Atheism, Divorce, and Choices

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Discussion by: Jogre
I shall endeavour as much as possible to keep this topic on point, avoiding all unnecessarily heavy descriptions that seem to ask you to be ‘free psychologists’ (although I am fairly certain that some among here are more than qualified to do so).

I have been an atheist for nearly a year now. I should never have thought it last Christmas (Saturnalia?) enrolled as I was in seminary, engaging in preaching and leading bible studies at my strictly conservative church. Raised as a pastors child in a deeply religious family, I can assure you that book burning, or at least vitriolic disposal, enjoyed top priority in my home. Believing in voices that existed solely in my head, I felt the need to be a pastor. The details of my conversion to Reason are fairly uninspired and quite attributable to Richard Dawkins and the wonderful late Christopher Hitchens. I became an atheist. 

Such as it is, I have removed myself from seminary and regular church work as much as possible, yet have not breathed a word of my unbelief to my family. Sufficient to say they have noticed my current trepidation for all things religious. I am about to begin studies of astrophysics in the fall (after many months of deprogramming my ravaged mental capacities at the hands of hysterically incompetent religious teachers) and live with my parents (at the age of 21 – I do in fact preach and teach at such an age, yet competence in preaching is easily gained). They are getting a divorce. Interesting how one’s desires are easily wrought through torturous interpretation of scripture. 

Finally I have come to my ultimate point: I am faced with financial instability, separating parents, and a family who will turn their back on me in an instant with news of my Atheism. Does anyone here have any advice, based on personal experience or perhaps via osmosis on these forums, on coming out as an atheist?

I apologize for such a long post, yet I hope I have conveyed my thoughts in as clear a fashion as possible. I appreciate any and all who have made it to the end, and my gratitude extends further to those who take time to respond. – J

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sorry that your family is going through such a rough time. =

    With everything else that’s going on, do you need to tell them you’re an atheist? Perhaps you don’t feel true to yourself pretending to be otherwise, but if you’re looking about your long term plans, it may be easier to keep it to yourself. You can always slowly reduce the number of religious activities you’re involved with, and just say you’re busy if it comes up. It may be a wise choice just to keep it masked for now, especially considering the general strain on your family life at the moment.

  2. The question that comes to mind is, in the face of all that, why is coming out important?

    You’ve made your decision, and it’s a personal one. Perhaps the thing to demonstrate, especially right now, is how this really affects no one else, for better or worse.

    At some point, you may have to defend against the idea that atheism is evil, satanic, nihilistic, or whatever, and knowing how to show that it’s neutral might be useful then. But if you’re not going to become active in anti-religious pursuits and/or are not trying to prevent some undue religious influence on yourself or your loved ones, ‘coming out’ is more for yourself than anyone else, and you have to determine the importance of that for yourself.

    No one can predict what you’re likely to encounter from your family if and when the truth does out, but try to be aware of their most likely concerns – perhaps that you’re no longer “doing good” or are not “saved,” and know how to answer these confidently and non-judgmentally. It’s easy enough to counter the whole “doing good” argument with numerous secular pursuits, many of which accomplish ten times more than religious ones. Salvation (and eternal reward or punishment) are remarkably easy to counter, being pointless in the first place – rewards and punishments are influences on future behavior.

    Secular humanism is the standpoint that other people are more important, and that judgments on good or bad rely on how those other people are likely to feel about it – that’s a hard standpoint to find fault with, and it makes personal salvation look remarkably selfish. Something to consider, since it can turn an offensive approach from someone else into a defensive one, and may encourage the abandonment of that approach ;-)

    I hope, at least, that this stirs some thought processes. Good luck!

  3. I agree with Kim. It may be better to keep it to yourself for now. Here are some places you can look for support.
    The Clergy Project specifically gives support to active and former clergy. http://www.clergyproject.org/
    Recovering from Religion Foundation has local support groups   http://recoveringfromreligion….
    Ask Richard – Richard Wade “Ask Richard”  writes an excellent advice column on the Friendly Atheist blog which covers many situations. I’ve found his answers to be kind, and very helpful. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/f
    I wish the best for you and your family.

  4. I think you should move out. If you are not working, find a job close to where you want to study, and move out.  When the time is right you can always live on campus + work + study as a part time student.  I don’t know if you can do this over in your country, but for your own sake, and at your age, you should be planning an independent future.  

    Your priority, in my opinion, is to be financially independent so find a job that will provide you with the finances to move out.  You may have to put your studies on hold for another year or so, but that’s the price we pay when we realise that we are indeed on our own when it comes to our own life plans, ambitions and goals, and we’ve been living under carers, following their expectations.  

    As far as ‘coming out’, it’s not a good time to do so.  Your parents will not be supportive as they are already in the middle of a separation and will use your atheism as an outlet for their own grievances.  This will make life unbearable for you and you need a cool head to plan the next 12 months properly.  Also, in my opinion, your life is your own and you should not have to justify any of it to anybody, regardless of what they might think you owe them.  You are an adult, living in an environment that is no longer appropriate for you, that’s why you should move out.

    I sincerely wish you well and that you will soon find your own feet in the world.  It will be wonderful for you!

  5. So what you’re saying is, for brain power, you’ve decided to trade in your dependence on Big Oil (faith) and have gone renewable (reason). Good for you. 

    I don’t have much advice except to be kind to yourself, to others, remain ever-curious about the world and good friends will likely come along. 

