I have realized that I am an Atheist. You could say that I have known for awhile, but was terrified to come to terms with it. Let me just explain my background.
I was raised as a strict Southern Baptist by my mother. My dad doesn't go to church, and stopped because of the way the church treated my Grandpa, who is a Baptist Preacher. I was told from the time I was five years old that my morals were great and I had such a sensitive conscience that God was going to make me a preacher. So I pretty much went with this on the thought that it would disappoint everyone if I didn't become a preacher.
I was the most involved kid in church, I led worship as a 15 year old, I preached, I counseled people, etc. All because I was supposed to. But make no mistake, I fully believed in God and Jesus Christ and I was annoying about it to everyone who dared to not believe. I went to college and dropped out because I felt (more like "was told by my College Ministry leader") that I should be spending my time in the Bible and at Seminary, not at a Liberal University.
Well, that is exactly what I did. I went to Seminary and honestly hated it. But I wouldn't let anyone know that. Though I liked some of the guys that were there, I felt like I was surrounded by idiots at times who wouldn't dare open a book that potentially said something they didn't agree with. They refused to even entertain the thought that maybe, just maybe, God doesn't exist. I yearned for real education. I went back to school and changed my major to Religious Studies, something I had been interested in since childhood.
The last thing my mother said to me when I changed my Major was "Keith, just don't get educated past believing in anything." Which annoyed me because I have always had an issue with the Religious War on Knowledge.
I become very interested in Philosophy of Science and Religion and how the two interact and really began to detest Intelligent Design and Creationism simply because I saw them as ridiculous and limiting God (this being when I still believed, though I was becoming very shaken). Then I actually began truly, objectively reading the Bible and found that it is just detestable. The foundation of my faith, Christ, was a lie. I have no doubts that Jesus existed, but it is ridiculous to believe that the Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is the same person as mentioned in John. They are completely different personalities! Okay, rant over, back on subject. As I read the Gospels again and again I realized that Jesus taught that the world would end within HIS OWN lifetime. Something I'm sure most of you know. This was a point where I stopped believing in Jesus as Christ, or the Messiah. Not possible. Belief in God for me has just gradually slipped away. I find that there are too many limitations to being all-powerful for it to exist at all. If God is all-powerful, doesn't that mean he could literally NEVER be fully human (Jesus)? Because to be fully human means to die and to be unable to come back. That's just one example.
There has been no real breaking point in which I just knew I didn't believe anymore, but I honestly just don't. I read too much Philosophy to entertain the idea of an all powerful God that will help with the ACT or SAT if you ask, but didn't stop the Holocaust.
That is what has led me here. This is my problem: Only one of my good friends actually knows. He is like me, inquisitive and against the war on knowledge. He has been my sound board and I have been his. However, I cannot live the lie that still believe in God in front of my family anymore. My mother still requires me to go to church with her on Sundays with her and my brother. It breaks her heart for me to not go. I love my mother more than anything in the world and I can't stand for her to be hurt. If I tell her that I do not believe in anything anymore, she will think of herself as a failure. She will think she has failed God, her Dad (I will not even begin to write about my Grandpa and his accept Jesus or I will kill you myself philosophy that he has adopted as a old man), and me as my mom. Both my mother and my brother still expect me to play specials when I come home once every month or so from college. I'm literally known around my tiny hometown as the preacher kid. To admit to them that I am an Atheist is to take a giant step onto ground that is horribly dilapidated and will crumble at any second.
What the hell do I do?
Ask 20 atheists and you'll get 20 answers.
Rome wasn't built in a day. You don't have to pull the rug out from under your mother and grandfather just yet.
I married into a Chinese family. When I'm with them, especially in China, I follow their rules, and live according to what they prefer. I go with the flow. It's not quite that easy, but that the gist of it.
Similarly, when you are with your family, you can follow their rules. As time passes, you will evolve, and who knows - they might evolve too.
Meanwhile, if you can take baby steps into a more liberal denomination, like Unitarian, it might ease the transition. Although if they are like my family was, they might consider Unitarian worse than becoming an atheist communist tree hugging democrat.
I image there will be lots of other responses. Do what you think is best.
Best wishes to you. Your sincerity and idealism are impressive.
I'm sorry you're having to go through this. Your mother sounds like she actually knows that if you get enough information, you'll find out that religion is bunk. How can you stop yourself from thinking? I wasn't raised with religion, so I feel lucky. I can't relate to your situation, and I'm also 46 years old, but I AM really glad you found us here on Atheist Nexus! For now I would just join in and ask anything you want. You don't have to be cautious here. No one from your hometown knows you on here, and we are all Atheists. SO many smart and supportive people here. Join some groups and don't be shy. You will get great advice! Best of luck to you Keith!~ Mindy
To say that this is a tough one is to indulge in ridiculous understatement. I guess the primary question is whether you can put yourself over as still being a believer or not. If you can, you can at least run under the radar until such time as you can get yourself utterly independent and go rogue. If you are indeed supposed to be intended clergy, even though you aren't completed in your studies, you MIGHT check out The Clergy Project as a means to extricate yourself, though I'm not certain that's the most appropriate venue for you.
The sad fact is that, sooner or later, it WILL hit the fan. What you need to do before that happens is to build some kind of support structure for yourself. Concern yourself with YOU FIRST, your health, mental and physical and your well-being. Yes, I understand that your family is important to you, but they may not be reliable whenever it is that you come out. Also note: YOU choose when and if you come out and no one else.
Maybe the above rambles a bit, but I hope that it's of some help. Breathe. Take some time to think. You have friends here, though you may not have met some of them yet, and they (we ... I) want to help.
