support can you give him? Has he spoken to his wife about his unbelief? If not, why not?

    I have read of the pervasive influence of Mormonism in that salty city, and I wonder how much chance there is of your friend being able to relocate elsewhere. But, being married to a pious Mormon, he will still have a difficult time asserting his own lack of religious belief in the way he lives and exercising freedom of thought.

    In some professions or occupations it may not matter so much, even in Salt Lake City, as in others whether he lives as a Mormon or not. It may be quite possible for him to let people know that Mormonism is not worthy of anyone’s belief and box on regardless. That would take some maturity and clarity of mind, but those are qualities I would expect in a self-respecting adult anyway. At least Mormonism does not demand that apostasy be punished with death.

  9. Thank you for your responses.

    Nitya, He suffers greatly. It takes a huge toll on him.

    Typhon, it is very similar to coming out as gay. Here in Utah it is called ‘social suicide’ to leave the church.

    SomersetJohn, I don’t think you should or should not care. I understand your point and mostly agree with it. I went on a 2 year mission to Mexico, and I want to do exactly as you say and ‘atone for my sins’ by forwarding the cause of truth and reason (yes, my situation was different, because I foolishly believed that I was doing god’s work). However, I would not compare him to Joseph Smith. Smith had no pressure to deceive and lie. If anything he had enormous pressure in the opposite direction. If you have not had the experience of growing up in a place where practically everyone you know is of the same extreme religion, you do not understand the pressures that my friend faces. I am not justifying his actions, I think it is immoral.

    Scepticon, of course I cannot decide for him, that is why I am only trying to convince him. However, this situation is very damaging, and the thing is, I am the only one who can help (only because I am one of two people who know, the other being his uncomprehending and manipulative wife).

    Godzillatemple, that is not a wholly bad suggestion. In fact, he has told me he wants to run away.

    Lastly, thank you mchasewalker. Your comment explains what many people do not understand. The funny thing is, my friend has called for ‘an atheist movement’.

  10. Cairsley-

    I wanted the original post to be short and concise. It would probably be helpful to give more details.

    We are both 24 years of age. I live only a few blocks away from him. My wife is an ex-Mormon from Italy, she saw the light shortly after I did. There is no way that I could be married to a Mormon, let alone a religious person.

    He is a student and works as an intern at a venture capitalist group. He has been married a little more than 2 years, and primarily because of religion, has wanted divorce for more than a year now. His wife is a BYU graduate, whose life consists of: church and god. I like her except for the fact that she is very manipulative, close minded, and hurts my friend. He told her a few months after they were married. She does not seem to fully accept the fact that he is atheist, and either completely ignores it, or acts like he is just having ‘a rough time’.

    I can’t give him a whole lot of support because his wife disapproves of him hanging out with me because I am atheist and because he turns to me when they have bad fights. It is very hard even to hang out with him.

    • In reply to #10 by Ben_Griffith:

      Hello again, Ben. Many thanks for your prompt and concise reply. The additional information makes the situation you are asking about much clearer to everyone here. I feel for your friend, and for you, who are obviously a good friend of his. I have had no direct experience of Mormonism (apart from being approached in the street a couple of times by those hopelessly young missionaries of theirs), but I did go through a similar exodus many years ago from another Christian denomination. Your friend still needs to complete his exodus by aligning his outer life with his inner. I am glad to see that you appreciate CyberGod’s response at # 11; he writes from relevant experience and puts the matter very well.

  11. Your friend has a tough time ahead of him if he wishes to come out as an atheist and leave Mormonism behind him. As a former Mormon, I know how all-encompassing the Church is in the lives of its members. Being in SLC would undoubtedly compound that.
    Having a wife who believes makes it worse again.

    Your friend now confronts what I did – very literally making a complete lifestyle change. The biggest challenge for me was telling my still believing (ex) wife and our thoroughly indoctrinated and immersed children. I was living in England at the time, and knew that the pressure from church members would be enormous. I chose to leave the country, giving my (ex) wife a choice to “leave or stay” – and making it clear that whatever she decided I was proceeding with my decision to leave the Church and leave the country. I also made it clear that I would not permit her to raise our children as believes in “fantasy as truth” anymore, and stated that I would take legal action if necessary to have them removed from her custody and placed with me in Australia (at that time). She chose to relocate to Australia and dropped her affiliation with the Church. We later divorced (in part driven by the Church).

