I have been an atheist for about a year now.  Before that I was very religious.  I grew up in a Seventh Day Adventist home, and worked as a church musician every Sunday morning since age fifteen.  This means I was usually in church both Saturday and Sunday of every week.  After learning more about the history of the bible, religion, and that my fear of hell had been causing emotional and psychological problems in my life, I left it all behind and became an atheist.  I made the mistake of "coming out" immediately to all my facebook friends.  http://www.considerateatheist.com/?p=8 (There's the link).  The response was not good.  I guess I shouldn't have been surprised.  I can remember how we all spoke about atheists in church and amongst believers.  Atheists were the epitome of evil, doing the Devil's handiwork on earth.  At least that is how we viewed them.  I now I know that that is how my friends and family view me.  They don't say it to my face (well, not all of them), but I know what they think of me, as I once held those same opinions in their company. 

The problem I am facing now is I feel like I can't be myself in society.  Our nation (and my part of the country especially) is so religious, I feel like I always have to sensor myself.  I never can tell who is religious or not, and I can only guess what someone might think of me if they learned what I (didn't) believe. 

Statistics only support my worries.  Polls show that atheists are the most hated and feared minority in this country, beating out gays, Muslims, etc...

I guess I wish I was back in the closet, but I'm not sure if that is healthy either.  I've always wanted to be respected in society, but I can't compromise my values and the freedom that atheism brings me.  I long for the ability to stand strong and be proud of who I am, but my fear of rejection and judgment is keeping me silent. 

I would love to hear if any of you have felt the same thing, and how you may have dealt with it.  Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Tags: atheism, church, judgment

Views: 156

Replies to This Discussion

Trust me my friend, you are not alone and we can't unring the bell. I too was in church all the time and brought up in a very religious environment. I was a pentecostal minister who believed that everything that happened was god's will or some other nonsense. Its tough and agonizing to see our friends and family members turn their backs on us. I'm sure that we all share your pain and could all have stories to tell. You made the right decision as far as coming out of the proverbial closet. I thought long and hard before coming out because of the damage that I thought I would do and have done to me. It so liberating not to have to live a lie or pretend to believe and stand by something that you no longer believe. The mental freedom to me was worth it all. The more I learned about religion and Christianity in particular, the more I hated it. There is no way I would have been able to keep going to church and hearing the lies and endure the manipulation that is going on. I'm sure it would have been the same for you as well.
While I realize that everyone can't say this, I haven't really lost any friends and my wife has chosen to stay with me (for now). It will be tough for now, but I'm sure it will get better.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have indeed found a skeptics society on meetup and have been enjoying the meetings. Yes, Julia Sweeney's talk is great, and I've been reading other books as well. The holidays are particularly hard as I don't have much contact with any of my former friends or family anymore. Thanks for the comments and encouragement.
Hello Matthew,
well i am an Ex-Muslim so trust me whatever trouble you think you have it is nothing compared to what i had and still have when traveling "home".
Strange way to cheer you up isn't it? :-))

Basically i solved my problems by using two opposing strategies depending on my location.
When i am in "danger land" i generally avoid any discussion about religion and just blend in.
When i am back in Europe i am just the nonbeliever i am and anybody who has a problem with this is not of my concern. It was very good to come out in the open here as it turned out that quite a lot of people don't care or have a problem with non belief. But then again, i don't know how it is in the (southern) US.
I have dealt with the fear of judgement :) I quit believing in god at first out of spite because I felt he was always judging me and then I realized that the judgement, that I internalized and processed out, was anxiety- and it came from ME. I started to deprogram every thought that I could - fear of sinning, being unclean, etc.