You can make it, bro.
This is a strong answer from Loren in the following regard: he addresses the fact that it will hit the fan at some point in time. Count on it, bet on it, be prepared for it. I've often told people that when considering the appropriate moment to come out, contemplate the very worst thing that could possibly happen, and if you aren't ready to face that, perhaps it isn't time yet. This doesn't guarantee that things will go sour, or cause hurt feelings, or any one of the myriad of unpleasant circumstances that are typically resurgent with such a major confession to ones family, but best to be prepared nevertheless. I myself am only halfway out at the instant I write this to you. There are no right or wrong answers, just a deluge of opinions from others who have struggled as you have, and are willing to lend you a supportive framework during your transition.
Do stick around, Keith. This is a worthwhile format to vent your proverbial trials and tribulations, but also a valuable resource of knowledge and viewpoints. Theistic culture seems to think that atheists are a hive-minded group, but 2 weeks visiting here will demonstrate that this couldn't be further from the case...
What do you do? Take this as advice you would receive from a good friend.
You live "your" life.
One aspect of atheism is the understanding this is our only life. Your family may think it perfectly acceptable to pressure you to conform to their beliefs. Of course they're convinced god will make it come out right in the end. Death is only a speed bump in their mind. The sense of urgency you must feel knowing you only have one shot at happiness is enough to consider their demands...misguided.
They're your family though. Aside from the occasional homicidal threats, they're probably great people. They won't be alive forever, but neither will you. If they love you, they will accept you to discover what you believe on your own.
First, welcome Keith. Glad you found us. As Mindy said, there are a lot of good and intelligent people on here. And, the advantage for you (and all of us) is that we are all atheists, can bounce ideas off each other, and learn from each other. I know I've certainly gained a great deal from being here.
Other than what everyone else has said in response to your situation, I really don't what to add. Family is important. They love you, support you, and care for you. And, those same positive affirmations they want to give you can also suffocate you. Especially when it involves the abrogation of your most important quality as a human being. The right to think for yourself. It may ultimately boil down to one of two choices. Stay within the cocoon, knowing that how you are expected to act, what you are expected to believe, and the way you are expected to lead your life is a lie. Or, leave it, and take all the risks, consequences, and rewards of being independent. Sounds a heck of a lot easier on paper than it is in real life.
Maybe there's something that can be learned from evolution. Slowly evolve in your outward expressions, until one day, everyone realizes the metamorphosis has already taken place, and there's no going back.
However you decide to handle this very real dilemma, glad you found us, and feel free to vent on here. We all do.
Here is the only thing that makes me think that maybe I'm making something out of nothing. Throughout the process of my major changing my beliefs I have decently kept my mom in the loop. I have explained to her why creationism is wholly wrong and that the Bible was never meant to be taken literally. She has been surprisingly supportive through all that. But I just feel differently about this. I worry her reaction will not be a good one.
Something else I wish to note is that the mean reason I am in the predicament is really because my conscience cannot take living a lie. It bothers me. I'm expected to play in a bluegrass music Sunday in September and I honestly want to tell at least her before then.
Have any of you experienced this kind of situation before? Just explaining things to your parents? Or parent.
Your story feels very familiar to me. I was 37 years old when I finally shed the delusions and several more years before I realized I see no evidence of god or gods and claimed the label "atheist". I am quite comfortable now to be public (I am now 77 years old). I hope you get comfortable with the concept younger than I. When I respond to questions about my non-belief, I feel self-respect and dignity, and share my thoughts willingly. Oh surely, I have been called names, condemned to eternal damnation, heard all the fear-tactics and the silly claims family, friends, neighbors make, sometimes behind my back, other times to my face. They are irrelevant to me. More people openly claim to be non-believers and soon you won't feel so alone.
Your deep ties with religious folks make it harder for you; build a support system of like-minded and you will not feel so isolated. You are not the only one in your community, I am sure, that has doubts and even has come to the conclusion that religion is a human-made institution. It is not designed to empower you to flourish, its purpose is to empower the institution of religion.
The really good news is you have been able to talk to your mother, and it does not sound as though she rejects you, even if she does not agree with you. That is a beginning. As you find comfort in your own beliefs, it will be easier to let go of those who reject you. There are more than 7,000,000,000 human beings on this planet, and you do not have to settle for anyone simply because they are family. My family taught me many things that I discovered were not true and not healthy. You take charge of your life, choose your own path, and walk with pride and dignity into your healthy future.
I officially told my father this morning. Well, sort of. He started to talk about how he is anti-religion but believes in God. I thought for a moment and decided the best decision for now was to tell him I was agnostic. So for now I will come out to my family as agnostic, which should go over better, but I assume they will eventually hope to have me back in the fold.
My dad said he supported me no matter my beliefs. His exact words were, "When you emailed me and said you needed to talk and I couldn't tell mom I was worried you had gotten a DUI or something actually important." It's good to know that while this bothers him a little, he doesn't think less of me.
Funny story, he thought I was going to end up becoming Jewish. He knew I had already rejected the church.
You are on your way! Happy journey.
If baby-steps are the way for you to go Keith, then so be it! However is most comfortable for you! I am glad for you that you have started on your way to being your real self! Congrats!~ Mindy
Keith, I was a former Catholic who was married to a Jewish lady for 21 years. Take it from me, that there's nothing better than Kosher corned beef on Jewish Rye bread (with caraway). Yummmm! As an appetizer, have some Matzoh Ball soup, and follow that up with some Mandell bread for dessert. Food wise, I can think of a lot worse traditions.