    There are NO easy answers when leaving a pervasive, lifestyle-encompassing cult like Mormonism. Firstly, if being a part of the Church is making your friend unhappy (that’s easy to imagine) then he first needs to DECIDE to do something about it. Without putting too fine a point on it, he then needs to grow a set of balls and tell his wife how things are going to be for him from now on – and leave her to make her own choices about how her life go from there. He needs to consider relocating to a more atheist friendly environment too. Ask him why he stays in SLC?

    Leaving a cult takes courage. Leaving a cult that is central to the lives of yourself, your spouse, your children, your social circle, your business or job – and everything else that you know takes exceptional courage. Your friend has to decide between living the rest of his life knowing that he is living a lie, or deciding to be honest, and free himself of the chains that now bind him. Having done exactly that, I can highly recommend the latter.

  12. My reasons for coming out as an atheist was that I felt I could no longer live a lie. However, I was married to an atheist, and it was only a minor dislocation from a few people for me to come out. If it would have alienated me from too many people and my community I would not have come out. The benefits for him of coming out may not be as great as the losses. I favor letting him evaluate the benefits and losses and making up his own mind. There are pressures on people who attend a Billy Graham meeting to make a declaration. I prefer not to put such pressures on people.

  13. Ben,

    I never really came out as an atheist. I just stopped believing the unbelievable. I guess that’s what atheism is but, at that time, when I was about 14, I didn’t really know the word atheism. I now do and happily call myself one if asked.

    A couple of eureka moments sent me on my way out of the church. The first was seeing my pastor for the first time as a mortal human being. Up until then, he seemed to have special powers, like talking to God. But one day I suddenly realized that that couldn’t be possible.

    I then spent some time wondering whether the other faiths, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism etc, had anything to offer. But it became obvious that they too were packed full of charlatans who couldn’t possibly know what they claimed to know. Reading Nietszche (and other philosophers and also Richard Dawkins) in high school and college was the final nail in the sarcophagus.

    Good luck with your buddy.

  14. I was Mormon if my screen name doesn’t make that obvious enough. I also live in Utah down in Provo which I would imagine is very similar if not worse to Salt Lake. I was an atheist before I moved up here and I have always told people I am an atheist and while my experience can’t be generalized to all atheists in Utah I have been pleasantly surprised with the way I have been treated. I would tell him not to worry as much as it seems like he is and that he will feel so much better to be honest with those around him. I know you said his wife knows but I don’t know if you mentioned how supportive she is and really if she is supportive that of course will make it easier. There really is no reason to stay “in the closet” about it even in Salt Lake, and that he would be surprised to find out just how many atheists there are in Utah.

  15. If I hear the word “coming out” as an atheist I always wonder what this means. This is a result of th fact, that I grew up in Germany and my mother is christian but very liberal. I know she suffers from the knowlege of my lack of belief, but I didn’t had to come out. I started to ask her cerain questions when I was about 14 and since than she knows that I think belief in supernatural entities is the contmeporary form of supertition. I don’t know how old your friend is. But your readiness to move thousands of kilometers for a job or a partner is legendary here. So if he is old enough to make leagally his own thing he should leave his family and this place as fast as he can.
    He is raping himself if he keeps on living this fundamental lie. It will have effects on his mind (if it hasn’t these already!) and later on on his body. If he wants to stay mentally and physically intact there is no alternative to leaving this place. I have no experience with this kind of religious control (when Jehovah’s Witnesses rang on my door it was a pleasure to please them in and to watch during the talk how they got deeper and deeper into truble until there was no chance to escape than to retreat and leave) but it sounds terible to me. There are situations in our times when you can’t do anything else than move to another place where people are more liberal!

  16. If I hear the word “coming out” as an atheist I always wonder what this means. This is a result of th fact, that I grew up in Germany and my mother is christian but very liberal. I know she suffers from the knowlege of my lack of belief, but I didn’t had to come out. I started to ask her cerain questions when I was about 14 and since than she knows that I think belief in supernatural entities is the contmeporary form of supertition. I don’t know how old your friend is. But your readiness to move thousands of kilometers for a job or a partner is legendary here. So if he is old enough to make leagally his own thing he should leave his family and this place as fast as he can.
    He is raping himself if he keeps on living this fundamental lie. It will have effects on his mind (if it hasn’t these already!) and later on on his body. If he wants to stay mentally and physically intact there is no alternative to leaving this place. I have no experience with this kind of religious control (when Jehovah’s Witnesses rang on my door it was a pleasure to please them in and to watch during the talk how they got deeper and deeper into truble until there was no chance to escape than to retreat and leave) but it sounds terible to me. There are situations in our times when you can’t do anything else than move to another place where people are more liberal!