I can try to make a good impression on folks - be clean, polite, well-spoken and charming, use good judgment and have good morals - but if people make a value judgement on me its their own thought process that the judgement resulted from and not one of my making. I don't fear the judgement anymore if I don't put any stock into their opinions - sometimes the majority is wrong and made up of people who have no idea what they are talking about. This is why atheists need to band together - also I have found natural allies in pagans, goths, skeptics, etc. People who are from the outside looking in, the well read, and the ones who carefully choose their point of view rather than getting it from a television preacher, pundit, etc.
Hi Matthew: Congratulations on freeing yourself from religion! Depending upon how long you were in the group you will likely feel judged for quite some time. More than likely much of this feeling is coming from residual religious memes still lodged in your mental schema. I was a "hard-core" fundamentalist for 17 years, and on top of that was ordained for about 7-8 of those years. I was a closet Atheist (while still in the ministry!) for about 18 months. I have now been "out" for around 8 years and find that my feelings of being judged do not occur often any more.

Of course, every now and then I run into somebody (usually a family member) who would try to reconvert me, but aside from that, many Americans are just going about their every day life and could really care less about my lack of religious affiliation.
Hey Kevin,
Yeah, I lost my faith while in the ministry as well. I was a worship leader, which meant I was singing about Jesus saving me from sin with my guitar in front of the whole church. It was tolerable because I enjoyed making music with the band and enjoyed the friendships. But in the end I felt like I was lying. I didn't realize I'd have to trade in the friendships for truth, but such is life. I know I will find friendships again at some point in time, but the interim is kind of a pain.

Thanks for sharing...

Matthew

I haven't come out yet. Because I am older, I have an entire life worth of friends and family who knew me as a very religious person. At the moment, I don't know how to handle being a nontheist and still retain my friendships. Some of these people are important to me. Yet, I understand the irony that something as simple as loosing my faith would drive someone away from me. A true friend would not leave over something like that.  Even though I might not be loosing real friends, I am just not ready for that experience.

 

What makes my situation worse is that all my life I have been bisexual but I squashed that part of my nature down. Can you imagine if I came out as both bisexual and atheists/agnostic? My family would probably pay for an exorcist. LOL I admit that I am a coward at this moment but eventually I will tell them.

Thank you, Keely.

I agree entirely. If your situation doesn't dictate coming out, then prudence should prevail.

Here is some of the best advice I have ever encountered which was written by HambyDammit who also lives in the bible belt.

http://www.endhereditaryreligion.com/2009/03/im-not-christian/

 

You can find other tips on how to live an inspired life as an atheist reading narratives on web sites like exchristian.net, or any of the other dozens of  recovery sites. My memory is not very good, but surely there is a web site devoted solely to living a secular life and coping with all the awkward moments that can bring.

 

Maybe someone should start a blog here on Atheist Nexus. I think the biggest insight I take from Hamby's piece is that you must recognize the problem is with the person who is trying to make you uncomfortable, not with you. You had to learn how to walk and talk like a Christian. Now you have to walk and talk like an atheist. Atheists are viewed as a threat because most believers have big doubts they have to keep at bay. As far as I can tell, they are all neurotic as hell.

 

Atheists may be the most hated and feared people on the planet, but we are also the brightest people in the room. Some of us even go by the name Bright.

 

Be bright my brother, be bright.

 

I guess I'm a year behind you, having just come out to my mum at christmas. But living in San Antonio, Texas, I know the feeling of being in the minority, and I'm only just beginning my journey into atheism. I can tell you that having at least one person you see regularly who knows and understands and empathizes. I have that and it makes the world of difference. I plan to seek out other atheists in the community and expect that in doing so I will be better able to handle those moments when I'm the only atheist in the room.
Your story made me sad and I know how you feel! I have not told anyone but my family. I tried to tell an xer once and she just laughed. Another said, "No you're not!" (an atheist) and another just said, "I love you!" making me feel like crap.

I get strong at home and when I go out, I capitulate to them and there have been times I have even been roped into group prayers again.

Just know that you are NOT guilty and that guilt is just a feeling. I took a class in DBT (Dialectical Behavoral Therapy) which helped me to just look at me feeling and not act on them or judge them. Very hard to do and I fail at it, but at least it helped me to NOT JUDGE myself based on my feelings, urges, or thoughts. They mean nothing most of the time.

Keep up the fight. We are the brave ones.

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