    Mike

  6. ‘atheist’ is a toxic word in the bible belt, so we hear. Avoid it, say you have ‘lost your faith’ if questioned. 
    But… love your non-belief, be proud of it, without the need to proselytise. 
    As for financial insecurity, face it squarely- it is likely less threatening than you think. 
    Should your family reject you, that is their loss. Perhaps you could remind them that Jesus preached unconditional love… 

  7. Hm….I haven’t got any useful advice really, but I’m quite curious for those “voices in your head” that you mentioned…Did they just go away the moment you decided you wanted to be an atheist?

  8. Thank you to everyone who has commented. I sincerely appreciate your time and thoughts. As I had surmised, my many feelings on the subject of revealing my atheism have been confirmed. I am on the way to a permanent job in hospital and will be on the way out of home. The conversion to reason and science has been the greatest feeling in my life.

    Thank you fellow atheists (I cannot describe the utter “soul” satisfaction that saying this brings) for your kind words and advice. 

    In response to the query about the voices in my head: The voices were indeed religious in nature and not of any mental consequence. As soon as reason took over, relief from the “voice of god” (and the devil) came very rapidly. It has been a year now, and I can safely say that my religious reflexes are down to almost nothing. It takes a long time to reprogram your brain to hear your conscience as coming from yourself and not from two figments of my imagination. 

    - J

  9. You have a few options here.

    1.College semester classes may be just beginning. Enroll part-time even if it is late.
    2. Get a job asap and save money like crazy.
    3. See if you can get a college loan. Someone will need to co-sign ( a parent) I suggest announcing you have stopped preaching first and let that set in with your parents. Until you are out of the house, zip your lips about the atheism.
    4. Enroll full time in college. Find a few secular friends.
    5. Move out with your friends. Declare yourself as an independent. This will open the door for you to get lots of financial aid.  This will mean that your parents can no longer claim you as a dependent on their taxes. I believe that the law allows them to claim you up to age 23 if you are a student.

  10. If being an atheist is important to you, be the best atheist you can be. If that means using your family’s resources so you can educate yourself, don’t cut yourself off. You can’t be a very good atheist sleeping under a bridge.

    There is no universal prescription for how you best interact with this world. For instance, coming out might be possible. You might have a family that telling them gives them different info. They might think an atheist is something else, and be inflexible to learning otherwise. If they think an atheist is evil, telling them you are an atheist would mislead them.

    Why do you want to come out? Should you come out? Two different questions. You can certainly answer the first. My motivations for telling others I’m an atheist include: not wanting to hear BS, being left alone, setting a good example, resenting persecution, demonstrating my superiority, curiosity at how they might react, shock value, some entirely juvenile motivations. You might have a variety of motivations too. Map them out to be informed. Look for less noble motives, like punishing them for hypocrisy, or super noble motives like liberating their minds. Whatever you do, know why you are doing it.

    My condolences on your superstitious environment and filial instability. My congratulations and envy on your entering a field of science.

  11. Hi J,
    If the marriage is not working out for your parents, they find divorcing, which is frowned upon by the religion your family follows so passionaitly, to be the right course of action as it is ‘reasonable’ to them.

    By the same principle, leaving the beliefs/rituals that you do not genuinely have any confidencein deserves the same kind of reasonability and acceptance.

    Sit down with all concerned, explain how u feel, what u need to do and tell them this does not change your love for your family and giving them a comparision to the divorce might help give them a different prespective too.

    Good luck

  12. Yet again some very thoughtful responses. I shall answer some of the questions, comments, and concerns. Firstly, the reason for my coming out as an atheist is manifold. I live in a home where religious fundamentalism reigns. As such, it is impossible to be complacent with other beliefs. I am pressed into religious service, upon my apprehension  I am quoted umpteen scripture passages. Debate is strictly about achieving my obedience. Therefore, I am never left alone about my decisions, reminded of my punishment that awaits my future (punishment which comes from a ‘loving’ deity)- the least of which is eternal. Fundamentalists are unable to simply ‘live and let live’. 

    Secondly, I disagree with the superstition that rules the household. For instance, praying for an abatement of weather, or perhaps a job, or what-have-you. This nonsense inflames my recently RE-gained reasoning faculties. Not only praying for events to happen or not, but to foresee the future. It is at this time that I shall reveal the motive for this divorce: because in a dream the lord showed my father he could leave or stay. That in fact my mother would change, or not (notice as well how his own character is mysteriously absent from this heavenly judgement, as well as the wonderfully vague description).

    My ultimate reason however is to stop the damage that religion has done numerous times over in front of my very eyes. I have seen people collapse in grief because of a ‘sin’ (once it was simply a film title) that was plaguing their household and causing all their families torment from demons. I have seen divorces because of liberal ideas. Children run away from the torment that fundamental ideology brings. Hellfire and punishment so prevalent that you can’t even walk down the street without averting your eyes from advertisements for fear of accidentally incurring a hellish penalty. Being handed over to a being who can reach you anywhere, any time, and through every protective means, specifically to torment and haunt you. And all this allowed by a loving god. These are my reasons for coming out. 

    Once again, and I hope this sounds neither cloying nor incessant (perhaps it is both, however they are but relics of my grovelling status as ‘sinner’), I offer my sincerest thanks to all you who have commented. Much more kindness have I found here than in any church of thousands.

    - J

  13. Would your family really disown you so easily? My family is far from being of the Doris Day variety, but the idea that they would turn their back on me over a belief (or disbelief) is unthinkable.

    I have no advice based on experience. I would just say that in a few months you will be with like-minded people who share your interest in Astro-Physics and when you have friends then almost anything can be endured. Surrounding yourself with people who think like you is the best solution.

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