  17. Ben, I have to say it is always difficult to give advice from a position of exterior posturing, which is probably what most of the above are doing to a certain extent, despite personal experiences. However, there are certainly some clear and concise options that need to be seriously considered by your friend, not least ‘whether he wants to achieve some degree of continuing happiness in his life’! That being the case and assuming that he does want to be happy and content, he needs to do the following;-
    1/ Accept his atheism as his vehicle to change his way of life and start to live in the real world.
    2/ Make plans to possibly re-locate with or without his wife in order to avoid the social outcasting that will clearly ensue.
    3/ Stick two fingers firmly up to the indoctrinated buffoons that will try their damnedest to re-indoctrinate him.
    4/ Get the hell out of that bible-bashing zoo and find a woman who will love him for the right reasons.
    He’s going to have to be strong, and I’m assuming at the age he is, he’s not burdened with rug-rats at this juncture?

  18. Ben, I have to say it is always difficult to give advice from a position of exterior posturing, which is probably what most of the above are doing to a certain extent, despite personal experiences. However, there are certainly some clear and concise options that need to be seriously considered by your friend, not least ‘whether he wants to achieve some degree of continuing happiness in his life’! That being the case and assuming that he does want to be happy and content, he needs to do the following;-
    1/ Accept his atheism as his vehicle to change his way of life and start to live in the real world.
    2/ Make plans to possibly re-locate with or without his wife in order to avoid the social outcasting that will clearly ensue.
    3/ Stick two fingers firmly up to the indoctrinated buffoons that will try their damnedest to re-indoctrinate him.
    4/ Get the hell out of that bible-bashing zoo and find a woman who will love him for the right reasons.
    He’s going to have to be strong, and I’m assuming at the age he is, he’s not burdened with rug-rats at this juncture?

  19. Ben

    I doubt that your friend is the only closet atheist in the Mormon church. I used to think I was the only black atheist. Needless to say, besides not attending church I did not publicize my stance against the bible, church, and religion. But the more I researched, I discovered there were numerous African Americans throughout history that renounced the idea of worshipping a God that professed “slaves, obey your masters.” My only disappointment is that besides the online community, I have not found any real life Black atheists to converse and exchange ideas with. My reasons are that it just makes me happy to be honest. In the process, perhaps I will make Christians as uncomfortable as they make everyone else. Bonus.

    My point is, I would stress to your friend that he is not alone in his disbelief. By being vocal, he will give others in his same position the courage to quit living a lie and spreading ideas they don’t believe in. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the people who worship invisible men who should be ashamed and embarrassed! Atheists have nothing to be “closeted” for. We are the ones who take accountability for our own accomplishments and failures, rather than attributing them to answered prayers or punishment from the sky. Who cares if you are ousted from a community that promotes that foolishnessness? He should be running from it.

  20. Dear Friends,

    My friend Ben_Griffith notified me of this discussion a few days ago. I am the “Closet Atheist” that is center to this discussion. I understand that this is a late response to this discussion but i wanted to say thank you for the support. First of all i have to raise my hand in guilt for preaching god in Canada when i was a skeptic. I regrettably, and to my everlasting shame went along with my childhood and followed nonsense when i had more sense. However being a skeptic while being a mormon missionary i was not obedient to the rules of the church and did not preach with as much gusto as others. And this may sound funny and ridiculous ( which it is) but i spent my days on a mission watching TV and hanging out with friends i had met in Canada, And fortunately i was always paired with another missionary who enjoyed the same leisure.

    Anyhow i wanted to say that i appreciate the support and suggestions as i move along in this journey to leave the sexist, racist, jealous, Jack Ass of a God behind forever. I, as you all so accurately predicted am extremely frustrated and this weighs on me very heavily due to the circumstances i have put myself in. As i slowly escape my situation i would like to document my experience as i know it will be a lengthy and difficult process but also in which i believe will be a benefit to those who are in my same situation regardless of religion.

    Best,

    Clark

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